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Radial Engine Preservation: 5 Simple Tips to Follow for Radial Engine Storage Pre-Service

“How long did you say the engine sat idle?”  What should be done to an engine to return it to service after it has sat idle for years? Answering that question requires the answer to several other questions: Was the engine preserved before it was put into storage? Was it stored in a climate controlled facility? No? Out in the weather? Were the exhaust stack(s) and carburetor air inlets plugged? Was the engine periodically run-up to operating temperature? Did it have preservative oil ran in the engine before entering storage?

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Radial Engine Cylinder Head Checks: Following the Service Bulletins

This is the seventh and final topic in the series about the 100 hour / annual inspection. This series focuses on maintenance performed during an effective 100 hr. inspection on R1340 and R985 engines:

  1. Oil Change with filter/screen & sump checks.
  2. Valve adjustment – Positive or compression.
  3. Ignition timing check – Spark plug servicing.
  4. Compression check – differential.
  5. Air filter and carb – heat system check.
  6. Fuel System Screens.
  7. Cylinder Head Checks.

It has been amazing to see the engine log books for both the R-985 and R-1340 engine cores coming back to us for overhaul with not one entry reflecting the visual inspections called for in Airworthiness Directive 78-08-07 (R-985-SB 1785) and AD # 99-11-02 (R-1340-SB 1787)!

The service bulletins outline an Ultrasonic inspection of the 985 cylinder heads and Florescent Penetrant inspection of the 1340 heads that must be done at each overhaul. However, there are instructions for visual inspections to be done on the cylinder heads of both engines at specific intervals! The AD Note 78-08-07 (985) stipulates visual inspection of the heads on a 150 hour interval while AD 99-11-02 (1340) states inspections must be done on a 100 hour basis!

The AD notes state the inspections must be done in accordance with the SB’s. SB 1785 which reads as follows: REASON FOR BULLETIN: (2) Provide instruction for visual inspection, at each periodic maintenance interval. The 1340 SB reads: REASON FOR BULLETIN: 3. Provide instructions for inspection of cylinder heads at periodic maintenance.

You are looking for cracks in the aluminum head that are evidenced by jet-black combustion residue deposited at the root area between two fins in the designated areas. The coloration will not be visible in areas that aren’t cracked and leaking combustion residue. It is possible for oil leaks to burn onto the cylinder cooling fins but that is usually dark brown colored and typically involves a larger portion of the head. Combustion residue is dark black and may be oily and gritty feeling. I have included a couple of scanned illustrations showing the areas of the head identified in the bulletins:

radial engine cylinder head checks

The pictures seem to indicate that the 1340 head doesn’t experience cracking around the side of the head and that the 985 doesn’t crack across the top. However, cylinders of both the R-985 and R-1340 engine can develop cracks in either location on the heads!

Some careful reviews of the requirements are in order due to the confusing wording of the AD notes vs SB’s!

R-985: The AD affecting the 985 states: “To prevent cylinder head separation from the barrel, perform the following in accordance with Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Service Bulletin No. 1785 or later FAA-approved revision.” (Paragraph) 1. “Visually inspect cylinder heads in accordance with Part B of the bulletin as follows: (Sub-paragraph) B. “Cylinders Ultrasonically inspected, inspect within 150 hours time in service after effective date of the AD, and thereafter at intervals not to exceed 150 hours time in service.”

Service Bulletin 1785 references the R-985 Wasp Jr. Engine Maintenance Manual, Part No. 118611; Periodic Inspection. That inspection table places the check of the rear of the cylinder head for cracks or evidence of exhaust gas leakage in column “B”; 100 hours! To correctly comply with the AD the 985 cylinder heads must be visually inspected on a 100 hour basis!

R-1340: The 1340 AD and Service Bulletin are no less confusing! The AD instructs the mechanic to inspect the cylinders in accordance with SB 1787 dated September 07, 1983. However, the AD states that cowled and baffled installations should have an initial inspection at 125 hours and subsequent inspections at 250 hour time in service since last inspection. All other installations (translates “Cropdusters”) are to have an initial inspection at 50 hours and subsequent inspections at 100 hours! The SB allows for cowled and baffled engines to be inspected at 500 hours and un-baffled or “cropduster” type installations at 200 hour intervals. Sadly, the AD note is the law! You get to inspect using the technique given in the respective SB and accomplish the inspection at the intervals specified in the AD! Oh well, what do you want? Good looks and money too!

By the way; if it isn’t written in the log book, it didn’t get done!

We hope you have learned a few things from this series!

What is a Hot Section Inspection & Why It’s Important to PT6A Engine Longevity

The Pratt & Whitney PT6 engine has been in use since 1961 and has since logged more than 380 million flight hours, the equivalent of about 250,000 round-trips to the moon.   The most advanced PT6A engine family includes three power levels, “Small”, “Medium”, and “Large” that all have the advantage of turbine cooling, aerodynamic design, and advanced technologies in materials.  Keeping these engines running efficiently and safely wouldn’t be possible without a periodic Hot Section Inspection.

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How 2 R-985s Aided the PT6 in Achieving Legendary Aviation Status

pt6a king air

The question of how a radial engine can be compared to a turbine engine is a question that has been asked many times over. Individuals in the Agricultural world are still asking themselves this question every year on a purely economic basis. However, the question can also be asked from a historic basis as well. In looking at the Pratt & Whitney family of Radial Engines and the PT6A family of engines, it is clear that the two are closely related.

A Bit of Background on Pratt & Whitney’s Engine Marvels: The PT6A, R-1340, & The R-985

A legendary engine deserves a story as extraordinary as it is, and such is the case with the early history of Pratt & Whitney’s PT6. This story begins decades before the turbulent history of the PT6 when radial engines were still the dominant engine for airplane use. The gas turbine engine of the PT6 revolutionized the industry, but not before the static, air-cooled radial engines had a few decades in the limelight.

Of all the radial engines, Pratt & Whitney’s R-985 was always a favorite since its inception in 1932. Simply sit back and watch a smile cross an aviation enthusiast’s face upon observing the sputter of the round radial engine as it starts up, and it is clear that these engines were something special.

However, the transition into the era of the PT6 was not an easy one. In fact, it was something of a miracle.

The Rise of the PT6

While the advancements of gas turbine engines were known to the aviation industry in the early 1950s, the expenses of the manufacturing, maintenance and repairing processes were problematic. However, that did not deter Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC) while they forged ahead with their plans of designing a powerful gas turbine engine. They hired a team of specialists and proceeded with attempts to develop a 450 hp engine that had growth potential up to 500 hp. Their goal was to keep operating costs at a similar level as the previous radial engines, and their first foray into gas turbine engines was designed to fit small and lightweight airplane models.

However, they still needed to decide on a gas turbine technology, but eventually settled on a free turbine configuration that was more expensive, but had crucial advantages such as less starting power requirements, simplified controls for fuel and the ability for fixed-wing aircrafts to purchase off the shelf propellers rather than custom ones. Once the team decided to move in this direction, they still were not ready to get to work since they had to travel to Pratt & Whitney’s headquarters to convince the chief engineer that their plan was the right one. Upon securing his approval, the jubilant team started working on the ambitious project.

Unfortunately, their work was a blight on company balance sheets. The new design attempts led to a sort of development nightmare, but the chief engineer that approved the project still had faith in the vision. As a result, he sent a team of six experts spearheaded by a highly skilled engineer named Bruce Torell. The goal was to get the project back on track, and history reveals that this historic engine would have likely failed without his aid.

Progress was quickly made thanks to Torell’s engine expertise, but then the team faced obstacles from PWC itself. Despite aggressive attempts to terminate the project, work continued and was finally ready for flight testing in 1961. A search began for a suitable twin engine airplane to test with the PT6, and the team chose Beechcraft C-45 “Expeditor”. This Beechcraft Model 18 was equipped with two R-985s, meaning that the traditional radial engines played a huge role in the development and rise of the PT6. While further tweaks to the engine were made, the future of airplane engines was clear. Gas turbine technology was here to stay, it was just a matter of whether the PT6 was the engine that would dominate the airplane industry. It did, thanks to Beechcraft, the same company that used P&W’s radial R-985 engines of decades past. With that agreement, the PT6 finally saw mainstream success that produced its dominant run as one of the great engines of history and in fact was the first engine ever put on a King Air.

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Turbine Vs. Radial, Why the Comparison?

I’ve been privileged to know both the PT6A and the 9-cylinder Pratt engines. Both engines operate on a different technique for deriving horsepower from the combustion process, but at heart they are still both internal combustion engines that share the same engineering DNA.

radial blower section

One of the most complex parts of the R-1340/R-985 engine, which has remained relatively unchanged since December 24, 1925 when the very first R-1340 roared to life, is the supercharger or blower section. The blower section, which also serves as the anchor-point when installing the engine, is attached to the rear power case. The circular case receives the fuel/air mixture from the impeller assembly through diffuser channels then delivers the fuel/air mixture to the cylinders via the intake pipes. The blower is driven directly by the crankshaft through a spring loaded gear coupling located at the aft section of the crankshaft assembly. This ingenious design helps protect the blower gearing from sudden acceleration or deceleration. The spring loaded gear drives the floating gear. The impeller assembly, being indirectly driven by the crankshaft, turns ten or even twelve times crankshaft speed.

rise of the pt6a impeller

In like manner the PT6A Impeller is located in the gas generator housing which is the anchor point when installing the engine. The centrifugal impeller delivers air through diffuser tubes to the combustion chamber. The hot gases flow through a series of turbines which produce horsepower to the propeller shaft.

rise of the pt6a

The impeller is only one area of similar design and function.  The reduction gearing in both the PT6A & R-1340G engines are remarkably similar as well as many other features. It is not difficult to see a common engineering theory. Many pilots and mechanics love the history and engineering that goes along with engines and aircraft. Certainly looking and comparing two of the legacy engines from Pratt & Whitney is enjoyable information for many in the aviation community. I have always found it entertaining that as the PT6A engine took its first breath of life, there were R-985 engines on each side! The photo (left) is of the first flight of the PT6A, being test flown on a Beech 18 (May 1961).

In closing, I am a mechanic that holds to the history of aviation. Learning about the past can certainly give insight to the present while possibly holding a glimpse into the future. Drawing a comparison between these two engines certainly does that.

– Rob Seeman, Covington Aircraft Operations Manager

The P-750 XSTOL and the P&W PT6-34 Engine

Pacific Aerospace describes its flagship product, the P-750 XSTOL, as the world’s first Extremely Short Take-Off and Landing (XSTOL) aircraft and as the best in the world for the missions it was designed to accomplish. Bold claims from the New Zealand based company, to be sure, but not without foundation, as it can boast some pretty impressive performance. Much of that performance can be credited to the Pratt & Whitney PT6A-34 engine that powers the plane, but more on that in a moment.

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The T-6 Texan: Then and Now

Since it was first produced in 1937, the T-6 Texan and its offshoots have filled many roles for many different institutions in dozens of countries. It proved to be one of the more enduring, durable, and useful aircraft ever designed, and that’s further evidenced by the evolution in the 1990’s of the Beechcraft T-6 Texan II, which is a modern version of the original WWII trainer.

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Jet Speed with Turboprop Efficiency: The Epic E1000

The Epic E1000 is drawing attention for its sleek carbon-fiber design and intelligent engineering, producing the fastest turboprop available. Emerging from roughly a decade of perfecting its kit-plane predecessor (The Epic LT Dynasty), the E1000 promises to build on the devoted following growing around Epic Aircraft with exhilarating speed, fuel efficiency, and plenty of space. 

epic e 1000
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Tracking Starts And Flights: Understanding Abbreviated Cycles and Full Cycles for PT6 Engine Maintenance

As most of you know, there are life-limited components in a PT6. These components include the CT and PT Disks and the Compressor Disks. After a certain number of cycles they must be replaced.

starts and flights pt6a compressor disk

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Protecting One of Your Largest Investments In Your Aircraft? Maintaining the PT6A

While this article is primarily all about what you do with your LARGE PT6 engine during the off season, the very first paragraph or two will cover a couple of other “Nice to Know” topics.  Large in this article relates to PT6A-60AG, -65AG, -67AG, -67F and any other model with a -60 series engine installed, like a -67R, -65B, -67D etc.   If there’s a 6 as the first number of your engine model…this article is for YOU.

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