engine, maintenance, helicopter, turbine, rotables, dzmx, flightcell

Maximising the Life of your Turbine Engine

By Rob Neil
In recent years, increasing numbers of aircraft operators have realised the value—both in safety and economic terms—of using electronic monitoring systems to record a variety of engine and transmission health and performance parameters. Recording this data and monitoring it on a regular basis, enables smaller operators to prolong the life of vital (and unavoidably expensive) mechanical components in the same way that airlines use electronic monitoring of engines (and other systems) as a matter of course to protect their multi-billion dollar fleets of aircraft.

In order to maximise the benefits of electronic monitoring, recorded data needs to be assessed as soon as possible, otherwise, it could potentially provide nothing more than “I told you so” notification of exceedences or negative trends—too late to do anything other than explain to the accountant the reason for having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on repairs.

Unlike the high-tech monitoring systems incorporated in large airliners (in which a single engine can cost upwards of $20 million), turbine-engined helicopters and smaller aircraft rely on having third-party monitoring systems installed in order to provide operators with similar protections.

Most people are aware of the need to count and document engine cycles in order to calculate the life of life-limited components. If full and correct cycle history is not documented adequately, life-limited rotables must be scrapped to guarantee safety—an extremely expensive shame in the case of parts that might otherwise have significant life left in them.

Engine life is not just restricted to counting the numbers of starts and/or the number of hours in service; the thermal cycles and various stress and vibration levels of engines used in different roles has a significant effect on engine life. For example, engines in helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft used in agricultural work, or helicopters involved in logging operations, face much higher stresses from rapid and frequent changes in power (and associated vibration and temperature) than those fitted to commuter airliners—the cumulative effects of which are not reflected by merely counting starts and total hours of operation.

It can be extremely complicated for operators to track this information accurately without the aid of electronic engine monitoring. The only way to counter the effects of the additional stresses in high-cycle, high-stress engine operation is for manufacturers to set overly conservative limits to ensure safety. This means operators can end up facing costly maintenance bills that—were they to use effective engine monitoring systems—might be entirely avoidable.

It is generally only maintenance organisations that understand the true complexity of cycle monitoring, as the necessary information is typically addressed in maintenance manuals rather than flight manuals. Even for pilots who might be familiar with the need for comprehensive cycle monitoring, the complexity of the task in an already busy cockpit can make it all but impossible to manage effectively.

Typically, although the systems installed in smaller aircraft may provide cockpit alerts of critical issues, they do not generally transmit data in real-time to maintenance bases but are downloaded and assessed after flight. The Flightcell DZMx (in combination with monitoring systems such as AKV Inc.’s ETM1000, which is approved for use in the full range of Airbus Helicopters’ Squirrel/Ecuriel models and Bell light and medium helicopters) enables pilots to acknowledge and record data presented by the monitoring system and then transmit relevant data from the aircraft to the ground, using the functionality of the DZMx’s satellite/cellular transmission.

For those operators employing pilots without superpowers in multitasking and mathematical genius, the best way to maximise the life of hugely expensive components in turbine engines, is to install and use electronic engine monitoring systems that track the parameters affecting engine and component life.

Author: Rob Neil