McDONNELL DOUGLAS (MDC) has teamed with Alenia subsidiary Aeronavali to launch a DC-10 product-improvement programme ranging in scope from a completely new, two-crew, digital flightdeck to a full conversion from passenger to freighter.

The plan is aimed mainly at the expected growth in freighter applications of the older tri-jet. "We're looking at easily 100 aircraft over the next 10 years, and maybe a lot more," says MDC maintenance and modification engineering general manager, Bradley Foreman. Some 420 DC-10-10/30/40s are now in service, many with projected airframe lifetime extending beyond 2010.

Five major building blocks make up the improvement plan: a passenger to freight (PtoF) modification; improvements in performance and dispatch reliability; reductions in maintenance costs; and an avionics upgrade which includes a new cockpit.

Target base price for the PtoF work, plus other elements of the modification, is between $5.7 million and $7.6 million, depending on aircraft age and condition.

Work on the PtoF conversion is being divided into five modules. Aeronavali has completed the design of a modular main-deck cargo-door installation which makes up the third of the five modules, and is already manufacturing tooling. MDC has been working on a simpler method of strengthening the centre wing-box and floor supports, which forms the second module. "We've taken out about 80% of the work required for that," says Foreman.

"We're now looking at how to do the main-deck floors which make up the first conversion module," he says. Modules four and five cover installation of barrier nets, internal cargo-handling and smoke-detection systems, and the conversion of the lower-galley compartment to full cargo.

Conversion time is being set at between 80 days and 120 days. "The work will be done at Aeronavali, and if they run out of space it will be performed at DynAir in Phoenix, Arizona," says Foreman. MDC has been using DynAir to perform recent conversion work on Alitalia MD-11 Combis and a passenger-to-freighter MD-11 conversion for Korean Air.

A range of performance improvements initially developed for the MD-11 is being offered for the DC-10. They include drag-reduction features, such as slat seals, windshield-wiper fairings and wing-pylon fairings, as well as some range-extension options, such as auxiliary fuel- tanks and empty-weight reductions. General Electric is offering upgrades of the CF6-8 engine from C to C2 standard.

Dispatch reliability will be boosted with replacement and upgrading of the avionics suite, electrical system and introduction of a Parker-Gull fuel-quantity indication system. An on-board maintenance terminal, developed by Computing Devices International, and on trial in various formats with FedEx and United Airlines, is also part of the avionics upgrade.

MDC has also undertaken a major review of the current maintenance and ageing-aircraft programme work to streamline requirements and reduce aircraft down-time. "Performing an MSG [maintenance steering group], we've cut the scheduled maintenance costs by 10-20%," Foreman says.

In a separate move, Alenia has signed a deal with MDC to extend its production of fuselage components for the MD-11. The agreement doubles the Italian company's stake in the programme, and now includes supply of the nose, J-box and fuselage panels.

Source: Flight International