Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Some Thoughts On Engine Reliability


Heed the advice of a master mechanic


Like many pilots who often consort with non-aviators, I'm frequently asked the same questions regarding general aviation, especially when people know I deliver airplanes internationally.

"I understand you deliver little airplanes to Australia. How long does that take? Two days? I came back from Sydney on a Qantas 747 last year, and that was a real grind—13 hours nonstop." Some of those folks are amazed when I tell them I rarely fly jets. My rides are more typically single- and twin-engine piston and turboprop aircraft that can require as long as a week to make the trip Down Under.

Many can't believe it's possible to fly a single-engine piston airplane across an ocean. "Wouldn't it be easier and safer to just put the airplane in a pallet and ship it? How many times have you had to ditch?"

When I tell them, "Never," they're understandably skeptical. Problem is, if I say the same thing to a group of pilots, even some of them don't believe me.

The myth is that engines quit all the time in "those little airplanes." After all, many newspaper accounts of aircraft accidents read like amateur night in the sky. "A light plane crashed in an open field on Sunday, only 17 miles from a school yard where middle-school children might have been playing if it hadn't been late July. The accident site was also only 235 miles from a nuclear powerplant that was closed in 1995. The plane, a single-engine Cherokee Skylane, made a successful landing as the pilot apparently remembered to extend the landing gear at the last second, but both propellers were nevertheless damaged. Both occupants escaped injury, and there was little other damage to the eight-seat aircraft (that wasn't equipped with a parachute). The FAA confirmed the pilot had not received a weather briefing for his planned 78-mile flight and had not filed a flight plan, so he had no idea where he was."

That's certainly one reason why many intelligent non-pilots, not intending any insult, almost always first ask the same question, "What do you do if the engine quits?" Pilots who read the brand of uninformed journalism above would keel over with laughter if it weren't for the fact that many people accept such ludicrous newspaper accounts as factual.

The reality is, if you do everything right and don't contribute to your own engine failure, chances are you'll never have one. The catchphrase above is, "Do everything right."




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