Knowing When Not To Be A Penny-Pincher!

by Pete Schoeninger
Copyright 2021. All rights reserved!
Published online Midwest Flyer Magazine – February/March 2021

Q: I approached my local flight instructor about getting a tailwheel endorsement. He said he would give me necessary dual in his Citabria, but NOT in my father’s Cessna 120 because the 120 does not have brakes on the instructor’s side. I learned to fly in an old Cherokee which only had one hand brake (no differential braking) from this same guy. Why would he fear the 120?

A: Brakes are very helpful to correct a swerve that is beginning to get out of control in a tailwheel airplane. Every Citabria I have seen had brakes for both occupants. But not all Cessna 120s do. The Cherokee you learned to fly in is much easier to land and control than any tailwheel airplane, and it pretty much tracks straight by itself, unlike a taildragger.

Q: I saw an old picture of a Cessna 170 with a traditional two-blade wooden propeller. Is that legal? Could I install one on my old (1957) Cessna 172 which has the same C-145 engine the 170s had?

A: When manufactured, Cessna got approval for a wood prop for 170s. Do an internet search for Cessna 170 type certificate A-799 and scroll down to propellers and accessories, paragraph 1b., which allows “Sensenich 73BR-50 or any other fixed pitch wooden propeller with a diameter of 71.5 – 74 inches and allows static rpm of 2230 – 2320 RPMs.” I could not find that Cessna ever approved any wooden props on the Cessna 172 type certificate. It would be possible and legal to put a wooden prop on a 172, if you could find a prop manufacturer which had an STC to allow that installation. 

Q: My FBO charges $1.50 per quart more for oil than an oil jobber about 25 miles away from my home airport. I have been buying two cases of oil (24 quarts) at a time from the jobber, and I do my own oil changes. I took used oil to my FBO recently and he refused to accept it. Why not? Doesn’t he sell the drain oil to someone?

A: In the “Old Days,” folks would come around and pay a few dollars for used oil. But that has changed. Now, a retailer (your FBO) has to pay to have it hauled away. Now let’s do the math. If you have to drive 50 miles to save $36 ($1.50 X 24 quarts), plus your cost of driving that 50 miles @ 55 cents per mile or $27.50, and the inconvenience of having to dispose the oil elsewhere, you save time and money if you buy your oil at the local FBO and help support that business.

Q: What do you hear about the current state of local airport activity, as of this writing?

A: As of December 15, 2020, compared to other years, FBOs tell me that pleasure charter activity is doing reasonably well, but business charter is soft. Other areas like flight training are down somewhat, and fuel sales are down more, which certainly is to be expected in this Covid-affected year. Airplane sales seem modest, but some FBOs have mentioned that used Cessna 152s and 172s continue to rise in value.

Q: Every winter, you go on and on recommending removal of wheel pants. So far this winter, you have been quiet on the subject. Do you now favor leaving wheel pants on for winter use?

A: Nope, I still recommend removing wheel pants for winter operations for most airplanes, unless your airplane’s manufacturer or your mechanic prohibits removal. Removing the wheel pants reduces the threat of wet snow and slush freezing to your brakes and tires while departing on a slushy/snowy runway. Do an internet search for “FAA Maintenance Aspects of Owning Your Own Airplane,” which allows changing tires, wheel bearings, etc. Be warned that just because it is legal to do some of your own maintenance, make sure you know what you are doing and have an A&P licensed mechanic help you the first time. There are some dangers involved, especially with removing the nose pant which may require the nose strut be extended or deflated, then re-inflated after the nose pant is removed. Nose pant removal is done while the nose wheel is off the ground by lowering the tail of the airplane, which takes knowledge of where to place ballast, and some muscle. You will need to make an airframe log entry of work accomplished. The weight and balance will change a little as well. Legally, weight and balance changes have to be done or approved by an A&P mechanic, although it is a simple calculation. You can have a weight and balance sheet done something like this: Date XXXXXX. Empty Weight as equipped XXXX. C.G. is XXXX. With wheel pants removed, empty weight changes to XXXXX and C.G. is XXXX. Then you make an airframe entry something like “On Date XXXXXX, removed three wheel pants per weight and balance information dated XXXXXX, empty weight changes to XXXX and C.G. changes to XXXX.” Sign and date it with your pilot certificate number.

Q: The Aviat Husky appears to be almost a clone of the Piper Super Cub. How different are they in performance?

A: Piper made the Super Cub for decades, ending production in the early 1990s. Aviat came out with their Husky in the late 1980s and it has been in production since then. The airplanes are quite similar, durable, and suitable for reasonable off-airport operations. The general consensus that I hear from people who have flown and owned both is that the Super Cub may be a little better for short-field work, but the Husky is faster in cruise. The 30-year-old values of used Cubs are in the ballpark of $100K with Huskys perhaps a bit less, all else being equal. But with any utility airplane that is 30 years old, overall condition is the major determinate of value.

Q: I have owned my Cessna 182 for 37 years. Besides a few dings, engine and prop overhauls, a fuel cell replacement and avionics upgrades, it still seems to be in pretty good shape. When will it wear out, or will I likely wear out before it does?

A: Your Cessna 182 does not have airframe time life limits that some more modern airplanes have. For instance, Cirrus aircraft have a life limit of 12,000 hours. Piper Tomahawk wings are limited to 11,000 hours, etc. As long as your 182 can pass an annual inspection, you can continue flying it. A few things you can do to help it age gracefully, is to maintain it to manufacturer’s recommendations, keep it hangared, and fly it frequently. Make sure that you are aware of service bulletins and service letters, which may indicate problems beginning to appear in airplanes similar to yours before they are severe (and sometimes end up as an Airworthiness Directive.) For airplanes in which the manufacturer is out of business, you can often find a “type” club of enthusiastic owners who share info. There are even such groups on social media. I highly recommend you do an internet search for the 25-page report titled “Best Practices Guide for Maintaining Aging General Aviation Airplanes.” This report was written with the cooperation of AOPA, EAA, AAA (Antique Airplane Association) and the FAA. The report contains lots of good information.

Q: To keep my medical, I have to submit information from my cardiologist every year. These tests cost over $1,500. I fly my Bonanza only 20-30 hours per year, so these tests have become a very expensive issue. Any ideas?

A: I worry about both you and your airplane! Flying only 20-30 hours per year is probably not enough to keep your skills sharp, and your engine in good shape. I hate to be blunt, but I think you should consider selling your airplane and on occasion, either rent an airplane and hire a CFI to fly with you, or ride along with a friend in their airplane.

Q: I have seen videos of planes on straight floats launch from a trailer in the spring of the year after wheels are removed and floats installed at an airport, not at a seaplane base. What do owners of those airplanes do in the fall if they do not have a facility on shore to change back to wheels? Surely, they don’t land on the same trailer, do they?

A: I have never seen, nor have I ever heard of a float plane landing on a trailer. Often a lightly loaded (pilot only) float plane can land on a wet or frosty grass surface without damage. Or you can change to amphibious floats, and not have these problems, but you do give up maybe 80 lbs. of useful load vs straight floats, and a pretty big lump of cash as well to buy them.

Q: I just bought a Cessna 172. I understand I can legally change my own oil. Is it as easy as changing the oil on my car, which I routinely do?

A: No. Your airplane engine may have either a screen to clean if it is a 1967 or older model, or an oil filter to change (1968 and newer) in addition to just draining the old oil. Either may have to be safety wired, so it stays in place on reinstallation. Possibly you will have to install a new crush gasket on the oil screen. You’ll have to have someone show you how to do those things…also how to inspect the screen for possible problems. Some oil coolers should be drained at oil changes as well. While the oil drains, a few minutes should be taken to look closely at oil return lines and control linkage or wires, for chafing or other minor problems. On a few occasions, I have found a wire beginning to chafe, or other problems, which eventually could become a major problem.

Q: I just received my private pilot certificate, flying a friend’s Beech Sundowner. I have only flown it solo, and with my instructor onboard. My friend insists that I get a checkout from my instructor with the airplane loaded to gross weight, including practice flying on a grass runway.  This checkout is not a legal requirement, is it?

A: You are correct…it is not a legal requirement. As a new private pilot, you could legally load the airplane and go. But practically speaking, there is a significant difference in performance when at heavier weights, which you can see looking at the airplane’s performance charts. But real-world experience is much better, and grass will be another factor affecting takeoff performance, especially if wet. I agree with your friend…get a checkout at heavier weights on a grass runway if possible. You will be surprised at the increased takeoff distance required when heavy; and when landing heavy on pavement, the rollout will be longer to get stopped.

Q: How can I help spread the word about general aviation? So many people know so little about our “little airplanes.”

A: I have always urged people not to fly solo unless necessary. Sadly, many airplane owners never even think of how someone would really love a ride and depart solo with one to five empty seats. One of the best passengers you can take along is a reporter or photojournalist who may return the favor and provide general aviation with lots of good publicity. Maybe there is a kid hanging around at the airport who would love a ride, or a student just starting lessons, or a neighbor, or a local politician, police officer or fireman who would love to see their city from the air. The possibilities are endless. Go for it!

Q: I own an old (1972) Piper Arrow and a nearly new Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV). Each is worth about $65,000. Why is the hull insurance so much higher for the airplane than the car?

A: A front-end smack to the SUV could cost perhaps $15,000, but a front-end nose gear collapse or porpoising accident on the Arrow could cost $50,000 by the time you replace a constant speed prop, fix front-end damage, and remove and test (and maybe overhaul) the engine. So, the chance of a more expensive fix for the airplane versus the SUV results in higher premiums for the airplane.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pete Schoeninger 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. He welcomes questions and comments via email at PeterSchoeningerLLC@gmail.com  (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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