Autopilots & Seawind
Contributed by Mike Bowes in post #305. October 29, 2002.
Upon arriving at Jim Younkin and Chuck Bilbe's Trutrak autopilot skunkworks in Arkansas, I made it no secret that I came with a whopping big prejudice regarding autopilots in Seawinds, in general. For years now, I have seen folks spend lots of time and money trying to get an S-Tec or something else to work properly and they never (really) do. I have coached my builders to, yes, go ahead and install oversized hatches in the aft floor to facilitate the future installation of an autopilot. AT SUCH TIME THAT WE MIGHT EVER FIND ONE THAT WORKS PROPERLY, RIGHT OUT OF THE BOX.
Jim, an autopilot designer for more than 30 years, calmly informed me that I would be a believer, before I left for Sarasota. 3 days in Arkansas has forever changed the course of history regarding autopilots in Seawinds. I have come away, not only a believer, but also a Trutrak Flight Systems Dealer and installer, to boot. Multiple test flights in N711AT, hardware changes, software changes, very subtle changes, major changes in the installation philosophy of the servos for roll, pitch and yaw, too. Believe me, none of it has been done this way before and it works well!
Jim and Chuck deserve full credit for this breakthrough and the others, well, they can only try to copy. And no doubt will. Details of the new hardware and installation technique will shortly be available on the bowesaviation.com website. Pictures are out for development now. Anyone who desires to have a Trutrak autopilot, call me. I'm selling them.
The Tanzman Seawind has a "full-house", top-of-the-line, Trutrak autopilot installed that flies the airplane better than I can, has a yaw damper that improves the ride in turbulence, offers vertical nav functions and derives its heading reference from the GPS receiver. It also has a built-in magnetic reference back-up. All at a price that beats the competition silly because Trutrak autopilots are only available and marketed to the Experimental set. This means R&D dollars are actually spent on R&D, not on jumping through the hoops of FAA certification.
This is digital equipment and offers accuracy and the ability to rapidly customize features and responses that S-Tec and Century, for example, cannot match. Younkin claims they (the competition) don't have this technology available in the market at present, but it is only a matter of time before they will be copying.
Meantime, Trutrak leads the pack in terms of features and performance for the $ spent on autopilot equipment. I think you catch my drift
After Springdale, we were chasing a massive, almost stationary, front that we kept catching up to. Next night was in Meridian, Mississippi. Came in with 1000 and 3, barely. Next morning the clouds were on the trees and the media was in a frenzy about a tree stump being removed from a backyard in Tacoma. By midday, the beacon had stopped rotating, but all IFR ceilings were reported ahead. We ran the gauntlet under a low but well-defined ceiling, from Meridian to a wonderful little place called Eufaula, Alabama. A non-towered airport might be handy in the morning, I thought. Even worse weather was exploding behind us, coming out of Texas and forecast to overtake us within 24 hours. (I've flown in a lot of crap in my time and this was more of it.)
Next day, carbon copy, low overcast, sort of misty, 2 to 3 miles and ceiling well- defined. Again, I waited until the heat of the day was upon us, launched, and had an "orientation run" down the length of Lake Eufaula at about 300'. There was a bass fishing derby underway and the lake was dotted with high-powered bass boats. The fishermen cordially waved us on our way as we streaked by them. At least, I think that's what they were doing. It's a long lake oriented north-south. Beyond the south end of the lake, a run of river and then 100 miles of new-growth pine forest on land as flat as pee on a platter. Pulp forest, crossed now and then by a gravel logging road. Otherwise desolate.
Jody and I kept a sharp watch for microwave towers and the big Lycoming ran strong and true. The entire run was 400' agl but we knew there was better weather to the south. The entire trip from Eufaula to Sarasota is about a two and a half hour run. The final hour was flown under blue sky at 1500' over the Gulf. We had a headwind from the time we had left Springdale, AR.
For those of you who enjoy such things, I share these times with you, taken from the logbook: Minden/Tahoe - Kingman, AZ 2.2 hours Kingman - Tucumcari, NM 4.0 hours (I confess there was a little circling around Sedona area) Tucumcari - Springdale, AR 3.6 hours Sprigdale-local test flights totalled 2.8 hours Springdale - Meridian, Ms 3.1 hours Meridian - Eufaula, AL 1.9 hours Eufaula - Sarasota, FL 2.7 hours.
A long but enjoyable trip in a great airplane. People have asked me if, under the same circumstances, would I do it again? The answer........absolutely, especially knowing what I know now. Keep the shiny side up, Mike N369JB
*Trivia question answers from "Test" page: What was the first year that Seawind appeared at Oshkosh? Like most questions, the answer is... "That Depends!" After more than ten years of development, A flying Seawind prototype was taken, by truck, to the Oshkosh fly-in in August of 1983. Check out this excerpt from a short article, "History of the Seawind," written by Len Creelman, dated "Fall 1987:"
"...Because of the tremendous interest that had been building up over the development period, it was decided to take the Seawind to the Oshkosh Annual fly-in August of 1983. The prototype still had to have some hours flown off in order to meet government approval and be able to fly to Oshkosh. Due to some problems encountered the week before the show, (i.e., starter problems, pilot availability, and of course, the weather) the aircraft could not be authorized to fly and, therefore, the prototype was brought to Oshkosh by truck. Over 800,000 friendly people attended the fly-in and it seemed like all of them stopped by the Seawind booth. The exposure and encouragement that Seawind received at Oshkosh were terrific. It was a tiring but very educational trip..."
A model of the Seawind, and a promotional Seawind booth, were at Oshkosh in 1987. Check out this excerpt from an article that appeared in Len Creelman's newsletter dated Sept. / Oct. 1987:
"...Dick Moore (Southeast) and Carlos Font (Northeast) shared a booth at Oshkosh 87 last month. They had a 1/6 scale model of the production aircraft, a videotape of the prototype flights and examples of the materials used in the aircraft and the bonded flange construction technique..."
Who signed the first Seawind newsletters?