Airplane Maintenance & Instrument Training

For the past three Monday nights I have been volunteering for “Maintenance Night” at the club. Every 50 hours of flight, the club airplanes undergo routine maintenance. One of the club’s long-time members, John Hunter, is a certified A&P (Airframe and Powerplant) mechanic who oversees the process. There are usually about three other people that volunteer. Each plane is inspected for damage, leaks, missing parts, and anything else that might be wrong. It gets an oil/filter change, tire pressure check, lubrication of all moving parts, clean windows, vacuum, and lights checked.

The spark plugs also get a real workout. Each of the four cylinders has two spark plugs. Each plug is removed, cleaned with a dental pick, sandblasted, blown clean with compressed air, inspected for cracks, and regapped as needed. The plug gaskets are burned clean with a blowtorch and cooled in oil. Plug wire ends are cleaned with a very strong chemical and the cylinder chambers are blown out with compressed air. The plug threads are then “painted” with anti-seize and reinstalled.

In addition to the 50-hour maintenance, each plane has an annual inspection where the plane is taken apart enough to inspect flight control cables and all sorts of other hidden things.

The club has an excellent safety record. While there have been a number of accidents in its 45 year history, there have been only two fatalities, and both were attributed to pilots that were intoxicated with alcohol or drugs.

In spite of the excellent record, planes are mechanical and things do break, which leads me to today’s flight.

Gene and I were scheduled to do more instrument training in 89333. The weather looked good and preflight went fine. About 15 seconds after starting the engine, I was looking at the tachometer and watched it go from a normal speed of about 1100 RPM to 4000 RPM without me changing the throttle at all. The engine can’t go to 4000 RPM; something was obviously wrong. “Uh… Gene… what just happened to the tach?” “Huh?! I don’t know.” We cut the engine and the tach still read high. I started it again and no change. We both went in to talk to John, who happened to be at the club. He told us to taxi it into the hanger, so I did.

Poor 40B was leaning back on its tail with the engine removed waiting for the repaired engine mount, and now 333 has joined it with a much smaller, but no-go problem. John quickly discovered that the tachometer just died and we didn’t have one for that plane.

While he went to try to find one at the airport, Gene and I waited and chatted with another instructor and her student. She knew I was the one that discovered the broken engine mount two days before. After Gene explained what was going on, she looked at me and said “You…” in that accusatory, but sarcastic “it’s all your fault” tone of voice. She joked that I was not allowed to fly the remaining 152 because the club can’t afford to be without any 152s. I reminded her that I only discovered the engine mount problem, I didn’t cause it. I just hope my “luck” is no indicator of things to come. I’m sure these stories are instilling confidence in my potential passengers. 😐

About half an hour later, I went into the hanger to find John trying to install a working tach. He couldn’t find a new one, so he robbed the one out of 40B; after all, it wasn’t going to need it for a few weeks. He had trouble getting it mounted; it’s a tight fit behind the panel and the screws are pretty small. I offered to help and my small hands were able to get it done. By that time, however, we only had 40 minutes left for our flight.

We taxied out to runway 3 and had to wait for two planes ahead of us. While doing the runup, two more planes taxied out behind us. I’ve never seen so many planes waiting to take off at Sanford.

We climbed out to the practice area and I went under the hood. A few climbs, turns, VOR radial intercepts and that was about it before we had to head back. I didn’t get to enjoy the mostly clear view much at all. I did get in a great soft field landing, though.

0.6 hours total (0.3 under the hood) and another educational experience for logbook.