By Karl Aber, EAA 450103
This piece originally ran in the August 2022 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.
It was August 1986, and while enjoying a summer afternoon of flying my Cherokee 140, I decided to land at the Ohio State University Airport (KOSU). As I taxied into the local FBO, there sitting on the ramp was a battered 1959 PA-24 180 Comanche with underbelly scrapes and a bent propeller — classic signs of every retractable-gear pilot’s nightmare.
As an A&P mechanic, I was eager to find another new project and get back into the shop. I inquired about the Comanche and found out that, sure enough, the unfortunate pilot forgot to put the gear down, and now the insurance company was the proud owner of N6022P, which was soon to be put up for auction under a salvage bid.
Luckily, the airframe damage was somewhat minimal. In any case, some belly damage repair work was needed as well as an engine teardown, a new propeller, and upgrading the very tired avionics. After a brief walk around the airplane and returning the following week to check the engine crankshaft flange to see if it was bent, I decided to take a chance and surprisingly submitted the winning bid. My previously owned aircraft were also orphaned fixers, so I knew what I was getting into with 22P. I was just not sure my wallet knew.
Acquiring the airplane was step one. The next challenge was how to get an unairworthy airplane in Columbus, Ohio, back to my home base airport some 120 miles away. My game plan was to return to KOSU with tools, sheet metal, a used propeller, and guts to see if I could patch the aircraft well enough to make the aircraft airworthy for a ferry permit. If all proved well, I would fly 22P to its new home in northern Ohio and begin the renovation. Believe it or not, finding an airworthy propeller was the hardest part of the entire project due to an AD that affected this particular prop. This is the one homework assignment I wish I would have scored higher on because that used propeller cost more than what I initially paid for the whole airplane!
I returned to KOSU a month later and struck a deal with the local FBO for some hangar space (they were elated to finally get 22P off their ramp). During that long weekend, I got to work making patch repairs and getting it ready for the ride home. I first hung the multimillion-dollar propeller and then applied a lovely aluminum scab patch to the belly, checked the rest of the airframe with a fine-tooth comb, installed a new battery, and started the engine for the first time. It ran like a clock! Knowing this, I returned the following weekend with a ferry permit in hand to bring it home. Prior to departing KOSU, I phoned the tower controllers to let them know I wanted to do a couple of high-speed runs down the runway. If that felt okay, I would take off, climb above the airport as high as Columbus approach would allow, and circle the field a few times. If during that time nothing quit, shook apart, or scared me to death, I would depart for home with my landing gear firmly planted toward the earth. After 20 minutes of flight time, everything seemed to be working fine, so with nerves of steel I brought 22P to its new home in Elyria (1G1), Ohio, where it was time for the real fun to begin.
I put the aircraft on jacks, and over the course of seven long years juggling costs, kids, and shift work, I rebuilt and brought 22P back to life. The aircraft was completely gutted and repaired including all new control cables, overhauled engine, and new Hartzell Top Prop propeller. I also fabricated and installed a new single-stack instrument panel with updated radios, overhauled instruments, new interior, pilot toe brakes, one-piece windshield, and many other improvements. The next time 22P flew again was October 1993.
Since then, throughout the years of happy ownership, I’ve installed many of the usual speed mods including gap seals, speed spats, and root fairings. I also had the aircraft painted. Recently new avionics have been installed including an Aspen E5, Avidyne IFD440, and JPI EDM 900 engine monitor. In my opinion, the Comanche 180 is the best balance of speed, economy, and enjoyment a pilot can have in a certificated aircraft. It is a stable, solid IFR platform that will treat you right provided you respect and maintain it appropriately.
As my family has grown, we continue to enjoy 22P. I am blessed it will stay in our family as my youngest son, Kristopher, EAA 456698, is also a pilot with two young boys, Samuel and Benjamin, who love flying with their dad and grandpa.