EAA Chapter 54

St. Paul, MN. (Lake Elmo)

Performing your own maintenance on your airplane

by Dale Seitzer, EAA Chapter 54

Doing your own maintenance


Whether you have a certificated airplane, an amateur built experimental or a light sport airplane there are several maintenance actions you can do on your own airplane.  These tips will apply to whatever you are working on.  All these tips are the result of mistakes I made in the past. You can measure ability by the effectiveness of recovery from mistakes.

  1. Never place tools in the engine compartment. Have a rolling cart or tool chest available to place tools on while you work in the engine compartment. There have been many times forgotten tools have been located where they don’t belong. An alternative is to have a process where every tool used is accounted for after the operation.
  2. Be prepared to clean before you do the maintenance operation. Cleaning the items and area you are working on is beneficial as you observe and notice any cracks or additional wear. Always look for chaffing wear—when two items rub against each other. The tricky thing is the wear is usually not visible unless you look under the wire, cable or hose.
  3. Use the right tools. Sure you can use a vice grips to get whatnot off, this time. Take your time, get the right tool or borrow from a friend. Then make a note about the size and type of tool needed for the task in your log book. For my cars I have the tools needed written into the operator;s manual. For my truck oil changes I need a #2 torx bit and a 17 mm socket—I don’t have to remember everything—just know where to look.
  4. Avoid distractions. I’ve made mistakes that had to be corrected because I was trying to have a conversation with a visitor while I was working. Just like piloting—avoid distractions at crucial times. Some actions require a helper—remind them to focus on the task at hand and these tips.
  5. Do not substitute parts—use the correct parts and replace anything that looks like it needs replacing.
  6. Keep the work area clean and well lit.I like working over carpeting because little screws, washers and nuts don’t bounce and roll so far away when I drop them. I need extra light so extra lights and flashlights are essential. Stuff a rag below what you are taking items apart so dropped parts and tools don’t fall onto inaccessible areas.
  7. Torque wrenches are essential. I have three sizes of torque wenches and use them all the time. On the inside of the spinner I have written the torque requirements for the prop bolts and the prop to flange bolts. After I research for the proper torque specification, I note the number in the log or right on the plane somewhere close. Be disciplined about checking torque—there have been crashes when propellers fell off due to either not checking according to the manufacturer or over torque because they did not understand how to check torque. Avoid the temptation to give it a little extra. Set the torque wrench to the proper specification and go right to the click or beep, no more. It is a pleasurable activity to check the torque and the bolt never moves—just a set of satisfying clicks.
  8. Check out YouTube for videos on how to do what you need to do—I have often found a video for the exact thing I am working on. If there are more than one—check several to see which one has the best instructions.
  9. Having extra parts when you are done is a bad sign. Use your camera to take photos as you disassemble so you can remember where everything went. I have taken apart things that were reassemble wrong by the previous person—always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions and diagrams and redo it if it doesn’t look right.

Dale Seitzer is an EAA Technical Counselor. Contact him for additional guidance on your project. There are also many maintenance tips in the archives of the EAA Chapater 54 Newsletter. Bill Schanks Sr., and Jim Montague wrote many find columns in the 2002-2004 period.

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