Sunday, December 03, 2006

TC & PC, More in Depth

I have thought about writing this post for months, but the subject is so tedious, it was easy to put off. The machinations of Vern and his double speak was far more interesting as were other diversions like Brooke Shields. BTW, lest you think I might have overstated her appearance, I added to the Extreme Views post, her photo leaving a Rome Hotel on the way to Tom's wedding. A pretty sharp chick!

Back on topic, the blog is intended to be informative and at times entertaining. But this post is just plain boring though it might help explain some of the problems facing Eclipse as they seek to obtain their Production Certificate and why the window and wing fitting problem is not related to Airworthiness Certificates for the upcoming deliveries.

TC

Type Certification is the responsibility of a regional ACO (Aircraft Certification Office). For the Eclipse, the Ft. Worth ACO. The role of this office is to ensure the applicant (Eclipse) complies with the technical requirements of 14 CFR Part 23, Part 34 and Part 36.

Every part in the airplane will have a discrete number tied to the drawing that creates the part. Also on the drawing will be a "Used On" number or the link to the next assembly drawing where the part is mated to other parts. This sub-assembly feeds a larger one and the process repeated until the major sub-assemblies like wings and fuselages feed into a single drawing, the completed airplane. Known in the industry as the "top drawing", it defines the airplane. Its number and revision level is stated in the Type Data Sheet. The important thing to remember is that each part in the airplane is linked to the "top drawing".

Any change to any drawing must be reviewed as to the significance of the change. Major changes like adding larger tip tanks will result in some level of retesting and re-certification. The new aircraft definition will be reflected by either a new "top drawing" number or a revision to the original. Minor changes can be written off (pencil whipped) by analysis.

This procedure is part of what fossilizes the aircraft industry, changes are not easy and everything is controlled.

With regards to the wing and window problem, it's the ACO's call. They are confident the windows are good for 50 hours and apparently satisfied the bushings in the wing fitting were not installed correctly. The company can fix the windows at their convenience, the operators will need to swap them out at the prescribed intervals.

Whatever spacers were needed adjacent to the bushings could be added and treated as a minor change and written off.


PC

Production Certificates are issued by an FAA MIDO (Manufacturing and Inspection District Office). A PC gives the company authority to inspect each airplane and is intended to ensure that every airplane that is given a Certificate of Airworthiness, is built exactly to the design that was certified by the ACO. To achieve this, the company drafts a Quality Control Manual that describes in detail how the manufacturing process shall operate. Here are some basics:

Let's start with that discrete part mentioned earlier and assume it is a small aluminum sheet metal bracket.

Purchasing orders a quantity of sheet aluminum of a certain thickness. Before the order is issued, QC (Quality Control) has to review and sign off on the P.O. to ensure the material is ordered to the proper specification.

The material is received on the receiving dock, QC checks the material against the P.O., verifies the markings against the material certification documents provided with the aluminum and files the "certs".

The material goes into a controlled stockroom.

Manufacturing control issues an order for let's say 20 of the discrete parts. A planning sheet which exists for the discrete part is produced. It says to go to the stockroom and obtain 20 blanks of a particular size. The operator who pulls the blanks signs his name to the planning sheet, a QC inspector verifies the blanks and signs the planning sheet.

The parts are cut to shape and deburred per instructions on the planning. The operator signs the sheet, the parts are inspected and QC signs as well.

Next the parts are formed. Two more signatures from the operator and QC inspector.

The parts may get heat treated and/or corrosion protection. Again two more signatures on the planning.

Then the batch of 20 parts is part marked with the part number, production control's job number, the date and the inspectors stamp which signifies that every interim step on the planning sheet was bought off and the parts conform to the original drawing. This completed planning sheet now becomes a permanent record for the company.

Next manufacturing control will release an order and a planning sheet to build a sub-assembly for a particular aircraft serial number. One of the first items on the planning will be a list of all the parts needed for the sub-assembly. Our discrete part will get pulled along with the others. The operator will sign off on the planning as will a QC inspector.

The planning will detail step-by-step the assembly instructions, drill out the pilot holes, add nut plates etc. At interim steps, the operator will sign off, the work inspected and signed off by QC. Upon completion, the planning sheet will go into the permanent records related to a specific serial number. And so it goes until a completed airplane rolls off the assembly line.

This process applies to all sub-contractors. Their signed off planning sheets and functional test results must accompany the item they are supplying. The records will either go into general files or files specific to a particular airplane serial number.

The process applies in one form or another to everything that is covered by the "top drawing" from rivets to the engines.

The QC manual will have the company organization chart that will show some level of independence from manufacturing.

The QC manual will identify every device used in the inspection process and provide a tracking number along with a schedule for validating the device.

If an inspector on the shop floor has a six-inch pocket scale he uses to check parts, it must have an engraved tracking number and be periodically checked for condition and accuracy back to the U.S. Bureau of Standards.

Same for pressure gages used to check tire pressure or exotic electronic devices for checking systems.

The QC manual will define how often the assembly jigs should be checked and a procedure will be written for each jig. The equipment used to check the assembly jigs will get periodic checks back to the Bureau of Standards.

Then there is the validation of functionality of systems. Take for instance the landing gear. There will be detailed instructions to place the airplane on jacks, hook up a power cart and cycle the gear so many times, and record cycle times etc. Even pressure gages to check strut and tire pressures will get validated on a regular basis.


Relating this to Vern's recent statements, in his open letter to customers, he talked about two quality escapes. The first "aircraft build instructions" which I assume means his "planning", either for detail parts or for the assemblies was not complete. The second escape was, "clarity of functional test procedure". This probably relates to incomplete system testing before various systems were installed or just after.

What I don't understand is how you go back after the fact and show everything in compliance, but I am sure there is a way. Eclipse is not the first to run into these kinds of problems with the FAA.

On the AIN report, Vern stated that because Eclipse was asking for a PC rather than just an Airworthiness Certificate on an individual airplane, that there was a "more extensive inspection process". I don't know what he is talking about. You demonstrate to the FAA that all the elements are in place in the QC Manual and that they are rigorously followed for the first few airplanes and they award the PC.

21 comments:

ColdWetMackarelofReality said...

Stan,

It would be interesting to know how much of the certification work for Eclipse' TC was actually reviewed and approved by the FAA vs. company or consultant DER's.

There is an assumption among many folks that TC means the Feds have reviewed and approved the type design data but the system allows for DER's and despite best intentions, DER's can be influenced.

I think at this point it is safe to say that the wing rear attach bushing can be described as a 'quality escape', one that demonstrates that assembly instructions can not be followed by the shop floor and that Eclipse internal quality can not catch it.

This does not speak well for Eclipse's chance of earning a production certificate.

Stan Blankenship said...

coldfish,

Valid question on the FAA vs DER involvement in certification.

The MIDO office has to be a little concerned with a company that plans to go from zero to 200 in 7 months and maintain a quality standard consistent with the regulations.

airtaximan said...

the PC vs CA slight of hand indicates a bigger/different problem exists at E-clips...

Vern has used this tactic, many times since 1998. He assumes (often correctly) that his main audience is uninitiated, and will not catch the rediculousness of his remarks. As Stan points out, Vern's attempt to claim their current problems are due to going for a PC instead of just simply delivering customer planes under a CA, is silly. But Vern knows it might sound like it makes sense to an unsuspecting customer with a progress payment due, or to an investment banker.

It's just something else out of Vern's mouth, to try to move ahead - meaning obtaining more money from deposits, or investors and bankers. He is calling us stupid, because we do not see this as the goal. We think it's about an airplane.

Why tell such tall tales? PC vs CA, nothing wrong with the planes, no major problems...I suspect there's something more dramatic at E-clips, and the volume and tone of the doubletalk is indicating some real major problems.

flyguy said...

What gets me is that they have had an additional three years beyond their original certification date to get this sorted out. None of the production process side should have been affected by engineering delays - this is all well understood territory. Surely someone as smart, patient and capable as KK could get his troops organized to have everything spotless on the production and quality side of the house once engineering and flight test was completed.

Or was he running around the production floor screaming to f&$! the rules and put the goddam planes together. Next he will be laying production people off and wrapping some lame excuse around it – surely a vendor or an employee is to blame again.

BTW how are those performance numbers coming? How are you going to break the news that your pony is slow? Really slow? And why are you holding off for so long. Oh yeah, that money thing again hu? You should be forced by the owners to release the actual performance and operational limitations of the design, prior to them releasing their money to buy parts for said design. Or would that be too fair?

Buckerfan said...

Flyguy raises an interesting point. Can it really be true that Eclipse is actually asking for the next 60% stage deposit without releasing the POH, and allowing customers to know how the plane truly performs. That would be an incredibly ballsy move. I know in my case, a major reason for my decision to cancel the deposit I had held for 18 months was the company's refusal at the time of TC to answer even a simple question like "what is the fuel flow at LRcruise at the following three FL's". But surely now they must have released the full POH?? Having said that I sent "ustomer Care" an email over a week ago asking for the POH and my email has not even been acknowledged, let alone answered. God what a pathetic excuse for a company, let alone a 21st century, "customer oriented" manufacturer of a high precision, high tech flying machine.

airtaximan said...

buckerfan, flyguy,

Combine the lack of information with the FACT that Eclipse knows exactly what the bad news is regarding the performance and the certification. Any company at this stage of the game knows exactly how the plane will perform. They’ve known the shortfalls, literally, for years.

Ask why they are not being forthright?

The utter lack of consideration for the truth, and the "we can fool'em all" attitude is despicable. Many people have been fooled, and the "PT Vernum show" is in full sqing at this point.

I only hope your concerns find their way into the minds of the rest of the fold.

wrangler said...

VERN CONFIRMS THERE ARE MORE PROBLEMS

Flight International posted another article today discussing the "quality escapes" at Eclipse. It was filled with Vern's usual rhetoric of "It's conformity issues, not design problems". Since they reprinted his euphemisms to describe the problem, you don't know they are talking about new issues until the very end.

"The conformity issues are not related to previous wing attachment and window problems, says Eclipse."

http://www.flightglobal.com/Articles/2006/12/05/Navigation/177/210903/Eclipse+production+faces+new+obstacle.html


Mackarel said:
...despite best intentions, DER's can be influenced.

Apparently, the National Aeronautic Association can be influenced as well. I wonder how much his Collier trophy cost?

ColdWetMackarelofReality said...

Not sure I get your point Wrangler, are we in agreement or disagreement?

Unlike some, I believe the Collier was deserved. I hold the Eclipse team in very high regard, and I believe it is or will become a great little airplane. My concerns are with the mismanagement of a truly promising company and the lack of a safety culture at a company that presumes to be the equivalent of a Volkswagen BBJ.

My point was and remains that the wing attach and windshield issues are definitely quality escapes, the technical term is SNAFU.

It is likely IMO that these issues led the Feds to a more close examination of the quality manual and assembly work instructions and parts tracking and that it is findings from THAT review that led to the 'voluntary suspension' of PC activities.

I believe the FAA has simply been way too quick to grant ODAR status to the startup jet makers, or that the bar is not high enough. The results so far are the Adam 500 and 700 which are slowly making their way through cert with issues, the Spectrum which has seen a fatal crash already (misrigged flight controls), and the Eclipse program (grounded with significant quality issues).

It may be that the startup environment and the pressure to get to an IPO or to get aircraft to market is so intense that people simply cannot say no for fear of losing their jobs, or the schedule does not allow for adequate review, or a combination of all of the above.

This company in particular though is pinning its' hope (read that survival) on thousands of these little jets being in the air at any time being flown by a myriad of air taxi operators, and that raises the stakes and spotlights the requirement for the development of a strong quality culture that will tell the emperor he is buck nekkid regardless of his mood or threats to fire them.

wrangler said...

Mackarel, I agree that DERs can be influenced. If a company wants to skimp on safety, there are plenty of people willing to sign off on second-rate designs and processes if you have the money... and Eclipse has the money.

Regarding the Collier trophy, I don't think Eclipse deserved it at all. Straight from the NAA website:
"for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics... which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year."

How has Eclipse "thoroughly demonstrated" their aircraft? They hadn't when the trophy was awarded and they still haven't to this day. On the other hand, they have demonstrated an uncanny ability to make big promises and fail (repeatedly) to deliver on them.

I'm not saying they couldn't have earned it in the future, just that they didn't deserve it this year.

http://www.naa.aero/html/awards/index.cfm?cmsid=62

flightfollowing said...

Eclipse has released the POH to a couple of very early customes, but not to others or the public. I suspect that they are waiting to release the public POH once they confirm the newest aerodynamic mods for range extension and speed improvement, which they have just done. They may try and keep the current (slow and reduced range)POH under wraps, and release the POH in final form with the better performance numbers that reflect current deliveries. Time will tell.

airtaximan said...

coldwetmackarelofreality,

Why, in your mind, is E-clipse deserving of the Collier trophy?

I am curious what asppect of the E500 can be characterized as "a greatest achievement".

Thanks

ColdWetMackarelofReality said...

Wrangler and Airtaximan,

I believe Eclipse deserved the Collier in '05 based on everything that the NAA had available to determine their eligibility and the potential impact that Eclipse will have on general aviation.

The NAA release specified Eclipse “for leadership, innovation, and the advancement of general aviation”.

We NOW know that some of the 'leadership' aspects have been overstated, but there is no denying that Eclipse has been innovative and that is their ability to design a light jet, and to raise capital, has created a new market segment that, like the flying car, many have tried to serve but none assembled the team and resources necessary to do it.

From NAA website:
"Announcing the 2005 winner, NAA President and CEO David Ivey said the selection committee’s criteria included recognition of the rich heritage of the Collier Trophy, and “the spirit of entrepreneurship, technical innovation, and the impact on American aviation,” exemplified by the Eclipse 500."

I think you have to also recognize that Eclipse drove friction stir welding for primary structure in manned aircraft, their 'PhostrEx' fire suppression system, their use of electromechanical actuators and even the problematic integration of digital electronics\integrated software.

None of that reduces the issues of leadership within the company, none of that reduces the importance of apparently significant quality issues.

So, given the criteria NAA used, I think the award was justified. I do, in hindsight, agree with Wrangler that the award probably should have been given after the aircraft entered into service and has had an opprtunity to make good on the promise of the design itself as well as the air-taxi business model it supposedly enables.

We need to avoid Vern's habit of throwing out the baby with the bathwater and recognize that failures in the corner office and board room does not negate the fact that there has been some significant innovation both in terms of design and manufacture of this aircraft.

It is only in the media and this blog that Vern = Eclipse, in reality, there are some 800-900 other people involved, but it is only Vern and some of his comrades in the executive team that are causing most of the challenges and failures of this program IMO, not the team that has been working on it for 7 years.

The culture of a company radiates down from the corner office IMO, and the big leather chair is where responsibility for success or failure ultimately resides.

I think it can be argued that the TEAM at Eclipse deserved the trophy, even if Vern didn't.

airtaximan said...

Coldmac,

If the E-clips was selling for around $2.5 - $3 million, would you still agree?

ColdWetMackarelofReality said...

I think it WILL be in $2-2.5M range Airtaximan, because I do not believe the air taxi market will create the volume needed to drive the cost down to the sub $2M mark, and I think the aircraft itself will cost way more to operate than has been suggested.

Selling price of the jet and the air taxi market are the least of the issues on which I believe the airplane or the team that created it deserved the Collier - I focus on the innovation, both that which has been realized, as well as the lost opportunities.

Price and production volume are Vern's creations\spin and should be valued as such, IMO.

Would I want one for my company? Not yet, in 2 or 3 years IF the company is still around, maybe.

A Sierra VLJ (re-engined Citation 501SP) can be had for the same money, carry more farther in a much larger cabin, availability is about the same, and there are service centers everywhere.

If I were a would-be air taxi operator, I would be trying the market reaction to a TBM 700C2, King Air C90, or older Citation. Cost of operations will be similar enough to check out the market response. When the passengers don't show up, at least you have a nice airplane that is well supported around the globe, AND a nice tax write off.

flight guy said...

coldwetmackarelofreality,

I would agree with you that the Collier Trophy was awarded to Eclipse for their innovation in the Very Light Jet market and not for the Design and Performance of the Eclipse 500. Vern did a great job of building support and hyping the air taxi market as a sexy enterprise when no one else would invest. Along with small turbine engine technology, this helped build the VLJ market. Unfortunately, the things that make Vern great as a salesman are not being translated into the Eclipse 500. For the E500 to be meet customer satisfaction and be innovative it cannot have the strategy of being the lowest in cost. With that said, Eclipse's approach is to try to drop prices in volume. That is why the air-taxi market is being heavily sold. Eclipse has a number in mind of the E500's required to make a profit at margin. This becomes very obvious when phantom company's hold a range of positions of the deliveries. Eclipse needs to sell and sell to anyone. With all the above said, Vern is directly responsibile because it comes back to business strategy and leadership. Unfortunately, they are in the predictable position that any senior manager would attest because the air taxi market is not as mature as hoped. Perhaps for that Eclipse does not deserve the Collier Trophy, but other companies do exist because of the slick sales ability of Eclipse. I just wish the salesmanship ends and production and design become a priority.

airtaximan said...

coldwetmackeralofreality,

Thanks for the answer, but I just don't see innovation, if the plane is above $2 million -$2.5 million. I am willing to listen, though...

Jet speed, range, comfort, economics...none has been changed by this teeny-weeny jet.

The promise was low-cost, and like you say, the e-clips is no taxi-plane. No high rate means no low cost...

FSW, still remains to be seen as far as real value goes, t might just be a few pounds of rivets saved. I do not think the Trophy was for the fire extinguisher. Perhaps electric actuators, and a novel avionics approach...but even those are not game-changers.

There have been many very small "jets"... none were productionized and certified due to the lack of jet engines for them.

Why E-clips was awarded the Collier Trophy still evades me -sorry.

airtaximan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
airtaximan said...

flightguy,

There are thousands of aircraft around the globe today, moving millions of passengers in air taxi.

The impact of E-clips has not been seen one iota in this market. As a matter of fact, with few exceptions, the established Part 135 operators have shied away from Vern’s baron-jet for taxi use because they know it is not practical.

If you think E-clips received the Collier Trophy for innovation in the air taxi market...perhaps calling an old market (part 135) "new" and spending millions trying as hard as you can to sell your private-pilot-plane-that-has-not-sold-enough-to-get-the-price-down IS innovative in aviation. To me, it’s just an old trick - like spraying perfume on a hog. You can try to convince someone it’s not a hog all day long, but in the end everyone can see it’s just a hog.

Maybe Dayjet should receive the award for innovation in air taxi… at least they have developed a novel plan to sell seats on Part 135 aircraft.

Perhaps E-clips should receive a selling, marketing, hype, or even financing award, BUT not the Collier Trophy...right?

airtaximan said...

bambazonke posted 2 correspondence from Vern on the Nov 30 Post/comments of this blog.

Vern is offering 6% interest to anyone who ponies up their next deposit installment. The interest will be calculated from the promised delivery date, until the plane is actually delivered if it's late...if I understand this correctly.

If my read is accurate, it's a cheap form of high risk financing, at this point.

The problem is, if he is late (still no "on-time" track record to date) things will be pretty bad at that point. This is a very high risk "investment" at this time, for only 6% interest during what could be the most risky time in the program.

A desperate plea for orders and money...

Niner Zulu said...

So it appears Eclipse has "solved" the late delivery problem by paying 1/2% per month interest on the customer deposits.

I guess some position holders might be happy with that, but the bottom line is that Eclipse gets to keep customer deposits and pay the equivalent of (less than) 6% per year which is way below-market interest for a commercial loan. Based on a $600,000 deposit, that's $3000.00/month off of the sale price for every month they are late (paid in future dollars, which are also worth less).

So what if they are 6 months late? How about a year?

I don't see why anyone would be happy with this arrangement. People have probably sold their airplanes based around the original delivery dates, and now the factory has carte blanche to deliver any time they choose.

I believe this is a copy of the email from Eclipse (but don't quote me on it.....).

Dear Eclipse customer:

Of utmost importance to Eclipse is the trust that you, our customer community, has placed in us. More specifically, we are sensitive to your concerns that our production schedule will not be met and that the additional payment (to bring your cumulative deposit up to sixty percent) is therefore premature.

To address your concerns Eclipse is announcing that for customers with a scheduled delivery date on or before September 30, 2007, we will reduce your final payment due at delivery by 0.5% per month (6% annual interest rate) of the additional payment we are asking you to pay now.

Attached is an Aircraft Purchase Agreement Addendum that will be added to all Aircraft Purchase Agreements where aircraft delivery is scheduled on or before September 30, 2007. Please note that Eclipse has a one-month grace period before the interest calculation takes affect.

Sincerely,

Vern Raburn
President & CEO

Griper said...

Mackeral,

Sorry but your logic on Eclipse being deserving on the Collier Trophy whiffed on all swings. This is not an innovative airplane. FSW is of questionable value. It may actually be a detriment. Electromechanical actuators - those have been around a long time and it is just as likely that their "innovations" in these actuators and systems will end up being a big loser in terms of life cycle cost and satisfaction to the end user. Integrated avionics - bonehead play so far; will the potential ever be realized on this airplane? maybe but it is very questionable. PhostrEx? That may be an innovation, I'm not sure to tell you the truth but if that was enough to win the Collier there are a lot more deserving candidates out there than this bird (term used loosely).

As for the impact on aviation think a little bit on that. Eclipse didn't create a market out there. Any market out there already existed it just had not been tapped. The air taxi thing is far from proven as I think you agree. The VLJ thing is a real market but is obviously just a natural expansion of the existing markets. If this warrants the Collier trophy then, again, there are a lot of other candidates that have PROVEN that they have done this not just hoping to do so.

The Collier Trophy is incredibly tarnished now. It was a big mistake to award it before the plane had even been certified and lessens the accomplishment of all previous recipients and future ones as well.

And I don't mean to denigrate all of the hard working people that worked on this airplane; including Vern himself. They dreamed big and tried damn hard and they accomplished some amazing things. Maybe not as amazing as some of them perceive but still amazing. There are a lot of examples of teams that couldn't do what they have done. But don't give them credit they don't deserve any more than we should criticize them more than they deserve, which has happened a lot on this blog. But it's a blog and that's the way the game is played.