May 2010


500 Getting Bottom Skins Removed

500 Getting Bottom Skins Removed

So here we are nearing the end of the third week of work on the 500. As you can see, Phoenix Heliparts is progressing quickly with the tear down of the ship. Of course, its always easier to tear something apart than it is to put it back together. I suppose I could have saved them the trouble of taking it all apart and done it myself and delivered it to them in pieces, but something tells me it is better this way!

So part of the tear down process (for my ship) was the replacement of the bottom skins. When work had been done on the helicopter previous to my ownership, a great deal of attention was not really paid to how certain antennas were installed or where they were put. In addition, whom ever did the work may have been a great radio guy, but they lacked the skills to do sheet metal work. Thanks to that situation, I get to put several new bottom skins on the helicopter so that it looks news and takes care of the bad installation of the antennas.

So above they have one of the four skins removed that cover the bottom of the helicopter. Below you can see they still have some of the controls in the helicopter (pilot’s side), but those are soon to come out as well.

Bottoms Up

Bottoms Up

Special jigs are used so that the technicians can work on the helicopter without killing their backs and getting worn out in the process of taking it all apart and putting it back together.  Here they are still working on removing the bottom skins as well as removing some old GPS mounts on top of the tail boom before removing the flight controls and getting it back upright.

Flight Controls Have Been Removed

Flight Controls Have Been Removed

Here you can now see that the flight controls have been completely removed and they will be moving on to the next stage of dis-assembly. Basically the final removal of all of the rest of the parts and then the stripping of the shell so that all of the sheet metal work can be done, the rear floor replaced, work done in the fuel bladder area, new skins reattached to the bottom and a lot more!

Front Bottom Skins Removed

Front Bottom Skins Removed

Above you can see the helicopter back upright and the view into the bottom of the helicopter with the skins removed. This is the co-pilot’s side of the helicopter and when Phoenix Heliparts got the ship, the floor was full of all kinds of avionics! Now its clean as a whistle. The fuel bladder is in the floor behind the front, but the bottom skins are still on the bottom there so you cannot see into that compartment. Once they remove the rear floor covering the fuel bladder we will get some more good pictures of that area!


Richard J. Sears

Hi – I am the author – Richard Sears. I have been a pilot and flight instructor for over 20 years!

If you live in the San Diego area and would like to arrange a free airplane or helicopter flight for your child (age 8 to 18) through the EAA Young Eagles program please email me at richard@sears.net

If you are a Scout Master, I can work with your troop on the Aviation Merit Badge and provide all ground training and flights necessary to meet the latest requirements of the Aviation Merit Badge. I am a registered Merit Badge Counselor with the BSA San Diego – Imperial Council.

All my flight time is donated, there is no cost to the parents or the troop.

Parents are always welcome to ride along and get hooked!

This is a short video of me taking off in my R44 from the back yard of one of my friend’s house.



Richard J. Sears

Hi – I am the author – Richard Sears. I have been a pilot and flight instructor for over 20 years!

If you live in the San Diego area and would like to arrange a free airplane or helicopter flight for your child (age 8 to 18) through the EAA Young Eagles program please email me at richard@sears.net

If you are a Scout Master, I can work with your troop on the Aviation Merit Badge and provide all ground training and flights necessary to meet the latest requirements of the Aviation Merit Badge. I am a registered Merit Badge Counselor with the BSA San Diego – Imperial Council.

All my flight time is donated, there is no cost to the parents or the troop.

Parents are always welcome to ride along and get hooked!

MD500 Tear Down

MD500 Tear Down

We are now into week three of my MD500 restoration project with my friend over at Phoenix Heliparts and the 500 is looking less and less like a helicopter and more and more like some type of model or kit. It does not even resemble anything close to a helicopter, or something that was flying through the air mere weeks before! But yet it is – and the project is moving forward.

In any type of undertaking of this magnitude, you really have to keep the end result in mind. Watching the progression from flying machine to a stack of parts is like watching your kid go off to camp without you!  A necessary step in life, part of a growing process, but not real fun (for you). I am quite certain the helicopter loves the attention it is getting – I just want it back already!  However, I realize that in the end, this machine, my machine -  will be far more than the sum of it parts and for that reason, this project is worth the wait!

Front View of 500 during Tear Down

Front View of 500 during Tear Down

So as you can see, the entire front of the helicopter has been removed. One of the big changes is the removal of the “church windows” on the 500 that were present on my year model. “Church Windows” identify the design style where there are eight lower windows as opposed to two lower windows. (see below). This removes a visual obstruction from the pilot’s view and (in my opinion) give the 500 a much cleaner look.

Church Windows

500 w/Church Windows

No Church Windows

500 W/No Church Windows

As a result of the modification, the cross members supporting the windows as well as the supporting parts of the window “frame” coming from right by the main cabin doors. This opens up a lot of visibility to the pilot (and the co-pilot) but requires the removal of the “excess” parts and the installation of all brand new windows from Tech Tools. Overall both an aesthetic and practical improvement of the ship. My 500 needed all new front glass anyway so this was just a step in that general direction.

Moving on, we can see that they are working on cleaning up all of the engine compartment. The engine is out, almost all of the wiring is out and the technician is working on cleaning up the engine bay so it can be detailed and repainted before getting put back together (eventually). Its important to note the level to which the 500 has been torn down in just a few short weeks. While there are some controls still in place, almost the entire ship has been disassembled with more disassemble to come.

Cleaning up the engine compartment

Cleaning up the engine compartment

After the engine compartment was cleaned up and ready for paint and other repairs, it was time to turn the ship on its side and get ready to do the sheet metal work on the bottom of the ship. In its previous life, some antenna installations and marginal metal work lead me to the decision to replace half of the skin that covers the belly of the helicopter. In order to do that (easily), the ship is placed into a special jig and then  rolled over onto its side where it is far easier for the sheet metal folks to do their job.

500 on its side

500 on its side

Looking Broken

Looking Broken

So whats next you ask? Well after all of the sheet metal repairs have been completed, then the 500 will get stripped of all of its original paint and get ready for even further work. The project is moving along quickly and there has been a lot done, but still much more to go as we move forward. Please stay tuned and check back every week or so for a new update!

Richard J. Sears

Hi – I am the author – Richard Sears. I have been a pilot and flight instructor for over 20 years!

If you live in the San Diego area and would like to arrange a free airplane or helicopter flight for your child (age 8 to 18) through the EAA Young Eagles program please email me at richard@sears.net

If you are a Scout Master, I can work with your troop on the Aviation Merit Badge and provide all ground training and flights necessary to meet the latest requirements of the Aviation Merit Badge. I am a registered Merit Badge Counselor with the BSA San Diego – Imperial Council.

All my flight time is donated, there is no cost to the parents or the troop.

Parents are always welcome to ride along and get hooked!

I feel like a proud parent whose child has just been dropped off for their first day of school.  Very happy that the time has finally arrived but at the same time apprehensive about the changes to come. There is no doubt that I will miss my 500 over the next 4 or 5 months just as you miss your child that first year of school, but just as your child comes home a little smarter each day, so my 500 will grow more beautiful each day as Phoenix Heliparts works their magic.

Having gone through military boot camp courtesy of the U.S. Marines, I am no stranger to the concept of tearing something down so it can be rebuilt from scratch. The Marines have an amazing capability of striping you to nothing but then building you back into a person that you would never have believed would look at you from the mirror. PHI basically has the same task while restoring N52550 back to as close to new as possible. First they have to tear her completely down to nothing and then carefully and lovingly build her back up again. I say lovingly because doing so is not merely a job to the folks at PHI, but a passion and a way of life for them. They put their hearts and souls into these ships knowing that their work will continue to safely carry human cargo long after the rest of us have forgotten who did the work.

I received my first batch of pictures from Ryan Howe, the Director of Maintenance at PHI. As expected, there are a few things they have already run again in the first few days of taking 550 down to bare metal.

Initial Tear Down

Initial Tear Down

In this first picture, we can see where they have started to take everything apart. Doors are gone, interior removed, fairings taken off the ship, main rotor head removed, instrument panel taken out..basically a really good start on the tear down process.

Main Rotor Head

Main Rotor Head

This is the main rotor head. Quite simply, it holds the 5 main rotor blades which provide lift for the helicopter during flight. The main rotor is connected to the transmission which is then connected to the engine via a drive shaft. This is a very important and very sensitive part of the helicopter and great care is taken in its inspection and restoration. And just in case anyone thought it didn’t look that complicated, take a look at the illustration below:

Main Rotor

Main Rotor


Tailboom removed

Tailboom removed

The tailboom has been removed and the engine is in the process of being removed as well.

Engine Removed

Engine Removed

Now the engine has been removed and will be sent to a different part of the shop where a brand new wiring harness will be completed and fitted on to the engine. Once completed, it will be stored safely with the rest of the parts until it gets reinstalled back into the ship.

Transmission Removed

Transmission Removed

As me move further along, the transmission has now been removed from the helicopter along with the auxiliary fuel tank, the scroll fan, the associated ducting, bleed air heating system and most of the wiring.

Swirl Tubes

Swirl Tubes

These are the swirl tubes whose job it to keep particles out of my engine. This entire section will be removed and replaced with an AFS Barrier Filter Kit manufactured by Donaldson.

AFS Barrer Filter Kit

AFS Barrer Filter Kit - Click for larger view

The AFS Barrier Kit is much more efficient at filtration. This is in addition to actually filtering out far more dust and small dirt particles that can, over time, damage your engine. Adding this kit might be good for the helicopter, but once you see the $20,000 price tag for the kit alone, it might not be too good for your heart or your wallet! But as someone once said, to make a small fortune in the aviation business you need only start with a large fortune! By the way, I have a slightly use particle separator system for cheap if anyone is interested!

As PHI continue on the task of disassemble, they ran into the first real problem. Of course, this was no problem for them, but it did take a little extra time and work to accomplish what should have been routine.

Removing the WInglet

Removing the Winglet

When they went to remove the winglets they discovered that the wingless screws had been bonded into the winglet inserts making their removal most difficult. Upon grinding the screw heads off they discovered that the winglet inserts were bonded to the winglet weights. Needless to say, the winglets are now in need of further repair!

Inserts

Inserts

So ends the first few days of work on the 500. As you can see, Phoenix Heliparts is making great progress already on the project. Keep checking back in here on a regular basis as the project continues!


Richard J. Sears

Hi – I am the author – Richard Sears. I have been a pilot and flight instructor for over 20 years!

If you live in the San Diego area and would like to arrange a free airplane or helicopter flight for your child (age 8 to 18) through the EAA Young Eagles program please email me at richard@sears.net

If you are a Scout Master, I can work with your troop on the Aviation Merit Badge and provide all ground training and flights necessary to meet the latest requirements of the Aviation Merit Badge. I am a registered Merit Badge Counselor with the BSA San Diego – Imperial Council.

All my flight time is donated, there is no cost to the parents or the troop.

Parents are always welcome to ride along and get hooked!

On Sunday, May 2nd, 2010 I delivered my MD500e helicopter to arguably one of the top helicopter shops in the world – Phoenix Heliparts. Phoenix Heliparts is located in Mesa Arizona and they specialize in restoring, refurbishing and repairing  the 500/369 variant of helicopters. I have engaged them in what is going to be a 3 or 4 month project to completely restore my 1986 MD500e (369e) helicopter. In the coming months, I will be following that restoration step by step here on my blog with commentaries and pictures as the project progresses.

The story of Phoenix Heliparts as told by Husband and Wife team Darin and Tina is amazing. What started in their garage has spawned to 40,000 sq. feet of facility and shop space. This coupled with their highly skilled staff allow them to meticulously repair and restore 500s. Long before I delivered my 500 to them, I had been talking with Darin and Tina along with Ryan, Rich, Jerry, Carl and others on their staff about my project. It became evident that their passion for their work was second to none and their knowledge on the 500s was nothing short of incredible.

After much discussion and hundreds of emails and calls, we schedule the date for my delivery. Since their rapid expansion had caused them to move off the Falcon Filed Airport (KFFZ) I had to coordinate my landing (in their parking lot) with their Chief Pilot (and former Mesa PD Chief Pilot) Steve Raether. Steve helped me coordinate my landing with the Mesa Police Department and on May 2nd, a beautiful, clear morning I landed N52550 in the back parking lot of the Phoenix Heliparts facility.

Phoenix Heliparts Parking Lot

Phoenix Heliparts Parking Lot

Within a very short period of time, Ryan Howe (PHI’s Chief of Maintenance) had a nice new home for my 500 all set up, had the blades removed and had 550 moved into their facility where it would be for the next 3 to 4 months. From the moment I entered the PHI facility, I knew I had made the right choice. Their entire operation is computerized – every part, every item, every job, every work order, every second anyone spends on my helicopter is methodically entered into PHI’s vast computerized tracking system. Every document, every scrap of paper, 337s, POH inserts – everything is cataloged and entered into 3 ring binders. Before they had my ship, Ryan had already started 2 or 3 different binders for my ship – all in preparation for its receipt and the work that would follow.

N52550 Maintenance Bay

N52550 Maintenance Bay

Upon arriving at PHI, I was given a tour by Darin, Tina and Ryan – and needless to say I was impressed. The shop is meticulous, everything has a place, everything is computerized and everywhere you look everything is clean and neat. It was obvious to me (and I  have owned and operated aircraft for many years) that they really knew what they were doing. If that was not enough of a clue, the sight of 10 or 15 500s all in various states or work or repair (from brand new ships with 4 hours on them to 25 year old ships with 15,000 hours on them) really made the point!  And we are not talking just a little light work here and there – we are talking full blown restoration projects:

PHI Shop

PHI Shop

Just to give you a good idea of the capabilities of Phoenix Heliparts – take a look at these three photos – Before, During and After repairs. This is a ship that needed a lot of help and attention!

Wrecked MD - Before

Wrecked MD - Before

Wrecked MD - During

Wrecked MD - During

Wrecked MD - After

Wrecked MD - After

Please check back often as I will be keeping everyone up to date with the progress that PHI is making with my helicopter. Thanks!

Richard J. Sears

Hi – I am the author – Richard Sears. I have been a pilot and flight instructor for over 20 years!

If you live in the San Diego area and would like to arrange a free airplane or helicopter flight for your child (age 8 to 18) through the EAA Young Eagles program please email me at richard@sears.net

If you are a Scout Master, I can work with your troop on the Aviation Merit Badge and provide all ground training and flights necessary to meet the latest requirements of the Aviation Merit Badge. I am a registered Merit Badge Counselor with the BSA San Diego – Imperial Council.

All my flight time is donated, there is no cost to the parents or the troop.

Parents are always welcome to ride along and get hooked!

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