Budd Davisson retires his walking shoes every 600 miles and, through band saw and belt sander work, converts them into his idea of flying shoes.
As the student settled into the back pit and started to put his headset on, I stopped him and took his baseball hat off his head. Without saying a word, I walked over to the bench, picked up my specially modified “hat pliers” and snipped the button off the top of the hat. The student watched me without saying anything, because it was obvious what I was doing: I was doing the standard “aviation hat mod” to keep him from getting a hot spot under the headset from the hat button. It was just another of a bazillion bits of aviation minutia we all pick up along the way.
It’s a curious thing about aviation minutia such as this. Sometimes, it’s something we do unconsciously because something happened that caused us to remember it, but we never thought about passing it on to others. For instance, a student watched me remove my watch and stick it in my pocket as I got ready to clean the front windshield (I have two windshields). He asked why I did that, and I pointed out a bunch of scratches. “That’s the result of me not paying attention and scratching it with my watch.”
Learning from our own mistakes is the simplest form of empirical learning, but it’s not often one of us tells a friend or a student, “Hey, it’s a good idea to take your watch off when cleaning a windshield.” The net result is that we all wind up making the same mistakes and learning from them. So, in the spirit of saving folks the aggravation of learning from their own mistakes, I’m going to mention a few bits of minutia that I’ve picked up along the way. None are earthshaking, but are tidbits that make our aviation lives a little easier and safer.
Beware The Sneaker Heel
Although this affects folks flying taildraggers more than the nosedragger crew, it helps if you pay attention to the size of the heels on your sneakers. Most “walker” or running sneakers have big, fat heels that protrude behind your foot a measurable distance. And, they’re often super thick to absorb shock. When you fly in those, the big heel moves your foot a good distance above the floor, plus they move the pivot point on your heel back quite a bit. The net result is that your foot is pivoting on a point below and behind your heel. For flying, I personally modify sneakers by sawing the heel off and re-conturing them on a sander. However, most sneaker companies now make a series of shoes with smaller, either square, or better yet, rounded heels that work perfectly. They also don’t have the flared-out soles that are so common.
him from getting a hot spot under the headset from
the hat button.
The Hangar Key Dilemma
I leave the key teeth down, standing on edge, at the bottom of the aluminum door. It’s teeth down to minimize the amount of grit that gets into the padlock (I wipe it off anyway). There are lots of better ways to do it, but find a way that works and leave a key at the hangar, so you aren’t kicking yourself for forgetting it.
Tow Bar Maintenance
We all spend a lot of time greasing things on our airplanes, but what about the tow bar? It deserves some lovin’, too.
Shirttails And Airplane Seats
During the summer, when we saddle up and our shirttail is hanging out, pay attention to what it does when you sit down. It’s a pain to be taxiing out and realize that your bare skin is against the seat. Then you have to wiggle around to try to get the shirttail pulled back down.
Clean New Gas Caps Before Using
If your gas cap is the thermos bottle type with the flip-over lever on the top and rubber stopper bottom, wash the rubber with gasoline before using a new one. They often come from the factory with something like mold release on the rubber, which makes them slick, and they don’t want to grab the tank neck like they should. A little gasoline on a rag fixes that.
How Many Plug Threads Are Showing?
I was once doing a preflight and found one of my plug leads just hanging there doing nothing. It had backed completely off. Now, I make a habit of noticing whether more threads on the plug are visible than usual. Since then, I found one that was loosening, so the attention to that small detail paid off.
Use A Small Flashlight When Doing Preflights
When I started using a flashlight when preflighting my engine, I started finding lots of stuff going wrong sooner than before. The real eye-opener was when I spotted a big bolt laying in the bottom of the cowling: It was one of the through-bolts that holds the case halves together right at the main bearings. Scared the devil out of me. I was afraid damage might have occurred to the bearings, but I ran that engine another 1,000 hours with no problem. Without the flashlight, I would have never seen the bolt and would have gone on flying and probably spun a bearing, trashing my engine.
I generally do two to four preflights on my airplane a day. I NEVER saddle up without doing a complete one. My attitude is, what’s to prevent something from going wrong as I taxi in on the last flight?
Progressive Bifocals Can Cause Problems
A problem with progressive bifocals is that they can be creeping into your field of view when your head is back on landing, and you don’t know it. They distort your vision, very slightly complicating your landings. With regular bifocals, you know it’s happening.
There’s An Unlimited Amount Of Minutia
It’s scary to think how much aviation minutia each of us is carrying around as the result of our varying experiences. It’s even scarier to think that the majority of that stuff will never be passed along because we assume everyone knows it. But, that’s not the case. At the very least, we should at least mention it to a flying buddy or two so the knowledge is passed along.
Someone ought to assemble as many of the tidbits we all accumulate into some kind of Poor Richard’s Almanac (Google it, if you don’t know it). And, no, that “someone” won’t be me. Sorry, I’m too busy making mistakes that I can learn from.