Riveer BirdBath in Ground Handling International

The February issue of Ground Handling International featured this great article about Riveer's Automatic Clear Water Rinse System, the BirdBath. Enjoy!

Cleaning up

Corrosion is a killer if we talk about aircraft fuselage skins. Thankfully, though, there are solutions within the marketplace that can arrest the onset of degradation.

The marketplace is not exactly crowded when it comes to manufacturers of equipment designed to clean an aircraft fuselage. But since this operation is not necessarily something that has to be executed every week of every month, arguably there is a smaller requirement for this particular technology in global terms. How technical is it? Well, it is common practice at many stations to utilise domestic apparatus, such as a garden hose, for rinsing down an aircraft after a flight. A proper solution is a little more complex, though, and washing and clear water rinsing fixed wing and rotary aircraft of all configurations can require a slightly more knowledgeable approach. Certainly, there are benefits accruing from keeping an aircraft’s exterior clean: a smoother surface equates to a more slippery shape, for example. And if your aircraft is often flown over or close to salt water, it’s essential to rid the skin of any saline deposits. 

So, has the market moved on much since we last examined the main players over a year ago? The short answer is no: much the same is available in terms of products, it would seem.

Thirty years on

We start our review with a look at the US company of Riveer, which actually celebrated its thirtieth anniversary last year. Conceived as a supplier of pressure washers, custom-built wash equipment and parts cleaners to the government, it wasn’t too long before the company’s founders were looking at taking charge of the engineering process and modifying the manufacturing process to achieve an even better end-product. 

In time, Riveer launched the ACDS (Aircraft Cleaning and De-icing System) for the US Army, which was followed by a wash pad application of interest to the civil sector. (The company’s products, it should be stressed at this point, are not confined solely to the aviation industry: it also supplies systems for vehicle washing as well as applications of interest to the oil and gas sectors). 

In terms of aircraft applications, though, Riveer boasts a total of four within its portfolio. The company’s Aircraft Rinse Cart (or ARC) can spray up to 12 gallons of water per minute out of each wash wand: at 175 psi, the pressure is totally safe for use in conjunction with an aircraft’s skin. This application helps meet the stringent TM requirements for aircraft wash, rinse and decontamination procedures. Although low pressure, the projectile force is sufficient to provide an effective flow for rinsing joints, hinges and other areas of entrapment. ARC’s high flow rate cuts rinsing time dramatically through efficient rinsing of large areas. The ARC is straightforward to operate and maintain and requires little operator training.

Riveer’s Aircraft Washing System has been sold to both the Army and the Navy, although (slightly strange to relate) it was conceived in the harsh climates of the Middle East. It can spray up to 12 gallons a minute and is equipped with a 20 gallon soap tank. With 200 feet of effective reach, the application can deploy a dual gun configuration for an even more effective operation. As would be expected, it is compact enough to make it easily transportable and it can run for up to 12 hours on its standard fuel capacity. 

A third application is that of the Birdbath. In this facility, the aircraft merely has to taxi on to a specially prepared base around which spray equipment is arranged. BirdBath CWRS provides cost savings by eliminating the typical manpower required for manual rinses, while at the same time recycling up to 80% of the water used for rinsing aircraft. The whole operation can take under two minutes (compared to perhaps upwards of an hour if this action were to be performed manually), so is economical on several fronts. 

Arguably the ultimate product is the company’s TAWS: its Total Aircraft Washing System, which comprises a hot water wash and rinse facility. This, again, was a product to come out of a desert environment and like other equipment in the range, it is easily transported. A self-contained solution, it also offers the user the possibility of turbine engine flushing. 

During the compilation of this feature we learned that Riveer was getting ready to install one of its largest and most sophisticated systems yet. Commissioned by Anderson Air Force Base in Guam to support aircraft maintenance, Riveer’s Birdbath Clear Water Rinse System was selected to prevent the corrosion which can be caused by residue build-up on aircraft which fly continually near salt water. 

Any aircraft stationed near salt water must be clear water rinsed at least once every 15 days, according to Air Force regulations; additionally, if one of these aircraft flies then it must be rinsed after the last flight of the day. At a high traffic base like Anderson, this necessary procedure can take up a lot of already scarce resources and space. 

“When this rinse is not conducted regularly, the costs and time to replace parts and grind down corrosion is astronomical,” commented Major Shane Wehunt, of the 36th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Commander. “Once the rust starts happening, it has to be ground out or else it will keep growing, even if the aircraft goes to a less humid location. The Birdbath will pay for itself pretty quickly through the amount saved in the cost of corrosion control." 

In this application, the taxi-through carwash-like system sprays a massive amount of water through eight oscillating water cannon positioned in the four corners of a giant concrete pad. It also has a spray bar, which spans the entire platform for cleaning the undercarriage and the underwing. Comprising Riveer engineered nozzles called APAFN (or Adjustable Pattern Adjustable Flow Nozzles), the spray bar is designed in a way that makes it impossible for any parts to become detached once they’ve been installed: in other words, it is FOD-proof. 

Operated by a touchscreen panel from the air traffic control tower, Birdbath adjusts its spray pattern to accommodate different sizes of aircraft and compensates for wind speed and direction automatically. All of the pumps, drives and tanks that feed the system are housed underground in order to comply with airfield obstruction regulations. 

Not only does Birdbath wash aircraft more efficiently than traditional methods, it also recovers and recycles the water it uses so that it may be reused to wash the next aircraft. Riveer is known for its treatment systems which send dirty wash water through various stages of filtration, including oil/water separation and ozone injection, in order to make the water clear enough to use again safely in future rinses. 

Says Emily Wilkins, on behalf of the company: “Sales in 2013 were up by around 30% on the previous year. We’ve sold a lot of aircraft wash and rinse systems: the TAWS unit has been particularly popular. Moreover, sales have been across the board, with no particular locations any more significant than others. And in response to your question about the level of public interest in this type of product, yes, definitely, we are getting more and more enquiries.”

Engine cleaning made simple

US manufacturer AeroSafe offers some targeted applications in the shape of engine wash packages: there are four in all and encompass aircraft types such as the Challenger, CRJ 200 and CRJ 300. The company says that the easily-fitted  protective covers prevent the accidental spillage of fluids that might harm the environment. Most recently it secured a contract with United for the provision of its specialist engine cleaning units.

Three sizes for an efficient washing operation

The Aviator Group Dino continues to find new customers. 

As a semi-automatic answer to cleaning an aircraft, the Dino can be said to have no peer. It’s efficient, that goes without saying. Moreover, it’s a safer method of cleaning a fuselage than that of employing manpower with lifts and gantries. It’s also a very speedy operation when compared to the traditional methods of hand cleaning. 

“The main reasons for airlines investing in aircraft washing robots have previously been that of appearance, a reduction in man hours used in the washing process as well as cutting ground time for washing activities,” explains Catharina Redgard. “There’s an increasing focus by airlines on fuel consumption, which will be reduced with a frequent and efficient washing programme: this reduces aerodynamic drag.”

The Aviator Group developed the Dino aircraft washing system almost 30 years ago and continues to manufacture the product today. In recent years there has been a significant increase in interest from airlines investing in this equipment and Aviator has continued to develop the product to meet growing market demands. Today, there are three versions available: the Nordic Dino II, built for narrow bodies (with a washing reach of 8.5 metres, which can easily wash up to B757 sized aircraft); the Nordic Dino 777 was introduced in 1997 (with a washing reach of 11 metres with the capacity to wash aircraft such as the B777, A330 and B747); and the final member of the family, the Nordic Dino 4380, which was introduced at end of 2011 and which also boasts a 12 metre reach. The machines are most efficient when working as a pair. 

During 2013 deliveries were made to HAECO in Hong Kong, Cleanco (ADAT) in Abu Dhabi and Singapore Airlines Engineering Company in Singapore. 

The Thai operation in Bangkok, which introduced an efficient washing scheme for its own fleet, has been so successful that more and more third party customers such as Swiss are now washing aircraft there. Thai Airways has now decided to extend the washing bays to other areas at the airport and new machines are due to be delivered to the airport in early 2014. 

Until now the machines have been operated with a cable between machine and the portable hand control. However, in response to customer requirements, they are now offered with an optional wireless control function. Machines with third generation control systems, which are already in operation, have the possibility of being upgraded to existing machines with these new developments. 

The facts are impressive: a Boeing 777 can now be washed in under two hours and an Airbus 380 in about 3.5 hours (this includes the manual parts that still have to be performed by conventional methods). Here, then, is a massive saving when compared to conventional methods.

Such a saving allows earlier access to the aircraft for maintenance or other ground activities. The intensive, manual work is dramatically reduced, which is good news for the workplace from an environmental health point of view. Manpower savings provide a rapid return on investment and the fuel efficiency benefits gained from reduced drag simply makes the equation easier from a financial and environmental perspective.