Lessons Learned – Equipment Maintenance

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We’ve all been guilty of neglecting proper maintenance of our equipment. I’ve got a lawnmower that I hardly every change the oil on, and some day it’s just going to seize up and quit, and I’ll end up throwing it away. And that’s ok for a lawnmower.

It’s not ok for an aircraft. When your aircraft “seizes up and quits,” (or your harness, or any other critical aviation equipment), you could end up dead. Or worse.

We recently heard from a customer who had purchased some flying equipment made by us (as opposed to an equivalent product from another manufacturer) because he “wanted to be able to just buy it and then forget about it – and not have to think about it.”

He meant it as a compliment to our quality. Unfortunately, we had to disabuse him of the notion that there was such a thing as aviation equipment that you could buy and forget about. Any piece of flying equipment requires regular inspection and maintenance. Equipment failure is one of the most easily avoidable causes of flying accidents. Proper maintenance and pre-flight inspection, keeping up to date on any advisories or technical bulletins issued for your equipment, and operating your equipment within the manufacturer’s recommended operating limitations, can eliminate virtually all equipment failure related accidents.

There are no shortcuts to this.

One of the things that we preach on a regular basis is that if a structural cable becomes severely kinked, then subsequent normal loading will quickly weaken the cable and lead to a premature failure. Some pilots would like to purchase an extra margin of safety to allow them to slide a little on wire maintenance, so they order the next larger size cable – 1/8 inch, for example, instead of 3/32 inch. It is true that 1/8 inch cable is about 75% stronger than 3/32. However, 1/8″ cable with most of the strands broken is considerably weaker than 3/32. The photo shows the crossbar / leading edge ends of two bottom side wires from the same glider. The owner had upgraded from 3/32 inch cable to 1/8 inch cable for added safety. One of the two cables had at some point become kinked during set up. Because the cable was inside the sail, and because the pilot’s pre-flight was not thorough enough, he didn’t see it. It wasn’t until considerably later that he noticed the broken strands – fortunately just before the wire failed.

We’re coming to the end of the flying season in most parts of the northern hemisphere. Now would be a good time to make plans for a complete maintenance program for all of your flying equipment. Think of it as an early new year’s resolution if you like. We’d like very much to be able to say, “See you next year,” and have it come true.