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Maintenance and troubleshooting introduction for pilots

I recently posted about the bugs in thestatic system that kept me on Ile d’Yeu for a day longer than planned. This problem was not particularly difficult to solve, but it showed me that I want to know more about the inner workings of my aircraft and how I can cope with issues „in the field“ on my own.
This may come more naturally to people with a technical background, but my education had a very different focus and I have never worked in a technical profession. I consider myself a quick learner, however – so what I am searching for is either a „troubleshooting crashcourse“ or at least some literature on the subject apart from the usual theory textbooks.
How do other pilots/owners feel about that? Any recommendations for courses? I think this is a somethig an AOPA course should adress, just like they offer IFR refreshers or overwater training.

Last Edited by blueline at 14 Jul 14:04
LOAN Wiener Neustadt Ost, Austria

blueline wrote:

I want to know more about the inner workings of my aircraft and how I can cope with issues „in the field“ on my own.

That`s why I am always present by the servicing. This is called “Owner assisted maintenance”. You can learn a lot by doing and asking which might be helpfull with an unexpected failure.

Berlin, Germany

How do other pilots/owners feel about that?

So and so… I have some theoretical and technical background (ph.d. aerospace engineering…), but am not allowed to change a light bulb on an aeroplane. Last year, the screen of our FMS started flickering. Our techs decided that it needed to be exchanged. There is no such thing as “repair” for expensive avionics – they get exchanged for refurbished units. In this case, for 25,000 Euros (a new FMS is somewhere near 60.000). As a good employee, I begged our maintenance guys to let me take it home over the weekend before sending it away, maybe a drop of solder would have been all it needed. But no – they wouldn’t even let me unscrew the mounting screws … very frustrating!

EDDS - Stuttgart

I went to a mechanics course with the Cessna Pilots Association in Ohio a few years ago. Learned a lot there and worked my way through the aircraft. Now I can basically do everything myself.

The golden rule is: nobody touches my aircraft when I’m not present. No maintenance done without me. This is how you can learn. The mechanics at the shops in Europe are mostly trained on the job as well, they have a car background or similar very often. Just be curious and not afraid of anything

Last Edited by achimha at 14 Jul 18:23

This is something I am also interested in, in particular engines or a course on this.

The FAA has a book called Aircraft Inspection and Repair which covers quite a lot and is helpful if nothing else as an overview. I’ve found it useful as a starting point and seems more practical than theoretical, although you were asking about courses, not books.

CKN
EGLM (White Waltham)

…they have a car background or similar very often.

Most of our mechanics were trained at the air force. Which is good and bad – as usual. Good, because they can fix problems very quickly and efficiently – bad, because their paperwork is not really up to EASA/CAMO (and French SAFA inspector) standard sometimes. Personally, I prefer a good repair over good documents, but I am already becoming part of a minority with this attitude.

EDDS - Stuttgart

I don’t know if I am particularly lucky with my maintenance shop. Fact is that in the 20 years I own my airplane I only had one technical problem when away from my homebase. Being based in Switzerland my Cessna went tech on a Sunday morning on the Isle of Wight. There were two mechanics working on an other airplane and they were kind enough to fix my airplane in no time. I don’t consider myself a mechanic. Thus I leave it to the professionals to work on my plane. I most probably would reconsider my position if I would fly to remote airports with no maintenance facilities at all. In most european countries chances are high that you will find mechanics who know Cessnas and Pipers.

LSZG

Most of our mechanics were trained at the air force. Which is good and bad – as usual. Good, because they can fix problems very quickly and efficiently – bad, because their paperwork is not really up to EASA/CAMO (and French SAFA inspector) standard sometimes. Personally, I prefer a good repair over good documents, but I am already becoming part of a minority with this attitude.

My experience with 21st century ex-USAF mechanics working on light aircraft is the opposite – they are heavy on procedures and unable to diagnose or repair light aircraft very efficiently. Ex-US Navy aircraft mechanics are better, a little, but still often give the impression of being professional oil changers who don’t know what they don’t know. The best light aircraft A&Ps I know started by helping keep ‘junk’ airworthy when they were teenagers (to include for example decades old fire bombers). Most guys with that type of experience know how to make a nice repair. They also tend to figure out before middle age that you can make more money doing something else, but still work on light planes for fun. You can learn a lot from them.

I concur with achimha and others that the best way to learn about aircraft maintenance is by working with people already doing the work. I learned a bit when my dad was building an aircraft years ago, but have learned more in the recent past by working with A&Ps on my own planes, and theirs. It takes commitment of time, and you have to want to learn. Buying a plane that needs some work and having to get that work done before you can fly is one approach… it was mine anyway, for better or worse, twice

PS Read FAA Advisory Circular 41.13 AC 41.13 Link

Last Edited by Silvaire at 14 Jul 22:46

I would suggest participation in the 50hr service. That will teach you a great deal about your plane.

To acquire knowledge of where e.g. the pitot tube runs you would need to participate in the Annual, where all the inspection covers come off, but that is hard in the EASA system due to obvious political factors. It is easily arranged on an N-reg…

Then you need to carry a toolkit with enough stuff to do the basic things. Mine weighs about 15kg and is permanently carried.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Peter wrote:

To acquire knowledge of where e.g. the pitot tube runs you would need to participate in the Annual, where all the inspection covers come off, but that is hard in the EASA system due to obvious political factors.

In the sub 2t GA market, there is massive competition among the shops because airplanes can fly easily hundreds of miles for maintenance. No shop I have worked with would object to owner assisted annuals. Even the most incompetent owner can remove inspection plates which is a time consuming job. Whereever I go, I usually see owners swinging wrenches on their airplanes. There are exceptions, usually the posh shops like Cirrus specialized. I chose my current shop mainly for the work climate, I feel like I’m part of the team there when I work on my aircraft and I learn so much. Last time the guy next to me performed a hot section inspection on PT6s and I could watch that from beginning to end. Now I wonder why it’s so damn expensive because it wasn’t a big deal really…

Peter wrote:

I would suggest participation in the 50hr service. That will teach you a great deal about your plane.

At least for a Cessna 100/200, there is not much done in a 50h service, I do mine in ca. 3h. It’s mostly cleaning the spark plugs and checking a few minor things. The oil I do every 25h. The real work is done on a 100h check which is typically the same as an annual. I know the Socata maintenance manuals are modelled after War & Peace but for Cessna it’s a small list.

Peter wrote:

Then you need to carry a toolkit with enough stuff to do the basic things. Mine weighs about 15kg and is permanently carried.

Plus you should know all episodes of McGyver by heart. I travel with an extensive toolkit as well but I also had to make my own tools before. Apart from enjoying mechanical work, I have dug so deep into airplane intrinsics because I want to feel safe. I want to know everything an A&P knows so I can judge the things I see. It’s me in the air and him on the ground after all. Is it normal that oil is dripping there? What about this strange noise? This weird smell? Where does this hose lead to and what does it do? Should I overhaul based on calendar times? I usually try to only make informed decisions and even though the EASA regime is very strict and inflexible, there are still a lot of decisions an owner can make and I better make them based on extensive knowledge than gut feelings or the authority of somebody who after all might not be the expert he claims to be…

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