AOPA Pilot Magazine

Minimally Invasive

What we can learn from medicine about fixing things without taking them apart. A longtime friend who was suffering from extreme fatigue and shortness of breath. She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure caused by aortic valve stenosis, and she required an aortic valve replacement. This was a very big deal that required open-heart surgery. […]

Savvy’s Borescope Initiative

Teaching mechanics (and owners) how to do borescope inspections right In my last column (“Ending the War on Jugs,” AOPA Pilot March 2024 issue), I talked at length about why we should use the borescope—not the compression tester—as the gold standard for assessing cylinder condition. Borescopes are now inexpensive (under $300) and capable of breathtaking […]

Ending the War on Jugs

Weak compression doesn’t always mean that the cylinder has to come off. For most of my nearly six decades as an aircraft owner and three decades as an A&P, the rule about cylinders was simple: If the compression reading was less than 60/80, the cylinder had to come off for repair or replacement, period. The […]

Unleaded Avgas—Cure or Curse?

Does unleaded fuel really cause exhaust valve seat recession? The October 27 announcement by the University of North Dakota (UND) flight school that it was terminating its year-long test of Swift UL94 unleaded avgas and returning to 100LL came as a shock and disappointment to many in the industry, me included. The school’s Director of […]

Time & Materials

Why is GA maintenance done on a T&M basis, which places all the risk on the aircraft owner and none on the shop? A successful surgeon put his Beechcraft Baron 58 in an Arkansas shop for a makeover. He wanted both engines overhauled, new paint and interior, and the steam gauges replaced with a modern […]

Deadly Switches

That ubiquitous key-operated ignition switch is fraught with peril On July 26, 2018, private pilot Lanny Steven Kramer of Sarasota, Florida, and his wife Fran flew to the Cleveland Regional Jetport (RZR) in Cleveland, Tennessee to run some errands, after which they returned to the airport to depart. Shortly before 5 p.m., Lanny was preflighting […]

Miracle in Sioux Falls

My hapless blunder en route to Oshkosh triggered a series of incredibly fortuitous events. It was mid-July and my annual pilgrimage to AirVenture Oshkosh was rapidly approaching. I’d finished preparing PowerPoint for the 11 different presentations I would be making. Now I started thinking about the upcoming flight. Flying from California to Wisconsin solo can […]

Fortunate Catch

A maintenance-aware owner is the last line of defense against maintenance errors Corey owns a 1978 Bonanza A36 and is quite involved in its maintenance. He does his own oil changes and other preventive maintenance. He even bought his own borescope and uses it to keep tabs on the health of his cylinders. He’s my […]

Legal interpretations

If you ask FAA lawyers what a regulation means, the answer might surprise you We’ve all studied the regs. If you’re a pilot, you’ve spent hours poring over Part 61 (pilot certification, ratings, currency) and Part 91 (operating rulese, owner responsibilities), both of which are voluminous. If you’re a mechanic, you’ve hopefully memorized Part 65 […]

Unbelievable Compression

How reliable and valid is the almighty compression test? Each annual inspection begins with a moment of terror when the IA removes the top spark plugs and takes a compression reading of each cylinder. We hold our breath awaiting the verdict. If the numbers are good, we exhale and relax. If not, we anticipate the […]

Here to Help?

When it comes to maintenance problems, the FAA might be able help you but only in very limited ways. My April column, titled “Booted Out of Annual,” related a true story of a Bonanza owner who put his plane in the shop for its annual inspection, got into a disagreement with the shop’s manager, and […]

Mechanic Crisis

THERE ARE NO LONGER ENOUGH A&PS TO MAINTAIN OUR GA AIRPLANES “The annual I scheduled more than a year ago got cancelled on a five-week notice,” read a recent post to the Beechcraft Bonanza Owners Facebook group. The unhappy owner went on to say that it was going to be impossible for him to find […]

Booted Out of an Annual

This unfortunate aircraft owner was placed in an untenable position by an unreasonable maintenance manager  Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.  I’m going to change the names—I’ll call the aircraft owner “Oliver” and the A&P/IA “Isaac” and the shop manager “Maurice—and avoid geographical references. But I swear this really happened. The story started some months […]

Ethics of Misdiagnosis

Should you have to pay for work or parts that don’t fix the problem? “Mike, I have an ethical question for you: How should an aircraft owner determine fair compensation to a mechanic for parts and labor that were unnecessary?” The email was from a 1947 Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser owner—I’ll call him Don—who had […]

A Matter of Trust

How far does your IA have to go to verify that your aircraft is airworthy? The subject line of the email got my attention: “Annual gone wrong…please help!” The author—let’s call him Morrie—identified himself as a first-time airplane owner. “I have my Citabria in for annual now,” Morrie said, “and I feel like one of […]

Obsessed with EGT

Don’t use exhaust gas temperature as a leaning reference I respond to at least 100 queries from aircraft owners and pilots each week. At least a dozen of those are questions or requests for advice about leaning, and most of them relate to EGT. A few common ones: Q: My POH recommends leaning to 50˚F […]

System Awareness

Situational awareness requires being aware of your aircraft’s systems, too. On Saturday, August 26, 2022, a young CFI took off from Monterey, California in a Cessna 172 on a “Discovery Flight.” His passengers were a young couple, with the man occupying the left front seat and the woman seated in the back. The CFI occupied […]

When Data Doesn’t Look Right

Using AI and deep learning to detect anomalous engine monitor data Nowadays more than half of the piston GA fleet is equipped with some sort of recording digital engine monitor. Older ones tend to be fairly primitive and record just EGTs and CHTs and not much else. Modern ones have myriad sensors and capture numerous […]

Real-Life Breakdowns

Dealing with mechanicals away from home base. Every aircraft owner dreads a mechanical breakdown while away from home on a trip. In the five and a half decades that I have owned an aircraft—I bought my first plane in 1968 and have always flown lots of long trips—I’ve been the victim of such mechanicals more […]

What Price Speed? 

Optimal flying in a world of expensive avgas.  With fuel prices at all-time highs, it’s more important than ever for pilots of GA airplanes to fly in a fuel-efficient fashion. I am especially sensitive to this issue because I fly a piston twin that guzzles 30 GPH and suffer post-traumatic stress each time I refuel.  […]

On a Short Leash 

The best maintenance shops often warrant the closest owner oversight.  I’m frequently asked by aircraft owners to recommend good maintenance shops in a particular area, and my company maintains a large database of maintenance resources to facilitate such referrals. Our team of more than 20 A&P/IA account managers keep close track of their experiences working […]

Disastrous Annual

Out-of-control annual inspections are painful—and avoidable. I received a heart-wrenching email from the owner of a Southern California flight school—I’ll call him Chuck—who operates 10 airplanes, mostly Cessna 172s and Piper Archers and Arrows, with a Seneca twin and a Cessna 140 taildragger thrown in for good measure. With a fleet like that, Chuck has […]

TBO 5000!

This Skyhawk’s Lycoming had a 2,000-hour TBO, but it lasted a bit longer—3,000 hours longer to be exact. What follows is true, though the names have been changed… It was 2011 and Unruly Flyers had a problem. This 14-member Midwest flying dlub’s only aircraft—a 1997 Cessna 172R—had a Lycoming IO-360 engine that was rapidly approaching […]

What we have here is a Failure to Rotate

Is the conventional wisdom wrong about why exhaust valves burn? Piston aircraft engines have an awful lot of moving parts. Way too many, if you ask me. The thought of thousands of separate metal parts reciprocating, rotating, wiggling, wobbling, and rubbing against one another thousands of times a minute ought to make you nervous—it sure […]
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