“Ercoupe 2756 Hotel, are you transponder equipped?”
I joined my friend Olan for lunch at the Tacoma Narrows Airport for lunch late last year. That airport has a great place to eat for lunch and dinner and a tower. When I contacted the tower they said they could not see my transponder. Ugh! Woodstock’s transponder was an older Narco AT-50A. After I ate lunch I fiddled with the transponder but as I left the tower said they could not see my transponder again. A Narco AT-50A like the one in Woodstock:
Where I am based I definitely need a transponder to fly legally so I was faced with a choice. Fix the old transponder or replace it. The FAA has mandated that by 2020 you will need an ADS-B capable transponder to legally fly in most of the U.S. so I had been thinking about an upgrade for some time.
Just what the heck is really in my plane?
At first I suspected that the altitude encoder had failed. But wait did I have an attitude encoder? Maybe I didn’t! I dug out an L.A. basin sectional and sure enough, the old owner could have flown Woodstock without one! He was not within 30 miles of class B airspace. That surprised me. I went out to the hangar next chance I got and couldn’t see one. I also combed the air frame logs and there was no mention of one being installed. Hmmm.
If It Were a Snake it Would Have Bit Me!
So I went back to the hanger determined to crack this. Looking at the transponder I noticed something:
So it must have had one. And thinking back I had gotten the tower at Renton to see my transponder codes correctly in the past. So the transponder was dead.
There are some ADS-B solutions that use the existing transponder so maybe fixing it or replacing it was a reasonable choice. A lot of the Ercoupe community seemed to be leaning towards units that use the existing Mode C transponder. On top of that a friend of mine had already upgraded to a Garmin ADS-B transponder and he shared that old transponders were selling cheap an Ebay. I had already planned to get an ADS-B solution in the plane and had started in August 2018 to figure something out.
Woodstock needs to be able to SQUIT??
ADS-B uses a Sqitter to transmit your GPS location and altitude to the air traffic control system automatically. Older transponders would “reply” to radio signals sent to the airplane by the air traffic controller radar. In the case of a Mode C transponder it would also report your altitude. This would not report location. Woodstock needed a unit to SQUIT!
What ADS-B Squitters Are There?
Uanvionix makes several models of their ADS-B. One is a replacement of your wingtip light. This was the first model to be certified. These do not match the Grimes tip lights I have on Woodstock. Here is the Uavionix tip light solution:
And here is a picture of the modified Grimes lights on Woodstock. Note that my lights have been modified to incorporate a strobe light as well:
So the new light would not at all match. The company was also working on a version that was a tail light. Now that could be a possible. That solution was not shipping at the time I needed to do this. It is finally shipping as of 2-25-2019. Here is the tail light version:
Here is Woodstock’s current tail light:
Also remember I would need to get my old transponder working. A quick search of Ebay did not produce a huge bunch of working used transponders to choose from. So it looked like the tail light ADS-B and a fixed old transponder would get me to nearly $3000.
The tail light version is $1900 plus whatever I needed to spend to revive my transponder. The Narco AT-50A is so old as to have tubes and was never considered that reliable. Narco had replaced it with the AT-150 and that has been discontinued for some time and Narco went out of business in 2011.
Also with this solution I do not get ADS-B IN capability. With ADS-B IN you can see other aircraft with ADS-B Out in your vicinity plus weather information. This seems like a desirable thing. So I started looking at the options.
Here is what ADS-B looks like in the Avare EFB application:
I needed something with integrated GPS. Even though Woodstock has a GPS it is older and I was not supported by any ADS-B solution I could find.
The type of GPS in Woodstock:
The range of prices was large and most of the higher end solutions had large displays. Not what I was looking for. I wanted something to replace what I had in the same space. Here is my old transponder:
That older transponder is a standard size So I was looking at a Garmin unit and a Stratus Unit of that size. Status was running a special that included an integrated separate but permanently connected ADS-B in unit. So I decided the Stratus was the way to go. Here is the Stratus unit I picked:
The Clever Plan – Won’t Someone Just Take My Money!
So now I just had to find someone to install it. I had contacted Greg at Cornerstone Aviation. He had once fixed a stuck valve on Woodstock and I contacted him first. Great news and then other news. He definitely could put one in. He was even a dealer for the company that makes the unit! He gave me an excellent quote! However, the other news. He was moving his shop and couldn’t do it until he was set up at Boeing field. This was August 2018. Now it was no longer a matter of waiting for him. I contacted him again and he indicated he was still waiting for the FAA to approve him for this type of work. It wasn’t clear when he would really be able to install one. So I needed to find someone else.
Ace Aviation is a great shop at Renton airport so I reached out to them. They quickly came back with an estimate of around $8K. Ouch. I think they weren’t sure what was going to be involved in the Ercoupe install as their hours needed seemed high but I know they would do an excellent job. Still I thought I might be able to do better. After pondering I realized Spencers who is an excellent aircraft supply business had an avionics shop. So I gave them a call. They came back with a $4800 estimate WITH the ADS-B in, a new altitude encoder. They also said they could get the install scheduled within a week. Well that was definitely the way to go. So I gave them a credit card for a deposit and they gave me a window to get the plane to Thun field, a nearby airport. So we agreed on October 3, now all I had to do was get the plane down the 20 minute flight from Auburn, where Woodstock lives. I wanted to do it on the weekend but the avionics shop was not open on the weekend. I called the week before and I was told someone in the store could open the shop and get the plane in the hangar on the 5th. I did not want the plane outside as there was rain in the forecast. Saturday morning came around and I was unable to get anyone at Spencers to answer the phone. When I did eventually get someone to answer they went back to look in the hangar and reported that they said they could not see where Woodstock would fit. So a a weekend delivery was not in the cards. Ugh. In fact there was quite a bit of rain in the forecast and I was happy Woodstock was safe and dry in his hangar that weekend.
But it’s Just a Few Miles!
So weather was coming in the next week but I figured I could pull this off. I let work know I would be in late Monday and I planned to get to Auburn airport early in the morning, make the short flight, drop off the plane then take a Lyft back to Auburn airport.
So Monday morning came around. There looked to be some mixed weather but reports of conditions over Thun were acceptable. First a little background information. Thun field is on a bit of a plateau. There is a small valley that connects Auburn airport with Thun field. Auburn airport is on the floor of that valley. S50 (Auburn) is 63 feet, Thun is 537 feet. To be legal the clouds have to be at least 1000 ft AGL. So it is possible for Auburn to be legal VFR conditions but Thun could be not VFR legal. I had only flown to Thun a few times and I was not really sure where it was. In the past I’d gone in good weather where I could climb enough to find it. This day was not to be that day! I knew it was roughly directly west across the valley from a lake. How hard could that be? Well I checked the weather at Thun again (they reported clouds 2K broken) and headed off from Auburn. I could see there was a layer of clouds coming in and as I headed down the valley I could see the ceilings lowering. I got down the valley to where I though Thun was but at that point the clouds were low enough that I no longer thought I’d be legal to fly that way so I turned around and went back to Auburn. I have a GPS in Woodstock so I thought I’d put in Thun to make the trip back there less of a guess. Bad news. I hadn’t used it in so long it needed to refresh and I reinitialized I wasn’t sure how to use it anymore. Well I had several EFB apps on my phone, surely they would work! Well, no, they didn’t seem to want to either. I sat on the ground a while to see if the weather would break and took another look at the sectional.
“I Think I Can! I Think I Can! I think I Can!”
The weather looked better so off I went. This time it seemed even worse but I did know where the airport was relative to the roads in and I could make out the shopping mall on the road in from the east. OK, I now had the IFR plan. I Follow Roads! As I headed over to the shopping center (there were no clouds that way) I spotted an airplane go underneath me in the opposite direction! Wait, “there is the airport”! I could tell from the radio there were planes in the pattern but the clouds were still a bit of an issue. The ceiling directly to the east of the field was definitely below legal limits. But a tight pattern and I could make it! So I called a 45 entry to downwind across the airport from the east and did the very best tight Woodstock carrier landing ever. Woodstock is an amazing plane!! Soon I was taxing to Spencer’s hangar. Here is Woodstock when I dropped him off:
What a pretty bird! I went in, signed some paperwork and then took a Lyft back to my car at my hangar in Auburn. Back to work to finish the day.
Nice Folks Teach Woodstock to SQUIT
I’d left the aircraft logs with the shop and the next day I was contacted saying the shop needed a weight and balance for the plane. I believed that there was a current one in the logs. In the end we used what was in there and calculated the difference this install would have made. I now have a “to do”. When I find someone that can do it I will get a new weight and balance done on Woodstock. All that remained was for them to let me know Woodstock was done.
That Thursday they said it was ready to pick up. I let work know I’d be leaving early to pick up my plane. The universe does not like plans around planes. I should have realized that. I knew that traffic on a Friday from where I work to Thun was going to be terrible. So I told my boss I’d be leaving at noon. Well, he said he’d like me to stick around a little longer to confirm something, but he needed to go into a short meeting. three hours later he basically said “never mind” and I headed to the airport. I needed to be at the shop before they closed at 5:00. My navigator app told me I would just make it. Soon however the app said there were delays on my route and the estimate was now 30 minutes after they closed!! So I started to aggressively look for ways to shave that time and I called the shop. Turned out to be a good thing I did, they said on Fridays they often knocked off early!! Yikes! Well I definitely channeled my inner race driver! Good news was I managed to make it just as they were shutting down the shop and they had Woodstock pulled out for me! A quick review of paperwork and a cockpit walk through of the new unit and I was in the air to Auburn.
It was a beautiful day and 30 minutes later Woodstock was back in the hangar. Now all I had to do was get a Lyft back to Thun and get my car! Interesting thing about Auburn airport, There is only one pedestrian gate near the office at the airport at the center of the field. My hangar is on the far end of the airport from there. Well, after a walk I called a Lyft and I was off to Thun. One thing I love about Lyft is the drivers are usually neat folks. My driver was an interesting young fellow who found the airport and small airplanes fascinating. We chatted about planes and flying as he turned out to be the master of the back roads to get back to Thun. I encouraged him to looking into aviation and I hope he did take that intro flight I suggested. There was my car and my adventure was nearly over. It was about 9:30 when I got home and my Woodstock SQIT project was done.
But was it?? Just before I got my ADS-B installed the FAA announced they were bring back a $500 rebate for planes getting a new ADS-B installed. Woodstock had some dollars heading his way!! $500 is enough to pay for most of Woodstock’s fuel in a summer. The next morning I filled for the rebate online and got an email back with a reservation code to use once I flew a performance verification flight. Basically you have to fly for an hour in airspace where your ADS-B can be seen then submit your flight information. You get a report back and then you submit that in another page with your reservation code and PROFITS!!! I had some other distractions queued up but I knew I could quickly knock that flight out soon. Little was I to know!
Here is my newly installed Stratus:
So my list of Woodstock “to dos” was now down to:
- Rebuild the nose gear, replace the faring and removed the snubber cable
- Replace the landing an taxi lights with LED units
- Add a wig/wag switch to the landing and taxi lights
- Replace the wing tip strobes with LED units
- Install some sort of G-Pro camera
- Add some padding to the compass mount
- Add an intercom
- Get a second headset
- Put in new rubber doughnuts on the main gear to restore the tail height
- Figure out the VOR and the Mystery Gauge
- Update the GPS map database
- Polish more!
In the next installments we talk about my FFZ hangar, hurricanes, Tres Cruses, Spaceports, Woodstock’s rebate, my next BFR, Woodstock’s next annual inspection, the annual WA Aviation conference, West Coast Ercoupers and the 2018 Ercoupe Convention.
See you in the blue!!