It used to be that Dennis Nealon only knew about making injection molds, something he has done at his small Mesa, Ariz., shop since 1985. Now, Nealon knows everything thare is to know about air foils and about doing business with large corporations. It started in 1989 when Nealon, co-owner of Arizona Precision Mold Inc., began working with engineers from the nearby McDonnell Douglass helicopter plant. Development of the Notar helicopter was in progress, which included a technology that replaced conventional tail rotors with a set of fan blades inserted into the tail section. Engineers had a problem with the hand lay-up composite blades delaminationg in simulated fight tests and sought Nealon's help to find an alternative porcess or material for the 13 blades needed in each helicopter. The delamination problem had to be solved before the helicopter could go into production.
Engineers doubted that Nealon could solve the problem with an injection molded blade. Nealon was so excited about the project that he began to work on it without a contract.
Besided, he thought, he did not have anything to contract for at the time.
"How much do you wany to pay for something that you believe can't be done?" asked Nealon. "And I had all these big engineers wigh degrees telling me it couldn't be done."
However, the engineers promoised him that if he could do it, McDonnell Douglas would pay for theh engineering and development costs, and give Nealon the contract to mold the blades. Believing a man's word is as good as his bond, Nealon went to work to help McDonnell Douglas solve its problem.
He studied books on air foils, called experts in the aviation field, talked with materials engineers at resin companies and generally spent all of his time over a three-month period becoming an expert.
Nealon also kept careful records of his time, his materials costs to build the mold and the time local molder put in on hundreds of research and development test shots to find just the right compounded material required.
His efforts paid off, sort of. Nealon succeeded in developing in injection molded blade made of glass-filled polypropylene wigh a foaming agent. This not only solved the delamination preovlem and filled the bill for strength, but took McDonnell Douglas' cost per blade from $1,400 to $5.
For his work, Nealon billed the company $80,000. But Nealon said the giant company brushed him aside and told him they would not pay it. They then reverse-engineered the blade, had another mold maker build more molds and are having the parts molded at another shop in Arizona, Nealon said.
Nealon told McDonnell Douglas that he would patent the blade and the process, but the entineers at McDonnell Douglas told him both were common knowledge and therefore unpatentable.
Not to be daunted, Nealon preceeded with the patent paterwork, at an additional cost of about $15,000.
"I just wanted to get paid for the work I did well, and be recognized for it," he said.
On April 4, Nealon received a patent on the air foil blade and methods of making it used specifically in the Notar-type helicopter.
McDonnell douglas spokesman Ken Jensen acknowledged the company did work with Nealon and Arizona Precision Mod; however, McDonnell Douglas refected the work because the cost was too high.
Jensen said the engineer with whom he spoke about this issue seemed surprised that Nealon received a patent. He said the blades are being manufacutred and the company is pursuing it own patent.
Now that he's the owner of the patent, does Nealon plan to sue McDonnell Douglas? "I told my attorney not to do a thing," said Nealon. "I'm not going to tug on Superman's cape.
"It was a worthwhile project and I'm proud that it works," said Nealon, of East Mesa, Ariz. "I feel bad that things didn't work out better so we couldn both be winners in this thing, but the success and the patent is something [McDonnell Douglas] can't take away."
However, Nealon's wife Joan, a co-o