A Visit to Teledyne Continental Motors

In May a group of aviation journalists were invited to spend the day at the Teledyne Continental Motors (TCM) headquarters in Mobile, AL. The TCM leadership team explained the TCM organization and presented information on some of the latest research and development taking place at TCM. A short factory tour was given where we were able to see first hand machining of engine parts and assembly of several engine types.

Rhett Ross, president of TCM, welcomed the group and provided a high-level overview of the current TCM organization. Ross explained that in recent years several of the senior leadership positions at TCM have been filled with people from the automobile industry — himself included. TCM feels this has brought new production, operational, and customer support practices, into the business of producing and supporting their aircraft engines. TCM reported there are some 80,000 active aircraft flying today with 100,000 to 120,000 TCM engines.

Mike Gifford, director of factory services, reported the TCM Customer Call Center and Technical Support receives approximately 10,000 inquiries per week by both telephone and the internet/email. Gifford explained that about one-third of the inquiries come from aircraft/engine owners and two-thirds come from distributors. He went on to say, “Our goal is to answer inquiries within 24 hours.”

Ken Suda, senior vice president of Operations, stated that TCM has a strong commitment to North American including the Alabama locations. “We plan to keep work in Alabama,” says Suda. He went on to say that current production levels, which include new and remanufactured engines, average eight per day and it has untapped production capacity with its second and third shift operations.

New product development

TCM highlighted four individual products or areas of research and development (R&D) that are currently at the forefront within the company; the O-200 family of engines, an expanded full authority digital engine control (FADEC) product line, the introduction of the Jet-A/diesel fuel reciprocating engine, and a strategy regarding alternative or unleaded (UL) Av-fuel. Let’s take a closer look at what TCM is doing in these areas.

The O-200 engine

The O-200 engine has been used in many applications of general aviation aircraft for decades. Many student pilots have learned to fly behind the O-200. The O-200 Lightweight engine is a FAR 33 certified engine with a compression ratio of 8.5 to 1 and a dry weight of 199 pounds, or approximately 24 pounds lighter. It is adaptable to lower octane fuels for potential use in international markets. TCM is also looking at developing a lower compression O-200D which it stated will be equivalent to the earlier O-200A model engine. The compression ratio would be approximately 7.5 to 1 and it would also be an unleaded aviation fuel capable engine. This would improve the potential for using Av-fuels found in emerging international markets, provided well-managed and controlled maintenance and operations processes are followed, and fuel storage and distribution systems are in place.

Given the possibility of an un-leaded Av-fuel future, TCM is also reviewing the use of automobile fuels in certain aircraft engines, and based on results of more research, it may consider working with fleet operations groups on professionally managing the use of automobile fuel in certain applications of the O-200 engine.

FADEC products

TCM first launched its FADEC product on the Liberty aircraft powered by the 125 horsepower TCM IOF-240-B engine. This program has produced 20,000 hours of operating experience on approximately 100 aircraft. According to TCM there are six airframe manufacturers located in both the United States and abroad that now have active TCM FADEC programs ready to launch on their aircraft. There are nine normally aspirated and three turbocharged TCM engine models certified for the TCM FADEC system. Johnny Doo, senior vice president engineering and product integrity, says, “We are ready for FADEC if the market requests it.”

TD 300 engine program

TCM recently acquired proven Jet-A or diesel fuel reciprocating engine technology through a strategic purchase. Johnny Doo says, “This was a clear-cut technology purchase and transfer.” As to the source of the technology, TCM only stated it came from an unnamed European company. TCM feels this technology purchase will provide it with the ability to produce engines that operate on Jet-A fuel for the general aviation market in a short period of time, in order to meet the market needs for American piston aircraft products to expand into the non European international markets. TCM feels that interest is developing in emerging international markets where Av-fuel availability and a fuel distribution network are not available. When Av-fuel is available in these areas, it’s at a considerably higher cost than Jet-A. In order to be part of this emerging market, TCM is positioning itself to provide a general aviation engine that operates on Jet-A.

The engine is a four-cylinder horizontally opposed air-cooled engine, with a direct propeller drive. The TD 300 is rated for 230 hp at 2,200 rpm and 250 hp at 2,500 rpm. It has an electronic engine control with a mechanical backup system for the pilot to use if needed.

TCM expects a baseline certification early in 2011, and engines will be available in 2012 with a range of horsepower ratings between 180 and 250. The engine will weigh approximately 420 pounds or 450 pounds with accessories. A 300 plus hp variant engine, the TD 450, is being planned which is based on the same technology and construction. TCM is looking at the 2013 timeframe for the TD 450 engine. TCM plans to produce these engines for the airframe manufactures first and the STC aftermarket segment second. “The TD 300 will be manufactured right here in Mobile,” says Suda.

Alternative fuel strategy

There’s been much news this year regarding the potential change to UL Av-gas. Ross says, “Any fuel that is not lead-based will come with changes to the overall operation and cost of an aircraft. We want to be in a position to manage the new fuel specification whatever it ends up being.” The strategy at TCM includes a commitment to focus on supporting the current aircraft fleet and to work with industry in providing a timely and safe path to the potential retirement of leaded aviation fuel.

In 2008 it began a formal and proactive program regarding alternative fuels for its family of engines. It’s been researching many segments of the overall alternative fuel issue including compatibility and effects on the existing fleet of aircraft, alternative fuel candidates such as 94 UL, 100 octane synthetic fuels, automobile fuels, and the use of Jet-A. All of this while giving consideration to a wide variety of engine specifications.

One issue is the current high-compression ratio engine installations. TCM feels a worse case scenario would be a top-overhaul style of modification to a lower compression ratio rating in order to operate on a non 100 octane UL Av-fuel. Normally aspirated engines will require some level of modification to improve detonation margins. This may come in the form of ignition timing control or the lower compression ratio modification. Turbocharged engines may require some limited operating requirements, such as lower power settings or retarded timing in hot temperature conditions. However, TCM also feels its FADEC system would address some of these potential affects.

TCM believes the best choice for the industry is a 100 octane unleaded fuel. However, since one does not yet exist, the company is focusing on a baseline unleaded fuel such as the 94 UL. Doo says, “For the lower compression ratio engines of 7.5:1 and lower, initial testing indicates no changes will be required.” TCM reminds us that most of these engines were originally certificated on 80 or 91 octane fuel. In the end, the company believes that any transition will occur over time, allowing it the opportunity to finish development of solutions it has on the drawing board for the existing fleet to allow the plane owner to keep flying without major changes or cost.

So what does it all mean?

As you can imagine there’s a lot that the general aviation industry, including the aircraft maintenance technician, will have to consider when the day comes we move into an unleaded Av-fuel world. For now this issue is certainly something that we all need to be aware of and watch closely. As was pointed out to all of us in Mobile, an unleaded Av-fuel future will come with changes, and from what I observed TCM is planning on continuing its long tradition of providing general aviation engines into the future.

For current production engines a weeklong training course is offered in Mobile for the aircraft maintenance technician, which covers general theory and inspection topics, manual and service bulletin use, as well as hands-on training for crankcase work, cylinder borescope and removal techniques, and magneto and fuel injection systems. A maintenance training course for the TD 300 is currently being developed. AMT

For more information visit the TCM website at www.genuinecontinental.aero and stop by its display at EAA AirVenture.