Jabiru to Rotax Change Over - ZK LPD

I recently have had an engine failure in my Jabiru powered Alpi Pioneer 300 and have decided to write about my experience. 

My story starts around June in 2014 when I was thinking about upgrading my Skyranger Swift microlight to get something slightly faster to fly down to Rangiora to see my children and grandchildren.  After looking on Trade Me, I embarked on a road trip that took me down to Bluff and as far north as Matamata looking at various aircraft that might have been better suited for regular trips down South.  Every microlight I looked at, had for one reason or another not appealed to me, but with limited funds I was limited in what I could realistically afford.

Some weeks earlier I was made aware that an Alpi Pioneer 300 was being offered for sale at Fielding and although I initially thought it was beyond my reach, I did some research on the plane and was most impressed.

I liked the idea of wood construction as it is a great material that did not rust and had great vibration damping and did not crack as metal can do.  I decided to enquire about just how much it was going for, as it had been on the market for a while.  I worked out that if I could sell at least one of my other microlights I was in a position to be able to purchase it.

The only thing was it had a Jabiru engine in it and for whatever reason, the engine had a less than perfect reputation.  However, I spent a long time researching the engine and talked with Jabiru owners, as well as the engineer that had had a lot to do with this particular engine, Stan Hyde.

After talking to him at length about the engine and the work that he had done to it to improve its reliability I decided to get a test flight in it.

Well, unless you have flown a Pioneer 300 you wouldn't know just how fantastic they are.  Very fast and responsive, and all I needed and more to do the long cross country flights I was planning.   After some delicate negotiations, I was delighted to find that my offer had been accepted and shortly thereafter I was able to sell both my Skyranger and my B22 to pay for it.

For the next two years, I flew the tail off it, flying all over New Zealand and regularly down to Rangiora to see my kin.  It was on one of these trips that I was accosted by a couple of Alpi owners in Rangiora just as I was about to fly home one Sunday afternoon.  They said I should fly with them over to the New Zealand Alpi agent's facility just a few miles away from the Rangiora Airfield and say hello.

This was when I first met Logan McLean, Alpi Aviation New Zealand Limited. Shortly after I landed he warmly greeted me and proceeded to give my plane a free airframe inspection.  I spent the next far too many minutes looking through his workshop and also the brand new Pioneer 300 he had just finished getting sorted for a new owner in Timaru/Fairlie.

I came away from his place with reassurance that my plane (Logan) and my engine (Stan) were in good hands, and that I had all the backup I needed to keep it airworthy.

This is the most important aspect to consider when owning a plane.  I looked at a number of aircraft before I bought the Pioneer.  Some of the other aircraft were no longer being produced/imported and had no local agent looking after them.

Time flew on and I was putting in around 150 hours a year on the plane, the engine was behaving flawlessly and regular checking of valve tappet clearances showed no signs of wear.  So it was quite a surprise when I was out flying in April to all of a sudden hear a strange sound and increasing vibration in my engine, ending some 90 seconds later with total silence as the prop stopped in front of me.

After a very few quite stressful minutes I found myself on the ground, relieved that I had landed safely on a seldom used airstrip.  After gathering my wits, the second call I made was to Logan, asking his advice on how to get the wings off it to trailer it back to the airfield.

He advised me of all the tools I would need and the order in which I needed to do things.  I was most impressed with his in depth knowledge of my aircraft.  After getting the aircraft back to the hanger, my thoughts turned to what I was going to do to get the plane airworthy again.

Over the next few weeks, I had countless conversations with Logan over my options, which ranged from fixing the engine, to replacing the motor with a CAMit engine and finally the option to replace the entire front end and put a Rotax 912 in.

Logan right from the moment of my engine failure was constantly available to bounce ideas off and start formulating a plan to get me in the air again.

This is where having a local agent really pays off. Logan convinced me that the best option, with my concerns was to the Rotax engine in and he then set about ordering all the kit that we needed to get it underway.  I enquired and purchased a 912 ULS engine from Steve Noad at Aircraft Logistics in Christchurch and had the engine delivered to Logan's workshop.

When the kit arrived from Italy, Logan set about pre installing the engine to a mocked up firewall, this took up to 80 hours of his time.  He then loaded everything he needed on to his ute and drove from Rangiora to Fielding to perform the install, another 24 hours work.

I know that this sounds simple enough, but words cannot convey the logistics and the time that was involved in getting the right parts form Italy and then all the work that was done in Rangiora prior to installing the assemble motor/engine mount combo on to the airframe.

Without the help and support of Logan, I would never have been able to get this aircraft in the air again.  All I needed to do after the install was to fit the new engine instruments and some wiring to get it in the air again.

It is now three weeks and six hours flying time later, and the new engine is performing fantastically.  If anything it is faster than it was before.  I am so pleased that I both decided to purchase this aircraft and then to install the 912 engine, for now I have a fantastic plane, a brand new motor, and the reassurance of first class servicing and support should I ever need it!

Logan working on new Rotax engine
Logan working on new Rotax engine                                                        
Finished engine ready to install
Finished plane with new cowls, spinner and air master prop