How Long Do Commuter Planes Last?

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As you squeeze aboard a commuter aircraft that started flying long before you did, ever wonder just how long an airplane like that can last? The youthful graduate students at Wichita State University hope to have an answer for you ... in a couple of years. The aerospace engineering students are taking a Cessna 402 with 20,000 hours on it apart piece by piece examining every part for cracks and other signs of wear. "Every airplane at some point will develop cracks," said Dale Cope, manager of the Aging Aircraft Research Lab's two-year project. Cope thinks there are thousands of commuter aircraft in the air beyond their projected service life. After the plane is disassembled, almost every piece will be examined under optical and electron microscopes. So far, the Cessna, which flew sightseers over the Grand Canyon, appears to have held up well. The next aircraft to go under the knife will be a later-model Cessna 402A, which toiled for CapeAir, of Hyannis, Mass. Cope said the information gathered from the Cessnas should apply to other commuter aircraft because they share basic construction and maintenance techniques.