I bought my 1968 Piper Cherokee, “Lil Red,” in July of 2020.
Over the course of that year, I racked up about 200 hours before my annual was due in July of 2021. At Sun ‘N Fun, I purchased new avionics for my airplane (I’ll talk about all the upgrades in another post later on), and was told I could do an annual at the same time for $1,500, so I went ahead and did it.
My biggest learning experience here was that what I thought would be a routine annual turned in to a nightmare. First, I live in Texas and the shop is in Florida. So once issues came up, I couldn’t go and see what was happening. Second, what was supposed to be three weeks of downtime turned in to two months. Lil Red and I almost missed Oshkosh because of the time overrun.
So here’s what happened. Apparently a shop years back used a zip tie to hold a metal cable to the engine mount. Over the course of flying, it wore a big chunk out of the engine mounting bracket. Now the shop told me I needed the entire bracket removed, sent into a specialty shop, and then returned back, which, including shipping, was $6,900 dollars. OUCH!
Due to this overrun, I had to cancel the Garmin 530W upgrade to a 750XI. I was pretty bummed, but safety first.
After consulting my local shop, they looked at the pictures and thought it could have been sleeved for much less but this was a couple months later.
There were other issues like the landing gear needed to be rebuilt, windshield replaced, and a few other larger things. All in all, the annual ended up costing $18,000. I was really at the mercy of the shop since I wasn’t close enough to go over and see things for myself.
When I flew to Florida to pick up the airplane, I did a very thorough preflight. However, there were some problems which I’m not sure are common or not. First, they moved the magnetometer for my G5s as they said it was the cause of an issue with my autopilot (GFC 500) heading mode shutting off. When they moved it, they somehow calibrated the G5s backwards. I noticed that when I was heading due North, the G5 showed I was going due South. I had to have them walk me through recalibrating it. And in case you’re wondering, my heading mode issue was still not solved. Turns out it was a bug which got fixed last week with a software update. So that was a $500 dollar expense that was not needed.
So I flew Lil Red back to Houston and everything ran fine. First oil change at my regular shop, we popped the hood off and noticed that a bracket holding a line had never been refastened. It was just hanging off the line letting air flow from the engine to the firewall (talk about reducing cooling)! Not a huge deal, but after $18k I didn’t expect to find anything.
Then, about a week after that, my father and I went to take off with only 10 gallons of fuel in each tank (for touch and go’s) and our fuel pressure went to 0. This is on the new Garmin GI 275 EIS system. So we had the shop look at it and the avionics shop had hooked up the fuel line incorrectly. They put a T in the system and put the fuel flow sensor off the middle. During high engine RPMs (takeoff), and in an inclined state, the line pressure for the fuel sensor would drop and read 0 for both tanks. Another $500 dollars later to reconfigure it and everything is running great.
In conclusion, the things I learned:
- Keep the annual close by so that if things come up, you can get a detailed explanation in person!
- After the annual is complete, do a thorough inspection on everything before flying. Try to find anything the shop overlooked.
- And lastly, if I did it over, I’d get a second opinion on major issues that the shop brings up. It could save you a lot of money and headaches!
Kay Hall is a commercially rated pilot, instructor, and social media influencer. She owns a 1968 Piper Cherokee 180D that she named, “Lil Red.” Kay inspires people of all ages to learn more about aviation and has had a big impact on young folks that thought aviation was out of reach. You can learn more about Kay on her website at www.flywithkay.com