The Great Down Under and CPAA

As CPA is primarily focused on technical assistance to it members, I don’t normally do travel related articles. However, I beg your indulgence this one time because I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to experience Australia. My enthusiasm for this trip is many fold. Obviously, any trip abroad is an adventure. This trip was part business, part CPA, and part personal pleasure and the three all melded together quite well.

It started with a pair of 210 wings I repaired, then shipped to Garth Bartlett of Australia. The wings were damaged in shipping due to the crating company’s negligence and there was a need for an experienced cantilever wing structural  mechanic, preferably the one that did the original work, to inspect them for hidden damage. When asked if I’d be willing to make such a trip, a great deal of time was expended deciding if I could break loose from my busy schedule and accept this “terrible” inconvenience. I did manage to hold my tongue until the invitation was completed before I burst out an excited “YES.”

Garth and his wife Ceri are Cessna owners and general aviation enthusiasts. By enthusiast I mean Garth restored and owns a pristine Cessna 175 (that Ceri did her flight training in), an equally beautiful 182, and a very impressive P210. He is  currently working on the complete restoration and repair of a Cessna 207. His most recent acquisition is a Silver Eagle P210 who’s wings are the impetus for my travels. All of these planes were “left for dead” by previous owners. Some people take in unwanted stray dogs, and Garth takes in down trodden flying machines. Garth is also head of Cessna Pilots Association Australia, a volunteer organization.

The economics of sending a mechanic from Tennessee to Australia seem odd, but I learned that living on an island country the size of the United States with a population of only 20 million has some very unique limitations and challenges.

Getting There

I arranged for commercial flights from Memphis to Los Angeles to Sydney with only a 1 ½ hour layover in Los Angeles. The short layover was an initial concern but the arrival gate was only 2 gates away from the next flights’ departure gate. Total travel time from first gate departure to last gate arrival was 21 hours of coach fare accommodations. The airline did everything they could to make us as comfortable as possible but 15 hours in a seat from LAX to SYD is still 15 hours in a seat.

The effects of traveling across the international date line are difficult to get ones head around at first. The basic math of departing Memphis on a Friday evening, traveled for ONLY 21 hours and arriving 2 days later exhausts me. To add to the confusion, our 9:00 a.m. Sunday arrival in Sydney was also 5:00 p.m. Saturday at home. Any chance of getting the swing of communicating with home is out the window.


The Cessna Pilots Association Australia (CPAA) is very closely tied to CPA in the states. They get the same magazine, have access to the same web site and participate on the same forums. One real difference is their local seminars, fly-ins, flyouts, and various gatherings are organized by Garth. However, I figured out from many hours of conversation with Garth while staying at his home just South of Sydney, that Ceri does a lot of the unglamorous stuff that makes everything tick.

CPAA members have a whole set of issues that we in the states don’t experience. Almost every airplane part or related purchase must be imported. That import usually comes from the United States which adds time and expense to every item. Anything too large to send by normal FedEx or UPS must be shipped. By shipped, you understand I literally mean on a ship. Figure several thousand miles over rough seas at 15 knots makes for a very long painful journey. An attitude of instant gratification doesn’t fit well in Australia.

The value of the Australian dollar against the American dollar hasn’t helped much either. Imagine paying 100 dollars US with Australian dollars worth some percent less than 100. Right now the value is within single digit percents, but in May of this year the difference exceeded 30 percent. In the states we never consider holding off a purchase a few weeks in hopes of saving on the price of parts just because the exchange rate might improve.

In the US we have a number of web sites to help us find the best prices on fuel when traveling cross country. In Australia they are more concerned if the airport is still selling fuel at all. The market is so small that fuel sales at the smaller  outlying airports just won’t support a business. Any cross country flights may include diversions just to find fuel, regardless of the price. Just to keep everyone on their toes, Australians purchase fuel by the liter (litre) for airplanes that  typically display consumption in gallons.

There is a general attitude with many of the maintenance providers in Australia that the plane should be dropped off at their front door and the owner will be called when everything is finished. Don’t bother calling to discuss anything as the shop will take care of it as they see fit and let you know what you owe them when you get there. I’m sure lack of much local competition is a key cause. The next closest shop may be an hour, or hours, of flying time away. Even fewer shops are Cessna knowledgeable specific and fewer still are Cessna Service Stations.

As you have gathered at this point, being part of a small and distant aviation market complicates the flying life immensely. Owners are left to deal with troubleshooting problems, finding parts, and getting technical information on their own. Those are all reasons so many join CPAA.

The Wings

In the states I typically ship a pair of wings using motor freight with the wings in a crate. If I was in a hurry and the destination wasn’t more than 900 or so miles away, I’d probably just load them on the wing racks on my truck and drive away.In either case I could easily have the wings to the customer in a few days. To get wings, or almost anything else of size, to Australia requires efforts Americans are not used to and unlikely to tolerate well.

A crating company arrives on site to build the custom crate which will exceed the 204 pound weight of each assembled wing by several times. The crated wings then make their way via ground truck line to a facility on the West coast where it is added to a full size container with the rest of the plane. The container is trucked to the ship yard for loading. After an appropriate time resting in the dock yard it is loaded on the ship. The ride to Australia is long and tumultuous. In rough seas the cargo seems to travel vertically and laterally as much as it does horizontally. This takes a serious toll on the structure of the crate and the internal cargo.

An eternity later the wing crate arrives on the docks at Sydney. Customs may decide to open the crate and have a look in every nook and cranny or just pass it along. Another eternity passes and the wings are picked up and trucked to Garth’s hangar. Several months have now passed since I last saw the wings. As you can imagine this kind of delivery system removes any hope of completing a project in a timely fashion.

The Inspection

When an airplane strikes something the point of impact is usually obvious. One must consider these structures are very light and not designed to hit things. Any impact event should be followed by inspections of obvious damaged areas but  also for hidden damage. Some imagination must be used to predict likely areas to inspect and types of damage to look for. Most stresses in Cessna aluminium, (I used the Australian pronunciation there just in case you missed it), structure will on the exterior skins first. Wing skins will often show stress as parallel waves or ripples in a localized area or possibly an entire sheet. These imperfections are difficult to see when looking straight at the skin. I usually view the area from an angle with a soft light source on the other side. Variations in the reflections on skins will identify the possible damaged areas. I might also place a strong light source almost even with the skins creating shadows behind any high point.

One can construct all sorts of alignment tools to measure the placement of attach points and hinge points, but I’ve had many wings with light stress damage that would still fit in the build jig. A good visual from the proper vantage point yields very precise results.

The wings in question are cantilever 210 wings, and the apex of the leading edge skin curve should make a straight line when viewed from either end of the wing. The wing has a 2 degree twist (washout) but a one eyed view down the leading edge from skin level at the tip rib should look like a perfect straight line.

The same straight line should be seen on the wing spar where the rivets attach the fore and aft skins to the spar cap. There are no humps or bumps or any deflection in the spar. The wings have a continuous taper from the root to the tip so the straight line down the spar applies to the top and bottom of the wing.

Also look for places between rivet heads where the top skin has lifted slightly from the lower skin. This is an indication the skin has been compressed and may raise suspicion about possible damage to interior components. During such an inspection one must keep in mind the wing skins range in thickness from 0.016” to 0.032” on a typical single engine Cessna. Slight depressions at almost every rivet head on an undamaged wing is normal. Anytime these very light skins are  riveted to much heavier structures like flap supports and aileron hinges there may be an area around that structure where the skin is pulled low to meet it.

If there is ever any uncertainty, use another like model plane for comparison. Be suspicious of comparisons with the opposite wing or structure on the same plane as it may display similar problems.

Fortunately for me and Garth, I was able to detect previously unseen damage on one of his wing’s leading edge skins. My evaluation cost the insurance company many thousands of dollars of extra repairs but that’s why we buy insurance. If the damage was found after the wings were mounted it would have been a real problem to convince the insurance company to reopen the file. At least I feel less guilt about the cost of getting me all the way to Australia to look at a couple of wings.

Close To Home

Helen and I are spending a good portion of the 14 hour flight from SYD to LAX conjuring up some way to get back to the Great Down Under next year. We departed Sydney about 11:00 Sunday morning, are going to fly 20 hours and should arrive in Memphis just after 1:00 Sunday afternoon. That’s fuzzy math if you ask me. I’ve got to go now; we’re somewhere over the Pacific and they’re serving breakfast. I figured I better get this written on the way home because I expect to spend the next 48 hours figuring out what day it is.

Copyright © Paul New 2010. All rights reserved.