Tuesday, April 27, 2010

B-17G Texas Raiders

I had the unique opportunity and pleasure to work on a certification project for one of the greatest airplanes to ever fight for our country... a B-17G Flying Fortress, "Texas Raiders".

This airplane is operated by the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) - Gulf Coast Wing in Houston, TX. For years, B17G operators have been struggling with turbo-supercharger reliability issues, even after disabling the turbos by removing the wastegate butterfly and compressor wheels. This problem has intensified as replacement parts have become nearly extinct.
CAF - Gulf Coast Chief Maintenance Officer, Chuck Conway designed a modification that solves the problem and still looks fairly authentic to the untrained eye. A new welded pipe assembly was fabricated with an overboard outlet to dump exhaust overboard just ahead of the turbo-supercharger. The design bolts up to the turbos which remain installed as the original and thus retain the authenticity. For now, the modification has only been done on the #1 and #4 engines on Texas Raiders. Modifications for the #2 and #3 engines is planned for this fall, after the airshow season.

When the CAF first contacted me, through my friend Mark, I was skeptical that we might be able to clear all the FAA hoops for certification in time for their first airshow just three weeks ahead. We got busy anyway and remained optimistic... CAF members from all over Texas and elsewhere sent me information that enabled me to assemble a technical report. I received great support from my FAA counterparts and was able to secure special authorization to approve the data myself as a DER. This turned out to be a blessing, enabling the A&P/I.A. to submit the 337 directly to FAA OKC and return the airplane to service himself, based on having approved data.

This was my first encounter with a "Limited" type certificate aircraft. This presented some unusual certification issues and challenges. Using FAA processes, it became necessary to select and establish the appropriate certification basis for the change. My FAA advisor agreed with the approach I proposed and so the rest was a matter of technical details. The CAF guys got busy and prepared the airplane for a ground test and with the results, I had everything needed to make the approval.

When things go well as they did on this project, I truly love my job. It is nice to be able to contribute to keeping this kind of historical machine alive for folks to enjoy. This project truly was a team effort, which couldn't have been done so quickly without the input from many folks. Still the CAF folks really have been appreciative for the work I did. Here's what some of the CAF team-members had to say.

"Terry: Thanks very much for taking on the Herculean task of straightening out the paperwork on Texas Raiders! ...Your input and expertise on this project was the KEY to successfully putting this aircraft back on the show circuit! I am really looking forward to meeting you, and thanking you, in person! Best wishes. Doc"

"Terry, ...All the CAF folks spoke of how much they enjoyed meeting you and how they appreciated your work. I'm glad it finally worked out OK. You pulled off in 18 days what the first guy had sat on for 6 months, so in their mind you worked a miracle... Mark"

And here's what Chuck Conner had to say in his monthly column in the May 2010 issue of "Cowl Flaps", the CAF GCW Newsletter...

So with the approval in hand, "Texas Raiders" made it to its first scheduled air show after a 7-year restoration. It just so-happened that this show was in Temple Texas just 20 minutes from my house. So, on Friday April 30, my wife and two of our kids came along to go see the airplane. The flight crew, led by Buddy Cooksey treated us all to a personal tour of the airplane. I am sure we will not soon forget this experience.

I need to acknowledge my my friend Mark Julicher and thank him for recommending me for the work. Mark also prepared some of the continuing airworthiness data for this bird. Others who were helpful were David Carr, Chuck Conway, Don Price, Walt Thompson, Peter Hakala, Jimmy Stahl, Randy Wahlberg, and Ron Dietes. In a matter of 15 days, start-to-finish, we accomplished the FAA approval for some exhaust changes which make the airplane safer and enabled the CAF Gulf Coast Wing to get the airplane legal and available for the 2010 Air Show season.