What’s up with Taylorcraft?

It has been more than two years since Harry Ingram bought the assets of the Taylorcraft Aviation Co. and set up a factory in LaGrange, Texas, with intentions of producing the tried and true F-22 design. When General Aviation News interviewed Ingram in May 2003, he predicted the first aircraft would be delivered by Aug. 15, 2003.

But, the plans of mice and men — and apparently aircraft manufacturers — often do not go according to schedule. When we interviewed Ingram in September 2004, he stated that no aircraft had been delivered yet and predicted it would be the end of October before deliveries began. When we spoke with him in October, he said December was a more likely timeframe.

“This is a new process for us,” Ingram said. “We have these old drawings that we have to update with new materials, then the drawings have to be approved by the FAA.”

He concedes he underestimated how long it would take to get the production line into operation.

“Getting the permits we needed took longer than we thought it would,” he said in a telephone interview. “We purchased the company two-and-a-half years ago and applied for the permit to build the F-22 under Part 21 Subpart F 21.123 or production under Type Certificate only. That means the FAA has to inspect every aircraft we build. We also applied for Parts Manufacturing Authority so that we could build spare parts for all 23 models listed on the Type Certificate. It took until May 11 of this year to get the PMA. It took us two years to get the wing drawings into shape and prove to the FAA that we could do this correctly.”

CHECKERED HISTORY

Taylorcraft began in the 1920s when C.G. and Gordon Taylor decided to build a small plane that didn’t break the bank. The first design was the two-seat Chummy. Over the years production has started and stopped like a school bus along its route. Ingram is the sixth owner the company has had in the last 17 years. The last time the F-22 was mass produced was 11 years ago.

According to Ingram, the company is working with the FAA in order to get a production certificate so that they can mass produce aircraft. In the meantime, the company will build a few at a time under the Type Certificate.

That’s perfectly legal, says Robert Robino, manager of the FAA’s San Antonio manufacturing and inspection district office, but it makes more work for his office.

“If the company holds the Type Certificate to an aircraft, which Taylorcraft does, then it has the right to produce that aircraft,” Robino said. “But there is a tremendous amount of FAA involvement while producing under the TC because the FAA has to inspect the aircraft at regular intervals, such as when the frames are welded together, then after they get covered and so forth.”

Acquiring the production certificate involves a lot of paperwork to show the FAA that the design is sound and that the company has quality control measures in place, Robino says. The fact that Taylorcraft has been around in one form or another for so many years is both a blessing and a curse in this respect.

“Even when you buy a design that has been around a long time, you still have to take the time to get your production line going and you have to figure out where to put the tools in the factory,” he says. “We have to make sure they have the capability to build this aircraft, such as do they have all the tools and fixtures and do they know how to use them. They are coming up to speed, but you need to understand it takes time. There’s a lot of information out there on this aircraft, but it has traveled around from holder to holder. They are digging through boxes trying to find everything. They also need to write a quality control manual. When they produce a full aircraft, they will need to establish flight test procedures. They have to have a quality control system in place that covers everything from the raw materials coming into the factory to assembly to the end aircraft going out the door. The fact they have the PMA means they have an approved system in place. They can keep producing parts and use that system as they work incrementally toward production of a complete aircraft.”

STARTS WITH PARTS

When the company opened its doors, Ingram’s first priority was supplying existing Taylorcraft owners with parts. While most owners were pleased that someone was carrying on the line, there were also some growing pains.

General Aviation News received phone calls and emails from Taylorcraft owners who ordered replacement parts from Ingram’s operation and said that the parts were old stock produced years ago and not airworthy. Others said they ordered parts and were promised delivery dates, but when the parts didn’t arrive on time and they called to ask about them, Ingram allegedly gave them excuses or misled them about the factory’s ability to make the parts.

Craig Helm says his problems with the factory began in October 2003 when he tried to get replacement fuel tanks for his aircraft. When he contacted the factory, Ingram told him replacement tanks would be ready in 10 days.

“Ten days came and went with no tanks,” said the Graham, Texas resident. “So Steve Pierce, my mechanic, and I asked Harry if he could build us a tank to our specifications as an owner-produced part. He agreed and said we’d have the tank within a week. That week came and went.”

Ingram blamed the delays on paperwork issues with the FAA, Helm said.

“He told us the tanks were done except for the FAA approval. Then Steve contacted someone at the factory, who let it slip that they were not even working on the fuel tanks and that nothing had been submitted to the FAA,” he said. “We were told the fuel tanks were a low priority.”

Helm kept calling Ingram to find out the status of the replacement tanks.

“Harry told me they had some problems with the FAA, but that he would have a tank built by Friday,” he said. “This call was made on Tuesday. I told Harry I would call on Friday and see how things were coming. When I called on Friday, Harry said the tank was not complete, but that the sheet metal had been cut and all that was lacking was to weld it together. We agreed again that this tank would be identical to the existing F21B tanks without the tabs.

A few days later he called to say the new tank was ready. I hired a driver to make the five-hour trip to LaGrange to pick up the tank. Instead of a new tank, I got a used tank with the tabs cut off. You could see where it had been drilled out of the wing of another F-22.”

Frustrated, Helm posted his experiences on the Internet on the Taylorcraft Foundation Discussion Forum, on a message board titled “problems dealing with Harry Ingram and the factory”.

“I knew there had to be other aircraft owners out there that were having similar problems and I didn’t want them wasting their time or money too,” said Helm.

“We had a fuel tank issue,” Ingram concedes. “We had to redesign it. That took six months longer than I thought it would.”

Ingram notes that he did not charge Helm for the replacement tank.

“It’s not about the money,” said Helm. “I just wish he had been up front with us from the beginning because then we could have approached the problem from a different angle. Instead he strung me along for three or four months.”

Ingram is understandably defensive about the criticism he’s received, noting that he has worked with customers to try to solve their problems.

Some of the comments on the web board were irrational rants and personal attacks on Ingram and others, by people hiding behind screen names. The posts became so abusive that the board administrator had an email trace done to find the guilty parties. Moderators then pulled the negative comments and the administrator of the site established a policy forbidding the posting of any negative comments about Taylorcraft or dealings with the factory.

That decision worries some former posters. GAN received an email from one man who expressed concern that other people would not be able to do due diligence before they put down $60,000 for a new airplane.

The San Antonio Better Business Bureau has not received any complaints about the Taylorcraft Co.

WILD ABOUT HARRY

Ingram does have his fans. Anyone who can produce a new aircraft that sells for $60,000 is going to be popular with pilots. GAN heard from several people who are pulling for Ingram and looking forward to getting parts from the factory or have had a chance to visit the facility and are planning to buy one of the new Taylorcrafts.

“I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt,” stated Lee Dautreuil from New Iberia, La. “I would like to see the business do well. Right now I feel comfortable, we will see in another month or two what is happening. I don’t think Harry understood the industry and how it works and how long it takes to build things and get FAA approval. Once that happens, I think the aircraft will move out pretty quick. This will be easier than someone starting out with a new design because the airplane has a proven record of 70 years.”

Ingram said he’s looking forward to manufacturing TaylorSports, which are aircraft that fall into the new Light Sport Aircraft category.

“We’re ready to do it,” he said. “We have seven of them sold already.”

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