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Getting the Most from the Franklin engine

By Steve Brousseau
From its very beginnings in the Bell 47 helicopter, the Franklin engine has been the target of criticism for a
multitude of reasons. It is generally viewed as being underpowered and difficult to start (especially in cold
weather). Bell 47D, D-1, and Bell 47G owners often complain about oil leaks that are difficult to detect and
stop after tireless efforts.
When the military began with the 47D in the late 40s with the H-13 designation, helicopters were new and
unfamiliar to the mechanics faced with the challenges to keep them flying. It took considerable time for
maintenance personnel to get the required training and experience on how to maintain helicopter engines. While
it generally agreed upon that the military had to come up to speed quickly with helicopter technology, time and
experience were not on their side. When the Korean War broke out in June of 1950, the Bell 47’s Franklin engine
was quickly put to the test under combat conditions, along with the typical wartime problems with spares,
supplies, and lack of experienced personnel. As a result, these problems contributed to an overall lackluster
reputation of the Franklin.
When properly maintained and understood, the Franklin engine is a solid and reliable power plant for the Bell 47.
From one Bell 47 to the next, each engine has its own idiosyncrasies. If you are an owner or operator, there are
some simple and low cost solutions that will allow you to get the most from these engines. As both an owner and
operator, I have found answers that deal with some of the issues that are most often the subject of conversation
around the Franklin, as covered in this article.

Bell 47G with Franklin 6V-350, 235HP engine (Photo by Steve Brousseau)

Franklin engine models The Franklin engine came in several versions rated from 178HP to 235HP. covered in the next section The photos below show these parts of the engine. consumption. 3. once the oil sprays around the engine in flight. oil quantity. There are three likely places where oil will escape: 1. D1. but Franklins do leak in varying degrees! No matter how small the leak. pressure. and From the valve covers. oil pressure. and filtering No aircraft engine should leak. From the manifold crossover drain located between the oil sump and the accessory case. it’s hard to tell where exactly it’s coming from. oil filtering Valve cover variations and recommended gaskets Starters and starting techniques Oil system and points of leakage. G. with or without oil drains. From the engine breather hose located below the engine cooling fan. oil consumption. 2. Model numbers and power ratings include: • • • • • 6V4-178 at 178HP 6V4-200 at 200HP 6V-335A at 210HP (as used in the Bell 47D. Bell 47 “ Super G” with retrofitting to earlier models) The remainder of the article will cover the common issues and solutions: • • • Oil system and points of leakage. Manifold crossover drain behind brass fitting (Photo by Steve Brousseau) . and H) 6VS-335 (turbocharged 210HP version used in Bell 47G3) 6V-350A at 235HP (upgraded 210HP.

the valve closes. the drain then allows oil and/or fuel to escape. Once the cap is removed. This drain is intended to stay open.Engine breather hose (Photo by Steve Brousseau) About the manifold crossover drain The presence of an open drain on the manifold crossover has raised a number of questions as to its real purpose. as it is very narrow in diameter and will have little or no impact on the induction system. At engine shutdown. however. On Lycoming engines. residual oil that seeps from the oil system will also find its way here. . Other engine owners actually have the drain capped off with an AN-type fitting. There is also some question as to whether the drain should “self-seal” at startup via a check valve (a small ball in the drain assembly that seals the outlet). In the Franklin. It is also associated with the oil pressure relief and must be removed if an oil pressure adjustment is required. if present. the valve opens and allows fluid in the pipe to escape. At engine startup. the purpose of the drain is to discard excess fuel from the manifold at startup. According to engine experts. An over-primed and flooded carburetor will expel the fuel to the low point in the manifold and subsequently drain out. the manifold crossover uses an AN-type fitting with a check valve.

The gaskets only cost a few pennies from your airport maintenance shop. Removing and examining the spark plugs will reveal this. keep the level at 9 quarts at every pre-flight. A Franklin engine. requiring that you open the cap on occasion to allow fuel and oil drain off. If your engine has the drain valve permanently capped off. the opposite would occur and a possible “rich-condition” would exist. the Franklin has no reserve oil tank. oil pressures will begin to decrease. the engine consume approximately a half-quart of oil. the engine will discharge the excess oil through the engine breather hose. After learning this lesson. if your engine calls for 10 quarts at the oil change interval. If the sump of overfilled. Oil pressure and consumption The Franklin manuals indicate an oil consumption rate for each of their engines. . like most aircraft engines which are of a vintage design will consume oil. A kinked gasket will result in oil leaks. the stick should read in the “7” vicinity on the stick and maintained there. it is a smart practice to bring a quart or two along with you.If the drain uses a fitting larger than the one originally called for. Similarly. Oil filtering The Franklin engine has a marvelous oil filtering system that uses a layered pancake series of screens enclosed in a sealed funnel-shaped canister. fuel and oil will build up in the crossover pipe. then the engine is running excessively rich. a normal reading of 60 PSI at 3100 RPM will show between 50 and 55 PSI with less oil in the sump. the center frame and tail boom required extensive cleaning to remove the “blown-out” oil. In my experience. the stick should read in the “9” vicinity on the stick after initial run up. Slowing pulling on the mixture lever at engine shutdown will normally indicate if the engine is going to a lean mixture as the engine RPM will increase between 50 and 100 RPMs. For example. If there is no or very little change. When I originally acquired my Bell 47G (with the 6V-350). a “lean condition” would exist due to the additional air entering the intake manifold. this is absolutely true. the engine idling oil pressure will be less. it is a good idea to inspect the condition of the crush gasket on the bottom retaining nut. So unless you can buy aviation grade oil at your destination. At the 7-quart level on the stick. the oil blowout stopped and I now fly with a clean engine and center frame. Subsequently. On cross country flights involving multiple stops over three hours. if the sump is down one quart. Remember that unlike the later 47s with the Lycoming engine. the reading will be less if the sump is down one quart. the carburetor would need to have a mixture setting on the rich side to compensate for the air vacuum entering the open drain. In the case of the 6V-350. at the oil change interval. This is far superior to the oil screen used in the later Lycoming engines. 8 quarts would drain into the oil pan at the change interval. As a general rule. I carry an extra quart of oil in my flight bag. which calls for 8 quarts at the change interval. I made the mistake of continually adding oil to the 8-quart level on the stick. Oil quantity Another interesting detail has to do with how much oil you added to the sump. After flights. However. If the drain is capped off and closed. a consumption rate of ½ -pound per hour indicates that after every hour of flight. even by as much as a quart. As oil is consumed. For example. If 35 PSI is normal pressure at idle with a full sump. To compensate.

The original fittings at the sump are also difficult to locate.Oil filter on lower right. Without the drains. it is an outstanding design with an extremely fine micron-type filtering screen. oil will settle in the covers and cause smoky engine starts as the oil is burned off. A Franklin engine expert might be able to provide additional information.) ADC does make an oil filtering kit specifically for the Franklin. At $900 or so. Some engine experts claim that impurities captured by the oil and leading to acidity can cause damage to the valve guides and create valve train problems. It is popular with the Lycomings (due to the poor filtering design on the VO-435. but suppliers like McMaster and Carr have angled fittings that will work. The drain-equipped valve covers are getting hard to find. ADC does run ads in publications such as Trade-A-Plane containing their product and contact information. produces an oiling filtering kit that you can add to the Franklin. The purpose of these drains is to allow oil to return from the valve covers back to the sump. Valve cover variations and recommended gaskets There are two valve cover designs available for the Franklin: those with and those without oil drain outlets. Inc. angled breather hose in foreground. since top valve cover only requires a downstream drain. This provides an added measure of filtering and a state-of-the-art design. installed just aft of the oil cooler. . note the drop of oil hanging at the tip of the hose (Photo by Steve Brousseau) ADC.

Valve covers with oil drain pipes (Photo by Steve Brousseau) .

then you need to replace them with RG-17727 from Real Gaskets.com. They have a Web site at www. If your existing covers are leaking. .realgaskets.Lower valve cover with return line to sump (Photo by Steve Brousseau) Real Gaskets of Tennessee manufactures FAA-PMA valve cover gaskets for the Franklin. These are similar to the rubber canning jar gaskets that my grandmother used to use every fall when canning tomatoes and peaches for the winter. These are best gaskets that I have ever used. They are resusable and provide an excellent seal around the valve covers.

the starter bendix drive moves up to engage the engine flywheel and turn the engine for starting. because the system uses dual pedals protruding both sides of the box beam. During this sequence. it is obsolete by today’s technology. This design requires a combination of foot pedals. and pulleys that make up a mechanical solenoid for energizing and turning the starter. a co-pilot or passenger present could assist by applying the left foot to the starter pedal. The stock starter with the Franklin is the Delco-Remy 1109662. This eliminated the obsolete starting pedals and cable system of the mechanical solenoid. allowing power to flow from the battery and circuit relay to the starter. With the introduction of the turbocharged Bell 47G3 using the Franklin 6VS-335. a fully electric version of the starter was installed using the Delco-Remy 1109697. While this system is generally reliable. cables. However. trucks.Standard valve cover gasket on left. any attempt by the pilot to restart the engine would require moving his right foot from the flight pedal area to the rear of the box beam to engage the starter pedal. leaving the pilot-in-command free to control of the aircraft. FAA-PMA gasket from Real Gaskets on right (Photo by Steve Brousseau) Engine starters The original engine starter for the Franklin engine uses a very antiquated design found in cars. . an actuator lever on the starter is pulled to make contact with electric push button that closes the 24V circuit. In the event of an engine failure in flight requiring an autorotation entry. When the foot pedal is depressed. and tractors manufactured in the 1930s.

Delco-Remy 1109662 converted model 1109697 electric starter (Photo by Steve Brousseau) Original Delco-Remy 1109697 electric starter (Photo by Steve Brousseau) .Delco-Remy 1109662 mechanical starter on left.

or by even upgrading the collective control with the late style G2 starter button and landing light box. . Another interesting point concerning the Delco-Remy starter is that it has an oil drain plug. And one final tip These old engines require as much lubrication as possible from the 100 octane low-lead fuel that we use today. Every Franklin requires its own starting technique. I use a 115. This is especially true when starting the engine. you’ll quickly figure out the required starting technique for the outside air temperature on the day of your flight. please contact me at the e-mail address at the end of this article. But in cold weather. Following the electrical schematic from any one of the later Bell 47 helicopter maintenance manuals will guarantee the proper electrical connections. so be prepared to lower the carburetor heat lever to act as a choke during starting. This gives you the option to drain the old oil from the Bendix drive starter well at your oil change interval. Use discretion when leaning the engine. Engine starting techniques All Franklin engines are different in some way. and G helicopters can be upgraded to use the electric starter by adding an starter key to a convenient location in the cabin. Aviation-grade oil drain plug on Delco-Remy 1109662 (Photo by Steve Brousseau) If you are interested in more information on the electric starter conversion. preheating is must. D1. two full rolls on the throttle and a 45-degree roll will do it under ideal temperatures.Bell 47 D. as significant leaning can lead to valve problems and major engine repairs. you will need to remove the mechanical pulley tabs from the short cross tube immediately forward of the solenoid for adequate clearance. With a little practice and experience.000 BTU industrial job site kerosene heater to get the engine intakes warm before rolling the copter out of the hangar. There was a time when aviation gasoline had far more lead in its composition for valve and valve guide lubrication. Additionally. Generally. Franklins are very sensitive to outside temperatures and a difference of a few degrees can make the difference between an easy and a hard start. Even a pre-heat of only five minutes is enough to prepare the engine for an easy start on those cold winter days.

airworthiness directives. as well as what I have experienced first hand. Other articles: • • • Running the Texas No-Bar Kit Selecting the Bell 47 A short history on N140 Bravo Disclaimer: The information in this article is the result of years of research. member of the Fitchburg Pilots Association (EAA Chapter 1454) flying youngsters in his Bell 47s as a flight leader in the EAA Young Eagles program. This is an information-only copyrighted article and is not to be copied or used without my express written consent. Photo credits are used.Pilot@gmail. originally a G-3B1. contact H13. service instructions. out of Fitchburg Municipal Airport in Massachusetts where he is an Airport Commissioner. as well as promoting aviation and the Bell 47 at charity and fund-raising events. technical bulletins. studying Bell 47 parts and maintenances manuals. For additional questions or comments.About Steve Brousseau Steve owns and operates Bell 47G-2A1 (N1380X). Steve is also a Gold Member of the Bell 47 Helicopter Association and a member of the New England Helicopter Council. I believe the information to be accurate to the best of my knowledge and should only be used as a set of evaluation guidelines (things to look for) when considering the purchase of a Bell 47 helicopter or related components. originally a Bell 47D-1.com. . .. and Bell 47G (N140B).