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.
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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
- 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.
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
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Read more and, by all means, let us know if there's something we're missing in this picture.