John Ruley
Thursday, 14 February 2019 14:33

Renewing a Skylane, Inside and Out

New paint, new interior and new Plexiglas make John D. Ruley’s 1975 Cessna 182P look and feel like a factory-fresh airplane.

Sometimes, small problems can lead to more complex projects. This Skylane restoration started with a flat tire and fuel leak. The tire was a quick fix, and the fuel leak ended up being straightforward as well (leak at the filler neck). However, a check of the logs showed that N4696K’s fuel bladders were 20 years old—with an expected life of just 10 years. It was time for replacement. (For that story, see “Step-by-step Fuel Cell Replacement” in the January 2018 issue.) Once John Ruley and his four partners caught “upgrade fever,” they kept going.

This month, the Skylane restoration continues with several cosmetic and safety upgrades.

After N4696K’s fuel bladders were replaced in July and early August 2017, we once again had an airworthy aircraft, albeit one whose annual was coming due by the end of August. We elected to paint N4696K, redo the interior and replace the aged Plexiglas windshield and windows. The Plexiglas and glareshield would come first as part of the August annual.

Great Lakes Aero Plastics delivered the Plexiglas parts early, which provided plenty of time to unpack them. Installation was contingent upon receiving back the glareshield that was repaired by Dennis Wolter and the Air Mod team in Batavia, Ohio.

While waiting, the mechanics at Pacific Aircraft Service at my home base of Modesto, California (KMOD), drilled out the rivets that held in the original windshield and popped it out.

Installing the windshield

About a week later, after the refurbished glareshield arrived, the new windshield was installed. It was a three-person job, with Paul Kline and Rudy Valdez on the outside, and Shane Cooper inside. The outside men had to pound on the windshield to force the felt-covered edge into the channel. I made a small contribution to the effort by noticing that the airplane rolled back each time they hit the windshield—the parking brake wasn’t set. Setting the brake and chocking the tires helped.

The process was complicated by using a 30-minute sealant, which forced them to work fast before it set up (evidently the two-hour version was not on hand). Cleco fasteners were placed in all the rivet holes to hold the windshield in place until new screws could be installed.

New windshield unpacked and ready.
Paul and Rudy seat the windshield.
Paul applies sealant.
Shane secures the windshield from inside the cockpit.
Paul and Rudy push the windshield into place.
Paul applies more sealant to the windshield trim.

Fastening the windshield was a two-person job, with Shane on the inside adding nuts and washers, while Paul handled the screws from the outside. On the whole, it was a quick but labor-intensive install. The process took a full day.

The following day, it was time to peel the protective paper off both sides of the windshield. It came away clean and looked awesome—much clearer than the original.

Cleco fasteners hold the windshield together until screws are installed.
Inside view, showing blind holes awaiting screws, washers and nuts.
Paul installs screws from outside.
Paul places temporary Cleco fasteners.
Shane reaches through the panel to install nuts and washers.
One by one, the Clecos are removed and are replaced by screws.
It is much easier to fasten nuts when they’re out in the open.
Nuts and washers in place.
Paul pulls off protective paper to expose the finished windshield.
Compare the new windshield to the faded windows!
A bit of corrosion

Unfortunately, that same day Shane showed me a nasty surprise that turned up while he was behind the panel attaching screws and washers. A severely corroded area, probably due to factory insulation that trapped water, needed addressing.

The mechanics reassured me that despite an ugly look, it didn’t present any threat to the structure and wasn’t worth the effort to sand and treat with zinc chromate primer. Instead, it was soaked with ACF-50 anti-corrosion oil. Paul warned me that it would stink, but the smell would eventually go away.

While the fuel bladders and windshield were being done, the flaps came off and were sent off to West Coast Wings to replace the cracked plastic skins. Those were reinstalled shortly after the windshield. The rest of the annual inspection was completed and the airplane was returned to service by the end of August.

Ugly-looking corrosion behind the panel.
Repainting the airframe

We delayed installing the other windows until October, just before the airplane was shipped off for new paint and interior work. We knew that the new paint and interior would take time, and delaying until the fall—when the weather gets iffy and fewer partners fly—seemed like a good idea.

Just how long it would take we couldn’t have predicted. Installing the new windows and other prep took the guys at Pacific Aircraft just a few days. The airplane was delivered to the paint shop the first week in November. It finally emerged over three months later.

I’m not going to name the shop, but I will say they were highly recommended and ultimately did a fine job. Unfortunately, they were shorthanded, which led to a serious schedule slip.

That, in turn, delayed the interior work we’d planned to have done by Jeff Belardi in Watsonville, California. Jeff moved to a new location while waiting for the airplane to arrive and had to work us into his busy schedule. He did a fantastic job replacing the old fabric seat covers and cracked plastic trim.

Jeff also installed B.A.S. Inc. four-point inertia reel shoulder harness/lap belts for the pilot and copilot, something I had my doubts about. While the old manual belt and shoulder straps were not ideal, I’ve used updated four-point restraints in other aircraft, and have had trouble getting them on and adjusted.

The ones from B.A.S., however, are easy to get in and out of, comfortable—and could make all the difference in the event of a crash. Compliments to my partner Michael Iocca for insisting on them, and compliments to Jeff, too, for a classy installation.

N4696K flies home

I got a ride to Watsonville from friend and fellow Commemorative Air Force Col. Ron Ramont, and flew the airplane home—with my instructor in the right seat. By the time the aircraft left the shop, I was overdue for a biennial flight review and instrument proficiency check. I hadn’t been in the pilot seat for five months!

The result—as you can see in the photos—is an airplane that looks new and is a genuine pleasure to fly. The new solar gray windshield and windows not only offer a much clearer view than the old ones, but also noticeably reduce the temperature on sunny days, which is a big plus in California’s Central Valley. We couldn’t be more pleased with them!

Beyond ramp appeal and comfort, the airplane also benefits from overdue corrosion treatment and catching up on many minor deferred maintenance items. One of those turned out to have a surprising side effect that we’re still working on, however.

Our new antennas work—too well

I’m a bit of an avionics geek, and pushed for replacing the original VHF navcom antennas, which showed visible wear.

The new ones look great and work perfectly—which turns out to be a problem: the old antennas apparently did not transmit all the energy being delivered from the transmit side of the King (now BendixKing) KX-155A installed in our No. 2 slot. The new one does—and on some frequencies, it now interferes with our Garmin GNS 530 GPS.

I discovered this while doing practice approaches. The GNS 530 annunciated a warning that it had lost GPS position—something I had never seen it do before.

The lead avionics technician at Sky Trek Aviation contacted BendixKing and was told they have seen that before—and there’s no fix for it. The KX-155 series was designed before GPS. To eliminate the problem, we’re going to have to replace our KX-155A.

Fortunately, the folks at TKM Avionics have been working on a slide-in replacement which should work with our exist-
ing wiring, but as of this writing, the MX155 is not yet shipping. In the meantime we’re working around the problem
by changing which COM frequencies we tune on which radio.

Additional plans

There are two other upgrades we plan to do later this year. One will be purely cosmetic: while the new paint and interior work makes N4696K look new from the outside, we still have the same ugly cracked plastic covers on the instrument panel. A custom replacement cover to match the new interior will take care of that problem.

The second is a new transponder for ADS-B compliance. As the avionics geek among the partners, I’ve been tasked to recommend one. I’m leaning toward one of the newer Garmin models, because that will provide an option to display traffic and weather information on the GNS 530 as a backup to the iPads we all carry. (For more on ADS-B options, see Steve Ells’ ADS-B articles in the July 2017 and March 2018 issues. —Ed.)

The main lesson from our experience that may be significant for other pilots is that a restoration takes time—you have to coordinate between multiple locations (in our case, a local A&P, and remote paint and interior shops)—and a delay at any one can cascade through scheduling at the others.

But the result is worth it. N4696K looks and flies like a brand-new Skylane!

John D. Ruley is an instrument-rated pilot and freelance writer. He holds a master’s degree from the University of North Dakota Space Studies program (space.edu) and is archivist for the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) operational history project. Ruley has been a volunteer pilot with ligainternational.org and angelflight.org, two charities which operate medical missions in northwest Mexico and provide medical patient transport, respectively. Send questions or comments to .

Resources

CFA SUPPORTERS

Air Mod
 
B.A.S. Inc.
 
Great Lakes Aero Products, Inc.
 
TKM Avionics, Inc.

ADDITIONAL SERVICE PROVIDERS

Bellardi Interiors, Inc.
 
Pacific Aircraft Service
209-524-1758
 
Sky Trek Aviation
 
West Coast Wings
707-462-6822
Monday, 04 June 2018 12:29

Step-by-Step Fuel Cell Replacement

If you own a Cessna 182 Skylane, at some point you’ll need to replace the fuel cells (fuel bladders). It’s not a particularly difficult task, especially when you order an all-inclusive kit from a vendor like Eagle Fuel Cells. 

N4696K has been a fixture at Modesto City-County Airport (KMOD) for many years. It’s a 1975 Cessna 182P Skylane owned by Nine-Six Kilo LLC, which in turn is owned by five partners, who vary as time goes on. I’ve had the pleasure of being one of the partners for almost 10 years. With so many partners, the airplane flies a lot; more than 200 hours in an average year. That’s good because the engine doesn’t sit and rust. On the other hand, all that flying puts a lot of wear on the airframe, interior and paint.

For quite a while now, the partners have agreed that we ought to do a restoration—painting the airplane, redoing the interior and fixing a lot of minor problems that have built up over the years. Fortunately, everyone’s in a financial position to afford this. We kept putting the painting off, in part because of something Shane Cooper (a mechanic at Pacific Aircraft Service) told me. He noted that the bladder-type fuel cells in our airplane were due for replacement and “You don’t want to paint the airplane and then have to open it up to get the bladders out.”


An unwelcome Christmas gift

A few days after Christmas last year, one of our partners opened the hangar to find our Skylane’s right main tire flat and fuel all over the floor. Fuel had leaked out along the length of the wing, staining the aileron hinges blue. He contacted Pacific Aircraft, and we all thought at first that the right fuel bladder was cracked. It turned out to be due to a leak at the fuel filler neck on that side, but it was enough of a warning to get our attention. Next time it could be a bad fuel bladder and it might not be kind enough to fail at our home airport.

Now, decisions had to be made: where and when to have the replacement done, and where to get the parts? The first two questions had easy answers. Shane, Paul Kline and their boss Dick Braner at Pacific have been taking care of N4696K for the entire time it has been on the field at Modesto. They aren’t the least expensive place to get work done, but they are among the most thorough. After consulting with Dick, we decided to hold off until our annual inspection, when the airplane would be at Pacific for an extended period anyway.

As for where to get the new bladders and other parts, I took advantage of my membership in Cessna Flyer Association and called parts-locating guru Kent Dellenbusch. He gave us some options and we decided on Eagle Fuel Cells. Our mechanics had no previous experience with them but were happy to give them a try. 

 

Step-by-step installation

What follows is a journal based on notes I took at the time. Bear in mind that other work was being done as well; it didn’t take a full month’s worth of work to do the fuel cells!

Approximately July 1: Bladders (neatly folded in a surprisingly small box) and installation kit arrived at Pacific Aircraft Services.

July 23: N4696K was flown to warm the engine oil and delivered to Pacific, where the annual inspection began.

July 26: Bladders were unpacked, with a first reaction from an impressed Shane after looking at the large roll of cavity tape: “That’s worth hundreds of dollars by itself!” I did not fully appreciate this until later, when Paul pulled a huge ball of old duct tape out of each wing. The tape used at the Cessna factory was not available the last time the bladders were replaced, so duct tape was used to cover all rivets and overlapping metal joints in contact with the fuel bladders.

When the new bladders were unpacked, we found a clearly-printed set of helpful hints. These tips covered inspection (including how to find the area where a fuel cell may have leaked), removal, installation and maximizing fuel cell life.

While the full list of tips is too detailed to reproduce here, two points are worth noting. Ground the airplane whenever dealing with fuel cells or any other fuel system component. Per the tips, “When working with fuel, static is your enemy!” 

Also, warmth helps. Eagle does not recommend trying to remove tanks at temperatures below 70 F because the material will be stiff, and notes that a warm cloth can help when taking off tubing. That wasn’t a problem on a hot July day in Modesto!

July 27: I was present as Paul pulled out the right fuel cell. Fuel had been drained the day before, and by the time I arrived he had the snaps undone and the bladder rolled up in the wing. The whole plane shook a couple of times as he pulled. After getting the old bladder out, he told me we’d made a good decision. He saw signs of minor leakage that would only have gotten worse.

With both cells removed, Paul spent an extended period with a flashlight, reaching in through the inspection ports to pull out the old tape. He pulled out enough to make a very impressive (if ugly) ball.

July 28: New cavity tape was used to cover all exposed rivets, metal-to-metal joints and other areas that could damage the new cells in both tanks. 

Paul also showed me the new fuel drains/test ports and covers. These replaced ones that were installed years ago. The original factory fuel bladders were prone to developing wrinkles, which could trap water, preventing it from coming out of the original fuel drains. That issue resulted in a Cessna Service Bulletin (and an FAA Airworthiness Directive) requiring the so-called “rock-and-roll preflight,” in which you were supposed to hold the tail of the aircraft down and rock the wings to make sure any water got out of wrinkled areas and showed up in the test ports. A later Service Bulletin superseded that requirement but required installing new fuel bladders with the test ports moved a few inches to a location that was not affected by wrinkling. Eagle’s fuel bladders are designed not to wrinkle, and they move the port back to its original location.

Paul pointed out a major advantage of Eagle’s STC’d fuel drains/test ports. They use a cartridge design and can be easily serviced, unlike factory ports that must be completely removed. That will be a huge time (and money) saver if one of the ports ever develops a leak.

Aug. 1: Paul had new fuel bladders rolled up and ready for installation when I arrived. They went in much more easily than the old ones came out!

Aug. 11: After a delay for unrelated work, Paul was ready to finish the job, installing new fuel floats and transmitters (fuel senders). 

  
Wrap-up

The annual (with other modifications) was completed about one week later. 

The partner who originally found fuel leaking did a thorough job of checking the new fuel senders to see how they matched up against the indication on the original fuel gauges, starting with empty fuel tanks and adding 5 gallons at a time on each side. 

The result was about what you’d expect. If the gauges say full, they are full. Half full, ditto. But don’t make any bets on them as you get close to empty. We have a digital engine monitor with a fuel totalizer, so I don’t rely on the old gauges all that much anyway.

Since then the airplane has flown over 20 hours with no evidence of any leaking or other problems. Pacific Aircraft Service owner Dick Braner was impressed by the high quality of Eagle’s product. He said, “They make really nice fuel cells and provide a complete install kit. The only thing they didn’t supply was vent hoses.”

Eagle’s website has a wealth of information that may be of interest to Cessna owners contemplating a fuel cell replacement. In addition to new cells, Eagle offers repair services on old fuel cells, guidance on which cells may or may not be repairable, background information on what bladder-type cells are made of, issues with fuel cells in particular aircraft, tips for inspecting cells when a leak is found (or suspected) and tips for removing old cells and installing new ones. 

The website also has tips for getting the longest life out of the fuel cells you have. Among other things, Eagle suggests keeping the fuel cells full, rocking the wings of parked aircraft to wet the upper half of the cells and removing/preserving cells when aircraft will be stored for extended periods. The company strongly recommends against using auto fuel: “It is not very stable and the high quantity of chemicals in the fuel is harsh on rubber... If auto fuel is used, do not let it stand for long periods of time and inspect all rubber fuel system components frequently.”

Eagle’s fuel cells carry a 5-year warranty. So far, we’re very happy with ours!

  

John D. Ruley is an instrument-rated private pilot and aircraft co-owner. Send questions or comments to .

 

Resources
Eagle Fuel Cells, Inc.
eaglefuelcells.com