We remember the 1980s when the business world was atwitter about the promised advent of the paperless office. Lets hope the current commercial efforts to produce a paperless maintenance hangar fare better for those of us who maintain our own aircraft.
Maintenance and parts manuals on CD-ROM make sense, since theyre more compact and durable than paper and allow you to look stuff up in a hurry. Or at least they should.
At least two vendors currently offer CD-ROM based service and parts manuals for differing numbers, types and ages of aircraft. Heres a quick view of both.
Avantext is a high-end reference system, suitable for use by FBOs and A&Ps. The idea is to provide rapid and efficient access to up-to-date service and parts information for the aircraft covered. McCurtain takes a totally different cut at the issue, simply converting public domain documents to CD-ROM format.
Both are in Adobe PDF format, which allows you to zoom in up to 16 times on screen for close viewing. You can also zoom and print a particular section of any diagram in both, in case you left your Official Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass at the house.
Pay attention when printing a particular page or section, as the selection will default to all unless defeated. In addition, you should allow printing of comments, as some pages have annotations which otherwise will not show on the page.
Neither product will tax your computer, a plus if youre planning to retire that five-year-old laptop to hangar duty. Avantext nneds Adobe 4.05 and specifies Windows 95, 98, 2000 or NT and a 200 MHz or faster processor. A 256-color card is required with at least a 2x CD-ROM.
The McCurtain CD manuals require a more recent version of Adobe, running on at least Windows 95 or 98, a 486 processor, 16 MB RAM, and 4X CD-ROM Drive.
Avantext calls their offerings TechPubs. Current products include selected Mooney, Cessna Piper and Maule aircraft and Textron Lycoming engines.
The partner vendors have licensed Avantext to convert their entire technical publications library to CD including, where applicable, overhaul manuals, service publications, alert notice, information letters, numerical parts histories and order forms, in addition to parts catalogs and service and maintenance manuals. Subscriptions are updated quarterly.
Some of the service and parts manuals are crosslinked, some arent but Avantext says all of them will be linked eventually. The parts in lists and diagrams inside the parts manual are hyperlinked, which is a nice feature. Click on the part key in the diagram and you arrive at the parts list and number. Click there and you can complete an order form.
You can also search by keyword or phrase, which is a useful feature if you know what youre doing and youre familiar with the correct nomenclature.
For the non-mechanic owner, however, a text search on bearing, for example, will lead you through numerous parsimonious entries requiring you to jump back and forth in the diagrams to narrow it down to the right one.
Piper service and parts manuals are bundled together, along with SBs and other information at $199 for a single copy. A quarterly subscription will cost $100 more. How many different models are included on each CD depends on the type and complexity.
Everything Piper comes on 12 separate CDs, which run $1980 for a single subscription. (Of course, if you forget to renew at the end of the years subscription, youll have four single copies in hand and we doubt the CD Police will hunt you down and extract your credit card number by force.)
Avantext worked licensing out with Cessna last year and the first two of an intended nine separate CD volumes is in the works. Like Mooney, its subscription only. All 172 models are $849. (The 172 groups is available on CD or DVD for the same price). The 175, 177, 180, 182 and 185 are collected on CDs for $1499. Engine manual CDs are grouped by the number of cylinders. Pricing is the same as for Piper aircraft. Predictably, due to the volume of documents involved, Avantext is moving toward DVD in addition to CD, at least for the Cessnas. The 172s are available on DVD now (same price), with more models to come.
McCurtain scans the original factory manuals and converts them to PDF format, which requires the ubiquitous Adobe Acrobat reader. The proper version is included on their CD. Make sure that you actually look at that file you always skip; you know, the one that says Readme, as correct printing is dependent on specific Adobe preference settings.
While the McCurtain products arent permeated with hyperlinks as is the pricier Avantext product, the CD opens to a table of contents, which allows you to click straight to whichever chapter you want.
Thereafter, navigation in the Service Manual is a snap. Decide which subsection you want from the chapter contents page and Adobe will show a in a pop out window and in the bottom status bar where youve moved in the document as you maneuver the scroll bar.
Finding what you want in the Parts Manual isnt as easy because Cessna tends to assume you know what youre doing and theyre all simply listed alphabetically or in one huge schematic and parts section. If youd prefer (and have the room), you can also copy the entire manual to the hard drive.
One navigational note: the Adobe text search function doesnt work in most McCurtain manuals. This strikes us as more of an issue in the Parts Manual than Service but the vendor advises that text search wont be enabled on any of these because the quality of most manuals simply wont support the Adobe OCR function at an acceptable error rate. For the CDs we reviewed (parts and service for 182s), the scans were high quality and imminently readable on screen. Not every page was exactly plumb, but we didnt note any display where text was actually lost. If youre not independently wealthy, the McCurtain product is the most affordable option weve found for Cessnas.
Just understand that these offerings are affordable in part because they may not be entirely up to date. On the other hand, weve seen Cessna Pilots Association give readers a point out to the McCurtain product in recent subscriber e-mail, so it has to be pretty close.
Current paper parts and service manuals from Cessna are nearly $100 each and, predictably enough, Wichita isnt interested in giving away to third parties the rights to repackage and sell same. Consequently, McCurtains product is limited to documents which it says are in the public domain due to passage of time.
All available models are mid-70s or older. McCurtains current Piper offerings are limited to the Cherokees, while essentially all Cessnas below the 400s are available. Were advised by McCurtain that the difficulty finding 25-year-old-plus manuals in pristine condition for scanning is the reason some models and types are not available yet.
Individual parts or service manual CDs are $20 or $25, depending on model. A combined service and parts manual for the Cherokee is available on a single CD for $45, with a 30-day full refund return policy.
At first blush, one might conclude that a service manual 25 years old isnt worth the shipping and handling, even for a CD, and reputable IAs and A&Ps will pass on the McCurtain product. Nevertheless, odds are not a lot has changed in the meantime.
If youre an owner who wants to know and understand more about either the airplane or what a mechanic is telling you, the McCurtain product is a reasonable option. If nothing else, it could save you the parts number search fees at online or salvage houses.
Another good acquisition along these lines would be to bookmark, download or print out the relevant portions of the recently updated AC 43.13-1B, Acceptable Methods, Techniques and Practices – Aircraft Inspection and Repair, which is available online at http://av-info.faa.gov/dst/43-13.
Obviously, no product will actually save all the trees killed in support of a maintenance FBO, what with all those logbooks, 337s and the like. If youre in the business, have a sturdy PC available for this purpose and if all your mechanics cant just flip to the right page- including revisions-from long experience, the Avantext product might be worth a look. Eventually, we suspect such products will supplant microfiche.
For the average owner who is PC-literate and capable, $20 and change to have a CD parts or service manual handy isnt a bad deal, in our view. Better yet, you can order a demo CD from either vendor online and make up your own mind.
One last mention: Occasionally, maintenance/buying research requires looking up type certificate data sheets or supplemental type certificates. One listing for these is provided on CD-ROM by Summit Aviation, a pioneer in the aviation CD-ROM business.
Summit also has a first-rate searchable library of aviation-related government publications. Contact www.summitaviation.com.
-by Jane Garvey
Jane Garvey is an Aviation Consumer contributing editor. She owns a Cessna 182 based near Raleigh, North Carolina.