Guest Post by AIR Insured, Al Morvin
Hello Mechanics and Pilots. My name is Al and in 38 years of aviation I have seen a zillion ways to wreck up a perfectly good day. Thank God so much attention is dedicated to safe flight and preventing accidents to preserve life. With all of that research I would think I don’t have much to add so I think I would like to share a few stories that would help focus on good practices that simply prevent damage and save money.
Today is a great day to do anything other than need an engine repair or overhaul. My goodness, please do your best to preserve your engine. Parts have long lead times and somehow engines that were $35,000 are suddenly $65,000. I know of two engines this year that did not need repair and somehow very qualified guys managed to make sure they wound up getting that attention. Their silly actions ate up available parts and took insurance money from the pool.
The first story is of an A&P with many years experience. Gray hair and the ability to fix just about anything. He was tasked with fixing a transient Cessna 210 that landed on his field with an alternator failure. Lots of issues with internal drive alternators can be discussed another day. The mechanic troubleshot the alternator and like so many airplane problems this one went away and came back. Oh that is frustrating. The mechanic thought it was fixed, the owner showed up, it did not work, owner left disappointed, blah, blah, blah. Ever seen that before? Oh yea, and I’m sure somewhere in all that there was a bunch of concern for all of the time and parts money spent to still have a broken plane. So the mechanic continued his work and eventually felt good that the root cause of the intermittent charging situation was resolved. He called the owner and with confidence he touted the skill he had and used to uncover the rare situation. The owner was unconvinced. That frustrated the mechanic so he decided to jump in the plane and facetime the owner and run the engine. Somehow the mechanic with so much experience left the tow bar and tug installed. Huh, that seems lazy. No problem. The prop cleared the tow bar just fine. I guess he checked that. He started the engine and proved that the alternator worked. The owner was still skeptical since it was an intermittent problem and this frustrated the mechanic. To prove it was finally fixed the mechanic let the engine warm up and then pushed the throttle forward. Yep. Hold the brakes, push the throttle forward and guess what is next. The nose settled and the prop no longer cleared the tow bar. Poor tow bar. It did not deserve the beating it took. I was hired to swap the prop and perform a ferry inspection.
Second story was even better! It worked out just fine for me because it resulted in an aircraft sale and I made a commission. However it was just another waste of money and certainly affected our premiums. Some of this story is based on assumptions and heck just simply made up since the story was told to me and I am repeating it. This is a father and son team. They had a very expensive high wing Cessna and are both are pilots. Father asked the son to get the 182 out and make it ready to fly. I guess dad was running behind, in a hurry, or just in a habit of delegating. We can talk about the dangerous affect of being in a hurry some other day. So the plane is out, preflighted, and dad is told this. Dad pulls up to the hangar and knowing that his son handled the chore he jumps in the cockpit from the back where he parked. Normal start and taxi. Just uneventful. Normal run up, mag check, etc. Entered the runway, pushed the power forward and accelerated down the runway. Upon reaching rotate speed the nose lifted and then it happened. What an amazing event it must have been. When the nose lifted the tow bar dug into the runway and tore off the nose gear. My goodness that must have been one heck of a scary moment! The pilot confirmed his situation after stabilizing flight by circling the runway to see his nose gear on the ground. One great landing later the aircraft is determined to be repairable and everyone is safe. However the 3 bladed prop and engine are now another unnecessary burden on the production system.
I have seen more than a dozen tow bar damage issues so I have a rule I follow and everyone in my shop follows. Very simply stated “if the tow bar leaves your hand (or control) you disconnect it from the aircraft”. This is done every time. Even if it is for just one second. It does not matter. With cell phones, busy lives, multitasking, emergency bathroom breaks, or just a beautiful person walking by can make you completely forget about that $50,000 tow bar.
I don’t want to diffuse the importance of taking off the tow bar but there are a couple other practices I use that are related to avoiding this situation along with other problems. Before operating the airplane the PIC must walk around the plane one last time just before getting in the cockpit even if a full inspection was just completed. Secondly, before starting the engine I put my hand on the start mechanism, I look out the left window (even though I can not see anything of significance) and say, “no tow bars, chocks, or tiedowns” then I wait 2 seconds thinking, and only then turn the key or push the button.
Save your money for gas or to install another magenta line device for the instrument panel and remove your tow every time it leaves your hand.
Pilots Ally Aircraft Maintenance
38 years in aviation
By the way this is just a story to help save money. If you think I am talking about you then look in the mirror and say 3 times “I will always remove the tow bar as soon as I let go of it”. Other than that I am claiming this is a story of complete fiction and not made to embarrass anyone especially you.