It's a tragedy when a pilot dies. But AVweb's Rick Durden helped turn a tragedy into an amazing gift from a grieving family.
Click here to read Rick Durden's column.
It was late when I got into the Pilot's Lounge at the virtual airport. I'd airlined into the big airport and driven about an hour here, as I wanted to
drop off some things in my hangar and then see if I could locate a back issue of a magazine in the Lounge before going on home. The airport was quiet, the pilot-controlled lighting dark, and only the
green and white flash of the rotating beacon gave notice to the night sky that there was a safe, earthly refuge here.
I had been gone a week and had spent much of it flying a very special airplane. It had performed nearly perfectly and the weather had been the sort one dreams of here in the gray Great Lakes during
the winter. It had been a very busy week and I was tired, existing in autopilot mode, focused on these last couple of errands and then getting home. I found the magazine and, as I went to snap the
lights off, I glanced at the bulletin board and saw that there was a folded piece of paper tacked there with my name on it. Opening it, I saw that it was from Everett, owner of the flight school. All
it said was, "You missed a good evening, Thursday, but we saved a little for you. Usual spot."
I smiled to myself and walked down the hall to Everett's office. In the upper left storage cabinet I found a small glass with some cling-wrap over the top. Inside was about an inch of a deep, tan
liquid. Removing the wrap, I sniffed gently and confirmed it was what I thought it might be: an excellent, single-malt scotch. From time to time Everett gets together with some friends of his to
splurge on a little outstanding single malt. I try to contribute and am usually rewarded by having them save my share if I miss a gathering. The sniff had changed my entire orientation and perception
of the late evening; the autopilot was off and I went into the "Let's take some time to savor this" mode.
A Week of Joy
I went back into the silent Lounge, thinking it to be the perfect place to appreciate this gift and let the airline-travel-induced-stress flow out of my system. I sat in one of the big, old,
threadbare recliners and held the glass between my hands, letting body heat slowly raise the temperature of the nectar. Looking out at the silent ramp, my thoughts gradually returned to the events of
the week until I was again in the left seat of an immaculate Cessna 207, high above the desert of southeastern California. I was remembering that moment when the airplane went from being an inanimate
object whose speeds, systems and performance I had learned reasonably well, to a living creature of flight with whom I had an understanding, whose behavior I could predict and who flew rather than
just barged along through the sky.
Almost every pilot has such a moment with an unfamiliar airplane. After working through the stage of mechanically moving controls and sorting out that "x force in y direction for z duration will
generate a roll rate of a certain number of degrees per second or onset a given G-load," there comes an instant when the airplane agrees that the pilot can probably be trusted and so softens and
adjusts the seat to the pilot's contours and lets it be known that fingertips are all that are needed on the control wheel. The aircraft telegraphs its intent to move up or down or left or right in
the next bump in the air, so that the pilot can catch and correct before anyone else in the airplane even is aware that there is a disturbance. It is a very good feeling.
I had been hoping it would happen with this 207. For a number of reasons, I wasn't sure it would, for not only had its previous owner personalized it in many ways, and not only had that owner flown it
completely around the world, but he had died suddenly in the crash of another airplane and this one had been sitting, unflown, for nearly three years. I wondered whether its personality would allow it
to accept anyone else.
Devoted Owner and Pilot
This Cessna 207 had been owned by the late Greg Gund. Much of the time he had owned it, he kept it in San Jose, Costa Rica, at one of the more interesting airports on the planet. Pavas exists in a
high altitude, sloping bowl among mountains. It is almost constantly blasted by strong winds funneled through a venturi between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, so takeoffs are into the face
of much turbulence and rising terrain, and landing approaches seem to last for weeks as the groundspeed hovers near single digits. Greg had fallen under the captivating spell of the natural world of
Costa Rica, especially the Osa Peninsula, home to a stunningly high percentage of all the species of life on earth. He had seen what was being done illegally by those who did not care for the beauty
of that country and he made use of his airplane to help protect the bounty of the country's natural resources. Having a sense of adventure that would not quit, he also meticulously planned, and then
carried out, a flight around the world in the 207.
Tragically, Greg was killed in an accident in the summer of 2005. His Cessna 207 was ferried to northern California, where it was stored in airworthy condition by his family. Over the next few years
his family wondered what was the right thing to do with the airplane that had been a part of Greg's passion for life and his work for conservation. In 2007 they approached LightHawk -- an environmental aviation organization whose volunteer pilots have been flying in support of conservation matters throughout the U.S.
and Central America for nearly 30 years -- to see if it might be able to make use of Greg's airplane.
LightHawk's response was a hugely enthusiastic "Yes!" For the last 20 years volunteer pilots had been flying LightHawk's Cessna 206 throughout Central America. I had been one of them, often using my
vacation time to volunteer for some very intensive flying in Belize or Costa Rica to do everything from the annual manatee count in Belize to tracking Harpy eagles that had been released into the wild
to spotting illegal incursions into protected areas of the rain forests of Belize and Costa Rica. LightHawk's volunteer pilots had put thousands of hours on its 206 and LightHawk was facing the
reality that the cost to renovate it to get it back to top condition was probably going to exceed the value of the airplane. The idea of having a 207, an even more capable airplane for its work, was
enough to get people to start thinking about magic wands and miracles.
Sorting out the vagaries of donating an airplane owned by an estate to a not-for-profit organization was not an easy exercise, but it finally came to fruition on Feb. 4, 2008. Because I had
once-upon-a-time flown Cessna 207s, I was lucky enough to be the volunteer pilot for LightHawk who accepted the airplane on the organization's behalf. I was hugely fortunate to meet Greg Gund's
parents and his brother, to learn a little more about him, and to be able to express my thanks to them for donating the airplane to LightHawk. They said that it was the best way they could think of
for the airplane to continue doing what Greg had started. I could not have agreed more, and suddenly could see the airplane once again at Pavas Airport, and elsewhere in Central America, in the years
to come. Dedicated volunteer pilots will fly it over the jungles, coasts, interior highlands and vast savannahs with teams of scientists, researchers or local villagers aboard. Sometimes donations
have a very far-reaching impact. LightHawk's now-retired 206 flew thousands of people millions of miles on flights that helped protect immensely valuable natural resources in more than a score of
countries; Greg Gund's 207 will do the same thing and more in the years to come.
Back In The Air
I felt the scotch warming between my hands and thought of the week of flying the 207. Once the quiet donation ceremony was over and all of the formalities of the paperwork associated with transferring
ownership of an airplane had been completed, I made a flight in the local area to see how happy the 207 would be to return to the sky after nearly three years.
All went as perfectly as a flight can go. The systems were checked and found to each work perfectly. Every light bulb lit on request and the engine ran flawlessly, both rich and lean of peak, with
CHTs staying comfortably cool and the engine purring during lean-of-peak operations. I said a silent thank you to Mike McClellan of Reid-Hillview Airport, who had cared for the airplane much of the
time Greg Gund had owned it, faithfully kept it ready to fly in the years following his death, and then tweaked everything carefully before it was donated to its new owner.
The rest of the week involved checking out some LightHawk volunteer pilots in various locations as I worked my way to Socorro, N.M., where LightHawk volunteer Jerry Hoogerwerf would also be checked
out in the airplane and use his A&P skills to install some final touches before the airplane would go southward.
There were stops in Santa Maria, Chino and Tucson, each with weather so good that I wondered how long I'd have to pay low-ceiling-and-icing dues to compensate once I got home to Michigan. Volunteer
pilots with whom I flew and who had long flown LightHawk's 206 marveled at how nearly identical the 207 was in handling and performance, and expressed their wonder at the things that Greg Gund had
done to the airplane to make it so very capable.
Sussing Out the Details
I thought back to the first landings I had made that week in the 207 as I went through the formal introduction phase to a new airplane, the airplane and I each on our best behavior. I explored the
slow-speed end of the performance envelope, curious as to whether the vortex generators had been installed correctly and how they would affect handling and stall behavior. Together, airplane and I
slowed to 50 knots indicated with full flaps and I found that the 207 was utterly solid. Even though we weren't all that far from gross weight, there was still lots of power available in level flight.
Turns could be made easily, with fingertip touches, and the longer fuselage of the 207 over the 206 meant that less rudder was needed when making speed and configuration changes than in a 206. Power
off, with full flaps, I saw the airspeed needle work its way down to 41 knots indicated before there was the mildest of breaks to announce that the stall had indeed been reached. The 207 was every bit
the purebred, stalling straight ahead, not even threatening to drop a wing, and recovering smartly and immediately once back-pressure on the wheel was reduced. Adding power arrested the descent
quickly, and going from the full 30 degrees of flaps to 20 meant that we were almost immediately climbing away from terra firma.
I was pleased to see that the vortex generators provided the slow-speed benefits of a STOL kit for the airplane without the associated weight, and I thought of the 1,700-foot runway at Belize City
Municipal Airport, where it is a point of pride to be able to land and make the mid-field turnoff without heavy braking. As I explored landings in the 207, I realized that flying short final at 1.3
Vso would mean just over 53 knots. Recognizing that there was some degree of airspeed-indicator error at the 41-knot indicated stall speed I had seen, I decided to try flaring for landing
at 60 KIAS, power off. It worked well, meaning that the 207 will be quite happy on short runways. In fact, entering the flare at much over 60 knots generated a significant amount of float down the
runway, something to be noted, and the correct speed in the flare to be respected.
I was reminded that the manner in which the nose of the Cessna 206 was stretched in the process of making the 207 meant the top of the cowling of the 207 was higher. Therefore, on landing, the nose
completely covered the horizon when raised high enough to keep the nosewheel above the runway as the mains touched. It meant finding the right spot to look prior to touchdown to assure that the
airplane was not drifting to one side, as not all runways are 150-feet wide.
Paying Attention to the Countryside
As the week progressed, I had the joy of flying over a part of our country that I had previously only seen from airliners. As the formal stage of the relationship with the 207 evolved into a mutually
trusting friendship, I enjoyed seeing many sights new to me. The airplane and I viewed Santa Barbara out off to our right, Palm Springs and Blythe to our left, and the rugged desolation of southern
Arizona and New Mexico spread out in all directions.
By the time we reached Socorro, the 207 and I were on a first name basis and I was beginning to comprehend a degree of Greg Gund's affection for this vessel of flight. It had no bad habits at all and
it rewarded a pilot's efforts at precision crisply. As we slid down the nighttime final approach to Socorro, we together sensed the left crosswind, lowered the left wing, touched enough right rudder
to line up, then flared nose-high and felt the left wheel begin to roll on the runway. Progressively more left yoke let us continue to roll on one wheel for a while before the right main and then the
nosewheel settled to the ground and we coasted up the gently sloping runway toward the lighted ramp area. It was a perfect way to end the early days of what I hope is a long relationship.
Sitting back in the big old recliner, the scotch had warmed to near body temperature and I thought again of the Gund family and how I wished I had been able to get to know Greg. I raised the small
glass in a toast to Greg and his family and to their generosity that will allow one airplane to benefit the lives of so many. Thank you.
And if you have 1,000 hours as PIC and would like to volunteer for LightHawk and perhaps fly the 207, visit their Web site for more information.
See you next month.
Lubrication myths, legends and misconceptions still abound in the aviation world.
Click here to read this maintenance article.
The following article is done in a question-and-answer format to cover some of the most common questions and misunderstandings concerning aircraft and
lubrication. This represents only but a few of the many questions I am asked about when I meet people and they find out I'm a lubricant formulator.
Why shouldn't I use automotive oil in my airplane to take advantage of the more advanced technology?
While it is true that automotive oil is far more advanced than aviation oil, the answer lies in the fact that most aircraft engines are air-cooled while automotive engines are water-cooled. Air-cooled
aircraft engines are built with greater clearances and are designed to consume (burn) some oil.
Water-cooled automotive engines are designed and built to much tighter tolerances, so they do not consume much oil. These differences in design tolerances are due to the large temperature
differentials that are found in high-continuous-power-output, air-cooled, aircraft engines versus the low- and intermittent-power-output, water-cooled, auto engines.
There can be a 300 degree F temperature difference between the cylinder head and cylinder base in an operating aircraft engine. That kind of temperature differential causes a lot of distortion in the
cylinder, necessitating the requirement for large clearances. Automotive engines, being water-cooled, have lower temperature differentials across the engine and thus suffer lower levels of distortion
and can be designed and built to tighter tolerances.
Aircraft engines were designed before additives were available and have not really changed much over the years. When ashless dispersant oils were introduced for auto engines, they were also suitable
for aircraft engines and eventually were adopted for aviation use.
However, when zinc antiwear and metallic detergents were formulated into auto oils, an important divergence occurred. Aircraft engines burn a fair amount of oil and, if these metal-containing
detergents and antiwear compounds are present, they can form metallic ash deposits in the combustion chambers. These deposits can lead to destructive preignition, which could burn holes in the tops of
pistons with obvious catastrophic results. For that reason, it was decided that aviation oils were to remain ashless to avoid the risk of metallic deposits.
The benefit of using ashless dispersant oils is, obviously, a cleaner engine. Aircraft engines would also benefit greatly from the addition of other automotive additives such as anti-wear, detergents,
and corrosion inhibitors, but the downside is added cost. Ashless versions of these performance additives can cost up to 10 times more than standard ash-containing additives.
What about oil additives with PTFE (Teflon)?
Additives with Teflon resin should not be used in aircraft engines for three reasons;
- When oil is burned in the combustion chamber (remember -- aircraft engines burn some oil), the decomposition products are acidic and are extremely corrosive.
- The resin is a solid particle held in suspension. In aircraft oil, these resin particles have been found to quickly drop out of suspension and combine with lead salts from leaded fuel. This leads
to the formation of a sticky, heavy sludge. This sludge settles throughout the engine, where it can block oil flow.
- There is little evidence to show they provide any wear benefit in piston engines.
Editor's Note: Dupont, the developer and maker of Teflon, specifically says that Teflon is not designed for or to be used in engines and that they in no way endorse its use in this
What about these other "miracle" additives?
Additives like Prolong and Power-Up should never be used in aircraft. They contain chlorinated hydrocarbons and were designed as cutting fluids for metalworking. They work by decomposing to
hydrochloric acid and form iron chlorides on steel surfaces.
While that may be fine for one-pass machining, it is not good to have circulating through your engine. In addition, it's necessary to neutralize the excess acid so a large amount of metallic detergent
is added, which can cause combustion-chamber deposits. Such deposits can result in preignition and engine damage.
Which is better for rust (corrosion) protection: straight-weight or multi-weight oils?
This is a common and emotionally charged question. Let me start with a description of multi-weight oils.
Multi-weight oils are simply those oils that contain a viscosity modifier (VM) that affects the viscosity profile of the oil with temperature. To produce 20W-50 oil, you start with straight 20-weight
oil and dissolve approximately two percent of a solid polymer (the VM) into it.
The VM does not affect the low temperature viscosity of the oil because, when cold, these polymer molecules ball up so tight and small they, in effect, disappear in the oil. As the oil warms, the VM
molecules relax and interact with each other.
This interaction impedes flow, which by definition is an increase in viscosity. This essentially means that at 0 degrees C (32 degrees F), the 20W-50 flows like a 20-weight oil and at 100 degrees C
(212 degrees F), it has the same viscosity and flows like a 50-weight oil.
In effect, the viscosity modifier reduces the oil's tendency to thin with increasing temperature. All this being said, how does this affect the oil's ability to protect parts from corrosion? The two
properties that are important for corrosion resistance are film thickness and additive activity or concentration.
At ASL, we performed a simple experiment to compare the inherent corrosion protection of straight 50-weight versus 20W-50 multi-weight oil. The two oils selected are popular products and neither
contained any ferrous-metal rust inhibitors.
Test panels were weighed, then dipped in the two oils heated to 100 C (212 F). They were placed in an oven, which was 100 degrees C (212 degrees F), for 30 minutes. The panels were allowed to cool and
film thickness was determined by weight increase. This procedure simulates the oil-film thickness found on cams, lifters and other components in an engine after shutdown and cooling.
It was calculated that the film thickness was under a thousandth of an inch, 0.0008 inches, for both samples. The fact that we measured the same film thickness is not surprising, as both oils are
designed to have the same viscosity at the elevated temperature.
When tested for rust protection in a standard, humidity-cabinet test, both samples failed in much less than 24 hours. This test demonstrates that oil film alone, in the thickness range that these oils
leave on engine parts, offers very little rust protection.
The next test was done to compare the effectiveness of additives in preventing rust. We used CamGuard, a multifunctional additive package containing rust inhibitors, antiwear and antioxidant
chemistries that I developed for aircraft oils.
When five percent of CamGuard was added to the oils, the measured film thickness remained the same but the increase in rust protection was dramatic. Test results show protection for more than 500
hours versus less than 24 hours for the unadditized oil (see graph below).
This demonstrates the relative insignificance of film thickness compared to active inhibitors in providing rust protection in engines.
How frequently should I change oil?
When talking about corrosion in engines, one has to mention oil change intervals. I happen to believe in regular, frequent oil changes.
In the case of aircraft, you know that oil is cheap compared to an early overhaul. For most aircraft, I recommend the oil be changed every 25-35 hours or four times a year. If you fly often and have
an oil filter, 50 hours is fine.
The problem is contaminated oil sitting in the crankcase. In as little as five hours of engine run time, there is enough water and other reactive elements in the oil to strongly promote corrosion.
That's why a sitting engine needs to have frequent oil changes as well.
CamGuard is FAA accepted and approved for use in all non-turbocharged aircraft. (Turbocharged-engine approval is pending.) If you would like to read more about CamGuard, go to our Web site.
Editor's Note: We at Light Plane Maintenance are not yet endorsing CamGuard, but independent corrosion tests of aviation oils was done by Aviation Consumer magazine and showed very beneficial results from using CamGuard.
More aircraft repair and prevention articles are available in AVweb's Maintenance Index. And for monthly articles about aircraft maintenance, subscribe to AVweb's
sister publication, Light Plane Maintenance.