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(article) preflight the engine

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A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you heard this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no truer statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception of "there are no old, bold pilots.")


I've owned two airplanes -- a Cessna 120 (for about seven years) and co-ownership of a Beech Sierra (for six weeks -- a story for another day).Obviously there were many differences between the two. One difference was the ability to preflight the engine.



The Cessna's cowling was held with two sturdy latches on each side. Simply twist two key-type latches and the entire cowling half swung up and over the top, exposing the entire engine for preflight inspection. I can't tell you how many times I pulled small bird nests from the engine, dry straw that could block cooling air flow and cause an engine overheat, and in a worse-case scenario catch fire in flight and bring down the airplane. There were also cold winter days, during the time I was forced to store the Cessna outdoors, when I scooped handfuls of snow from the aft engine compartment, snow that would have blocked air flow before engine heat melted it off, and possibly entered the carburetor, strangling the engine.


By contrast the Sierra's cowling was similar to most lightplane designs. There is a small door to reach the oil dipstick and oil filler, but for streamlining and engine cooling the cowl itself is firmly sealed, requiring significant effort to open up the engine compartment for inspection. For the short time I had possession I had to store the Sierra outside as well. During one preflight inspection I could not see any birds-nest material looking through either the oil door or the nose inlets.



As I walked around the airplane, however, I saw a small bird fly from the outlet underneath the rear cowling. Laying down on the ground and looking up through the underside of the engine I found a huge mass of straw and twigs-a bird's nest-that had been "installed" overnight. After pulling the cowling and completely cleaning out the hazard I vowed to make plugs to close off all cowling openings when the airplane is stored. I would have, too, if I'd been able to stay in the partnership.


Aero-tip of the day: Thoroughly inspect the engine compartment for foreign matter before every flight. In most airplanes this means lying on the ground and looking with a flashlight through any openings on the underside of the engine.



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