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Engine upgrades remain a cost-effective path to gaining higher performance in an existing jet- as we noted in March in an article on this very topic. But not every power-enhancement program involves the expensive investment in new replacement powerplants. Combine a low-cost engine upgrade with cost-saving benefits and you have a high-value upgrade attractive to a large number of operators.

Dave Higdon   |   1st August 2005
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Premier upgrade gives the ‘50s’ new power

Engine upgrades remain a cost-effective path to gaining higher performance in an existing jet- as we noted in March in an article on this very topic. But not every power-enhancement program involves the expensive investment in new replacement powerplants. Combine a low-cost engine upgrade with cost-saving benefits and you have a high-value upgrade attractive to a large number of operators.

The Falcon 50-4 Performance Upgrade from Premier Aircraft LLC exemplifies a program for which the existing engines provide the basis for the enhancement – a value-oriented enhancement with paybacks in performance- operating and maintenance costs.

Premier Aircraft came about specifically for the purpose of developing and marketing the Falcon 50-4 upgrade from a partnership between two industry players- according to Premier Aircraft’s president- Jim Swehla.

Premier Aircraft LLC was formed by Premier Air Center Inc. (an aircraft modification company in East Alton- Illinois)- and Yankee Pacific LLC- (a New Hampshire-based aviation investment and business development company).

Swehla- who owns and runs Premier Air Center- and his long-time friend Ken Goldsmith at Yankee Pacific- conceived the project out of experiences gained when both worked at the old Garrett Engines- the originator of the TFE731 line that powers nearly 50 business jet models – the Falcon 50 among them.

'We saw a need- and the possibilities of building on Honeywell’s Service Bulletin for converting the TFE731-3 engines in the Falcon 50 to TFE731-4 as a solid prospect for a new business-' Swehla told World Aircraft Sales. 'So- here we are- a year later- getting things rolling.'

Swehla and Goldsmith unveiled the program at last October’s National Business Aviation Association convention in Las Vegas. In the interim- Premier Aircraft rounded out its team to help with the approval process and to supply the converted engines.

Premier Aircraft tapped Flight Test Associates Inc. in Mojave- California- to conduct the engineering- before-and-after performance evaluation and certification flight tests on a Falcon 50 Premier purchased for this program.

Honeywell- which developed and owns the program to convert the engines- provides conversion work under an arrangement with Premier Aircraft.

'We – Premier – are going to actually certify the TFE731-4 engine in the Falcon 50 and run the program to market and deliver the converted aircraft. The Falcon 50 is a great airframe-' said Swehla. 'The Dash 4 program just improves it.'

Engines advanced enough to upgrade

The key to Premier’s Falcon 50-4 Performance Upgrade program – the first for the Falcon 50 to employ the TFE731-4 engine – rests in Honeywell’s stalwart TFE731 engine. Equipped originally with the TFE731-3 or -3D engines- the three-engine Falcon 50 has a solid reputation as a comfortable- reliable and durable business aircraft. Part and parcel to the upgrade is the integration of the TFE731–4 engines’ new nozzles with the existing nacelles – a process successfully completed by Honeywell in March. Likewise- the new engines require some minor updates to the instruments in the panel. But as simple as this sounds- according to Swehla- the depth and expanse of the engine-conversion work results in engines that are more new than old and renew an already well-regarded aircraft. The existing nacelles- pylons and engine mounts will be used. In addition- no changes to the aircraft systems are planned except for the incorporation of the N1 DEEC (for aircraft not already equipped) and as mentioned remarking of the engine instruments.

The upgrade provides several gains. Perhaps most important for economic considerations- the Dash 4 conversion provides a big boost for the maintenance budget.

For example- according to Honeywell- the –4 version of the TFE731 enjoys among the best records in the industry for unplanned removal. At more than 100-000 hours between events- a TFE731-4 engine has one-third the prospect of an unplanned removal as the TFE731 family itself.

Maintenance intervals are also increased with the conversion- decreasing the overall maintenance costs further. According to Premier Aircraft and Honeywell- operators who convert their Falcon 50 engines to the –4 under Premier’s program qualify for lower rates on their maintenance programs and may even apply credit for unused maintenance to reduce the straight up cost of the conversion.

'For an MSP operator- Honeywell’s program to apply credit from the MSP account can bring the price down to $1.6 million-$1.7 million-' explained Swehla. The straight-up price for the Falcon 50-4 conversion comes in at about $2.3 million.

'The TFE731-4 Falcon conversion also qualifies for lower MSP rates- so the conversion continues to pay off as you fly it.'

Better climb- lower fuel consumption- high speed The 4-080 lbs Thrust Takeoff Rating of the TFE731-4 will be de-rated to 3-700 lbs for the 50-4 application. This de-rated thrust matches the current -3 thrust- but will yield a higher take-off flat rating temperature and ensure lower maximum operating temperatures -resulting in improved durability. And the -4 engine produces more power at high altitudes- even on hot days. At cruise- the -4 engine also consumes less fuel.

Together- these improvements produce a significant performance gain in the Falcon 50 powered by the TFE731-4 powerplants- including longer range- increased hot-and-high take-off performance – which in turn allows the Falcon 50-4 to carry significantly more payload when departing under such conditions.

The Dash 4 conversion also brings improved climb rates that take the Falcon 50-4 to cruise altitude much more quickly – and to a higher initial altitude. Once at altitude- the Dash 4 engines produce more cruise thrust for higher cruise speeds.

The key to these gains rests in the changes to the engine Honeywell makes during the conversion of Dash 3 powerplants to Dash 4. 'The bulk of the changes are in the hot section-' Swehla explained. 'Honeywell replaces the entire hot section with a TFE731-5 hot section – turbines- combustor along with a new fan gearbox- a new fan- and the N1 Digital Electronic Engine Control- (DEEC).'

A new nozzle rounds out the conversion- which retains the case- compressor and most other original components. The modified engines then fit back in their original nacelles.

Minimal downtime- maximum 'bang' Time needed for the conversion primarily hinges on the time needed to remove the engines at Premier’s East Alton facilities- ship to Honeywell in Phoenix- allow for Honeywell to complete the conversion- return the engines to Premier- reinstall and sign-off the paperwork.

'If you’ve got a ‘C Check’ coming – or some other major maintenance project planned – the upgrade can be done in about the same time frame-' Swehla observed. 'About six weeks.'

But that doesn’t mean an operator has to wait for a major maintenance project or C Check. 'We can install loaner engines – that takes about four or five days – and you’re back flying your airplane with… Dash 3s-' Swehla added. 'About six weeks later- the bird can come back to get the new engines and in a few days- you’ve got a Falcon with far better performance- efficiency and maintenance requirements than it had originally.'

Exact numbers for the gains will be confirmed during the flight-test and approval effort. Premier’s designated flight-test vendor- FTA- has started certification planning and engineering and shortly will be starting baseline testing on a specially instrumented Falcon 50 Premier bought for the program – serial number 28. Honeywell- meanwhile- is building up a set of Dash 4 TFE731s for Premier.

After about 25 hours of baseline testing- Premier’s Falcon test-bed will come back in the shop and get the Dash 4 engines installed. Then- Swehla explained- the FTA plans to fly the Falcon through about 75 hours of tests to document performance gains and gather data needed for program approval.

'We’d like to have the STC award in February 2006-' Swehla said. 'Exactly how close to that date it will be achieved depends on a variety of issues - among them the availability of FAA resources- progress through the test program- and Honeywell’s release of the 50-4 engine to flight status.

'We hope to begin the first customer upgrades in March 2006 at a rate of three that month- and increasing to six per month by May 2006-' concluded Swehla.

With four customers poised to sign as of this writing – and another 20 candidates identified and in conversations – Premier Aircraft’s Falcon 50-4 Performance Upgrade appears to be a well-conceived program that’s tapped the best resources available to help achieve the goal.

With success will likely come a backlog. Indeed- with about 240 Falcon 50s eligible for the conversion- the line could get long- and pretty quickly.

á More information from www.50dash4.com

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