Now that it is finally warming up enough to go out to the airport and fly, the airplane that you are about to get into will require a serious preflight. If the plane has been sitting on the ground you cannot just jump into it and take to the skies. It's time to start thinking like an "Owner/Operator" and not a rental pilot. The items you miss on the ground may hurt you in the air.
Take your preflight inspection out and spend a few minutes going around and through the airplane. Here are areas to really focus on:
- If the aircraft has been tied down outside:
- Water in the fuel – take a close look at the fuel caps and O-rings. If it has been a cold, harsh winter, the O-rings have a tendency to dry out and split, allowing water to gain entry into your tanks. O-rings are not expensive and affordable insurance to keep water out of the tanks.
- Tires – look for proper inflation and flat spots. If the aircraft has not moved during the winter months, the tires may not have the proper air pressure and more than likely will have flat spots where they've been sitting.
- Snow and ice accumulation:
- Surfaces – clean off ALL ice and snow and get the airplane moved into the sun to help with the defrosting. A little elbow grease is better than spraying the surfaces and windshield with an over-the-counter ice remover. Remember, aluminum and Plexiglas react differently than metal and glass so you cannot use the same stuff on your airplane that you use on your car.
- Inside control surfaces – With the temperature going up and down during the winter, snow on your plane may have melted at some point. That melted snow has a tendency to get into the ailerons and elevator and then refreeze. The last thing you want to do is take off and find that you have a 5-pound block of ice inside the elevator.
- Don't scrape windows with ice scrapers – Once again, ice scrapers are made for glass and not Plexiglas. You run the risk of scratching your windshield if you use an ice scraper. I recommend turning the aircraft into the sun and let Mother Nature do the defrosting for you.
- Oil viscosity and warmth – Hopefully the maintenance staff changed the oil before the onset of winter, as the oil used in the winter is not the same as the oil used in the summer. Regardless, make sure that you get the oil, and engine compartment, nice and warm before you try and start the engine. You may damage the cylinders and pistons if you attempt to start the engine with cold oil. The internal parts are not coated and this will cause friction and grinding metal on metal.
- Engine – make sure the engine is nice and warm by placing the heater hose in the cowl and directing the heated air onto the cylinders. For the aircraft with cowl flaps, I recommend placing the heater hose in the cowl flap, thus forcing the heated air up through the engine compartment and warming all of the engine and not just the top of the engine.
- Inside – don't use the same heater that was used for the engine as it may produce water vapor in the cockpit. Avionics do not like water!
- If the aircraft has been kept in a hangar, look for indications of mice or other rodents. If you have not flown the airplane for some time, these little creatures like to find places that are warm and that may be the inside of your plane. Come springtime, you will also have to make sure that birds have not built a nest inside the cowling, regardless of where the plane was tied down.
- Fueling – keep the tanks topped to preclude water contamination.
- Warm up the engine(s) before take-off – this will ensure that the oil is warm and is protecting all the moving parts in the engine. It will also ensure that warm air is coming into the cockpit and keeping you and your passengers warm.
- Databases for those fancy electronics.
- Owner/Operator standpoint – Pilots should look at flying the rental fleet as if they are the owner. If you care for the airplane like you care for your car, then the rental fleet will last longer and maybe, on the positive side, rates will not increase.
Aircraft are not like cars. We cannot just jump in them and go. If you do not take the time to treat the aircraft with care and respect, regardless of the season, it will spend more time being down for maintenance then being ready to take to the skies.
Next month we will look at what it takes to get yourself, the pilot, ready to fly. Wishing you blue skies and a strong tailwind!
About the Author: Robert Benda is the Manager of the Aviation Training Solutions Development department at Jeppesen. He manages a staff of 15 that include Instructional Designers, Subject Matter Experts (Writers), Editors, Graphic Artists, and Video/Still Production Specialists. His team writes and publishes written and online training material for pilot and aviation technicians. Mr. Benda also works closely with the Product Managers and Design team to bring new products to market.