The sorrow state of owners finances and a tale of annual angst.
Another update from the very frontline of dinosaur twin ownership.
Remember how I said that her maintenance was now over the hump and how her annual this time would be a walk in the park (Kasansky), as everything that could possibly cost money or break had been fixed? Well, you guessed it. I was dead wrong. I'd barely touched down at HHR and left them the keys before the first bad call came.
"Did you know there's a 250hr recurring inspection on the props as well as the 500hr one?". "No". "Well, the 250hr is overdue and the 500hr is almost due".
OK - how bad could it be, right? Bad, as it turned out. I won't go into all the details, but suffice to say that Hartzell is the embodiment of the devil on this earth. They force more SB's into AD's than anyone else so they can hold a gun to owners heads and sell new props. Not only that, they make all their retailers and overhaul shops not honour SB's (SB's they themselves issued!) if they want to stay Hartzell retailers and certified. The results is that my prop hubs - that are affected by this 250hr and 500hr SB - hard to get signed off by prop shops unless they're not affiliated with Hartzell. Which doesn't leave all that many. Finally Santa Monica Propeller stepped up and did a great job, but they insisted on an O/H of the hubs, not just an inspection. Fine, I didn't have much choice. Cost about $10K for that little excursion.
Before the props and hubs were sent off for inspection and overhaul.
Next the magnetos had not been O/H since she was new, or at least we couldn't find any logbook entry saying they had. Which is a damn long time. Cost? $3400/magneto pair..... I couldn't believe it when I heard it. How can a magneto cost that much to do, but apparently they do. On top of this there were tons of fuel lines, hydraulic lines, flap inspections, eddy current main spar inspection etc do be done. Time drags on with airplanes and before I knew it almost 3 months had gone by and I was gagging to go flying. Then as I'm in Europe for work, expecting her to be ready when I get back, a new phone call.
"Yeah, we inspected inside the tail cone and the rudder bell crank is deformed. Not only that, she seems to have had a tail strike at some point and the repair is very shoddy - a couple of stringers are broken and there's all sorts of missing rivets etc".
I lost it at this point, I'm ashamed to say. They find serious sheet metal work to be done and structural problems after she'd been in the shop for almost 3 months? Why the hell hadn't they opened the tail up before? Why the hell hadn't my previous mechanic seen that at last annual? I slip her constantly - what if they tail had come off? They're stellar mechanics these guys and never miss a beat, so that's what caught me off guard. I hadn't expected structural problems that late in the game. My less than happy email did the trick however, and they did all the repairs by the time I got back. Good people.
Colonic irrigation? The old girl getting groped in the a** getting her stringers fixed...
Finally, after 3 loooooong months of not flying I took the chief mechanic/IA up for a short test ride. She spun like a cat and was so happy to be up in the air again in the late afternoon sun. It was soothing for both man and machine. My previous mechanic always says:
"What airplanes need more than anything is to go flying".
It's true. Old airplanes start peeing sitting around idle and sh*t breaks. When they fly, stuff works better.
Last screws, then she's ready for first flight in over 3 months... She looked as happy as I was.
Cost? A terrifying $21K annual. It cleaned me out, I can say that. But I suppose it could be worse - my other obsessive drool plane is the Aerostar and those guys get happy when they get change back on a $50K annual... Next? Engines both near TBO and just prohibitive to O/H. But I have two new pickled engines on the go in Arizona from a guy who's retiring and parting out his 520. Fingers crossed...
First longer trip was to Big Bear to get some of their cheap fuel that they truck over the mountains and up to 6700ft.....
All in all, though, despite some high maintenance costs, I still have a few cents left over in the till compared to renting. Especially compared to other twins. I just took a ride with a friend who rents a 182 with a G1000 panel out of Camarillo for $220/hr, and that's close in cost. Sure, this is ancient steam stuff compared and the paint is peeling - but they won't outrun, outclimb or outrange me anytime soon. Costs about the same.
Safe flying in 2013! Fly a lot, because (everybody now): Time spent flying is not subtracted from one's lifespan!
Last edited by AdamFrisch; 26th Dec 2012 at 23:36.
Annual is in Sept. No squawks, it's probably around $4000 (£2600). Last year it was $7000 (£4500), but then they found some things. This year there's already talk of changing some of the fuel lines as they look a bit ragged, so it's probably going to be closer to the higher number...
Not that you needed any reminder, your quote from July. Look on the brightside, next annual........
Have you not considered a Progressive Maintenance Programme? If you can get a guy you reeeeeeeaaally trust, it could be the answer, Rockwell Maintenance certified of course. My Bonanza is still on the ground, with many engine parts in Tulsa, getting overhauled. That since July, but we took her back to basics, and have virtually stripped her, with almost everything now zero timed. I keep telling myself, that the extra cash now will save me in the long run....wishfully sad really
But the Commander looks great, as does the California winter weather
Just found this thread and it has cheered me up hugely. I'd been flying the same a/c (a 1965 IO-346 engined Beech Musketeer) for 35 years and encountered all of these sort of maintenance issues in miniature, as it were. Difference being that here in the UK the costs are many times higher. One year we spent £15K on the Annual, and the hull value was only £20K. That's after sourcing all the parts carefully, too. Anyway, in September this year one of my co-owners ran her into a hedge after losing control taxiing on a grass strip and that was that - not economical to repair so end of story. More power to your elbow, Adam. And just FYI, if you do get to bring the Commander to the UK (and I hope you do) the current cost of AVGAS is around $12 per US gallon.
She's running fine and we've been flying a fair deal. Been twice in two days to Las Vegas and back, which is a nice 250nm trip, one way. It's been very cold in California, so it was absolutely freezing up high - had to dress like a mountain man. The Janitrol terrifies me, so I don't turn it on unless I absolutely have to.
On the IFR return today in clouds, the left engine shuddered twice, but the carb heat and/or booster pumps took care of it. Can't say I loved it, though. She's done that one time before up high and cold, but it was 2 years ago and it has never happened again. I'm thinking it's some kind of fuel thing in combination with high altitudes or cold.
But more annoying, I now face an avionics upgrade if I want to continue training IFR in her. The single VOR/GS is simply not up to snuff. It's weak, barely gets a signal and is off by about 5 degrees. I have a Collins VOR in a box ready to go, but I really need an old Garmin 430 to replace the ancient 300XL as well. And then all of a sudden one is looking at a panel upgrade and tons of money and time..
Maybe I can just slap the Collins slimline VOR in there, wherever it might fit, and go really basic.
Last edited by AdamFrisch; 31st Dec 2012 at 04:38.
Good old G-AWOE. She will probably never fly again, unfortunately. It doesn't take many months or years before they're beyond recovering. Aircraft need to fly. Next to it is the ultimate long ranger. Looks like a 695 with the Dash 10 engines and the 2000nm range. Was that owned by Houlder as well?
My aircraft is in for a panel upgrade now. I will be going with recessed lighting and a completely new manufactured panel. Will not really upgrade the avionics, though, just add a new (old) NAV/COM and keep it real simple. Bare minimums. I wanted to switch the old Garmin 300XL for a newer WAAS 430, but couldn't really see much point. The 300 is IFR certified after all, just a bit older. It will have to do and I just use it as a DME anyway and will only be doing light IFR with it. All my navigation in VFR is done on the iPad.
Last edited by AdamFrisch; 25th Jan 2013 at 22:23.
The Renaissance - Isle of Man reg M-BETS - was not owned by him. It was allegedly grounded at Elstree by the CAA at the time of 30csl's pic, after hitting a post at an airfield elsewhere in the country. It has since had a temporary repair and departed, albeit flown by a different pilot.
I'm led to believe OE is for sale to the highest offer, in other words - not very much!
Latest from the trenches - a story of joy, hope, redemption and fear.
This is what she used to look like. A glued on veneer panel that over the years had turned into a mess.
This is what she looked during...
This is what she looked after. Oh, the joy! I was as happy as Larry. But then.....
Had an long cross country to Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia to do - one for work, one to look at an airplane and the third to visit a friend shooting a film in Atlanta. Since they're all three pretty close, but still annoyingly ill-served by airlines, it did make sense to fly there myself. Wouldn't save any money (does one ever in aviation?), but it would save time and be convenient. And fun, of course. Long range cruising is my favourite pastime.
The panel job had taken far too long as more 'important' aircraft kept getting in front of the queue. Maybe her oil leaks and tatty paint work invited this... After 3 weeks stuck in the shop, I told them I needed it by a certain date pronto as I had long trip to do. There was no wiggle room left. Finally got her back the day before my departure, and even that had been a scramble. But they'd done a great job and I was very happy - it was worth the delay. But wait - take her up for a spin and the tower says they can't see a return from transponder. Land again. Wiggle, adjust, head-scratching, confoundations. New circuit turn - it was getting dark now... Weak primary return and no mode C altitude. Damn it. Landed again, but by now it was 7pm on a Friday, so most of the guys had gone home. Managed to get my guy to come back (he flies to work in an old '59 Cessna - how cool is that?) and after test after test, we switched unit for a later King KT76C. It's a nicer unit anyway with the push buttons. Still no mode C however, but we had run out of options at this late hour and I had to depart the next morning at dawn.
Not ideal to fly 1600nm without mode C, but it is legal and can be done if one avoids class A, B and C airspace and stays below 10000ft. That became the plan now.
My new UMA panel lights were so sexy I almost wet myself. Certainly did take the sting off not having a transponder that worked...
Next morning take off early and it's a beautiful day. Guess what? As I call up SoCal App for radar service, they not only see me perfectly, but it squawks mode C! This was great news, as it meant I didn't have to dodge bigger cities and also be a lot safer having someone to watch over me. Not a cloud in the sky on or way towards the east, all smiles and delicious snacks washed down with prime beverages. Life was good. Not even a surprising westerly wind slowing me down could alter the mood in the cockpit. I pass over the grunt of the Sierras and Rockies without any trouble and land after 4,3hrs to get some fuel and have a sandwich at Alexander, NM.
Lunch and fuel at Alexander, NM. Soon that smug smirk will be well wiped off of my face...
Take off towards the east again. ATC radar service is very patchy and I keep losing them constantly. I hear all the replies from high flying jets, but almost never the controller. Now have a howling tail wind instead and am showing close to 180kts GS. Nice!
This photo is literally taken minutes before my troubles begin...
I do the scan and suddenly see that left engine has an oil pressure reading that's well below limits. I'm in the middle of nowhere and the controllers can't be reached. It's time to find an airport as soon as possible. It's the high elev desert, but not mountainous (thank god). But if one quits, it will probably not be possible to keep altitude, certainly not 9500ft which was my cruise. Left engine is not only the critical one, it's also the one with the hydraulic pump on these early models (insane design) - so if it fails, out come the gear and adds even more drag. Not ideal.
Slightly behind me and to the north is small airfield called Vaughn. I turn towards it and manage to raise Albuquerque Center on the radio after not having heard her at all for ages. I tell them my intentions and they ask if it's an emergency, which I say it isn't at this point as the engine is still turning and giving power. She wants me to radio them from the ground and tell them I'm safe. Yeah, that's gonna work - I can barely raise them at 9500ft. As I turn around the headwind nails me and it seems like a lifetime before I get there. Messes with your head, it does - starts to hear imaginary grinding noises of imminent catastrophic seizures... I land and pull in. It's the most desolate airport I've seen. One hangar and not a single plane in sight. Of course I can't reach ATC, not even an airline is able to relay. I finally raise someone on guard and they insure me they'll pass it on. Wind is howling as I uncowl the left engine looking for obvious leaks etc.
Oil level is good, I see no metal sheen in the oil, I see no obvious leaks or wet spots. I call both of my mechanics and have long conversations. They both think it's an oil pressure relief valve that might have jammed open, bypassing oil and lowering the pressure. It could also be a gauge problem. I fire up and sure enough the pressure comes right back up. I run it up to high power settings and it all checks out. Hmmm, what to do? One of the mechanics (the cautious one) thinks I should leave it there, as he thinks it's suspicious. The other says I should fly it if there's no indication to the opposite. I battle with myself, but ultimately, this little airstrip in the middle of nowhere was not an ideal place to leave a plane, no mechanic, no town - nothing there. Just 30 miles to the east is a town with a bigger airfield... That seals it. I take off again hoping it will hold long enough to get there should problem return.
I'm watching the gauge like a hawk constantly and anxiety is pretty high during this. But it's as stable as it's ever been and I press on, continuing for another 2 hrs to the next big city, Wichita Falls, TX. By now night has fallen and I'm not loving the idea of a single engine approach at night, but I am loving some civilisation beneath me, pressing me on. I land safe and tuck her in for the night, pretty sure now it was only a gauge malfunction or weird one off anomaly.
Find a room for the night and the next morning as I start her up the oil pressure comes right back up again. Good girl. My smug smile tells me we're going to make it to our destination. Not only that, this is Texas and the flatlands where there are airports literally every 200 yards... As I turn the taps on on the rwy, I see the pressure drop again. Noooooooo! I abort takeoff and taxi back to the apron. I know the game is up. Do some idle test and power tests after parking just to do them, but it's no use. The oil pressure never comes into the green again.
It's game over and I know it.
I pushed my luck and it caught up. I had a good run, but now the party is over. The music has stopped. I find a mechanic on the field who promises to take a look at her in the week. I try some half a*sed attempts at renting a Cessna to get me to my destination, but Wichita Falls isn't that big. $1000 later in airline tickets, I'm now writing this in Atlanta hotel room on my way to Alabama.
Hopefully it's just an oil pressure relief valve that's broken. Or an oil pump. But if they find metal in the oil screens, well, then it could be game over for that engine. To be honest, didn't feel like an engine failure. She ran as strong as normal and behaved just as she always does. Oil temps were where they've always been, which would not suggest an engine seizing up. Prop turns freely and the compression strokes and resistances feel the same.
I'll know soon enough.
It was time to part ways again in foreign lands and far away from home.
As final insult, the regional jet taking off from nearby airport passed right by KCWC in Wichita Falls. I tried to zoom in on her sitting all lonely there on the apron, but to no avail.
The End. Or is it?
Last edited by AdamFrisch; 19th Feb 2013 at 03:04.
Well, maybe in hindsight I should have saved that money towards an engine o/h instead of doing a panel.....
Word is good. No metal in filter (or oil screen in my case), OPR valve checks out and the spring is good, but was probably set too low. He's now turned it up, test run it thoroughly and it all checks out and works! Famous last words - only a prolonged flight will give the final answer, but it's looking a little bit promising. Now work has come in the way and I can't pick her up until end of next week, so won't know until then.
LATEST UPDATE: We're flying again. All seems to work.
Last edited by AdamFrisch; 20th Feb 2013 at 05:03.