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Category: Aircraft ownership and maintenance (page 1 of 8)

Fix It Now!

Sometimes I just can’t fathom what makes aircraft owners do some of the things they do. Particularly amazing to me are some of the mechanical problems that aircraft owners elect to live with rather than fix.

Now I’m just as averse to spending money as the next guy (and probably more than most). In fact I’ve made something of a crusade out of saving money on aircraft maintenance, and for the past 10 years my company has helped aircraft owners save millions of dollars by avoiding unnecessary and excessive maintenance.

On the other hand, when it comes to my own airplane, I have always had something close to a zero-tolerance policy about mechanical problems. When something isn’t right on my bird, it drives me nuts until I fix it. Almost always, I fix such problems right away rather than putting them off.

My five decades as an aircraft owner has taught me that it’s usually cheaper to fix a problem sooner rather than later…sometimes a great deal cheaper. Not to mention that continuing to fly with a known mechanical deficiency can sometimes be hazardous to your health as well as your wallet.

Fuel LeakFuel leak

Some aircraft owners apparently don’t share my fix-it-now philosophy. Check out this email that I received from an aircraft owner:

Shortly after I bought my airplane last year, I noticed a drip coming from under the aircraft which pooled just to the left of the nosewheel. The drip occurred with the frequency one drip probably every five seconds while the aircraft sat static with the fuel selector on either the left or right tank. Obviously one of the very important shutdown tasks for me was to turn the fuel selector off in order to stop the leak. I never established whether the fuel leaked while the engine is running.

After not flying for the past month, I went out to my airplane last week. The aircraft was leaking fuel despite the selector being in the off position. There was a big pool of avgas beneath the airplane, and the fuel gauges indicated that I had lost almost all the fuel in my tanks…at $4.75 a gallon!

Not understanding why the fuel now leaked regardless of fuel selector setting, I started the aircraft, taxied it around to warm-up the engine and then left it at the maintenance hangar.

I am being told by the very competent maintenance supervisor that originally it was simply a fuel selector gone bad. However, they are now telling me that given that the aircraft now leaks in any position, it’s also a bad engine driven fuel pump. Usually I’d say let’s fix the selector and see if that resolves the problem altogether but I am concerned about the fuel pump going out at some critical time. Please advise.

Here we have an owner who knowingly flew his airplane for a year with a known significant fuel leak in the engine compartment. He only brought it to the attention of his mechanic when he could no longer stop the leak when the aircraft was parked by turning off the fuel selector. Now he’s asking whether it would be okay to fix the fuel selector and continue flying with the fuel leak in the engine compartment unaddressed.

Good grief! I cannot imagine operating my LAWNMOWER with a known fuel leak, much less my airplane. What is this owner thinking?

Exhaust LeakExhaust leak?

While still scratching my head over that one, I heard from the owner of a cabin-class pressurized twin Cessna that made me start scratching my head again:

I don’t push the engines hard, running at 65% power or lower most of the time. However, despite a published service ceiling of 27,000 feet, the engines really don’t perform well over 15,000 feet. I routinely fly over that altitude, but the cylinder head temperatures get a little high, and the engines burn more oil.

Sometimes I have trouble with the wastegates functioning properly at altitude, too, and I get some bootstrapping of manifold pressures (needle separation), which is unpleasant at best (because the props get out of sync), and is dangerous at worst (because the bootstrapping could be due to an exhaust manifold leak). So as a practical matter, I only climb over 21,000 if it is absolutely necessary.

It baffles me how this owner can be sufficiently knowledgeable to recognize that his aircraft has a turbocharging problem that prevents it from operating properly at altitude, and even understands that the problem could well be due to an exhaust leak, yet continues to fly the aircraft with that known deficiency.

Doesn’t he understand that turbocharged twin Cessnas have a ghastly history of exhaust-related accidents, many of them fatal? Doesn’t he know about AD 2000-01-16 that requires repetitive inspection of his exhaust system every 50 hours, and pressure testing at every annual inspection? What is this owner thinking? (For that matter, what is his mechanic thinking?)

Starter drive adapter slipping

The beat goes on. Here’s a post I saw on a popular Internet aviation forum:

On my departure from Pensacola on Sunday afternoon, I turned the key to start the engine (a Continental IO-520) and I could hear the starter motor, but the prop wouldn’t turn. It did twich slightly, but then just sat there.

I have noticed frequently in the past that the prop turns a little and then stops and then a second or two later it continues. Once the prop starts turning, the engine usually fires on the first turn and starts right up.

On my previous airplane, my A&P told me to turn the prop until I hear the click and it would help to start. So, I turned everything off, got out of the plane and turned turn the prop by hand until I heard it click. I turned it again until I heard it click a second time just for good measure. I then got back in the plane and it fired right up like normal.

When I stopped for fuel at Zephyrhills on the way home, the engine started right up with out having to do the prop trick.

I figured I would monitor it and if it acted up again to call in my A&P for a surgical procedure, but after thinking about it this morning I thought I would come to the forum here and see what others have to say.

Continental Starter Drive Adapter

Replies to this owner’s post explain that he was suffering from the classic symptoms of a Continental starter drive adapter (SDA) that is severely worn and slipping. What bothers me is that the owner’s description makes it obvious that he’s been aware of this slippage problem for a long time yet did nothing about it. Even after the slippage got so severe that he nearly found himself stranded in Pensacola, his first thought was to “monitor it” and only bring it to the attention of his A&P “if it acted up again.”

This owner’s approach was clearly to do nothing about the SDA slippage until it becomes so bad that he simply cannot tolerate it any more. This is truly a “penny wise, pound foolish” attitude because every time a Continental SDA slips, it “makes metal” inside the engine. If the owner is lucky, most of that metal will be caught by the oil filter and won’t circulate through the engine and contaminate the bearings and plug up the small passages in the hydraulic valve lifters. If he’s not so lucky, he could find himself buying a $30,000 engine overhaul.

Yet this owner is hardly alone. Countless owners of Continental-powered aircraft have slipping SDAs, but elect to live with the problem until it gets completely intolerable, rather than fix it. That’s not smart.

Fix it now!

I could go on and on, but I’m sure you’ve got the idea. Any time you become aware of something on your aircraft that isn’t quite right, the smart thing to do is to bring it to the attention of your mechanic pronto. If the mechanic agrees that the problem is one you can prudently defer fixing until the next scheduled maintenance cycle, fine. But it’s often the case that the fix-or-defer decision is a “pay me a little now or pay me a lot later” proposition.

An exhaust leak at an exhaust riser flange might be solved with a simple gasket if addressed early. If left unaddressed until the cylinder exhaust flange has been severely eroded, the jug will probably have to come off for expensive rework or replacement.

A slipping Continental starter drive adapter if caught early can usually be fixed for several hundred dollars or so by installing an undersize spring. If allowed to continue slipping until the shaftgear is worn beyond limits, you’re looking at thousands of dollars to repair—or if you get unlucky, a new engine.

A fuel leak caught early can often be fixed by tightening a B-nut or replacing a chafed line. If ignored, it can cause a fire, loss of the aircraft, and perhaps even loss of life.

So, don’t just scribble the discrepancy on a post-it note so you can squawk it at the next annual inspection. Fix it now—or at least discuss it with your mechanic before making a fix-or-defer decision. That’s the smart thing to do.

Mike Busch is arguably the best-known A&P/IA in general aviation, honored by the FAA in 2008 as National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year. Mike is a 8,000-hour pilot and CFI, an aircraft owner for 50 years, a prolific aviation author, co-founder of AVweb, and presently heads a team of world-class GA maintenance experts at Savvy Aviation. Mike writes a monthly Savvy Maintenance column in AOPA PILOT magazine, and his book Manifesto: A Revolutionary Approach to General Aviation Maintenance is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions (112 pages). His second book titled Mike Busch on Engines was released on May 15, 2018, and is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions. (508 pages).

Benevolent or predatory?

The following message was recently posted to my company’s website by a Skylane owner based in Southern California:

My 1976 C182P is in for its annual inspection. The mechanic removed the propeller and spinner bulkhead. (I didn’t know this was part of the usual annual routine, and I don’t think it’s been done before.) The mechanic advised me that he found tiny hairline cracks (they looked to me like tiny scratches) on the spinner bulkhead around some of the bolt holes. How serious is this? Coincidentally, the mechanic said he “just happened” to have used serviceable bulkhead of the same kind that he’d sell me for $1,500.

Cessna 182 spinner bulkheadI found this disturbing on so many levels.

What possessed this mechanic to pull the propeller in the first place? I’ve never seen an annual inspection checklist that called for propeller removal. The normal procedure is to remove only the spinner dome and then inspect the propeller hub and spinner bulkhead while mounted on the aircraft. The mechanic had no business removing the propeller without an awfully good reason, and even with such a reason he shouldn’t have done it without first obtaining the aircraft owner’s permission.

Then there’s the matter of the alleged “cracks” that the mechanic found in the spinner bulkhead. The owner indicated that they didn’t look like cracks, just tiny scratches. There’s no indication that the mechanic performed a dye penetrant inspection to determine whether the alleged “cracks” had any appreciable depth, or whether they were superficial scratches of no real significance.

Finally there’s the issue of the used bulkhead the mechanic “just happened” to have on the shelf and offered to sell the owner for $1,500.  If the owner really needed one of these, then $1,500 might be a bargain price, since Cessna wants nearly $5,000 for a new one (I kid you not).

On the other hand, if the existing bulkhead exhibited nothing more than the “tiny scratches” described by the owner, it would be crazy to replace it for $1,500. If they were indeed scratches and not cracks, then no action would be necessary or appropriate. If they were actual cracks, they could very likely be weld-repaired by a company like K&K Precision Welding in Troy, Wisconsin that is FAA-certified to do such repairs.

“How serious is this?”

Indeed, that’s the threshold question. To find out, I decided to consult with a colleague who is an A&P/IA, owns a nationally known maintenance shop that specializes in repairing single-engine Cessnas, and who “just happens” to own a Cessna 182 himself. Who could be more qualified to assess whether this mechanic was being benevolent or predatory?

I emailed my colleague the Skylane owner’s query and asked for his reaction. His response was too good not to share.

This would be funny if it weren’t so sad. This is one of those stupid mechanic tricks that make the rest of us look bad.

These bulkheads are a well-known common problem area, but one with no known safety-of-flight risk. Worst case, the spinner departs the airplane. When this happened to me, I didn’t even realized it happened until I noticed it on the post-flight walk-around.

In my opinion, this mechanic is taking advantage of the Skylane owner. The owner should absolutely refuse to pay for the removal and reinstallation of the propeller, which shouldn’t have been done in the first place. The owner should demand a dye penetrant inspection of the original spinner bulkhead, performed while he is present to watch.

If cracks are confirmed by dye penetrant, then the owner should get on Google and research his options for getting his bulkhead repaired or finding a replacement elsewhere (eBay is a good place to start). If he must purchase the one from this mechanic , then he should negotiate the price to something no greater than the least expensive alternative his research came up with.

Others might say that the mechanic made a “great catch” and did the owner a favor. In my view, however, the mechanic performed exploratory surgery without the owner’s authorization and for no valid reason. If the bulkhead was actually cracked but the cracks hadn’t yet progressed past the edge of the mounting hardware (and therefore not visible without removing the prop), then they didn’t constitute a safety issue.

Even in the very unlikely event that a hidden crack suddenly propagated to the point of bulkhead failure, the resulting damage would be minimal. Cracks found in the normal course of an annual inspection must be addressed, but there’s certainly no need to take heroic efforts to find them…like pulling the prop.

My best guess is that the mechanic wanted to dispose of the spinner bulkhead he had on the shelf, and decided this owner might make a good mark. I hope he doesn’t get away with it.

It’s not uncommon for mechanics to take over-the-top maintenance actions that have adverse consequences for aircraft owners’ wallets. But in my experience, these arise mostly out of mechanics’ fear of being sued if something goes wrong, and rarely out of greed.

This one might be an exception. What do you think?

Mike Busch is arguably the best-known A&P/IA in general aviation, honored by the FAA in 2008 as National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year. Mike is a 8,000-hour pilot and CFI, an aircraft owner for 50 years, a prolific aviation author, co-founder of AVweb, and presently heads a team of world-class GA maintenance experts at Savvy Aviation. Mike writes a monthly Savvy Maintenance column in AOPA PILOT magazine, and his book Manifesto: A Revolutionary Approach to General Aviation Maintenance is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions (112 pages). His second book titled Mike Busch on Engines was released on May 15, 2018, and is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions. (508 pages).

Physical Preparations For a Polar Circumnavigation

Robert DeLaurentis, author of “Flying Thru Life” and “Zen Pilot”

I was speaking to the Santa Barbara pilot group, “Serious about Aviation,” and asked the question, “What is the most likely part on the plane to fail during a Polar Circumnavigation?” A retired 747 female pilot blurted out with all the confidence in the world, “The pilot.”

The answer caught me off guard and everyone else. The silence in the room was a reality check. We all knew her response was true the instant she said it.

Since then, I have been focusing on how in the world (pun intended) I can reduce my risk of pilot failure to a level that I can accept and will allow me to sleep at night. What you will read in this blog post on “Physical Preparations for a Polar Circumnavigation” and the next one on “Mental Preparations for a Polar Circumnavigation” are my attempts to mitigate risk as much as possible. This allows me to make an informed decision to accept the risk or walk away and piss off a hell of a lot of people.

I believe these nine preparation tips will be of value to all pilots. While you might not intentionally put yourself into a similar situation over the South or North Poles at 40% over max gross, we all know as pilots you can never predict 100% what the Universe will throw your way wherever you’re flying in the air or in life.

Bionic Vision

There is probably no single thing you can do to improve your chances of survival in an aircraft than to improve your vision. Spotting an airport or hazards even a few seconds sooner can save you. Knowing that, I have made my vision a major focus of my pre-flight efforts. I don’t want to have to rely on glasses or contact lenses that could fall off or out during a critical phase of the flight. I would literally be “flying blind” if that happened. For that reason, I had corrective eye surgery and not just the refractive procedure that lasts about five years. I decided to skip that procedure and have the lenses inside my eyes replaced as they do with cataract surgery. One eye needed to be set closer to see the panel and the other further away since the eye muscles of a 52 year old are not as strong as someone younger. The new lenses they put in are clearer than what I had and can actually focus like my original lenses do, which allows me to see both near and far uncorrected.

Bionic Ears

The amount of time you will waste in a cockpit saying, “Say again all after” or worse yet, misunderstanding a critical communication, can be more costly than anything you will ever spend on a noise canceling headset. The technology today is absolutely amazing. The Lightspeed headset I use actually charts the surface of my ear and calculates a mathematical equation to cancel out noise based on the environment where I’m flying. Not only does this keep the cockpit “Zen,” but it makes your flying experience so much more enjoyable. Buy the absolute best noise cancelling headset you can afford. If you need to have a garage sale, work an extra shift, or combine your birthday and Christmas presents from family members, do it.

Train for Life and Be the Athlete that You Are

Pilots are rarely referred to as athletes. In my mind however, pilots are athletes that play in the game of life and death and can’t afford to lose even once. This doesn’t mean you need to hire an Olympic trainer and run marathons, but you do need to get moving. I spend 60-90 minutes a day walking, running or riding my bike in Balboa Park. You need to get your heart rate up. My resting heart rate is currently 50 beats per minute which I’m told is very good. Normal resting heart rate is 60-100 bpm and a well-trained athlete’s resting rate is closer to 40 bpm. As someone who spent years in a gym trying to force my body to be something it was not and nursing one injury after another, I learned we need to train at a rate we can maintain forever and we need to be a little gentler and more loving with our bodies.

Heal Your Body

Next, I did an inventory on my body, noticing anything that would be a physical distraction to me in the cockpit whether on the ground or in the air. If you don’t know where to look, start with any pain you have. I had developed some ingrown toe nails from my days in the military and decided I was tired of dealing with the pain and having them cut out every month or two. This recurring situation could be an issue for me in a foreign country on my three month polar expedition, given that it took three procedures with a month’s recovery for each before the nails stopped growing in the wrong direction. But now I’m free of that pain and can bring my focus back to where it belongs when I’m flying.

Eat Right

I’ve changed my diet. After doing a few three-day juice fasts this past year, I dropped my weight by eight pounds. I started to focus on my energy level based on what I ate. I eliminated meat from two of my three daily meals. I noticed how gluten made my stomach bloat and how meals late in the day caused me to sleep hot for half the night. Processed foods tasted great but made me tired. When I ate steamed veggies or drank a fruit shake instead, I performed better and felt like I was doing something good for myself.

Mix It Up

I learned to fly my Turbine Commander from a very proficient instructor with 10,000 hours in that type of aircraft. When he wasn’t available for recurrent training, I had a moment of panic and then realized I could benefit from someone who had flown in many types of turbo prop aircraft. My new instructor from Access Flight Training Services taught me a few new tricks and I’ve become a better pilot in the process. Before I leave for my Pole to Pole trip I’m scheduled to fly with Mike Jesch a 20,000 hours airline pilot and Master CFI, as well as a factory expert on the Avidyne avionics system that is being installed in the Citizen of the World. Flying with other pilots can teach you new things and build your confidence.

Dress the Part

Flight suits and bomber jackets were designed in the 1940s. Aviation has come a long way and there are now street wear style shoes, compression socks, pants, shirts, sunglasses and helmets designed specifically for pilots. They are functional, highly engineered, hip and cool so you can wear them in or out of the plane. For example, the sunglasses I will use on my Polar Circumnavigation were custom designed by Scheyden for me to handle two light conditions – one below the clouds and one above – with a simple flip of the frame. Aviation and apparel company, Lift Aviation, manufactures clothing that has more engineering design in it than the B-1 bomber.

Robert DeLaurentis, wearing special Scheyden eye wear for the upcoming Pole to Pole flight

Put Yourself First

This one can be tricky and equally critical to your well-being, relationships and productivity. I came to realize that I had people in my life who were making too many demands on my time and were not helping me get where I needed to go. While it’s important to me to be supportive and be there for others, the clock is ticking for my trip. To keep my plans on track I had to start buckling down and focus on my trip and myself. Now I let people know upfront I will make time for them if they are a supporter of my trip, but if not they will have to wait until after I return. I’ve learned to let in people who add to my life energetically. I know this because when I leave an interaction I feel uplifted and I sense they do too.

Build Your Team

When I realized I couldn’t do it alone and no one person has the expertise or time to do everything I started to look for experts in different fields. To train me to survive in the harshest conditions on the planet, I found Tim Kneeland, a survival expert. To help me with go/no go decisions based on weather I asked Mike Jesch, an Airline Captain and master CFI, for his expert advice. To tell me what day to be over the South Pole and what I should expect, I sought out astrophysicist, Brian Keating. To help outfit my plane with the very best aviation gear on the planet, I found over 50 sponsors, all experts in their businesses and, thankfully, willing to help me go the distance with mine.

This list is far from complete but a great place to start as a GA pilot. Please remember that being a pilot is a lifestyle and staying safe requires you to live a healthy lifestyle every day.

Please feel free to share your ideas with the community. The best suggestion gets a signed copy of the second edition of Zen Pilot: Flight of Passion and the Journey Within.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off December 2018 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

What Are The Odds?

I just returned from a 5,300-nm cross-country flight in my Cessna 310.

I love trips like this. It’s one thing to FLY an airplane for fun or sport, and quite another to USE an airplane as a serious traveling machine. I’ve always been a USER, and typically fly at least one transcontinental trip per year, and sometimes two or three.

This was the first of three such trips that my partner Nona and I had planned for 2018. Our itinerary first took us from our home base in California to West Virginia to attend and speak at the Flying Physician’s Association annual meeting at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Spings, West Virginia. Next stop was Rhode Island, where we spent a lovely week of sightseeing in the beautiful Ocean State. Then we headed westward to Montana, where I met up with my colleague Paul New to teach an all-day owner maintenance course at the AOPA Regional Fly-In in Missoula, Montana. Finally, after two-and-a-half weeks on the road, we returned home flying a somewhat circuitous route via Medford, Oregon, to avoid an area of convective weather developing in Nevada. What a fabulous trip.

Mike's X-C Route

Flight planning

This was Nona’s first long cross-country via GA. Most of her previous flights with me lasted an hour or two at the most. She was predictably a bit apprehensive about making a trip of this magnitude in a small plane, so I decided to plan the trip in a way that would hopefully minimize her stress level and physiological discomfort. I vowed to break up the trip into legs of no more than three hours duration (instead of the four- and five-hour legs I often fly when I’m solo), and to choose a route where the minimum IFR altitudes were no higher than 13,000 feet so Nona wouldn’t have to deal with supplemental oxygen (instead of crossing the Rockies in the low Flight Levels as I often do when I’m solo).

We decided to start off flying to Wichita, Kansas, and remain there overnight before continuing eastward. Although I’ve occasionally made it nonstop to Wichita from my home base—the plane carries six hours of fuel—I decided for Nona’s sake to stop for lunch, fuel and restrooms about halfway to Wichita in Show Low, Arizona. Here’s a bit of interesting trivia…

According to legend, the city’s unusual name resulted from a marathon poker game between Corydon E. Cooley and Marion Clark. The two men were equal partners in a 100,000-acre ranch; however, the partners determined that there was not enough room for both of them in their settlement, and agreed to settle the issue over a game of “Seven Up” (with the winner taking the ranch and the loser leaving). After the game seemed to have no winner in sight, Clark said, “If you can show low, you win.” In response, Cooley turned up the deuce of clubs (the lowest possible card) and replied, “Show low it is.” As a tribute to the legend, Show Low’s main street is named “Deuce of Clubs” in remembrance. —Wikipedia

What Are The Odds?

About two hours into the three-hour flight to Show Low, I heard Nona asking me over the plane’s intercom, “What this?” I glanced over and saw her pointing at the vacuum gauge on the extreme righthand edge of the instrument panel. One of the two red balls had popped out, signifying that one of the airplane’s vacuum pumps had failed. The other pump was working fine, and the vacuum reading remained at 5 in. hg., right in the middle of the green arc.

RAPCO 442CW Vacuum Pump

442CW Vacuum Pump

I explained this to Nona, quickly adding that there was nothing to worry about because the airplane has dual vacuum pumps—one mounted to each engine—so the loss of one vacuum pump was only a minor annoyance, and something I’d experienced quite a few times during the 31 years I’d owned the Cessna 310. I further explained that because these vacuum pumps always seem to fail during long trips, I always carry a spare pump in my wing locker, together with all the tools necessary to remove the failed pump and install the spare. I figured we’d do this at some convenient point during the trip, perhaps during our vacation week in Rhode Island.

Nona seemed slightly shaken by the pump failure but reassured by my explanation. Fifteen minutes passed. The GPS showed us less than 30 minutes out from SOW. Then Nona called my name over the intercom and once again pointed to the vacuum gauge. I looked at the gauge. Now both red balls were popped out and the needle read zero. I’d experienced a double vacuum pump failure!

What are the odds? I’d never before experienced the loss of both vacuum pumps during one trip, much less one leg. I believed the odds of this happening were close to infinitesimal. But it happened. Apparently, the Laws of Probability had been trumped by Murphy’s Law.

Truth and Consequences

I quickly sized up the situation. With no vacuum, the vacuum-driven attitude gyro would quickly spin down, roll over, and play dead. The attitude-based 400B autopilot would dutifully follow the dying attitude gyro and put the airplane into a graveyard spiral unless I disengaged the autopilot and hand-flew the airplane—which I promptly did. No big deal, since Show Low was now just minutes away and the weather was typical for Arizona: severe clear and windy.

However, the consequences for the rest of the trip were dire. My personal minimums say that a non-functioning autopilot is a no-go item for flights exceeding one hour. Furthermore, I was flying a VFR-only airplane on a trip where significant instrument weather was forecast in the eastern half of the country. Continuing the trip without pneumatics was infeasible. But canceling the trip was unthinkable. So clearly, I was going to have to replace one of the failed pumps at Show Low before launching for Wichita and points east.

Tarmac Transplant

Failed Pump Innards

Failed Pump Innards

The landing at SOW was turbulent. The surface winds were gusting to 25 knots. We parked the airplane close to the fuel trucks, went inside to place a fuel order, eat some lunch, and use the facilities (not necessarily in that order).

I asked the fueler if there was a maintenance shop on the field. He said no. I asked if there was some kind of maintenance hangar I could use for an hour or two. He said there wasn’t. I quickly concluded that I’d have to replace the pump myself on the tarmac in a howling 25-knot wind. Are we having fun yet?

I asked Nona if she was willing to help me, and warned that she would probably get her hands dirty. She was game. I pulled my traveling toolkit out of my wing locker and borrowed a small stepladder from the fueler. Nona and I gingerly removed the top cowling of the left engine, making sure the wind wouldn’t catch it and wrest it from our grasp. We carefully set the cowling on the tarmac under the wing, hoping it would stay put while we worked on the pump.

The pump transplant itself took us about three hours, twice as long as normal. We were working under battlefield conditions, the wind whistling in our faces, the sun in our eyes. Finally, with the sun low in the southwestern sky, we finished the job, secured the cowling, and started the left engine for the “smoke test” of the newly installed pump. It worked. The left red ball was sucked in, the vacuum gauge needle moved to the middle of the green, and the attitude gyro erected normally. We were back in business, albeit one pump shy of a full load. It was enough.

I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was. I was an A&P. I carried a spare pump. I had all the necessary tools to install it. Had any of those three things not been true, I’d have been in a real pickle and the whole trip might have been in serious jeopardy.

Epilogue

We took off for Wichita nearly four hours behind schedule. As a result, what was planned as a daytime flight wound up being a nighttime flight. That spooked Nona a little, as she’d never flown at night before, and much of the flight was over desolate terrain with very few lights to provide a visual reference. She was very relieved when we touched down at Wichita’s Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport, were marshalled into the Signature Flight Support ramp, and quickly whisked to the DoubleTree by Hilton on the airport.

First thing the next morning, I went online and ordered two vacuum pumps from Aircraft Spruce, to be shipped from their Atlanta warehouse to The Greenbrier. One pump would be used to replace the still-failed pump on the right engine, while the other would become my new spare.

We flew our next three-hour leg to Lexington, Kentucky, in IMC conditions, rented a car, toured around the beautiful bluegrass horse country, and stayed overnight. The next morning we made the short but seriously IMC flight to Greenbrier Valley Airport. The vacuum pumps from Aircraft Spruce arrived during our Greenbrier stay. We considered installing one of the pumps on the right engine before departing West Virginia, but ultimately decided to defer that until we got to Rhode Island.

Nona and I also performed the second pump transplant on the tarmac at Quonset State Airport, but there wasn’t much wind and we got the job done in about one hour flat. Nona proved to be a terrific mechanic’s helper, handing me exactly the right part in exactly the right order like a top-notch surgical nurse.

The remainder of the trip to Montana and California went off without a hitch. After returning home, I researched my maintenance logs to find out when the previous vacuum pumps were installed and how long they lasted before failing. Turns out the left pump lasted for 8 years and 700 hours, while the right pump lasted for 9 years and 800 hours.

What were the chances they’d fail within 15 minutes of one another? Obviously greater than I thought. Hmmm…

Mike Busch is arguably the best-known A&P/IA in general aviation, honored by the FAA in 2008 as National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year. Mike is a 8,000-hour pilot and CFI, an aircraft owner for 50 years, a prolific aviation author, co-founder of AVweb, and presently heads a team of world-class GA maintenance experts at Savvy Aviation. Mike writes a monthly Savvy Maintenance column in AOPA PILOT magazine, and his book Manifesto: A Revolutionary Approach to General Aviation Maintenance is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions (112 pages). His second book titled Mike Busch on Engines was released on May 15, 2018, and is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions. (508 pages).

Is Your Equipment List Up-To-Date?

My 1979 Cessna T310R

My 1979 Cessna T310R

A funny thing happened as I was finishing up the annual inspection on my 1979 Cessna T310R back in March of 2000. The inspection was complete, and I gotten off pretty light. My IA didn’t find all that much wrong with the airplane. (This was years before I became an IA myself.) What discrepancies had been found were now all resolved. The airplane was finally back together and all closed up. The AD research was done. All that was left was the paperwork.

One of the few discrepancies had been an ELT that flunked its annual FAR 91.207(d) test—the [email protected]#$%* thing wouldn’t go off no matter how hard I whacked it—so I had yanked it out and installed a shiny new TSO-C91A unit, complete with a panel-mounted switch/annunciator module. I asked my IA whether or not a weight-and-balance revision would be necessary. It turned out that the new ELT weighed almost precisely the same as the old one, and the panel module weighed next to nothing, so the IA determined the W&B change would be negligible.

“But be sure to update the equipment list,” the IA admonished me

“What equipment list?” I replied innocently. I instantly sensed from the IA’s expression that this was not the answer he wanted to hear.

“Your POH or W&B Report is required to include an up-to-date equipment list, said the IA, giving me his best do-I-have-to-explain-everything scowl. “That list must be revised whenever equipment is added or removed,” he added.

Where’s that list, anyway?

I retrieved the POH from the airplane and flipped to the back of the W&B chapter. Sure enough, there was an equipment list. I showed it to my IA. He shook his head.

“No, that’s a comprehensive equipment list—a list of everything that Cessna might possibly have installed in a 1979 T310R,” the IA explained patiently. “It could serve as an aircraft-specific equipment list if those items that are actually installed in your aircraft were checked off in the comprehensive list. But they’re not.”

Sure enough, the equipment list in the POH had a column titled “Mark If Installed,” but that column was completely blank. There was no indication of what equipment was actually installed in my airplane.

I returned to the airplane and rummaged through my W&B documentation, finally coming up with what I was looking for. It was a yellowed and somewhat dog-eared computer printout on sprocket-fed fan-fold paper—the kind that was used back in 1979—that listed the equipment installed in my particular aircraft when it left the Cessna factory, complete with the weight and arm of each item. The only problem was that this printout hadn’t been revised since the day Cessna generated it in 1979, despite the fact that by now almost all the original factory-installed avionics had been replaced with newer stuff. Sigh.

“That list has to be kept updated to reflect what’s actually installed in the aircraft,” my IA told me said, shaking his head. “How on earth did you go all these years without someone catching this?”

A little research convinced me that the IA was correct. The best reference is the FAA’s “Aircraft Weight and Balance Handbook” (FAA-H-8083-1B) published in 2016. Quoting from this handbook:

An equipment list is furnished with the aircraft which specifies all the required equipment, and all equipment approved for installation in the aircraft. The weight and arm of each item is included on the list, and all equipment installed when the aircraft left the factory is checked.

When an Aircraft Maintenance Technician adds or removes any item on the equipment list, he or she must change the weight and balance record to indicate the new empty weight and empty-weight CG, and the equipment list is revised to show which equipment is actually installed.

Bringing it up-to-date

“Well, what do I do now,” I asked my IA. “Do you want me to mark up Cessna’s printout, crossing off the equipment that has been removed, and adding in the new equipment by hand?”

“You could do that,” said the IA, “but it might be nicer simply to make up a new equipment list on your PC and printing out a clean, up-to-date list.”

That idea appealed to me. It would be straightforward to enter all the equipment into an Excel spreadsheet. In fact, it quickly occurred to me that if the spreadsheet included weight and arm for each item (as Cessna’s original did), it would be easy to have the spreadsheet calculate the aircraft empty weight and CG. Then, when equipment was added or removed in the future, simply entering that information into the equipment list spreadsheet would automatically produce an updated W&B. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced this was the way to go.

That evening, I sat down at my computer and proceeded to enter all the equipment from the Cessna printout into a spreadsheet. There were about 125 items to enter, and it took me about an hour. My spreadsheet was structured in two sections, just like the Cessna printout: Section A contained “required equipment” and Section B contained “standard and optional equipment.”

Then, I went through each W&B amendment in sequence, removing and adding spreadsheet lines to correspond with the equipment that had been removed from and added to the aircraft over the years. To provide traceability, I did not delete any items from the spreadsheet, but simply set the “quantity” field of each item of removed equipment to zero and then added a new line for the new equipment that replaced it. All revised lines were identified with “DELETED <date>” or “ADDED <date>” entries in the remarks column

Finally, I added a third section to the spreadsheet—Section C—in which I entered the necessary formulas to add up the weights and moments for each item in Section B, add it to the standard empty aircraft weight (the weight of a fictitious aircraft with only required equipment), and calculate the actual empty weight and CG of my aircraft.

The whole project took about two hours, and the result was a very nice-looking and up-to-date equipment list.

A few (pleasant) surprises

In the course of making up this spreadsheet, I discovered a few interesting things. The first was that a few of the items of equipment that Cessna listed on its computer printout had never (so far as I could tell) actually been installed in the aircraft. One such item was “Handset & Boom Mic., Combination” (0.4 lbs.), and another was “Approach Plate Holders” (0.2 lbs.). No big deal.

Of somewhat greater significance, I found that certain items on the original Cessna equipment list had been removed from the aircraft, but apparently the removals were never recorded in W&B amendments. For example, when the original Cessna 400 transponder was removed almost immediately after I bought the aircraft and was replaced with a King KT-76A; the old transponder was backed out of the W&B, but its mounting tray (0.6 lbs.) was forgotten. The bottom line is that when the dust settled, I’d picked up a few extra pounds of empty weight for my trouble.

Legal again

After double-checking everything carefully to make sure I’d made no errors, I presented my handiwork to the IA, who triple-checked it and then affixed his signature and A&P/IA certificate number, thereby making it an official part of my Airplane Flight Manual and Weight & Balance Report in the eyes of the FAA.

I’m glad I went through this exercise, although I’m embarrassed that it took me more than a decade to discover that “my papers were not in order.” Perhaps I was the only aircraft owner out there blissfully flying around without an up-to-date equipment list, but somehow I doubt it.

Since that time, I became an IA myself and have made quite a few equipment changes to the aircraft. Having the computerized equipment list and automatic W&B calculation has repaid that two-hour effort many times over.

Next time you’re pre-flighting your airplane, you might just want to grab your POH and W&B papers and eyeball the equipment list to make sure it has been kept up to date. If it hasn’t, you might just want to do something about it before the next annual…or ramp check.

Mike Busch is arguably the best-known A&P/IA in general aviation, honored by the FAA in 2008 as National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year. Mike is a 8,000-hour pilot and CFI, an aircraft owner for 50 years, a prolific aviation author, co-founder of AVweb, and presently heads a team of world-class GA maintenance experts at Savvy Aviation. Mike writes a monthly Savvy Maintenance column in AOPA PILOT magazine, and his book Manifesto: A Revolutionary Approach to General Aviation Maintenance is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions (112 pages). His second book titled Mike Busch on Engines was released on May 15, 2018, and is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions. (508 pages).

Mag Check

Mag SwitchIf you fly a piston-powered aircraft, you undoubtedly were taught to perform a “mag check” during the pre-takeoff runup. But do you know how to do it correctly, what to look for, and how to interpret the results? Surprisingly, many pilots don’t.

To begin with, most POHs instruct you to note the RPM drop when you switch from both mags to just one, and give some maximum acceptable drop. In my view, this archaic procedure makes little sense for aircraft that are equipped with a digital engine monitor (as most are these days).

EGT rise is a far better indicator of proper ignition performance than RPM drop. Watching EGT on the engine monitor during the pre-flight mag check tells you exactly which spark plug and cylinder is having a problem. So my advice is to focus primarily on the engine monitor, not the tachometer, when performing the mag check.

What to look for

JPI EDM 830What you should be looking for is all EGT bars rising and none falling when you switch from both mags to one mag. The EGT rise will typically be 50 to 100 degrees F, but the exact amount of rise is not critical. It’s perfectly normal for the rise to be a bit different for odd- and even-numbered cylinders.

You should also be looking for smooth engine operation and stable EGT values when operating on each magneto individually. A falling or erratic EGT bar or rough engine constitutes a “bad mag check” and warrants further troubleshooting of the ignition system before flying.

Bad mag or bad plug?

MagnetoThe “mag check” is poorly named, because because the vast majority of “bad mag checks” are caused by spark plug problems, not magneto problems. We really should be calling it an “ignition system check” but the “mag check” terminology is deeply entrenched in pilot lingo, so I’m not going to try to fight that battle.

How can you tell if the culprit is the plugs or the mags? Simple: A faulty spark plug affects only one cylinder (and one EGT bar on your engine monitor), while a faulty magneto affects all cylinders (and all EGT bars).

If you get an excessive RPM drop when you switch to one mag, but the EGTs all rise and the engine runs smooth, chances are that it’s not a bad mag but rather retarded ignition timing. This is often caused by mechanic error in timing the mags during maintenance, although it is possible for ignition timing to drift out of spec due to cam follower wear or some other internal magneto issue. Retarded ignition timing also results in higher-than-usual EGT indications.

Conversely, advanced ignition timing results in lower-than-usual EGT indications, and also higher-than-usual CHT indications. Advanced timing is a much more serious condition because it can lead to detonation, pre-ignition, and serious engine damage. If you observe low EGTs and high CHTs after an aircraft comes out of maintenance, do not fly until you’ve had the ignition timing re-checked. Advanced timing is easily detected with an engine monitor, but you won’t be able to detect it if you’re just looking for RPM drop.

Do it aloft!

MooneyThe usual pre-flight mag check is a relatively non-demanding test, and will only detect gross defects in the ignition system. To make sure your engine’s ignition is in tip-top shape, I strongly recommend performing an in-flight mag check every few flights.

The in-flight mag check is performed at normal cruise power and normal lean mixture (preferably LOP). Run the engine on each individual mag for at least 15 or 20 seconds. Ensure that all EGTs rise, that they are stable, and that the engine runs smoothly on each mag individually. If you see a falling or unstable EGT, write down which cylinder and which mag, otherwise you’ll probably forget which plug is the culprit by the time you land.

Because a lean mixture is much harder to ignite than a rich one, an in-flight LOP mag check is the most demanding and discriminating way to test your ignition system, and will expose subtle flaws and marginal ignition performance that are undetectable during the usual on-the-ground pre-flight mag check. It’s by far the best way to detect ignition system problems early, before they reach the point of delaying your departure or soiling your underwear.

Mike Busch is arguably the best-known A&P/IA in general aviation, honored by the FAA in 2008 as National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year. Mike is a 8,000-hour pilot and CFI, an aircraft owner for 50 years, a prolific aviation author, co-founder of AVweb, and presently heads a team of world-class GA maintenance experts at Savvy Aviation. Mike writes a monthly Savvy Maintenance column in AOPA PILOT magazine, and his book Manifesto: A Revolutionary Approach to General Aviation Maintenance is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions (112 pages). His second book titled Mike Busch on Engines was released on May 15, 2018, and is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions. (508 pages).

It’s About Time!

I just added ADS-B Out to my airplane. I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a very long time—48 years to be exact.

Air Facts (May 1970)

Air Facts (May 1970)
click image to read article

It was 48 years ago that my very first aviation article was published. Its title was “The Role of Computers in Air Traffic Control.” I was 26 years old at the time, not long out of college, and starting a career in computer software at the dawn of the computer age. I’d only been a pilot for five years and an aircraft owner for two.

I timidly submitted the 3,000-word manuscript to Leighton Collins (1903-1995), the dean of general aviation journalists (and Richard Collins’ dad). Leighton founded his magazine Air Facts in 1938, the first GA magazine to focus primarily on safety. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, Leighton became a pioneer in using GA airplanes to fly IFR, something that was considered risky business at the time. In 1970, I was a newly-minted CFII and Skylane owner, and Leighton was my hero and Air Facts my bible.

Leighton loved my article, and published it in the May 1970 issue of Air Facts.  I was thrilled. I was also hooked and went on to write more than 500 published aviation articles between then and now.

How big is the sky?

I’d been instrument-rated for about four years when I wrote that article, and had thought quite a bit about the differences between VFR and IFR flying:

A pilot flying VFR in clear weather is unlikely to see more than a few other aircraft on a typical flight; to him the sky seems to be a rather empty place. Yet to the pilot stuck in an IFR hold with an estimated-further-clearance time forty-five minutes away, the sky seems to be an order of magnitude more crowded. Why? Clearly there is no shortage of airspace; every VFR pilot knows that. The aircraft flying under IFR have the best equipment and the most proficient pilots aboard. Where does the congestion come from?

My conclusion was that the fundamental difference between VFR and IFR lies in who is separating aircraft. VFR pilots are responsible for their own separation, while IFR pilots rely on air traffic controllers to keep them separated from other traffic. Thus, I reasoned, the comparatively low capacity of the IFR system must be attributable to some failing on the part of controllers. Yet as someone who has spent many hours visiting ATC facilities and observing controllers at work while plugged in beside them, I can testify that these folks are amazingly sharp, skilled, and well-trained professionals who do their jobs exceptionally well.

So why can’t these hotshot controllers separate IFR aircraft nearly as efficiently as VFR pilots are able to separate themselves? My conclusion was that the very nature of the separation task is fundamentally different:

A pilot is concerned solely with the one aircraft that he’s flying, but a controller must keep track of several aircraft at once. Give a person several things to do at once—even simple things like head-patting and tummy-rubbing—and his performance in each task drops sharply. Keeping track of a high-speed airplane is considerably harder than either head-patting or tummy rubbing. Keeping track of a dozen such airplanes travelling in random directions at random altitudes is simply beyond the capabilities of any human.

Our IFR system is designed to simplify the controller’s job to the point that it is within the realm of human capability. It does this primarily by eliminating the amount of randomness the controller must deal with. It strings airplanes along a few well-defined airways/SIDs/STARs, confines them to a few standard altitudes, and sometimes slows them down to a few standard speeds. Doing these things makes the airplanes much easier for the controller to keep track of and keep separated, but it also wastes most of the available airspace and reduces the capacity of the system.

Do we really need ATC?

It seemed to me that the capacity of the IFR system could be vastly increased if we could just stop relying on controllers to separate airplanes and enable pilots to self-separate, much as they do when flying VFR. In 1970 when I wrote the article, we were right on the cusp of two major technological breakthroughs that I believed had the potential to make that possible.

GPS ConstellationOne of them was the promise of accurate satellite navigation. The Naval Research Laboratory had launched its Timation satellites in 1967 and 1969, the first ones to contain accurate atomic clocks suitable for navigation. Meantime, the Air Force’s Space and Missile System Organization was testing its more advanced system (codenamed Project 621B) for aircraft positioning between 1968 and 1971. These were the progenitors of today’s GPS system—something I could see coming in 1970, although a seriously underestimated how long it would take to become operational. The first constellation of 10 “Block-I” GPS satellites wasn’t in orbit until 1985, and the system’s full operational capability wasn’t announced until 1995.

MicroprocessorThe second breakthrough was large-scale integration (LSI)—the creation of integrated circuits containing tens of thousands of transistors on a single silicon chip—and the emergence of the microprocessor. Microprocessors weren’t yet invented in 1970 when I wrote the article, but as a computer scientist (my day job at the time) I could see them coming, too. As it turned out, Intel introduced its 4004 microprocessor in 1971, its 8008 in 1972, and the 8080 (which really put microprocessors on the map) in 1974. This watershed development made it feasible to equip even small GA airplanes with serious computing power.

The ATC system of tomorrow

Traffic DisplayIn my 1970 Air Facts article, I painted a picture of the kind of ATC system these new technologies—GPS and microcomputers—would make possible. I postulated a system in which all IFR aircraft and most VFR aircraft were equipped with a miniaturized GPS receiver that continually calculated the aircraft’s precise position and a transmitter that broadcast the aircraft’s coordinates once per second. A network of ground stations would receive these digital position reports, pass them to ATC, and rebroadcast them to all aircraft in the vicinity. A microcomputer aboard each aircraft would receive these digital position reports, compare their coordinates with the position of the host aircraft, evaluate which aircraft are potential threats, and display the position, altitude and track of those threat aircraft on a cockpit display.

Such a cockpit display would enable IFR pilots separate themselves from other aircraft, much as VFR pilots have always done. It would permit them to fly whatever random routes, altitudes and speeds they choose, giving them access to the same “big sky” that VFR pilots have always enjoyed.

I theorized that pilots are highly incentivized to self-separate and would do a much better job of it than what ground-based air traffic controllers can do. (Just imagine what driving your car would be like if you weren’t allowed to self-separate from other vehicles, and instead had to obtain clearances and follow instructions from some centralized traffic manager.)

What took so long?

NextGen controllerWhen I re-read that 1970 article today, it’s truly eerie just how closely the “ATC system of the future” I postulated then resembles the FAA’s “Next Generation Air Transportation System” (NextGen) that the FAA started working on in 2007 and plans to have fully operational in 2025. Key elements of NextGen include GPS navigation and ADS-B—almost precisely as I envisioned them in 1970.

I was wildly overoptimistic in my prediction that such a system could be developed in as little as five years. If the FAA does succeed in getting NextGen fully operational by 2025, it will be the 55th anniversary of my Air Facts article.

NextGen also includes improved pilot/controller communication (both textual and VOIP) and various improvements designed to allow use of more airspace and random routes. Sadly, it stops well short of transferring responsibility for separating IFR aircraft from ATC to pilots as I proposed in 1970—although our aircraft will have the necessary equipment to do that if the FAA would just let us. Maybe that’ll have to wait another five decades until NextNextGen is deployed (and there’s an autonomous self-piloting octocopter in every garage).

Mike Busch is arguably the best-known A&P/IA in general aviation, honored by the FAA in 2008 as National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year. Mike is a 8,000-hour pilot and CFI, an aircraft owner for 50 years, a prolific aviation author, co-founder of AVweb, and presently heads a team of world-class GA maintenance experts at Savvy Aviation. Mike writes a monthly Savvy Maintenance column in AOPA PILOT magazine, and his book Manifesto: A Revolutionary Approach to General Aviation Maintenance is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions (112 pages). His second book titled Mike Busch on Engines was released on May 15, 2018, and is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions. (508 pages).

If you Build it, They will Come.

Determination, passion and connection in the heart of the Rockies.

Amy Helm became the airport manager of Glenwood Springs Airport [KGWS] in April of 2017 after interviewing and presenting a petition with the signatures of 60 local pilots who supported her candidacy. The daughter of a private pilot, Amy didn’t set out to be an airport manager, but nonetheless she has devoted her time, determination and passion to this Colorado airport nestled in the heart of the Rockies.

Amy Helm

Amy loved aviation as long as she can remember. She worked at Glenwood Springs Airport in high school and earned her pilots license there. After college and fulfilling some wanderlust, she returned to Colorado wanting to get a job as a back-country pilot. As is often the case, Amy soon discovered that she needed to learn about maintenance and repair in order to pay for her flying. She received her A&P and after completing a stint as an apprentice, she moved to SE Alaska working as a mechanic for a bush pilot. The next stop on her grand circle tour was Juneau Alaska where she earned her IA and worked as a helicopter mechanic for Coastal Helicopters.

Amy and I talked about the qualities of character it takes to be a pilot, mechanic and airport manager. I asked her if her job is hard. She laughed and said, “There are days that are hard, and there are days that are a lot of fun.” Amy said that the number one factor in both her work as a mechanic and an airport manager is determination. Anyone who has volunteered at an airport knows a lot about determination. At Glenwood Springs it took two separate work parties and 30 volunteers to get the airport back in tiptop shape for visitors.

Development has encircled their airport with housing tracts on both sides. Over the years there have been threats to the airport from developers. Thus Amy’s first tasks as the new airport manager were to spruce the place up, replace worn signage, increase community awareness, and start planning on a community aviation expo. The first event was very successful giving 150 airplane rides, hosting 500 people in attendance, over 30 types of airplanes and helicopters on static display for the community to walk around, sit in, ask questions about and  a vendor display. The second annual event will be held August 18th, 2018.

Glenwood Springs is a tourist destination with skiing, skydiving, white water rafting, climbing and of course the world’s largest hot springs pool. Camping on the airport grounds is allowed. Although the fourth oldest airport in the country Glenwood Springs Airport does not receive FAA grant money, nor any funds from the City of Glenwood Springs. Funding for the airport is based solely on donations, fuel sales, tie-down and hangar income.  Amy and I spent some time talking about mobilizing pilots and promoting General Aviation to communities.

Call to Action

Pilots are “do something” people. Fly the airplane; don’t let the airplane fly you. We all are airport, and airplane, lovers. When it comes to your local airport,  think small and big; local level, community-based. How can your airport serve your community in non-aviation needs? Perhaps a space for community meetings, a host of a canned food drive, or a fund-raiser for the local humane society. With our home airports,  step up, raise your voices and let your opinions be known. This might mean speaking in front of the airport board, or county commissioners. Use your local airport as a resource. Bring the community inside the fence. Be able to tell the truth. If someone wants to do something unsafe at an airport, speak up. Be on guard for encroachments, misapplications of directives, and oppressive policies. The second level of involvement is in between micro and macro, it is the state level. Are you involved with your state aviation association? Do you know who your regional director for AOPA is? Do you have a Representative or Congressman from your state on the GA Caucus? Have you thought about becoming involved with aviation at the state or regional level?

If you Build it, They will Come

In order to promote General Aviation define it for the non-flying public effectively.  It is very important to be positive and focus on the ways that G.A. helps our communities and our citizens.  When I meet someone at an event I ask if they are a pilot, or know a pilot.  If not a pilot, I ask if they ever wanted to learn how to fly.  If yes, have they made steps toward learning, and if not, why not?   Even those folks who do not wish to become pilots would benefit from knowing how General Aviation affects them on a daily basis. Here are some ideas you might try at your home airport:

Oceano Airport Salute to Veterans May 11-12th, 2018

Toys for Tots

Airport Day Fun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fly-In Movie Night is always a big hit. All you need is a large screen, projector, sound system and popcorn. Toys for Tots is a great feel-good event that will benefit the children in your local area. Take a page out of Amy’s playbook and have an Airport Appreciation Day. Young Aviator Camp: Approach your local YMCA, Parks and Recreation, or Boys and Girls Club and ask about putting on a day camp for children.  Most airports have a green space, campground or empty hangar that can be used as a classroom area. Topics could include: What is General Aviation? Fundamentals of Flight, Basic Navigation, Mechanics, How to Become a Pilot, Careers in Aviation, and Charitable Flying. Young Eagles: EAA chapters have a tremendous amount of impact on the youth in our local communities when they hold a Young Eagles day. Public Radio and Television: Those of us in GA oftentimes overlook public radio and television, yet they are constantly on the look out for community-based stories.  Why not contact your local station about an upcoming event at your airport?  4-H Aero, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts: Both Boy and Girl Scouts have merit badges in Aviation.  Why not offer a daylong workshop to help the kids get their badges? Service Club Speaker: Why not talk with your local service club, or chamber of commerce about using YOU as a speaker?  This is a perfect opportunity to talk with a captive audience about the value of general aviation and general aviation airports. Emergency Responder Appreciation Event: Each of our communities have unsung heroes. Why not have a pancake breakfast, spaghetti feed, or burger fry and invite your local ambulance, search and rescue, law enforcement pilots, fire fighters and other emergency responders.  School Assemblies: Elementary schools have requirements about science education.  Aviation falls into that category.  Why not talk with your local principal about doing a fundamentals of flight assembly for your local school?  You could have RC models to illustrate lift, thrust, drag and gravity.  End your presentation with ways that the children can come to your airport. Remember children, bring their parents!

For many in the country the aviation season is beginning. We are making our reservations for Sun n Fun, or one of the four AOPA Regionals, or Oshkosh. But please remember to support our small GA airports which host events. Get your airport on the map like Amy has with Glenwood Springs. Host, volunteer, or attend a cool event. Invite your friends and more importantly your community. You will be rewarded with the joy of flight, connection with others, and keeping our airports vibrant.

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot. She is the Founder of two grass-roots general aviation service groups: Mooney Ambassadors and the Friends of Oceano Airport. Presently Jolie is the Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. She is the Director and Executive Producer of the documentary: Boots on the Ground: the Men & Women who made Mooney©. She co-created Mooney Girls Mooney Girls and Right Seat Ready!© She is the creator of Pilot Plus One© She is an aviation educator and writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: Mooney4Me

You Did WHAT???

Generally, aviators don’t like surprises. The good ones—like catching an unexpected 30-knot tailwind, or finding an ANR headset under the Christmas tree—are rare. The bad ones—like an inoperative self-serve fuel pump, a flat nosewheel strut, or worse-than-forecast weather at your destination—are more common.

Some of the really bad surprises involve aircraft maintenance. Since my company manages the maintenance of about 1,000 GA airplanes, I thought I’d seen just about every sort of maintenance misfortune that can befall an aircraft owner, but the one I’m about to relate has to take some sort of prize.

Sooty exhaust trailIt involves the owner of a Cirrus SR22—I’ll call him Mark—who was starting to get a bit concerned about the increasing oil consumption of his Continental IO-550-N engine. He was starting to notice increased oil on the belly behind the righthand tailpipe, and a buildup of sooty deposits inside that tailpipe. A maintenance-involved owner and a pretty sharp cookie, Mark’s suspicion was that the oil consumption was probably the result of lead-contaminated oil control rings in the right-bank cylinders (#1, #3, and #5). The presence of oily deposits on the #3 and #5 spark plugs seemed to confirm that theory.

Mark flew his airplane to a well-known Cirrus Service Center for further evaluation. The shop’s Director of Maintenance (DOM)—I’ll call him Steve—told Mark that he’d do a thorough borescope examination of the cylinders once the engine had cooled, and report back on what he found.

Bad news

Photo from A&P

This low-resolution photo from the A&P wasn’t adequate to determine the condition of the cam.

The next day, Mark received an ominous voicemail from Steve that started off with the words “Bad news…” and went on to say that the engine had “metal contamination” and “spalled cam lobes and lifters.” Mark also received a couple of low-resolution photos from Steve showing the SR22’s engine with the #3 and #5 cylinders removed, together with a statement that “the engine needs to be torn down.”

Needless to say, Mark was shocked. He had not given the shop permission to remove any cylinders. He’d only authorized a borescope inspection. Furthermore, the metal contamination diagnosis made no sense to Mark, because shortly before he took his plane to the shop, he’d performed an oil change and cut open the oil filter and found it clean as a whistle. Something wasn’t adding up. Mark bit his tongue and replied to Steve’s email by asking where the shop proposed to send the engine for teardown, and indicating that Mark was going to investigate alternative engine shops.

At this point, Mark contacted me for advice, and emailed me the low-resolution photos he’d received from Steve. I looked at the photos and told Steve that I didn’t see anything obvious wrong with his cam lobes, but that the quality of the photos was just too poor for me to offer an opinion as to the condition of his cam. I referred Mark to Continental’s Service Information Directive SID05-1B that provided very specific inspection criteria for assessing the airworthiness of cams and lifters on Continental engines. In pertinent part, SID05-1B says:

dental pick“If the visual cam lobe inspection reveals the presence of indentations or crack-like features in the surface along the cam lobe apex, use a sharp pick or awl and lightly move its tip over the suspect surface area. If the suspect feature has any depth, the pick tip will repeatedly catch in the groove or pits. If the indentation or crack is determined to have depth, the cam must be examined by a [Continental Motors] service representative to determine any additional steps required. If the cam lobe inspection only reveals normal signatures and there is no positive indication of any distress depth, …no further action is required.”

After studying SID05-1B carefully, Mark drove to the Service Center armed with a camera, an inspection light and a sharp dental pick, determined to carry out his own SID05-1B cam inspection and satisfy himself whether the condition of his cam truly warranted an engine teardown. Upon arriving at the shop, he made a beeline for the maintenance hangar.

You did WHAT???


engine on pallet

Mark was totally unprepared for what he saw when he entered the hangar: His SR22 had no engine or propeller! As he approached the airplane, he discovered his engine sitting on a wooden pallet on the floor of the hangar. Apparently, the shop’s mechanics had removed it from the airplane without obtaining his authorization, asking for his permission, or even notifying him of what they intended to do. Mark was floored.

Cylinders #3 and #5 had been loosely reattached to the palleted engine in preparation for shipping it to the engine shop. Mark had one of the shop’s mechanics remove those cylinders so Mark could perform the cam inspection that he’d come there to do. He dutifully ran the sharp dental pick over the surfaces of all the exposed cam lobes (per SID05-1B) and could not find a single crack, pit, or other feature deep enough to catch the tip of the pick. Mark took a bunch of high-resolution photos of the cam lobes and sent them to me. They revealed only normal swirl wear patterns, with no evidence of significant distress.

Mark next asked for a sit-down meeting with both Steve and his boss (the shop’s owner). He gave them each a copy of Continental SID05-1B, walked them though the pertinent language, described how he’d probed the lobes with his sharp dental pick, showed them his high-resolution photos, and argued that Steve had simply been wrong in his assertion that the cam was spalled. He also pointed out that the shop had removed two cylinders without his authorization, and then removed the entire engine without his authorization. Mark insisted that the shop reinstall the cylinders on the engine and reinstall the engine in the airplane at the shop’s sole expense.

malpracticeThe shop owner was not amused. However, after considering the compelling evidence of Steve’s malpractice that Mark had presented, plus the complete lack of documentation showing that Mark had approved any of the disassembly that the shop had done, the owner appropriately concluded that he had little choice but to do the right thing. (I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall in that office after Mark left and the shop’s owner had his tête-à-tête with Steve.)

About a week later, Mark flew his airplane home from the shop, vowing never to return. On the flight home, he discovered the engine’s idle stop badly misadjusted and the propeller installed 180 degrees from the proper position. Rather than risk taking the airplane back to the Service Center, Mark decided to pay a local A&P to correct those two items.

Over the coming weeks, Mark discovered that his problem with excessive oil consumption had vanished. The shop installed new rings on the #3 and #5 pistons before reinstalling the cylinders, and apparently that cured the problem that had prompted this painful misadventure in the first place.

At least that was a pleasant surprise.

Mike Busch is arguably the best-known A&P/IA in general aviation, honored by the FAA in 2008 as National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year. Mike is a 8,000-hour pilot and CFI, an aircraft owner for 50 years, a prolific aviation author, co-founder of AVweb, and presently heads a team of world-class GA maintenance experts at Savvy Aviation. Mike writes a monthly Savvy Maintenance column in AOPA PILOT magazine, and his book Manifesto: A Revolutionary Approach to General Aviation Maintenance is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions (112 pages). His second book titled Mike Busch on Engines was released on May 15, 2018, and is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions. (508 pages).

I Don’t Fly Enough

It’s not how much we fly that matters, it’s how much we don’t

The average owner-flown GA airplane flies less than 100 hours a year. I fly my Cessna 310 more than that, at least 120 hours a year. But I don’t fly it enough.

Take 2017 for example:

  • In April, I flew to San Diego to give a talk at a FAASTeam safety event.
  • I also made another flight to Camarillo to teach at the AOPA Regional Fly-In.
  • In June, I flew from California to Knoxville, Tennessee, to attend and speak to the annual convention of the Flying Physicians Association and visit friends.
  • Over the July 4th weekend, I made a quick trip to Los Angeles to attend a Pentatonix concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
  • In late July, I made my annual pilgrimage to Oshkosh for AirVenture week, roughly 2,000 nm each way.
  • In August, I was supposed to make a trip to Dallas for an expert witness deposition in an air crash case, but it was cancelled at the last minute when the case settled.
Mike's 2017 trip

My 8,500 nm trip during Fall 2017.

Then in September and October, I went on an amazing nine-week transcontinental trip that took me from California to:

  • Norman, Oklahoma for the next AOPA Regional Fly-In;
  • Lawrence, Massachusetts for a two-day GA Engine Summit meeting with the FAA;
  • Nashville, Tennessee to speak at the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association annual migration
  • Jackson, Tennessee where I performed an annual inspection on the aircraft at the facilities of Tennessee Aircraft Services;
  • Back to New England to visit my sisters in Boston and teach at the AOPA Regional Fly-In at Groton, Connecticut;
  • Outer Banks of North Carolina for some quiet time to work on my book and write some articles;
  • Raleigh and Charlotte to visit with friends and relatives, and to fly with another CFI to obtain my Flight Review and Instrument Proficiency Check;
  • Florida to visit with friends in Ft. Lauderdale and teach at the year’s final AOPA Regional Fly-In in Tampa;
  • Charlotte, North Carolina to pick up my brother-in-law;
  • Jackson, Tennessee to drop of my colleague Paul New who’d taught with me in Tampa;
  • Amarillo, Texas for fuel and sleep; and finally
  • California to drop my brother-in-law at Chino, then have lunch with a friend at Hawthorne, and finally return to home base at Santa Maria.

In early November, less than a week after returning home from this amazing 8,500 nm trip, I flew to Las Vegas, Nevada for my company’s annual corporate retreat…my final flight of 2017 in the Cessna 310.

I didn’t fly enough

Months I didn't fly

Months I didn’t fly my airplane during 2017.

If you were paying attention, you’ll see the problem: I didn’t fly the plane at all during January, February, March, May, August, or December. The airplane just sat in its non-climate-controlled hangar located at KSMX roughly 8 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

During those periods of extended disuse, the oil film had plenty of time to strip off the cylinder walls, cam lobes, and lifter faces of the two Continental TSIO-520-BB engines, exposing them to corrosive attack. The interior of the Cessna 310’s airframe—which is mostly shiny aluminum with no protective primer or paint—was also so exposed. This is not a good thing for the longevity of my airframe and especially my engines.

I suspect my pattern of seasonal use is not uncommon. I suspect many GA airplanes based on less benign and temperate climates than what I have on the central coast of California might fly even more seasonally. Certainly, airplanes based in humid coastal regions like Florida and the Gulf Coast are at even higher corrosion risk during their downtime periods.

This problem is more serious than many aircraft owners realize. The #1 reason that piston aircraft engines fail to make TBO is cam and lifter corrosion, the presence of which almost always results to a premature engine teardown.

This is a problem that’s almost exclusively confined to owner-flown GA airplanes. “Working airplanes” in flight schools, air charter, freight hauling, pipeline patrol, aerial surveillance, and similar kinds of operations almost never fail to reach engine TBO and often greatly exceed it. That’s because working airplanes fly every day or at least a few times a week, so they never lose the protective oil film that protects critical engine components from corrosive attack.

Defenses

Suit of armorRecognizing the risk created by my irregular pattern of flying, I’ve taken a few defensive steps to help mitigate the corrosion risk. I use a thick singe-weight oil (Aeroshell W100) that has the consistency of black strap molasses at room temperature and adheres to parts better than multigrade oils that are much thinner at room temperature (think Aunt Jemima Light). I use ASL CamGuard, which is the most effective anti-corrosion additive I’ve found (based on oil analysis results). In 2014, I installed nickel-carbide-plated cylinders on both engines, because they don’t rust like standard steel cylinders do. I keep my airplane hangared during periods of disuse. I fog the interior of the airframe with ACF-50 corrosion preventive compound every few years.

There are additional defenses I could take. A good one that is inexpensive would be to use an engine dehumidifier during periods of disuse, such as the “Engine Saver” available from Aircraft Spruce. Another one that is vastly more expensive would be to insulate and heat my hangar to hold the atmospheric temperature constant and eliminate the diurnal temperature cycle that is responsible for “morning dew.”

All these things are helpful in mitigating the corrosion risk, but none are as effective as flying the airplane every week or two. So, my New Year’s resolution is to try my best to fly at least once every two weeks during 2018.

Care to join me?

Mike Busch is arguably the best-known A&P/IA in general aviation, honored by the FAA in 2008 as National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year. Mike is a 8,000-hour pilot and CFI, an aircraft owner for 50 years, a prolific aviation author, co-founder of AVweb, and presently heads a team of world-class GA maintenance experts at Savvy Aviation. Mike writes a monthly Savvy Maintenance column in AOPA PILOT magazine, and his book Manifesto: A Revolutionary Approach to General Aviation Maintenance is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions (112 pages). His second book titled Mike Busch on Engines was released on May 15, 2018, and is available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle versions. (508 pages).
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