New Main Gear Fairings

As many Cessna owners know, the original factory landing gear fairings are rather delicate as they are formed out of .020 aluminum. An A&P friend of mine refers to .020 as “Oh to thin”.

The factory original fairings last as long as pilots and passengers carefully stand only on the step and gear vibration is minimized. 35 years of people stepping on the original fairings took their toll.

For readers not totally family with aviation, ask before you step if you’re not sure. The fairings last as pilots and passengers carefully stand only on the step.

New and old fairing
Old and new fairing side by side

The new fairings were acquired from Robair Repair LLC Out of Washington State. The Robair fairings were half the price and significantly thicker at about .032. These fairings are built tough and will probably last forever. A significant upgrade over factory original. Very little fitment was required for installation.

Fairing's Test Fitting
A&P Test FittingFairings

After test fitting main leg, fuselage, and brake to wheel pant fairings; everything came together with a little hand tuning for exact fitment. No filing or machine was necessary, just slightly increasing the the dome of the rounded upper half of the gear fairing lengthwise. Next the parts were sent out to T&P Aircraft painters at KSNS Salinas airport to make’em pretty.

Closing thoughts regarding installation

For longevity, ensure the fairing fits underneath the leg fairing to wheel assembly bracket without any stress. This mounting bracket should not bend to conform to the fairing, the fairing should conform to this bracket. In some cases the Robair fairing may need slight hand forming to improve the radius or budge around the tubular gear leg and conformity to this mounting bracket, as mentioned above.

Also ensure the wheel and tire assemblies are properly balanced to reduce any shake of the landing gear while rolling. Proper balancing of the wheels and tires as a unit will not only provide a much smoother taxiing ride, but provide enhanced protection from stress cracking in the all the associated gear components. Many A&Ps believe just aligning the dot on the tires to the wheel stem on the wheel is balanced enough if you buy quality tires. Though satisfactory to fly out of a stranded aircraft situation, it’s insufficient for repeated taxiing and take-off or landing roles for comfort and longevity of the fairings and total landing gear system.

Gear looks great and performed perfectly. What a difference for minimal labor. Robair has gear leg fairings for many other piston Cessna models as well. One more cosmetic squawk fixed!

New Windows

Next on the list for overhaul is the windows. Big decision selecting a brand of windows and the method for replacement. The old windows were fairly crazed and definitely time for replacement.

The blog post should have been titled How to change your Cessna windscreen less than 10 hours. Most shops budget 30-40-50 hours to change a windscreen. Mine was completed in less than 10 hours by following the process listed below. I learned this technique from a local A&P and local paint shop that does dozens of Cessna windows a year.

Which brand and model?

Looking at all the options, It was decided to go with Great Lakes Aero windows all around with the Solar Control Grey option. This is the exact shade of grey Cessna uses on its new aircraft. The company is family owned and easy to work with through all phases of the process. They offer a special discount if all windows are replaced in one order.

Great Lakes makes a very high quality window that requires very little if any fitment. They are also OEM suppliers for Cirrus, Mooney, and Great Lakes. This provided a lot of confidence as to the level of quality. Paying the 30% uplift for solar control windows is a decision paying dividends. Glare and UV is greatly reduced without loss of visibility. UV is more intense with altitude, and really appreciate the extra protection for vision, skin, and preservation of the plane’s interior.

Solar Control Window – Significant reduction of heat and ultra violet light

Installation process

My A&P and I followed the Cessna maintenance manual procedure for replacing all windows.

After taking this approach, it’s difficult to understand why people take 30-40-50 hours to change a front windscreen by drilling out the lower valance, when the Cessna prescribed procedure takes about 8-10 hours? $100 hr shop rate computes about $3000 or more of unnecessary labor.

Following Cessna’s procedure is not only less expensive, but the log book can legally state “Installed according to Cessna Maintenance Manual”.

(Click on images to enlarge)

High level of the Cessna windscreen installation process followed:
1) Remove all trim and fairings touching wind screen (DO NOT remove lower front windscreen valance)
2) Cut a horizontal slot across the mid-point of the windscreen
3) Wiggle windscreen out, have 2 people pressing it out by sitting in the front seats with feet on the inside of windscreen. Later learned from a paint shop to cut the windscreen laterally across the midpoint for even simpler removal.
4) Clean the channels of old packing compound and grit.
5) Get a Great Lakes Aero windscreen, press it into the top clip and let the windscreen bottom rest over the lower valance
6) With a fine Sharpe, mark areas that need trimming to fit. (DO NOT use the old windscreen as a template, surprising how many are incorrect)
7) Follow directions to trim and trial fit. Top tip for the windscreen, snap it into the top track and lower it until the lip of the new windscreen is resting over the lower valance cowl strip. Or rest the windscreen along the top track and factor in the additional thickness of the windscreen when checking lower valance clearance. It will be obvious where the window needs to be trimmed if it extends beyond the side or bottom channels. DO NOT use the old windscreen as a template!
8) Remove the windscreen and trim where marked from step 7
9) Make sure the window to valance is properly packed with the special black caulk the factory uses, U554426. Some use the similar 3M Strip Calk window sealant, however this product softens in heat and oozes out the mounting channel. The factory also uses PRC/Proseal type product around all aft windows & non operable windows, except for the front windscreen.
10) Follow Great Lakes Aero’s install instructions placing the lower edge in to the lower valance tracks; then using thin sheetrock knives stuck between the top clip and the windscreen to allow the top windscreen lip to slip into the snap fit in the upper track. The thin aluminum of the knives provide a smooth surface for the window to slide into place.

The windscreen replacement process articulated in Cessna’s Maintenance Manual. The process is pretty simple, especially if the one extra steps is added; Cutting a horizontal slot across the mid-point of the windscreen to remove pressure on the old windscreens

Proof of Cessna Factory New Sealant Usage

Results

Happy to report no more leaks, squeaks, or clouded vision. No regrets taking a no compromise approach to replacing the windows. BTW, Great Lakes does provide free samples of their material to help decide which direction to take.

One important item to note, all windows were replaced with factory original thicknesses, except for the operable side window. Increasing thickness adds lots of weight and complications with fitment and with adjacent interior components.

Perform some additional due diligence before upgrading thickness. The exception is the operable side windows. Cessna factory side window thickness requires a plastic edge bead spacer to fit the mounting channel, and coincidentally the thicker side window fits perfectly without the requirement for this edge spacer. In this particular case the thicker side window for operable types is actually a superior installation. The edge only needs a layer of vinyl tape and that’s it, fits easy and snug.

Where to go for help

Changing windscreens is a speciality job. I was fortunate to have an A&P who had installed windows previously accordingly to the Cessna maintenance manual, and also great advice from our local aircraft paint shop T&P. Many maintenance shops are not familiar with the factory prescribed process for removing windows. Take time to ask around and particularly inquire how many Cessna windscreen replacements they perform in a year. Consider shopping bids at local or regional aviation paint shops. They typically replace windows many times a year and many have the technique down pat.

The savings realized using the maintenance manual approach completely pays for premium solar control windows and labor to install.

Overhauled Door Latch Mechanisms

Like many planes, N46PG had challenges with smoothly operating doors that aligned perfectly and door latch mechanisms which were becoming stiff to operate. The door hinge adjustment and door realignment is available in another post.

Since the door latches are sealed from view and mounted inside the door itself, they rarely see any attention or lubrication on many planes. The chrome finish on the door handles and operable side window latch were also worn and pitted as commonly happens with time. The parts were structurally sound, but were gummed up with 35 year old grease and grit and in need of cosmetic improvement and proper lubrication.

As seen below, the various metal finishes were well worn. A precision plating firm in Hayward Ca re-plated the internal parts with the proper cadmium or zinc materials to proper thickness.
(Click on image to enlarge)

From the pictures above the pilot side door’s rotating handle bearing cup was bent in some else’s prior attempt to make the latches operate. Bush fixes like this just make both sad and angry. With the door aligned correctly, all parts are back in their happy place and now work as originally designed.

External handles and interior window latch was sent to Superior Chrome in San Jose for stripping, buffing, and filling with copper until smooth and ready for re-chroming.

One of the overhauled latch mechanisms reinstalled

Final result is amazing. Door latches operate smooth as butter and one major cosmetic squawk resolved.

Some of the 1960’s-72 Cessna door hardware were actually 1960 Ford Falcon parts. Falconparts.com out of Sacramento is a great resource. The Cessna parts and the Falcon parts are the exact same (e.g. Handle spring, escutcheons., except the black escutcheons have no Cessna roll markings on them. The 1960 Falcon interior door handle is styled differently, but operates perfectly. The Cessna part when available is $375, and the Ford part is $20 and includes the SAME retainer clip Cessna charges an extra $10 to obtain.

I believe changing the interior door handle should be a minor modification using owner produced parts rules and with proper A&P approval and sign-off.

https://www.falconparts.com/ford-falcon-auto-parts/pc/Handles-c156.htm/

Well worth the effort with and entire project cost of $700 including A&P labor, with most of the cost prodomently for the “one off” plating of components.

Let me know what you think.

Also see the companion Blog post on Realigning Cessna Doors: http://welch.com/n46pg/2019/07/05/realigning-cessna-doors/

ADS-B and Other Avionics Upgrades

When the plane was acquired in late 2016, the avionics stack was already good, but needed some modernization to integrate the new ADS-B transponder requirements and update the Emergency Locator Transmitter from 121.5mhz to the new 406mhz standard. The FAA is requiring aircraft flying into most ruled airspace to have an ADS-B by January 1, 2020.

For those not as familiar with aviation, the avionics stack is commonly refers to the electronics components pilots use to geo-reference a plane’s location, communicate, and follow an electronic flight plan.

Like many aircraft owners upgrading the transponder to ADS-B capability, the upgrade triggered a number of other improvements that increase safety and situational awareness.

The legacy stack included a standard Garmin 430, King KX155 nav/com, KT76A transponder, KMA24 audio panel, Telex intercom, and an older ACK grey code altitude encoder.

Keeping the Garmin 430

I like the Garmin 430 for GPS navigation and coms, and decided to send the unit back to Garmin for overhaul to like new condition and add WAAS capability to convert the unit to a 430W. Also included in the overhaul was a performance upgrade to terrain and obstacle avoidance capability. The 430W acts as the position source for the new GTX-345 transponder and ACK-04 406 ELT.

Garmin GTX-345

There are several great choices for a new transponder, and many pilots have near theological beliefs for which brand or model is best. Commonly many pilots consider the Garmin GTX345 or the Lynx 9000 as the “gold standards” for ADS-B transponder. Other common solutions like Stratus ESG, Sky Beacon, Garmin GDL-82 meet the minimum requirements; but are either transmitting at minimum power of 18-30 watts, and/or cannot project traffic and weather on other certified avionics devices.

Criteria for a new transponder for N46PG was full power 240 watt transmission, visualization of ADS-B In’s FIS-B weather & TIS-B traffic on the Garmin 430W, and an internal AHRS to drive synthetic vision in ForeFlight on a yoke mounted iPad.

The Lynx 9000 was also a strong contender, but at the time the unit was nearly $1000 more than the GTX-345 and did not have an internal AHRS to drive ForeFlight’s synthetic vision. Lynx prices have come down are are now on pare with 345.

Update: since writing this article, Gamin has released the new GNX-375 transponder with GPS. A great option if a plane needs WAAS GPS and an ADS-B transponder. Having played with one, excellent unit.

Top tip if installing a Garmin Transponder: install an OAT sensor. The 345 has an OAT sensor input and the transponder will display density altitude instead of just pressure altitude. Continuous real time density alt calculation has proven valuable. It’s nice at altitude to know density altitude when determining when to use oxygen or if above limits for when oxygen is required. A few times flying at 10,000-11,000 ft seeing density alt at 13,000 or better.

OAT cost was $110 and 30 mins labor. Cheap for the extra capability.

GARMIN GAE 12 Altitude Encoder

The legacy ACK altitude encoder was performing perfectly, and was not part of the upgrade plan. This was until the avionics shop said the total installed cost of buying a new high resolution GAE 12 was the same price as rewiring the legacy ACK encoder. An obvious easy decision. The GAE 12 is very simple to install and also isolates the Static line from the transponder, allowing transponder removal without disturbing the static system.

PS Engineering 450A

The audio panel was sorely in need of upgrade as well. Going with the PS Engineering 450A was a no regrets decision. The customer support from PS Engineering is second to none. Once a pilot has experienced a modern bluetooth stereo intercom and radio reception, they will dearly wish they upgraded sooner. The communication clarity is unmatched when compared to a legacy unit like the KMA-24 with a Telex intercom.

The small screen and context related buttons are a delight and vastly ease operations. Other audio panels without this small display have cryptic multi-button presses to access non-label features. A practical impossibility without reading the manual every time those features are needed. The deep extra capability is easy to access since the menu structure is intuitive.

The USB-C power port is fully capable of charging an iPad in use. Fantastic having a certified power source for portable devices if needed.

PSE’s audio streaming capability is first rate. Both an iPhone and iPad can be simultaneously connected via bluetooth. The 450A plays well the Garmin equipment and Foreflight on the iPad. All enabled audio annunciations are clear and pleasant in tone and presentation. Cell phone integration is first rate. Incoming caller ID appears on the 450A’s display and two of the soft buttons become labeled as Answer and Ignore. Phone communications through the headset is clear as a bell on both sides of the call.

PS Engineering 450A

Thumbs-up to PSE!
By the way, PS Engineering’s customer support is fantastic. They are very responsive to customers. A Saturday evening with the plane and on the ramp after buying fuel, I was having a bluetooth issue pairing my iPhone with the 450A. On a lark I called PSE. expecting to get voicemail or some self-support phone tree system. Nope. The company’s executive Mark picked up and spent less than 5 minutes walking me through making it work. Turned out the plane was at the Av shop the day before and the bluetooth slots were mostly filled with their set settings for test devices.

Get that kind of support from anyone else Saturday evening sitting on a small airport ramp.

FlightStream 210

All equipment was factory new, with the exception of the FlightStream 210, which was purchased slightly used for half price. One of the best upgrades was the addition of the FS210. The FS210 provides a significant capability to take flight plans in ForeFlight and with one touch, upload the plan to the Garmin GNS-430W. Likewise flight plan changes made directly on the 430W are reflected back on ForeFlight running on the yoke mounted iPad. This provides a great deal of flexibility to set the flight plan, make changes as necessary enroute, and select desired approach procedure initiated in either ForeFlight or the 430W.

The PS210 is mounted just behind the baggage bulkhead door. The installation cost was negligible as the Av shop was pulling wires for the ACK-04 ELT anyway and another wire bundle didn’t take much extra time.

This near real-time flight plan coordination between Foreflight and the GNS-430W improved pilot attention to flying as an EFB tool like Foreflight, Garmin Pilot, etc. is much easier to effect changes and load to the panel. Likewise it’s fast to pick an approach on the 430W and kick back to the iPad EFB.

The FS210 added years of enhanced capability to the 430W.

How’s it all working? What did it cost?

In a word… Terrific! The avionics stack is now modernized and performs even better than expected. The big upside surprises were the clarity of the PSE-450A, enhanced capability of a like new 430W, and the flight plan flexibility of the FS210. I have no regrets with decisions made. Everything was installed for $17,400. The GNS-430W upgrade was $3,200 by itself. The legacy equipment netted $2,900 on eBay.

Net-net cost $14,500. Very reasonable for an upgrade of this magnitude. Some additional savings were realized by removing and reinstalling the interior myself.

From upgrades and removal of legacy gear, the plane’s useful load increased by 12 pounds.

After 2 attempts, the plane passed its ADS-B certification flight to receive the FAA $500 ADS-B rebate for certified installation.

Thanks to Adam Mitchell & team from Aerial Avionics at KRHV for the expert advise and installation.

Getting a New Prop & Spinner

Installing new Hartzell Prop
Installing new Hartzell Prop

From the pre-buy process, I knew the prop had seen better days was eminently due for an overhaul.  The previous over had flow to Mexico on numerous occasions on humanitarian missions.  Unfortunately the back country gravel runways took a toll on the prop.  While flying from Alice Texas KALI to 10C Galt Field outside Chicago, the dreaded red mist appeared on the windscreen indicating the prop hub had fallen out of tolerances.

Sending the prop to Maxwell propeller in Minneapolis, they determined the prop and hub was worn beyond limits and unserviceable.  This was not a big surprise.

The dilemma came in selecting a prop.  What to do, which manufacturer, which type.  Maxwell recommended a Hartzell Top Prop and spinner kit.  At the time a traditional 2-blade bowtie unit was $8500 and a 3-blade scimitar was $10,400.  Being an excited new aircraft owner… I went for sex appeal and bought the 3-blade!

The ramp appeal of the 3-blade is off the hook great.  Worth the money for appearance alone.  While talking with a rep at Hartzell to ensure compatibility with my engine and STC’s, the rep said if they made a 5 blade prop for Cessna’s they’d sell everyone they could make.   Hilarious!

New Prop Installed
New Prop Installed At JB Aviation at 10C

Hartzell claims their latest 3-blade Top Prop design won’t reduce cruise performance, while still increasing climb performance.   This is traditionally not the case as 3-blade props are known for improved climb with a slight reduction in cruise performance.  Who knows if the Hartzell claim is actually true.  I had no baseline for measurement, as the old McCauley prop was worn out and didn’t perform to specs anyway.

Ramp appeal won, and Maxwell delivered a shinny new Hartzell PHC-G3YF-1RF/F8068 (SA02821CH).

The prop performs fantastic.  On the old airframe with a tired engine, I’m seeing cruise performance of 135kts TAS.  Pretty standard for a 182.

Quoting Eddie Albert from the Longest Yard… “The rest is hiss-tor-re”.   Yeah a movie I saw for free by climbing the fence at the local drive-in with my 2nd cousin Jeff when I was like 14.

Picking up the Plane

N46PG was purchased from the estate of the previous owner in Alice Texas.  Just coming out of annual, the plane needed a new prop and other maintenance upon acquisition. Most of all she needed to be flown after sitting for 2 years in the local FBO’s hangar. From KALI she was flown to 10C Galt Field East of Chicago for necessary work.

46PG in Alice Texas
46PG in Alice Texas

The early Autumn skies in at KALI are quite dramatic in the afternoon.  Like clockwork, thunder storms rolled in to Corpus Christi Texas. Lightning and dark clouds are seen looking East towards the Gulf of Mexico, but never quit reached KALI.

David+Plane-Alice-Texas
David next to N46PG in Alice Texas

The weather made for very dramatic skies!