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Intro to Basic Aircraft Operational Tasks

One general challenge new pilots may face is that they learned to fly at a flight school where the FBO took care of pretty much all aspects of aircraft maintenance and operations. As a result, a new pilot may not have a clue as to handle some basic operational tasks. They’re not necessarily part of any syllabus or training regimen. As a member of a flying club, you’re now a part owner. You’ll need to know more about your aircraft and really, any pilot needs to know some of these basic things. So we’re going to go over…

If possible, go over these things and try them out in person with a club instructor of another club member who’s familiar with these procedures.

Checking and Adding Aircraft Oil

Checking the oil is part of the pre-flight. The amount required for your aircraft, besides being in the POH, should be on your checklist. But if it so happens you’re the one who finds the oil is a bit low, how do you add more?

  •  Check to see what kind of oil is currently in use. At our Club, we switch oil weights for summer vs. winter. A bottle of the correct type of oil should be in the cargo area box. Which oil is in use per season should be listed in the tach book as well, usually on the cover sheet. Also, there was likely an announcement at a meeting, a club email or note in the meeting minutes of a changeover. Make sure to choose the correct oil.
  • The cargo areas of the planes might not have funnels. But our storage boxes at the airport should have funnels as well as step-ladders if you need them.
  • When you’re getting ready to add oil and you remove the dipstick, clean it off with a rag and do not leave it someplace where it may become contaminated. E.g., do not leave it lying on the tarmac! Place it on a rag or have someone else hold it or otherwise secure it someplace safe where it won’t pick up debris or get bent or otherwise damaged.
  • Use a funnel if at all possible to put in a quart of oil. That should be all you need to bring the oil to an acceptable level. If the level was significantly below that which was required for flight, please let the maintenance coordinator know this. Make every effort to not spill oil outside of the filler neck. If you do, it looks like there is a leak and it will make a mess inside the cowling. Cleaning this up is a time consuming hassle.
  • Note how most oil bottles have a beveled edge on one side by the filler neck. That’s not just for looks; it should make it easier to avoid air ‘burbs’ (that glug glug sound) when the beveled edge is ‘down’ though it may be easier to start the pour from the other side. In any case, your really need a funnel. Trying to pour directly into the filler neck is likely to result in misses and leave a big mess inside the cowling over multiple engine parts, and it’s a major hassle to clean that up.
  • Make a note of the addition in the oil log, which should be in the aircraft tach book. Fill out all the requested info, how much added, tach time, level, date, your name, etc.
  • Check for your aircraft, but we generally operate with between 5-6 quarts.
  • Add oil in full quarts only.
  • Too little oil is obviously bad, but so is too much. Too much oil will result in some of it just being blown out, resulting in waste, a filthy aircraft bottom, and unnecessary pollution.

Unless there is a special notice as to otherwise, this is the type of oil we use in the airplanes. There should be spare bottles in the cargo area of the planes as well as the lockboxes at our tie down locations. There will often be a notice/sticker on the inside of the baggage compartment door with the right type of oil for the right time of year. (Same in the top inside of our storage lockboxes.) And there will be notices from the maintenance coordinators and in the meeting minutes from when we change over. Once all aircraft are on the same oil for the season, we’ll generally take the ‘wrong’ oil out of the lockboxes to avoid mistakes. But there may be transition periods where both types are in the lockbox. Note that it’s possible the branding design on the labeling could be slightly different than shown here. But this is the correct manufacturer and oil weights to use.

Aeroshell W100Plus
Summer (Apr - Oct)Winter (Nov - Mar)
Archer 17AVAeroShell W100 PlusAeroShell W15W-50
Archer 4508XAeroShell W100 PlusAeroShell W15W-50
Arrow 190FTAeroShell W100 PlusAeroShell W15W-50
Arrow 787BGAeroShell W100 PlusAeroShell W15W-50
Bonanza 275BMAeroShell W100 PlusAeroShell W15W-50
Bonanza 9003SAeroShell W100 PlusAeroShell W15W-50

Helpful hints on adding oil…

Aircraft Refeuling

Ideally, someone has personally shown you how to manage these tasks. But just in case not, or if it’s been awhile, please review the following info.

Refueling at an FBO

When refueling at an off home airport FBO, it’s kind of like when you use a full service gas station for your car. Sort of. But… not really. Maybe.

  • In all cases, it’s good explicitly state you want 100LL fuel. This is fairly obvious to everyone, but… can’t hurt to just say it clearly.
  • Upon parking, if a lineperson marshalled you into a spot, they may have asked you if you need gas, at which point, you’d just let them know.
  • If you just parked, you’ll go into the FBO and likely talk to someone at the desk to put in your fuel order, however, it’s possible that you could need to ask a separate line department or make a call to another service on the field to bring their truck over. For refueling our V-tail Bonanzas: Very important, when fueling the the V-tail Bonanzas, do not stick the nozzle all the way in or you can damage the rubber bladder. Should always remind a line person whose fueling your aircraft as they might not know.
  • Depending on the airport/service, it’s typical that they’ll fill you up and you’ll just pay later prior to departure. So you don’t have to wait there for them to fuel up. You can go on about your day and settle up later.
  • In ideal cases, you’ll be fueling up at an airport for which the club has a card on file for the N numbers of our planes. If not, you’ll use your own payment method.
  • Submit your fuel receipt for credit. It’s probably best to do this immediately so you don’t forget. Use the club’s mobile app to enter your fuel purchase data and take a picture of the receipt for upload.
  • SPECIAL NOTE ON FUELING OUR BONANZAS: If a fueling nozzle is simply shoved straight down into the tank on our Bonanzas, there is a possibility the fuel cell / bladder could be badly damaged. This is both an unsafe and potentially expensive problem. Therefore, it’s good to watch line service refuel or at least mention to them to take care with this. And if fueling yourself, make sure to angle the nozzle towards the fuselage a bit to avoid this. (Which doesn’t mean bend it to a degree where you damage the fuel port area either; just angle it a bit.)

Self Service Pumps

  • Pull up to the pumps making sure not to get too close; there will ideally be line markings on the ramp area, but not necessarily. You want to make sure the fuel hose is in front of the aircraft so you don’t have to drag hose around.
  • Find the static line and ground the airplane. The exhaust stack is a good place to attach the clip, just be careful as it’s likely hot enough to burn you.
  • You may need to reset the pump to zero; it depends on the pump. Either way, make sure the pump is zero’d out by whatever means such that you’re a) not paying for someone else’s gas somehow and b) have an understanding of just about much fuel you’ll be taking on.
  •  Extend the fuel host reel a bit longer than you’ll need.
  • Now, engage the pump… likely by putting in your payment information at this point.
  • When you take the active pump to the tank and remove the cap, place the pump nozzle in the tank such that the nozzle is in contact with the metal side of the filler hole. You’re goal is to keep everything grounded and not create opportunities for sparks via static electricity.
  • Try to angle the nozzle towards the fuselage, which will be the lowest/deepest part of the tank. Very important, when fueling our V-tail Bonanzas, not stick the nozzle all the way in or you can damage the rubber bladder.
  • Pumps go fast when fully engaged. Ease off as you get closer to the top. You want to put as much on board as possible, but not get to where just putting the cap on will slosh more over.
  • Make sure to let any residual fuel drain out of the nozzle before fully removing from the filler neck or you’re going to spill/waste a lot of gas. Waste of fuel/money and not the best thing for the environment. Take your time.
  • Replace the fuel cap. If you try to take off without a fuel cap, (besides perhaps losing or damaging the cap), the low pressure will suck that gas right out of your tank.
  • Most self service systems will have some kind of automatic retract capability. So look for the button to do that, but still guide the host back into place. If there’s not electric system, there should be a simple crank.
  • Put the static line back as well. These may have electrical retraction, but more likely are reeled in manually.
  • Check / sump your tanks as usual. (Best to wait a bit to let everything settle.)
  • Make sure to get your receipt! If you don’t get one for some reason, take a picture of the screen or pump reading.
  • When you start aircraft, remember to reset any fuel totalizer systems.
  • Watch the “How To” videos embedded below. Find more if you like. Get familiar with some of the safety issues they mention. Where’s the emergency shut off? Where’s the fire extinguisher(s), etc.”

Refueling at Self Service Pumps (The following are links to the videos that should also be embedded below.)

Aircraft Tire Inflation

This is generally the same as with your car. During pre-flight, you’re going to look at the tires and if they appear low, grab a pressure gauge from the box and check them.

The challenge with some aircraft is they may have either wheel pants or hub covers. However, this is not a great big deal as there is – or should be – a small access hatch on such coverings that gives you access to the valve stem. (Which may require a screwdriver to gain access.) This allows you to check the pressure and add air. The real challenge might be where to get the air. There should be an inflator in our club lockbox if at our home airport. And any FBO should have a compressor or the line staff can help you. Or you may even just carry an inflator with your in your car and you can use that as well.

The PSI for the tires should be listed in POH and is likely on your aircraft checklist as well. (They will likely be different for nosewheel vs. the mains.)

While you are checking tire pressure in general during every pre-flight, as of this writing there is also a club requirement for pilots to specifically check the tire pressures – with a gauge – during the first flight of the month. So if you happen to be first up to fly a plane in any given month, you need to check the tire pressure using a gauge. There should be a gauge in the supply box at our tie-down.

The Westchester Flying Club offers an aircraft ownership experience in a club environment with safe, economical light aircraft options.

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