Antique to Answer
Interview with Dale Cope about what’s happening at the Aging Aircraft Research Laboratory
By Emily Refermat
Usually research is focused on the future. Old pieces of technology are discarded or touted as antiques often valuable only for nostalgia, but not for Dale Cope, Ph.D., manager of the Wichita State University’s NIAR Aging Aircraft Research Laboratory. It is managed by Michael Shiao of the FAA W.J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and sponsored by Marvin Nuss of the FAA Small Airplane Directorate in Kansas City, Missouri.
“All my stuff is antique,” says Dr. Cope as he talks excitedly about the aircraft in the lab.
With economic pressures compounded by the cost of buying new airplanes, the current fleet is being pushed past its expected design life. Is that costing us our safety?
The FAA is putting a regulation into effect starting this December that calls for 14-year-old planes operating under 14 CFR part 121, 129, and 135 to add additional inspections and reviews, specifically incorporating damage-tolerance-based inspections and procedures with routine maintenance or inspection programs. This more stringent inspection criteria will continue at specified intervals after year 14 to secure the airworthiness of these aging planes, but is it enough? That’s something Dr. Cope and the researchers at the Aging Aircraft Research Lab are trying to find out.
From antiques to information
The 1969 Cessna 402A, grounded in the Aging Aircraft Research Lab, has already undergone 150 inspections Dr. Cope explains. One hundred and ten of the inspections done were from the service manual and are just routine annual inspections for its certification. Then a Cessna technician came out to perform 40 supplemental inspections based on Cessna’s damage-tolerance-based analysis for high-time aircraft, which was produced using loads analysis, spectrum generation, and critical area testing found by stress analysis, service experience, and fatigue tests. The high-time supplemental inspections included NDI methods such as eddy current and dye penetrant. Two very extensive inspections required removing the wings and inspecting the 200 or so holes in both lower spar caps and inspecting the major attachment fittings of the wing to the fuselage. Both were done with the eddy current NDT method.
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