As I sit here writing this update I find it hard to believe that the last update I wrote about was done in September 2010! A lot has happened between September and now, both on my MD500 project and with me personally. I took and passed my ATP check rides for both single and multiengine airplanes. My single engine ATP check ride was completed in a Piper Meridian turboprop and my multiengine ATP check ride was completed in a Cessna Citation 525 CJ jet. I took and passed the multiengine ATP check ride in the Citation to single pilot standards!
Of course there was also time spent with friends and family…this beautiful girl happens to be one of my nieces. We spent some time having fun on the ground and in the air!
I also took and passed my ATP written for helicopters and I am currently working towards taking the ATP check ride in my R44.
I took some time and flew up to Canadian Helicopters to complete my factory initial checkout in the Eurocopter EC120B. That was quit a bit of fun since I had never flown a Eurocopter. In June I am flying back up there in my 500 to attend their Mountain Training Course. I had heard amazing things about the course and I am looking forward to going!
I have also been flying (a lot) over the last few months. Almost 300 hours in the last 6 months, with over 200 of that in my R44. That’s not a lot for a career pilot, but for a part 91 guy, that’s quite a bit! I have been enjoying every minute of it including a recent trip to Torrance to fly with Simon up at Advanced Flight.
For anyone able to get to Torrance that wants to really work towards mastering the R44, Advanced Flight is the place to go! Besides having somewhere around 7,000 hours in the R44, being a Robinson test pilot and a generally all around great instructor, Simon’s R44 is equipped with an amazing four camera system. This camera system allows you to review every lesson from the comfort of your armchair where the pucker factor is far lower than when your at 500′ AGL, your airspeed is reading 40 knots and falling, the VSI is pegged at its limit of 2,000′ per minute and Simon is telling you to wait to push the nose over! I have a new appreciation for the versatility and capability of the Robinson R44.
Moving on to the 500, to say that a lot has been done between September 2010 and February 2011 would be an understatement. A huge amount of work has been completed and I will touch on the major updates with pictures below, but as of this writing, the ship is in Texas getting its paint job. Once that has been completed it will be shipped back to Mesa Arizona to have its final assembly completed. We are shooting for flight testing near the end of March!
Over the course of the restoration, decisions had to be made about upgrades, enhancements and repairs – some needed, some wanted. One of the big areas that I went back and forth on was the replacement of four of the bottom skins. The reason to keep the old skins was simple – cost. The bottom skins are riveted in place. To remove all of those thousands of rivets and then fit, drill and re-rivet them back on the ship would take an incredible amount of time and effort and hence, money.
BELLY SKIN REPLACEMENT
The issue I was facing was that the bottom skins currently on the ship looked like swiss cheese. Over the years, holes had been drilled, covered, repaired, redrilled and re-repaired over and over again. Some of those repairs looked they were completed by a 5 year old with a pair of tin snips! By replacing the skins, not only did I take care of all of those unsightly repairs, but the skins were thicker. This, like the new thicker floor, added additional structural stability and rigidity the original 500 lacked.
Fuel Cell Area
Once the belly skins were completed, the next step was to complete the repairs in the fuel cell area and reinstall the fuel cell liners so we could close up the rear floor area. The amount of attention paid by PHI to the fuel cell area was no less than any other area of the ship. Improvements on sealing of the area and repairs of the liners would be completed and (hopefully) will cut down on the smell of Jet-A coming from the back seat. As some may remember, PHI actually found leaks in my fuel cells requiring the replacement of one and the repair of the other.
Sealing the fuel containment area with proseal was one of the first things that was done before replacing the fuel cell liners.
Rear Cargo Floor Installation
OK, so once the bottom skins were on and the fuel cell area and fuel cell liners completed, it was time to reinstall the new rear cargo floor. Once again, this was a question about spending a little bit more money and ending up with a stronger ship or simply repaint the floor that was already in the ship. In order to make the enhancements to the fuel cell area, it was necessary to remove the rear cargo area floor (that covers the fuel cells). In the process of doing so, I opted to install the slightly thicker floor. Again, more structural stability!
Here is the old floor:
Here is the new floor:
AFS Barrier Filter Installation
One of the things that this ship never had done to it was the replacement of the swirl tubes with a barrier filter kit. The new filter kit from Donaldson was expensive but something almost everyone does to their ship. It helps keep dust, etc out of the engine as well as does not take any bleed air to run, hence giving you about another 20 degrees C to work with on your engine.
The basic idea behind the swirl tube is that air and contaminants enter the swirl tube. As it’s name implies, the tubes have swirls in them, basically corkscrewing the air and contaminants around the tube on the way to the engine intake. Centrifugal effect forces the contaminants to the outside of the tubes where they are ejected overboard before the air reaches the engine. You can add bleed air from the engine to enhance the operation, but taking bleed air from the engine increases TOT and the closer you are to blue dot, the less power you have for other things, like hovering, etc.
The AFS kit replaces all of the swirl tube with an actual filter and makes the air cleaner and uses less power to accomplish the filtration process.
Compressor Inspection Panel
One of the (many) things that PHI is very good at is identifying enhancements, improvements, or STCs that will make the ship easier to work on and maintain. One of the biggies was the installation of the STCed Compressor Inspection Panel. Absent this panel, the engine must be removed to do any compressor inspections. The amount of labor and included down time for an inspection is drastically cut with the addition of this very handy inspection panel!
The biggest visual difference between the older E model 500s and the newer 500s is the nose. The older E model had “church” windows. That is, the bottom set of windows was made up of four different windows on each side.
Newer 500 windows:
Since all the glass was going to be replaced anyway, I decided to have the old church style windows removed and redo the nose in the newer 500 configuration.
Once the nose was completed, it was time to install the windows. We purchased all new windows from Tech Tools Plastics. I decided on a light tint all the way around with comfort windows for the rear doors.
WSPK (Wire Strike Protection Kit) Installation
One of the most interesting (for me) kits added to the 500 is the WSPK. The WSPK is a $30,000 (plus installation) insurance policy that you hope you never, ever need to cash in on! As it’s name implies, the wire strike protection kit is designed to save you in the event you run into a set of wires. However in order to do that, it has to be installed in such a way as to be able to guide the wire and then cut them without chopping your head off in the process, or worse, rip the cutters off without actually getting cut!
Because of these requirements, there is a lot of structural stuff that goes on with the installation of the kit. This includes a big plate on the bottom of the helicopter to adsorb the shock and impact of a cable hitting it at 130 mph. In addition there is a runner that goes up the center of the front windows so that if the cable hits in the front windshield area it does not chop the cabin in half (quickly removing your head in the process) but forces the cable up and into the upper jaw. Then there is more structure added to support the top jaw. Its all very interesting!
Meaker Hinge Installation
Yet another “Nice” to have but not “necessary” addition to the 500 was the installation of a full set of Meaker door hinges. Anyone that has worked around or flown the 500 without the Meaker hinges knows what a total pain in the butt removing the doors on a 500 can be. Since I do not have air conditioning in the 500, I figured I had better be able to get the doors on and off without taking the interior apart and beating everything up in the process each and every time. So Meaker hinges were the answer.
Once all of the internal sheet metal and assorted work had been completed, it was time to send the ship over to the MD factory to have the interior painted. I choose Thunderstorm Grey for the interior color using a high gloss white in any of the areas where there would be mechanical components and a high contrast paint for the control areas.
Traffic (TCAS) Upper Antenna Mount
One of the things I really like about my Meridian is active traffic as opposed to TIS. I choose the Garmin GTS800 active traffic (TCAS) system. On of the issues was where to mount the top antenna. So PHI had to design and install an antenna mount for the upper directional antenna on top of the WSPK!
Ready to Ship to External Paint Shop
WOW! A lot has transpired in the last 6 month to the 500. Everything that can be repaired has been repaired. Everything that can be upgraded has been upgraded. All the bells and whistles that PHI could come up with and my budget could handle have been completed (other than avionics which we will get to later). All that is left is to get the ship packaged and ready to ship (by truck) to Texas for it’s external paint job!
Shipping to Paint Shop
So in order to protect the 500 on its trip to Texas we had the ship “shrink wrapped” with heave duty plastic and then loaded onto the back of a transport for its shipment to the paint shop. It was an interesting process.
So what is next..?
Well hopefully around the end of this month (February) the ship will return from the paint shop in Texas looking like the picture below! Then we can put it all back together and start the test flight process!
Hi – I am the author – Richard Sears. I have been a pilot and flight instructor for almost 24 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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!