Seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, nestled quietly among Wisconsin’s farmlands, lies the home base for a unique operation providing the world with new and repaired aircraft engine mounts.
Aero Fabricators’ engine mount exchange program started two years ago, though a more concerted effort toward it has taken place during the last seven months.
Aero Fabricators works with the Milwaukee FSDO and its engine mount repair process is FAA authorized through a repair station license. It is FAA authorized to repair old damaged engine mounts. New engine mounts are manufactured under PMA approval under MIDO.\
There are two businesses in the building at 1216 North Road in Lyons, WI: Wag-Aero and Aero Fabricators. Wag-Aero, in business for 48 years, has a catalog that lists more than 10,000 items. Aero Fabricators produces around 850 components.
Wag-Aero is a division of Aero Fabricators and does business in almost 50 countries and has its largest international customer base in Canada. It has sent more than 150 engine mounts to the Dominican Republic.
Aero Fabricators, which has three departments, was formed in the 1970s. Its welding department remanufactures aircraft exhaust systems and engine mounts to FAA standards, produces new manufactured aircraft exhaust systems and engine mounts, and produces structural components for many production aircraft. The sheet metal department manufactures gas tanks, leading edges, and metal skins and cowlings. The seat belt division manufactures and repairs FAA-approved seat belts and shoulder harnesses.
“The FAA allows us to do everything we need to in house,” says William “Bill” E. Read, chairman and CEO of Wag-Aero.
Through Aero Fabricators’ engine mount exchange program, aircraft owners don’t have to wait for the time it takes to have their damaged engine mounts repaired. They simply call Aero Fabricators/Wag-Aero, order a yellow-tagged engine mount by OEM part numbers, and send their damaged engine mount core in as an exchange.
“This helps get the aircraft back in service sooner and allows them to keep their aircraft flying,” says Read. He says the engine mount program allows flight schools and FBOs to always have an aircraft flying.
John Armes is the quality inspector/quality control manager in the Aero Fabricators business. He runs the engine mount program. “When you have an engine mount exchange program, you always need a core returned to continue the service,” he says.
“There is a strong economic interest in having aircraft flying fast,” says Read.
Common mounts that Aero Fabricators receives for repair include Aeronca, Beech, Piper, Cessna, and Grumman.
“Mount tubes get bent or worn for a variety of reasons,” says Read. “We remove and replace damaged tubes and components and return the engine mount to a serviceable condition. We also issue a yellow tag, or maintenance release form which authorizes the mount to be placed on the aircraft.”
NDT in engine mount repair
Both magnetic particle and liquid penetrate are utilized for inspection of damaged engine mounts. An in-house Level II inspector oversees this work as an example. Beech Baron mounts require non-destructive testing (NDT) before they are updated for airworthiness directive (AD) compliance (91-15-20).
In Aero Fabricators NDT area, a distilled mineral spirit containing fluorescent magnetic particles is used to detect indications. When the particles become attracted to a north or south pole, the particles fluoresce under black light and highlight an indication. For magnetic particle inspection a component has to be de-magnetized to zero. A gauss meter is used to ensure there is no residual magnetization that could interfere with aircraft instruments.
Aero Fabricators employees go through recurrent training for NDT, including classroom and practical hours as well as an oral exam. Training for technicians at Levels 1 and 2 are offered in house, while a trainer is brought on-site for Level 3 recurrent training.
“Due to the economy, a lot more people are leaning toward repair,” says Mary Myers, designated manufacturing inspection representative and president of Wag-Aero.
Need for engine mounts requires having “cores” available to work up and repair ahead of time. Aero Fabricators keeps repaired cores on-hand for more common aircraft. At most times, Aero Fabricators has 100 to 150 cores in stock. It buys these from salvage yards and FBOs to maintain its inventory.
Myers says that another source of new cores is when Aero Fabricators keeps the mounts exchanged for its yellow-tagged units. A core charge is refunded when a company/customer returns an engine mount.
Aero Fabricators began buying up cores almost three years ago and converting them to yellow-tag mounts. This effort to convert cores to finished goods enables the company to increase its inventory, thereby increasing the odds that it will have in stock what customers need.
Once an engine mount is shipped out, the priority becomes getting another in stock. It generally takes two to three weeks to get an engine mount core back after Aero Fabricators ships it out.
“Many of the cores we receive come from accidents and many don’t look repairable, but we can do it,” says Mary Pat Heningfield, marketing assistant.
Heningfield says that inventory status is kept up-to-date on Wag-Aero’s web site. “You can see the inventory online and find out if it meets your needs,” she says.
“If you don’t have the inventory, you don’t have the sale,” says Armes, who has been with Wag-Aero for 23 years. “Aircraft need to keep flying to keep paying for themselves.”