Wolfe Air's Big Red Machine
by Steve Whitson

The Plane

At the termination of production in 1980, a total of 2054 Skymasters
and 332 pressurized Skymasters had been built, with another 67
and 27 respectively, by Reims Aviation in France. Why was the
plane's production canceled? Good question, and probably one the
Cessna engineers would like to know the answer to. Maybe it was
the relatively poor performance when checked against a
conventional twin with comparable engines, and then again,
maybe it's the same thing that plagues Burt Rutan--anything out
of the ordinary is shunned by the conservative aviation community.

Wolfe Air's 337

Wolfe Air's 337 is a big red machine used by Dan Wolfe's movie and television production company for high-quality aerial HD camera
work. The camera system is their own proprietary Hi-Def GYRON.
High-end aerial providers, including all Goodyear blimps, utilize the GYRON gyrostabilized system. Its housing is a sphere about 23
inches in diameter and is mounted on the left side of the fuselage of
the 337. A typical camera package inside the unit is the Sony F-950 configured with the Fujinon 42x lens. A new version of the GYRON
is now being built. It will incorporate Sony's F-23/F-35, as well as the
RED ONE for high-end production and low-light surveillance
applications. Another new unit is being configured specifically for
feature film projects utilizing Panavision's Genesis camera. With the Cessna, along with Wolfe Air's Learjet 25, equipped with Nettmann's Vectorvision, and an A-Star helicopter, also equipped to fly the
GYRON, Wolfe Air shoots air-to-air and air-to-ground assignments
from feature films to live television events such as NASCAR, X
Games, Indy Racing and the NFL. Wolfe Air also shoots projects for
NASA, the U.S. Air Force and all of the various airframe
manufacturers. Check out the results of one of Wolfe Air's recent
projects at Still images are captured
using a camera pod, developed in conjunction with renowned
aerial photographer Erik Hildebrandt. The pods attach under the
wings and are operated by wireless remote control.

Wolfe’s problem with the 337 was that the two IO-360 engines just
didn’t give the plane the performance it needed. In their business,
it’s important to get to shots as soon as possible and be able to stay
there safely, even if that means flying in mountainous terrain. With a maximum 500 fpm climb rate at sea level, it was very dicey to fly low
and slow in valleys and areas where the terrain is higher than
the plane.

The solution was the replacement of the engines, with two 300 HP
IO-550s. This wasn’t easily done and required extensive engineering
work over and above the plans obtained from Riley Aircraft, which
made its own version called the Super Skyrocket. Since it was
mandatory that the plane be kept in the Standard Category, a one-
time STC, or Field Approval, was required. ProCraft Aviation located
at Corona Airport in Southern California did the engineering
and installation.

We spoke with the Panagotacos brothers, Steve who runs the shop
and George who runs the engineering side of the business.

Steve said the problem wasn’t so much engineering and design, as
it was manufacturing the parts needed. He estimates about 75% of
the installation parts had to be made by his mechanics. At the front
engine they did away with the mounting pads and installed the
engine on a keel type mount, as seen in many other twins. Two other
areas that caused concern, and a lot of effort, were the baffles and
induction systems. The rear engine had an entirely new cage built
for its installation.

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