Maintenance Aviation Articles

First Post-Restoration Flight for Ultra-Rare Airco DH.9 WWI Bomber

The world's only original airworthy WWI-era bomber, Airco DH.9 E8894 took to the skies over Duxford, Cambridgeshire following a 15-year restoration effort with Retrotec Ltd. in England on May 13th, 2019. (photo by George Land)

 

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The Historic Aircraft Collection’s extraordinarily rare, WWI-era Airco DH.9 light bomber took to the skies over Duxford Aerodrome on May 13th, 2019 for its first post-restoration flight following fifteen years of dedicated conservation and restoration at Retrotec Ltd. in Westfield, East Sussex. The aircraft hadn’t flown under its own power for the best part of a century, and it is currently the only original WWI bomber flying anywhere in the world!

The DH.9, designed by the legendary Geoffrey de Havilland in 1917, was essentially a larger, modified variant of his very successful DH.4, with which it shared significant components. It was intended to fly at 15,000′ and had an internal bomb bay; a first for British designs of the day. Although it had a sound pedigree, the aircraft’s Achilles heel was its powerplant, the Siddeley-Deasey Puma, which delivered at best 230 of the promised 300 HP promised. Added to this already near-fatal shortcoming, the engine was so unreliable that many DH.9s (and often their crews) were lost to engine failure. Even so, the Aircraft Manufacturing Company Ltd. (Airco – a forerunner to de Havilland) built four thousand or so DH.9s, although a good number of the later variants, like the DH.9A, used the far more reliable and powerful Liberty V-12 or the Rolls-Royce Eagle Mk.VIII powerplants. Despite the type’s inauspicious beginnings, DH.9s and their variants served in more than twenty military air arms across the world, and a good number ended up with civilian operators as well. They soldiered on in every corner of the British Empire well into the 1930s, with the last flight believed to have taken place sometime in 1937.

Although Airco built several thousand DH.9s, only a handful still survive. Just three DH.9s were known to exist, none of them in the UK, before Guy Black confirmed the existence of a further three examples in India during the late 1990s. These three had been Imperial Gifts from the British in India to the Maharaja Sir Ganga Singh in Bikaner, Rajasthan, although it is doubtful they ever flew with their new owner. Black found that two of the DH.9s lay dismantled in the now-disused elephant stables within the maharaja’s fortress, while a third example had been crudely put back together for display. After a lengthy period of negotiation, Guy Black was able to acquire the two stored examples, which formerly served in the Royal Air Force as D5649 and E8894. Their service histories are presently unknown, other than that both of aircraft spent time at a storage depot in Biggin Hill, near London, England during early 1918; Guy Black believes that neither of them flew in combat during WWI.

Both airframes were in understandably poor condition, and without engines, but would form the basis for one airworthy and one static example for display in England. It was clear that almost all of the wood would need to be replaced in any airworthy restoration, so in order to preserve as much original material as possible for the ground-bound example, Black chose D5649 for static restoration as its woodwork was in the best condition… albeit suffering from further indignities and damage at the hands of the team in India charged with preparing them for shipment back to England. In the years subsequent to their arrival in England, the restoration team scoured the earth looking for original parts, not to mention drawings and manufacturing details. Following decade-long sympathetic conservation, Retrotec completed D5649 for display in 2015. This example was originally built in Hammersmith, London at Waring and Gillow, a furniture factory impressed into war work, and now she was complete again following decades of decay. She now sits proudly in the Imperial War Museum’s Airspace hangar at Duxford Aerodrome.

Due to the lack of any original drawings, and Guy Black’s determination to produce as authentic a restoration as possible, E8894 took more than fifteen years to restore. One stroke of luck came when Guy Black realized he had a complete set of DH.9 wing struts in his collection that he had acquired before starting the project. He also found a significant collection of DH.4 drawings in the Smithsonian’s archives in the USA, which provided useful data for the project since many DH.4 parts migrated to the DH.9 design. But the biggest problem was locating an appropriate, period engine to power the aircraft. Since the Siddeley-Deasy Puma was never used on any other production aircraft, for obvious reasons, it has become exceedingly rare, with just a handful or so rebuildable examples still in existence, and none available for acquisition. However, Guy Black was able to locate an even rarer Beardmore Halford Pullinger (BHP) engine within the Canada Aviation & Space Museum’s collection in Ottawa, Canada. Interestingly, the BHP was used in the early examples of the DH.9 before Siddeley-Deasy took up its production as the Puma. Rushed into production, there were many design faults, but one of them seemed so egregious as to be unbelievable. The connecting rods had their part number and inspection stamp crudely whacked into them at precisely the same spot where most of the failures seemed to occur. As a result, the restored engine incorporates newly manufactured con-rods, sans the troublesome stampings, so they should be more reliable than the originals. Retrotec conducted the first engine runs with the BHP powerplant mounted in E8894 during October 2018. There is a wonderful video available below which should give our readers a good idea of what this ancient engine sounds like…

 

 

The first flight took place at Duxford on May 13th, and our very own George Land was on hand to record the details. George reports the details as follows…

“After many years of painstaking labor, the dream became reality when in October of 2018 E8894’s first engine runs occurred,  followed by ground testing and taxi runs that November.

Finally on May 13th, 2019, we were lucky to witness the first flight of an authentic DH.9 in many long years when test pilot Dodge Bailey, who is one of the most experienced vintage biplane pilots in the UK, finally felt that everything was in order for a test flight. He took E8894 into the air using an into-the-wind, cross-field take-off on the grass from the west end of RAF Duxford for the first time. 

After numerous circuits of the airfield at differing heights, Dodge Bailey took the DH.9 on a run down the field in front of the tower before bringing the historic WWI bomber around for a safe cross-field landing and a successful conclusion to her first flight following restoration.

Since then, a number of flights have taken place and it is hoped that the first public display might take place during the Flying Legends air show at Duxford on July 13th.”

 Obviously, given the nature of its engine, the DH.9 will only fly occasionally, but it is marvelous to see it flying again; a tangible link to our collective past that is all down to the perspicacity of Guy Black and the ingenuity and hard work of all those at Retrotec Ltd. and HAC. As some will know, the Historic Aircraft Collection, and their restoration arm, Retrotec, have a prodigious reputation for unusual and complex restorations. These include a unique survivor of the Hawker Fury interwar biplane fighter, perhaps the most beautiful biplane ever built… at least to your editor’s eyes… and a Hawker Nimrod Mk.II (a navalized Fury) to name a few. Currently, they are working on the resurrection of de Havilland Mosquito NF.36 RL249 for another client.

 

DH.9 E8894 sitting outside Hangar 3 at Duxford Aerodrome before another test flight on June 15th, 2019. The aircraft was scheduled to have its first public display on June 22nd, however, this had to be postponed. (photo by George Land)
 

 

FAA Suspected Unapproved Parts Program

What are “Unapproved Parts?”

Aviation is such a complex industry, with so many (literal) moving parts. While learning about MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul) operations, we touched briefly on the FAA Suspected Unapproved Parts Program, and I was intrigued. If you think about it, there are billions of aircraft parts in circulation in the U.S. Aviation Industry at any given moment. The majority of these parts are vital to aircraft operations, and can put passengers in danger if they fail. How do aircraft operators ensure that their parts are actually the high quality that they are relying on when they purchase them?

In 1993 the FAA created the Suspected Unapproved Parts Program in order to decrease the amount of aircraft parts in circulation with unknown or questionable history. The purchasing and installation of these unapproved parts can cause a hazard to flight operations, as their quality is undetermined and they may be unacceptable. The ultimate requirement of an aircraft operator is to maintain airworthiness as specified in the particular part of the Federal Aviation Regulations that governs that type of operation, which also includes all individual parts being in compliance.

Advisory Circular 21-29C defines a S.U.P. as, “A part, component, or material that is suspected of not meeting the requirements of an approved part. A part that, for any reason, a person believes is not approved. Reasons may include findings such as different finish, size, color, improper (or lack of) identification, incomplete or altered paperwork, or any other questionable indication.” So really, a S.U.P. could be anything.

The Advisory Circular makes a clear distinction between aircraft parts that are sold with the understanding that it is for decorative purposes only, and parts that are disguised as airworthy. It is the responsibility of the buyer to request and receive the documentation necessary to show the purpose of the part. Selling a part that is clearly not airworthy is not a crime, as long as the seller does not do it under the premise that it is airworthy.

How are they caught?

There is a process that the FAA has created to report a suspected unapproved part. First, you could call The Aviation Safety Hotline to report unsafe practices that affect aviation safety, including the manufacture, distribution, or use of an S.U.P. Their number is 1-800-255-1111 or 1-866-835-5322. If requested, the caller may remain anonymous.

There is also a standardized form, FAA Form 8120-11, that outlines the information needed about the S.U.P. This includes the date the part was discovered, the part serial number, information about the company that supplied the part, a description of the issue, and several other important facts that the FAA will need to investigate. This form can then be sent to the Aviation Safety Hotline via e-mail or to their physical address in Washington, DC. Although this is a relatively low-tech solution to the problem, it is a solid system for reporting S.U.P. and has done a lot of good.

The FAA then investigates the S.U.P., and if it is found to be unacceptable they will send out an Unapproved Parts Notification (UPN). These are available to the public, and can be found on the FAA website. The most recently posted UPN was put on the site on February 15th, 2018, and outlines various parts distributed by Genesis Aviation Inc. This report recommends that aircraft owners who have installed the parts to inspect and remove them from their aircraft to keep it airworthy.

Why even bother?

The goal of the S.U.P. program is to improve safety and promote transparency in aviation. By having a system in place to detect and report unapproved parts, aircraft maintenance personnel and aircraft owners have an easier way to ensure they are using the best parts available. Removing all unapproved parts from the U.S. Aviation Industry is a huge undertaking, but with the task force making it their personal mission it is much more likely to come to fruition.

This leaves one to wonder what happens to the company or individual that gets caught selling unapproved parts. According to a press release fact sheet sent out by the FAA on the matter, “if the FAA determines that a manufacturer, air carrier or other user violated Federal Aviation Regulations regarding approved parts, they could be subject to anything from a warning letter to a stiff fine. In the case of criminal activity, the appropriate law enforcement authority and judicial system can pursue the case.”

Unapproved parts are a very serious matter that affect the safety of air travel. The FAA has created a great way for any possible unapproved parts to get caught and removed from the U.S. Aviation system.

 

The Latest Lycoming Engine Airworthiness Directive: What You Need To Know

Are you one of the estimated 778 unfortunate aircraft owners affected by the latest Lycoming airworthiness directive (“AD”)? If you are, I am hopeful this article will help you navigate your current situation.

The Airworthiness Directive

On August 4, 2017 Lycoming issued a “Mandatory Service Bulletin” requiring inspection, and potentially replacement, of connecting rod bushings in certain Lycoming engines that had been overhauled or repaired using replacement parts. The MSB identified the potentially affected engines and replacement parts, and it also included instructions for completing the inspection as well as the installation of replacement connecting rod small end bushings. It also indicated that the inspection and/or replacement be performed within the next 10 hours of engine operation.

As we know, although a manufacturer may state that its service bulletin is “mandatory,” for most operators flying their aircraft strictly under Part 91, service bulletins are not, in fact, mandatory. So, when it was issued, the MSB wasn’t mandatory for most Part 91 operators.

Unfortunately, the FAA received 5 reports of uncontained engine failures and in-flight shut downs due to failed connecting rods on certain Lycoming engine models identified in the MSB. Based upon its evaluation of the information available to it, the FAA determined that an unsafe condition existed or could develop in products of the same type design. As a result, on August 10, 2017 the FAA issued the AD with respect to the Lycoming engines requiring compliance with the MSB in order to prevent uncontained engine failure, total engine power loss, in-flight shut downs, and possible loss of the aircraft.

And, as we also know, an airworthiness directive is mandatory, regardless of the particular regulations under which you are operating. So, if your aircraft’s Lycoming engine is one of those specified in the MSB/AD you have no choice but to comply with the AD if you want your aircraft to be airworthy.

Cost of Compliance

According to the AD, the FAA anticipates that initial compliance with the AD (the inspection of the connecting rod small bushings) will cost engine owners approximately $1,425 in parts and labor. If connecting rod replacement is required, the FAA estimates the additional parts and labor costs will range from $2,170.00 for a four cylinder engine up to $6,850.00 for an eight cylinder engine. Of course, these are just estimates and they do not take into consideration any warranty coverage or variations in the costs of parts or labor.

Fortunately, this AD isn’t as extensive, or expensive, as the 2006 Lycoming crankshaft airworthiness directive. That airworthiness directive required replacement of the crankshaft in approximately 3,774 engines to the tune of about $16,000 per engine.

So, what are your options if your options if this AD applies to your engine?

Warranty Coverage

One option is to pursue a warranty claim with Lycoming. Lycoming has several types of warranties: New and Rebuilt Engine Warranty; New Non-Certified Warranty; Overhauled Engine Warranty; and Replacement Parts Warranty. You will need to determine which warranty applies to your engine and then file a claim with Lycoming. Lycoming will then determine whether you have coverage and, if so, to what extent. Although I haven’t reviewed Lycoming’s various warranty programs, the coverage typically includes parts only. And it certainly does not cover loss of use or other losses an engine owner may suffer as a result of the AD.

Litigation

If you don’t have warranty coverage, or if you are unsatisfied with the warranty coverage applicable to your engine, you could also consider suing Lycoming to try and recover the costs of complying with the AD and any other losses you suffer as a result of the AD. However, given the anticipated cost of compliance, unless you have other significant losses as a direct result of the AD, the cost of litigation would likely exceed your losses with no guaranty of recovery. (Although given the number of affected engines, I wouldn’t be surprised if some owners attempted a class action lawsuit against Lycoming).

Also keep in mind that manufacturer’s warranties typically include language making the warranty your sole remedy and excluding your ability to pursue other claims for recovery against the manufacturer. So I would anticipate that Lycoming would raise this and other legal defenses in responding to any lawsuits. But litigation is certainly an option, although not necessarily a practical or preferred option.

As you may recall, the Lycoming crankshaft airworthiness directive resulted in numerous lawsuits brought by engine owners against Lycoming. Of course the cost of compliance for that airworthiness directive was significantly higher than the current AD, which certainly made the economic analysis for litigation more attractive in that situation. Some lawsuits were brought by engine owners in their individual capacities, and others sought class action status on behalf of all affected engine owners. Lycoming also sued its crankshaft manufacturer, although it ultimately lost the case.


Conclusion

The bottom line for most engine owners affected by this AD is that they will need to comply in order for their aircraft to remain airworthy. How or whether they are able to recover their costs of compliance will initially depend upon how Lycoming handles the warranty issues. If Lycoming doesn’t treat its customers fairly, I would anticipate at least some litigation. However, whether such litigation will be successful is hard to say at this point in time.

Making an Upgrade Decision

The owners of a turboprop were facing the possibility of significant avionics upgrades in the next few years. In addition to adding in ADS-B, they were considering a major upgrade to their avionics suite. They also had a good offer on a new aircraft that, when delivered, would have everything they were looking for, albeit at a higher initial cost.

The upgrade would add value to their current aircraft and might make it easier to sell.  What path was best for the owners? When does it pay to do the upgrade, and when doesn't it?

The FAA requires ADS-B to be installed by 2020 to allow aircraft to use the air navigation system. If not done, the aircraft is essentially no longer flyable in its current capacity. Avionics installers have been warning that there is not enough capacity to complete ADS-B installs in all the remaining aircraft before the deadline. With residual values already low for most models, an older, non-compliant aircraft in 2020 may be unsellable except for parts.

Some long range turbine aircraft may require even more avionics upgrades to operate globally, especially in Europe. These FANS requirements and similar also can add considerably to install. But, as with ADS-B, they won’t add value but just allow you to retain the value in the aircraft and keep it flyable in the future airspace.

When to Do the Upgrade

After keeping the aircraft compliant with air navigation standards, upgrades fall into two categories:  adding new safety features and adding new capabilities.   If you need the advantages of a new aircraft, such as more range, speed or cabin volume, but don’t want the acquisition expense, the upgrade path may work.

There are a number of avionic upgrades available from companies like Avidyne, Garmin, Honeywell, Rockwell-Collins and others. Third party specialists are also doing modifications that range from updated navigation gear to a full (glass) panel replacement. When looking at new systems, consider what the current variant of your aircraft (or closest relative) has for its avionic system. Done right, these systems enhance both safety and reliability.

Possibly you may seek to add performance, such as better fuel efficiency or range.  Companies like Aviation Partners, Raisbeck and Blackhawk have been quite popular for many years.  They, and others, have aerodynamic and engine upgrades that allow your current aircraft to fly faster, further, or both. Sierra Industries offers Williams engine upgrades for older Citations that add speed and range. 

In between refurbishment and new is remanufactured. Nextant Aerospace is remanufacturing older Beechjets into Nextant 400XTi's - complete with new engines, new avionics and a new interior. Nextant is being joined by an engine upgrade from Textron. Other companies offer engine modifications as well.

For the passenger cabin, interior specialists offer all sorts of options for in-flight entertainment and airborne Internet as well as new seat designs and modern materials. If you need "more" as in seats, payload or room, your only true alternative is acquiring a larger aircraft.

Considerations

Before you undertake such a major project, consider your current aircraft’s age. Older aircraft cost more to maintain than newer ones. Wear and tear items, aging aircraft issues, and engine overhauls all drive costs up. Your aircraft must be in excellent mechanical condition and essentially free of corrosion, otherwise don't consider the upgrades.  

Do the upgrade if it has value to you. If it has value in the market place, so much the better but do it primarily for you. Unique is great with art, not with aircraft. Stick with established programs with a successful track record. Do equipment upgrades that mirror the new models or closest equivalents. Those will tend to have the best impact on resale value and also maintenance supportability.

For example: upgrading the engines on a King Air C90 can run to over $700,000. Adding in a new avionic system can run to another $750,000 or so.

A stock 20-year old C90B sells for about $1 million.  Looking at today's market, its doubtful that the upgraded C90B can recoup 100% of the upgrade at resale. The engine upgrade will add to the aircraft’s value, but don't do it just to resell the King Air after the retrofit.  The avionics are great and add to the capability and situational awareness of the pilots.  

If you are planning to sell in the next few years, these major upgrades won’t pay a full return and you won’t enjoy them long enough to benefit. Best just to do the ADS-B and start shopping for a replacement. Budget carefully and talk to other operators who have done the same upgrades. Look at the tax considerations as these upgrades may need to be capitalized. Consider the cost of borrowing the funds needed to upgrade or replace.  As long as your current aircraft is in excellent mechanical condition and you plan to keep it for the next few years, the added utility and flexibility of the upgrade may add all the value you need.

The turboprop owner above elected to acquire the new aircraft and retain the current turboprop while adding just the ADS-B.

Documenting Maintenance and Inspection Records

The primary job of an aircraft mechanic is to service and repair aircraft and their components/systems. And once he or she has completed an inspection or item of maintenance, 14 C.F.R. §§ 43.9(a)(maintenance) and 43.11(a)(inspections) require the mechanic to “make an entry in the maintenance record of that equipment.” Typically, this means writing the information in the aircraft’s maintenance records (e.g. the aircraft’s log books).

But what happens if the aircraft owner or operator does not provide the mechanic with the aircraft’s log books? Sometimes the log books are not with the aircraft or the owner or operator simply forgot to bring them with the aircraft. In other cases, the aircraft owner or operator refuses to bring the aircraft’s log books to the mechanic, preferring to maintain possession of the aircraft’s log books. Can the mechanic require the aircraft owner or operator to deliver the aircraft’s log books before the mechanic will sign off on an inspection or maintenance?

The regulations do not require that the mechanic have physical custody of the aircraft’s log books or maintenance records. While the mechanic may make delivery of the aircraft’s log books a condition for performing the applicable inspection or maintenance, the implications of that business practice are beyond the scope of this article. So, if the mechanic does not have the aircraft’s log books, how is he or she supposed to make the required entry?

Well, according to a recent Legal Interpretation issued by the FAA’s Office of the Chief Counsel, the mechanic does not need to have the aircraft’s log books in order to make the required entry. Rather, a mechanic may simply make the required maintenance entry, even including an approval for return to service, on a piece of paper and provide it to the aircraft owner or operator for inclusion in the aircraft’s log books or maintenance records.

Remember, under 14 C.F.R. § 91.417 an aircraft owner, not the mechanic, is required to keep the aircraft’s maintenance record to document that required inspections and maintenance have been accomplished. However, since making an entry in an aircraft’s log books exposes a mechanic to the potential for both regulatory and civil liability, it is also a good practice for the mechanic to keep copies of all of the entries he or she has made in the maintenance records for customers’ aircraft.

And whether an entry is made in the aircraft's log books or simply written on a piece of paper and delivered to the aircraft owners or operators, it is also important for the mechanic to exercise the same care with what he or she writes, or does not write, in connection with aircraft service and repair as the mechanic does in actually performing the work. After all, by making that entry the mechanic will be responsible for that inspection or maintenance.

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