In January of 2000 I had just finished a top to bottom refurbishing of a '74 V35-B and happened to notice an ad for a 1979 SF260-C in the bay area. It seemed as good a reason as any to go for a ride. So off I went with a friend never realizing what the day would ultimately add up to.
N95B had been imported into the states from the air force of Burma. By coincidence, it was the sister ship; separated by only one number, of the plane I'd taken my first ride in four years earlier. N 95B was in good shape although neglected, having only flown about thirty hours in the prior three years. The paint, Ferrari red, was excellent though covered with dust, and the panel had been recently restored and included dual instruments, King radios and an S-Tec autopilot with altitude hold. The plane came with two new parachutes and the interior was in good shape too, though new cushions would have to be made for the front seats. The airframe was perfect except for hideous towel-bar VOR antennas jammed into the vertical stabilizer. (Still waiting to be removed.)
The engine was an AEIO-540 [IO-540-D4A5] that was mid time but had a log entry of surging over 2700 RPM during inverted aerobatics on one single occasion. It seemed to run well, however, and felt smooth. In short, seeing this plane made me start to lose any sense of reality or practicality, and I was teetering on the edge of the ultimate impulse buy.
I toyed with the idea of owning the plane by myself and although the price seemed like a steal, I got the reality check from my wife and quickly realized I couldn't justify owning it alone. Even if I could have moved all the chess pieces, I knew the plane would never be there by the time I extricated myself from my Bonanza partnership and the divorce that this would precipitate. But, some things are meant to be and this apparently was one of them.
I had spoken to friend and Marchetti guru Mike Patlin who assured me this was a deal I couldn't get hurt in, but it seemed too complicated and as much as I wanted to do it, I told Mike I just didn't see it happening. Two hours later he received a call from a neighbor who had been looking for a SF260 for some time and had actually been in escrow on that very plane a year before until his plane partner was transferred across the country. Patlin immediately put us together and 95B waited for us.
Sal Trevino called me, and we made plans to have a second look at the plane. After a breathtaking demo ride Sal explained that he had looked into nearly every Marchetti he could find and assured me, short of a new one, this was the cleanest bird around. Patlin agreed. We sized each other up, both blinked and the checkbook came out like a six-shooter. So, not really knowing each other at all, we rolled the dice and bought a plane. (I’d figure out a way to explain it to my wife on the way home.)
The next week we had Marchetti wizard and owner Ray Myllyla of Stealth Aviation tear through the plane. Finding it generally as advertised, we packed her up and flew her home. Then Ray and his partner Kevin Roberts completely pulled our new bird apart, and replaced all the vital parts and hoses. We also replaced the cooling baffles, overhauled the prop, added Gami injectors and an Insite fuel computer/engine analyzer. We had new custom stick grips made to be installed in the future along with a Garmin 430 and WX500 Stormscope interface. In short we dropped about 10 grand to get the plane to the point at which we were satisfied with it mechanically. (However, this does not include the GPS and Storm Scope)
Once we had 95B airworthy to our satisfaction it came time to tame the beast. Learning to fly the plane was all pleasure mixed with liberal measures of humility. One thing I learned right away was how lazy my feet had become flying the bungi interlocking Bonanza.
The speed, handling and strength of the SF260 are unparalleled in its class and the ramp appeal is huge. Getting use to right seat captaining took only a few hours and for me the biggest challenge in the learning curve was consistent, good landings. The 260 will humble even an experienced pilot on a given day due to the stalling characteristics of the wing when it’s slow, dirty and close to the ground. Run out of airspeed two feet above the centerline and its "all fall" and "no mush." The plane drops like a brick. Fortunately, Stelio Fratti had people like me in mind when he designed the rugged and forgiving trailing link landing gear. I amused many at the airport with the first month of basketball landings. My Marchetti peers assured me a hundred hours in the plane ought to get me fully confident, and in command of the plane and I would say that was about right.
We have taken several long trips and figure on three and half-hour legs with a reserve. We routinely get 170 knots at 23 squared at between fourteen and fifteen gph depending on altitudes. I'm five foot seven so the thing was built with my comfort in mind. I fly my wife and two kids often, though it's noisy and cramped in the back and trying to get them to sit that close to each other anywhere is a challenge. Sal and I agree the best investment we’ve made in the plane are the Bose noise canceling headsets.
I love taking folks for rides and there is never a shortage of the curious and envious to surround us on the ramp. The right seat driving puts all my flying buddies at ease, as they’re more comfortable in the left seat anyway. In short, the Marchetti just about has it all; speed, sexiness and it will do everything the V-tail will do except the 260 can do it upside down. (Also, there are not the cumbersome ADs that plague the Aerobatic Bonanzas. )
At this point we’re enjoying the plane and are slowly getting her into show condition. This of course will take time but in general aviation, it’s more about getting there than arriving.
I'm a convert, and proud to count myself among the few and the privileged.
Following these pictures are some of the web page editor's thoughts on flying the SF260.
The third crash occured on the initial landing after purchase. The two airline pilots turned onto base, went into a spin and crashed.
Charlie asked me why I had called him? I told him that I thought the Swift had a critical wing too. He had to agree. Then he went into detail about a problem with the Swift. Every year or two someone will take off in a Swift and not be able to climb out. As the end of the runway comes up it goes completely against reason to get the gear and then the flaps up but you must or the Swift engine will not develop enough power to climb out. It is not so critical in the SF260 since you have a constant speed prop. However, it could present a similar situation at high altitude on a hot day.
Bill Vitale loves to say that it is the high time instructors that scare him the most in his SF260. They invarible get too slow for the critical wing.
So, if in doubt, you take the controls. you fly the plane.
When I first flew the SF260 I would bring the plane in for a greased on landing and would stall 6" above the runway. Suddenly the plane would fall out of the sky and slam onto the runway. The sound was similar to being in a big base drum when someone banged on the side.
I finally learned that the problem was the lack of adequate hydraulic fluid in the landing gear struts. I had this problem with my first marchetti. No one seemed to pick up on the problem. Then it went away after I serviced the struts. I can stall 2 feet too high and it just seems to glide onto the runway. It is the trailing link struts. The Cessna Conquest, the 441,has the trailing link struts, they are just bigger than they are on the SF260.
In evaluating accidents I came to realize that during emergencies we panic. To some extent we all panic. Those who think they will not are just waiting for their come uppance The Marchetti is not a hard plane to fly but you have to fly it right. My original instructor used to do a turn onto base at 90 knots. In a 60º bank he would say, "the plane is dead in the water." We were descending. If I had tried to maintain altitude, to stretch a glide or whatever, we would have fallen out of the sky. I still remember his words but do not fully agree because the plane feels stable. One time I did try to strech the glide and landed one foot short of the Tarmac. There was a 4" rise above the sod and this exposed the weak point of the landing gear system. It tore the screws out of the right wing fairing and required a $10,000 repair.
Just remember, during an emergency:
1. fly the plane
I would sit with the SF260 on the jacks and practice the emergency gear extension until I thought I would wear out the mechanism, then I would go back and do it the next day and then the next.
Let me relate one gear up landing incident. The pilot had to do a go around. A Cessna 172 cut in front of him. He was angry and anger clouds the intellect. He retracted the gear for the go around and forgot to extend it on the second approach. Just before touch down he said, "I didn't know this plane has a stall warning indicator." Guess what, it was a B model. It did not have a stall warning indicator. It had a gear warning indicator and that was what was making the buzzing noise. Six years later I met the pilot of the Cessna 172. It was Allen Weller who lives on an airstrip just south of Griffin, GA.