The Story of an FAA Approved Aircraft Modification


Part 1: Of Enormity and Conformity

Some of you may know that getting anything FAA approved can be a big job. Some of you know only that anything and everything in aviation is expensive and can’t figure out why. Well, your intrepid newsletter editor knows why, first hand.

Several years ago, sitting in an older Cessna owned by a friend at Whiteman, I had an idea for some- thing. It seems that older Cessna aircraft had a neat, simple system for one of the flight controls, but that part of it is pretty hard to operate without twisting and stretching and moving around in the cockpit. So yours truly had the light bulb go off next to his head, and figured out a solution. Years passed, and the opportunity to purchase one of those older Cessnas came up, whereupon I remembered my idea for the gadget that would solve the annoying ergonomic problem. The airplane was bought, and work on the design and con- struction of the device started in earnest. After much effort and trial/error follies, a working, functional pro- totype was built and tested. The only thing standing between the brilliant inventor and untold riches, was that simple, minor, tiny detail of getting the FAA to approve it.

A DER (Designated Engineering Representative) was retained to study and approve the actual me- chanical and structural design. Yes, the FAA could have been asked to do it themselves at no charge, but using a designated individual shaved six months or more off of the process. My DER Bob Halvorson was an absolutely invaluable addition to this project, making things easy and straightforward. As a structural aero- space engineer, Bob knows what will work, what will not work, he can figure out why it won’t work, and he can do the calculations to find out what will work. His knowledge and capabilities are far greater than the majority of in-house FAA engineers… and that’s why they give him the authority to approve design data. The DER works with the applicant and approves or disapproves the overall idea and design. Once the DER approves it, the FAA has assurance that it meets their standards and they consider it “FAA approved data”. My little device is simple and does not carry much load; thankfully Bob Halvorson saw this quickly and adapted the FAA approval plan to take advantage of that serendipity.

Somebody still has to inspect the actual physical work the applicant has done, the prototype parts that he or she produced for the project, and the installation of those parts on the test aircraft. Enter the DAR, or Designated Airworthiness Representative. Again, you can technically have the FAA come out and do this courtesy of your tax money, but it will be easier, faster, and much more beneficial to have this approval done on the FAA’s behalf by an authorized person. I was very fortunate to have found Dave Bowerman, a DAR who is based at Whiteman and is building an RV kit aircraft. Mr. Bowerman was nice enough to make an unofficial visit to give me a couple of pointers on how to have everything laid out when he came back later officially on behalf of the Administrator.

On July 13, the big day arrived. I had what I thought was all my paperwork in order, all my parts laid out correctly, and everything ready to pass inspection in a flash. Inspection starting 0830… we’d be having breakfast celebrating a completed project in an hour or two.

Well, not exactly.

Dave soon found several minor details that I had not considered, or not considered relevant, which would have been “show-stoppers” when the FAA reviewed the project. Thanks to long-time Whiteman fix- ture John Clausen, another absolute prince who rode in on a white horse to save the day… a paperwork issue involving weight and balance was resolved with a careful review of existing documents and an authorized signature.

Your newsletter editor was suffering from an advanced case of cranial rectalitis, and had managed to print out the wrong version of two parts drawings. When the dates of these drawings did not match the dates on the master list of drawings, another show-stopper rose up and threatened to de-rail the freight train of success. Bob Halvorson, my beloved DER engineer volunteered to drive in from Thousand Oaks while fighting the flu, meet us at a local A&P mechanic school at Van Nuys, and sign off on the discrepancy be- tween the dates of the drawings themselves and the dates listed on the master list.Being the prince of a man that he is, Dave stayed the course and put in a grueling full day (and then some) to help get all these discrepancies sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction and complete the paperwork under a difficult time deadline. Did I mention that the paperwork had to be turned back in to the FAA before 7AM the next morning, because the FAA inspector was leaving for vacation at 8? After working late into the night, Dave met me at the A&P school at 6AM on July 14th, I signed the last piece of paper needed to complete this phase of the project, and Dave headed over to the FAA office to get it done on time. What a guy.

Stay tuned for next month’s episode of the story titled… “Now it’s Final, He’s Totally Certifiable!”

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1 Comment

  1. JIM HELMS says:

    Please send my e-mail address to your DER Bob Halvorson.

    Thank you


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