For Phoenix Heliparts, this year’s Heli-Expo show resulted in the sale of two helicopters, thanks to the display of the rebuilt MD500 flown for the television show Magnum, P.I. Based in Mesa, Ariz., Phoenix Heliparts celebrated its 10th anniversary at the show, where on March 5, Magnum, P.I. stars Larry Manetti and Roger Mosley signed “The Chopper.” On June 3, The Chopper receives its official Hawaiian blessing as it enters service in the Paradise Helicopters fleet at the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu.
The Chopper had more than 20,000 hours on its airframe by the time the Phoenix Heliparts technicians started the rebuilding project. About 98 percent of the fuselage was replaced, according to Phoenix Heliparts president Tina Cannon, including most of the ribs, main longerons, turtleback, tailboom and vertical and horizontal stabilizers. All other components are either zero time since overhaul or new. “With the downward financial health of the government and the economy,” she said, “people are really looking toward integration and upgrades of older legacy aircraft.”
When it comes to rebuilding MD500s, the first step is for the customer to sit down with Phoenix Heliparts engineering, planning and avionics experts not only to design the instrument panel and choose other equipment but also to communicate the aircraft’s mission. “The client has a blank canvas,” Cannon said. If the helicopter is headed for air-tour service, then it is more efficient to start with a freshly overhauled engine and zero-time components. “A tour operator will use the full life of the components,” she said. But an owner-flown MD500 won’t log nearly as many hours in such a short period of time, so a buyer can save money with a used engine that still has plenty of hours remaining before needing an overhaul.
Once the work gets started, it takes about four months to overhaul the fuselage, then another two or three months to install the engine and components and finish the interior and paint. Phoenix Heliparts stocks about 98 percent of all the components and parts needed to overhaul the MD500, according to Cannon. The company does have its own avionics, composites and sheetmetal shops, but sends components to other providers for overhaul. For clients with in-house maintenance capability, Phoenix Heliparts will deliver a restored fuselage and take the old fuselage in trade. A client could also save money by supplying its own major components, such as the rotor head and transmission. Generally, the cost of rebuilding an MD500 is 50 to 60 percent of the cost of a new helicopter, depending on which options the client selects.
Beyond Rebuilding the MD500
While rebuilding worn-out MD500s is a big part of its business, Phoenix Heliparts keeps even busier with government contracts and work for major OEMs. The company supports the South Korean military’s 256 Hughes/McDonnell Douglas MD500Ds as well as 141 Bell UH-1s and Cobras with technical support, parts and repair and overhaul components. Phoenix Heliparts also supports the U.S. State Department under a subcontract with SES on the UH-1H modernization program. On the OEM side, work includes helping with two certification programs, but Phoenix Heliparts can’t provide any details about these, Cannon said. “It’s always fun to be part of something new. It’s taught us a lot and we’re ecstatic to be part of that.” All of this work helped Phoenix Heliparts boost revenue by 30 percent last year compared with the previous year. The company also opened a second facility at Arizona’s Williams Gateway Airport last year.
A new business opportunity for Phoenix Heliparts is supplemental type certificates. The company recently obtained its first STC for an MD500D auto-relight ignition system. Another recent STC is for installation of the Aspen Avionics Evolution flight display system on the MD500. “We want to do more STCs,” Cannon said.
Phoenix Heliparts, which was launched in a garage by vice president of operations Darin and Tina Cannon, now employs 42 people. “It’s been Darin’s vision,” she said. “He’s the heartbeat of the company.”