By Howard Deevers
We all know about the Flight Bag. The bag that contains our headset, sectionals, charts, FAR/AIM, facilities directory, E6B, plotter, water bottle, candy bars or snacks, and now charging cords. New students will not have enough stuff in their bag, or too much stuff in the bag. As we progress in flying, we learn what works best for us, and eventually the Flight Bag becomes smaller, and has just the right stuff in it for our own personal flying needs. Some students have come out for a flying lesson with a bag that weighs 30 pounds! Do you really need that much stuff? And, don't forget that annoying little issue called “weight and balance.” More modern Flight Bags are all electronic with iPads or other tablets that contain everything you need.
That Flight Bag is all for flying. But, what about maintenance? We all should do a good pre-flight inspection before any flight. Minor issues can be dealt with before departure. Even minor issues may require at least simple hand tools, like screw drivers, pliers, or small wrenches. We might have a toolbox in our car with those tools. If we are lucky enough to have a hangar with workspace, all of the tools that we may need would probably be in that hangar. I have seen hangars that outclass even the best automotive shops.
We can't take every tool that we might need on every flight. Fortunately, well maintained airplanes won't need repair while on a flight. However, there are those times when we may be in an area that does not have services, or has limited services, and we are on our own to fix our problems. I wrote about having a flat tire on landing, at a remote airport with NO services, parts, or even other airplanes.
Getting ready for an IFR training flight that would be cross country and last for 3 to 4 days, I was loading my overnight bag in the luggage compartment of the Piper Arrow that we would fly. The luggage compartment contained a large red steel toolbox. I brought it out of the luggage compartment. It had a weight of over 50 pounds! I asked the pilot what was this for? He said, “What if we have a problem while on cross country and need to fix it?” I told him that if we had a problem that needed that many tools, we would likely have to rent a car and drive home anyway, but that we should have at least some simple hand tools. We did take out screw drivers, pliers, needle nose pliers, one adjustable wrench. The rest we put back in the hangar. Then I asked if he had included that heavy duty tool box in his weight and balance? Nope, he had not.
We are not required to be mechanics to fly an airplane. Mechanics do not have to have a pilot’s certificate to work on airplanes. However, a little knowledge and skill in the use of hand tools can go a long way for peace of mind while flying. The FAR's specify that the Owner or Operator of an aircraft is primarily responsible for maintaining that aircraft in airworthy condition. FAR Part 43 gives a long list of things the owner/operator can perform for Preventive Maintenance. The advisory bulletin says that you need to understand that authorized preventive maintenance cannot involve complex assembly operations. Some of those authorized items might seem to be complex to many of us. Remember that any of those maintenance items that you do perform should be entered in the aircraft log books with the date and signature of the person performing the work, such as an oil change.
Fortunately for most of us, we fly in areas where services are available, mechanics, as well as parts. I experienced a vacuum pump failure on a long cross country trip, but was able to divert safely to an airport that did have a pump and mechanic. It was fixed and I was back on my way after only a couple of hours on the ground. I have heard of some pilots that carry a spare magneto, or spare tire, or spare of other things that can fail on a flight. Not many of us do that, but it is experience that will dictate how we operate in the future.
So, how much of a toolbox do I need to carry? Each pilot should make their own decision, but remember that you are not going to change out an entire engine on a long cross country flight. Probably those pilots that fly in remote parts of Alaska will carry tools that I would never think of needing in Arizona. I do carry a small tool kit, in addition to my “survival kit” that includes a “multi-tool.” I really recommend that multi-tool. That has come in handy on more than a few occasions.
If you need more information on maintenance, come to a Safety Seminar presented by your ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION. Check the web site for locations and times. They are presented free of charge and are part of your WINGS program. Not all seminars are online as in the past year. We hope to see you soon!