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Starter Fix

Date: October 23, 2002

Well, Bart Lalonde at AeroSport Power (my engine builder) was right - taking apart SkyTech starters is not very difficult. Tonight I laid the two dead starters on my workbench. I removed the two LARGE phillips head screws that held the solenoid in place. Next, I guessed that the two larger bolts at the end of the motor housing were the ones holding the whole shebang together, and I was right - when I removed them, I could slide the motor off of the cast housing. There is a planetary gearset inside the housing which has the sprag clutch and pinion gear attached to it as an assembly. In MY starter, the sprag clutch was dead (we believe), and in Wayne's starter, the casting was cracked and deformed.

I made the mistake (bet you're surprised to hear THAT from me, eh?) of removing the motor rotor from the endplate/brush housing, and the brushes popped out. I had to fabricate a very high tech 3/64th aluminum sheet brush holder (bent around a screwdriver) to be able to replace the rotor into the endplate. Hey, live and learn.

I removed the planetary gearset/sprag clutch/pinion from Wayne's starter and used it to replace the one in my starter. After screwing everything back together on my starter, I ran it for a few seconds off of the car battery just to verify that it spun, which it did. This is the one that will go back in the plane temporarily.

I assembled the detritus of starters that was left into what, from 30 or 40 feet away, might actually resemble a starter to a very nearsighted person. This is what will be sent back to Aerosport Power for a rebuild, and will eventually become Wayne's good-as-new starter.

Friday morning I'll head out to Hanscom (BED) and install the "fixed" starter into the plane (which now has the infamous jumper on the starter switch) and see what else I can break. Assuming that everything works, I'll fly the plane back to Fitchburg (FIT) either late Friday morning or Saturday, and another adventure will retire to the record books.

Date: October 29, 2002

As I mentioned I was planning to do, Friday morning I headed out to BED to install the frankenstein's monster starter (cobbled together from the two dead starters). I spent about two hours doing so and putting everything back together (and installing the cowling with the torx screws - I bought a cordless electric drill/driver). With the car at BED, I called Deanie, told her to drive out to FIT, and I'd fly over and pick her up. The plan was to fly her to BED, she'd drive home in my car, I'd fly to FIT, and drive to work in her car. What a plan, eh? It would also be her maiden flight (all of 10 minutes) in the plane.

So, I start up the engine - no problem. I fly over to FIT, park at the terminal, and fill up the tanks. Deanie gets in, and I say to her "I may not shut the engine off at BED - it will be safe for you to get out" (or something to that effect). The plane starts up no problem, and we take off and have a nice, calm flight into BED. We taxi to the West ramp, and without thinking, I shut off the engine - heck, it had started up no problem twice within the past hour. She gets out, I turn the plane around, and bingo - the starter and ring gear begin chewing each other into little slivers of aluminum and steel. Amazing - couldn't have happened at FIT...... So, after a couple of minutes of this, I head over to East Coast Aviation, and they give me an A&P for a couple hours. We drag their battery cart over to the plane, in the vain hope that with a fresh battery, I'll be able to get the prop to spin just once and get it started and flown back to FIT.

From the standpoint of hand propping, one of the A&P's was willing to try, until I told him that I had a 3 blade prop on an O-360 pusher. He said with a 2-blade he'd have been willing to try it, but not with a three blade. Oh, well.Anyway, as you can imagine, that didn't work worth a dang. We then towed the plane over to a parking space on the east ramp, and I made arrangements to fix it myself later, and they offered hangar space when I needed it. I have sent one starter back to Aerosport Power for rebuilding, and I'll get a new ring gear from them as well - I expect to have the plane back in business by the middle of November, and have Wayne Wright's rebuilt starter back to him by about the same time.

So, a few hundred bucks lighter, and hopefully a bit smarter about how to wire ignition switches (and when NOT to fly a plane), the saga continues. Clearly, however frustrating this whole business has been, a dead starter/ring gear is NOT a big deal - it's relatively easily fixed, and it's not a safety issue, since I can't get off the ground -).


Date: November 13, 2002

So last Wednesday I receive a ring gear (gratis, no less, but I paid shipping) from Aerosport Power. I think that Bart Lalonde felt sorry for me -).

Anyway, it turns out that Bart didn't have any starters to rebuild one for me, so he sent my first dead starter to Sky-Tec in Granby, TX. I spoke to Eugene Chiappe at Sky-Tec, and had a hard time convincing him that I was so stupid as to destroy two starters and a ring gear by wiring my ignition switch incorrectly, but he eventually allowed that it sometimes even happens with certificated aircraft on which they mount their starters. They rebuild their starters for a fixed $150 fee, and were able to turn the first one around in a day and ship it to me UPS second day air for arrival on Friday.

So, Saturday I head over to BED, get escorted to the plane by the Massport escort truck (what a sad excuse for security they've implemented at Massport facilities - don't get me started) and get to work. I removed the cowling and oil cooler and then unbolted the prop extension/flywheel bolts. I carefully laid the prop/extension assembly off to the side and then much more easily removed the dead cobbled together starter.

I went inside to East Coast Aviation (a big Mooney dealer/repair shop that had let me park in one of their spots for two weeks) and the A&P's there let me use their air grinder and cold chisel to remove the old ring gear from the flywheel. Lot's of fun and sparks, and I got to whack the crap out of something with a hammer. What could a Mechanical Engineer want more? At that point, we looked up the proper procedure for putting a ring gear on a flywheel in the Lycoming manual. The only required equipment was an oven, and they didn't have on there, so I went home with the flywheel and ring gear.

Put the ring gear in the oven at 450 F, put the flywheel in the freezer at about 0 F, and had a sandwich for lunch while reading the paper. After about 1/2 hour at temperature, I put the flywheel on the counter, took the ring gear out of the oven, making sure that the "lead-in" for the starter pinion gear was pointing in the correct direction, and easily slid the ring gear over the flywheel and down flat onto the supporting flange. No problem. Within 2 minutes, the two parts had come to an even temperature, and there was no way that they were coming apart.

Back to the airport and reverse the disassembly. Install the rebuilt starter, install the flywheel/prop extension/prop, tighten the alternator belt (which was getting a touch loose), put the oil cooler back on, and replace the cowling. Big test - first try of the starter. I got the A&P to drag their battery cart out to the plane, since the battery in the plane was pretty dead. I turned off the gas, put the mixture at idle cutoff, throttle at idle, and turned the starter on. very different - no crunching noises, no banging noises, just a very smooth engagement of the starter/ring gear, and rotation of the prop. Turn on the fuel, mixture full rich, throttle 1/4", prime a bit, and vroom - started right up very smoothly, without the previous propeller trying to rotate backward routine due to a firing 25 degree BTDC magneto.

At that point, I let the engine run for about 15 minutes on the ground to try to charge up the battery a bit, so that I could fly back to FIT without undue worry. After thanking the ECA A&P's profusely, I preflighted and departed BED for the 12 minute flight to FIT, where my wife picked me up.

So - the airplane is fixed and working CORRECTLY now, and one more (in an infinite stream of) lesson learned. I'd like to ensure that certain folks get recognition for going out of their way to help me - these include Bart Lalonde at Aerosport Power, Greg Chiappe at Sky-Tec, all the guys at Aviation Electronics at BED who drove me all over the place and let me park in their spot for a week, and all the guys at East Coast Aviation at BED who let me park there for two weeks, helped me with the repairs, and were supportive and helpful at all times. If any of you ever get a chance to use any of these people, please do - you won't be sorry.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled fiascoes -).

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