- Our man in America, Paul Reilly learns about Continental engines from the people who build them
- Auster, Beagle, Miles fly in ,Saturday 30th July Volunteers needed
Across the Pond – Continental Engines
Just along the coast from the Florida pan handle is the City of Mobile, Alabama. Mobile is the original home of the Mardi-Grass (not New Orleans), the newest Airbus production facility and also the home of Continental Engines. Now while this engine manufacturer might not be producing the latest of technology it is one of the two lynch-pins of general aviation propulsion.
At various times of the year the manufacturer runs a course that covers it family of AVGAS engines lasting 5 days so in mid-February I took the opportunity to attend it. The course is based at their facility with a good selection of engines to show specifics and demonstrate particular techniques on different engine variants. In each class there is about 25 students, some aircraft owners, some FBO’s and overhaul shops and some aircraft manufacturers such as Cirrus from all over the world including Korea, Brazil, British Virgin Islands and China. Our instructor was a stand-in but for us that was a massive blessing as our instructor was the retired Chief Engineer from Continental own overhaul shop.
Day 1 outlined the History of the company followed by the low down of the complete range in current production. This starts with the O-200, IO-240, IO-360, the 470, 520 and 550 families. The last three have so many variants and afternoon of spotting the difference between a GTISO, a sandcast or per-mould engine was more than enough. For those who don’t know… A GTISO is a geared turbo engine, a sandcast is the traditional crankcase process, while the per-mould is the more modern technique
Day 2 we started working through the major structural elements with crankcase construction, crankshaft and elements of the cylinder construction. This was supported by so by some hands on experience as we pulled off a few cylinder on O-520.
Day 3 we started on the systems with a lot of detail on each engines oil, fuel, air induction, exhaust and turbo system. Fortunately from the small to the large engines the design of each element is a variation on a theme but it was useful to pick up some tips and tricks on set up and strip down.
Day 4 was our day for ignition systems in our case it was Bendix Magnetos as these are owned by Continental Motors. Our lecturer for this was a 30 year veteran of Bendix who is the customer service guru. There is nothing he didn’t know about magnetos. With all this expansive knowledge a few classmates took a powernap through the detail but it did allow us to get to know all of the intricacies. The afternoon was built around more hands on time with us learning how to test a mag, setting up the points lag angle and the gap and then finally installing a mag and timing the engine. For those of you that have one of these engine this would probably be bread and butter but for me that is used to engines with electronic ignitions like Rotax and Jabiru. While a practical solution for ignition it’s a heavy old lump.
Day 5 was a shorter day with a short session of Q&A and then we were broken into groups to see the facility. While at first glance it looked like a typical engineering facility it soon became clear it was more than that. They produce almost everything on-site with the exception of the forgings cast elsewhere. You got to see the man whose sole job to finish the exact measurements of the crankshaft, while another man who heat’s the cylinder head the crews in the barrel using a massive machine, all very personal and clearly loving their jobs. We also go to see the assembly line, support shop producing parts such as fuel pumps, manifolds, magnetos and a lady who makes 250 sets of points in an 8 hour shift. I am surprised that hasn’t been outsourced to China or Mexico but it is an all American production.
Finally, we got to go and visit the test cell where they run and test every single new engine. We got to see an IO-360 and hen inspect it for leaks using a black light, which was a clever way to do it. The chap running the cell was a 30 year employee and clearly loves his job, even more so when we found out that he was a 15 million dollar lottery winner and only took a week off to collect his winnings.
It was a good overview of the product and supported by a good course handbook and CD with a selection of information to support and a mug and water bottle. The only element we didn’t cover but got notes on was the FADEC element but given that I was the only person ever to work on this engine (IO-240) in a Liberty XL-2 (Factory Certified Europa) I can understand why, even the instructor referred to it as black magic!
Each day lunch was supplied in the classroom as part of the course and was pretty good, certainly more than we could all eat, all washed down with southern sweet iced tea. The cost of the course is $750 which I didn’t think was too bad for the learning and items. However, if you sign up on the Continental Motors as an FBO (you can do this as an individual). This gives you full access to all of their manuals for an annual sum of $250… Now here is the winner… the FBO sign up gives you two spaces on the course free of charge. So you can get all the manuals for 12 months and a course for $125 if you get it sorted. Absolute Bargain!
So if you fancy a break to Mobile, why don’t you look at a manufacturer’s course and get yourself a certificate.
Auster, Beagle, Miles fly-in ,Saturday 30th July
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