Where do we start ……………..It goes back over 2½ years with our machine.
Helicopter OH-6A 69-16011 was manufactured in 1969 and was number 470 off the production line of the Hughes Tool Company. The aircraft was shipped direct to Vietnam where it served in the 20th Transport Company. (http://academic.uofs.edu/faculty/gramborw/atav/usarv.htm).
The records show that the helicopter made a forced landing and we understand that the helicopter was flown again to a safe area where the maintenance unit considered the aircraft un-flyable and it was effectively underslung from a Huey and returned to the main maintenance unit. At this point the aircraft was assessed and the decision made was that it was beyond economical repair in country and it was shipped back to the Hughes Tool Company. (Please also see the document from the US Army Gold Book on this website which is the official report for this incident – embedded link).
The helicopter was shipped to the Mississippi National Guard Maintenance Unit where it underwent conversions and modifications for its new role. Some of the modifications included higher powered engine, new transmission systems including main rotor and tail rotor systems. The helicopter was also repainted in a civil paint scheme befitting the DEA with longer oleo legs and skids to represent a civil lookalike. The aircraft was internally modified with a higher specification of avionics allowing the aircraft to fly in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) and additionally was outfitted with surveillance and monitoring equipment.
Phil’s decision at this time was to return OH-6A 69-10611 back to its original US Army livery which was quite an involved project and the interesting part of this was when the civilian paint scheme on the aircraft was removed it uncovered all the battle scars from its early life in Vietnam displaying a multitude of bullet holes and patches which had been put on the same at the Hughes Tool Company.
The work started on the OH-6 in the Summer of 2008 returning the aircraft to its original Vietnam livery. This took from Summer through to November of that year and involved stripping the aircraft back to bare metal, applying a new paint job, removing civilian interior and replacing with military interior and sourcing various ex-military components to be refitted to the machine to restore the authenticity.
There is a lesson here to be learned by any aviation enthusiast – don’t be complacent about trying to acquire a Permit to Fly for any aircraft you wish to fly in UK airspace that has never been approved to fly in UK airspace before. It is not easy!
In brief, the rules and regulations governing experimental type aircraft approved by the US FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) which at face value you would think the same as a UK aircraft approval are not the same with significant differences.
Lesson Number 1 is that if you make an Application for an aircraft type that has not flown in UK airspace before, it is a whole lot more complicated and you have to make the following considerations:
A civil aircraft type with a normal public transport airworthiness certificate falls on the liability of the manufacturer, the airspace authority in which the aircraft is being allowed to fly and the maintenance company whereas a Permit to Fly aircraft will not fall on the liability of the manufacturer simply because it is not being operated and flown by the military. Therefore only the airspace authority and in our case the CAA and an approved maintenance organisation has the liability to approve this aircraft to fly and the maintenance organisation has to be a special organisation that can submit a design safety report for the aircraft and carry out the maintenance on that aircraft. This is an M4 A8-20 Organisation.
So taking the above into consideration, this simply means the engineering Maintenance Company needs to provide a Design Analysis Safety Report to the UK CAA and additionally they have to have the A8-20 Approval to maintain ex-military aircraft. Sounds straightforward but it is not. Firstly the OH-6 would, at face value, seem an easy type to get the safety data approved on because it is part of the 369 family ie. MD500C, D and E. However, the answer is that No it is not, it is a military variant so as the task unfolded in front of us we had to provide all of the information on the 1,438 aircraft which had been produced by the Hughes Tool Company. This involved an initial trawl of the internet to try and find out about incidents about OH-6’s which was readily available. This was our first submission and was deemed not acceptable by the CAA.
By now getting a better understanding of the task ahead of us we had to commence in depth discussions with the US Army on the 1,438 aircraft and indeed any incidents that they had safety records, amendments and which category of incident they were ie. A, B, C, D or E! When asking for this information we didn’t think it would be impossible to get the data for a non-US organisation however with our previous history of operating the Huey with the US Veterans, charity events, etc, the permission to provide the information to us came through over a period of approximately 3 months. Eventually the information was provided from the US Army directly to the CAA.
After this hurdle we got involved in the records of the aircraft and the next major problem, much to my surprise, were that the modifications carried out by the DEA although approved in the US by the FAA, were not clearly approved by the UK CAA so we had to go back to the original aircraft configuration and go through each workpack and modification in conjunction with the DOJ, the FAA and MD Helicopters to provide the appropriate workpacks to the CAA to agree and sign off. This process probably took another 6 – 8 months of constant emails and paperwork. The next major hurdle was that the Flight Manual attaining to the aircraft was a DOJ Flight Manual and not an OH-6 Manual. This created enormous problems and had to be virtually re-written by a suitably qualified helicopter consultant to match the OH-6 Manuals and cross-referenced with the DEA modifications to the aircraft. Here lies another 3 – 5 months work!
In February of this year the machine was getting close to state where it could fly and then we had to get a Pilot to fly the machine for the Permit to Test flight. This took a number of weeks to go through the normal approvals and still today at the point of writing this we have no qualifications on our licence to take the machine to the skies but we are hopeful to be granted this within the next few weeks.
On reflection there are some individuals within the CAA who I would like to give my sincere thanks to but sadly, one of those individuals is no longer with us. His name was Steve Fazackerley and his Title at the CAA was CAA Surveyor & Engineer and he of all the people in the CAA gave me the encouragement to carry on with this project when I really was about to pack it all in.
Sadly Steve passed away on 29th March 2011 and did not see the end result of his efforts but we will remember him and his endeavours and there is now a plaque situated in the aircraft bearing his name. He will never be forgotten.