I am learning

I must confess. I have “issues.” In my obsession for perfection, I frequently go too far improving, or even completely reworking, something that would be perfectly fine. I know this because all my life, as soon as I was “almost” finished designing or building something, I would find an urge to improve on it, and my Colt is no exception – except.

Some time I have to remind myself that my plane have flown many hours before I bought it, but getting intimate with it taught me that my obsession for perfection, if moderately applied, is a good thing. In one of my previous posts, I mentioned the problem with the trim being too stiff. This “minor annoyance” led to the need for replacement of all empennage components. Proper lubrication schedule would eliminate this problem, so I ask why so many previous owners neglected this simple procedure.

For the most part, I am the kind of a person who reads instruction manuals only “after it smokes”; however, not when it comes to airplanes. Going through all the paperwork, which came with the plane, I did not find a comprehensive maintenance schedule document that would guide the owner in keeping the plane in a good condition. Now, an aircraft mechanic previously owned the plane, so the assumption could be that he knew what he was doing. In all fairness to him, he very likely did his best. As pilots, we employ checklists because regardless of our age, we may forget important procedures in critical phases of flight. Why not then consult an official, factory sanctioned, maintenance checklist during all maintenance work? I think the trim was one of those forgotten tiny little holes that needed some oil to go into during a routine maintenance.

I now have a checklist, and it was not even very hard to get one. A phone call to Univair Aircraft Corporation, and a $2 for an official Piper maintenance inspection document, solved my potential memory-laps problems. Don likes it too, because it guides him through the annual inspection process, and he can be confident that he did not miss a critical maintenance point.

The Domino Effect

In my previous post, I talked about my obsession for need to know how my engine is performing. I addressed this by installing a comprehensive engine monitoring systems. With that task behind me, I redirected my attention to the engine accessories. I searched through the logs, and found quite recent magneto service entries; however, there were no similar entries for the starter or the generator.  This was a bit of a surprise, remember, this is a 1961 vintage aircraft.

There is the saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, both my starter and the generator were working, but I wanted to make sure that they are still in decent condition. While starter may not be crucial to flight, it sure would be annoying to lose my generator. Since everything was apart anyway, Don removed the two “heavy weights” for me, and I headed for the repair shop. I asked the shop to give me an estimate, but they were reluctant to give one, not knowing what they may find. With the service done, and I mean service, not an overhaul, the cost was so close to what a new set would cost me that I donated the two clunkers to the repair shop in lieu of the labour cost, and replaced them with new units.

New lightweight starter installed

Picture showing the new starter installed on the engine

The starter went in first followed by the alternator. These new units are approved replacements and are much lighter, always a good thing.

Alternator installed

Installed alternator with some of the supplied installation hardware showing

The alternator came well equipped with all the appropriate installation hardware, and an electronic voltage regulator. The total replacement cost came to around $300 more than what I would have to pay for the old serviced equipment.

Electronic voltage regulator

Electronic voltage regulator that came with the alternator

I then directed my attention to the oil filtration. My engine had the original oil screen “filter” setup. Don advised me that it would be a good idea to replace it with a proper oil filter. There are several approved adapters available so I ordered one. It seemed a bit pricey, but when it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. This was one beautifully made unit, machined from a solid aluminum billet, and worth every nickel.

Oil filter with the adapter

Oil filter adapter with a filter installed

I already mentioned in one of my previous posts that I was not too crazy about the interior styling and color scheme; however, I also did not like the lack of proper access to some of the components requiring regular inspection and service. I will address those issues in one of my next posts.

Firewall Forward

I don’t know about you, but I consider any aircraft that has a prop to be only a marginal glider. OK let’s exclude motor gliders, since they can fly quite nicely with their mill stopped. I often hear that aircraft engines are reliable, and can go almost forever with a proper maintenance regime in place. Ah, here is the catch phrase, “proper maintenance.” Since my Colt is an old boy, and even though the engine looks and sounds great, I need some more reassurance than the nice and steady growl. I simply need to know what is going on up front there. I briefly considered one of those fancy all-in-one engine monitors, but decided to do it with about half the money, and go with a set of discrete gages. I still wanted a high-tech setup, so I opted for Electronics International Inc. These guys are terrific. They respond to your every question in a timely manner, and there is always a live person on the other end of the wire.

As with all electronic installations, there is a lot of wiring to consider, but with the engine instruments, we must add another wrinkle – probes of all sorts. EGT probes, CHT, probes, OAT probes, fuel flow probes – getting the drift? Let’s have a look what is involved.

Exhaust Gas Temperature Probe

Installed EGT probe

To install the EGT probes, Don carefully drilled small holes to the exhaust piping, and installed the probes using supplied clamps. This was a relatively simple task, at least for Don.

Cylinder Head Temperature Probe

Installed CHT Probe

My engine did not have the cavities for the cylinder head temperature probes, so we had to install the type that goes under the spark plug. Here was a good example of how EI works with their customers. I ordered the instruments from Aircraft Spruce, but they arrived with the wrong CHT probe. One quick call to EI, and a couple of days later, I had the correct probes.

Fuel Flow Sensor

Fuel Flow Sensor Installed on the fuel line

Don tells me that the installation of the fuel flow sensor, while somewhat more involved, went smoothly. Frankly, I expected this one to be more of a challenge.

As with the above probes, all the rest of the installations went smoothly. Here is a note of caution. I ordered the V/A gage with the internal shunt. I thought I was smart, because I was going to save on installation time, and $35 for the external shunt.  Wrong. Can you imagine bringing two wires the size of your little finger to the gage? Maybe this could work in some installation, but definitely not behind my already tight panel. Once again, EI came to rescue. I now have an instrument with an external shunt which is nicely tucked away far up front on the firewall. Here is the new engine instruments cluster.

Engine Instrument Cluster

Section of the panel showing the engine instruments

In my next post I will discuss new accessories that replaced some of the old equipment.

Safety First

I am a conservative sort of a guy. I have three lovely grandchildren, and I want to enjoy them for many years to come. This statement alone has to be a good enough reason for my decision to upgrade the plane. In fact, one of my dreams is to see one, or all of my grand children, to take a shine to flying. With my Colt upgraded to a “like new” condition, they sure would have a nice plane to enjoy. However, dreams aside let us talk safety.

Aircraft safety today looks nothing like in the times when the designers came up with the design. In all fairness to the designers and builders, safety then meant something else than what we understand it to be today. In addition, they did not have the technology and the knowledge we have today; however, several people out there noticed these deficiencies, and came up with improvements, filed STCs, had them approved by FAA, and made them available to all of us, and at a reasonable cost. I will be referring to those I have incorporated into my upgrades in my future posts.

Here are the three major areas of improvements I am focusing on. Safety issues, aesthetics, comfort, airframe condition, flight performance, avionics upgrade and systems overhaul. I will start with the firewall forward modifications in my next post.

Upgrade Decision

When I was searching for an affordable plane to buy, I had no illusions about the kind of plane it will be. The price range I had in mind would send me searching back into the sixties vintage of aircraft. I went around the airport looking at different models, spoke with a good number of pilots and mechanics, and concluded on two things. First, the plane had to be extremely inexpensive to purchase, because knowing myself I would want to make some expensive upgrades. Second, I wanted a plane that is equipped more like the current crop of LSAs. I considered an LSA, but I am working on my CPL, and flying an LSA would not count towards the rating. I needed a certified aircraft for that. I had a budget in mind that would likely buy me a nice, more recent, model year Cessna or Piper, but then again, I would very likely spend more money on upgrades anyway. This would undoubtedly push the price much higher than I had budgeted for, and since I always liked the old Pipers, I settle on the Colt.

There was one more reason for selecting the PA-22 108 Colt. Piper developed this model as a simple and economical training aircraft. The PA-22 line was fabric covered, but a number of them were “metalized” under an STC. The GDNR had this modification installed early in its life. This knowledge would considerably ease off my concerns about fabric problems and frame rust. The frame of my aircraft is as pristine today as it was when it left the factory. Both the Cessna 150, which I was flying during my training days for my PPL, and the Colt share the same Lycoming O235 engine. The engine is a low compression design, intended to run a low octane aviation fuel, and over the years, both the engine, and the aircraft, have proven to be reliable and economical to operate.

Ultimately, however, I know that I am dealing here with an old aircraft, and money will have to be spent for the upgrades I had in mind. As I already mentioned, I am working on my CPL, and no, I am not planning to be an Airbus driver at the ripe old age of 67, I just think why not learn some new stuff while flying around anyway, instead of getting fat on $100 hamburgers. And since the regulations stipulate that flight training for all certificates, except Sport Pilot certificate, must be conducted on a certified aircraft, an LSA option was out, an extensive and expensive upgrade for my Colt was in.

The Trim Woes

On my first few flights I noticed that the trim was kinda hard to adjust. I really had to put some force to it. I attributed this to the way the trim system is designed. In the Colt the Leading edge of the stabilizer moves up and down, actuated by a screw jack. The screw in turn is rotated by a cable arrangement via pulleys. I truly believed that the stiff adjustment feel may be a function of the design. Wrong! Sorry Piper engineers. Read on.

Trim screw arrangement

Trim screw adjustment mechanism

We took the aft part of the fuselage apart, Don greased all the appropriate grease points, while I was hoping that this will help with the stiff trim. Well, after all was nicely lubricated, the improvement was only marginal. The trim was still pretty hard to adjust. Don discovered another lubrication point. This one was probably last time lubricated when the plane left the factory in 1961. It was just a little hole on a top of a tube in the fuselage that acts as a bearing for the connecting tube that holds the two halves of the stabilator together. I am surprised that this lubrication point was not much more prominently presented. One mark here against the Colt designers.

As I said previously, I am not too partial to a green color. And since the empennage components were painted solid green, and I since I wanted to repaint them, they would have to be removed from the fuselage. This would present a perfect opportunity for us to also focus our attention to the trim. I attempted to pull the two halves apart, but they just wouldn’t budge. The tube connecting the two halves and the “bearing” tube in the fuselage were solidly “frozen” together. It took Don and I a better part of an hour, and the heaviest pneumatic riveter Don owns, to get the sucker out.

Frozen tubes

Frozen tubes and damaged bolts

Soon it became clear why the trim was so stiff. The mechanical advantage of the screw-jack setup was good enough to move the leading edge of the stabilizer up and down alright, but since the aft tube was not moving, this was done at the expense of the two screws holding the two halves of the stabilizer together. Not good! We noticed substantial shear wear to the screws, and the through holes in the tubing structure were no longer round. This finding would trigger another sequence of events, but that is another story to be told later.

Green – Not My Color

Now this may sound confusing. I don’t care for green much, so how come my banner color is green. Well, I just had to make it a closer match with the current paint scheme of the plane. It is true, I really don’t care for green much. In fact, when I first looked at the plane, before I bought it, I almost walked away. What do they say about the first impressions? Should I have listened to my inner voice and walk? Then I recalled another saying, “beauty is only a skin deep”, or is it?

The plane had a very dark green interior, which made it look and feel really small inside. I knew that this is one of the first changes that will have to be made. I just couldn’t see myself sitting in that dark tomb.  The first annual presented a great excuse for me to get rid off that interior. As the excuse goes, I just needed to make sure that there  is no corrosion hiding behind the ugly drapery. The fuzzy sound deadening material made me itch just looking at it – it had to go as well!

Next were the pathetically looking seats. They looked and felt their age. When I sat in them, I sunk in so deep that my but felt all the springs below the foam seat cushion. I admit that I am stretching the truth here a bit, but this is driven by an underlying ulterior motive. The seats had to go. Besides, I think they used to be green, but now they were mostly greasy in certain strategic locations – hmm I wonder where that grease came from. No, they wouldn’t match the new lighter  interior decor I had in mind anyway – now I knew for sure that they just had to go . How about nice leather? Yeah, leather it is, and that is final.






A trek to a local aviation furnishings restoration shop at YVR (Vancouver BC), was another serendipitous moment. After a few minutes of chatting with Walter, the owner of Kaiser Custom Furnishings Ltd., I knew instantly that I am in the right place. What to me looked like a monumental task, Walter reduced to a very doable and a reasonably priced job. I decided to do the seat first. We settled on the new look. I added a headrest to the seat back, and I just had to laser engrave the Colt logo to the leather. I decided not to alter the logo in any way, to keep it authentic. I just scanned it straight from the POH, and its likeness now proudly lives as an emblem on the headrests of the beautifully redone leather seats.