Just because a shop is full of twin cessnas…

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  • #84415

    A maintenance hanger full of twin Cessnas can look really appealing when you’re eager to find an expert to assist in the process of buying a plane. As a vintage 310 pilot moving up to an 81′ 340a, I knew there was a lot that I didn’t know and would need a top notch shop to do the pre-buy inspection.

    My preference would have been TAS, but the seller felt it was too far. From perusing this forum and others, I could tell that there were only a few other places to get twin Cessna expertise. One of these that appeared to be ‘high on the list’ was Air Impressions in Waco Texas.

    The inspection process appeared to be going well. Bobby Parker was in charge of this inspection, and Eddie was the A&P doing the work. They came up with a nice list of squawks… Several pages. I was pretty happy about that, and felt like I was able to negotiate a better price on the plane. Bobby talked with me about how an Air Impressions annual is exceptionally thorough and that many owners use local “good enough” shops for routine maintenance and even annuals, but they come to him at least every few years to get it cleaned up. With three hangars chocked full of beautiful twin Cessnas, I was pretty impressed. Even though the plane wasn’t due for an annual, it seemed logical to pay the “upgrade” on my prebuy to get one of these super Annuals.

    One of the issues that came up on the pre-buy was that the pressurization spiked on MP reduction. They noted this on the squawk list, and I highlighted it as a critical item. The logbook says they addressed it:

    Pressurization spiked when power reduced (Inspect for leaks) etc. Ops checked good in flight after duct and gear boot replaced.

    I picked up the plane and went flying with a local CFI to get my pressurization endorsement. We noticed right away that something was off. When changing the cabin pressure altitude, the cabin change rate would peg… the pressure rate control knob had no effect. At 32″ MP we could get 4.2 differential, but when pulling back to even 29″ the differential would drop to 3.2. The CFI crawled back into the cabin to see if he could identify the source of a loud hissing. It was coming from a disabled cabin fire extinguisher outlet on the rear pressure bulkhead. Covering it up with his finger caused the noise to stop.

    When we landed, I called Bobby’s cell and told him there were significant problems with the pressurization. He called me back that night, and told me that there were some pressurization issues, but that they fixed them. I told him that I was getting 3.2 differential, and he said that those systems really don’t give you 4.2 even on a perfect day, and that 3.2 is only about 25% off, and that should be plenty comfortable. He said “we checked it out real good and Eddie flew it, so I don’t know what could have happened in the mean time.”.

    I got the plane into a shop near home to have this checked out, and to also check into a fuel smell in the cabin (which was also not noticed by AI.) The report was alarming. There was air blowing out all over the place. Definitely the fire extinguisher outlet, but more significantly missing screws and broken screws in the heat exchanger scoop, nuts missing on the leading edge wing cover. The forward pressure bulkhead heater ducts weren’t even completely attached. A nav antenna on the belly was loose and had lots of wiggle room, letting lots of air in.

    Fortunately this stuff wasn’t that expensive to fix. But how did Air Impressions miss this? It’s obvious to me that they didn’t pull the MP back during their test flight. It’s also pretty apparent that they didn’t pressurize it on the ground with a pressure cart. That is how my local mechanic found all of these leaks.

    With all of those “holes” plugged, I now get 4.2 all the way back to 24″ of MP. Sadly, the pressure controller is still useless and as soon as I change the cabin altitude, the rate goes pegged. I don’t think that’s going to be an inexpensive fix.

    I believe these guys probably were really top notch at some point. But that doesn’t mean they still live up to their reputation. In my experience, they fell far short.

    Graham

    N340WP
    Atlanta, GA

    #100265

    Hi Graham,

    With a larger shop it can be hit or miss what the level of expertise is of the people working on your plane, and how they are supervised. I like your current mechanic much better, sounds like you are in good hands now.

    For the pressurization rate controller, have them check the vacuum line to it. It needs engine vac to properly control, and this line can get knocked off or degraded. Removing it is a big deal because of where it is in the panel, so the more troubleshooting the better.

    Any other issues or surprises? How is it running, what speeds are you seeing?

    #100270

    I don’t have any personal experience with TAS, but I am a strong believer in being close to your maintenance. Any pre-buy that I do I want to be there while the airplane is being taken apart and be able to talk with the shop and see what’s going on – It may mean spending a week in a hotel in Waco and running my company from there, but so be it.

    My local shop is a Twin Cessna shop, and even then they occasionally make mistakes or miss things. Unfortunately, it happens. I think it happens a lot more with shops who don’t see you as a repeat customer and don’t know you.

    I did something fun when I purchased my 421 – I took MY mechanic and one of his assistants with me to do the pre-buy. Instead of trusting someone else who I’ll never see again, I took the team who was going to be responsible for the long term care of my bird. It worked out pretty well.

    On the pressurization issue: Have a really close look at the outflow valves. In many cases a pressurization spike can be caused by those controllers never really being closed all the way. The engines pump more air into the cabin than is needed and a lot of times something as simple as a blocked or cracked valve can cause a problem.

    Also, it’s common for the rate controller to spike when you first change the altitude, but then it will come back into line. Note that the manual says to “slowly” move the controller.

    Robert

    P.S. Graham – Please don’t read any of the above as being critical to you and how you did your prebuy. Not my intent! Just posting suggestions for future reference for other buyers.

    #100274

    This thing about shops is becoming a bet.

    And it looks like they are trying to save time and money at the expense of our safety.

    #100278

    Graham
    They may not be perfect, but I’ve been very happy with Jimmy Garland at S&S in Canton, GA KCNI.

    #100279
    rstanley
    Participant

      My take on a prebuy inspection is much like dealing with your doctors in the medical world, “trust but verify”.
      The “system” has change so much since the 60’s and 70’s when you had a personal relationship with your primary care physician and you were BOTH in “it” together. Nowadays YOU have to manage all phases of your medical care and should NEVER trust that your doctor is doing things in your best interests. He/she maybe or maybe NOT. You need to be the Captain of your medical care and ask many questions and ask many questions about options and “whys”.
      In the same way you need to do this with both prebuys and regular maintenance on your planes.
      I spent 4 days at a hotel when I did the prebuy and spent the entire day during the inspections with the mechanic. I kept asking the most import question WHY ??????
      I learned alot during that inspection and got the seller to do many small squawks as well as the significant ones.
      I am very glad I invested that amount of time in getting to know the airplane before I purchased it.
      There is no substitute for person time invested in knowing the airplane you are about to trust your life to.
      Just my 2 cents !!
      Richard

      #100315

      This post has been removed

      N488DM

      #100324

      It’s stories like this that make me less inclined to go with an unknown shop and instead work with who I know or am recommended to by friends. One friend of mine took his Commander 112 (piston single) to a specialist for annual, he says he likes to do that every few years and uses someone different for annual every year. His bills are outrageous and he almost never flies. I think it costs him more per hour than the 310 costs us.

      #100333

      I can only tell you about my prepurchase/annual experience using TAS and to sum it up I found them to be exceptional. I live in S. California and felt it was money well spent having TAS handle the prepurchase/annual inspection for my 414A. I found plenty of poorly maintained aircraft in the market that would have cost a fortune to repair or worse and took comfort knowing TAS was looking out for my best interest.

      #100336

      Jrecker – do you still fly your plane out from SoCal to Ohio for your annual???

      #100340

      I am surprised to hear a bad review of air impressions, I have had nothing but good experiences on a 414.

      I always follow mechanics around though so maybe I just do not give the “forgot to put stuff back together” problem an opportunity.

      #100343

      I think most shops probably have primarily happy customers, except for really bad ones. Every shop lets a plane slip through the cracks sometimes – the real question to me is how often and how do they handle it.

      That said, I sometimes wonder if RAM and Air Impressions are struggling somewhat given that most of the planes that will ever be converted to a RAM package are already done. RAM’s stance on LOP I know contributed to them losing a double engine overhaul on a friend’s P-Baron.

      #100357
      quote TDUPUIS:

      I think most shops probably have primarily happy customers, except for really bad ones. Every shop lets a plane slip through the cracks sometimes – the real question to me is how often and how do they handle it.

      That said, I sometimes wonder if RAM and Air Impressions are struggling somewhat given that most of the planes that will ever be converted to a RAM package are already done. RAM’s stance on LOP I know contributed to them losing a double engine overhaul on a friend’s P-Baron.

      That’s an interesting point for RAM. The recent starter adapter availability issues for the GTSIO-520’s can not help either. I don’t think they keep inventory (no one did as far as I know)

      #100371

      As I have re-entered the aviation world in the sphere of 30 +/- year old Cessna airplanes it has been interesting to experience the amazing collection of experts, shops, evangelists, peripheral actors and other assorted outlaws. It is clear that a lot of areas have evolved into something close to art with a huge spectrum of opinions, ideas and practices. With our aging fleet, we generally have an aging population of pilots, mechanics and people interested in the older stuff.

      I have seen glowing reports and horror stories on the same shop. I have has good experiences with people that others avoid like the plague. The one common thread seems to be that our world is very inconsistent and it seems like you are taking a chance no matter what you do. Trying to operate a big-bore Continental engine is a good example – there is absolutely no firmly established procedure and attempts at defining best practices invariably end up in a contentious, multi page thread in the forums and literature.

      One irritating constant is that your current mechanic will blast the work done on your airplane in the past and start the process of “fixing” everything that was done previously. Obviously, the previous guy spent a lot of time “fixing” what the previous guys had done. The owner ends up on the short end of this stick as the AMU’s mount up.

      Having just completed an expensive pre-buy / annual with a lot of good / bad and ugly I understand the frustration in this thread. There are things that are discovered and caught that you are delighted about, things that are repaired well and not so well and things missed that drive you crazy – how could an expert shop not catch all the obvious points? A real point of frustration is the apparent lack of any attempt to find the most economical solutions to problems – parts are all retail cost and expensive options.

      I really like my local A&P and the service I get including spending a little extra time looking at alternative options. You don’t have the level of expertise of a dedicated type shop but that might be offset by a little more attention to detail and skin in the game. I think we are still looking for the holy grail that we can take our treasured birds to every once in a while and get all of the rough edges cleaned up – don’t know if it exists.

      Let the search continue though!

      Lets go Fly / Be Safe

      #100372
      quote SMcEwen1:

      One irritating constant is that your current mechanic will blast the work done on your airplane in the past and start the process of “fixing” everything that was done previously. Obviously, the previous guy spent a lot of time “fixing” what the previous guys had done. The owner ends up on the short end of this stick as the AMU’s mount up.

      Ain’t that the truth. The one comment I’ve heard from every avionics shop especially: “I have no idea what dip**** worked on this thing last, but I have to go fix everything he did wrong!”

      Unfortunately, we are on the losing side, especially with old planes. Those of us who are able to do our own work are best off.

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