AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit went down to Texas to learn about college football, the dangers of Wheel of Fortune, and the power of an English Professor to change your career.
Click here for the full story.
It isn't often that an airline flight crew has time to go to a football game during a layover. Many years ago when I was a plumber on the old DC-8 we
used to have beacoup Detroit layovers, which meant we were laying-over in Ann Arbor at the venerated Ann Arbor Inn.
Those layovers were seasonal in nature, meaning that the Atlanta based pilots got it in the summertime and we Chicago guys got it in the winter. A lot of layovers seemed to go that way. For some
reason, every summer I was laying over in Phoenix and Shreveport. Every winter found me sitting snowed-in at a motel in Fargo, N.D., or Portland, Maine.
The Ann Arbor layovers had a certain allure for this young engineer. In addition to all the parka-clad coeds cruising around the student union at the University of Michigan, we could sometimes score
tickets for a football game that they held in their half-buried stadium on the east side of campus.
Going to a football game on an Ann Arbor layover was way more fun than visiting the Michigan Museum of Natural History or trying to get sweet tea with your lunch at the Lamplighter Inn.
We don't lay over in Ann Arbor anymore. The particular flying market has long since been given to the RJ crowd. Why fly hundreds of fare-paying people into a big city when you can fly small amounts of
them at a higher cost? The logic of airline management flies over this captain's head once again.
This layover with my co-pilot Hank was in Dallas and/or Fort Worth and we had a total of 36 fun-filled hours to enjoy our stay. Normally, layovers don't last longer than a good nap, a healthy poop and
a quick shower, but during the end of the month, changeover trips tend to get a little squirrelly. We were in the DFW area until one month ended and a whole new month's set of bad trip-rotations
What the heck; we were young jet pilots with a weekend to spend eating Tex-Mex food and watching the interstate in Arlington near Six Flags
Over Texas fill with the honking, smelly cars of the local Texicans. Who knew that Hank would come up with two football tickets from his old Texas alma mater, Goat Rope State?
Hank's home team was coming in from the far reaches of West Texas to play those low-life, sister-marrying, communications majors from Southeast Central Texas Agricultural University.
Yep, it was going to be the Fighting Goat Ropers going toe-to-toe against those milk-money-stealing Horned Cows from SCTAU and the game was going to be a more exciting than a coach meal with an ice
cream sundae, according to Hank.
The hotel van from the Arlington Hilton gladly took us away from their lobby bar and deposited Hank and me directly in front of the hallowed stadium of the fighting Horned Cows. "Dan Jenkins Field" is
a beautiful place if you can ignore the fact that it is built with taxpayer money on the biggest salt flat in the DFW area.
We viewed the scene through our company funded Serengeti sunglasses and began the long climb to our seats.
The stadium is about two miles south of the departure end of the DFW runways, so we were not surprised at two facts. First, the noise of departing overbooked airliners drowned out the playing of the
national anthem by the Fighting Horned Cows marching band and, second, there was a big advertisement for our airline on the inside cover of the game's program right next to printed text of the Horned
Cows rousing fight song. The ad was a picture of one of our 757s with the sales pitch: "Get the Hell out of Texas on Our Modern Jets!"
Hank and I got our beers and settled into our seats in Section 11a, Row 65. We sat in a sort of "reverse seniority," with me on the right and Hank on the left. We were situated just above a group of
skanky SCTAU females whose only saving grace was that their tattoos appeared to be spelled correctly.
Sitting With The Good-Old Boys
On either side of us were two guys. Joe, who was on my right, sported a SCTAU wife-beater shirt (three sizes too small) and a baseball cap with a picture of a cartoon Rebel on it saying, "Forget?
Hell!" On Hank's left side was a fellow with wire-rimmed glasses, a leather-elbowed tweed sports coat and a hat saying, "Our Sports Team is far Superior to Your Sports Team."
Great; redneck on the right, nerd on the left.
My new friend Joe started the conversation off by first apologizing for spilling beer on my leg and then telling me how many games of the SCTAU Horned Cows he had attended in his lifetime, which was
all of them.
"You fly for the airlines, don't you?" Joe began while at the same time lighting up his third cigarette.
How did you figure that out?
"Because you are still wearing your airline ID on your jacket."
Oh, crap. In my hurry to get ready for the football game, I forgot to take my secondary ID off of my commuting jacket. A secondary ID, for you non-airline or law-abiding airline people, is the ID you
get from the company when you lie to them and tell them you lost the first one.
Security Level: Plastic
It works like this: Every airline pilot's professional life is predicated on having his or her airline ID always at the ready. You need your ID to get through security. You need it to get into the
pilot's lounge and you need it to get access to your plane at the gate. If you forget it or lose it, your trip can come to a screeching halt.
In order to keep that sort of thing from happening, the less honest of us tell the company that we've lost our ID. They will give us one free replacement and then start charging us an escalating
amount for subsequent losses.
That way I can keep one of them safely in my wallet or on my uniform and a second one handy for when I try to get on the plane home after a trip. I had my second ID on my jacket for just such an
occurrence but forgot to remove it and was now about to pay for it for at least four more quarters.
"My uncle was an airline pilot just after the big war," continued Joe with no encouragement from me. "Yep, after getting a bullet in the butt flying Hueys in Vet-nam, he got a job flying for Braniff.
He got furloughed after Braniff went belly-up and got on with Southwest."
How is he now?
"Dead." Said Joe. "He was what you people call 'laying-over' in Little Rock and died from a heart attack while he was watching 'Wheel' on TV. They found him the next morning still in his uniform,
sitting up, deader than disco."
Those layovers can be dangerous, I said, trying to be helpful yet respectful of a dead captain and a war hero.
"Yeah," said Joe, who after his sixth beer was getting a little misty-eyed. "This stadium seat was left to me by my uncle. He was a big Horned Cow fan and once told me that airline flying was an awful
lot like a football game."
I had to ask: How so?
"Hours and hours of uncomfortable boredom interspersed with quick moments of excitement and pain."
I'm sorry I never got to meet your uncle. He sounds like he was a good pilot and a great American.
Mayday for the Goat Ropers
By now, the game was not only underway, it was out of control. In between the howling madness of a hundred climbing turbojets, we saw and heard the dismantling of the Fighting Goat Roper's entire
football program. By half-time the score was: Horned Cows 46 -- Goat Ropers 3.
Hank and I retired to the snack bar during the latter part of half-time for some much-needed beer and nachos.
I asked Hank if he was OK staying and watching his alma mater getting their noses stomped into the mud like a new-hire at a chief pilot's conference, or if he wanted to head back to the Hilton.
"Hell no! This is the best my team has done here in 20 years," said Hank, who by now had imbibed at least as much brew as my new best friend, Joe.
Rather than try to get Hank back up those 80 flights of stairs to our seats, I make a pre-emptive phone call and summoned the Hilton van back to pick us up early. Most of the Goat Roper's fans were
heading out the exits as we left. They were moving for the doors faster than a "special needs" passenger at the gate on arrival in Fort Lauderdale.
Hank didn't mind leaving a little early. His seatmate turned out to be an English Lit professor that he had taken a class from when he was a junior at GRS.
Proust Was No Pilot ...
"Old Professor Snape didn't remember me, but I sure remembered him," said Hank. "He was the one who convinced me that my worst day flying an airplane was going to be way better than my best day
reading Proust and talking about dangling modifiers. The day after I dropped out of his class and quit being an English major was the day I enrolled in Air Force ROTC, started majoring in engineering
and began my Air Force career."
I'm sure it was a great loss to the literary community but a great gain for the defense of our nation, I said.
As our white, air-conditioned, hotel courtesy crew bus entered the interstate for our ride back to layover bliss, our conversation thankfully drifted away from losing football teams and we got back to
more comfortable subjects.
Questions like, "What the hell is a pen and pencil revision?" and "How is it possible that every ground handler's headset could go inop at the same time, system-wide?"
Before we knew it, we had shaken off the dust of a cool-weather Texas football afternoon. We had forgotten all about Snape and my new-best-friend Joe and had begun to look forward to tomorrow night's
layover in Jackson, Miss. -- the cultural center of the airline world.
Is it really necessary to bother chasing down the proper grease for your airplane? We think so.
Click here to read this maintenance article.
Elbow grease, grease the skids, greasy kid's stuff; grease makes the world go 'round -- literally. The earliest forms of grease were various and
sundry animal extrusions and leftovers.
Today still, numerous organically based greases give excellent service -- although their origins are more from lithium and calcium than bears. Synthetics have largely replaced organics in many
markets, with wide temperature-stability being their biggest advantage.
A brief check of any lubricant supplier will demonstrate a bewildering number of choices. The Shell Company certainly has a near monopoly in the aviation grease arena, notwithstanding the popularity
of Mobil 28 synthetic grease, similar in applications to Shell 22.
Because of their wide availability, we will concentrate on Shell products. Shell can be reached at this Web site for consumer questions on their
lubricant use and availability. They have a 196-page booklet available for download that has specs for all their aviation products. Shell uses the name "Aeroshell" for its aviation products, but we'll
stick to the general name "Shell" for this article.
We felt an overview of greases was necessary, since we get frequent questions on what lubricants to use.
One reader even commented that after reviewing the choices at the Shell web site, he felt little enlightenment as to the proper choice, since the word "general purpose" is the primary description used
in most grease categories. We will make some definite recommendations later.
There is still no perfect grease for all occasions. You could get away with one choice -- probably with Shell 22, a wide-temperature-range synthetic -- but we prefer to make two recommendations. You
will still only need one grease gun, as one of our two recommendations is strictly for wheel-bearing use.
Interestingly, the use of automotive needs is not a major element in selecting aviation greases. In the auto world, everything is punctuated with extreme pressure (EP) additives such a molybdenum
Could you get away with using auto grease in an airplane? It's done every day, but considering the low cost of grease on a relative basis for the individual, why not go with the established and
Aviation greases are definitely different from the automotive brands, particularly when they are based on specific standards of cleanliness and what is in the product.
Planes that fly high or in cold weather should definitely stick with the proper selections, since improper grease can become like glue when it's cold enough. Try hitting the tarmac at 100 knots with
frozen grease in the wheel bearings for a life-shortening experience in wheel-assembly components.
That squeal you hear is not a pig on the runway, but your bearings pleading for mercy. Fly low and slow and park in nice, dry, warm weather and you might get away with Crisco in the Zerks -- not
Grease is nothing more than a thickened oil designed to do one or more of the following tasks: seal, protect, cushion and, in general, provide long service-life of components. Since there is a
spectrum of performance criteria, compromise is still the order of the day.
If you looked at the proportions of the basic ingredients in grease, you would find the base oil makes up about 70 to 95 percent, the thickener about 5 to 15 percent and performance additives from 0
to 5 percent. The base oil is the lube carrier, while the thickener provides resistance to water washout and mechanical stability.
The additive package provides antirust and anti-wear ingredients. EP ingredients are in the additive package as well, as are oxidation inhibitors. So, while the additive package makes up a small
proportion, it can represent a significant part of the characteristics of the grease package.
Grease is often classified by the thickeners used in the product. Calcium is an old standby in the organically based greases and an example is Shell 14 with a moderate temperature performance and the
least resistance to water washout of all Shell greases. Shell advises to verify seal compatibility first with Shell 14 (as it advises with most of their greases).
Shell 14's forte is it's the recommended grease for helicopter main and tail rotor bearings due to its superior anti-fretting properties.
An example of today's aero greases employing lithium is Shell 33, which has a high melting point but is the next least-water-resistant of the current Shell greases. This is a characteristic the
airlines are willing to trade for its superior versatility.
Shell 15 is an extreme-temperature-range grease with silicone and Teflon, used in turbine engine bearings. Shell 16 is a multipurpose synthetic grease suitable for high-speed wheel bearings. On the
other hand, Shell 17 is simply an EP version of Shell 7, with five-percent molybdenum disulfide. It meets MS 21164D.
Inorganic gels (synthetics) used in other Shell aero greases such as Shell 22 (MS-81322D) and Shell 5 (mineral based, MS-3545C -- obsolete reference) have excellent and good high-temperature
performance respectively, as well as excellent water-washout resistance.
Shell 22CF is a variation on Shell 22 with similar capabilities; however, the "microgel" thickener is replaced with a clay thickener. It meets the same mil-spec as the Shell 22 and additional
requirements of other standards. Shell 23C is a clay-thickened synthetic hydrocarbon that should only be used on steel surfaces.
The big advantage of a synthetic is that it won't soften at high temperatures and run off the surfaces it is designed to protect. Other additives are used in small quantities such as bentonite (clay)
to enhance a particular trait.
The second major component of grease is oil, which may be either synthetic or mineral-oil based. Shell 5, 6 and 14 use mineral oil. There are no duplicates in the combinations of base oil and
thickener, with water washout and temperature range being big differentiators.
Either Shell 22 or Shell 5 is a first-rate choice for GA wheel bearings. If you have a high performance airplane that is a high flier, Shell 22 is probably the better bet because it has the best
temperature range. Shell 5, on the other hand, has better corrosion resistance, but a significantly lower range of useful temperatures. It is also cheaper.
First, high-speed roller bearings require clean grease, in the manufacture as well as storage and handling. Next, is thermal stability, because in roller bearings the balls tend to push the grease out
of the way. If the grease melts, the race fills and churns the thinned grease, adding to friction.
If the grease is too thick, it will be displaced to the side and provide no real lubrication. Proper thickness is imperative, and the great temperature extremes of the inorganic gels like Shell 22 are
one reason why they are so effective at this task.
Buying greases in overly large amounts makes sense only if you will use it in a reasonable amount of time, or if you have some way to assure it is kept clean. All the efforts of getting the right
stuff are negated by inadvertent contamination by careless handling and storage. This can be a particularly vexing problem in a shop environment with multiple users, big containers and people in a
Moly or EP lubes are better suited for low-speed, high-pressure sliding surfaces, as they form a solid film on the parts that resists evaporation, water washout and corrosion. This can be
counterintuitive somewhat, as one might think that this sticky, high-pressure stuff is the perfect grease for wheel bearings. It is what you tend to find in the automotive markets as the universal
Do you need to clean out the old stuff before using the new? Yes, particularly when changing from an organic-based product to an inorganic. There may be adverse chemical reactions that lessen the
For example, if you switch from Shell 5 to Shell 22, cleaning the bearings becomes particularly important. Even more so in applications such as in prop hubs, where corrosion damage can be very
expensive to fix.
When repacking bearings, it's a good idea to clean them for other reasons as well, such as for inspection of the metal surfaces. Any good solvent will work fine, and as always recommended, don't spin
dry bearings with shop air.
For grease fittings, you are obviously not going to disassemble the joints just to clean out old grease. The only thing you can do is be sure to run enough new grease into the fitting to displace as
much old grease as possible, and stick with one type of grease (and the same brand).
Be sure to clean off the old, expelled grease, as it's not healthy for paint if left on for prolonged periods. Air loads can spread it everywhere.
First, look in your aircraft maintenance manual for the manufacturer's recommendations. Normally you will find a chart or diagram with all the fittings/locations and recommended lubricant or
protectant products. (Some fitting locations may be virtually invisible without a diagram.) Schedules for lubrication will also be there. Hopefully, mil-spec. numbers will be included, which makes
Barring specific recommendations from the manufacturer, we like Shell 22 for the wheel bearings of jets and other high-performance aircraft and Shell 5 for all others in wheel-bearing applications.
Shell 5 has the greatest oil viscosity by orders of magnitude over all other Shell greases. Shell 5 is also recommended for magnetos, starters, and generators.
For the grease gun and airframe lube, we like Shell 6. Again, for high-performance aircraft and turbines, Shell 7, with its synthetic base oil, has a greater temperature range both high and low. Shell
7 is the product recommended by Shell for turbine applications of all types.
If you are determined to use only one grease for all applications, then go with Shell 22, but we strongly recommend you adhere to the mil-spec recommendations in your maintenance manual as the prime
Grease has a shelf life of three years according to Shell's recommendations. After that it may start to break down into its component parts, and no longer do a good job or meet its specifications. Any
stocks should be retested.
Gearboxes and Motors
While gearboxes generally use specialized fluids, when you are greasing, it's a good idea to check the manual for motor and gearbox servicing requirements. On Bonanzas it's every 300 hours, and not
only includes the gear-actuator box, but also the gear motor itself with Shell 22. Judging from our inspections, these motors are frequently neglected. Don't say we didn't warn you if the gear fails
to come down one day.
First, if your airplane does not have plastic, protective, grease-fitting caps, go out and get some, as they are your first line of defense against grease-fitting contamination. They are cheap and
effective and are carelessly yanked off and not replaced.
If you have your plane serviced and this happens, you might use this as a barometer of the care your plane receives in areas you can't see. Taking care to do things right tends to extend to the little
things as well as big.
Be sure to give the fitting a light wipe with a solvent dampened rag to be sure you don't start service by injecting dirt into the fitting. Unfortunately, constipated, dried out fittings are very
common on fittings not greased regularly, and it leads to a cycle of neglect. Occasionally, disassembly is the only solution, but most times, they can be convinced to cooperate.
Taking the weight off the joint is a good idea anyway to help greasing. Sometimes, exercising the joint helps, as does doing the greasing in warm weather. A little heat from a hair drier (no higher
temperatures) has been known to help make a fitting cooperative, as does cursing.
Increasing the pressure of the grease gun, if an option, can be a mixed bag; if the fitting is indeed clogged, you may only succeed in blowing the fitting off the assembly.
In addition, there is a hammer-struck tool that imparts a sudden, high-pressure air stream to the fitting for stuck Zerks. Use with great care and don't expect miracles. Lastly, a blast of WD-40 in
the fitting and around the joint edges helps in some very limited applications, along with exercising the joint. The longer you let greasing go the harder to ultimately fix the fitting/joint.
The typical hand-cranked grease gun will work fine on free-flowing fittings. They typically put out around 1500 psi. It normally will do just about all fittings on the plane with the stock connector.
The first thing you should consider is a flexible hose to replace the rigid pipe. It makes maneuvering easier. Use a hand to hold the connector from popping off.
Please take the pressure off guns with a plunger handle after use. Leaving the plunger engaged keeps pressure on the grease and tends to press all the oil out of the grease over time. What you have
left is only the thickener -- not a good thing for the joint or ease of injection.
An alternative is a compressed-air-assisted gun (not the expensive shop-type) with a built-in pressure multiplier. Harbor Freight Tools is a
good source for low-cost ($15 - $25) guns. These imported guns are in the low-use, modest-quality category and will not stand up to commercial duty.
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.