How a Lazy Pilot Learned to Love Maintaining his Airplane

By David Fekke
April 20th, 2019

I recently have completed a lot of maintenance on my Cessna 177RG

I had a professor in college who said "Don't ever buy an airplane". I did not listen to him because I bought into a partnership for a Cessna Cardinal last year. General Aviation aircraft are notorious for being expensive to maintain. The more complex the aircraft, the more expensive it is to maintain. The General Aviation fleet of aircraft are just getting older. According the FAA, the average age of a General Aviation Aircraft is 35 years old.

When I was learning to fly, I don't think I ever even refueled the aircraft I rented. We always had mechanics that did all of our maintenance. Not being the owner of the aircraft, I never thought much about the maintenance of the aircraft outside of knowing the legal requirements for inspections by licensed A&P mechanics.

So whenever our mechanic comes out to work on the plane, I alway try to be there to help him with the maintenance. We recently replaced the oil sump gasket and a cylinder in the engine. Replacing the oil sump gasket required removing the engine from the firewall using a cherry picker. As a pilot, I never thought I would ever slide a new cylinder onto the crankcase of an aircraft engine, but I did a week ago.

Engine Oil Sump

New Cylinder

As a Pilot, What are you Allowed to do on your Aircraft

According to Federal Aviation Regulation part 43, a pilot is allowed to do a lot of preventative maintenance. I came across the following FAA document called Maintenance Aspects of Owning Your Own Aircraft. The one caveat is that if the aircraft is used for part 121, 127, 129 or 135 operations the pilot cannot do their own maintenance.

Here are some of the things a pilot can do to their aircraft;

  • Remove, install, and repair landing gear tires.
  • Service landing gear wheel bearings (for example, cleaning and greasing).
  • Service landing gear shock struts (for example, adding oil, air, or both).
  • Replace defective safety wire or cotter keys.
  • Lubricate items not requiring disassembly other than removal of nonstructural items (for example, cover plates, cowling, and fairings).
  • Replenish hydraulic fluid in the hydraulic reservoir.
  • Apply preservative or protective material to components where no disassembly of any primary structure or operating system is involved, and where such coating is not prohibited or contrary to good practices.
  • Replace safety belts.
  • Replace bulbs, reflectors, and lenses of position and landing lights.
  • Replace or clean spark plugs and set spark plug gap clearance.
  • Replace any hose connection, except hydraulic connections.
  • Replace and service batteries.
  • Make simple fabric patches not requiring rib stitching or the removal of structural parts or control surfaces. (Note: For balloons, this includes making small fabric repairs to envelopes as defined in, and in accordance with, the balloon manufacturer’s instructions and which do not require load tape repair or replacement.)
  • Replace any cowling not requiring removal of the propeller or disconnection of flight controls.

Another important detail hear is to make sure that all maintenance is properly logged in the aircraft's maintenance log book. Each log entry must include a description of the work performed, or references that are acceptable to the administrator. The date the maintenance was completed, and the signature, certificate number and kind of certificate held by the person doing the work.

The Hard Work Payed Off

I felt quite a bit of satisfaction when we finally got the cowling put back on and the engine fired up for the first time. Here is the video of our first engine start after completing the engine work;

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