Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Viking

As promised, here is the story of our next airplane.

I initially got a ahead of myself and started to look at the dream planes such as Piper Lances and Saratogas,  Cessna 210s and the awe inspiring Beech A36.  However, one call to my insurance guy knocked me right back down to earth.  Apparently, 114.5 hours in a 2 seat Grumman was not enough time or experience to favor a decent rate on these aircraft. So, needless to say, I was a little down in mood.  I was a little angry too.  I couldn't figure out what these people wanted.  I couldn't give them my first born, as we had already grown quite attached to her.  So, I guess I was going to have to get more experience.  But I was going to have to go up in aircraft complexity and performance in order for my time in that new aircraft to count favorably towards the goal airplanes above.

Yes, yes, I know what you are all thinking out there.  I need to get my instrument rating.  Hey, one step at a time, OK.  I figured in my "infinite" wisdom that even with an instrument rating I was going to have to have complex and high performance time as well, to get into the dream planes above.

I had no idea what plane would fit the mission.  Being the impulse buyer that I am, nothing would have made me happier than just getting the plane I wanted.  But eventually more sensible heads prevailed and the search was on for a an economical plane that had both complex and high performance characteristics.  I spent much of time online prospecting for potential airplane candidates.

One day I asked my A&P Joe what he thought.  Joe is not only a good mechanic, he is an accomplished private, commercial and aerobatic pilot.  When I explained what my goals were to Joe, he suggested, "How about a Bellanca Viking."  A Viking?  "What the hell was that," I said to myself.  I didn't want to appear that I didn't know what a Viking was; however, for fear of losing face as a "knowledgable" aviator, you know.  So, I told him I would look into that option.

Needless to say, thank God for the internet.  I immediately Googled Bellanca Viking and found loads of information on the airplane.  The Bellanca Super Viking was manufactured in my home state, no less.  This plane was manufactured in Alexandria, Minnesota.  Bellanca was also the original manufacturer of the Citabria and the Decathlon, which are popular airplanes.  Bellanca also made the second plane to cross the Atlantic non stop.  But that is like trying to remember the second guy who stepped foot on the moon (Buzz Alderin).  No points for second place; I guess.  Bellanca eventually went belly up but there is still a healthy fleet of these planes out there.  They are also decently supported by Alexandria Aircraft, LLC who bought the type certificates for some of bellanca's airplanes including the Super Viking.

The Viking spec sheet was not to shabby; she was also a pretty airplane.


Performance and Specifications Estimated performance and capacity specifications derived from the 1979 or newer models.


Engine-Telydine Continental model 10-520K 300 HP Fuel Injected
Max. Speed at Sea Level 210 mph.
Max Cruise Speed (at 75% power) 205 mph
Takeoff Distance (over 50 ft.) 1,420 ft.
Landing Distance (over 50 ft) 1,340 ft.
Rate of Climb at Sea Level 1,210 fpm.
Service Ceiling 20,000 ft.
Stall Speed (full flaps) 70 mph.
Max. Range-w/84 useable gal. fuel 1,205 mi.

Height 7.3 ft.
Length 26.3 ft.
Wing Span 34.2 ft.
Wing Area 161.5 sq. ft.
Gross Weight 3,325 lbs.
Empty Weight (Inc. unuseables) 2,185 lbs.
Baggage Capacity 186 lbs.
Fuel Capacity-Std. System 69 gal.
Long Range System-Gal 84 gal.
Oil Capacity 12 qts.

The more I looked into the Super Viking the more I fell in love with the idea of owning one.  And currently, it was a big enough airplane for my entire family because my son, little David, was small enough to be a Lap Baby with my wife in the backseat, at age 3.  He also had my wife's and my genes. Lets just say that the NBA is out for my boy.  Hey, if lap baby status is good enough for the airlines, then it is good enough for us.  So the search was on.

The Super Viking fit the bill.  It was a high performance platform with a 300 horse IO-520 Continental and complex with retractable landing gear and constant speed propeller.  BINGO.  If I could get some time in one of these babies, it would be the stepping stone I would need to drive the insurance bill into the affordable range for the dream planes that would fit the entire family with a seat for everyone and one to spare, of course.  So the search began.

After being on the prowl for a couple of weeks, Joe sent me a link to a guy selling a Super Viking in Tucson, AZ.  This seller, Scott, was a Air Force F-16 fighter jock and was being deployed to Egypt for a couple of years (this was before it all hit the fan in Egypt with the Arab Spring) and he did not want to hanger and maintain the plane from across the planet; so he and his wife (also an Air force pilot) decided to sell their Viking which they had owned for ~ 7 years.  I bet that after the so called democratic revolution in Egypt, this pilot didn't end up going anywhere, or if he did he is currently back stateside.

Anyways, the plane looked immaculate and well taken care of.  The following are some pictures of the plane.

 I know, I know, the Brady bunch colors on the upholstery was out dated, but it was well maintained and the mission was more important than the interior looks which could be changed if so desired.

I called the owner and made him an offer.  He was asking $32,000.  Yes, I know, I know.  Where else are you going to get complex and high performance for this price.  After an exhaustive search, I can safely tell you,  NOWHERE.   The reason that the Viking is so inexpensive is multi-factorial.  The manufacturer had gone out of business, the plane was fabric covered rather than the tin cans we all like to fly, and the wings were made of wood.  Yes, WOOD.  However, after some research I found out that Viking's were built essentially on a steel roll cage stronger than any average aluminum fuselage.  The wings spars and ribs were made of Sitka Spruce and sheeted in Mahogany. This was then dipped in a resin that when dry and cured was very tough. This is the same stuff they made the Howard Hughes Spruce Goose out of.  So, in essence, if this material was tough enough for that plane it is certainly tough enough for the Viking.  That made it good enough for me.

By the way, if you don't know what the Hughes Spruce Goose was, it was a huge project cargo/troop transport plane concept for the military that was contracted to reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Below are pictures of the airplane.

After some haggling, I got Scott down to $30,000 and we had a deal.  I made arrangements to fly down to AZ to close the deal and bring the plane home.  I initially was going to fly it home myself, but it dawned on me that this plane was not a 2 seat Grumman AA-1A.  There just might be a difference in flying and handling, not to mention the constant speed prop which I have no experience with.  So, I asked one of the local instructors if they would go down with me to get the plane.  All expense paid, of course.  My now friend Jim, agreed to go on the trip with me, and we were off in a couple days. 

We got to Tucson and cut the Deal.  The plane was in as good a shape as the photograph's had shown.

After taking ownership of the plane.  Jim and I made plans to fly out the next morning.  Our plan was to fly to a small town called Truth Or Consequences, NM refuel and then fly north from there to Garden City, Kansas.  The flight over the Arizona and New Mexico Rockies was awesome.  The following are some pictures as we were flying over the Southern Rockies.

The views were just gorgeous.  It made the trip go that much faster
    Over New Mexico.
    Leaving Arizona

This is the last mountain ridge before hitting the plain states of the Heartland of our beautiful country.  You can see the plains just beyond.
In this picture, we were at 12,000 feet MSL and just clearing the tops of these mountains.

After an overnight stay in Garden City, Kansas we then left early the next morning for our final couple of  legs home.    The plan was to fly to Huron, SD for a pit stop and top off then direct home to Thief River Falls, MN.  This flight took us directly over Fargo, ND.  Yeessss, that Fargo.  The movie with the wood chipper and all that.  By the way, Minnesotans and Fargoites hate that movie.  So, don't bring it up! Or else, you might find yourself in a wood chipper.

The following are some pics of us flying VFR on top of an overcast layer over South Dakota.  We knew; however, that it was severe clear at home.  It was also 25 below zero there, though.  Brrrrrr.

 My Friend Jim Holte of Holte's Flying service is seasoned Ag Pilot and CFII.  We were currently flying on top of the overcast over South Dakota.
  Beautiful VFR on Top

Here, we are Crossing over the Frozen Missouri River which is the Border between Nebraska and South Dakota.

Here is a pearl of wisdom for anyone who flies long distance in the winter, especially if the change in  temperature is significant between departure and destination.  Jim and I had had a flawless flight thus far and we were over that overcast layer in freezing temps and all of a sudden the engine begins to sputter.  Remember we are heading north at a constant altitude of 5500 feet MSL.  The only variable was that the air temperature was dropping precipitously as we ventured north toward northwest Minnesota.  When the engine began to sputter I yelled out at Jim,  "Alright Jim, think fast, what is going on?!!!"  All I heard Jim say was Oh SH*% !!!!!!!!  I quickly looked at my gauges and saw that the Exhaust Gas Temperature (EGT) gauge was much hotter than the previous owner said it should be.  And it certainly was much hotter than where I had leaned it to when we left Huron, SD.  So, I immediately enriched the mixture and the EGT temp came back within spec and the engine stopped sputtering.   

What was the lesson here?  The problem was that as we flew further north and the temperature dropped, the density of the air was also increasing, so the the mixture was slowing leaning as we flew north until it got to a point where it was too lean and the engine was starting to suffer from fuel exhaustion.  The take home point is, as pilot in command you should not only be enjoying your flight but periodically looking at all your gauges.  The plane will start to show readings that will warn you way ahead of what happened to us.  I would have caught this problem earlier and adjusted the mixture before any of this excitement would have happened if I had been paying attention to that EGT.

Needless to say, the remainder of the flight was uneventful and we made it home safe and sound to an Ice rink of a taxiway because of a freezing rain and snow blizzard that had blown through Thief River a day earlier.

Well, that is is the story of how we acquired our second airplane.  

By the way, I sold the Grumman to a guy named Igor out of Pittsburgh, PA who had a pilot pick up the plane 1 day before we flew down to AZ.  Perfect timing.

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  1. Nice plane and a very cool trip to bring her home. Looking forward to following your blog.

    1. Thanks Geoff. By the way, I used live by you stomping grounds when I was stationed in NAS Cecil Field many moons ago. Of Course, Cecil is no longer a Naval air station. Have you ever flown into Cecil now that it is public?

  2. Dave, great story, beautiful aircraft. I know that Viking owners tend to be fanatical about them for good reason. I've flown a lot of multi-state cross countries in my time, but have never crossed that significant of a temperature gradient where the airplane's "auto-lean" feature kicked in!

    If you don't mind my asking, how long ago was this?

    1. Hey Chris,

      Thank for the complement on the post. We took this flight on Jan 29, 2010. I have since sold the Viking and have moved into a 1977 Piper Lance. Same year and model as Geoff Nelson. We love this new airplane. But to be honest, if we didn't need the extra seat I would have never gotten rid of the Viking. It really is a nice high performance platform. I will be writing the post today on acquiring the Lance.

  3. Beautiful airplane. Am looking at buying one myself. One question about the wing. Did you have your A&P look at the Main Gear attachment points and if you could give me a idea about how strong they are. Concern is hard landing damage.


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