The airplane is a complex machine. Thousands of individual components must work together in harmony to make miracles happen. If even one of them is faulty, the craft may not take off — or worse. As a result, aircraft owners must regularly conduct comprehensive maintenance checks to make sure everything is shipshape.
Many people turn to professional mechanics for help, which is wise. It may be wiser still — and less expensive — to learn how to do certain things yourself. Here are four basic small aircraft maintenance tips to help you get started, along with a pre-flight checklist that may come in handy.
Small Aircraft Maintenance Tips
You may never know when you will be the only one around who can work on your plane. There are plenty of things a pilot can do that do not require extensive mechanical expertise. We share some of the essentials below.
Comply with FAA Regulations
How do you know which maintenance tasks you should do and which ones you should leave to professionals? The Federal Aviation Administration has its own opinion, enshrined in 14 CFR Part 43 . These regulations decree the circumstances in which pilots can perform “preventive maintenance” on their aircraft instead of certified mechanics.
The rulebook defines preventive maintenance as “simple or minor preservation operations and the replacement of small standard parts not involving complex assembly operations.” Our rule of thumb is to call a mechanic if the issue requires more than a few steps. Experts and more experienced pilots can address any questions or concerns you may have.
Fly Frequently …
One may assume that less time spent operating an aircraft means less time spent maintaining it. In reality, too little usage may cause trouble for the engine. Camshafts, which are already prone to corrosion as is, need a regular operation to remain functional. If they deteriorate, your flying machine may be grounded.
You already committed a great deal of time and money toward completing pilot training and owning a plane. We would urge you to fly often even if leaving your aircraft unused did not pose a threat to your camshaft. Of course, you should also take proper care of the camshaft as well. Keep it well-lubricated and reground or replace as needed.
… Or Preserve the Plane
Sometimes, you cannot fly for a little while. Sometimes, you just want to take a little break from it. Does either situation deserve punishment from the elements? If your aircraft will go unused for some time, you can use special tools to minimize the risk of corrosion. Electric engine dehydrators pump air into the engine, leaving no room for any moisture that may be inside.
More effective still is putting the engine in flyable storage, or “pickling” it. This approach involves running preservative oil through the engine until it coats everything. Substituting desiccant crystal-loaded plugs for the spark plugs and sealing bags of the crystals within the exhaust pipes and air intake completes the process. They should provide much-needed protection while the plane goes unused.
Use the Right Cleaners
Some small aircraft maintenance tips should go without saying. For example, any licensed pilot should already be aware that they must keep their craft clean. What we want to clarify here is that a simple hose-down will not do. Aircraft owners can find various specialty cleaning products designed with planes in mind.
Cirrus Aircraft published a comprehensive guide to properly sanitize and disinfect just about every part of the plane. Each section includes a list of recommended supplies and in-depth directions. We urge you to read it and bookmark it for future reference. The next time you think about spraying Windex on your windshield, remember that your plane requires and deserves more specialized care.
What to Check Before Takeoff
Pilots should always double-check and triple-check that their aircraft is in tip-top shape before takeoff. If anything is slightly off, you will have to delay the flight for some hopefully quick maintenance. It may be inconvenient, but it beats experiencing trouble in the air. As you prepare for your next aerial excursion, tick off the items in this checklist first.
Experts recommend changing the oil for an automobile after every 5,000 miles. Planes usually surpass that mileage much sooner. We advise waiting no later than 50 hours to change the engine oil. Even if your engine does not seem to need fresh lubrication immediately, it soon will.
Bulbs and Wiring
If none of the warning lights are going off on your flight instruments, it might be because everything is okay. It could also be because they would not turn on even in an emergency, which is not okay. Check that the bulbs will flash and the wiring will work before you need them.
Hitting the brakes too hard on the runway can damage your brake pads, which makes braking more difficult to control in the future. Replace the pads as needed. More importantly, take it easy and taxi at near-idle speeds when possible.
Avionics systems give pilots greater knowledge of the environment around and below them, enabling navigation, communication, and more. The databases they draw from receive regular updates, which pilots can usually install themselves.
Tire pressure seems like more of a concern for cars, but they matter for planes as well. The last thing you want before touching down at a high speed is flat. Inspect every wheel and refill even the smallest amounts.
High-Quality Aircraft Tugs at Powertow
This list of small aircraft maintenance tips are not comprehensive, nor is the supplementary checklist. They are only a few of the many important tasks that a pilot must perform to prevent problems for their plane. For our last piece of advice before we run out of space, we urge you to consult additional resources as well. There is no such thing as knowing too much about proper aircraft care.
Where we can provide further help is in supplying high-quality aircraft tugs. These machines move planes from runways to hangars, where they can receive the maintenance they need. Check out our extraordinary selection for lightweight aircraft here at the Powertow online store.