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Old 04-19-2018, 09:41 PM   #1
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Why I despise the suicide door design on Airstreams

I wonder if Airstream ever did any Fault Analysis and Mitigation on the trailers?

A failure of the suicide door latch at even moderate highway speeds results in near catastrophic destruction of the door, loss of use of the entire camper, and high costs to repair. In addition, the loss of the door permits rain and snow and other moisture to enter the trailer and ruin the plywood floor around the door -- another poor design choice when composite flooring like Coosa board exists, which, in addition to being near water-proof, is also lighter than plywood, while being just as strong and easy to work with. (and the cost to replace even one section of subfloor exceeds the material costs to install waterproof composite flooring)

I realize that the excuse Airstream uses for such a contemptible door design has to do with allowances for the awning arm, but a quick look at my old Caravel reveals space to move the offending arm 12" or so forward, which would be more than enough space to mount a forward-opening door and still allow enough swing to open >90 degrees. A failure of the door latch in this forward design would merely result in the door opening a crack or so, while the wind at speed would keep the door mostly closed. Any necessary structural additions to mount the door and/or awning arm in this manor seems easily justified, given the consequences of failure.

Airstream owners for years have had to jury rig deadbolts, wooden door jams, and ugly swing locks to make up for this loathsome design.

I will upload pictures of my particular door from a '69 model with the forged Aluminum frame, which cracked all the way through in three places, and ripped the inner skin off the frame and badly mangled it. I was able to mostly pound the inner skin flat, save for a 2-inch gash that penetrated all the way through. (Please excuse the sideways orientation - yet another example of poor design plaguing our world)

FYI, JC says that while they can repair such damage, they strongly recommend P&S trailer. P&S is currently backed up 2 months and charge $115 per hour, with an estimate of 8-10 hours to repair these doors, and they can't guarantee the welds they make on the forged Al doors.
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Old 04-19-2018, 11:50 PM   #2
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Obviously, Airstream stuck with the design because my 2017 has the same door, although with a built in deadbolt which is very positive. Someday I may craft the clever wood door catch, JIK.
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Old 04-20-2018, 04:06 AM   #3
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Colin Hyde repairs broken doors also. (upstate NY)
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Old 04-23-2018, 02:34 PM   #4
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An update:

I was able to find someone who does Al welding and works on campers to weld the breaks in the frame as well as add reinforcement. They aren't pretty, but hopefully they are strong. It's pretty tricky to weld Al, plus get the curve right.

Now, just need to reinstall insulation and inner skin, along with some weather stripping around the edges. Looks like there is a bit of a small gap on the upper leading edge of the door, but hopefully that can be remedied with weather strip.
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Old 04-23-2018, 03:11 PM   #5
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I installed the Fiamma Safe-Door Frame Lock on the 19' Bambi with the suicide door and liked it so much that I installed it on the 23FB with a standard opening door as an extra lock. There is just no way that the door will open with these locks, and it can be used if the door is open but the screen door is closed as a deterrent. Fiamma USA used to sell them but they no longer do, so I ordered the one for the 23FB on ebay from an rv place in GB. Takes a little longer for delivery.
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Old 04-23-2018, 03:48 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Steamy1 View Post
I installed the Fiamma Safe-Door Frame Lock on the 19' Bambi with the suicide door and liked it so much that I installed it on the 23FB with a standard opening door as an extra lock. There is just no way that the door will open with these locks, and it can be used if the door is open but the screen door is closed as a deterrent. Fiamma USA used to sell them but they no longer do, so I ordered the one for the 23FB on ebay from an rv place in GB. Takes a little longer for delivery.

Thanks. Looks like an excellent idea.
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Old 04-23-2018, 06:34 PM   #7
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Well, it did take 49 years for the door to fly open. Perhaps something changed with the latch or perhaps the door wasn't securely closed and locked. I have been guilty of the latter more than once, but have never had the misfortune of the door opening while driving.

The only way the door on our 19' could be hinged on the right (instead of the "suicide" left) is if the door were moved further back which would cause great problems with the interior layout. We like the layout, so accept the door.

When I don't forget, our door is fully latched with the latch locked and with the exterior deadbolt locked when driving.

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Old 04-24-2018, 03:01 AM   #8
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Old 04-24-2018, 07:18 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by skyguyscott View Post
An update:

I was able to find someone who does Al welding and works on campers to weld the breaks in the frame as well as add reinforcement. They aren't pretty, but hopefully they are strong. It's pretty tricky to weld Al, plus get the curve right.

Now, just need to reinstall insulation and inner skin, along with some weather stripping around the edges. Looks like there is a bit of a small gap on the upper leading edge of the door, but hopefully that can be remedied with weather strip.
A little off subject but weld looks like Pigeon S**t on a totem pole. The shop that does my welding for Al. and other TIG welding say looks like 3rd grader job. Be very careful when having welding done as some are pros and some like me, cannot weld worth a Dam. I agree about suicide doors but AS has this way for ever and finally started some mods to change
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Old 04-24-2018, 07:37 AM   #10
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I also have the cast aluminum frame on my 71 GT. My frame was broken in several areas and I had a fried of mine weld it up. I went ahead and replaced the latch and the interior and exterior skins. The repairs are in my thread below.
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Old 04-24-2018, 07:38 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by skyguyscott View Post
An update:

I was able to find someone who does Al welding and works on campers to weld the breaks in the frame as well as add reinforcement. They aren't pretty, but hopefully they are strong. It's pretty tricky to weld Al, plus get the curve right.

Now, just need to reinstall insulation and inner skin, along with some weather stripping around the edges. Looks like there is a bit of a small gap on the upper leading edge of the door, but hopefully that can be remedied with weather strip.
scott - hello - my name is william and i sent you a PM - i have the same issue with my '65 airstream door - door slammed open with previous owner during tow and from what i can see, frame is cracked in 2 places on just the hinge side above and below hinge area - fortunately the skin on both sides is fine and no damage to body skin.

those small cracks prevent door from closing properly at top and bottom and i need it repaired

**is there another piece of framework in the middle section of door?? it seems weak in the middle area also and wondering if that also cracked but i cannot see due to skin covering it.

**was also wondering if you were able to have it welded without having to remove the exterior skin which would be a major job drilling out all those rivets?

- if you could email me and send details on shop and cost to repair i'd appreciate it - cerialephotography@yahoo.com

regards,
william
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Old 04-25-2018, 08:01 AM   #12
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I also have the cast aluminum frame on my 71 GT. My frame was broken in several areas and I had a fried of mine weld it up. I went ahead and replaced the latch and the interior and exterior skins. The repairs are in my thread below.
Just some clarification here. My welding friend is a certified aircraft welder (go figure). I removed the skins to weld. We welded the cracks from the center then stepped top to bottom to insure correct door contour. The exterior skin thickness was stepped up to .040 and installed first with additional rivets to create approx 1" or less spacing. The interior skin creates a torque box and locks in the contour, also with additional rivets. I used aircraft Cherrymax rivets for this as they are considered a structural rivet.

I replaced the latch with one that has a built in dead bolt and used the original striker plate.

I find this type of work fun and its not really a challenge for me, but understand that I have been doing aircraft structural work for over 40 years. I also understand that this is very difficult for others to do.
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Old 04-25-2018, 10:21 AM   #13
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Thanks for everyone's help.

A couple points: Yes, the new welds are ugly, but I needed the trailer yesterday, not July, and this guy did three welds for under $200, so you get what you pay for. When your appendix burst in Idaho, you see the ER there, no matter how good your NYC specialist is. I had this happen to me once before years ago and a race car friend did a beautiful weld job for me, but he is in Texas, I'm in Ohio. I also had installed a better door latch at that time to supposedly prevent this from ever happening again. It did. Bad Airstream design. Bad.

The best way to weld the frame is to completely remove the door and both skins so you can weld all the way around and install reinforcements. You can weld the frame with the outer skin on, but if you do that, the heat from the torch can warp and deform the outer skin and you will no longer have a good, flush seal.

P&S trailer will do it correctly, but it will cost you >$1000, once they get around to it.

And, to try to excuse Airstream for it's awful design by noting that it has had suicide doors for decades is the same as saying the O-ring design on the Space Shuttle worked fine for 25 launches. Until it didn't.
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Old 04-25-2018, 11:08 PM   #14
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Bad Airstream design. Bad. ......to excuse Airstream for it's awful design by noting that it has had suicide doors for decades is the same as saying the O-ring design on the Space Shuttle worked fine for 25 launches. Until it didn't.
Ah yes, but I am afraid I think it is a reasonable design fulfilling a distinct purpose. It was not possible to have a different type of space shuttle, but that is not true of trailers. Perhaps the answer, for those who are convinced the design is bad, is to buy/own a different brand of trailer. Or, find a way to secure the door satisfactorily.

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Old 04-26-2018, 04:25 AM   #15
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Well, I'm confused. If the deadbolt is locked, how is it possible for the door to fly open?
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Old 04-26-2018, 08:58 AM   #16
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The original latch installation did not have a deadbolt, and a deadbolt was not factory installed.
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Old 04-26-2018, 09:26 AM   #17
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SUICIDE DOOR


Let's dispel the ever perpetuated myth that it has anything to do with the awning support arms.


Hinged on the left, with outward swing, it is a “right-handed” door. Decades of trailers that pre-date awning arms were most often designed with suicide doors because of the floor plan. There were no awning arms back then. Majority of awnings were rope and pole which couldn't interfere with doorswing.


In the years preceding air conditioning, in the most popular floor-plans, ventilation of the front salon (often doubling as a sleeping area) took precedence in design. The cross flow breeze was achieved by opening the windows, which were most often top hinged (awning style) for greatest airflow. Sometimes sliding, and even roll-down like automobiles are found. If the door was a Left handed, when open, it would impede maximum airflow. Secondary to ventilation, was the view to outside. An open door blocking the view from salon was avoided by a suicide door. Sometimes a window in a left-handed (non suicide) door would exactly overlay the salon, front room, livingroom, window.


That is the reason for suicide doors… Designing for maximum Ventilation, and an unobstructed view. It was later, that modern awning mechanisms came to interfere with the historically accepted design.



The sixties Airstreams were designed with rope and pole awnings in mind. Yes, there were some budding, innovative after-matket attached awning designs adapted to the sixties. The ZipDee website shows their “Oldest Known” first attached Airstream design on a seventies model.


The awning arm is not to blame on a '69 Caravel. Airstream's shallow engineering gene pool, combined with build cheapest way (they wouldn't make a left handed door just for the Caravel, It got the same cast door as all the big trailers), use up old/existing stock, unconsciousness, inattentiveness, terminal cluelessness, all combine to a haphazard occurrence of door swing in Airstreams.



Though the body contour and aluminum rib structure of Airstreams adds to the challenge, there are too many examples of improperly hinged Airstream doors. Throughout history, Airstream's doorswing ignorance is unexplainable. Some modern Airstream door-swings were still designed to break open windows. How does this dimwitted flaw get into production?


Today's attached awning support arms are a ridiculous hassle, and hopefully will be engineered out of awning design. There are some pretty clever innovations on the horizon.


Even if you have a dead-bolt, the redundancy of a home-made suicide door wedge is absolutely necessary…
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Old 04-26-2018, 01:46 PM   #18
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Another door-latch aid…


A common space-age plastic called Delrin (“Polyoxymethylene (POM), also known as acetal, polyacetal, and polyformaldehyde, is an engineering thermoplastic used in precision parts requiring high stiffness, low friction, and excellent dimensional stability”) can be cut to replace the original strike-plate.



The leading edge can be chamfered making for quiet door closure. Depending on the door to jamb clearance, the thickness of Delrin plate can be chosen to allow the latch bolt to achieve greater tooth into the jamb.…




Nothing is safer than a suicide door wedge...
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Old 04-27-2018, 07:02 AM   #19
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Old 04-29-2018, 05:47 PM   #20
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Well, this has turned into a most interesting and informative thread. Thanks especially for the suicide door history. Love, Love LOVE the WB pick with the door wedge! Nice PS job!

I am also intrigued by the new material for the door jam.

I remain perplexed regarding the logic of the design. I assumed there was a reason for it, just not a good compelling reason that would override designing a forward opening door to mitigate catastrophic failure. A door must first be a door, after all, one that works to keep out elements and allow access. And any design requiring the end-user to jury rig and fix is by definition a poor design.

For anyone interested, the Space Shuttle actually underwent numerous design changes over the years. Any engineer will tell you any design is a study in compromises, the Space shuttle design is exceptionally legendary in engineering circles for that -- all compromises made boiled down to mostly budget reasons -- sound familiar? The Rodgers Commission report on the Challenger disaster is especially critical of some the shortcuts and lack of testing. The Columbia disaster sealed the fate of the whole launch system, the fundamentally unredeemable design abandoned for a return to a safer, more reliable capsule on top of a rocket stack.

I wish and hope Airstream will adopt some form of Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) or Failure mode, effects and criticality analysis (FMECA) to bring Airstream to the next level of reliability and robustness. Such an approach would certainly isolate and eliminate such bonehead items like the suicide door on an Airstream, a betrayal of the very name "AIRSTREAM!"
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