The following message was recently posted to my company’s website by a Skylane owner based in Southern California:
My 1976 C182P is in for its annual inspection. The mechanic removed the propeller and spinner bulkhead. (I didn’t know this was part of the usual annual routine, and I don’t think it’s been done before.) The mechanic advised me that he found tiny hairline cracks (they looked to me like tiny scratches) on the spinner bulkhead around some of the bolt holes. How serious is this? Coincidentally, the mechanic said he “just happened” to have used serviceable bulkhead of the same kind that he’d sell me for $1,500.
What possessed this mechanic to pull the propeller in the first place? I’ve never seen an annual inspection checklist that called for propeller removal. The normal procedure is to remove only the spinner dome and then inspect the propeller hub and spinner bulkhead while mounted on the aircraft. The mechanic had no business removing the propeller without an awfully good reason, and even with such a reason he shouldn’t have done it without first obtaining the aircraft owner’s permission.
Then there’s the matter of the alleged “cracks” that the mechanic found in the spinner bulkhead. The owner indicated that they didn’t look like cracks, just tiny scratches. There’s no indication that the mechanic performed a dye penetrant inspection to determine whether the alleged “cracks” had any appreciable depth, or whether they were superficial scratches of no real significance.
Finally there’s the issue of the used bulkhead the mechanic “just happened” to have on the shelf and offered to sell the owner for $1,500. If the owner really needed one of these, then $1,500 might be a bargain price, since Cessna wants nearly $5,000 for a new one (I kid you not).
On the other hand, if the existing bulkhead exhibited nothing more than the “tiny scratches” described by the owner, it would be crazy to replace it for $1,500. If they were indeed scratches and not cracks, then no action would be necessary or appropriate. If they were actual cracks, they could very likely be weld-repaired by a company like K&K Precision Welding in Troy, Wisconsin that is FAA-certified to do such repairs.
“How serious is this?”
Indeed, that’s the threshold question. To find out, I decided to consult with a colleague who is an A&P/IA, owns a nationally known maintenance shop that specializes in repairing single-engine Cessnas, and who “just happens” to own a Cessna 182 himself. Who could be more qualified to assess whether this mechanic was being benevolent or predatory?
I emailed my colleague the Skylane owner’s query and asked for his reaction. His response was too good not to share.
This would be funny if it weren’t so sad. This is one of those stupid mechanic tricks that make the rest of us look bad.
These bulkheads are a well-known common problem area, but one with no known safety-of-flight risk. Worst case, the spinner departs the airplane. When this happened to me, I didn’t even realized it happened until I noticed it on the post-flight walk-around.
In my opinion, this mechanic is taking advantage of the Skylane owner. The owner should absolutely refuse to pay for the removal and reinstallation of the propeller, which shouldn’t have been done in the first place. The owner should demand a dye penetrant inspection of the original spinner bulkhead, performed while he is present to watch.
If cracks are confirmed by dye penetrant, then the owner should get on Google and research his options for getting his bulkhead repaired or finding a replacement elsewhere (eBay is a good place to start). If he must purchase the one from this mechanic , then he should negotiate the price to something no greater than the least expensive alternative his research came up with.
Others might say that the mechanic made a “great catch” and did the owner a favor. In my view, however, the mechanic performed exploratory surgery without the owner’s authorization and for no valid reason. If the bulkhead was actually cracked but the cracks hadn’t yet progressed past the edge of the mounting hardware (and therefore not visible without removing the prop), then they didn’t constitute a safety issue.
Even in the very unlikely event that a hidden crack suddenly propagated to the point of bulkhead failure, the resulting damage would be minimal. Cracks found in the normal course of an annual inspection must be addressed, but there’s certainly no need to take heroic efforts to find them…like pulling the prop.
My best guess is that the mechanic wanted to dispose of the spinner bulkhead he had on the shelf, and decided this owner might make a good mark. I hope he doesn’t get away with it.
It’s not uncommon for mechanics to take over-the-top maintenance actions that have adverse consequences for aircraft owners’ wallets. But in my experience, these arise mostly out of mechanics’ fear of being sued if something goes wrong, and rarely out of greed.
This one might be an exception. What do you think?