Fall/Winter 2019 Updates - Alternators, Exhaust, and More

While I haven't had time to post much for updates lately, this one will be a big one, and there are still a few others I have waiting in the wings as I get time.  Needless to say, I've spent plenty of time with my 100LL burning girls, despite my other girls being away at College.  I guess a man has to shower his babies with attention, and since the young humans aren't at home, the mechanical babies get all the attention.

Since fall, I've had a couple of frustrating experiences that pushed me over the edge to making some changes that I had been planning for a while.  First, I had an alternator failure on the RV-14, which was a Plane-Power 60A alternator.  It was my second failure, the first happening on one of my early trips before I even hit 100 hours on the plane.  That one was due to fried coils, likely from a broken or shorted stator wire.  Plane-Power sent me a replacement alternator, and I bought a spare at that time as well.  The spare ended up going to a friend of mine who also had a Plane-Power 60A failure, and he returned the replacement he ended up getting from Plane-Power.   This failure a couple years ago prompted me to buy standby alternators for both planes, back at OSH 2019.  I hadn't yet even removed them from their boxes in November, with too many things happening throughout the fall.  But then after having a second failure, I decided it was time to get the standby alternators installed as well.  Before you take this as a knock on Plane-Power, make sure you keep reading, because there are absolute positives and negatives with just about any alternator you can choose for your plane.

I also had a failure on my RV-14 exhaust, and that is the 3rd failure I'd had with that system.  Once again, before you jump to conclusions on that, you'll want to hear the details on that as well.  The story is more involved than a simple "bad product" type issue.

Throw in a 3rd failure, because as they say, "things always happen in 3's".  After getting everything else in order, I finally had a flat out total failure of my E.I. Red Cube Fuel Flow transducer.  It had been happening for very brief periods for a year, but finally just rolled over Tango Uniform, and caused me to replace it.  Luckily I had foresight a while back and had purchased the new transducer already.

So those things interrupted my ability to keep the airplanes constantly flying, and added to my maintenance time and expense.  It was interesting to me that in the entire time I've owned the RV-10, I've only had one alternator failure, and never a fuel flow transducer issue (that one is a flo-scan), and no exhaust issues that I can remember either.

I guess that's enough of an intro to my fall woes, so lets dig into them one by one.   I should note that many of these pics were snapped at many various times, and some may or may not flow perfectly, but I tried to group common topics or issues together.

Plane-Power Alternator Failure, and Dissection

When my RV-14 Alternator failed, I decided since it was likely out of warranty (I didn't even bother to check this time), I would take it to a professional alternator repair shop that I trusted and let them take a look at it.  I knew they could rebuild just about anything, and I actually trusted their handy work better than if it were a factory new alternator built on an assembly line, because their small business is always on the line if they don't do well for their customers. And, nobody is just another number to them.

They tore apart my alternator and what they found was the following:   First, one of the brushes was cracked.  The regulator was functioning fine, but the brush itself was broken.  The other internals of the alternator were fine.  What was NOT fine though, was the alternator case, where the bearing seats within the alternator housing.  They found that I had suffered a spun bearing.  The hole in the housing that the bearing is placed into had been worn slightly oblong and loose.  With the bearing free to move or spin, that set off bad vibrations in the alternator.  Remember that this is a small size 60A alternator, and with its small pulley, spins at a very high RPM compared to an alternator with a larger pulley. 

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The above pictures show the brush and regulator assembly from the 60A Plane-Power alternator.  The black carbon brush was the part that had broken.  The regulator and brushes fit together as a unit, and you can buy them as an assembly from Aircraft Spruce, to carry as a spare.  Since I had such a spare on-hand in the airplane, I gave it to the alternator shop so that they could use it when they rebuilt the alternator.  Yes, it's a standard Nippon Denso (or aftermarket such as Unipoint, in my case, part) but the issues is, to add over-voltage protection, Plane-Power actually somehow opens up this regulator and solders and hot-glues a jumper wire in place that you can see in the first picture above, to add OV protection to this regulator in the form of a crowbar type circut.  This will cut power to the alternator if an over voltage condition occurs.

The 4th pic above is a friends pic of the diode assembly that fits in this alternator.  I had one go bad, and found we could order them on Amazon, so I had already ordered one of those as well.

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Above you can see more pictures of my case half from the alternator.  The alternator shop looked at all the alternator parts and basically told me this:  The alternator I have is a Nippon Denso clone.  Not a TRUE Nippon Denso, but a clone made of aftermarket parts.  They said that it's still a good alternator, but if it were all true actual Nippon Denso OEM parts, it would be "bulletproof" according to them.   They said N.D. is very good, but N.D. makes parts better than many of the aftermarket makers.  So on the surface, at least in this case, this would tell me that Plane-Power (at least at the time of mine being produced) saves money by not buying real N.D. systems, instead going with cheaper aftermarket alternators. They then modify them, and sell them for our experimental aircraft use. 

Below are pics of the bearing.  I've had another PP alternator user tell me that the bearing they had, had a nylon or some sort of plastic external ring in it, that they assumed was helpful in securing that bearing more tightly into the housing.  The alternator shop rebuilt the alternator, replacing the bad case half, and used some sort of bonding agent on the new bearing so that it would be tight in its bore and not be free to wobble or vibrate.

Now, see below the pics of my external cover shell.  The vibration my alternator experienced was enough to put cracks into my tin cover.  That high-speed alternator can really shake, I guess.   The final pic below is the diode pack part number, in case someone wants to order spare diodes for their Plane-Power 60A alternator.

I have been a Plane-Power supporter for years. Ever since I was building my RV-10 and they trial-fit their 70A alternator to my plane, and did a bracket adjustment to get the fit just right, so they could start selling that alternator for other builders who used my engine.  I had one alternator failure, I think around 400 hours or so, but, to be completely transparent and honest, it was before I really knew how to properly tension the alternator belt on these planes.  We have no tensioner, so the method is to measure the breakout force that it takes to slip the pulley on the belt, with a torque wrench.  A new belt uses 11-13 ft-lbs as the max, and a used belt uses 7-9 ft-lbs.  If you tighten it more than that, your alternator will probably suffer early bearing failure, which is exactly what happened to me on the 70A alternator that I used on the RV-10.

Here's the kicker to the RV-14 alternator failures.  There seem to be 2 common failures that the 60A Plane-Power, specifically, suffer.  One is a stator coil winding breakage.  This one at least seems to me, from reading people's reports, to happen to many people early on.  It's like a design defect.  My first failure was like that.  Around 70 hours in, my coil fried in that alternator.  Nothing much you can do about that in the field.  The second common issue is that the connector plug vibrates a lot, and the wire terminals would vibrate against the plug pins and eventually wear, or arc, or dirty to the point that they would no longer work.  People solved that a couple of ways.  One was to inject RTV into the terminal area to support the wire better.  The other is a more proper way.  There is actually a rubber ring seal MADE for those connectors that will surround the wire and stuff into the connector to secure it from vibration.  I ordered a couple of spare connectors and pins and those round seals, while in the process of tearing into these alternators.   

Now, when my first 60A alternator failed, I consider that a design issue, or assembly issue.  But, when I swapped that alternator out, I happened to be in Idaho, stranded on field at an airport, and replacing the alternator out on the ramp of the airport.  I didn't have a complete set of tools, especially a torque wrench, so, I doubt (I honestly don't remember) that I was able to properly get a precise belt tension.  What bothers me is that I don't remember if I ever got around to checking the belt tension when I got back home.  I would think so, but it's entirely possible that I didn't, and I myself caused this bearing to fail from it being too tight a tension setting.  I don't generally remove the safety wire and re-tension at annual, because looser is better than tighter and as it wears it will become looser and looser.  If it gets too loose, you will hear the screech as the alternator belt slips, and it will usually happen in humid weather.  So since this belt never gave me problems, I may have just left it and caused this all myself.  If so, I feel like goon.

At any rate, there are a fairly large number of people over the past 5 years who've had issues with stator windings and plug terminals, and I guess I went from being a total supporter of Plane-Power, to believing that perhaps they needed to work harder on their 60A reliability.  My 70A reliability I consider to be very good.  But, what you don't hear a lot about is people complaining that their B&C brand alternator gives them issues.  So, with 2 failures on this 60A Plane-Power, I decided to consider jumping ship...

Turns out that isn't necessarily all going to ensure you are trouble-free...  Keep reading.

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Plane-Power vs. B&C

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So after being fed up with reading reports of Plane-Power 60A failures, I decided to indeed bail out on Plane-Power, and go with B&C.  Right up front there are vast similarities, and also some differences.  First, you can see that both alternators are very very similar in case.  They both have many parts that could be swapped from alternator to alternator.  The Brushes themselves are the same.  The Plane-Power has a regulator, but even though the B&C is externally regulated, the regulator module still exists in the alternator as well.  The cases are very similar but if you look real close, you see that the ears and arms are not in the same alignment or distance from other components.  So, you cannot use the brackets for the Plane-Power on the B&C or vice versa.  The main bolt that holds them to the plane is also not the same size between the 2.  The Plane-Power, as you see more pics in this write-up, seems to have a heavier duty boss mount bracket, bolt, and tension adjuster arm, and also includes a cross-tie bracket that attaches to your starter for even more rigidity.  The B&C does not include that.  Hmmm, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself here. I'll save that for later as I have more pics coming.  But, for now, notice that the pulley on the Plane-Power is a nice machined aluminum pulley.  The B&C I'm not sure if it's steel or aluminum but I think it's steel. The pulley nuts are also not the same size. You'll need a 22mm socket for the B&C pulley.  Otherwise, there are more similarities than differences.

One thing you will NOT see, that you DO see on my Plane-Power 70A alternator, is a blast tube mount.  My 70A alternator had a place to attach and air blast tube to cool the back of the alternator. And, I had it attached on my RV-10.  The Plane-Power 60A does not have this, and in my opinion, probably needs it just as much or more as the 70A does.  The B&C doesn't include it either.

I should also note right now that I have one concern that came up AFTER I bought new B&C alternators.  Yes, that's plural...alternator(S).  When I decided to make the swap to the B&C primary alternator, I decided a good long-term strategy was to use the same primary and standby alternators on each plane. This would allow me to buy a 3rd alternator as a spare, and make it so on a big trip such as Alaska, I could carry a spare that would fit either plane.  I could also just plan to run each alternator for about 500 hours and then have it rebuilt, swapping in my spare, and that would allow me to try to eliminate unforeseen failures by treating the alternator as a preventative maintenance item.  Good theory, I think.  But the jury is still out on if I made the best decisions. I'll try to summarize that at the bottom of the alternator discussion.

For now lets say that one thing I take a little issue with is that while the B&C has a great reputation among RV-10 and other RV people, I don't think that the current alternator, the BC460-H necessarily will have the same long-term reliability reputation and here's why.  B&C built it's great reputation on the L-60 alternator, which is not the same animal as this.  That alternator was larger, and had a different rear wire connector to it that is more robust. My 70A Plane-Power also has a more robust rear wire connector.  So the common failures of the Plane-Power being the rear connector and stator windings, I think we can say that the B&C may experience more connector failures down the road than they did in the past.  One thing that B&C does BETTER though, is that they include those round wire seals on their wires.  So that may eliminate or reduce that issue, too.  The stator windings I'm not sure on.  If it's a design issue, they may face similar issues.  If it's an assembly issue, they may end up better off.  Time will tell.  But, when comparing reliability, I'm just saying I don't know that just going by the company names "Plane-Power" or "B&C" is going to be enough.  The Plane-Power has a 60A version, and a 70A version. Both have significant differences.  I believe the 70A is superior to the 60A, for a few reasons.  The B&C has their 60A version, but it's not the same as their old version.  But, it does have one other probably Ace in the hole...   I took my 3rd alternator, the brand new B&C, into the alternator shop and had them look inside the back of it.  I wanted to see...was this a true Nippon Denso or an aftermarket clone.  From what he could tell, he said it did appear to be a true Nippon Denso alternator.  So perhaps even though they have some things in common with the Plane-Power 60A, it will be more bulletproof than the PP is.  I know the way he spoke of true ND that if I had my choice, that's what I'd want.

Below is just a pic to show you my old Plane-Power connector plug.  The wires go in the back side, and that is where you need to secure the wire better.  The blob of RTV is unrelated...it was just there to prevent vibration to other engine components.  But, one important thing to note is that the red wire goes to 2 pins.  That provides redundancy for the connection for the field wire to the alternator.  More on that below too...


B&C Alternator Parts

So when I bought my 3 B&C 60A alternators, the BC460-H model, I took one of them right to the alternator shop to look for parts, and get info on WHY does this thing still have a voltage regulator pack on it?  I knew it must have been CONVERTED to external regulation, because these alternators are MADE as internally regulated. External regulation does seem to offer some at least PERCEIVED benefit, in that you can put the regulator behind the firewall where it's cooler, and you can keep it away from engine vibration better.  Additionally, SUPPOSEDLY the linear regulators should be quieter, but I found that so far my planes now seem to be noisier than the Plane-Power was. My Plane-Powers really had almost no alternator whine, except for the first few seconds after turning the HID lights on, and then it faded down a lot.  The B&C's seem to whine more initially, and after as well.  Nothing else changed but the alternator/regulator, and it seems to be WORSE in that respect.   But, the one kicker to buying B&C that is not the case with Plane-Power is that with Plane-Power you can buy a spare regulator and brush set to carry with you for swap in the field.  B&C won't do ANYTHING to tell you about the alternator internals or sell you brushes or anything like that. You're on your own.  So, I was basically FORCED to take it to the alternator shop to learn about it.
Here's what I found.

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First, right off the top, I wanted new brushes, so I pulled the brush holder out.  The brushes are a standard part that you can buy at any alternator shop for about $8-10.  On the B&C it's got no additional jumper wire like the Plane-Power does, so you don't have to carry the brush and regulator spares as a complete unit.  The regulator, in fact, doesn't likely even need a spare, unless you have an issue with the pins itself....because the regulator is bypassed on the B&C.

I'm not sure the brush holder solder terminals are usually RTV covered, but on the B&C you can see the parts are covered with red RTV, probably to protect against shorting or something.  Otherwise, it's a standard part that you can easily get anywhere.

The diode pack is where things get funky.  You'll have to look and identify this a little over a couple of rows of pictures.  For starters though, look at the 2nd picture above.  Notice you see a black glob of RTV, and a fiber pad curved under it...below that area is a screw hole.   Now keep that in mind and lets jump down a couple rows of pics.

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Check out the 4trh pic, and the ones in the line below this text...you see a standard diode pack compared to the B&C one in the alternator.  The entire lug that holds that pack down and grounds that terminal to the case, is completely cut off.  So part of the process for B&C is to chop that lug off with a saw/dremel and then they take the cut portion and cover it with an insulating fiber pad, and glue it on with RTV.  That separates that diode pack connection. 

Dig in a little further and you can see the back side of the regulator module.  Look closely and you see the black guts of the module have been previously cut and removed.  But, the part number is a standard part number and indicates its a true Nippon Denso part too.

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Here are just some additional pics of the black brush holder and brushes that I bought from the shop, and the brown ones that came with the B&C.  They are functionally identical.  There is a silicone rubber ring attached to the B&C one that can be removed and put on the black ones if you ever swapped them.

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So then after getting brushes, I wanted a spare for the "what if" scenario for "what if my connector pins go bad".  Luckily the fix for this is to just buy the spare regulator module, but, you can't just buy the module and stick it in...it takes a little modification because remember, this regulator doesn't regulate. It's a dumb, neutered module.
As you can see from the pics above, there is a lug near the 3-pin connector that B&C also completely cuts off.  You can see if you look close enough the rough edge left, so it's a standard part, but hacked up for the B&C External regulation.

Below you can also see one difference with the B&C's wiring connectors.  Notice the black wire seals around the wires.  That's better than Plane-Power.
WHAT WAS NOT SO COOL, is that the pics below don't show what originally shipped with my first 2 B&C BC460-H alternators.  It seems that while a friend of mine who bought the BC460-H back in May, got the wiring connector WITH the jumper wire to the redundant 2nd pin, when MINE shipped, B&C had decided they didn't feel it was worth the added redundancy, so they shipped me their "newer" design connector where they only stick a single wire into the center pin.  I was NOT happy about that, and called them and had them ship me replacements with the redundant pin, and, I ordered a couple spares for myself as well.  So with MY installations, mine has the 2 pins connected, but if you order a BC460-H, you should insist you get a 2 pin wired plug as well.

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Finally, it was time to dig in and modify and neuter my regulator module as well.  I cut off the lug that they cut off, and then used a razor to repeatedly slice and pull at the black module on the back of my new regulator (the Tan colored one) until I could flip it up.  It isn't very thick.  You can ohm out the 2 pins that are actually used on the connector, and find out which various lugs on the original regulator are connected to them.  Since the regulator is external, you should get about zero ohms between the pin and the lug when you have one that's attached, and you should get infinite ohms for ones that aren't used.  I was able to figure out what lugs were connected to the 2 pins on the connector, and then identify the guts of the regulator to see where both the 2 external pins were attached, and where the lugs were attached internally.  There are little solder lugs all around the perimeter of the regulator, and it wasn't hard to track them down.  Internally there were some hair thin wire jumpers and things that are useless going forward.  You can see my thick black wires that I soldered in place to jumper the terminals to the external lug terminal.   Once that was done, I once again compared my B&C modified regulator to the one I modified and verified that only the lugs that SHOULD connect to the connector pins had any continuity, and that the regulators ohmed out identically.  I then popped my back cover back on, and rtv sealed it up again.  I should really never have to use this home-modified module, if the pins never go bad.  But, at least I have a spare that I can carry on a trip if I ever need to.  I think it was about $28 for the replacement regulator module, at the alternator shop.

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So at this point, I have 3 brand new B&C BC460-H primary alternators (1 spare), along with three (1 spare) LR3-C external 14.4V regulators to install, and also two 20-30A Spline pad mount standby alternators and two standby regulators to install.  I thought it would be a lot of work, and in a way I was right...

Alternator Bracket Issues

So I mentioned above that the brackets don't work between the 2 alternators, i.e. you can't use the Plane-Power brackets on the B&C Alternator and vice versa.  Here are some pics of the differences.

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The cleaner looking bracket is the B&C bracket.  Notice how the bolt is smaller on the B&C, and the bracket itself is taller.  Otherwise they are fairly similar. 

When I ordered, both my IO-540 engine and my IO-390 engine are Boss Mount engines, and the IO-540 is a narrow deck engine but the IO-390 is a wide deck engine.  Ordering the alternators right from B&C, they ask if you have a wide deck or narrow deck engine and then single or double groove pulley.  Well, I had to call them because in their definition, any narrow deck engine apparently uses case mount and not boss mount, which is incorrect in my case.  They told me over the phone that if I have a boss mount, then I want the wide deck version, either way.  Poor use of terminology on their part because there is too much variety.  So leave the wide and narrow deck out of it.  And, both of my engines being single groove pulleys, I ordered 2 of the same kit. 

Also take note below that the Plane-Power alternator has an included joggled small arm that attaches to the alternator bracket and the starter, to give more rigidity.  The B&C dos not come with that piece.  They do sell them, but you would have to ask and make sure the measurement is right to fit your install, and then when you do install it, it's likely to require you to also replace the bolt with a longer bolt.

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Below are pictures of the tension adjuster arm.  Notice that the Plane-Power is quite a bit thicker and stronger, ad it has a bent joggle in it.  This allowed the arm to fit perfectly on my install.  The arm was fairly short, the alternator was snugged up near the engine block, and all was well.  The B&C isn't such a good fit.  The tension adjust bracket is thinner, flexes a little, and comes too long for my install on the RV-14 so I had to cut it shorter and re-drill the hole in the end.  That is in the B&C manual.  It would be nice if it fit better, because even after cutting it, the arm was longer and at a different angle altogether and ran into my heater intake SCAT tube, so I had to RTV bond a silicone pad to the SCAT to protect it from chafing the bracket.   Additionally, there is too much of a gap on both of my installs, between the tension adjuster arm and the alternator face.  So they provide you with the tensioner bolt and a thick washer, but you end up needing 2 thick washers or more, to get the proper fit.  Had they joggled the arm like Plane-Power did, it would be much better, but, I think with their thinner arm, they would probably need to use thicker material if they were going to add a joggle.  If these were the only problems, the job would have been much better and my impression would have been left much higher, but it got worse.

What ended up happening is that the B&C bracket for the Wide Desk, Boss Mount, Single Groove engine, didn't end up fitting properly on my RV-14's new IO-390, which is Boss Mount, Wide Deck, and Single Groove.  The U shaped boss mount bracket has one round hole in it, and one oblong hole.  I used the straight tensioner arm as a guide to ensure my alignment would be good.  I STRONGLY suggest all builders with B&C (and any other alternator for that matter) actually check your alignment of your main pulley and the alternator pulley.  If the alignment isn't good, you will wear, and risk breaking your belts.  If the belt breaks, and you have a crank sensor like I do, you could end up disabling the ignition system or anything else that is mounted up by the ring gear.  So always ensure you have good alignment.  Mine was off by something in the neighborhood of .093-.095" (EDIT: It's actually about .060-.062 off) or so.  If I lifted my alternator to it's highest position and slid the tensioner arm wrapped around the large pulley unit it contacted the alternator pulley, it did NOT line up in the groove on the alternator, but dug into the side of the pulley.  So, in order to get it to fit, I had to file not just the round hole in the bracket to make it oblong, but file the oblong hole even MORE oblong.  That will just be one more place that you could end up with bracket movement in the future, causing alternator belt issues.  So I called them and found out the difference between the bracket I got (single groove) and the other bracket they offer (dual groove).  Turns out they shift the alternator back about .130".  I then went on to try the install on my IO-540 as well.  I figured that if there were going to be an issue, it would be on that engine since technically that was a narrow deck engine.  Sure enough, the single groove bracket didn't fit that one either!!!!  It was off and it was worse than the IO-390!! 
I decided to have them send me 2 of the dual groove brackets so that I could try those instead.  

First the RV-10 with the IO-540.  That one was off almost perfectly the amount of .130", which is the same amount that the dual groove bracket adjusted, so swapping my SINGLE GROOVE engine to the DUAL GROOVE bracket fixed that install completely.  But what about my IO-390 that SHOULD have been perfectly matched?  Nope, that shifted it too far, as expected, and now it was out of alignment the other direction.  I did ask B&C to look into fixing this by coming out with a proper fitting bracket, but to date I have not heard of any progress on that front.

EDIT 3/28/2020: B&C Finally sent me some parts to try to fix the alignment issues. They "fixed" the issue on the IO-390, but after I pondered it, I wasn't thrilled with the fix, because that would mean the same alternator would no longer fit the IO-540. It turns out I was right, because when I went to fit the RV-10, it was now NOT good. Remember that previously I had to use their "Dual Groove" pully boss mount to make it fit. Well, it keeps getting more interesting. The Dual Groove must really be a "Single Groove" bracket, because I installed these alternators on my RV-10 and they all fit perfectly: The Plane-Power 60A, the Plane-Power 70A, and the BC460-H with the Boss Mount Bracket 403-301-4 (Dual Groove type that comes with the FK5400-1_Special install kit). The Standard FK5400-1 alternator install kit coems with the 403-315-2 Boss Mount Bracket, which does NOT fit my IO-540 nor the IO-390 properly, with the BC460-H. So it was back to the drawing board. The real fix is to come up with a new Boss Mount bracket that moves the holes .060-.062" FORWARD on the Boss Mount Bracket from what the 403-315-2 bracket is. OR, move the holes AFT .068-.070" of what the 403-301-4 Boss Mount Bracket has.

So the hands down winner of the bracket design here is the Plane-Power.  I'm not sure if it's just because they're a smaller company, or because they just don't know as much about the variety of Lycoming engine cases as Hartzell/Plane-Power does, but Plane-Power beats them badly on alternator bracketing as far as I'm concerned.  B&C's stuff looks nice, but until they have the proper fit, and the same strength, it's hard to walk away with warm fuzzies about the upgrade from a bracket perspective.

EDIT 3/28/2020: Ok, so here I have to make another correction. If you read my update above, you see I tried all 3 alternators on the IO-540 and they all fit and aligned acceptably well. The Plane-Power alternators *appear* to align better, but that's because the bottom of the V-Groove is wider. In actuality, on the IO-540 it may have been off the width of a couple pieces of paper. Not 100% perfectly, but acceptably close. So I tried all 3 on the IO-390 and what I found there was that the Plane-Power 60A and the Plane-Power 70A both were off slightly on that plane, too. I estimate it would take maybe .036-.042 to get them to align properly on the IO-390. So that means that if everyone elses engines are the same exact form factor as mine, the Plane-Power alternators they're using are not aligned perfectly. The BC460-H remember is about .060-.062 off, so it's slightly worse...or .068-.070 with the other boss bracket. Either way, I think every builder should abosolutely verify perfect alignment on their IO-390 and even the IO-540, because an alternator belt breakage could cause them to be out of electricity, which would be a disaster on an electrically dependent engine. And, for Lightspeed Ignition users like myself who have a mini sensor or crank sensor up front, it could mean that the belt takes out the sensor, rendering their ignition immediately useless. NOT GOOD!

I have a whole section below dedicated to this bracket issue, so if you keep reading you'll see exactly what's up.

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More pics of the arm, the cut I had to do to the arm, and pics of the brackets I took before sending back my unused brackets.

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Alternator Upgrades with Standby Installation

Well, with the alternator backet thing finally figured out, it was time to finish up this install.  The rest of the install was mostly only physically painful, as mounting the regulators to the upper firewall on a completed RV-10 and RV-14 is a real chore. Especially since I'd be mounting 2 regulators...one primary and one standby.  That was the most time consuming part of the install.  I snapped a few pics along the way and I'll illustrate inline.

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Some of these are out of order, so I'll walk through them.  Pic 1 above shows a completed install on the RV-14.  Notice the tensioner arm touches the SCAT tube.  I have it padded though so it won't be a problem.  Pic 2 is my old belt from the Plane Power install of the 60A alternator.  On the IO-390 that previously had a 60A, I was able to use the old belt.  On the IO-540 with my larger pulley 70A Plane Power alternator, I had to pull the prop and install a shorter belt that came with the B&C.   Pic 3 is just another shot of the alternator, and Pic 4 is my standby alternator's ANL fuse holder on the firewall.

In the row below, Pic 1 shows the plug for the B&C after I told them I didn't want their single-wire, non-redundant cable.  The 2 pics in the middle are the way my alternators were initially delivered...single wire.  Not great for redundancy.    Pic 4 below is just a photo of one of my fuse blocks for a bus.  One thing that surprised me about my build is the amount of extra wiring involved.  The plane power has a single wire that goes from your breaker, through your alternator switch, and then to the alternator.  They include a 2nd white wire for an indicator light, that I didn't install.  So it's super simple.  The B&C requires:  1 Power wire to the regulator, fed by a 5A breaker, run through your alternator switch.   2 Ground wires, one to the regulator case, and one to a ground terminal. They are redundant but you need both.  Then, in order for the regulators to work, you also need to connect a wire from your bus, to the terminal on your regulator, and that wire needs to be fused or have a breaker as well.  That wire is used to sense the voltage so your regulator won't work without it.  You also need to hook the alternators field wire to the regulator.

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Pic 1 above is just a panel pic.  Pic 2 shows where I shoehorned in my alternator switch for my standby alternator.  I wish I would have planned during the build to install a standby, but I didn't. On my RV-10 it was always part of the plan, so I had a switch there and everything.  The RV-14 ended up having to have it stuffed in.  I used a switch-breaker combination, because I also didn't have a panel breaker for a standby, like I did on the RV-10.  The 4th pic I have no idea why I included.  It was the replacement cable they shipped me.

Below are pics of the connector from when I was disassembling it to see how it went together. I ordered a pile of pins and round seals and a couple of the connectors (pic 4 shows one in black) so that I could carry a spare connector plug with me.  Not sure I'll ever need it but now I have it.  To remove the terminals, you need a couple tiny flat screwdrivers.  There are 2 ears on the side of a pull-out tongue that you need to bend in and then you pull the tongue out of the connector.  The inside there are some catches that you need to pry up as you release the terminal contact.  It's not too hard. Once you do that it's easy to pull the terminals out and replace them if you needed to.

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Pic 1 above is an in-process pic of mounting my primary and standby regulators. They're much larger than I expected them to be.  Real solid feeling, but they take up quite a bit of space.   Pic 2 is the belt I use with the 2 planes.  Pic 3 and 4 are just shots of the installed alternator. Note the added washers on the bolt that rides the tensioner arm.

Below, Pics 1 and 2 are just install pics again, while Pic 3 shows the upper bolt head on the tensioner arm.  Pic 4...darn, looks like a duplicate.

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And here are a couple final pics of my alternator and a quick one of the standby alternator install too.  One thing about the install on the RV-14... The oil cooler hoses pass right through that area.  I was able to get the alternator in, but felt it best if I RTV a silicone pad to the top of the alternator and protect the oil cooler hose from chafing against it.  By using a couple spots of RTV, I can prevent that hose from moving, and keep it from covering the alternators vent holes.

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So with that all done, both planes now have 60A B&C primary alternators and 20-30A standby alternators, with their associated B&C regulators.  What's my impression so far?  Well, that's a REALLY tough question.  Here's what I know...

First, I think B&C makes a clean product.  If they truly use real Nippon Denso alternators, their hardware is probably of better quality than Plane-Power's.  But, they fall flat on their face when you start looking at their mounting brackets.  If they line up perfectly then they're acceptable, but even when they don't line up perfectly, they're not as compact and tough as the Plane-Power brackets are.  I like the Plane-Power's mounting location a little better, too.  Of course, Plane-Power has quite a few reports of stator coil issues, and plug issues.  The Plug issues should be easy to fix if they start using the wire supporting round seals like B&C does.  The stator coil issues I'm just not sure.  If it's sloppy installation, then they should fix that.  Rumor has it they made changes in 2017 to improve reliability, and my alternators were all older than that, so I have no experience with these improvements.  Considering B&C uses the same plug, I would expect it to be no more reliable than the Plane-Power, IF Plane-Power adds the seals to the wire.  BUT, then B&C goes and wrecks their image by no longer including the jumper wire between 2 pins, that adds reliability.  Then you start to dig even deeper into the alternators...and look at the regulators.  If you go Plane-Power, you can buy and carry a spare regulator and brush set.  It's not super expensive and you can carry them on every flight.  A big positive is, lets say the worst happens and your alternator craps out.  Well, you can take it to a local alternator shop and they probably carry a diode pack, regulator, and brushes and bearing and can get you in the air quick and easy.  Sure, you will end up flying home with no over-voltage protection if you didn't give them your spare regulator purchased from Plane-Power, but it will get you home.  They can probably even re-wind the coils on it at some shops.  Now, if you go B&C, your regulator may (or may not) fail less often, because it's behind the firewall, away from engine heat and vibration.  That's a good thing too.  BUT, I had an early onset failure in one of my regulators already. My Standby regulator on one plane failed on it's 2nd day. The night I completed the install, I tested it and it worked fine.  The next day it was dead. You could see it adjusting voltage to the alternator, but nothing even remotely near the proper voltages.  I ordered a spare standby regulator (already had a spare primary), and swapped that in, and then it worked fine.  So definitely a regulator problem.  Also, the regulators are bulky, and one person on VAF tore one apart and said the circuit board in his was pretty old, using all older components, thrown together so it LOOKS like it's amateur built.  That doesn't make me feel so great about having it be a top quality product.  But, the Plane-Powers and other internally regulated (IR) alternators will have to deal with more heat and vibration.  On the upside, they're lighter weight, SMT components, and potted in place for the most part.  The B&C has a great benefit of being voltage-adjustable. I like that a lot.  BUT, I don't like the added wiring it takes to support it, and the fact that you now have a regulator that can fail in the field that you have no good source of repair to get you quickly back in the air.  I don't want to have to carry a spare for that, with it being as big as it is...whereas the Plane-Powers is small and light.  Plus, with it mounted behind the firewall, it's MUCH more painful to get to if you need to.  Now for the kicker.  The linear regulator in the B&C is SUPPOSED to be quieter, which is good.  Turns out that BOTH my 60A and 70A Plane-Power installs were MUCH quieter than my B&C installs seem to be. I get lots more alternator whine with this new setup than the old. Considering it's just an alternator and regulator swap, and all fresh new grounds, that should not be the case.  Oh, and, with the B&C being hacked up to convert it to external regulation, you have to remember that lets say you have a failure in Michigan....you can find an alternator shop and get parts, but, you're going to have to cut the lug off the diode pack, or cut up and solder and bypass the regulator (should only have this issue if your connector is bad), if you want to get flying again. And, if the regulator fails, you better have a spare.  Either that or you have to troubleshoot it, open it up, and hope you have a digikey or mouser nearby so you can buy and replace internal components.   Not practical at all.  I think the more practical thing would be to:  #1 bypass your external regulator.  #2 replace the diode pack with a regular one. #3 replace your bypassed internal regulator with a standard one that's brand new.  Now you have the alternator converted back to internal regulation, and as long as you bypassed your external regulator, you can fly home.  A lot of work sure, but better than being stuck like I was, in idaho with no hope of leaving.

What would I do if I could start over again?  Well, I have to say I'm very happy to have standby alternators now, so I would definitely put the B&C standbys on again.  But, I'm not sure on the primary alternators.  I think the Plane-Power 70A alternator is likely to be the better alternator for long term reliability. It's got a larger pulley, spins much slower but produces more power, so it's going to turn many hundreds of millions of revolutions fewer in its lifetime.  It's also got a blast cooler tube mount, so it may run cooler.  It's internally regulated, but been reliable for me, and you can buy and carry a spare regulator easily.  It's got a more robust connector on the back as well, which eliminates the issues you could have with the small pin spring terminals the 60A alternators use. And, the 70A, while heavier, isn't THAT much heavier.  I'd say if I could fit it on the RV-14, I'd be inclined to buy 3 of them and have the same system on each plane plus a spare.  For now though, the B&C is light, and they have a good reputation, so I'm going to run them and see how they go for a while.  If after 500 hours I haven't had any issues, I'll rebuild them, and keep moving forward.  But, if I can't get rid of my newly acquired alternator whine(s) and I have even one failure before 500 hours of either an alternator or regulator, I will rip out both 60A systems and sell all 3 of them.  It was a hassle to get this all upgraded, and they cost more than the Plane-Power systems, so if they don't live up to their reputation that was built by the L-60, then I won't keep them long term. At least I have standby alternators now, so any failures will be slightly more manageable. Oh, and B&C really needs to fix their alignment issue on the IO-390....so here is more info on that as well.

Alternator Misalignment on IO-390

This should help to show the misalignment of the alternator pulleys using the standard p/n 403-315-2 Alternator Boss Mount Bracket.  I also tried the 403-301-4 bracket, but that moves the alignment too far and then the alignment is off on the other side of the pulley.


The pictures above and below show that if you slide the alternator adjuster bracket along the big pulley on the engine, and lift the alternator, you can use it as a guide to show where the groove will line up by seeing where the bracket hits the alternator pulley.  It is very hard to get good pictures at the perfect angles because you have to make sure to align the camera lens with the pulleys to get the best view, but even though these aren't perfect, I've duplicated the picture and drawn in the pulley edge in yellow so you can see the misalignment better.

Notice that the bracket hits the left side of the pulley about 1/4-1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the groove, rather than being centered.

It was very hard to get an approximate measurement but I'm guessing something around .093"-.095" of a shift was what was required to center it.  The 403-301-4 I think moves it .130" which makes the adjustment bar dig into the other pulley face.

This is just another view so you can see the edge of the bracket digging into the pulley.

This is the oblonging of the holes that I had to do, to get the alignment proper.  I had to elongate not only the round hole, but the oval one as well.  The engine bolts, by default, center up in the middle of the oblong hole on the original bracket, when both bolts are in.  The extra space in the oblong hole is not enough after making the round hole also oblong, to fix the misalignment, so both had to be filed.

These 2 pictures above are a poor attempt to show the amount of shift.  I originally filed the holes a little too far, so the bracket could be slid too far in the necessary direction, so I needed to make a mark so that I could have a reference when torquing up the bolts to know that I was moving it the right amount.  In that process, I tried to take a couple of pictures of the mark so I could show how much the bracket needs to be moved.  But, since there are no references such as the thickness of the marker line, it's not really useful for precision measurement, only for illustrating approximate shift necessary to align.

The following 3 pictures show the adjuster arm in position after correcting the misalignment.  You can see that the arm fits nicely into the base of the V groove as well as can be expected.

One additional issue that I encountered is that the adjuster bracket should either be bent, such as Plane-Power does with their brackets (which are much thicker), or a second thick washer should be included.  The gap between the adjustment arm and the alternator on both of my planes, IO-540 Narrow Deck and IO-390 Wide Deck, was about double the thickness of the thick washer that you supply with the alternator.  I had to find washers with the same OD and drill them out for the same size center hole.  Since I didn't have thick washers, I had to use 2 standard washers in additon to the thick one supplied with the alternator.  This shows the gap and the stack.

New (to me) Vetterman Exhaust for RV-14

So above I mentioned that I've had my 3rd exhaust system cracking incident....let me explain and show some pics of the new system.

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Above in pic 1 is my new system. It's actually a little smaller and lighter than the old. The middle 2 pics are the final pics before yanking the old system. And the last pic above is the old system and how it fit in the tunnel.

When I first needed an exhaust system, Van's was not yet shipping an exhaust system.  I called Vettermans because they have a great reputation in exhaust and have been doing it for many many years.  They worked with me to design a similar system.  However, Van's system was a 4-into-1 system and their outlet pipe was what Vettermans considered to be too small for the IO-390 to breathe perfectly.  I didn't want that.  Exhaust restriction hampers performance.  So we tried to get a set of two 2-into-one systems that ended with 2 tail pipes, going up and over the front gear mount, and exiting into the tunnel that was used by Vans for the exhaust.  It was a good thought, but, the problem is the two pipes get too wide to be in that tunnel together.  Initially I had both pipes just in there side by side, not tied together.  When you start the engine, especially if you flood it, and it shakes a lot, those pipes were rocking back and forth and hitting the tunnel.  One day it hit enough that it cracked a ball joint near the tail pipe.  Not a huge problem, just some extra noise and time to land.  It was sent back and replaced with a heavier duty ball joint, and we added a saddle clamp to keep the pipes close together and secure. That would minimize the space they took up.  This time it lasted a lot longer....200+ hours or more. But, I had a really flooded rough start one day and smacked the tunnel again.  That caused a crack in a tube where 2 cylinders come together.  You see, if you whack a tail pipe on the tunnel, and your ball joints are stiffening up, you're transferring even more impact to other parts of the system.  It ended up cracking mine slightly.  It didn't fall apart, but had some ugly cracks.  It was welded up, and we agreed at that point that the design wasn't great and that it was time to get me a 2nd gen system.  You see, they never really liked the design I had, but, we went that route because it was clean and used the tunnel.  But I was one of only 2 or 3 people who got this system before they gave up and simplified it.  This system didn't require any cowl modification.  Their new system required a couple of small cutouts in the cowl.  That's why I didn't go to it right away, because I was worried about how hard the cowl mod would be. I didn't want to get into fiberglassing or anything again.  That all got thrown out the window and priority went to getting a better system after I had my 3rd crack.  This time it cracked up by the #3 cylinder flange.  That's a much worse place to have cracking.  The crack happened as I got a couple of aerobatic maneuvers in, and I promptly landed.  I saw the issue right way, found a local welder and they fixed it within an hour, and I headed home and grounded the plane until I got a new system. 

This is that new system.

I'll let the pics speak for themselves, but it's basically the same thing, with some minor tweaks, the biggest being that rather than come together and go up and over the nose gear mount, it just goes down into the cowl exit area and out the belly.  It's a double 2-into-1 system, with plenty of breathing.  More below...

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Installing it wasn't bad at all.  Just unbolt the old system, and start bolting up the new.  Move the exhaust hanger locations in the rear a little, drill the holes for the EGT probes, and then trim the cowl.  What I did for cowl trimming is this:  First, I basically got the system swiveled to where I wanted it, and then I installed the cowl.  In the area where the tail pipes were, the cowl was being pushed down by maybe 1/2", so, I left out the bottom screws, used some dry-erase marker to mark approximately where my pipes would need to be trimmed, swung the tailpipe over, and took a die grinder sanding drum to the cowl.  Test fit by swinging the pipe in place.  Not enough clearance? Still hits? Swing it away and grind some more.  It took me all of 15 minutes to sand in the 2 pipe slots.  If I'd have known it was going to be that easy, this would have been done 2 years ago!   Now I have a system that is easier to hang, lighter, and won't ever hit that tunnel wall again.

The only complication was, the #4 down pipe tapers inward more than the old pipe did, and if you have an RV-14, you know that the fuel red cube is mounted in that area.  Well, the hose then came within 1/4" of the heat shield on the pipe.  That's too close for comfort, so I had to remove the 45 degree fitting I had on the red cube, and re-clock it to give a little more berth.  Then the fit was fine.  Done!  (Until my first test flight)

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Red Cube Fuel Transducer Replaced

So yeah, while I flew my test flight for my new exhaust system, my red cube sensor finally gave up its life.  This sensor had been sporadically either reading too low, or erratic, for a while.  It wasn't reliable maybe 2% of the time, but that's 2% too much.  Many flights it would be good, but plenty of times it would drop to zero fuel flow, which is not possible.  So, I purchased a spare and planned to replace it. 

The first pic is my new sensor.  The last pic in the series was my old.  When I originally installed this, I wrapped it in foil to reflect the heat.  After it started to act up, I had purchased fuel transducer wrap from aircraft spruce and wrapped it in that firesleeve too, then covered it in foil.  My fuel lines are also covered in silver reflective material.  So when this failed, I had to pull it all off, replace the sensor, and then cover it all back up again.  At least it is done.  I see many people have issues with these red cubes.  I just wish we could have them be as reliable as my RV10's FloScan.

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Engine Dryers for the Planes

FINALLY!  A project that is an optional thing, not a maintenance problem that needs to be dealt with!

One thing about flying and living where I do, there are many times of the year where there is a lot of humidity in the hangar, and thus in the engine as well.  Moisture is the enemy of steel in the engines, and I'd always wanted to have an engine drying system like so many other people have either purchased or made.  I just needed to get a start.  Some of the commercial ones come with fancy humidity monitoring, and in nice latching cases.  I don't need the monitoring...there's really no reason you can't run these things 24x7x365 if you want to.  Once it's dry, it doesn't hurt to dry it further.  So, I started trying to figure out what I wanted to buy.  I based it all on a medium sized harbor freight sealed latching case.  It was nice in that it lays flat, contains most of the components, and is very durable.  Then I needed to track down the desiccant containers to use.  I purchased 3x8lb containers of desiccant on Amazon (Building 2 of these systems so needed plenty), of the color changing variety. It's blue when it's dry, but turns pink when it gets used and moisture hits it.  I purchased 2 aquarium pumps that had good reviews and ran on 110v.  When they arrived I realized they didn't have inlet hoses, but just breathed in through their shell....so that means they can just sit in the case.  I bought a couple of sockets like what computer power cords use, so that I could have a detachable external power cord, and cut those into the case.  bought 25' of 2 colors of silicone 3/16" tubing for aquariums, and drilled 2 holes through the case for the inlet and outlet holes.  I then bought 4 containers of ocean spray cranberry juice and promptly drank it.  And I cut up some old packing foam to keep everything from sliding around too much.  Oh, and the hard part: I bought lots of rubber stoppers.  I bought them with holes in them, but never seemed to buy the right size stopper.  Both planes use different stopper sizes for their oil dipstick and for there crankcase vent tube, so it was actually much easier to just buy white rubber undrilled stoppers and buy a stopper bore kit on ebay that I could drill through them with.  It's a cool tool.

Here's how it goes together.  The outlets of the pump (2) go into holes in both bottles caps that are drilled just right to be a tight fit on the OD of the tubing.  The air is forced through the jug of desiccant.  In the BOTTOM of the jug are lead weighted pump filters that came with the pump. These keep any dust from entering the lines.  The air goes through those filters, out 2 tubes that exit the bottle, and then Y together and exit the case.  So you're pumping ambient air from the case into the bottles, through the media, out the tube to the outside of the case.  From there, it goes into the oil filler dipstick hole on the engine, dries the engine out, and another stopper goes into the breather tube and returns the air to the case.  It's closed loop, so the desiccant lasts a long time.  I also purchased vinyl caps for my exhaust to prevent moisture entering there as well.  The whole system is connected to a couple of wifi controlled outlets, so I can turn it off remotely if I wish.  It was cheap enough to build, and rust really will never form if the humidity is maintained very low.

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