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Blog

The 414′s First Dog Flight – 30 dogs from Houston to New Hampshire

cloudninerescueflights : June 8, 2016 12:58 am : Uncategorized

It’s been almost 5 and a half years since the first time I did a “Flight for Life” with Operation Pets Alive, starting off their “Flight for Life” program. Since then, we’ve worked together transporting hundreds of animals around the country out of the high-kill Houston area to places where they will find loving homes.

OPA was excited that we were upgrading to a larger plane that would allow us to carry more dogs. As I focused on getting the 414 ready to fly, we kept in touch regarding potential dates for the inaugural transport run of the 414, deciding that we were comfortable with a date of June 4th. Not having crates for the plane, OPA was kind enough to volunteer crates of their own to outfit our new plane.

Getting ready to load the dogs

I flew down on Friday, June 3rd to meet Marcia from OPA at the Lone Star Executive Airport, where we started figuring out the crate configuration. The first dog flight in a new plane always has a learning curve. You have to figure out which crates go where, and what the optimal configuration of the puzzle is. It took a few tries, but in the end we were able to fit twice as many crates as we could in the 310, with most of them also being larger. This means we have double the capacity that we used to! Needless to say, we were all thrilled about this.

Another shot of preparing to load

Despite having double the capacity, OPA is very efficient about loading dogs in their respective crates, and the loading time ended up being no longer than it did with the 310. With all the dogs loaded and the plane fueled up, we took off heading north for New Hampshire.

The flight north had a number of thunderstorms along the route of flight, with heavy rains and frontal activity moving around the eastern half of the country. However, we easily navigated around the bad weather, and maintained a smooth ride the whole way. The dogs were happy and quiet for almost the entire flight, waking up only for fuel stops.

The view of dog crates in the cabin from the cockpit.

A lot of dogs often means a lot of receiving groups, and in this case we had 4 separate groups (at two airports) receiving dogs, which always makes me a bit nervous – I want to make sure the right dogs go to the right receivers! Fortunately, they all had collars that were color-coded to indicate which receiving rescue took which dogs. The most ironic (and funniest) part for me was that the dogs who were the most eager to get out of the crates at the first stop were the ones that had to go to the second stop. Meanwhile, the dogs who had to get off at the first stop were perfectly content where they were! Sorry, kids! It’s time to…

(obviously we were nicer about it than Harrison Ford!)

After a long day of flying north, we had a long trip back to Kansas, and headed back west. An overnight in Grand Rapids followed by the rest of the trip back home to Kansas the next day made for a long, but satisfying weekend with 30 dogs saved.

So, what’s the verdict? Did we make the right decision by upgrading? Here’s what I can say: Our 414 is an even better dog hauler than I had anticipated! I had expected a 50% capacity increase, but this plane offers a full double capacity vs. the 310. Right now it burns about 20% more fuel, although I expect that I’ll get that number down as I improve its efficiency (which I will, just as I have done with the previous aircraft). I’m thrilled with the capacity increase, and the ability to fly in smoother air at higher altitudes, which is much easier on the dogs.

Even better than that, the plane performed flawlessly on the trip. While we had a few minor squawks (which isn’t uncommon even on a sorted plane), we had no major problems. I’ll be taking the plane back to the shop to address these minor items and will then get to work on making it more efficient.

I also want to take a moment to remind everyone that we’ve incurred a great deal of expense in bringing the 414 back into airworthy condition, and have more upgrades that we need to do in order to make the plane an optimal dog hauler. Right now the plane needs to go on a diet (this will allow us to carry more fuel and eliminate a fuel stop) and we are also still trying to raise money towards our engine fund, see the link below for the blog entry:

http://www.cloudninerescueflights.org/2016/05/the-414-engine-overhaul-project-we-need-your-help/

We’re working on scheduling our next transport and will be back in the sky soon, saving even more pups than before!

Blue Skies,

-Ted

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The 414 Engine Overhaul Project – We Need Your Help!

cloudninerescueflights : May 30, 2016 10:51 pm : Uncategorized

At Cloud Nine, we’re always planning ahead. We have always taken excellent care of our aircraft, and made improvements to them that have helped to improve the efficiency and reliability. Most importantly, we make decisions that allow us to keep our costs at a minimum. We are very successful at this. When I did the calculations regarding the end-of-life cost of our 310 when we sold it, our hourly cost for the 310 was a whopping 30% lower than the average hourly cost for other Cessna 310s as determined in a recent poll of aircraft owners.

We’re already looking ahead with the 414 and figuring out ways we can save money. We got virtually all of the parts required for annual discounted or donated, for instance, but there’s more to come. A big one is upcoming expense engine overhauls. Although both our engines are running great now, the right engine is coming close to its recommended overhaul interval (TBO, in pilot speak). Although we will run it as long as it is safe to do so, we expect that we will need to overhaul it within the next 1-2 years.

The 414's Right Engine

The 414′s Right Engine

 

We have sourced a great opportunity for a core engine that we can rebuild and then put on the 414. I will rebuild this engine myself with the help of our mechanic. This will then allow us to put this engine on and overhaul the right engine in time to put on the left engine (which is a bit younger and thus we expect will last a bit longer). Why not rebuild the engine on the aircraft? We absolutely can. However, by rebuilding a core engine we will be able to take our time doing the overhaul, take the time to get as many parts discounted or donated, and minimize downtime when it comes time to pull the old engine and put this one in. If we pulled the engine and rebuilt it ourselves, I would expect a downtime of at least 6 months, probably more. We simply can’t do that. This would reduce downtime to under one month.

Of course, engines are serious business and overhauling one is not to be taken lightly. Our mechanic rebuilds engines regularly, and I spent years as an engineer designing and improving aircraft engines just like these. The end result of overhauling these engines ourselves will not only be a huge cost savings, but a better result. When we’re done, we’ll have one engine leftover, which we will then sell.

How much will we save by doing this? We expect to save roughly $30,000 between the two engines. That’s a ton of money that we can put towards saving more homeless pets!

I have started a GoFundMe to help track our progress in raising money to buy this engine. We’ve negotiated an excellent price for it, but we need your help to raise the $6,500 required to buy it! I’m happy to report that, including donations made towards the cause directly through the Cloud Nine Website, we’ve already received more than 10% of our goal.

The Engine We're Trying to Buy

The Engine We’re Trying to Buy

 

Many of our fans are pilots and aircraft owners or operators as well as animal lovers. So for all of you, I have an extra carrot. If we reach our goal and are able to buy this engine, I will document every step of the overhaul process and share it with the world, right here on Cloud Nine’s website. You will get to see how I go about an engine overhaul and the decisions made in the process (as well as discussion about the options to consider).

Please help us embark on this journey! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Ideally, we will have this engine completed before we see any signs of problems with either of our engines that are currently on the plane. If we have problems arise first, that will mean more downtime, and it will also cost more money to get us back in the air. By being proactive, we are making the best use of your donations, allowing us to help save more homeless pets!

You can make a donation at the GoFundMe link below, or as always through the Cloud Nine website (www.cloudninerescueflights.org/donate). Thank you for your support!

https://www.gofundme.com/26n6pgs

Blue Skies,
-Ted

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A Big Change at Cloud Nine!

cloudninerescueflights : May 23, 2016 10:39 pm : Uncategorized
The past several months have been extraordinarily busy for Cloud Nine. While we haven’t been flying, we have been working on a big change that will lead to other big changes: we’re upgrading aircraft!


In April we sold Sugar Pop, our Cessna 310, and purchased a 1977 Cessna 414. This was not a decision to be taken lightly. The 310 is an extraordinary aircraft, one that is both versatile and economical for its capabilities. Additionally, our 310 was in excellent condition, especially after spending over 5 years maintaining and upgrading it.


Cloud Nine's Cessna 414

Cloud Nine’s Cessna 414


However, I found that we were often turning down missions because of the limitations of the 310. Either the missions took us over the Rocky mountains (which in the 310 was difficult to do on a reliable schedule) or in other cases, the sizes of the dogs would not allow us to fly enough to make the trip worthwhile.


Upgrading to the 414 solves both these problems, along with expanding our capabilities. The 414 is turbocharged and pressurized, which allows us to fly higher and over most weather. The dogs are, of course, always in the cabin with me, so there is no worry of flying too high for them – if the cabin altitude is too high for them, it’s too high for me! Because of the 414′s cabin configuration, we will not only be able to fit more cages, but larger cages, thus allowing us to carry more dogs, and larger dogs. I am conservatively anticipating a 50% increase in capacity, but it may prove higher than that – we will see for certain once we start flying missions.


This particular airplane was an excellent find. With low time on the airframe and having been hangared its whole life (plus being the last year of this particular model), this provides Cloud Nine with a great starting point. The previous owner, who has been flying since the 1940s, has not been flying for the past few years due to medical issues. A friend of mine clued me into the plane’s availability. After a visit, I knew this plane would be an excellent plane that would fit our needs and be within our budget. Although the plane has been sitting for several years, it has been well cared for. I was impressed by how clean it was and by how well everything worked.


It's official! The previous owner and Ted shaking hands on the deal.

It’s official! The previous owner and Ted shaking hands on the deal.


As I type, our new 414 is undergoing the finishing touches on the annual inspection and necessary repairs. Generally when a plane sits for several years, you expect to have a number of things wrong with it. I’m happy to say that, while we did have some things wrong, the overall scope of the annual inspection was far lower than would typically be seen for a plane that had been sitting, a testament to the good care taken of it previously.


Cloud Nine's 414 Getting Ready to Hit the Skies!

Cloud Nine’s 414 Getting Ready to Hit the Skies!


We have put a number of new parts on the airplane, some of which have been mandatory due to them being broken, and some of which have been optional but replaced for reliability, safety, or efficiency purposes. We have put in new fine-wire spark plugs, a new vacuum pump, a new LED taxi light, new battery, two new fuel tanks (this plane has 6!), and also overhauled both airspeed indicators and one fuel selector, among other items in our efforts to bring the 414 back to the skies.


We have been very fortunate to have several companies who have been generous enough to discount or donate parts to Cloud Nine in order to help us get our 414 into the sky so that we can start flying missions. It’s worth noting that when I ask a company for a discount or donation, it’s because I believe they make the best product. I don’t want to compromise on quality for Cloud Nine’s airplane, because quality parts ultimately make the plane more reliable and more efficient. If you own or maintain a plane, I’d recommend looking into the products all of these companies have to offer. I personally endorse them not only because of their I want to take a moment to thank the companies who have helped us by donating or discounting parts to help us get the 414 up and flying:



I am planning to pick the 414 up later this week from our shop, with its first rescue flight scheduled in the very near future! To say I’m excited is an understatement – I’m ecstatic that we are making this change that will allow us to make a greater impact with our missions.


As always, and especially now, we need your help to make our missions happen! As with any aircraft, we expect to have parts fail needing replacement. Additionally, the avionics and flight instruments in this airplane are ancient (they were installed about the time I was born – that is not an exaggeration). Certain upgrades to these are required to meet upcoming FAA mandates, and additional upgrades will need to be made to improve the capability of the aircraft and increase the number of airports we can land at.


Please make a donation to help us now! Your donation will help us get Cloud Nine’s new plane flying missions and saving lives! You can donate at: www.cloudninerescueflights.org/donate


Look for more entries in this multi-part blog series talking about our upgrade and what else this means for Cloud Nine, as well as mission stories!


Blue Skies,


-Ted

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