Engine Health and Flight Plans

GAARMS Report: December 2017 

fred-gibbsFred Gibbs 


As we wind down 2017 (but still with one more month to go), this year’s fatal accident rate appears to mirror last year, but unfortunately the total number of fatalities to date jumped to 13. The total number of fatal accidents (6) stayed the same as 2016, but only included 9 fatalities. Hopefully we can continue to hold right here for the rest of the year, so think safe, fly safe. Below is a short summary of the NTSB 2017 record (as of 11/15/2017) for Arizona.



All of these accidents will be reviewed and discussed at the 2018 General Aviation Accident and Reduction mitigation symposium planned for March of 2018, location to be announced in January of 2018.



The following is an excerpt from the December issue of the FAA’s safety magazine:

Ideally, pilots and mechanics should work together to make sure the aircraft is operated and maintained properly. As a pilot, you are encouraged to take an active role in maintenance by reviewing inspection results and discussing Airworthiness Directives and Service Bulletins with your mechanic.

Get to know your airplane and your mechanic!

Assist with inspections. It’s a great way to get to know your mechanic and your aircraft. Every service interval is an opportunity to see what’s going on with your engine. Give your aircraft a once-over while the oil is draining. Look for leaks and stains in the engine compartment and wherever fuel or hydraulic fluid flows.

Look for missing, broken, or loose hardware. Check the condition of hoses, belts, and baffles. Tires, brakes, and oleo struts deserve your attention as well. It’s a lot easier to identify and correct deficiencies while your bird is in the shop than to make another service appointment. 


How we operate our engines has a lot to do with how long our engines will last. Fly often. It’s actually harder on an engine if the airplane is just parked in a hangar – or worse – a ramp queen. Regular operation keeps your engine components lubricated, markedly reducing corrosion potential. 

  • Don’t shock the system. Thermal shock can be very hard on engines so be sure yours has reached operating temperature before taking off. 
  • Perform smooth and steady power changes. This is especially true for turbo-charged power plants. 
  • Strictly follow manufacturer recommendations when operating on the lean side of peak exhaust gas temperature. Saving a gallon or two is not worth it if your engine overheats in the process. 
  • Plan your descents with some power to keep the engine warm, especially for turbos. 
  • Monitor engine performance from flight to flight. small changes over time can forecast developing engine problems.

Don’t ignore regular maintenance! Be sure to comply with all manufacturer-recommended service intervals. 

  • Fifty-hour oil changes are recommended for most normally-aspirated piston engines. 
  • Turbo-charged engines should undergo oil changes more frequently. An oil filter inspection with each oil change will yield immediate feedback. 
  • Investigate further if you find metal particulate in the filter. 
  • Oil analysis can reveal a lot about engine health, but it works best when several samples create a trend. 
  • Perform compression and magneto timing checks, check spark plugs and the exhaust system every other oil change.


Engine Performance Monitoring 

Basic instrumentation such as airspeed indicators, attitude indicators, angle of attack indicators, manifold pressure gauges, RPM gauges, and G-force meters all give immediate feedback as to whether design limitations have or are about to be exceeded. This information is available real-time on every flight. 

Engine diagnostic equipment can come in many different forms. One version is the external, hand-held test kit that attaches to ignition plugs and determines system functionality. A good test kit can check engine compression, magnetos, ignition leads, and engine timing. 

Engine data management (EDM) systems come in a variety of forms and are offered by a host of different companies. These devices watch over your engine while you concentrate on flying the aircraft and, combined with a controller, can meter your mixture and exhaust gas temperature (EGT) to optimize lean-of-peak operations. Some brands even offer the interpretive software and/or provide professional analysis as to what your data might indicate. In most cases, you can upload your information directly to a website and request a report when anomalies present themselves. 

Digital/electronic engine controls (D/EEC) regulates the functions of the injection system to ensure the engine provides the power that is required of it. An engine control unit reads a multitude of sensors and manipulates the engine by adjusting a series of actuators. Sensors include ones for airflow, engine cooling, throttle position, and fuel flow.


Are VFR flight plans still useful? 

With today’s movement by the FAA to have everyone using ADS-B “Out” by January of 2020, and with the emphasis on having VFR pilots participating in the use of “Flight Following”, do you still think you need to file a VFR flight plan to fly somewhere?

In the old days (and yes, I was certainly there), there was a definite need for VFR flight plans. Back then, ATC did NOT want to talk to VFR traffic, all VFR traffic was on 1200 code, and ATC’s major responsibility was the separation of IFR traffic – period!! Mode C came about to help ATC get a better picture on where traffic actually was to ensure altitude separation. Back then it was a battle to get the pilot community to install Mode C. Sound kind of familiar to today’s requirement to install ADS-B “out,” does it not??? Well, I can say, having installed ADS-B “In” and “Out,” it is a great tool, and introduces new technology to track aircraft and even to pinpoint where a VFR aircraft’s track stopped – think search and rescue. That, combined with Flight following, really does improve the search and rescue effort of both the ATC and the flight Service system.

The purpose of a VFR flight plan was a short term life insurance policy so that someone would come looking for you if you failed to show up at your destination. The ETA was calculated by Flight Service using your filed enroute time added to your actual departure time (opening your flight plan time) plus 30 minutes. We called the 30 minutes “slop time,” i.e. giving you time to tie down the airplane, hit the bathrooms, then find a phone to call the local flight service station. Because you never had any contact with ATC, this was the only way to initiate search and rescue if you failed to show up at the appropriate time. We had to search the entire route unless you were wise enough to provide checkpoint times or at least a position report. That search area could be anywhere from 300 to 600 miles long, 100 miles wide, or roughly 30 to 60,000 square miles! Many, many hours of searching airports was involved, many law enforcement hours were involved along with many, many hours of civil Air Patrol missions expended to search for you! And sometimes you were not found for years!!!


But that was then, and this is now. ATC wants to talk to everybody, to ensure safety and separation, because ADS-B “Out” gives ATC the ability to see everyone, and if you opt for ADS-B “In”, so do you. And by working flight following, you get the benefit of improved safety of flight, as well as a safety net should you have a problem. Flight service could only do so much (or so little) whereas ATC can do a lot for you in an emergency, like vectors to the nearest airport, or pin-point your last know location on the radar, should you “fall off” the radar, to get help to you as soon as possible. If you had to make an off-airport landing, with ATC just a “Key the mic” away, help will be there far in advance of your ETA plus 30 minutes that a VFR flight plan can give you. Flight following gives you that “First Golden Hour” of life-saving security that a VFR flight plan cannot! Yes, in Alaska, VFR flight plans are still necessary due to the size of the state and the lack of total radar coverage, but even there, ADS-B has made a significant improvement in the overall safety of flight, response times for search and rescue, and the timeliness of rescue efforts during that first hour.


Thousands of VFR flight plans continue to be filed across the lower 48 states, and many, many hours of flight service time and efforts are expended in the “tracking down” of overdue aircraft because the pilot forgot to close their flight plan. This creates thousands of false alarms, with each requiring flight service to initiate the first step(s) of search and rescue. If you do file a VFR flight plan, and you do activate it, Please, Please, remember to close it. Do not become part of the problem.

However, there is one benefit of actually filing a flight plan, but not activating it. The filing process is the basis for the standard preflight weather briefing, i.e., it provides the computer system all the data and waypoints required to generate the complete briefing for you without playing 20 questions with a briefer.

It also does not hurt to do both, i.e., file and activate a VFR flight plan AND request flight following from ATC. Should something happen and you do go down, flight service can immediately provide all pertinent data to assist in the search, such as pilot name, home base, color of the aircraft, number of folks on board, etc…



There are many FAASTeam safety programs on the schedule over the next couple of months all around the state, so go to WWW.FAASAFETY.GOV and click on “Seminars” and check them out. You might find one that interests you. Should you desire a particular safety or educational program at your local airport or pilot meeting, like the BasicMed program or our “Winter Wonderland” snow season special, simply contact me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call me at 410-206-3753. The Arizona Pilots Association provides the safety programs at no charge. We can also help you organize a program of your choice, and we can recommend programs that your pilot community might really like. 

Just for the sake of argument, let’s talk about the category the NTSB tends to “lump” accidents into, the “Loss of Control” category. I believe that category, or action, is the final result of many mistakes or inactions taken when things start to go wrong. I have said, and continue to say, there is usually NOT ONE single thing that causes an accident, but a chain of events that leads you down the “Primrose Path.” Break that chain somewhere, and you may most likely prevent an accident. For instance, does the weather look questionable? You need to make a decision BEFORE you press on into it, not stick your nose into it to see just how bad it is!! If you stick your nose so far in that you determine it is bad, you have already gone too far, and you may be in deep trouble! The story goes that a non-instrument rated pilot who ventures into IMC only has 3 minutes to survive once immersed in the weather!

Airplane doesn’t sound right or feel right to you? Land NOW, and have it checked out, and most importantly, DO NOT take off with that dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over you. Remember, there is no such thing as an emergency takeoff!!! Problems encountered during the takeoff phase of flight can be, and usually are, deadly. There is no time for contemplating a course of action, no airspeed to save you, and no altitude below you to give you time, and we all know you can never make that turn back to the airport. On top of everything else, a forced landing on departure is probably one of the very few times you can have too much gas in your airplane!!!

On a different subject, just in case you have not noticed, monsoon season is here, with lots of thunder boomers, heavy rains, poor visibility in the rain, dust storms, and many other weather issues to make your day exciting, so be careful out there. ADS-B In is a great situational awareness tool, but not to be used to dodge thunderstorms. Remember, ADS-B In data is a picture of what the weather was, and where it was, NOT WHERE IT IS NOW!!! I got to use it this last weekend flying from Scottsdale back up to Flag. Between the ADS-B In weather radar depicting the precipitation in 3 colors (YES, there was definitely some RED around), compared to what the controller was telling me about the precipitation he was painting on his ATC radar, and what I saw by looking out the windshield (a very critical part in the decision making process), I was able to easily and safely make my way home to Flag staying in VMC the entire way. The only precipitation that I got on my airplane was the light drizzle at the Flag airport while pushing the airplane away. It was utilizing all the tools and services available to me that made the flight easy and successful.


Another subject – With the installation of all the “stuff” I have installed into my airplane, is my 1973 Bellanca Super Viking now considered a Technically Advanced aircraft (TAA) under the definition of a TAA aircraft?

It used to be that only professional pilots like corporate or airline pilots needed to be trained in modern avionics and other modern on-board technologies. Today, this same high-tech equipment is being used widely in small aircraft, which means that pilots of these small aircraft must be trained in TAA, or run the risk of being inept at using this equipment, or worse, a safety hazard to themselves and others. 

What's Makes an Airplane a TAA? The FAA defines a TAA as an airplane that is equipped with the following:

· A moving map display - I have an 8 inch screen iPad mounted on my yoke that is Bluetooth connected to my permanent mounted FAA-approved TSO’d ADS-B In that displays other ADS-B equipped aircraft and weather data.

· An instrument-approved GPS - I have a Garmin 430 WAAS unit

· An autopilot - I have a 3-axis autopilot coupled to my HSI with GPSS steering

Additionally, I have a new Garmin G5 artificial horizon that is just like a glass cockpit display that shows attitude, airspeed, altitude, and turn coordinator information all in one instrument, giving me a ton of information in one place, improving my scan.

Many aircraft are equipped with all of these and even more complex systems, making it difficult for even the best of pilots to navigate through their aircraft's avionics, let alone the airspace they're in. Many pilots are familiar with the term glass cockpit. An aircraft that is considered to be a TAA is not always a glass cockpit aircraft, but a glass cockpit aircraft is always considered a TAA. A glass cockpit goes beyond the description of a TAA, and is generally defined as one with a Primary Flight Display (PFD) and a Multi-Function Display (MFD), both of which replace most of the old-style gauges in an aircraft. According to AOPA, more than 90 percent of new aircraft today are coming off the line with glass cockpits. These aircraft are all considered TAA.

New Avionics in an Old System

The FAA has come under fire because of the influx of TAA and the FAA's lack of a modern flight training program. The current flight training standards have been in place since 1973, and were designed with basic stick-and-rudder flying in mind. Current training syllabi do not leave room for TAA training, but that could change in the future. As of right now, pilots are training on both the old style instruments and the new glass panel displays. The old six-pack displays are still very common, but as glass panel displays become more commonplace, we'll see the old six-packs disappear.

TAA are generally a good thing for the average pilot, as long as the pilot knows how to use the equipment correctly. Still, many accidents are attributed to the pilot's lack of understanding of the aircraft's avionics. When a pilot doesn't fully understand the avionics on board his aircraft, he can quickly become task-saturated trying to figure out how it all works. This task-saturation, coupled with excess heads-down time in the cockpit, can lead to disorientation and loss of aircraft control. 

The criticism of technologically advanced airplanes being more of a distraction than a helpful tool holds merit, though. For this reason, the FAA created the FITS program, and new training program that supplements the old one, created specifically for use with TAA. The FITS program is designed to assist flight instructors and flight schools in training pilots for TAA, and includes a more scenario-based training environment.

So, when all is said and done, when I fly my 44-year old tubular steel, fabric and wood airplane, can I legally log that flight time under the TAA column??? I certainly believe so!!




There are a lot of FAASTeam safety programs on the schedule over the next couple of months all around the state, check out the APA Calendar Online. Should you desire a particular safety or educational program, like the BasicMed program, at your local airport or pilot meeting, simply contact APA via our website and connect with me through the Safety Program Director. You can also contact me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call me at 410-206-3753.  The Arizona Pilots Association provides the safety programs at no charge. We can also help you organize a program of your choice, and we can recommend programs that your pilot community might really like.


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