Offshore oil exploration, power line inspections, logging operations, emergency medical services, law enforcement, helping construction in locations that vary from cities to jungles, firefighting — the list of what helicopters are used for today is amazing. The need to maintain these aircraft (regardless as to where they are operating) is also a fact of life for the aviation maintenance professional, and that cannot always be done at the helicopter’s maintenance facility. Sometimes, the maintenance has to be performed out in the field — away from home, so to speak. This calls for various equipment and tools to accompany the aircraft on its mission.
DART Aerospace is a rotorcraft accessories provider that offers a comprehensive and diversified product portfolio. It supports all types of civil and military operators, all major rotorcraft OEMs, completion centers and MRO facilities around the world. Some of the products that DART Aerospace has manufactured are “tool kits” — aircraft model-specific kits that can easily be transported with the aircraft on a mission out to a field location.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with David Weil, president of DART Aerospace’s Tooling and External Load Division about some of the company’s tool kits.
Helicopter Maintenance– Please explain the difference between what is referred to as aircraft special tools and work aids.
Weil– A special tool is usually non-standard tooling required to perform a task. These are designed by the aircraft manufacturers and specified in their maintenance publications. They can be either simple or complex in design and function. A work aid is tooling or a device used for making a task easier or simpler, but not required for successful accomplishment of that task. It may or may not be designed by the aircraft manufacturer. Work aids are almost always simple in design and function.
Helicopter Maintenance– Do you manufacture any tools that are used for aircraft inspections (measurement?) If so, what special tests or certification has to be done on them before you can market them?
Weil– Yes, we manufacture a number of tools used for inspections. We build the tools to print or design a tool to do the measurement. After manufacture, we test or inspect the tool for accuracy by using measuring tools that are calibrated or certified usually to National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) criteria.
Helicopter Maintenance– Are these tools/tool kits OEM approved?
Weil– Although they are not OEM approved, our tools and tool kits are a cost-effective solution designed for routine or special maintenance operations. They are packaged in a carry-away Pelican box where each tool has its specific place in a foam liner. A placard mentioning the tool name and location is included to ensure that the operators have the tools they need for their helicopter and can easily take inventory before leaving to do the job or after the job is complete.
Helicopter Maintenance– Does the tool P/N listed in the kit match or cross to the OEM operation and maintenance manual?
Weil– Yes, the tool part number does match the number listed in the OEM OPS & MAINT Manual or it will cross over. In some cases, the tool may not have an OEM origin so it will have a different number or series of numbers and, of course, all of our tools have a serial number.
Helicopter Maintenance– Are the tools derived from OEM prints?
Weil– In a number of cases the tools are from OEM prints, but we have found that a number of tools come from customer input and we add those custom tools to the kits. We design exclusive tools that the OEM doesn’t offer or we improve existing OEM tools.
Helicopter Maintenance– Does the OEM offer a similar “kit” for maintenance? If so, how does it compare cost wise?
Weil– Most OEMs do not offer similar kits. We designed these kits based on our experience and customer input. Our customers need something that is ready to go when the helicopter leaves. In the shop environment, it is used to keep tools organized and accounted for. It is also useful to ensure mechanics have all the necessary equipment to perform efficiently. We offer high quality, cost-effective, with best-in-class lead time tool kits to our customers.
Helicopter Maintenance– How do you determine equivalency of a tool to the OEM tool?
Weil– Depending on the complexity of the tool, we do a fit function. In some cases, a simple fitting of the tool on a nut or around a shaft is all that is required. In other cases, more testing is needed.
Helicopter Maintenance– Do you sell tools to OEMs to be re-sold under their part numbers?
Weil– Yes, in some cases we do manufacture tools that are re-sold under an OEM’s part numbers.
Helicopter Maintenance– Do you design tools for which there is no OEM equivalent? If so, where do your ideas come from?
Weil– We create many exclusive tools for which no equivalent can be found at the OEM. As mentioned earlier, we designed some of our tools based on our experience and customer input. We pay careful attention to make our tools as compact as possible, to reduce shipping cost for our customers who sometimes need to ship the kits to another base of operation, and help solve their potential storage issues
Helicopter Maintenance– Please explain how these kits are a good fit with a company tool control program or foreign object detection (FOD) prevention program.
Weil– Each DART tool has a unique serial number which allows it to be tracked. If the customer is using one of our tool kits, they can also track the tools visually by looking at the box to see if there are any missing items. We are also looking into equipping our tools with machine readable code or possibly a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip.
Helicopter Maintenance– Can you build specific tool kits upon a customer’s request?
Weil– We can build a kit for anything the customer wants. All we need is a wish list and we will do the rest.
Helicopter Maintenance– Why are these kits cost effective?
Weil– Our tools and tool kits have a lower acquisition cost and each tool is also available separately, making it possible to order a lost tool or a tool that is more frequently used without the need to purchase the full kit. In addition, some of our custom tools actually allow operators to perform maintenance operations more efficiently and reduce downtime.
Tool kits by DART Aerospace — helping you be mission ready anywhere and anytime.