Wise owners (and mechanics) know that a successful overhaul starts with careful engine removal. The overhaul process isn’t finished until after the engine has been reinstalled and the break-in period completed. A&P Jacqueline Shipe walks you through best practices to ensure start-to-finish success.
An engine overhaul is a daunting repair that usually takes several weeks to complete. In addition to the engine overhaul itself, there are several maintenance tasks that are associated with pulling the engine and reinstalling it after the overhaul. (For more about what comprises an engine overhaul, see “A Step-by-Step Guide to Overhauls” in the February 2018 issue. —Ed.)
Engine removal location and airframe storage
Once the decision to overhaul the engine has been made, the next step for an owner is to decide on the location for the engine removal. Some owners have their mechanic pull the engine and ship it to an overhaul facility. Other owners fly the airplane to the overhaul location and let the overhaul specialists remove, overhaul and reinstall the engine.
The next task is to find out where the airplane will be stored while the engine is off the airframe. Hangar space is typically at a premium for both overhaul shops and general maintenance shops.
Some shops place the airplane outside for the duration of time that the engine is off the airframe. The airframe is unbalanced and hard to secure on a tiedown once the engine has been removed. It is also much lighter than normal, leaving the aircraft more vulnerable to windy weather.
Make sure to have a clear understanding with whomever is doing the engine removal and installation about where the airplane will be stored while the overhaul is taking place.
Removing an engine from the airplane is typically not that time-consuming. The engine can be pulled easily enough in most cases in less than a day.
Once the cowling and propeller are removed, the next step should be to take lots of pictures from all different angles of every section of the engine. This will help to determine the routing of hoses and control cables later on during the reinstallation process.
The exact location of clamps is not usually specified by the maintenance manual and is left up to the mechanic. Knowing where the old clamps and supports were located helps ensure that everything fits properly during reinstallation.
Once all the engine components are disconnected from the airframe, the engine is stripped of everything that is not sent with the engine for the overhaul. The exhaust system, alternator, starter, vacuum pump and engine baffling typically don’t get sent in with the engine for overhaul. These components are either replaced or refurbished as needed by specialty shops.
After all the necessary items are removed or disconnected from the engine, the engine itself is removed from the airframe. The tail of the airplane should be secured on a support that will hold it up once the heavy engine is removed. Most engines have permanent lifting eyes installed on one or more of the upper crankcase bolts. If an engine doesn’t have a lifting eye, one will have to be temporarily installed.
A chain is most often used to attach an engine hoist to the lifting eye. Once the chain is secured, the engine hoist is raised until the chain has all the slack removed from it. Then, the bolts that secure the engine to the mount are removed from the vibration isolators and the engine can be lifted out of its mount.
Once removed, the engine is either wheeled into the overhaul shop for disassembly or prepared for shipping if the overhaul is to take place elsewhere.
Engines that are shipped out by means of a freight company are generally bolted to a shipping pallet with a prefabricated mount.
Owners that are having their engines sent out can save money by taking it themselves to the overhaul shop. The engine is often placed on a layer of used tires in the back of a truck and secured to four different tiedowns to keep it from shifting.
In addition to saving money, the owner can have peace of mind knowing that he or she has overseen the engine shipment the entire time. Careless handling can damage expensive engine components and shipping companies do occasionally drop or damage items.
If the overhaul facility is located a long distance from the aircraft location, shipping with a freight company may be the only option. In those cases, the shipment should be insured for the full replacement value of the engine.
After the engine overhaul is underway, attention can be shifted to the repair or refurbishment of all the parts that are now easily accessible with the engine removed.
Once the engine has been removed, the engine mount is easily accessible and can be thoroughly inspected for cracks and pitted areas.
Even if the mount itself is in good shape, remove the mount from the
airframe and inspect all the attachment areas on the airframe and mount
Mounts that are free of corrosion and have good paint are often reused as-is. Mounts that are in need of repainting should be cleaned, lightly sanded and painted with a high-quality primer and then a coat of paint.
In addition, any corroded areas on the airframe should be cleaned and treated or repaired as needed.
Engine mounts that have pitted areas, excessive corrosion or cracks are usually sent to specialized welding shops like Acorn Welding or Kosola (now Aerospace Welding) for repair. These shops have special jigs and can cut out bad sections of tubing and weld in reinforced sections without distorting the shape of the mount.
The firewall of the airframe is easily accessible with the engine and the mount removed. Now is an ideal time to clean and paint the firewall. Painting areas such as the firewall and the inside of the cowling with a bright color (usually white) helps to spot leaks easier. It also makes the airplane look better, and adds another layer of protection against corrosion.
Controllable-pitch propellers and propeller governors are often overhauled at the same time as the engine. This ensures that the engine will be able to develop its maximum power within the proper limits without being held back by a sluggish or malfunctioning propeller or governor.
Metal engine baffles should be repaired as needed, and any worn baffle seals should be replaced to maximize engine cooling.
Effective engine cooling is particularly important for overhauled engines because the new cylinder rings have to wear in and seat themselves against the cylinder walls during the first few engine runs. The extra friction will generate more heat than normal, especially in the cylinder heads.
The air that the cylinders need for cooling should flow in through the front of the cowling, through the cylinder cooling fins, then down and out the bottom of the cowling. Any air leaks in the engine compartment that aren’t sealed off will allow cooling air to escape through a gap or hole instead of being ducted through the fins where it is most needed.
Exhaust system components are sent out for repair or are replaced if they are corroded, cracked or deformed in any way. Excessively thin or leaking pipes will only cause trouble later on. Leaking exhaust gases from warped exhaust flanges at the cylinder head connection will corrode and ruin the cylinder heads over time.
Some overhaul facilities recommend replacing the exhaust system whenever the engine is overhauled. Turbochargers and wastegate assemblies should always be sent out for overhaul or replaced whenever the engine is overhauled.
All fluid-carrying hoses connected to the engine should be replaced at overhaul. Hoses become hardened and brittle after being heated and cooled during engine operation. A ruptured hose can cause a fire hazard or starve internal engine components of precious oil pressure.
Also, tiny amounts of metal and debris can remain in old hoses even after they are rinsed and blown out and can contaminate the new engine. Many engine overhaul facilities will deem the engine warranty null and void if the fluid-carrying hoses aren’t replaced.
It is also good idea to replace the SCAT hoses, but they aren’t critical like the fluid-carrying hoses are.
Oil coolers should be replaced with new units or sent to an oil cooler specialty shop that can thoroughly clean the oil passageways. The oil passageways through the cooler have 180-degree turns in them that cause contaminants to precipitate out of the oil flow and build up in the turn areas.
It is impossible to get all the sludge, metal particles and dirt out of the old cooler by rinsing it in a parts cleaning vat. It’s not worth risking contaminating a freshly-overhauled engine with debris from the old engine in order to save a few dollars on the oil cooler. Clean oil coolers also have better oil flow through them and cool the oil more efficiently.
Rubber vibration isolators
Most engines are mounted with the four attachments for securing the engine to the mount located on the rear of the engine. The rubber vibration isolators (often called “rubber engine mounts”) that are installed between the engine mounting pads and the engine mount should always be replaced whenever the engine is removed.
Vibration isolators lose elasticity over time and will begin to sag under the weight of the engine. Once the isolators start to age, they allow the front of the engine and the propeller to not only sag, but also to tilt down.
The cowling is secured to the airframe and the propeller is connected directly to the engine, so as the engine mount isolators droop, the clearance between the bottom of the spinner bulkhead and the cowling becomes smaller while the gap between the top of the spinner bulkhead and the top cowling gets larger.
Isolators that are severely aged and distorted on these types of engine mounts can cause the engine to droop so much that the bottom of the spinner bulkhead actually starts rubbing on the lower engine cowling.
In addition, rubber engine mounts are easily damaged and prematurely age if they are exposed to leaking oil or hot exhaust leaks. Constant oil leaks soften the rubber, causing it to swell and bulge. Exhaust leaks overheat the rubber, making it brittle and prone to cracking.
The isolators play a critical role in helping to secure the engine to the engine mount. They are typically not that expensive in comparison to other parts, and are easily accessible any time the engine is removed from the airframe—but difficult or impossible to replace without pulling the engine.
The engine installation process takes longer to complete and is much more detailed than the engine removal process. Installing the engine mount on the airframe and then hanging the engine on the mount can be done quickly in most cases because there are usually only four bolts and nuts that secure the engine mount to the airframe, and an additional four bolts and nuts that secure the engine to the mount.
Sometimes it is difficult to get the engine hoist adjusted just right so that the engine lines up correctly when attaching it to the mount. It can take a few attempts to get the bolts inserted through the mount and isolators. Components like the magnetos, fuel servo or carburetor may have to be removed to provide enough clearance to get the engine into the proper position on the mount.
Engine mount bolts should always be torqued to the specified setting listed in the airframe maintenance manual and any specified torque sequence should be adhered to.
Once the engine has been hung, the baffling, accessories, hoses, oil coolers and all remaining parts can be installed. Clamping and securing hoses, wires and ignition leads is one of the most time-consuming tasks in this phase of the project.
The exhaust system and propeller are usually two of the last items that are installed because once they are installed, they block access to other parts of the engine.
Many overhaul shops run an engine on a test cell for an hour or so before sending the engine out. Some shops send the engine out with no run time on it at all.
After reinstallation on the airplane, the engine should be started and run on the ground for the minimum time needed to ensure that there are no leaks; that the magnetos have the proper rpm drop when checked; and, if a controllable-pitch propeller is installed, that the propeller changes pitch as it should.
Idle mixture and idle speeds should be checked and adjusted if necessary—but ground runs should be kept to a minimum, especially if the engine has not been on a test cell.
After an overhaul, the rings are not seated. In order for the rings to seat properly, they must be blown out against the cylinder walls. The rings need high manifold pressures to force them to have metal-to-metal contact with the cylinder walls so they seat properly.
Running an overhauled engine at too low of a throttle setting for any length of time (on the ground or in the air) increases the likelihood of glazing the cylinder walls. Glazing results from the oil oxidizing on the cylinder walls and creating a hardened surface that prevents the rings from ever seating properly.
After the first flight, the cowling should be completely removed and the entire engine looked over for leaks and to make sure nothing has vibrated loose. Some shops will change the oil at this time if the test flight was the first run on the engine.
The recommended break-in oil is generally used for the first 50 hours. After the 50-hour mark, there should be no metal in the oil filter when it is inspected. Metal found in the oil filter after this time may be indicative of an internal problem with the engine.
Most overhauled engines perform well and provide many hours of trouble-free flight time and it is generally a relief for owners to have this major expense behind them.
Know your FAR/AIM and check with your mechanic before starting any work. Always get instruction from an A&P prior to attempting preventive maintenance tasks.
Jacqueline Shipe grew up in an aviation home; her dad was a flight instructor. She soloed at age 16 and went on to get her CFII and ATP certificate. Shipe also attended Kentucky Tech and obtained an airframe and powerplant license. She has worked as a mechanic for the airlines and on a variety of General Aviation planes. She’s also logged over 5,000 hours of flight instruction time. Send question or comments to editor [AT] piperflyer [DOT] com.
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ENGINE MOUNT WELDING
Acorn Welding Ltd. – PFA supporter
Aerospace Welding Minneapolis, Inc.
To find resources for other components and services for engine overhauls, please go to the Piper Flyer Yellow Pages at piperflyer.com/piper-yellow-pages.html, or contact Kent Dellenbusch at Email or phone 626-844-0215.