Last week’s massive proposed airworthiness directive aimed at thousands of Engine Components International cylinder assemblies is drawing mixed reactions from engine overhaul shops, according to an AVweb canvass of shops this week. While some say the proposed AD is a kneejerk over reaction, at least one shop told AVweb that the AD is justified, based on the shop’s direct experience with cracking in ECi cylinders. Some shops have stopped recommending or using ECi cylinders because of perceived quality issues from ECi’s previous cylinder quality problems in 2009, while others report that customers are demurring on picking ECi cylinders for overhauls and favoring factory or Superior Air Parts cylinders instead.
As AVweb reported last Monday, the FAA has proposed a complex AD that would divide more than 60,000 cylinder assemblies into two groups. Group A—nearly 34,000 cylinders—would have to be removed from service (within 25 hours) if they had, on the effective date of the AD, fewer than 500 hours or more than 1,000 hours. The Group B cylinders would have to be removed from service if they had more than 1,000 operating hours. The AD would also require repetitive visual inspections for cracks, compression checks and leak checks for Group A cylinders between 500 and 1,000 hours and Group B cylinder with fewer than 1,000 hours until they’re removed from service.
Cylinder replacement costs are estimated to be $1,700 each and the FAA estimates the total cost of the AD, including inspections and replacements, would amount to $82.6 million, making it one of the largest proposed ADs in recent history. The agency is accepting comments on the proposed AD until Oct. 11, after which it will issue a final rule.
For its part, ECi said the FAA’s proposal is “unwarranted, inappropriate, and unnecessarily punitive for owners of the affected aircraft.” ECi says the failure rate of its Titan line of cylinders is the lowest in the industry and blamed what cracking has occurred on overheating due to improper leaning or engine mismanagement by pilots. AVweb’s calls this week to obtain additional data in support of ECi’s claims were not returned.
Many field overhaul shops rely on ECi cylinders and piece parts to remain competitive against factory overhauls, but we found varying opinions on whether the AD is justified. “If this actually goes through and the appeal fails, it is a humongous, absolutely earth quaking scenario,” says Allen Weiss, owner of Certified Engines in Opa-locka, Florida. “Are the cylinders unsafe? I don’t know about that word, but we’ve seen plenty of cracking of cylinders outside the applicable serial numbers,” he adds. Weiss says Certified has had “moderate success” with the ECi Titan line with issues no different than other shops may have experienced. When asked if the AD is justified, Weiss said: “My answer is yes. I wish it was no. This could potentially put them out of business and that’s very bad for our industry. I want them to win their appeal because I need them to stay afloat; on the other hand, safety has got to be number one,” Weiss added. Weiss says ECi’s best business strategy might be to exit the cylinder business and concentrate on other PMA parts.
At America’s Aircraft Engines in Tulsa, Okla., ECi cylinders got a ringing endorsement from Phil Stephens. America’s uses almost exclusively ECi cylinders for its Continental engines and reports few problems. “We haven’t had an issue with [cracking] at all. Most of ours have been in the Lycoming parallel-valve type cylinders and the O-470 long reach, as well as some 520s. We haven’t had any problems with them,” he said. He described the breadth of the proposed ECi AD as “probably a kneejerk reaction.”
When asked if the shop continues to recommend and use ECI cylinders, Stephens said, “You bet.”
He added that if the AD is approved as proposed, the impact on the engine market will be significant. “I think it will kill ECi and I think it’s bad for the market,” Stephens said. At Zephyr Engines in Zephyr Hills, Fla., Herman Vollrath reports a similar experience with ECI cylinders and thinks the proposed AD is unnecessary or at least overbroad.
Other shops we spoke to, Penn Yan Aero in Penn Yan, New York and Poplar Grove Airmotive in Poplar Grove, Illinois, have drifted away from using ECi cylinders, mainly because of quality complaints related to cracking. “I haven’t had any head-to-barrel separations from any cylinders I’ve sold,” said Poplar Grove’s Dave Allen, “but I got away from using ECi a couple of years ago just because the heads were cracking. And they crack at the induction port instead of the exhaust. It’s a design flaw, as far as I’m concerned.” For Continental engines, Poplar Grove uses Continental factory cylinders almost exclusively and reports that customers haven’t had complaints.
At Penn Yan, Bill Middlebrook says the shop uses ECI only on customer request. “Otherwise, we aren’t offering it as an option, nor do we promote it,” he said. Why?
“Too many problems. We spent a tremendous amount of time at Oshkosh this year trying to answer questions from people about what’s going on at ECi. It’s just too much trouble,” Middlebrook added. Five years ago, Penn Yan was recommending and using ECI as a primary cylinder choice but encountered quality issues significant enough to switch primarily to factory cylinders from Lycoming and Continental.
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There were no injuries in the crash of a Bradley BA-100 kit-built aircraft (Wikipedia reference) in Killeen, Texas (about 70 miles north of Austin) on Aug. 10 but there is an illustrative video. The unidentified pilot secured several cameras to the aircraft before he took off on an abruptly ended flight from Skylark Airfield. The video record seems to be foremost in his mind as his first words after impact describe that the camera is still recording. "You've just survived a plane crash," he says into the lens as local authorities arrive. As for the crash itself, it seems like engine problems started the sequence. A pretty well-edited video using views from the various cameras tells the story.
Skylark has 5,495 feet of available pavement and the aircraft used about a tenth of it. After flying runway heading for a few seconds after clearing the threshold at the other end, the engine can be heard faltering. There appeared to be likely emergency landing fields directly ahead but the pilot turned in what the NTSB says might have been an attempt to return to the field. The engine quit and the pilot headed for a relatively clear patch that had a big tree in front of it. It looks like the aircraft plowed into the tree about 20 feet from its top. The NTSB says the aircraft was substantially damaged but that the pilot was uninjured. (PDF)
The UPS A300 that crashed in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday flew itself into the ground, according to the NTSB preliminary analysis of the flight data recorder information. At a news conference on Saturday NTSB spokesman Robert Sumwalt said the aircraft was flying on its autopilot until "moments" before it crashed less than a mile short of the runway at the airport about 4:45 a.m. “The autopilot was engaged until the last second of recorded data,” said Sumwalt. The autothrottle was also engaged.
A sink rate warning was sounded in the cockpit seven seconds before impact but Sumwalt did not outline the reaction of the crew to that warning. He said the investigators will look at UPS's instrument approach procedures, noting that it's common for crews to rely on the electronics to fly instrument approaches. The rest of the airplane was operating normally, he said. Authorities have now identified the pilots killed in the crash as Cera Beal Jr., 58, of Matthew, N.C., and Shanda Fanning, 37, of Lynchburg, Tenn. The pairing started their work day in Rockford, Ill., the previous day and flew to Peoria and Louisville, where they accepted keys to crew rest facilities. They left from there for the flight to Birmingham.
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The 10-story "Grasshopper" rocket created by SpaceX was successfully flown to hover on August 13, and then returned to land on its launch platform after executing a lateral maneuver, the company said Wednesday. The test carried the rocket to an altitude of 250 meters and incorporated a lateral shift of 100 meters. The Grasshopper rocket is being built as a reusable outer space delivery system that will travel out of the earth's atmosphere, reach hypersonic speeds and then return to land on its launchpad. Previous tests of the Grasshopper have flown to higher altitudes but have not demonstrated the same degree of lateral control.
SpaceX has successfully flown two cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station and remains the only commercial operator to have done so. The reusable system represented by the Grasshopper rocket system could lead to considerable cost savings. The company has been performing tests of the Grasshopper over the past several months.
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As part of the Eclipse 550 certification process, Eclipse Aerospace now has available a new "safety enhancement" package offering new or existing owners upgrades from brakes to multifunction displays, plus one "industry first," the company has announced. According to Eclipse, the addition of autothrottles as part of the new safety package marks a first within the very light jet category. The package, which also includes new EFIS software, anti-skid brakes, and a standby display, is built on the Eclipse Avio IFMS avionics suite, so existing owners must have upgraded (or must upgrade) to that package before they can consider the new enhancements.
Eclipse CEO Mason Holland says offering the upgrade to existing jets "shows our commitment to the continuing support" of the Eclipse jet. The upgrades bring a new high-resolution 3.25" x 4.3" display to the cockpit, which presents standby information. The new EFIS software reduces button-pushing and presents full-size terminal charts with Vertical Situation Display, according to the company. It also provides fuel timing to each waypoint, E-Chart overlay on the active waypoint and other features that Eclipse believes will reduce pilot workload and improve situational awareness. The Eclipse jet in June earned an expanded airframe lifetime limit of 20,000 hours/20,000 cycles with an unlimited calendar life. That means that a jet flying 400 hours per year is now FAA-approved for a 50-year lifetime, with proper maintenance.
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Researchers at MIT say they have created a new structure that is "10 times stiffer" than existing ultralight materials, can be easily disassembled and reassembled for maintenance or repair, and is "useful for anything you need to move or put in the air or in space." The research team says the structure is made by linking composite fiber loops and that the resulting part behaves like an elastic solid with the stiffness of much heavier traditional structures. The new structure is built from the creation of a "cubic lattice of octahedral cells," which can be engineered to be very strong in the direction of load but easily disassembled. The researchers likened that capability to the buckle on a seatbelt, which holds firm when set, but is also easy to open. And, beyond being lightweight, strong and easy to assemble, the new structure can be built to provide another feature that could be highly desirable in aircraft -- the ability to change shape.
Researchers believe that by linking multiple types of specifically engineered smaller parts made from the structure, they can make larger parts with ideal geometry that also have the ability to change shape in different ways in response to loads. "The entire arm of a robot or wing of an airplane could change shape," they said, without hinges. That would allow for greater design flexibility and possibly even more aerodynamically optimized structures that at the same time capitalize on weight savings. The weight savings begins at inception, because the technology creates parts by building up from nothing as opposed to removing material (as might be the case with metal). "Pound for pound, the new technique allows much less material to carry a given load," the researchers say. And that, they hope, could reduce manufacturing and materials costs while also producing lighter, more efficient vehicles. As for the structure's integrity, the researchers say the new structure introduces an advantage over conventional composites. Because the new material is built up from modular composition it does not fail abruptly and violently (like conventional composites) when stressed to its breaking point. According to MIT's researchers, the new structure "tends to fail only incrementally" making failure much less catastrophic and easier to repair.
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The FAA says some pilots can get their fuel costs covered when flying Eagles and Young Eagles flights at EAA-sanctioned events. Last week the agency responded to EAA's 2012 petition for a wide-ranging exemption to rules that prohibit non-commercial pilots from accepting compensation for flights, other than allowing passengers to chip in up to half the fuel and other direct expenses for the flight. In the petition, EAA says that sharp increases in the cost of flying, especially fuel, resulted in a 25-percent reduction of Young Eagles flights over five years. Last year, EAA established the Eagle program to introduce adults to aviation. In its response, the FAA said private pilots flying Young Eagles and Eagles in certified aircraft can have their fuel provided (including fuel needed to ferry to and from the event) and they can also log the time (which is also considered compensation). Pilots must have at least 500 hours of total time, 200 hours in the category, 50 hours in the class and at least three takeoffs and landings in the make and model of the aircraft to be used in the volunteer flight. EAA was asking for a much wider exemption, however, and that may be reflected in its tepid response to the FAA decision.
In a brief statement on the EAA Facebook page, EAA said its government specialists were analyzing "what, if any" benefit the decision has for members. "We need to carefully analyze the FAA's response to our request and this exemption," said Brian O'Lena, manager of the Young Eagles program. "We need to be sure that the exemption, as written, provides clear benefits to all participants in the Young Eagles program." EAA asked for the exemption to apply to sport and recreational pilots and include flights in light sport and experimental aircraft, but those requests were explicitly denied by the FAA. Aviation Consumer Editor-in-Chief Rick Durden, who is a Young Eagles volunteer and also sits on the board of the Air Care Alliance, said he was pleasantly surprised by the nature and tone of the FAA decision and called the terms "quite reasonable."
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As the quest for a replacement for 100LL drags into its third decade, our sister publication Aviation Consumer, is seeking opinions from owners, pilots and aircraft operators on how you think the process is going. The FAA has established a special office devoted to a replacement for 100LL and piston fuels in general. We would like to know if you've followed the process and, if so, what you think of it.
And what what about mogas? In some cases, it's $2 cheaper than avgas. Are you using it? If so, what are your experiences and if you haven't used it, why not? You can take the survey by clicking here. It'll take about five minutes.
We'll compile the results and compare them to the same questions we asked two years ago.
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Heard anything funny, unusual, or downright shocking on the radio lately? If you've been flying any length of time, you're sure to have eavesdropped on a few memorable exchanges. The ones that gave you a chuckle may do the same for your fellow AVweb readers. Share your radio funny with us, and, if we use it in a future "Short Final," we'll send you a sharp-looking AVweb hat to sport around your local airport. No joke.
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As AirVenture 2013, ForeFlight was showing off the latest version of its popular app, and it now includes Canadian charts, a unique plate overlay feature, and helicopter charts for U.S. pilots. In this AVweb Product Minute, ForeFlight's Jason Miller gives us a tour of the app's new high points.