Act like an owner

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


  • Planeology

    My instructor always gets on me about riding the breaks. It is tricky because we have a long downhill taxi on the way to runup. I guess I’ll just have to learn to back off and how much breaking is too much.

  • Greg

    Great information! I’m getting ready to take the ownership plunge (although with a partner).

  • Herb Ludgewait

    Replace pitot cover, Tie down or chock plane, Secure seat belts over seats to prevent soiling and interference with seat tracts or other controls, Be considerate!

  • Steve

    Please move the seat rearward on rentals before you egress. Its knida hard for a tall guy (or gal) to get in behind a short guy (or gal). By the way, I’m a short guy.

  • Richard

    Keep the airplane clean…remove the bugs after every flight, keep the windscreen washed, etc etc etc. Not only will you be a safer pilot, but your airplane might be a knot or two faster :-)

  • David

    Please remove the fuel cards from the airplane. I rent from a busy flight school and regularly remove 2-3 yellow fuel cards from the plane on each flight. I am thankful someone is letting me rent their $150k-$200k airplane, it’s the least we could do.

  • David Stow

    As the owner of a nice plane that is in the club for rental I would just say, “Treat the plane like it’s yours. Does it need a bath, show up one day and wash it. Keep it special and know how to fly it. These little things will let the owner know he/she made a good decision to invest in the plane.”

  • Jack

    Most new owners must leave their planes tied down outside. So one initial decision might be a canopy cover, something flight schools don’t usually bother with but which an owner should consider. And along with the cover comes the need for regular (after each flight) windshield cleaning, to avoid the scratching that otherwise will occur under most covers. A small squirt bottle and a few service rags kept in the plane make this easy to do.

  • Peter Lane

    Acting like an owner means that you get to write the check at the end of the day. Stay ahead of maintenance, even little stuff. Dont leave to tomorrow what needs doing today. It will improve your dispatch reliability if you put the airplane away ready to go on the next flight without any known squacks. Enough of them will come up by themselves without you adding to them. That 68 Cherokee is old enough to have a mind of it’s own–sorta. Dont add to it’s ability to add your problems to it’s own.

  • Tom Trump

    Pick up FOD on the apron when you see it. That little steel screw or rock might nick your prop someday.

  • Howard Rogers

    These are all great tip’s to help you keep your airplane in good and ready condition. I am a big believer in the old saying ” take care of it and it will take care of you ” I’ve been flying for over twenty year’s and it’s worked out well for me. fly safe and enjoy your new airplane ! the older cherokee’s are great ! it’s my favorite airplane to fly.

  • Robert Cone

    Before shutting down, enter the relevant frequencies for departure which might include AWOS, CD, Ground and Tower. Makes the next morning departure a little less hectic. Also, always shut off the master switch!

  • Mary McMahon

    Use Pledge to clean the plane after each flight. Keeps the plane looking brand new and keeps bugs from sticking during flight.

  • Nick Santo CFI-A, I, ME; ATP

    It’s too bad that CFIs don’t have to own an airplane. The amount of ignorant destruction of aircraft would be a lot less if they had to pay for the broken parts. Well trained CFIs should also have a good working knowledge of preventative operations. I see very little of this coming into our operation. Find a flight instructor that owns and flies his or her own planes and you’ll probably get some good advise.

  • Ken Towl

    Acting like an owner means joining one (or more) type clubs. These are invaluable for learning more about the handling and maintenance peculiarities of each specific aircraft, an ideal place to put your questions in front of a large, highly experienced audience, and a great source of camaraderie that adds to the joy of flying.

  • Greg Brown

    I agree 100% with Peter Lane. Preventative maintenance is what it’s all about. Act at the first sign of problems (and/or your A&P’s advice) to fix and/or replace things before they break. You will save lots of money in the long run, and get stranded/cancel missions far less often. One other tip. It sounds counterintuitive I know, but the more often you fly your airplane, the less maintenance it requires. Seriously, fly it at least weekly and hardly anything will ever go wrong. But let it sit unused, and you’ll be plagued with problems when you do operate it. Ie; you will NOT save money by skipping flights. Avgas is far cheaper than disuse.

  • Grant

    Here’s what I consider really little – but makes a BIG difference. I rent from an FBO in Southern California. It hardly rains. BUT, we get a lot of smog, crud, dust etc falling from the heavens that sticks to the windshield – plus you still get bugs! I put a small squirt bottle and rags in my flight bag and clean the ‘shield before each flight. After a while, I always found myself flying the same T182, so I left the same cleaning supplies in a small bag in the plane. Makes a big difference to know that you will always have a clean windshield.

  • Grant

    As Greg Brown just mentioned, flying a plane is actually good for it. Grease gets used, oil circulates, cables get moved. I’ll admit that my next statement is self serving (as I’m a renter), but its valid none the less.

    Find someone else to fly your airplane too. Find someone that is qualified to your standards (i.e. has 200 hours+, 50+ hours in Cherokee’s – whatever you are comfortable with) and let them fly it a set/maximum number of hours a week/month/year for the cost of gas plus a minimal maintenance cost. This way you know your airplane is getting the exercise that it needs and you aren’t having to pay the gas or do the flying yourself.

    Its just a thought! I’m trying to find someone at one of the 30+ local airports that agrees so I can fly for less than $200/hr that it currently costs me. It helps everyone out in the long run. If you know someone that can help me out: [email protected] is my email.

  • Gary Stegall

    If renting, ask the owner/operator to keep a squawk booklet in the aircraft. This lets everyone associated with the aircraft know what needs attention. I keep one in my airplane just to remind me before the next flight what needs attention in case I don’t have time to spare when I put it back in the hangar.


    As an owner get to know your airplane. Dick Collins in one of his videos said he writes down engine temperatures and OAT on every flight. I don’t go that far, but I do write them down on long cross country flights. Knowing the nominal oil temperature alerted me to a problem when the oil temperature on a flight in the fall was ten degrees higher than normal. It turned out to be a loose connection. As you get to know your airplane and its personality, you will notice little changes. Do not ignore them. Find out what caused the change. It is often cheaper to fix it early rather than when it really breaks.

  • Redline

    I’ve owned a 2003 Cessna 172 SP and leased it to a flight school for 7 years. Here are a few hard earned lessons. Learn how high to adjust the seat and do it prior to getting into the aircraft. This saves the hardware and has the side benefit of giving you a consistent sight picture for better landings (I’m 6′ tall and crank the seat to full height, then down 9 turns before climbing in). To save cold-start wear on a fuel injected engine, prime with 1/4″ throttle ’til you see a fuel flow 3-5 GPH. Now, before hitting the key to start, reduce the throttle to just above idle to prevent high revs before the oil has a chance to circulate. Don’t grab the glareshield to adjust the seat, use the post by the door hinge. The glareshield will crack with too much grabbing over time, and it’s expensive. For the downhill taxi guy, use brakes to get slow, then release and repeat before speed gets too fast. By applying and releasing the brakes rather than just riding them, you give them a chance to dissipate heat. If properly leaned, you can keep the RPM lower and save brakes without fouling the plugs.

  • Gomba

    I have a cessna 150 that i have owned for about 10 years. I always enjoy it when i’m at the airport and parents are walking their kids around looking at the planes. I never hesitate to talk to them and even let the kids sit in the plane. But BE CAREFULL One kid walking behind my plane slammed my rudder over to one side. Another, sitting in the cabin
    started yanking hard on the yolk when he realized it moved the elevator up and down. I still let kids look at my plane but at a distances and they don’t touch it unless i am watching and warn them what not to do.

    I have seen many kids walking around the airport, parents nowhere in sight, touching the planes and even climbing onto the wings of the low wing aircraft. They don’t realize how easy it is to damage a plane.

  • John

    All of these are great tips but I’ll add a couple more. Spark plugs are expensive we clean the plugs in our 1956 182 every 100 hours and get double the life. If you can have your prop balanced you’ll have a smoother running engine, top off the tanks after the flight to keep air and subsequent moisture out, check oil after the flight and finally bugs are a lot easier to clean from the windscreen, struts and leading edge after a flight when they’re fresh than after they have baked on in the sunshine and your planemates will appreciate getting into a clean ship

  • Bob

    Re: Landing lights. One of Barry Schiff’s “Test Pilot” columns in the AOPA pilot claimed that landing lights will last longer if left on rather than cycled after takeoff and before landing. I don’t recall how long ago he gave that advice, but it has stuck in my memory.

  • dolphin

    I am thinking of becoming an owner so all of these comments are great. Did you happen to post about the buying experience? I’ve read several books, found a mechanic, talked to a long time pilot friend of mine, called AOPA about the subject but still think I only know 5% of what I need to know.

  • Dale Hanson

    Some of the flight school rentals I encountered were barely safe to fly. The top 2 squaks were seats forward and rear stops didnt work and oil dipstick wouldnt secure, kept spinning. As a former military aviation maintainer I considered these safety of flight write up and would reject them for that reason, do your preflights on rentals very carefully.

  • Gary Ebken

    As an aircraft owner (1968 172I) and A&P, another easy to do tip is to write in your flight log when you add a quart of oil. I write the number of hours flown between quarts added so you have a history, if the time between adding starts decreasing you may catch a small problem before it turns into a big issue

  • C Fred Crawmer

    Jill, I know you’re lovin it. Recently sold our 64 Cherokee 140 & was a bittersweet day. Couldn’t justify the cost if not flying it over 100 hours per year & the thought an engine overhaul/replacement (@ the worth of the airplane) scared me…I’m a chicken. Good gouge on perventative maintenance in the previous comments. Changed oil n had it analyzed every 25 hours, greased struts with a Shell synethic grease frequently & made up window sunshades with insulated Mylar sheet material available from Lowe’s (or your favorite hardware store) @ a very reasonable cost. As am sure your aware there’s a bunch of owner doable PM, do it, if you can’t or pay a buck & learn how to from n AMT…it’ll pay dividends. Happy flying.

  • James Carlson

    Another tip from my mechanic here at KLWM: wipe down the exposed part of the nose strut with a rag to avoid having dirt break the seal. A common cause of nose strut collapse after a period of disuse is crud breaking the seal. It’s easy to recharge with N2, but easier still to prevent the problem.

  • Brian

    I like Grants Idea about flying for gas, I want in on that one too :)

    One tip I could offer is to clean the stick/yoke/wheel after use. Ever notice the slime left by hand lotion? YUK.

  • Jill Tallman

    Thanks everyone for weighing in! You’ve included some great tips, many more than I had hoped for. Dolphin: I have not posted on the buying experience yet, because that will likely be the focus of an article for one or the other of the magazines. I will say that, like you, I read a lot, talked to a LOT of other pilots including more than one owner, and it still seems like I didn’t get beyond the tip of the iceberg.

  • Respect

    I agree with Nick Santo 1000%. Whether renting, owning, or operating for hire, we should treat all aircraft equally and with respect. Treating any airplane “like a rental” only raises the rental cost, increases down time, and could put a future renter in a bad situation. I’m not sure what happened over the last 25 years, but respect for our equipment definitely seems to have become something our modern pilots don’t consider. Why caring for the machine only becomes apparent after buying one is completely beyond me, and Nick is right, finding an instructor who thinks about the plane properly is getting harder and harder to come by.

  • Dean K

    Preheat the aircraft when the temperature is below freezing. In cold weather – let the engine run on idle for a while before jockeying it around. Non-owners don’t care about the life of the engine, so they’ll attempt to start it in these conditions and get going right away because hobbs is money. If the owner tells you, he replaced a cylinder – No touch and goes folks!

    In Piper Aircraft, stop breaking the plastic spacer between the throttle and the mixture control! Don’t rest your hand there and put weight on it. Easy on the door! Don’t force open the handle and/or lock (people have broken it off). If you have enough runway, let the aircraft roll (don’t stomp on the brakes! next taxiway!)

    And if your landings are starting to register on the Richter scale, get some refresher instruction!

  • Dean K

    And one more thing – Avionics OFF before shutting the master. Sheesh!

  • Allan ORTH
  • Chris

    DO NOT leave the radio at the highest possible volume! You may be almost deaf but please remember to turn down the volume and not scare the daylight out of the next poor pilot and passengers!

  • T R Scott

    I am lucky!!! My CFI is an A+P. Having an A+P teaching gives really deep understanding as to what is happening. Mind you I’ve installed, maintained and taught how to use high end xray equipment like cardiac cath labs and worked in the oil fields and grew up in a farm town and it makes me crazy when folks don’t know why water comes straight out of a curled up garden hose or can’t merge on a highway. Not to mention the forgotten scouting code of leave it better than you found it. My EAA club is real demanding on how we take care of our plane. It didn’t take long to understand when everyone is doing it. Maybe the CFIs could start teaching it.