October 2015


Subscribers Only - That may be the case if your aircraft has wiring issues. While the cabin of a noisy piston-powered aircraft is perhaps the worst environment for listening to your favorite tunes, it’s often the aircraft wiring that makes the sound quality laughable by even the lowest standards. Bluetooth audio panels help because eliminating the patch cable that connects your music player to a music input jack can also eliminate noise. But they aren’t the cure-all for subpar music quality. Even with a flagship Bluetooth audio panel like Garmin’s GMA350C and PS Engineering’s PM8000-series, music playback quality will only be as good as the wiring between the audio panel and headset jacks, the health of the ignition system, charging system, grounds and a slew of other variables.


Subscribers Only - We asked Jon Doolittle, principal of Sutton James aviation insurance brokers and a CFI, about the insurance market for a new tailwheel pilot buying his dream airplane. He told us that it depends a little on what kind of airplane. For Cubs, Champs, Citabrias and similar, fairly benign handling machines, 10 hours of dual, including a tailwheel sign off, will work. Some companies do not require a specific number of hours, just an endorsement will suffice.


Subscribers Only - The NTSB reports of the 100 most recent B55 Baron crashes turned up some unexpected results: there were only three runway loss of control (RLOC) events, far fewer than we expect for tricycle-gear airplanes; for an airplane with a fuel system that has a reputation as simple, the majority of the 15 fuel-related accidents involved mismanaging the system and fuel selectors and over half of the pilot-induced gear-up events involved retracting the gear on rollout. We have long been impressed with the landing gear design on the Baron—it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to maintain. Only two of the Baron accidents involved a system failure in which the pilot could not get the Firestones down and locked.

Safe flight’s SCC: A TICKET TO better landings?

Subscribers Only - If you use Safe Flight’s SCc as it’s intended—which is really a speed control computer—our flight trials proved that it can lead to more consistent on-speed approaches. This, of course, can lead to a better landing flare and hopefully, a smoother touchdown. This saves wear and tear on the tires, brakes, airframe and best of all, avoids an unintended trip into the weeds—or worse. You should be able to get the same positive results from referencing a properly calibrated airspeed indicator, but Safe Flight’s speed control system is simply more intuitive for dialing in the correct speed for the conditions. This also includes takeoff and climb.

Blackhawk Upgrades

Subscribers Only - Throughout our conversations with PT-6 operators, sales professionals and shops, one word recurred: Blackhawk, specifically Blackhawk conversions for PT-6-powered aircraft. These loom large in the PT-6 universe because they compete favorably with overhauls and many operators see the economics of upgraded, new engines compared to overhauls as far more favorable.

“Best case” overhauls are rare

Subscribers Only - As part of its business plan to expand opportunistically, Continental Motors got into the PT-6 business in 2015 by purchasing United Turbine, a Miami-area shop with 24 years of turbine overhaul experience. Like other shops of its type, United is a Swiss Army knife of sorts, taking on virtually all models of the PT-6A and the Twin-Pac PT-6T. Shop manager D.J. Davant ran us through the workflow on a recent visit. As with piston overhauls, engines are brought in, stripped, cleaned and inspected for damage and out-of-spec parts. A good deal of that inspection involves non-destructive analysis to detect hidden cracks. United, as per FAA requirements, strictly follows the P&WC overhaul manual, but unlike the factory, it can rely on less expensive PMA parts or FAA-approved repairs that the factory might or might not use. (As noted, P&WC isn’t forthcoming about the details of its overhauls and won’t quote even price ranges until it sees an engine.)


Subscribers Only - Twelve years after Continental issued service bulletin SB03-3 directing maintenance technicians to use a borescope to inspect each cylinder every time a compression test is performed, its instructions are being routinely ignored—at a high cost to aircraft owners.

It's Worth What Someone Will Pay

Walking the annual classic car show at the New England Air Museum, I came upon a Ford Model A pickup, which appeared to be in mostly original condition. I made a classless blunder asking its owner what the truck was worth. He let me have it, offering an emotional explanation of why it’s priceless and the same is true for his restored biplane. “The prices you see in Hemmings Motor News are only good for bankers, estate planners and divorce lawyers,” he said. That got me thinking about the Aircraft Bluebook and Vref Aircraft Value Reference publications and the savvy eye required to determine realistic values.

Letters: October 2015

Thanks for the helpful article on the cost of navigation data subscriptions in the September 2015 issue of Aviation Consumer. One point you did not mention was the cost of data for a portable GPS. For example, Garmin’s pricing for the Americas’ database bundle is $499.99 per year for its aera 796. This is almost as much as data for a panel-mounted unit, and much more than $149.99 for the same data for the Garmin Pilot tablet app.

PT-6 Overhauls: Complex and Expensive

Subscribers Only - As a variation on the tired trope about not being able to afford something if you have to ask its price, we offer this: If you want a detailed understanding of all there is to know about the myriad models of Pratt & Whitney’s workhorse PT-6 turbine, you’d need a career change just to frame the question. If variety is the spice of life, the PT-6 is off-scale high on the Scoville index. Daunting or not, PT-6s eventually have to be overhauled and the market for such services is competitive and well-served, albeit structured a bit differently than the piston-engine overhaul world. Given the complexity, newbie PT-6 owners—and there appear to be more every year—may be unavoidably dependent on advice from shops which either specialize in aircraft powered by the PT-6 or, better yet, independent consultants who understand these unique engines.

High-End ANR Headsets: No Wrong Choice

Subscribers Only - For buyers willing to drop as much as $1100 for an aviation headset, the current market has no shortage of choices. Moreover, models in this high end of the market sport more advanced features than ever, while promising the best sound quality, comfort and build quality money can buy. To subjectively determine which model takes the top spot (not an easy task, considering the personal nature of selecting a headset), we spent the better part of a year flying with four models we think represent the best of the best. While our evaluation turned up an overall favorite, each model has its strengths and weaknesses and our takeaway is it’s hard to make a wrong choice.

Tailwheel Training: Bring Your A Game

You’ve been thinking about getting a tailwheel checkout and endorsement and, to be truly honest with yourself, about buying a tailwheel airplane. You can’t help it, the advertisements with the tailwheel airplane sitting on some lovely backcountry airstrip have gotten to you—or you want to switch over to a legacy light sport bird. Plus, you’re a little tired of hearing “real pilots fly tailwheels” when you don’t—yet.

Borescope Imaging: Getting the Inside View

Subscribers Only - Ever since the Wrights, one of the vexing problems of aircraft maintenance has been access to the nooks and crannies of the machine. Maintenance technicians have spent major portions of their lives with flashlights and mirrors peering through inspection ports trying to assure that all is well within; at significant expense, major assemblies have been unbolted and removed to allow visual inspection of their insides because of a symptom of illness—often to find that they are healthy—while the act of removal and replacement itself caused damage.

Safe Flight SCc: Speed Control, Plus AoA

Subscribers Only - Long FAA certification delays enabled Safe Flight Instrument Corporation to improve its first-generation leading-edge speed control/AoA system. For one, it ditched the remote computer in favor of a simpler and lighter two-piece system (sensor and display), while redesigning the cockpit display for better readability and easier operation. The result is the third-generation model SCc leading edge sensor system, which is currently certified under the FAA’s ASTM policy standards for AoA systems. We recently flew with the $1895 SCc system in Safe Flight’s Cessna 172 for a closer look and liked what we saw.

ForeFlight Mobile 7.3: Two-Way Garmin Play

For some, the ADS-B buying decision rides on the system being compatible with a favorite tablet app. While shops we’ve spoken with report that Garmin’s GDL84 and GDL88 transceivers have been dominant sellers, some buyers are reluctant to make the investment because the system was only compatible with Garmin’s Pilot app, and not the popular ForeFlight Mobile program for iPad. Not any more. ForeFlight recently announced two-way compatibility with Garmin panel avionics, including the ability to interface Garmin’s GDL-series ADS-B transceiver on its Mobile iPad app. But there has been some misinformation and confusion about what this interface will and will not do. Here’s a clarification.

Beech Baron 55:

Subscribers Only - Fly most any Beechcraft model and you will likely come away impressed with its sturdy feel, excellent build quality and, especially, its handling qualities. All the way down to the lowly Musketeer, Beech just took pains to get the airplane’s flying manners a cut above everything else, and that applies in spades to the Baron series. Even so, every aircraft company has to make compromises. In the 55 Baron, for instance, what many find to be pleasant handling characteristics can prove to be a handful in poor weather, or when the air turns green with turbulence. And nothing comes for free, particularly in a higher-end Beech.