This past January, walking up to my fresh-out-of-annual Beechcraft Bonanza in a heated hangar in Moriarty, New Mexico, I immediately noticed something different about my bird. The wing-walk section leading to the door was brand new—black-as-night paint, with a perfect grit. When I dropped her off, the walk had been dirt gray at best and had as much grip as the ice rink at Rockefeller Center.
“Hey, Fernie…what happened here? I didn’t ask you to do this.”
“I know,” he replied.
“So, why’d you do it?”
“Because it was driving me f–king nuts.”
This was when I learned that while obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may be a pathology you do not wish in your life partner, consider yourself blessed to find it in your A&P. Fernie Nunez is the owner of New Mexico Aero Services. I met him a few years ago while stuck in New Mexico during the pandemic.
He’s a Bonanza specialist who studied under Bob Ripley at one of the American Bonanza Society Maintenance Academy workshops. Incidentally, Bob has been doing my annuals for years, but the trip down to Griffin, Georgia (6A2), is a stretch for me. As I am always on either coast, I decided to make a change that factored heavily on convenience. Ripley is known as Mr. Bonanza and has a waiting list for new customers, so this was no light decision.
While I was stuck, Fernie installed a crankshaft gasket (my third) that managed to seal properly. Finally. I’d seen other mechanics use microwaves and hot water to make the gasket pliable. Some said a prayer. Fernie had a specialized tool and a healthy dose of compulsion. Done and dusted. Another time, in a perfect example of confirmation bias, I told Fernie I had a fuel leak in the cabin as well as fading brakes. Turns out those issues were one and the same, and your faithful author can’t discern the smell of 100LL from brake fluid. With the size of my schnoz, this is troubling. Fernie removed the brake master cylinders and rebuilt them both (no co-pilot brakes on my bird). After throwing a few problems like these at Fernie and seeing them thoughtfully solved, I felt comfortable giving him a shot at the annual.
I dropped the airplane off in late December and was about to call an Uber to take me back down the hill to Albuquerque, where I was flying commercial back home for the holidays. Fernie told me he’d be happy to fly me there.
“Didn’t know you were a pilot.”
“Yup. Commercial, multi, instrument.”
I flew us there in the left seat and watched him taxiout and depart. I had never let anyone fly that airplane. Not with me in it, and certainly not without. Trust is that witches brew of finite data points, mixed with gut feelings and a dice roll.
Fernie stayed in close contact with me over the break. There were things he could not control in this back-ordered, shipping-delayed world we now live in. A throttle cable would take a week. An aux fuel pump rebuild, 10 days. In years past, I have had minor squawks that Bob didn’t have time to fix during the annual. This is normal. He runs a busy shop.
If it’s not a safety-of-flight issue, then I come back and make an appointment later. This is where Fernie’s OCD diagnosis can pay dividends. He attacked every squawk I could throw at him. Leaving anything unresolved gives him agita.
Returning to Moriarty after the holidays, I found Fernie had addressed every single item I had on my exhaustive list. When I arrived in the morning to pick her up, Fernie told me the Bonanza had an additional hour on the tach. He had flown it and tested every system, making sure everything worked as it should. The first flight after an annual is always the most dangerous. Things have been futzed with. The interior has been removed, bolts undone, then re-torqued. My Electroair ignition system was finally installed correctly—the remaining mag firing the top plugs with the Electroair firing the bottoms (it had been backward for some time).The new aux fuel pump whirred loud and true. The landing gear was rigged properly. These are not small things. Fernie’s willingness to be the first up after all of this work is confidence-inspiring, to say the least.
But there was also a smile creeping out from the corner of his mouth. The truth is, it doesn’t really take an hour to check all these things. He just loved the airplane and wanted to stay up there a bit longer. He had one of his employees, Dustin, with him. They both just love airplanes. Still. The love has not waned, and I believe it finds its way into the work, making mine that much better cared for.
I took a trip this past weekend to KSLC, Salt Lake City International. I had a United flight booked, but a few hours before departing, I checked in online. It was then I was told that my snowboard bag would cost $400 round-trip to make the journey with me. It was 2 inches too long. It was 4:30 p.m. at this point, but I was so annoyed that I canceled the flight, drove straight to Burbank, and fired up my airplane. It was going to be a night flight over mountains. I made sure the route followed Victor airways and filed IFR, but still… What gave me extra courage was knowing Fernie had completed my annual. Following that, I trusted her to get me there, and she did.
Back during the pandemic, there was one issue Fernie could not fix. My new Whelen taxi light kept rotating in the housing, causing the name to turn 15 degrees askew. Mind you, this had zero impact on the pattern, direction, and efficacy of the light. Like my wing walk, it just drove Fernie nuts. It was fixed when I came to pick up the airplane in January. I got a five-minute explanation of how there was no retaining tab, but he had fashioned one himself to seat it permanently in the housing. I was overcome with joy and tried to hug him goodbye, but he wasn’t having it. All good. OCD swings both ways. I’ll gladly trade a no-cuddle policy for a perfectly-working airplane. All day. Every day.
This article was originally published in the April 2023 Issue 936 of FLYING.