After 10 or so years of flying and who knows how many dollars paid to an FBO to rent an airplane, I recently joined the ranks of aircraft ownership. (What did I buy? A 1968 Piper Cherokee, thanks for asking.) A few days ago I had one of those revelations. This one was the “I can’t ask the flight school for help anymore” revelation.
You know the “ask the flight school” impulse. The landing strut doesn’t look right, but you’re just not sure, so you…ask somebody at the flight school to look at it with you. Or the left landing light isn’t functioning. You can still fly, but when you get back on the ground you note it on the squawk sheet and now it’s the flight school’s problem to deal with.
In my case, I remembered that I need to keep close tabs on my airplane’s tire pressure (which of course you need to do anyway, whether you rent or own). And I realized that I can’t ask the flight school to help me check the pressure anymore. So now I’m also the proud owner of a tire pressure gauge.
Thankfully, in 10 years of renting I’ve picked up some knowledge from airplane owners to help prolong the life of an airplane and hopefully keep annual inspection costs within the realm of sanity. I share these with you so that, as you fly airplanes you rent, you’ll develop good habits that will put a smile on the owner’s face. And should you choose to buy an airplane, these habits will be second-nature.
1. Keep it neat. Don’t trash up the airplane with soda bottles, candy wrappers, or anything else. My friend Lin once found a used diaper in her beloved Piper Archer that she leased back to the local flight school. Gross.
2. Nothing on the top of the instrument panel. Don’t get into the habit of placing a headset, kneeboard, or anything else on the top of the airplane’s instrument panel as you preflight. These can scratch your windshield.
3. Lean the mixture. On the ground, before taxiing, lean the mixture. (Follow your airplane’s POH recommendation in this regard.) This will help to prevent carbon buildup on the spark plugs. (And hey, the February 2011 issue of Flight Training happens to have a handy tech tip on cleaning spark plugs during a magneto check!)
4. Be judicious with the lights. If you are in the habit of turning on the landing lights before takeoff and leaving them on throughout the duration of the flight, it’s not a crime. But it does wear the lights out quicker. And, as another owner once told me, they’re expensive. So follow your checklist and shut the landing lights off during cruise. (If it’s a hazy day and you want the extra insurance that you’ll be seen, that’s another story.)
5. Don’t ride the brakes during taxi. These are expensive to replace, too.
6. Button up the airplane when you’re finished. Make sure the gust lock is in place and the airplane is locked and securely tied down and chocked. If somebody is literally walking out to the ramp to take the airplane from you as you shut down, obviously this isn’t necessary, but for every other occurrence, it should be.
Got any more “act like an owner” tips? If so, throw them in the Comments section.
—Jill W. Tallman