Sweet-E

This gorgeous Bonanza was created by Beechcraft in 1954, which makes her an E35. She's in such fabulous condition and handles so nicely we nicknamed this beautiful example of an E35 . . . Sweet-E.

And while she may be more than 50 years old, she's a fast, smooth flying, easy to handle, and fun to fly aircraft. Best of all, she's our personal time machine. What do I mean? Simple, it's because we can depart Orlando and be partying at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, rooting for the Crimson Tide at a home game in Tuscaloosa, taking in Dolly Parton belting out 9-to-5 at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, feeling the rumble of the engines as the the good old boys of NASCAR race in Charlotte, or cavorting in the sun in the waters off Virginia Beach . . . all in the span of a few hours because she's so fast. In turn this makes the whole USA our oyster. For example, we once departed Phoenix at 7AM and arrived in Orlando at 7PM the same day! In short we go where we want, when we want, without the hassels of commercial travel . . . or the intrusive folks of TSA patting us down and treating us like criminals. And we do it while enjoying the air conditioned comfort (and a touch of class) afforded by this gorgeous aircraft!
No longer powered by the venerable E225 engine and old fashioned electric adjustable propellor, Sweet-E is now powered by the smooth and powerful fuel injected Continental IO470N courtesy of the folks at Hammock Aviation. Producing 260 horsepower, this General Aviation Modifications (GAMI) fuel injector equipped engine is also equipped with a pair of Unison's Slick magnetos. The power is harnessed via a beautiful 3-blade Hartzell propeller crowned by a nifty polished aluminum spinner! In addition she has a sophisticated BDS (Beryl D'Shannon) baffling kit, which feature super soft silicone seals for improved cooling.
Under the cowl there's more to this engine than first meets the eye. For example, she's been built by Bill Cunningham's Powermaster crew of Tulsa, Oklahoma and features investment cast Superior Millennium jugs . . . so while she appears at first glance to be a well preserved original, the fact is this is where the business happens and money has been judiciously spent on the right bits and pieces to ensure she not just powerful and fast, but reliable as well.
In fact, no detail has been overlooked. For example, instead of an ordinary painted steel battery box she's been equipped with a stainless steel battery box unit. Why? Because nothing's too good for Sweet-E! Thus, while she may be an old air frame, Sweet-E has been thoroughly updated. Not only has her powerplant been brought into the present, but her avionics are state of the art as well. On top of this, she has been graced with many, many modifications like a 3/8" thick speed slope windshield, vents in both front side windows, and in fact, every single wire in her has been removed and replaced with teflon mil-spec wiring! Details extend to her having wiring diagrams for all the avionics, which is rare for most planes of this vintage, especially one with this many updates! Additionally, she's equipped with strobe lights as well as tip tanks.
In fact, this is one of those aircraft where the more you look, the more you'll see! Another example is easy to find; just eyeball the neat way the engine monitoring harness is secured throughout the engine compartment via soft-mount Adel clamps for a secure yet protective routing of the delicate wiring harness. And even the hiddens items of her engine compartment, i.e. the not so obvious, shows attention to detail. For example, instead of an ordinary rust prone steel exhaust system, Sweet-E's been fitted with a stainless-steel Knisely high performance exhaust system! This pricey, but superbly engineered exhaust system is reknown throughout the aviation world for allowing the engine to produce full rated power while lasting seemingly forever. And on take off, the sexy and throaty rumble of her 470 cubic inch horizontally opposed 6-cylinder engine becomes a nasty rasp as you pour the coals to her . . . and quite frankly, she simply sounds great - yup, it's a guy thing!
If you think we're happy, you're right. Check out the grin I wear when I step out of Sweet-E. Frankly, it's impossible to keep from stretching your face from ear to ear because Sweet-E's a smile maker! As compared to Li'l Bit, our 1956 Cessna 172, Sweet-E is much lighter on the controls, especially the ailerons. Added to this, she's quite a bit faster than Li'l Bit and thus, we flight plan her for 155 kts (kts = knots, which translate to MPH by multiplying by 15%, so 155 kts x 1.15 = 178 MPH). This compares quite favorably to the 110 kts (125 mph) we flight planned previously. Granted, in going quite a bit faster Sweet-E does consume more fuel per hour, which on the face of it seems like it might not be smart - especially in this time of expensive fuel. However, as it turns out, the amount of fuel consumed during a trip is actually about the same whether it's 12 gph in the Bonanza at 180 mph, or 9.5 gph in the Cessna at 125 mph, or even in an SUV at 20 mpg doing 70 mph. Don't believe this can be true? Let's figure a typical trip to, for example, a fun fly in Tulsa, OK.
Using airways (my prefered method of flying versus filing direct) Tulsa is about 911 nm from Sanford, FL. By the way, nm = nautical miles and please don't ask why we figure trips in an airplane using nautical miles! Also, for what it's worth, filing direct (a straight line, or great circle) saves us about 45 nm / 15 minutes for this trip. Anyway, we fly airways to keep us on the beaten path (and closer to airports and fuel) and since Sweet-E only consumes a little less than 12 gph in cruise the trip is going to take 6 hours and use about 74 gallons of fuel. Comfortable and safe three hour legs means just one fuel stop and since we figure an hour per stop, it's really a 7 hour trip. Conversely, Li'l Bit consumes 9.5 gph in cruise and would make the trip in 8+20 (8 hours and 20 minutes) plus 2 fuel stops (2 more hours), or a long-ish 10+20 hour day! By the way, Li'l Bit would consume 80 gallons, or 6 more gallons than Sweet-E . . . so traveling faster consumes less fuel - go figure!
Meanwhile, flying via commercial would mean a layover in either Memphis, Detroit, Chicago, or Atlanta. Under the best of circumstances, it's a 4+30 (includes the layover) plus the 40 minute drive to the airport and another 15 minutes to park and get the cargo to the counter (versus about 5 minutes maximum to the South East Ramp where we hangar Sweet-E) plus the 1 hour required in advance of check-in. Hence, under the best of circumstances it's more than 6+25 vs. 7 hours from start to finish (but some layovers add 2 or even 3 hours so travel in the Beech can actually be significantly quicker). Add the flexibility (since we can elect to stay home if weather cancels the event), or we can head for home at noon on Sunday when most events shut down, which means we're home a full day sooner (and hotels aren't free). What about cost? Well, to travel this coming weekend with the minimum layover is $657 for each ticket (round trip), or $1314 for both Lynn and I. But it's really worse than this because we "must" carry 200 pounds of cargo, which with airlines now charging $50 extra for a second bag means the cost quickly becomes exhorbitant. Anyway, while buying tickets for next weekend drops the round trip cost to $410 each, $820 total, what if the weather forces a cancellation, i.e. the very reason for the trip? Yup, we're out the money!
What about driving? Well, it's a 1251 mile (statute miles) trip (according to Yahoo Maps) and requires just over 19 hours! At 20 mpg in the Sequoia that's 62.5 gallons of fuel, or about the same as taking the Bonanza. But instead of a relatively quick 7 hour trip in Sweet-E it's now two very long days of driving. These extra days are bookending the weekend, which means we're away from the office two or three extra work days just for us to attend a 2-day fun fly weekend event! Worse yet, stack up three events in a row (not uncommon) and we'd be gone weeks at a stretch from the office! Hence, travel by road is really impractical.
 

Thus, it's when it comes to making trips that Sweet-E really shows her worth because she comes into her own.

In fact, in our opinion she's better than flying first class because the view in incontrivertably better plus we're in control versus being along for the ride, which is especially an issue for"me". Add to that, you really don't want to know what first class tickets cost! Anyway, it all begins the moment you first lay eyes on her supple leather and cloth interior along with her luxurious Wilton wool carpets. An unusual feature for most general aviation aircraft is her factory-installed evaporative cooling air conditioning system, which is deceptively simple in design and operation but has the tremendous advantage of weighing very little. Hence, once you reach altitude (where it's cold enough to be using heat instead), you're not carrying a ton of excess weight.
A peek at Sweet-E's the instrument panel, which is where you spend your time results in you noticing the beautifully powder coated Cygnet dual yoke control system. While quite frankly, this is a somewhat expensive addition, it's really a requirement since both Lynn and I are pilots. In fact, we occasionally argue about who gets to fly but since we have a dual yoke it means we can share the workload without flipping the single yoke, which Sweet-E was originally equipped with. Also, while it may look complicated, let's run through the panel layout. First of all, she has a center stack layout, once again courtesy of BDS. The standard 6-pack of flight instruments are supplemented with engine monitoring instruments since you always want to know what's going on with the engine tucked away under the cowl. The 6-pack, by the way, consists of the six top most instruments arranged 3x2 in a row consisting of (from left to right), the air speed indicator, the AI (atitude indicator), and the altimeter. The next row is the TC (turn coordinator - soon to be replaced by a turn & bank indicator), the DG (directional gyro), and the VSI (vertical speed indicator).
The engine instruments are how we keep track of what's going on with Sweet-E's engine. First there's the Horizon P-1000 digital tachometer, which also monitors the status of the Slick magnetos. Next is the JPI EDM700 Engine Monitor for keeping track of both the CHT (cylinder head temperatures) and the EGT (exhaust gas temperature) of each cylinder. Further engine condition instrumentation is via an Electronics International digital oil temperature and pressure gage. The second row consists of the original combination manifold pressure/fuel flow gage. Next is the JPI FS450 Fuel Scan computer to keep track of AVGAS consumption. Further monitoring of the engine's internal condition is afforded by the Electronics International digital battery (voltage) and the alternator output (amperage) gage. Finally, along the bottom is a backup analog CHT gage and the four fuel gages (one for each fuel tank - and she used to have a baggage compartment AUX tank). Anyway, if you're thinking 4 fuel tanks requires careful consideration and management on our part, you're right! There are 20 gallons in each of two main wing tanks plus 15 gallons in each of her BDS wing tip fuel tanks (70 total).
As you can see, while the instrument panel looks complicated and busy, there's actually an order to the organization. Flight instruments are front and center before the pilot in the line of sight to enable control of the aircraft. Next over are the engine instruments. Finally we get to what's called the center stack panel (even though it's really offset to the right side of the panel). This is where we find the tools to communicate with the outside world and keep track of where we are as we navigate across the country. This part of the panel is loaded with very nice Apollo (Garmin) avionics . From the top down there's an Audio Panel, which is actually manufactured by PS Engineering and is in all but name an PS6000 unit. Next down, dominating the center stack is the gorgeous MX20 MFD (multi function display), which is essentially a sophisticated color moving map display for showing GPS generated data like terrain, obstructions (towers and stacks), roads, rivers, airport information (frequncies, telephone numbers, and runway dimensions), etc.
The MFD is fed data by the Apollo GX65 GPS/COM, which is an enroute and terminal approved IFR system as well as the COM1. Next down is an Apollo/Garmin SL30 NAV/COM, which is the COM2. Below this is a digital transponder, an Apollo SL70 unit, which is required for transiting Class B airspace. In addition there's a Bendix BC2000 ADF, which if for nothing else we put to good use listening to AM talk radio as we fly across the country (and have fun watching the needle move because it points to whatever source you're listening to). While that may sound funny, the ADF is the tool you use to dial up the frequecy of a beacon at a point or an airport and it literally listens for the signal and the needle in the instrument directly below the Turn Coordinator points to it, which may save our bacon some day!
Along the top of Sweet-E's instrument panel sits the dash panel, or glareshield. While it too is tailored in beautiful Scottish leather it has two instruments mounted in the pilot's sight line. One is the compass and the other is an angle of attack gage. The compass is what's called a vertical card compass manufactured by Precision Aviation. It's their model PAI-700 unit, which I prefer over a traditional wet, or whisky, compass. The other instrument is a safety device called an angle of attack indicator and it's there to help keep us from inadvertantly stalling Sweet-E. The instrument is manufactured by Alpha Systems and it's a deceptively simple system, which works on differential pressure to instantly indicate how much lift the wing is generating. Since the wing of the airplane always stalls at the same angle regardless of weight or density altitude, this useful device can help keep us at a safe margin above the stall speed regardless of how we have Sweet-E loaded, especially during the transition from base to final approach, which is where many pilots make a mistake. Commercial jets as well as military (US Navy) jets are equipped with these and nothing is too good for "us", i.e. to help keep us safer!
Sweet-E is a marvelous traveling machine and with her there's no telling who or what you'll encounter. For example, we once stopped in for fuel at Bay Minette, AL where we encountered this pair of sweet young things, AKA "line boys". They cheerfully cleaned the windshield, checked the oil, topped off her fuel tanks and did it while wearing nice smiles. This easy on the eyes pair are one of the reasons I look for opportunities to stop for fuel in "Babe" Minette, Alabama (the other being the reasonable fuel cost, the clean restrooms, and the friendly folks you encounter in south Alabama). In fact, this pair remind me why I captured my own southern born and bred college sweetheart, best friend, and lover of more than 30 years. Yup, my wife Lynn, like this pair of beauties is also from LA (lower Alabama) . . . where they really know how to grow beautiful gals!
Other reasons we enjoy Sweet-E are the interesting things we see in our travels. In fact, there are many, many unusual sights to see, which you miss if you travel commercial, like this windmill farm. While a little hard to see through the haze, it's efficiently producing electricity to help our nation reduce it's dependence on foreign energy. We encountered this suddenly while crossing the skies of Texas and frankly, we were in awe of the huge blades rotating away.