Engine Health and Flight Plans
GAARMS Report: December 2017
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…