When you think of aircraft engineering, images of someone in an office, hunched over numbers, logs, algorithms, rules and regulations quickly spring to mind; someone very organized with a plan to make a plan so that the plan works. There is an opinion of engineers being isolated, rigid and unmoving; that they don’t go beyond boundaries or think outside the box. After all, they are governed by rules, regulations and absolutes.
"Duncan Aviation's Engineering team provides our customers with solutions and response times that create an advantage over the competition that is recognized globally as the premiere choice for Certified Engineering Solutions."
- Ryan Oestmann, Engineering Services Manager
In reality, though, engineering is an art and engineers are some of the most creative people around. They have produced breath-taking architecture and innovative designs around the world, all within the strict confines of science.
At Duncan Aviation, there is a team of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) engineering “artists” who work in concert, behind the scenes, to research, design, develop, produce and certify work aboard the most popular business aircraft flown today. They set the standard in quality, experience and innovation for interior modifications, avionics innovations, parts manufacturing and certification for business aviation.
The work of an engineer sometimes goes unnoticed. Yet there isn’t a project that can proceed and succeed without them.
John Moffett, Jr., an Interior Structures Engineer working at Duncan Aviaton’s full-service Battle Creek, Michigan, facility, has designed interiors for all major business class aircraft. “The biggest challenge to designing an interior modification or new construction for an aircraft is engineering the best use-of-space and ease-of-maintenance into every project, all the while maintaining an aesthetically pleasing design that meets the customer’s expectations.”
It is not unusual for a customer to bring his or her personal preferences from home or office and want them interpreted for installation aboard an aircraft. Although most requests are not impossible, every customer is different and each project takes a very creative approach to engineering a design that is safe, compliant and what the customer wants.
All Duncan Aviation interior engineers are very hands-on. They work closely with the sales teams before the sale is made to ensure the customer demands are possible while still able to meet Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) requirements. The effort taken at the beginning to make sure a design is feasible saves a considerable amount of time and expense for the customer in the end. This is one of the advantages of having engineering services on-site at both of Duncan Aviation’s full-service facilities, Battle Creek and the company headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska.
There are several aviation maintenance facilities that work with third-party engineering firms to provide this same service. It can be done, but with a lot more steps, less flexibility and a lot less control. Work has to pass through their process, which can often mean more hoops and more red tape to get the same work completed.
John explains why being on-site in Battle Creek makes his job easier and the final product better. “It is not impossible to have an interior installed that is designed by a third-party engineering company, but the amount of time and the possibility for error or misunderstanding is high.” Every project is a team project that consists of many departments throughout the company. From design to engineering, production and certification, having all the team members under one roof eliminates the waiting in getting answers and streamlines the process from beginning to end. Duncan Aviation’s Engineering Department has worked with all areas of the company on hundreds of projects; they are aware of the needs and processes and what is expected from them to best work together and play to each other’s strengths.
Because there are no two aircraft exactly alike, having the customer’s aircraft in the hangar and available for personal inspection is also invaluable. Engineers are able to get hands-on measurements and visually inspect how the space is currently utilized while noticing any previous modifications, if present. At this time, for instance, they are able to determine if the current configuration is placarded for tracking in-board or out-board, and if aisle clearance is in compliance. This gives the customer the opportunity to have this corrected during the current project. These subtle observations can have an impact on the refurbishment or new modification that is planned. Off-site, detached engineers are unable to provide this same level of service without incurring a considerable increase in downtime and expense.
Duncan Aviation’s interior engineers also use various 3D modeling software. These are robust programs that allow them to engineer the plans to show all the internal space and what is happening inside and out of each component, including how glasses will hang and dishes will ride during flight, how lighting will appear and how drawers will function. 3D modeling software provides photo-realistic modeling that can illustrate such things as correct veneers and translucent glass. This shows the customers what the finished product will look like before it is taken to a blueprint level.
Once the plans are approved by the customer, they are converted to a drafting blueprint from which the shop will build. This engineering model/ blueprint information is provided to various shops within Duncan Aviation to begin production.
Just like a new aircraft interior or an interior alteration, any modification or addition to an aircraft that requires electricity has to go through the hands of an engineer. That includes new glass cockpit upgrades, satellite data communications and the switch in the back that turns on the light to the lav. If it has electricity, a systems engineer designed it.
Tom Henry, a Senior Avionics Systems Engineer located at Duncan Aviation’s Lincoln facility, has seen it all. He’s designed new glass cockpit upgrades for several make/model aircraft, integrated the latest in Wi-Fi technology for cabin enhancements and he’s even had a request from a customer to install a 50-inch widescreen TV that can be retracted into the ceiling. Needless to say, not all the requests can be engineered, no matter how hard you try.
In addition to designing innovative avionics solutions, systems engineers must also prove the design is feasible and able to function properly aboard the aircraft. This supporting documentation proves it is acceptable under the regulations and, therefore, “legal.” This has to be kept in mind at all times. Just because it’s a part doesn’t make it an airplane part, Tom says.
For every avionics project, a cross-departmental team is formed to work together, covering all aspects of the project from start to finish. Tom credits this “team approach” for Duncan Aviation’s success at consistently delivering the highest quality avionics products and services. “Sales, Design, Engineering, Production and Certification departments all work in parallel,” he says. “We don’t work on single events or individual projects and then pass it on. We depend on each other to effectively and efficiently contribute to the process from quote to certification. ”
The greatest challenge to systems engineering, according to Tom, is determining exactly what the customer is requesting. Customers always have an idea about what they want or how they want their new technology to perform, but they don’t always know what to ask for. Before Engineering can begin the design process and make the project certifiable, a specific function must be determined, down to the smallest detail. This is why having Engineering on-site and readily available to partner with Avionics Sales is so important. Working together, they determine all facets of the customer’s request in order to provide the most accurate and comprehensive quote.
These meetings help to answer questions and clear up any issues that arise during the sales process. Communication is immediate and issues can be explained quickly and more efficiently with a conversation and/or demonstration. Taking the time to get the quote correct up-front gets a lot of the unknown questions out of the way, providing a quicker and more efficient start once the contracts are signed.
Tom says his job is made easier by being on-site and involved throughout the entire process. “As engineers, we don’t just drop off a set of drawings and leave. We go over the plans and address anything unusual or out of the ordinary so everyone has a clear understanding of what’s going on. When necessary, I go to the aircraft to help troubleshoot systems. I’ve sat in an aircraft with avionics install technicians studying wiring diagrams, going through the aircraft operation and testing switches to determine what is happening, why it’s happening and what needs to be happening.”
Tom, like all Duncan Aviation systems engineers, takes ownership of every project and welcomes every opportunity to consult with sales, assist production and provide certification documentation. “We may work independently in our specific areas of expertise, but we are a part of a larger team representing Duncan Aviation. We depend on each other from beginning to end.”
In addition to providing engineering and certifications support for avionics and interior modification projects performed for Duncan Aviation customers, we have a group of engineers who work directly with major OEMs, providing the engineering and certification needed for some of the more exotic or unique OEM customer requests.
Shawn Carraher, Duncan Aviation’s Certification Programs Manager, was once told by a “wise man” that all roads lead to certification. “Aircraft avionics and interior modifications can’t happen without it,” he says. “Engineers may create the most innovative drawing and design for a component to go into an aircraft, but if it can’t be certified, then it’s just a drawing.”
When asked by others what the Certification Programs department does, he uses the metaphor of the tag on a mattress. “The tag on your mattress was placed there by someone who declared your mattress to be good for use,” Shawn says. “This tag indicates the mattress was designed within a set of regulations. It was made to the exact specifications of the design. It will hold up under normal wear and tear and will not spontaneously combust. It complies with all rules and regulations that govern the making of mattresses. Someone from the mattress company made the final decision to certify your mattress as being compliant with a signature and date.” The Duncan Aviation Certification Programs team, under the authority of the FAA, is that final say for all aircraft modification and type-design change projects at all Duncan Aviation locations.
The Organization Designation Authorization—ODA-501013-CE—held by Duncan Aviation is an appointment by the FAA authorizing us to inspect and declare all work “compliant and legal” on behalf of the FAA. Duncan Aviation is among an elite group given the authority to approve design data, analysis and test procedures, witness compliance testing, as well as make a finding of compliance to the regulations and issue Supplemental Type Certificates (STC), and Major Repairs and Alterations (MRA) for interior and airframe modifications and avionics systems and system upgrades. Duncan Aviation also recently received authority for Parts Manufacturing Approval (PMA), which allows for the manufacture of parts.
''Duncan Aviation's OEM Engineering team allows our OEM partners to outsource research and development and new product solutions to a dedicated, focused team with the expertise and resources to find the best-quality solution with the least production cost in an agreed-upon time and budget.''
- Aaron Lane, OEM Engineering Manager
The one thing on the minds of all aircraft owners and operators making modifications or alterations to their aircraft is where they can get the highest quality service at the most cost-effective price. With downtime and price being the most important pieces affecting that decision, customers are seeking an MRO that can cut through the red tape, get things done the right way the first time and get them flying again without unnecessarily extending their stay. Duncan Aviation’s ODA allows us to do just that. We maintain tighter control over maintenance schedules and have the flexibility to quickly address any issues that arise and develop a plan to overcome them. Aircraft operators choosing to work with a facility without designated authority or not in direct contact with the FAA will quickly learn the time required to get an STC or MRA certified through these channels takes longer than it does to complete the actual modification.
Currently, the most popular avionics projects are Wi-Fi installations. Duncan Aviation has performed hundreds of these modifications aboard most major make/model aircraft. Our experience and ODA authorization allow us to design, install and certify these projects in as little as five to six weeks. Duncan Aviation has delivered larger STC or MRA projects, such as avionics cockpit upgrades, in a dramatically reduced downtime, often by as much as 50 percent.
Most customers don’t always understand the work that goes on behind the scenes to plan, prepare and perform an aircraft modification project. They have their eyes on the delivery date and the bottom line. That is what we focus on, too.
Quotes are oftentimes very complex, requiring an STC or MRA as well as foreign approvals. Shawn helps to bridge the gap between Sales and Engineering to make sure all bases are covered. “There are 195 countries in the world and we have a lot of bilateral agreements,” he says. “It is necessary to understand the requirements of these countries and how they line up with the FAA. I get involved as much as possible on the front end to provide a solid quote and time estimate to the customer. ”
As soon as the contracts are signed, certification coordinators take over. They coordinate individual STC or MRA projects from contract to certification, managing the mounds of requirements and paperwork generated throughout the process. They create an in-depth plan approved by the FAA that covers every detail from what data is collected, rules written and inspections planned. Everyone is involved until the final delivery of the aircraft. The collective goal is to always manage the project to the written plan and ultimately deliver a safe and compliant product.
Engineers always desire to design a product that meets every customer’s expectations, but never at the expense of safety or compliance. Throughout the entire process, all work performed on any STC or MRA project must meet with the approval of an ODA designated Unit Member. Unit Members are Duncan Aviation employees who represent the FAA’s final authority and, with a signature, certify the final product to be in compliance according to the law, meeting all safety requirements.
Duncan Aviation engineers work with numbers, rules and regulations. They are extremely well organized and have a plan, a back-up plan and a contingency plan. The boundaries that govern their work are rigid and controlled by the law. However, they are some of the most forward thinking and creative minds in business aviation. Their advanced designs truly are a work of art.