My brother and I stare out the window, our eyes fixed intently on the deserted street. We jockey for position, eager to be the first to spot him. The word descended from the highest ranks. This event could happen any day. The conditions were met, the moon and the stars aligned and the calendar displayed at the end of autumn/beginning of winter. The time was approaching.
The arrival of Sears’ annual wish book heralded the start of the holiday season. In the mid-19th century, catalogs became the center of the remote shopping experience, a ship to distant lands, containing everything from Daisy Red Ryder BB guns to clothing patterns and everything in between.
Catalogs still exist today, and while some arrive in print (LL Bean, Uline), others have moved online and even have that ridiculous page-turning sound when you scroll through them. Aviation has a fair share of catalogs, such as the famous Spruce Aircraft and Specialty catalog, or the old Aviall, now Boeing, catalog. These are commercial catalogs, and in the coming weeks I will write an article just for them.
Today, however, we will be talking about another type of catalog, the Illustrated Parts Catalog (IPC). The IPC is a crucial resource in our Technical Publications Library (TechPub) and is essential to maintaining your aircraft. Commercial parts catalogs help you source the parts you need, and the IPC tells you the right part number to look for.
The legacy of PICs
The IPC has been around since long before airplanes took flight. The Wright Brothers maintained a list of the parts needed to build the world’s first airplane, the Wright Flyer, even providing mechanic Charlie Taylor with a rough list of requirements for the first airplane powerplant.
From those humble aircraft beginnings, the TechPubs that followed evolved into the OEM publishing printed materials and lining the shelves of maintainers around the world. Big, bulky and cumbersome, a copy of every aircraft IPC had to be kept for every component, make, model and modification serviced. IPC books filled the maintenance libraries, and people kept up to date by receiving revisions for each by mail.
Recognizing the overwhelming logistics required to support a maintenance operation of multiple makes and models of aircraft, the medium for providing the IPC has evolved to microfiche. This format was easier to store, took up much less space and was even portable. A microfiche reader installed in the maintenance office or TechPubs library would accept microfilm cards and display the contents on the screen.
Some could print on thermal paper for use on the line or in the shed. Fun Fact: Once fuel, engine oil or hydraulic fluid comes in contact with the thermal paper, all contents will disappear immediately. This feature is handy if you ever get caught and don’t want to reveal the #1 ignition lead part number.
CPI should be familiar to everyone, and they are encountered daily during the routine of life. Is the water filter in your GE Profile refrigerator clogged? A little tour on the Internet, and you now have the necessary part number. One of these filters has the part number GSWF. Did you see how easy it was? Point to any appliance in your kitchen with a cord hanging from the back and, you guessed it, there’s an IPC for it. Even LEGO bricks have an IPC for their building kits.
Continental Aerospace Technologies has a portal for their IPCs, and this is your first stop when creating your bill of materials (BOM). Once you have identified the correct parts required, log in to Distributor of Boeing Parts (formerly Aviall) for stock cost and availability.
Once we are aware of the Parts Manufacturer Approval (PMA) parts, you will need to access their technical data to complete the OEM manuals used. Superior Air Parts in Texas is a PMA reciprocating engine brand and as such maintains its own TechPubswhich is required when ordering their PMA parts.
Let’s take a look at the Cessna Aircraft Company 208 Series Caravan I Illustrated parts catalog and review some key points. The powerplant for this aircraft, the Pratt & Whitney PT6A-114A, will have its own IPC. Upon entering the pub, we can glean a plethora of very useful information. Click on the hyperlink and follow me.
Did you notice that a code identifies the sections? For example, section: 32.20.01 identifies the nose gear shimmy damper assembly. Remember what ATA 32 is? Spend some time on page 30 of the .pdf and note that Cessna explains and breaks down the ATA code for you.
Page 33 provides guidance on navigating through the manual. Figure item, part number, BOM, effectivity codes and units per assembly are explained in the tutorial. What is an effectivity, you ask?
Cessna explains it this way: (7) The numbers in the effectiveness column indicate that the use of the part is restricted. For example, numbers 0001 0023 indicate that the part is used on aircraft 1 through 23.
Page 50 is beneficial; it contains a list of parts suppliers identified by their cage code.
Aircraft TechPubs are progressing as aircraft evolve, IPC in particular. As seen above, Lycoming once had an IPC with O-540 and IO-540 combined, identified by part number PC 115. What does this IPC look like today?
O-540- Wide Cylinder Flange (WCF) Part Number PC-515. WCF is also called the wide bridge compared to the old narrow bridge. Due to part differences, this is a later version of the 540 and requires a dedicated IPC.
The IO-540-* series IPCs have also received specific stand-alone manuals. Don’t you believe me? Go get them yourself. This would be a great exercise to see if you can find specific TechPubs, online or in print. If you get stuck, you can always send me a message.
TechPubs include Component Maintenance Manuals (CMMs), IPCs, Wiring Manuals, and more. You need to have access to every manual for every model you service: every airframe, engine, component, avionics, etc.
For example, you may also need the O-540, IO-540 Operator’s Manual depending on how you are connected to flight operations. Either way, I encourage you to collect all technical data on the equipment you maintain. Knowledge is power.
It is essential to keep up to date with technical data; one way to do this is to use a third-party data company. A company, Tdata, Inc.specializes in Textron Lycoming models.
Jim Thomas, President and CEO, offers valuable insight into partnering with a company like Tdata, Inc.
“Our indexing platform is solid and has more than 30 years of development. At Tdata, Inc., we have Inspection Authorization (IA) Representatives on staff and employ only industry experts to update and maintain our indexing systems. he declares.
The future of PICs
Future maintainers will see even greater advancements in TechPubs such as IPC. What changes await our mechanics of tomorrow? Your guess is as good as mine, but it’s fun to dream.
Picture this, a modern maintenance technician, equipped with the latest Stark Industries equipment, approaches a hovering aircraft in the hangar. She opens the palm of her hand and an augmented reality orb appears, highlighting an area of the plane and showing an exact 3D model, except with the part numbers hovering just above the component. A few quick hand gestures and all the parts needed to change the antenna are on order from the parts department.
If anyone other than Tony Stark can figure this out, let me know and I’ll send my resume. I heard that Mr. Stark was hard to hire.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit too much, but rest assured that progress will happen. My theory is mobility, and spare parts will be easier to identify and access using mobile technology.
Artist Herbert Block once wrote a cartoon that said, “You can’t tell players that without a scoreboard. So much truth in an indefinable sentence. What Mr. Block meant was that ball games are much more enjoyable if you know the players. He is absolutely right, of course; ask any Packer fan. #GoPackGo
The IPC is a lot like a scorecard, and only instead of learning that the Packers’ number 21 is Georgia standout cornerback Eric Stokes, you learn that the body set part number of oil pump on your O-540-E4B5 is 78528.
Do it for me if you want. Take inventory of your aircraft. What brand and model is it? Do you know the engine? The propeller model? Maybe you have a whizbang avionics panel. Accessories like a vacuum pump or propeller governor? Each of the aforementioned parts has an IPC. How many can you find, online or through a distributor? If you get stuck, send me a note; I will do what I can to help.
In the immortal words of school rockknowledge is power.