The use of composite materials in the construction of aircraft components and primary structure is nothing new to the aircraft industry. Most of today’s aircraft technicians have some level of exposure to advanced composite parts and structures, and some may be routinely faced with making large repairs to advanced composites. Like everything the aircraft technician does these days training plays a huge role in accomplishing composite repairs.
There are many companies today that provide composite repair training and a search of the Internet will result in many choices. Many large companies will develop course curriculum and provide composite repair training in-house that is specific to their needs and the equipment they operate. The airlines, military, and large repair stations are good examples of this.
They may develop courses based on the manufacturer’s requirements in the structural repair manuals or other maintenance manuals, and the training is taught by instructors in their technical training departments. Due to the size of the fleets and high volume of work, technicians working at these maintenance organizations have the ability to easily remain current on composite repair procedures and techniques. Additionally, manufacturers of aircraft and composite repair equipment will provide training to the aircraft technician.
Small repair shops
However, advanced composites are not only used on large aircraft or components. Many of today’s small general aviation (GA) aircraft use advanced composites in their construction. So what do these small repair shops do for advanced composite repair training? Some of these shops may only need to accomplish small composite repairs on a limited basis. How do these shops manage the need for specialized training on advanced composite repair techniques and practices? To help understand their unique situations, AMT spoke with two GA repair shops to explore how training on advanced composite repairs has entered into their particular organization. Additionally, we spoke with two manufacturers of popular GA airplanes on what they have to say about training for small GA shops.
Cirrus Aircraft uses advanced composite materials in the manufacturing process of its aircraft. AMT spoke with Jerry Serres from Quality Aviation a small fixed base operator (FBO) shop in Minnesota and an authorized service center for Cirrus Aircraft. Quality Aviation has been a Cirrus service center for nine years. One of the requirements to become an authorized service center for Cirrus Aircraft is for someone in the shop to attend a 40-hour composite repair course taught by Cirrus Aircraft. Serres states they have accomplished several advanced composite repairs, and most have been on a smaller scale.
Serres says, “The repairs we have done so far have not been difficult. The details of the repair layup information have been the most important part.” This detailed information generally comes direct from the factory. Serres recommends to anyone doing composite repairs, “Make sure you are in contact with the factory for any level repair, and send them pictures and drawings describing the damage. We’ve had great support from the Cirrus factory for all of our repairs.”
AMT spoke with Tim Wright, manager of technical training for Cirrus Aircraft. Wright explains that Cirrus has a well-developed set of repair criteria in the aircraft maintenance manual (AMM) for accomplishing composite damage evaluation and repairs. “326 technicians have attended the Cirrus Aircraft 40-hour composite repair course,” says Wright. “Other technicians, not just Cirrus authorized service center technicians, can attend the course. However, the course curriculum is designed around the Cirrus aircraft.”
The repair philosophy of Cirrus Aircraft is to design repairs that can be easily accomplished in the field without expensive equipment or the need for fabric materials that are impregnated with resins or adhesives that need high temperature and pressure for curing. Typically these expensive “pre-preg” materials have specific storage requirements and short shelf lives, adding high costs for small repair shops.
“Essentials of Advanced Composite Fabrication & Repair” provides a thorough education in the basics of composites for beginners, yet will also keep longtime professionals up to date.