George Baker: Cessna 340A Pilot
One year ago my brother George and I purchased N3936G, a 1977 Cessna 340A with RAM 6, and have since put about 250 hours on it while working out the squawks and upgrades along the way. We use the aircraft primarily for business purposes and fly 250 to 500 nautical miles for trips between Oregon, Washington, and California. We typically carry two to three people on board on any given trip and cruise between 190 and 205 knots at 65% power.
Several months ago my brother George excitedly told me about the next absolutely needed upgrade –Strakes! He had spoken to Steve Hinckley of Aircraft Performance Modifications, Inc. in Colorado Springs, CO. At the time, the process of amending the Cessna 340 to their STC was just wrapping up. With an eye on increased safety and speed (hoping to put our average above 200 knots), he wanted to get them right away since the addition of strakes promised increases in directional stability, rate of climb, and cruise performance – all at a such a reasonable rate
Though George must have called Steve every other week to inquire whether the Cessna 340 had yet been amended, Steve never seemed to mind. Steve lives for aviation; with years as of experience as an airline captain, a well maintained Cessna 421C, and beautifully restored cherry red 1939 Luscombe it came as no surprise that he had lots of helpful information beyond the aircraft strakes.
As soon as the strakes had been amended we flew in to have them installed. Steve met us when we arrived late in the evening to hangar our aircraft at his top-notch facility and take us both out to dinner. After a quick tour George was ready to paint our hangar as sweet as Steve’s; unfortunately we rent. It took a day and half to install the strakes. Since we had the opportunity to check in on the installation process, we could see first-hand that all the materials and fasteners used in the process were of the best grade possible. A large part of the time is spent replacing the humped rivets on the empennage where the strakes were to be mounted with flush rivets. Looking back, one thing that would have been useful was to have sent Steve a paint sample ahead of time – we flew away with primed strakes.
On our first flight we immediately noticed the change in directional stability and there was less yaw as we climbed out in the bumpy 90°F midday temperatures. As we took the plane into lower flight levels it seemed more solid. The first landing was in a crosswind and I noticed that it performed better. Just the other day I found myself busy before switching the aux fuel tanks back to main; letting the left go dry. In the past, when a tank went dry and engine started to sputter there would be considerable yaw (even in a descent). However, with the strakes it was much less pronounced; indicating that it would be much easier to cope with an engine out event.
After a dozen flights totaling about 25 hours in various weight configurations and altitudes, our experience yielded a 4 to 7 knot improvement in airspeed (4 knots at lower elevations and 7 knots at FL220). Steve indicated that we could expect a roughly 150 FPM increase in rate of climb. The ROT has been harder to calculate since each flight we’ve made since the installation has been different from what we originally planned on comparing it to – a typical business trip to California. We look forward to that crisp morning flight from Eugene OR with our tanks full, climbing directly into the lower flight levels, and the two of us heading off to a day of business in California so that we can see about that 150 FPM increase. In the meantime, we couldn’t be happier about the improved safety and speed.