On July 28, 2007, the left wing of a Taylorcraft BF12-65 seaplane separated from the aircraft about 25 minutes after takeoff. Both the pilot and passenger were killed in the crash.
Although the National Transportation Safety Board has not yet ruled on the cause of the crash, during the preliminary investigation it was discovered that the wing strut attachment fractured at the lower fuselage end, resulting in the wing separation. The fitting on the accident aircraft was heavily corroded, according to the NTSB.
That finding led to the FAA issuing Airworthiness Directive 2007-CE-057-AD on Aug. 20. It requires the inspection of lift struts for all Taylorcraft A, B and F models because of possible corrosion. The AD notes that independent laboratory analysis of the struts on some aircraft revealed varying degrees of excessive internal and external corrosion, including corrosion severe enough to require strut replacement. In some cases paint obscured the corrosion.
“This condition, if not corrected, could result in failure of the lift strut and lead to in-flight separation of the wings with a consequence of loss of control,” the AD warns.
Because the FAA determined that the potential failure of a strut constitutes an emergency, the usual comment period for the approval of the AD was waived.
The AD requires inspection of the left and right wing front and aft lift struts for corrosion and cracks, and then the replacement of any cracked strut or strut with corrosion that exceeds certain limits. It applies to both sealed or non-sealed struts. In addition, aircraft owners are required to repetitively inspect any non-sealed struts using visual, eddy current or ultrasound inspection. Aircraft owners have 24 calendar months in which to comply with the AD.
Many Taylorcraft owners learned about the AD through the Taylorcraft Foundation, a not-for-profit organization geared toward the preservation of the history and technical information of Taylorcraft airplanes. The foundation website, Taylorcraft.org, has several forum pages dedicated to compliance with the AD.
Forrest Barber, executive director of the foundation, notes that, for the most part, Taylorcraft airplanes are sound.
“But there are a few questionable struts in the field and we are finding them,” he said.
According to Barber, Taylorcraft owners are encouraged to inspect the strut attachments when the struts are off, noting that the accident that led to the AD was the result of a strut fitting attachment failure.
The issue first came to light in April, when the FAA released an Airworthiness Concern notification with a 90-day comment period. Immediately following the July 28 accident, the FAA issued the emergency AD.
The AD is challenging to comply with, as Taylorcraft are vintage designs. Some are more than 65 years old and there are very few places where replacement struts can be acquired — not to mention acquired quickly.
Three companies currently make replacement struts: Univair Aircraft Corp., Airframes Inc., and Taylorcraft.
When the AD was released, it caught the strut makers by surprise, noted Mike Sellers, Univair’s marketing and sales manager.
“Our forte is making replacement parts for so-called orphaned aircraft, and traditionally we turn them out in batches of 10, 12 or 15 at a time — and had product sitting on the shelf,” he said. “But the AD came out so quickly we didn’t have a chance to build up any stock and the initial orders cleaned us out pretty quickly. We have a backlog of orders now, but we are building them in batches of 50, 80 and 100.”
When the run on struts began, the front struts sold for $760.21 each and the rear struts for $603.47 each.
Sellers noted that because Univair is able to produce the struts more efficiently now, the cost of making them has gone down. Front struts now sell for $499 each, while the rear struts sell for $449 each. Sellers decided that the only fair thing to do was to issue a voucher for the difference to Taylorcraft owners who purchased struts when they were more expensive.
“We are under no obligation to do this, but we thought this was a fair way of handling it because this was a purchase most of them would not have made,” he said. “The Taylorcraft owners had a gun put to their heads with this AD and we are sensitive to that issue.”
Now a full set of struts from Univair costs about $2,750.
The most recent entry into the strut replacement manufacturing game is Airframes Inc, of Big Lake, Alaska. The company has been in business for 10 years and is known for making replacement parts for Super Cubs.
“I have owned three Taylorcrafts — in fact, I still have one,” says Lee Budde, Airframes Inc. owner. “When the AD came out we jumped on it and got the Supplemental Type Certificate and Parts Manufacturer Approval from the FAA, which means that these struts comply with the AD.”
Airframe Inc.’s struts sell for $1,800 a set. Turnaround time is about three weeks, according to Budde.
“We are working seven days a week to get the orders filled,” he said.
The Taylorcraft factory in Brownsville, Texas, has been taking orders for replacement struts, charging $3,235 for all four needed to comply with the AD. When asked about the price difference between those ordered from Univair and Airframes Inc., Taylorcraft owner Harry Ingram replied, “You get what you pay for. We make our struts out of 4130 steel, which is about $33 a foot for the raw material,” he explained. “The mindset out there is that if it is good enough for a Piper then it is good enough for a Taylorcraft.”
On the company’s website, information about the AD urges potential customers to order from the factory to keep their aircraft “100% authentic” and touts that the factory has the original jigs to make the parts, which ensures that they will fit.
However, there have been some setbacks, notes Ingram.
“We had a slow start in the manufacturing process,” he said. “We had the process in place and turned it on, then found out that we had the wrong welding rod in place and that put us back about two weeks. We caught the problem before any of the struts were shipped. We are now doing about four sets of struts per day and we have about 42 orders so far. We will be caught up in about two weeks.”
The biggest challenge for the Taylorcraft factory may be its past performance. Former customers have sued Ingram, alleging he took their aircraft for restoration and never finished the work. In some cases, customers allege that he took parts off their aircraft and sold them to other people.
One of these former customers, Tom Garrick from South Carolina, posted on the Taylorcraft Foundation forum that anyone who wished to send money to Ingram for parts should contact him first. Garrick told General Aviation News that he got his airplane back in pieces from Ingram after several years of broken promises about the restoration that was supposed to have happened. When Garrick finally retrieved his aircraft and had his mechanic go through the boxes, he said he was shocked to learn that he received parts from other aircraft as well.
“I have multiple sets of wheels and control cables,” he said. “I am trying to figure out who they belong to.”
Garrick’s warning has come too late for some Taylorcraft owners who have posted their experiences on the foundation’s website page. They tell stories of getting a promise of two weeks until strut delivery, then calling when the delivery did not come and getting more excuses, or their calls being ignored. Some customers who paid for their order with credit cards reported canceling their orders from Taylorcraft and taking their business elsewhere with more favorable results.