I was cleaning the belly of my Mooney a while back following an annual inspection, and not enjoying the task. I wind up rolling around beneath my airplane three or four times a year, not only to police the occasional oil stains, but on general principles. You never know what you might discover on the bottom of an airplane you normally only see the top of.
I've been doing that for 45 years on a succession of a half-dozen different airplanes, and it's one of those tasks that's definitely worth the effort, even if it's a pain in the neck—literally. On my metal airplane, I sometimes discover loose screws, chipped paint, minor hydraulic leaks and a variety of other ills I'd probably never see any other way.
I was using a conventional automotive creeper with the usual four wheels and a small headrest, and while the creeper did allow me to maneuver beneath my airplane with a semblance of agility, the process was still a hassle. Lying on your back and working straight up is never comfortable, but it's a special nuisance when the surface above you isn't at a constant distance. It may slope away or toward you at an angle or have a variety of anomalies you'll never see on the underside of a car.
In contrast, working beneath most groundbound vehicles is comparatively easy. My old and tired Craftsman creeper elevated me about two inches above the hangar floor, but it never seemed to be at the proper height to allow comfortable room to clean and wax.
This just happened to be a few days before I was scheduled to leave for the Sun 'n Fun air show in Lakeland, Fla. I did get the Mooney's belly clean, but not without a few choice words, known on cable TV as expletives undeleted, something cable does better (worse) than practically anyone else.
As it turned out, two days later, I was wandering the displays at Sun 'n Fun, marveling at all the miscellaneous airplane stuff I didn't have. My problem with cleaning my airplane's belly was long forgotten until I spotted a display for, of all things, the EZ Creeper, an innovative, hi-tech device built in London, Ontario, Canada and Port Huron, Mich.
It was almost as if some clever engineer had read my mind. Here was a device specifically designed for my obscure mission. As anyone who has ever cleaned a flying machine's bottom surface knows, an airplane's graduated underside makes it a very different creature from an automobile or truck.
What was needed to maneuver around under an aircraft was a creeper back that could be elevated or lowered manually while you were using it. And that was exactly what the EZ Creeper offered. The back brace was split in the middle, and the top half could be elevated hydraulically with a hand pump to as much as 70 degrees above horizontal.
If you need to sanitize a belly, service gear doors, pump up a tire or examine hydraulic brakes or shock absorbers, the EZ Creeper has positions to accommodate all four functions and more. The manual hydraulic pump allows you to lever yourself up and down as necessary (max capacity 300 pounds). No need to roll out from underneath, add more cushions, climb back aboard and maneuver back into position.
The EZ Creeper is the only one I've seen that angles the seatback to your choice of positions, and that may mean a minimum of bending and stooping. Better still, when you're done with your job under the airplane, you can slide out into the clear and pump the seatback all the way up to make it easier to get to your feet.
In contrast to the quality control on standard auto creepers, the build quality is impressive. The device slides across the floor on four wheels smoothly and with minimum effort. In fairness, few people could have envisioned a need for a creeper as exotic as the EZ, so the Craftsman or Snap-on creepers (of which I have one each) may do a fine job for most non-aeronautical applications.
The whole package weighs about 30 pounds, at least three times the heft of a standard auto creeper, but the extra weight strikes just the right balance between too much and not enough. A super lightweight creeper tends to be unstable and lacks the structure to slide smoothly across the floor. Anything heavier could be difficult to maneuver.
Reviews on the EZ Creeper are mostly favorable, though there are a few buyers with niggles, despite a lifetime warranty. Dr. Ben Lee of Wichita, Kan., flies a Seneca II, and he's a big fan of the EZ Creeper, so much so that he made a promotional video for the company expressing his admiration for the product. Several other pilots also gave the sophisticated creeper high marks. One Beech owner was less impressed; he sent his unit back for a refund.
The president of the company is a gentleman named G. J. Rancourt, and he's nothing if not enthusiastic about his product. He needs to be. The EZ Creeper costs $899, a price to go with its level of sophistication. It may be a sign of overall satisfaction that EZ is doing reasonable business despite the high price of admission.
My airport is a haven for homebuilders and DIY pilots who sometimes drop by to see what new gadget I'm testing for the magazines, and the EZ Creeper certainly attracted more than its share of lookyloos. I had only to open the hangar door, park the EZ Creeper in front of my airplane with the angled back raised, unfold my lawn chair and wait for folks to stop by.
One A&P mechanic who does his own maintenance on his Comanche 260 was especially impressed with the parts integrity. Jack tried pumping the back up and down several times, and wondered aloud about the service life of the hydraulic cylinder, since the ability to graduate the angle of incline is, after all, the truly unique feature. Another pilot worried that the cylinder might eventually start to leak and would gradually lose its seal, allowing the raised backrest to slowly bleed back toward horizontal under a load.
Rancourt promises the product has a lifetime warranty. He's so confident of the Creeper's quality, he offers a referral reward program. In order to show its appreciation, the Ez Creeper Company provides current owners with a 10% Referral Fee.
The EZ Creeper won't cure arthritis or make your airplane fly faster, but it just may make you the envy of the local mechanics.
For more information about the EZ Creeper, visit www.ezcreeper.com.