AVwebFlash - Volume 14, Number 23a

June 2, 2008

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
 
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In with the New, Maintaining the Old back to top 
 
Sponsor Announcement

Eclipse Goes Ahead With Single, Hikes Price Of Twin

Eclipse Aviation formally announced its intention to begin production of a $1.35 million single-engine jet called the Eclipse 400. The announcement was made earlier today at the company's annual "E-rrival" event in Albuquerque. At the same time, Eclipse announced it was boosting the price of its twin-engine 500 model by more than $550,000 from $1.595 million to $2.15 million. The announcements came as Eclipse was celebrating the tenth anniversary of the company. In both cases, Eclipse founder and CEO Vern Raburn said they were ideas whose time had come.

Regarding the 400, Raburn said there was overwhelmingly positive response to the single-engine "Concept" jet unveiled at EAA AirVenture last year. The four-place aircraft is claimed by Eclipse to be the "world's most fuel-efficient jet aircraft" and will be powered by a PW615F engine. Deliveries are planned for the end of 2011. Existing Eclipse 500 owners get first crack at one and a $125,000 discount if they order by July 25. It goes on the general market at EAA AirVenture. As for the price increase, Raburn said it costs more to build the Eclipse 500 than they thought it would and they aren't able to build them in the kind of volume they thought they could so they had to increase the price. "Eclipse's cost-driven pricing model requires Eclipse to re-examine aircraft pricing if actual costs change significantly from projections," the company said in a news release.

Austro Engine: Will It Save Diamond?

Located in the same industrial complex south of Vienna alongside Diamond Aircraft, Austro Engine is furiously gearing up to build new aerodiesel engines that will eventually replace Thielert's troubled Centurion line. At the Berlin Air Show this week, Austro displayed the AE 300, a 2-litre powerplant that's an evolutionary improvement over the same Mercedes-Benz engine Thielert used for its Centurions. Austro is working with MBTech, a Mercedes Benz daughter company, to develop the four-cylinder engine and certification is "imminent" according to a report in Flight Global's Flight Daily News this week. Like the Centurion, the AE 300 is a turbocharged, direct-injected diesel engine with high-pressure, common rail technology. But it has 165 HP rather than the Thielert's 135 HP. We're told that the engine has the same relative footprint and is being specifically designed to fit Diamond's DA40 Star and DA42 Twin Star.

Austro will have to overcome several technical problems that have dogged the Thielert engines; chief among them is the requirement to inspect and/or replace the engine's gearbox at 300-hour intervals. Since it runs at the same RPM as the Thielert, the Austro has a reduction gearbox but the Hor Technologie-developed gear set is being initially fielded with an 1800-hour TBO. Further, unlike the Thielert, the Austro has no clutch, but uses a dynamic damper to insulate the prop and gear train from the diesel's sharp power pulses. The Centurion line also encountered cooling system faults that caused cracked cylinder heads. Fuel specifics for the Austro are said to be 20 percent better than the Centurion line, a claim that's consistent with the engine's performance in the Mercedes A-Class economy sedan, which delivers as much 56 MPH on the highway.

The burning question that beached Diamond owners have is: when? Marcus Hergeth, Austro's managing director, told Flight Daily that first deliveries are planned for October of this year. It's not known what production levels are planned.

If Austro's plans pan out, they may complicate short-term efforts to revive Thielert Aircraft Engines. Because Diamond represents the majority of new engine and parts business for Thielert, investors may be reticent to recapitalize a company whose market is overhung by a major competitor who is also a customer. Diamond and the company assigned to oversee Thielert's insolvency, Kubler, have engaged in a bitter war of words over how to restore engine and parts flow to Diamond customers. Last week, Kubler published new parts prices that Diamond called "abusive" and it announced that Thielert would no longer honor its warranty commitments. Meanwhile, more of Diamond's customers go AOG each day as engines come due for gearbox and engine replacements.

More of AVweb's continuing coverage of the Thielert bankruptcy:
Thielert Engine Owner Group Forms
Diamond: Thielert Was "Grossly Misleading"
Thielert: Diamond Guilty of Misinformation
... and more on the AVweb Insider blog

 
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Gas Tanks and Data Banks back to top 
 

Rising Fuel Costs; Falling Flight Hours

As an economic barometer, the figures for general aviation suggest fuel prices and the economy may be hitting the little guys hard. The evidence is indirect and correlational, but abundant. Friday, AVweb's fuel finder, located at AVweb.com showed prices for 100LL averaging more than $5.30 per gallon and that they had climbed eight cents since the previous week. A review of activity at FAA and contract towers for 2007 included in FAA's Aerospace Forecast for 2008-2025 stated, "At the end of 2007, non-commercial aircraft activity was 16.1 percent below the activity in 2000, having declined each year since 2002." The FAA's most recent year-over-year records available online show the difference in hours flown by recreational pilots in 2005 and 2006 -- recreational pilots flew about 125,000 fewer hours in 2006 than the prior year. If that's just a bump in the road, it's a bump in a road that's been headed downhill for years. FAA figures show that fixed-wing piston aircraft flown for personal use flew about 2.3 million fewer hours in 2006 versus 2000. As for sales of small aircraft, light sport aircraft in the first quarter of 2008 dropped 30 percent from six months prior, according to industry watchdog Dan Johnson. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) showed sales of piston aircraft fell 28 percent when compared with the first quarter of 2007. Showing a stark class divide, general aviation business flight hours appear unaffected as do sales of business aircraft, and both may be carrying their respective tallies -- plus total hours and sales figures for general aviation as a whole -- higher.

The FAA's 2008-2025 forecast predicts an annual increase of 3 percent per year through 2025 in the number of general aviation hours flown, due in large part to an influx of new very light jets (VLJs) and small aircraft operated for business. That market segment's billings (turboprops and light business jets) prospered early this year and not only countered the falling recreational market but pushed the industry's billings to an all-time first-quarter high in 2008, up 16 percent over the previous year. There's an old saying that if you have to worry about the cost of fuel, you probably shouldn't be flying. Today's pilots are paying nearly twice as much per hour on fuel as they did in 2005. Statistics suggest many of America's (fewer than) 600,000 pilots may be taking that to heart and the same may be true for prospective pilots who can often expect to pay more than $125 for one hour of flight instruction. One school AVweb found for this story reported a reduction in training hours of 20 percent since 2007. Ultralight and LSA pilots burning roughly 3.5 gallons per hour are also paying more ... just a lot less of it.

The NOTAM Database Crash: What Happened

A nearly 20-hours-long crash of the FAA's NOTAM database last week occurred because of a drive failure that took place "in the middle of updating the information on the hard drive," which in turn "screwed up the database," Barry Davis, manager of the aeronautical information management for the FAA, told ComputerWorld.com. The box in question was a Sun Microsystems Inc. server, according to the FAA, that was nearing the end of its life expectancy. Its failure put controllers to work disseminating the NOTAM information to pilots. Davis' team already had replacement equipment on hand, they just hadn't yet performed the replacement. Because of that, the hardware recovery portion of the fix "was quite simple -- we just put the boxes in," said Davis. Unfortunately, when they did that, they moved a data error over to the backup system, thereby corrupting it and causing the system to run slowly and in a manner that appeared to be deteriorating. In the end, the latest information had to be pulled from the corrupted database, re-imported into the new database and resynchronized with all the subsystems. Davis' team then put the system back online and stuck around into the evening to make sure there were no more surprises.

 
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High-Speed and High-Tech back to top 
 

Chambliss Wins Detroit Red Bull Race

By one of the narrowest margins in Red Bull history, Arizona native Kirby Chambliss won the Detroit Red Bull Air Race title with a final race time of 1:12.08 beating runner up Paul Bonhomme by a mere 0.15 seconds. Austrian pilot Hannes Arch and Mike Mangold came in third and fourth place. The twelve competing pilots flew a modified qualifying round on Sunday because the flying was cancelled on Saturday due to winds. The race gates can normally withstand winds up to 40 knots, but wind gusts of more than 60 knots forced race officials to cancel on the grounds of safety as some of the gates were blown off their moorings.

Because of the modification, the pilots were only allowed one qualifying flight instead of normal two, further increasing the competition between the pilots. Also, the top four qualifiers moved on in the elimination round instead of the top eight as originally planned. Detroit marks the third stop in this year's Red Bull Air Race tour, and the second stop in the United States. Over 750,000 spectators watched the race from both Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. The next race will be in Stockholm, Sweden on July 5 and 6.

Click here to view photos.

Alaska Pilots Get Tools For The Job: More ADS-B

Mike Cirillo, the FAA's top official in Alaska, backs the installation of more Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) coverage in Alaska supported with two-way datalink systems and at a May 14 presentation, he said coverage would expand by the end of this year. Countering concerns that the system would not be further deployed, Cirillo said Fairbanks, Nome, Kotzebue and Anchorage would be home to four new ground-based transmission receivers before 2009. The ADS-B system is hailed as making flying more than 40 percent safer in areas of no radar coverage and high traffic and Cirillo's position was welcomed by local pilots. "This is huge. This is good news for Alaskan pilots," one pilot told Alaskajournal.com. Cirillo hopes acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell will make the trip to Alaska later this summer to see the region's challenges firsthand. Pilot groups concerned that new coverage would be held off until late 2009 now have reason to believe the system will soon grow beyond Southwest, Southeast and Anchorage bowl airspace.

 
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News Briefs back to top 
 

ATG Files Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, Bye Marches On

ATG, maker of the fighter-like Javelin jet, suspended operations in December and as of May 23, ATG has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The Colorado-based company that once sought to deliver its subsonic two-place "executive" jet failed to find a buyer and now leaves between 100 and 200 creditors seeking some return on investments ranging from $10 million to $50 million. Court documents indicate ATG has liabilities ranging from $50 million to $100 million. Previous reports indicated that ATG's board had by March successfully negotiated deals with its main lenders and was seeking "final offer bids from prospective buyers to reach ATG within the next few weeks." By April, ATG's former chairman and president, George Bye, was seeking incentives to locate a new privately funded business venture, Bye Engineering, and May 27 announced that company had signed "a long term agreement" with Colorado-based machining company, Arrow Industrial.

According to Bye, Arrow can "provide unique research, prototyping and machining capability" that will "help capture the exciting opportunities utilizing alternative energy in aviation" -- a stated goal of Bye's new venture. Bye Engineering "is an engineering consulting company supporting the aerospace industry" with a focus on "new technology aerospace consulting and alternative energy applications."

Coroner: UK Nimrod Fleet Not Airworthy

A coroner who led an inquest regarding the September 2006 midair explosion of a Nimrod sea control aircraft has said the aircraft "like every other aircraft within the Nimrod fleet, was not airworthy," but the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) does not have to comply the coroner's recommendations and likely won't. An RAF Board of Inquiry in December 2007 delivered a report that declared aging parts and lack of fire-suppression systems as contributing factors but in the end apparently served as a spark for investigations initiated by parents of some of the deceased fliers. Of all the parents, Graham Knight stood out for claiming to have e-mails from high-ranking officers that detailed problems with fuel leaks prior to the 2006 explosion and noted a 2005 recommendation from BAE Systems that fire-detection systems be installed on the aircraft. The assistant deputy coroner who led the inquest is now calling for the entire Nimrod fleet to be grounded, according to Defense Industry Daily. The UK MoD has taken measures it believes are satisfactory and will continue to fly the plane.

The UK MoD says it will continue to fly the Nimrod but has stopped air-to-air fueling and has ceased use of the "very hot air systems" in flight. According to the MoD, these measures remove the dangers in design noted by the coroner and along with enhanced maintenance and inspection procedures effectively ensure safe operation of the aircraft.

On the Fly ...

The Red Bull Air Races now have a dedicated YouTube channel, showing clips and previews along with interviews and news from the "World Series."

EAA members are eligible to receive a free SPOT Satellite Messenger at AirVenture 2008. The $170 GPS/message device is useless without a service subscription, which costs roughly $150 per year and allows users to check in with family or request emergency assistance.

Flight Design is retaining its lead in the LSA market, holding a 19.4 percent share. The manufacturer had 246 aircraft in the marketplace as of April 2008, with American Legend's Cub holding a 10.4 percent share with 132 aircraft and Evektor's Sportstar holding a 6.8 percent share with 88 aircraft. All numbers from byDanJohnson.com.

Engine fire may have preceded Kalitta 747 aborted takeoff and crash, according to a report by Flight International. Air traffic controllers have reported seeing a fire in one of the aircraft's two starboard engines during the takeoff sequence.

 
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Reader Voices back to top 
 

AVmail: June 2, 2008

Reader mail this week about redundant read-backs, leaden LSAs, absent avgas and more.

Click here to read this week's letters to the editor.

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something 200,000 pilots might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via email to newstips@avweb.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.

 
Between Wheels Up and Wheels Down, There Is One Important Word: How
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New on AVweb back to top 
 

CEO of the Cockpit #83: Never Kick a Frozen Chock

Stick around long enough and you'll feel the need to dispense wisdom about flight and life. AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit is a mere mortal in this regard.

Click here for the full story.

Who knew that a nice afternoon movie during a Fort Lauderdale layover would lead me to pontificate yet again about aviation?

The whole crew and I decided to take in an early after-lunch movie at the local cineplex. Since we had to take a vote on which movie to watch and since us two male pilots were outnumbered by our 10-member, female, flight-attendant crew, we ended up watching that movie about being a male maid of honor that starred Dr. McCreamy (or whatever) from Greys Anatomy on TV.

It was an OK movie, for a chick flick. The male lead managed to take off his shirt enough to impress the girls and the story, although being a total rip-off of My Best Friends Wedding, was adequate enough to hold my attention for a couple of cool-dark hours before the pool bar opened at the layover motel near the beach.

We had adjourned to said layover watering hole and six or so of us were huddled around a table between the bar and the pool, drinking through colored straws out of fake coconuts with real paper umbrellas. The sun was out, the music was mellow, and the tropical drinks were -- well -- tropical.

Part of the movie we had just watched (or endured, depending upon your gender) had to do with the McDreamy character's rules of love and life. Most of them had to do with keeping women at arms-length ... and after he found true love, of course, he gave all his silly rules up.

Jill, one of the flight attendants gracing our pool-bar hang-out, was also an aspiring pilot who wanted someday to fly for a living. She didn't exactly look bad in a bikini, ether, but I would never mention that I noticed this because that could be construed as being sexist and lead to some sort-of mandatory HR training on my days off.

She asked, "Do you have any rules you made up and live by that govern your flying life?"

My copilot Bart, who was on the other side of our bamboo, umbrella-shaded table, would have been the perfect candidate to answer such a complicated, albeit interesting, question from a newbie pilot, but he was totally engaged in getting to know Gretchen better.

Gretchen was a well-known home wrecker who wasn't aware, yet, that Bart was already on wife number three and had absolutely no money left. Talk about your perfect couple.

It was up to me to answer Jill's question. I had two major reasons for wanting to do so. First, as an aging captain, I had scads of wads of wisdom to drop on any pilot who asked and second, I think I mentioned the bikini. It was to my advantage to enjoy both the view and my chance to look smart.

The CEO Whips it Out

Even though I was dressed in loose-fitting, chubby-guy shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, I metaphorically whipped out my flying rule book and began my lecture.

First, I told Jill, there is no particular order to these little nuggets of flying truth. Second, since I'm into my third umbrella drink, I may miss a few or even mess up a few.

"OK," she said. "I'm not getting any younger -- shoot when ready."

The first rule I'll share with you is one you have already witnessed. As captain, I feel it is my duty to always buy the first round at the bar. New-hire pilots who fly with me never buy a beer and I occasionally buy dinners, too.

"How about tonight?" she asked.

Looking at Jill I could not imagine not buying her and the whole crew dinner, but I kept that to myself and continued with my rules of flying.

Most of the CEO's rules are safety related:

  • Never kick a chock. You never know which ones are frozen to the ground in cold climates, or which ones house wasps in warm areas of the world.
  • Never prop a stranger's airplane. I know this rule sounds harsh, but I've propped hundreds of airplanes over the years and have kept all 10 of my fingers by only helping pilots I know and trust.
  • If you can't stand up on the ramp, it is probably too icy to taxi an airplane on it.
  • Always check your own fuel caps, oil caps and access doors if you can.
  • There is always time for a clearing turn.
  • Never fool with hydraulics, high-wattage electricity or manually starting a jet engine.
  • You should never hurry. If you are on the ground and get confused, set the parking brake and take the time to figure it out. If you are in the air, ask for holding or delaying vectors. Never fly on ATC's schedule. They are never at the crash scene -- you always arrive first.
  • Same thing with dispatchers. Never let a dispatcher control your destiny. Work with them, not for them.
  • If you are on the line crew and are changing jet-fuel nozzles, always turn the truck off before you try to go from over-the-wing to single-point.
  • Never hold up a garbage can in an attempt to dump an aircraft's toilet tank.
  • There are two air hoses in an aircraft shop. One is low pressure air and the other is high pressure nitrogen. One will fill up your air mattress and the other can blow your hand off.
  • Pay attention around airplanes and airplane areas at all times.

The CEO Says "No" to Speedos

Jill seemed to be getting a little bored with my preachy rules on how not to die when she flies. Bart and Gretchen had left the pool to get to know each other better and three other flight attendants were now bobbing in the pool like 20-something Jee Vice- and Oakley-wearing penguins. I changed tack with my lecture and went to more lifestyle-friendly rules of flying:

  • Another important rule as a captain, I said, is to remember that you never look as good at the layover motel's pool as you might think you do.
  • You should always admire the pictures of flight attendant's cats and boyfriends.
  • You can never be senior enough.
  • If you ever get senior enough, avoid trips to ATL and DFW.
  • No matter how expensive and big and fancy an airplane you are flying, it will still feel like crap to you at 3 a.m.
  • You will never, ever, get back the Christmas mornings that you missed because you were greedy and went junior on an airplane. Never.
  • Never, ever, say, "I told you so," to a flight attendant after they realize that the boyfriend they put through medical or law school will never marry them.
  • Never have an affair with a flight attendant or a pilot (oh how I hated to say that). They not only will eventually cost you a house and your family, they also know your flying schedule.
  • Never ask rotund flight attendant, "When is the baby due?"
  • Absolutely nobody wants to hear stories about your dog or your kids.
  • Days off are precious. Never waste one on an ALPA meeting or a company road show. Both groups will always send you a letter telling you exactly how and why you are getting hosed.
  • The company is not a family and is certainly not your family.
  • There is no such thing as a guaranteed pension or, for that matter, a guaranteed anything.

It was getting cooler out by the pool as the sun set behind our motel. Jill, alas, had put a windbreaker on and I knew we were about to part ways, perhaps forever. All old man lechery aside, I knew from talking to Jill that, even though she was a first-rate flight attendant now, she would make an even better pilot in the future. Because of this, I got serious and added a few more last-minute rules before we went to Hooters across the street for dinner.

  • First, don't take advice from old farts like me too seriously. We are the past and you are the future. Just because I can still remember how to do a fixed-needle ADF hold doesn't mean I'm any smarter than you. I can't tell an AIDIRU from a transistor and am overwhelmed by the whole idea of things like ACARS and TCAS.
  • Never be the first to volunteer for anything. Let another pilot try that hole in the line of thunderstorms or that 35-knot crosswind takeoff.
  • The most scared person in my flight crew generally wins. I always encourage displaying fear and doubt. Scared copilots have kept me from doing something stupid dozens of times.
  • Always write down your last frequency somewhere. Nowadays, most radios are flip-flop, but you should never have to search for a frequency for longer than a minute or two, even if you have to get the high chart out to do so.
  • You should never comment on how well you have handled a thunderstorm. It will kick you in the ass if you do.
  • The best pilots are the self-doubting ones. Never trust a pilot who thinks he or she knows everything.
  • Whatever you don't know -- and you will not know a lot -- can always be looked up.
  • Finally, you literally never know which trip is going to be your last, so enjoy them all as much as you can.



Want to read more from AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit? Check out the rest of his columns.

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Annual Inspections

You don't have to get your hands dirty to save money, but it helps.

Click here to read this maintenance article.

Attitudes about annual inspections vary widely. Some like to get right in there and do the owner-assist thing. (We hope most LPM readers fall into this category.) Others either won't or can't participate in their annual, and instead hand over the keys and maybe a squawk list.

Still others -- the ones mechanics both love and hate the most -- simply drop the airplane off and expect a call when the annual is done. These types earn the mechanic's love and loathing because there's so much latitude to make money, while at the same time the annual inspection becomes a sort of bizarre, detective game, with the mechanic trying to figure out what's wrong with the airplane without any helpful hints from the owner. Unfortunately, the mechanic is not the beneficiary of all the diagnostic finery befitting your typical Miami CSI crime lab, so many things can be overlooked.

But whether you get a real kick out of greasing your landing gear or you would rather just sign the check at the end, there's plenty you can do to cut down your annual bill, sometimes by a rather dramatic amount.

And not all of it requires getting dirty. The place to start with all of this is before your annual inspection is due. Depending on your own nature and schedule, and the general condition of your aircraft, six weeks to two months before the annual is scheduled is a good time to begin. But once you decide when to begin, the question becomes where to begin.

What's Wrong?

The best place to start your pre-annual activities is to simply draw from your experience with your aircraft. Nobody knows it better than you do, right?

The first step is to sit down and develop your squawk list. Take your time and consider it carefully. List every malfunction, defect, quirk or whatever has come up during the last year, including stuff that broke and was fixed. List everything, no matter how minor it seems to have been.

A partial list for something like a Piper Arrow might include things like these:

  • Post light over airspeed inoperative;
  • No.1 Comm scratchy;
  • VOR needle occasionally jerky;
  • Windshield leaks over right instrument panel; and
  • Pilot seat sometimes hard to adjust fore and aft.

Once you have your list, go over it again. This time put down as much information about each item as you can. For example, something simple like the dead post light perhaps needs no more comment than noting when you first noticed that it quit.

Something that may require a little more digging deserves more detail, like the jerky VOR needle. Is it jerky only under some conditions consistently (like flying in precipitation), or only when something else is turned on or off? Or for no apparent reason? Take this list and set it aside.

Then, go out and fly your airplane. Make another, separate list during the course of the flight. Consider it a test flight -- you want to check the operation of everything. Even things you don't normally use should be exercised. Again, note every deficiency, no matter how small.

During your run-up, do some of the power-checking procedures. This time, for any defects noted, supply all the extra information you can that's pertinent. Having done that, take your second list and match it up with the first one. Combine the two into one. For previously repaired items, have any of them failed again? If so, that may be something that merits further investigation during your annual, such as an electrical problem of lights blowing.

Dig In

Armed with your master squawk list, decide which are items within your ability -- and worth your while -- to fix. Then schedule a Saturday afternoon (or two or more if needed) and go fix them.

For example, that inoperative post light is a pretty easy self-repair item, and certainly cheaper for you to fix than your mechanic. If it's just the bulb, five minutes of your time and a low-cost bulb from Aircraft Spruce and Specialty fixes the problem.

Perhaps the battery is several years old. Why pay list price for a new one from your shop, plus installation? The rules permit you to replace it yourself.

Obviously, there are things that are simply going to be beyond your knowledge, experience or ability to fix -- leave those to your mechanic. Tackle those you can deal with and leave the rest for the pros to handle.

Now, while you're out at your airplane -- provided you've decided to actually exercise some hands-on control of your financial destiny -- you can really start doing things that will save you some bucks during your upcoming annual. When you've taken care of everything you can on your squawk list, it's time to go looking for trouble -- in effect, conduct your own pre-annual annual inspection.

As with anything else, your pre-annual inspection should be methodical. A good place to start is with the manufacturer's annual-inspection checklist from your aircraft's maintenance manual. If you don't have the manual, ask your mechanic for a copy of the checklist from his.

Failing that, make up your own checklist. (Get your mechanic's guidance in making up your list, if possible.) But, no matter what, use a checklist. You cannot count on your memory, no matter how well you think you know your plane.

On the List

If you use the manufacturer's checklist, there are going to be items on there that you shouldn't be doing ... some because they're beyond the average Joe's ability or equipment, and others because they are going to be done during an annual inspection anyway. With a little common sense, you can easily winnow down the checklist to suit your needs and abilities.

Check with your IA as to what routine things he does as part of the annual, such as changing the oil. You don't want to do preventative maintenance in annual preparation of something the IA will be doing anyway. Any airframe greasing is a good area to understand what he and you do not want to be duplicating as pre- and annual maintenance procedures.

You don't want to try yanking off your mags to inspect the impulse couplings and check the E gap; not only is it probably beyond the knowledge of most owners, but depending on mag model, your IA may be required by law to go back and redo it.

However, some items you should most certainly check out during your pre-annual inspection would be:

  • Battery and Battery-Box Condition: Is your battery dead, or just in need of some fluid and a charge? Either way, deal with it yourself. Order your battery discount from one of the many suppliers listed in Trade-A-Plane if you need a new one. Wash out your battery box and clear the drain lines.

    Figure that if you order your new battery yourself at even a reasonable discount, activate it with a home battery charger and install it in your airplane, you've likely just saved yourself about $100 off your annual.

  • Wing Undersides: Look for fuel stains. This is best done at least a month before the annual. If you see any fuel stains, clean them off. Then, when the airplane gets into the hangar for the annual, if new stains are apparent, you've got legitimate leaks. If not, you've saved the price of having your mechanic chase a nonexistent leak -- and maybe the cost of a fuel bladder and installation.
  • Tires: Replace any questionable tires yourself. It's easy, and legal, so there's no excuse not to -- unless you like the idea of paying someone else to do it. If you are not sure of the procedure, get some advice. Split rims are not something everyone has come across, and a little advice will keep you from damaging a stuck rim.
  • Brakes: Check the pad and disk thickness as well as the condition of the rotor. Replace anything out of specification.
  • Engine Compartment: Look for leaks of any sort. You may not be able to correct many or even any, but you should at least take note of them. If you're planning on flying some more before your bird gets into annual, wash the engine. That way, any oil that is found during the inspection is fresh, making leak sources that much easier to locate, and making the fix-or-forget decision that much easier, too.

    Also, take a mallet and give your muffler a whack. If you hear things rattling around inside, order up a replacement from Wal-Colmonoy and save big dollars over the factory part.

  • Spark Plugs: Yank, clean, inspect and gap or replace any plugs as needed. Order them yourself at discount. Voila: Your airplane has perfectly sound plugs when it rolls into the shop for the annual, saving you from paying for the same job and perhaps list-priced, new plugs. Note: if you find lots of deposits or oil, make sure your mechanic is aware rather than trying to hide any problems for fear of the expense -- it's your neck on the line.
  • Air Filters: Order your own and install new ones. (You do this regularly anyway, right?)
  • ELT Battery: Is it nearing its expiration date? Order up a replacement (again through a Trade-A-Plane discounter) and install it yourself. Depending on your mechanic, this item alone could amount to major savings.
  • External Lights: Turn them on, check them out. Replace any burned-out ones you find.

Screws

Having gone through all the above items, you may easily have clipped a couple hundred dollars off your pending annual bill. This is the power of doing your own work and ordering your own parts. But there's one more job that can really cut down on the number of hours of labor your bird is going to require during the annual, and that's getting out stuck screws.

Whether you participate heavily in your annual or leave most of it up to your mechanic, remedying stuck screws before the inspection is going to significantly cut down the time required by your mechanic for the most basic of inspection jobs, that of removing access panels. It will definitely put you on your mechanic's Christmas card list.

For this job, budget at least a morning, perhaps a whole day if you've got lots of rusty screws. Arm yourself with a screw gun, drill, screw extractor, quality screwdrivers and a bag of fresh cad-plate screws.

Go around the airplane and remove every access panel screw one at a time. Throw away the rusted ones, and drill out and replace the really stuck ones. Take a few seconds to examine the threads on each screw and toss any that are damaged. Don't leave access plates off unless that's what your inspector wants -- normally they leave one screw loosely attached for easy orientation and keeping track of access plates.

If you're really thorough, you might take this opportunity to dab each screw with a touch of Permatex anti-seize. Just a dab on the few end threads will do. Be stingy with this stuff because it sticks to everything, including your fingers, and then gets all over everything else. One treatment will make future screw removals much easier for years to come.

To Clean or Not

Appearances can mean a lot, and when it comes to your airplane and its annual inspection, how it looks when it rolls through the doors can mean the difference between getting a good annual for a fair price, getting a poor annual but saving money, or getting an annual conducted to a degree of thoroughness beyond your wildest dreams -- and a bill sized to match.

There are two schools of thought regarding cleaning your airplane before its annual inspection. The first school says that your airplane should be presented in spotless condition -- perhaps to impress your inspector with the meticulous attention that you lavish on your bird.

Mechanics, being only human, may tend to sum up your airplane based on their first impression. If the belly is oil covered, bits of bird nests are left in the engine compartment and the cowling has exhaust stains, the mechanic is likely to say to himself, "This airplane's in sorry shape." As a result, your annual is going to be conducted with a microscope and a fine-tooth comb. And you'll be looking at a breathtaking bill at the end.

So, says the first school, get your airplane squeaky clean before the annual. Your mechanic will be impressed and your annual will go much quicker, consequently your bill will be reduced.

The second school says that the filth that builds up on your airplane can be revealing. The amount of oil on the belly gives an indirect picture of cylinder health (more ring blowby shows up as more belly oil). Oozing hydraulic fluid on the struts may indicate oleo seals going bad, and so on.

Cleaning your airplane spotless will wipe out these valuable clues, perhaps causing your mechanic to miss certain defects. Thus, although your annual bill is reduced, your airplane comes out of the annual with some of the same defects it went in with, defeating the purpose of the inspection. As is usually the case, the best path is a combination of the two schools.

Depending on your own utilization and habits, it might not be such a bad idea to give the airplane an extreme cleaning a month or two before your annual. Wash the engine, wipe the struts; get the bird up to that spic-and-span level. Then use it normally until the annual.

Any leaks, stains and dirt build-ups are true indicators of the airplane's health, just like the fuel-stain exercise mentioned earlier. Doing it this way, your mechanic won't be disgusted and give you the micro-scope treatment, but he won't be deprived of vital clues either.

The List

At the end of all this, take your master squawk list and go over it one more time. Cross off the items that have been taken care of and make a new list of any that are outstanding. If you've got intermittent conditions or conditional squawks, include as much additional information as you can.

For example, remember the wandering VOR needle on the Arrow above? If the needle only jerks around when maneuvering, that's a significant clue to what's wrong. Obviously, there are going to be items that you just don't have the time or ability to troubleshoot, but do as many as possible.

Once your master squawk list is complete, turn it over to your mechanic just before you bring the plane in for the annual. Ideally, the two of you should be able to sit down and discuss your list, face to face. (By all means, don't just leave the list at the shop's counter figuring it will be sent to the proper person or destination -- it probably will not be seen by the inspector unless he knows about it and has talked it over with you.)

The more time he spends talking, the less time he'll have to spend trying to figure out your squawks. Don't feel you are taking money out of his pocket by doing these things.

Most mechanics consider the "dirty work" of stuck screw removal as a royal pain. He will be appreciative of your efforts. Just be sure you don't make matters worse by leaving a bunch of broken screws behind for him to fix. This active preparation is probably the best way for you both to save money, a win-win.

This article describes some ways for an owner to get involved in an annual. If you have other ideas or suggestions, drop us a line.



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.

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AVweb Insider Blog: Thielert's Flawed Economics (And Why the Company Knows It)

Our analysis of Thielert's new diesel engine pricing shows that the diesels now cost more than twice as much as a turbine engine to maintain. We don't see how this can work, and Paul Bertorelli runs down the logic on our blog, AVweb Insider.

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Your Favorite FBOs back to top 
 

FBO of the Week: Landmark Aviation (KLAL, Lakeland, FL)

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AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to the Lakeland Florida location of Landmark Aviation (KLAL).

AVweb reader Alec Thigpen recommended the FBO, telling us how manager Stephen Leidigh helped him (and others) during the very busy week of Sun 'n Fun:

[O]n a busy Saturday of Sun 'n Fun, [Stephen made time] to personally take us to our plane on a somewhat distant parking area when we were unable to get a SNF shuttle to come get us. He also took another group to their airplane as well. The facilities were perfect for all of our needs, and there was a fuel discount during the week of the show as well. Their friendliness was quite nice and not all that common at many FBOs when things get hectic.

Kudos to the folks at Landmark!

Keep those nominations coming. For complete contest rules, click here.

AVweb is actively seeking out the best FBOs in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!

 
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Meet Staff Sgt. Ryan Kelly

File Size 10.5 MB / Running Time 11:32

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As you may have read recently on AVweb, Staff Sgt. Ryan Kelly recently earned his helicopter and helicopter CFI certificates (as well as a degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University). Having lost a leg in Iraq, Kelly is the first wounded warrior to earn his fixed-wing private pilot certificate through the Able Flight scholarship program. Listen to this podcast to hear Ryan's story in his own words.

Click here to listen. (10.5 MB, 11:32)

Video of the Week: Red Bull Air Race Detroit — Practice Laps

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With the Red Bull Air Races hitting Detroit, let's take a few moments to watch some practice laps, courtesy of our friends at Red Bull:


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The Lighter Side of Flight back to top 
 

Short Final

Overheard in IFR Magazine's 'On the Air' Section
Overheard in IFR Magazine's "On the Air"

Heard on Denver approach frequency:

Approach:
"Great Lakes One Twenty Three, traffic six o'clock, two miles, 1000 feet above you, a 737."

Great Lakes:
"Approach, Great Lakes One Twenty Three, if I told you I could see him, I'd be lying."

Approach:
"If you told me you could see him, you'd be my mother — 'cause you'd have eyes in the back of your head."

David J. Livingston
Colorado Springs, Colorado

 
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AVwebBiz: AVweb's Business Aviation Newsletter

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Meet the AVwebFlash Team

AVwebFlash is a weekly summary of the latest news, articles, products, features, and events featured on AVweb, the internet's aviation magazine and news service.

The AVwebFlash team is:

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Timothy Cole

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Paul Bertorelli

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