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Restoration of the “Alley Cat”:  Engine Overhaul

airframe restoration

After a fun filled year or so of flying the little Grumman with its’ new paint job, it soon became obvious that the little beast was in need of a major overhaul of the engine, a very expensive situation indeed.  During my discussions with other aircraft owners and my trusty expert Werner, I decided to talk to Ken Vike, Vike Aeromotive, Kamloops, BC.  I wanted to up-rate the engine to 118 hp and this required a Supplementary Type Certificate which I purchased from Bill Scott, Precision Engine in Kentucky.

The STC was soon in my hands and a date was set to turn the engine over to Ken Vike so that the work could begin to transform a very tired old engine into “Something Special”…and none too soon.  On 28 Dec 04 I flew the Grumman and was not happy with the way it was performing so it was grounded and we started the messy job of stripping the thing from the airframe.




Once the engine was free of the mount we decide to strip off a few parts for local restoration, but most of it went to Ken’s shop.  As you can see the engine looks like it could be used as an anchor.  Ken talked to me about a few things that he would like to do with the engine to make it a show piece…and of course I was really wondering what he might have in mind.  You’ll see soon enough.

 With the engine out of the way, we started cutting new cooling baffles using the original badly damaged pieces as patterns.  In addition we had to modify the front baffles to conform to the later model AA1B type for better cooling.  This required many hours of careful cutting, trimming and filing to make every piece perfect…Werner was his usual self…the perfectionist… and I couldn’t get away with any sloppy work.  Instead of using metal screws to hold everything together, we riveted in Plate Nuts and used stainless steel screws to fasten the parts together.

The baffles finished, it was time to completely re-do the firewall and anything attached to it.  The engine mount was removed, sand blasted, inspected and send out for Non-Destructive testing.  It was then primed and painted to match the airframe.  The firewall itself was cleaned and polished and the upper section which is aluminum, was cleaned, etched and painted to prevent corrosion.  We made up new fuel lines, electrical cables and a few other fittings as well as purchased new mounting bolts, Lord Mounts and a host of other items.

I had never liked the fuel gauges in the AA1A…nothing more than glass tubes with a little red bean that floats on a column of gasoline…and I had been looking at a fuel flow system that would accurately provide instant fuel information.  I had settled on the J P Instruments FS-450 Fuel Scan which provides fuel burn at any power setting, fuel used, fuel remaining and time to empty tanks.  It also has pilot programming of alarms for fuel and time remaining as well as pre-wired GPS data capability.


We got a call from Ken about the middle of March letting me know that the engine was ready for pick-up.  So off we went over the mountain highway to his shop outside of Kamloops and as you can see, he really “tricked” the engine out!  That’s me on the right with Ken.  Virtually everything on the engine and inside…except for the case and crank… is new.  And it really performs.

We picked it up mid-week but decided to start on the reinstallation on the following Monday.  Everything went quite well except for the bitterly nasty weather…and we were working in a tee hangar without heat or lights which meant that the doors had to be open! 

Soon the engine was in place and the final fitting of the baffles proved that Werner’s attention to detail again paid off as very few adjustments were required.  Bill Scott had provided patterns for the additional baffling, these were incorporated and the Old Barnstormer took the baffles back to the shop for painting…No bare metal here like those spam cans from the mid-west.  And now the headaches began to appear!


The Fuel Scan transducer had to be installed in flexible fuel lines whereas the original line was stainless steel.  After much head scratching the new lines were made up and installed… but not before a few expletives about the lineage of the designer of this aircraft! 

As seen here, there is not much room behind the engine to work on anything…and the red fire sleeve is what finally ended up carrying the transducer.  Later, after a test run, the sleeve was sealed with high temperature silicone.  The stainless carburetor air heater on the left was polished to go along with the chromed induction pipes and rocker box covers.

With the new baffles painted and installed, we then did a test fit of the cowling and the spinner back plate because any time you make a change  there is bound to be a problem.  In this case our hard work paid off and we were able to complete the baffle seals and get ready for the initial run-up. 

But then the Gremlins struck big time.  We spent the best part of 4 days tracing down electrical problems.  Dead battery cells, broken crimp fittings and bad grounding points were enough to make an old guy cuss a purple streak.  We must have checked and re-checked the electrical system 4 or 5 times before everything came together and we were ready for final inspection.

Outside in the sunlight for the first time in nearly four months, the new Lamar starter spun the engine over faster than at any time with the old heavy Prestolite starter.  All of the engine instruments indicated that we were on the right track and the little Alley Cat was ready for final inspection.

Doug Scott came over from Pitt Meadows and took a very good look at the work done on this installation and he could not find a single snag!  The paper work was signed off and the aircraft cowlings were installed in preparation for the first flight.

The engine started smoothly and after getting approval to orbit overhead the airport at 1500 feet, I received taxi clearance and then completed the most thorough run-up imaginable.  A back track was approved to make use of every bit of runway and I was cleared for take-off.  Advancing the throttle, I noticed that the acceleration was very smooth and rapid and I was airbourne in under 700 feet.  Accelerating to 100 mph, I raised the nose to maintain that speed and noticed a solid 1000 feet per minute rate of climb…300 better than a stock aircraft.  Leveling at 1500 feet I carried out a few checks and after a short 15 minute flight, landed for a check of the fuel and oil lines.  With no apparent leaks, I took off on a 45 minute flight over to the practice area then over to Boundary Bay for a few circuits, followed by a touch and go at Pitt Meadows before returning to Langley.

During normal cruise at 1500 feet, the airspeed indicator was showing a solid 140 mph but due to the turbulence I could not get an accurate speed check but it certainly was higher than I had experienced before the overhaul.

If anyone else is thinking about getting an aircraft engine overhauled, I would highly recommend contacting Ken Vike at kvike@shaw.ca for a quote and I know that you will not be disappointed.  His service and support is terrific!

I would also recommend Bill Scott at Precision Engine, LLC at precisionengine@mindspring.com .  He also does full overhauls and is a very knowledgeable Grumman owner and parts supplier.

The JP Instruments FS-450 still has to be calibrated after I do a couple of refuelings but that won’t be a problem.

And finally, I want to thank Werner (Barnstormer) Griesbeck of Langley, BC for all of his hard work and expertise that has made all of this possible…shown here in the MA-5 Charger which he and Dan Holliday built.  This is another of his prize winning projects.


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