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Prepping Your Plane for Spring Flying

As one of the coldest winters on record slowly thaws away, we are reminded that it’s time to prep our planes for the spring/summer flying season! As any pilot worth his or her wings knows, preparing a plane after a period of inactivity is one of the most important times to conduct a thorough maintenance checklist.

Here’s a review of what to look for and address before going wheels up this spring. Important reminder: Be sure to consult your aircraft’s operating manual, and consult with a qualified aircraft mechanic.

Review your aircraft’s maintenance history.

A smart first step in spring maintenance is to review your aircraft’s maintenance history. What repairs and preventative maintenance have been done recently? Are there any repairs that have been put off that should be done? Now is the time to do them, especially any safety repairs per FAA Airworthiness Directives — safety repairs that are required by the FAA to legally fly the plane.

Change the oil and check the fuel system.

Even if you changed the oil and filled the gas tank before laying up your plane for the winter, it’s important to do a spring oil change and fuel system check before getting airborne again. Old oil can become acidic and cause corrosion and pitting of components, such as cam lobes and bearings. Rust can then mix with the oil, causing extensive damage to the engine.

Also check the fuel system. Remove the fuel filter, clean and replace. Check for condensation in the fuel tanks, which is common if the tanks were less-than-full and air is in the tanks. Water in the bottom of the tank can cause corrosion. If pitot and static vent covers were installed before the winter, remove them now. Check that the fuel cocks are open and master switches are back on. Also check:

  • Condition of the fuel tanks and straps
  • Fuel lines for any damage or leaks
  • Fuel drains for water or foreign matter
  • Fuel valve for any damage or leaks
  • Fuel gauge for damage

While an oil change and fuel system flush may seem like a redundant expense now, both can prevent much more expensive repairs later on.

Check the battery and other electrical components.

Check and replace the battery if its age or condition is in question. A good rule of thumb is to remove and inspect the battery every 50 hours of use. Also check the condition of the battery leads and mounting apparatus. Also check other electrical components, including circuits, circuit breakers, wiring at terminals and radio and antenna.

Inspect tire pressure and wear.

Just like on a car, tires have a tendency to lose air pressure over time. Make sure your plane’s tires are at their recommended psi. Also visually inspect the tires for tread wear and bald spots and inspect the wheel brake assembly for leaks and strut condition.

Wings, fins, propeller and landing gear.

Make sure the propeller assembly, wing flaps, tail fins, landing gear and landing gear doors are all in working order. Check that nothing is loose, damaged or dirty. If so, clean and/or contact an aircraft mechanic ASAP.

Is there any structural damage?

If your aircraft was hangared inside, chances are low that it sustained any winter damage. But it’s smart to do a pre-flight walk around anyway. Look for any hairline cracks or structural damage on the fuselage and wings due to wind or even contact with another plane. Check gaskets and seals to make sure they aren’t corroded or dried out. Also inspect the air intake and cowling, stall warning vent, pilot tube and static ports for animals — small rodents and birds may have built nests in these and other areas.

Show it some TLC with a good wash.

Finally, give your aircraft a good outside washing and interior cleaning. Make sure no dirt or foreign substances can interfere with wing flap and tail fin operations. Remember to wash windows in an up and down motion — don’t swirl in circles as this may scratch the windows.

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