Ask Pete!

by Pete Schoeninger
Published in Midwest Flyer – Dec 2016/Jan 2017

Q: I had the nose strut on my 172 improperly serviced at a distant airport. After servicing, it was obvious to me the nose was way too high. I figured I could fly the airplane home and have my mechanic correct the situation, but when I tried to taxi, I had no nose wheel steering. So instead of flying home that day, I spent the night there, and the next morning, had the strut properly serviced. Why wouldn’t the nose steer when the nose strut was extended?

A: On many 172s, when your nose strut fully extends from over servicing with air or because you have lifted off a runway, there is a simple mechanism on the nose gear scissors, which keeps the nose wheel centered. So if your nose strut was too high, it was probably extended so far that the nose steering was blocked by the centering mechanism. You could steer by using differential braking only, but that is awkward and not recommended. You did the right thing by getting your nose strut re-serviced properly.

Q: On a cold day last winter, I “missed” the start on my engine…I mean, it ran for a couple of seconds and then died. All future attempts to start it were useless; I could not even get one pop from the engine. I put the airplane into a friend’s heated hangar, and the next day it started normally and ran fine. A mechanic friend said I might have “frosted” the spark plugs. What’s that? I’ve never had anything like that happen before with an airplane, or a car.

A: If your engine fired for a couple of seconds, it is possible a drop of condensation formed on the spark plug gap, and then quickly froze (you said it was winter). This is unlikely, but it does happen. The gap on many aviation spark plugs is much tighter than your car, perhaps .018 of an inch for your airplane and .055 of an inch for your car, so it is relatively easy for a tiny piece of frost, or crud, to short out that small gap.

Q: I’m a student pilot, and having a terrible time learning night landings. I just don’t seem to be able to “get it” as far as depth perception is concerned. Any suggestions? At $140 per hour for dual instruction, I am going broke and not progressing. Your advice, please!

A: As a student pilot, you probably have not completely mastered landings yet, and now you have to learn night depth perception. Try riding along, NOT AS A PILOT, but as a PASSENGER, when someone else goes up for an hour of night landings. Quite soon you should be able to tell when the wheels are going to hit the runway, because you are not also trying to land the airplane yourself. Once you have night depth perception mastered, night landings will become easier.

Q: Last week, in my Beech Sundowner, when I did my mag check before takeoff, one mag was very rough. I called unicom and the operator asked me to taxi back to their shop, running the engine on the rough mag only. I watched a mechanic remove the engine cowl, then quickly feel all four cylinders, and then he removed the bottom spark plug from cylinder #2, which turned out to have a tiny piece of crud shorting out the spark plug gap. That engine has eight (8) spark plugs. How did the mechanic know which plug was fouled, or was he just lucky?

A: The cylinder that was misfiring, or not firing at all four cylinders, would be significantly cooler than the other three by the time you got back to the shop. Usually with a fouled plug, the bottom plug is the villain, not the top plug. (Junk falls downhill… Ask any plumber!) Thus, the most probable cause of the rough mag check was that fouled plug, which your mechanic quickly found. Other causes of a rough mag check could be a failing mag, bad ignition wire, loose spark plug wire, etc., but often the most likely villain is – and was in your case – a spark plug problem.

Q: My 1975 Cessna 182 Skylane has an engine that is just about due for overhaul. I want to sell the airplane and get a Cessna 310. Would I be dollars ahead to sell it as is, or should I spend big bucks and get the engine overhauled, then sell it?

A: A couple of considerations are in order: 1) There will be few retail buyers for any airplane with a run-out engine. 2) There are not a lot of buyers for a used airplane with a freshly overhauled engine among retail private buyers. (They don’t want to pay the premium price for their usual 50 -100 hours of yearly flying…a half-time engine would be more appropriate for them.) 3) Your airplane will be down from two to maybe eight weeks getting the engine either replaced or overhauled. In addition to the cost of the engine overhaul or replacement, expect to spend as much as another $4,000 on labor, hoses, baffling, etc. 4) Some airplanes, Cessna 172s in particular, are in such demand, people like to install larger engines to replace the original engine. Based solely on my experience, there have been less people willing to spend the money to have a larger engine installed in a 182, because the stock engine already has sufficient power, especially for flying in the Midwest.

Many folks will disagree with me, but I think you are often better to sell an airplane at a discounted price with a high-time engine, rather than undergo the expense of an overhaul or replacement.

Advertise your airplane heavily in at least three or four publications that have Internet presence, including Midwest Flyer Magazine, among other websites.

Q: A Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser has been for sale locally for over a year. But so far, no takers. Can you give the seller any pointers?

A: Two common mistakes I see over and over in situations like this: 1) the seller is not advertising the airplane enough, and/or his asking price is too high. Whether selling an airplane or a cow, or a ladder at a rummage sale, you need a willing buyer. Lots of advertising is needed to find the relatively rare buyer of such an airplane. Then, once someone is interested, the asking price must be reasonable. For some sellers who are emotionally attached to their airplane, that is a tough pill to swallow. With lots of good advertising and a reasonable price, you should have some responses within 30 days, and a sale closing within 90 to 120 days. If you have no responses with lots of ads, your price is too high, period.

I have seen instances where an elderly person quits flying, but will not sell his/her airplane for fair market value. After they pass, the heirs are left with that burden. The airplane perhaps will have sat for a few years before the heirs sell it, and will bring less money than if the elderly seller accepted reality and sold the airplane, himself.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Contact Pete Schoeninger at with your questions for this column or for consultation on other aviation business and airport matters. Pete has four decades of experience as a line technician, airplane salesman (300 aircraft sold thus far), appraiser, snow removal supervisor, airport manager, and as the manager/co-owner of a fixed base operation.

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