A Little Elbow Grease Can Go A Long Way!

by Pete Schoeninger
Published in Midwest Flyer – February/March 2019 issue

Q: I just bought a 4-year-old Cessna 182 Skylane, and want to sell my 15-year-old Skylane. What things can an owner do to a used airplane that will increase value more than the cost of improvements?

A: Not much! But you can do, or have done, a very detailed cleaning of the entire plane, and especially the interior for not a lot of money. Two days of hard work doing very detailed cleaning, and maybe polishing, can add a few thousand bucks to the value, and also reduce the amount of time in selling it. Most buyers have a spouse who will have to approve of the purchase of your airplane. If your plane is dirty, that is a major turnoff, especially to the non-flying marriage partner.

Q: Last week I took off from an airport in my 180 hp Comanche, just after a strong cold front passed. Climbing straight out my rate of climb jumped to over 1000 feet per minute (fpm) for about 30 seconds, compared to my usual 700 fpm with similar load and temperatures. After passing about 1500 feet above the ground, the climb rate returned to mostly normal. What would have caused the spike in rate of climb?

A: Often wind at 1000-2000 feet is much stronger than surface wind after a cold front passes, and the wind is usually from a northern or northwestern direction. I suspect you climbed into a much stiffer headwind, giving you a temporary increase in rate of climb.

Q: A friend insists that t-tailed airplanes are not so good for soft-field operations. If he is correct, why would that be?

A: You often cannot raise the nose early in your takeoff run because the elevators don’t have a prop blast on them to make them more effective at low airspeeds. For soft-field operations, you cannot raise the nose until enough “natural” airspeed is reached over the tail. In other words, you might not be able to get the nosewheel off the ground until you reach flying speed.

Q: My Cessna 182 has an electric clock that is powered by the aircraft battery. After several weeks of sitting, I have found that the battery barely has enough oomph to start the engine. Can I have the clock disconnected?

A: You may have a 2-amp fuse on the firewall which can be removed to stop the clock and current drain. Always consult with your mechanic concerning any maintenance issues to ensure safety and that it is done correctly and according to Federal Aviation Regulations and manufacturer recommendations. You could also ask your mechanic for his suggestions on replacing the clock.

Q: I saw a video on the internet of a guy doing an aileron roll with a Cessna 180. Is that legal?

A: No, not unless he has a waiver from the feds, which would be unlikely.

Q: I heard in Alaska you can fly 10% over gross weight. Is that true?

A: Some commercial operators have gotten permission from the FAA to do so on a case-by-case basis. But there is not a blanket approval to do so for anyone.     

Q:: I recently spoke with a pilot who makes his living ferrying airplanes around the world. He only does piston twins and larger, and has been doing it for several years. He seemed like a cautious, very knowledgeable pilot. But he said one thing I couldn’t figure out. Recently he flew a Cessna 414 from the West Coast to Hawaii. He said his GPS indicator flashed a warning for the first 600 miles or so that he would run short on fuel. Why would he get that warning for only part of the trip?

A: He was probably 20-25% over gross weight when he took off. As such, his gas mileage would be poor because of required high power/high fuel burn. As he burned off fuel, he could reduce engine power/fuel burn. The computer in his GPS was correct, had he continued at his initial speed and fuel burn, he would have landed in the ocean short of Hawaii. But as his load lightened, his gas mileage improved because of power reductions. One of the best analysis of long-distance flight and fuel consumption for light planes is found in documents relating to Charles Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris 90 years ago (www.charleslindbergh.com/hall/spirit.pdf. Read Donald Hall’s article entitled “Technical preparation of the Spirit of St Louis.” Heavily loaded with fuel, at a high-power setting, required Lindbergh to maintain altitude, and the Spirit of St Louis only about 7 miles per gallon. At the end of his flight with much lower power settings because he was over one ton lighter, his mileage was about 14 miles per gallon.

Two other comments I’ve heard frequently from ferry pilots, is that on very long over-water flights, it may be necessary to make provisions for oil to be added to the engine(s.) Also a hard thing for new pilots to do is reduce power for better economy as they burn fuel, while the temptation is to speed up and land quickly after looking at water for many hours.

Q: When you were a manager of a fixed base operation, what things did you see aircraft owners do that could have been done differently?

A: 1) Plan an annual inspection or biennial flight review just before leaving on a two-week vacation. If you have your airplane apart for its annual inspection and have to wait a few days for new parts, or you bust a checkride and need an hour or two of dual instruction… get that done a couple of weeks before leaving.

2) Fill the tanks following the last flight, then ask the FBO to de-fuel you. Most FBOs will not do that for reasons we have previously discussed in other issues.

3) Check the air in your tires more than annually. Also have your mechanic show you how to look at brake linings so you can have them changed when they get worn down, but before they disintegrate.

4) Do have repetitive Airworthiness Directives complied with on time. It’s the law, and could save your butt!

5) Keep your maintenance paperwork neat and orderly. Not doing so can add a couple of hours or more to your next annual inspection.

6) When you wash your airplane, wash the belly too. Crud from the breather can corrode belly skins if left for long periods.

Q: I heard you say ice conditions on frozen lakes deteriorate over the winter months as far as landing airplanes go. Doesn’t the ice get thicker for much of the winter, meaning it will be safer?

A: Ice generally gets thicker as winter lingers, until weather warms. But over time there may be an accumulation of frozen ruts in the surface from snowmobiles, ATVs, cars and trucks and ice mounds from ice fishermen, etc. Always use great caution when operating on frozen lakes!

Q: A friend said he saw you buy a Cherokee 140 for a company after only looking at it for 15 minutes a few years ago. Weren’t you violating your own rules of having an aircraft mechanic do a thorough prepurchase inspection?

A: I remember that airplane…it was a good one! It just had an annual inspection at a very good maintenance facility, which I was very familiar with. While they were a competitor of mine, I knew their mechanics as very competent, good honest people, who gave me a thumbs up report on the airplane. My quick inspection verified their verbal report to me, so I bought the airplane and had no regrets.

Q: I have been looking at American Champion Decathlons and Citabrias. My only reservation is their useful load seems a little short when you put in two 200 lb. people. Any suggestions?

A: American Champion Aircraft, located near Burlington, Wisconsin, has been quietly making good airplanes designed for various missions. Take a look at their Scout which is much more of a utility airplane than the two models you mentioned. It is a bigger airplane and has a useful load larger than Decathlons and Citabrias. They are often used for back-country or bush work, and owners seem to like them very much.

Q: For 70 years, people have been writing about 65 hp J-3 Cubs versus Aeronca Champs. What’s your take on these airplanes?

A: The Champ is much easier to land, a little faster, has much better forward visibility, and on the used market is $5,000 to $10,000 less than a similar Cub. The Cub has better short-field capabilities, and in the summer, a delight to fly with the door open. If you buy either, add a shoulder harness if not already installed. And if you find one with an 85 hp engine, you will never regret paying a little more for the added power. On a hot day, both airplanes are doggy with only 65 hp. If you’re looking at both, buy the one that is in the best mechanical shape. Because of their age, a pre-purchase inspection by a knowledgeable mechanic is mandatory! 

Q: My friend flies the bush in Alaska during the summer. He recently showed me a trick for making a very accurate landing. He flew my Archer down our local runway with full flaps extended at very low speed with stall warning activated. When he got to the exact spot he wanted to touch down, he retracted flaps all at once, and we dropped in a foot or so onto the runway, just where he wanted. Is this a good idea?

A: Not in my opinion for the average pilot flying from normal airports. If you misjudge speed just a little, or height just a little, “dropping in” can bust your landing gear…maybe even cause a prop strike necessitating an engine tear down, etc. Since you probably are never going into a strip so short you have to land at an exact spot, I wouldn’t retract my flaps before touchdown!

Q: Last week after the first cold snap of the season, I flew my new (to me) 2007 Cessna 172R. With an outside air temperature of 10 degrees Fahrenheit at altitude in cruise, my oil temp only went up to 140 degrees versus the 180 to 200 degrees I saw most of summer. Is that normal?

A: Yes, a rule of thumb is that your oil sump temperature should be very roughly 120 degrees warmer than the outside air temperature (OAT). Lycoming (and Continental) recommend a maximum oil temperature in the oil sump of 245 degrees Fahrenheit. To help your engine run a little warmer you should consider cooling baffles. They are recommended for installation when OAT is below a certain figure. For many C-172s that temperature is 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, some engines can have a partial cover over the oil cooler if the engine has an oil cooler. You may see duct tape used for cooling restrictions, but I don’t recommend it. Cooling restrictors (often called baffles) are carefully engineered for your specific engine and installation. Some engines (not yours) may have cowl flaps that can help a little with temperature control. Stay warm!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pete Schoeninger appraises airplanes for estates, divorces, and partnership buyouts. He is a 40-year general aviation veteran, starting out as a line technician as a teenager, advancing through the ranks to become the co-owner and manager of a fixed base operation, and manager of an airport in a major metropolitan community. For aircraft appraisals, contact Pete at PeterSchoeningerLLC@gmail.com or call 262-533-3056 (peterschoeningerllc.wordpress.com).

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of others, and refer to aircraft owner manuals, manufacturer recommendations, the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual and instructional materials for guidance on aeronautical matters.

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