Proper aircraft maintenance can cut your fuel bill

May 28, 2008

Did you know how much the condition of the aircraft can contribute to its overall fuel efficiency?

AOPA Pilot Information Center Senior Technical Specialist Craig Brown, an experienced A&P, has developed a list of 16 maintenance-related tips that you can follow to improve your overall fuel economy.

“Although the benefit of each item individually may not be seen immediately, the cumulative savings that result from checking many or all of these items will be realized over time,” Brown said.

Don’t be a drag

  • Landing gear: For retractables, check that the gear retracts fully and that any doors completely close. Doors hanging open create drag and slow you down. For fixed gear, keep wheel fairings in good shape, or install the wheel fairings if yours are off. They add up to 5 knots to cruising speeds.
  • Cowlings: Be sure the cowling closes and latches securely. A secure cowling contributes overall to the intake air, which keeps the engine cool.
  • Rigging: Ailerons sticking up or down a degree or two, when they should be level, create drag and slow you down.
  • Trim, especially rudder trim: Trim out of alignment can cause the pilot to fly the airplane in a slip, increasing drag and reducing speed.

Keep the engine tip-top

  • Fresh oil: Lubricates better, allows a cooler running engine, and reduces friction and wear—all of these improve fuel economy.
  • Spark plugs: Clean plugs allow more complete burning of fuel, minimizing waste and improving fuel economy.
  • Magnetos timed: Improper timing can cause power loss and hurt fuel economy.
  • Exhaust secure: Leaking exhaust decreases engine efficiency.
  • Baffles in good shape: Properly directing airflow leads to cooler running engines and better fuel economy.
  • Clean engine: Dissipates heat better and runs cooler, improving efficiency and fuel economy.

Other considerations

  • Propeller: A&Ps often observe a meticulously maintained engine that swings a rough-edged propeller with flaking paint and several nicks, which creates drag. When dressed properly—the propeller that is, not the pilot—its smooth leading edges contribute to aerodynamic efficiency.
  • Loading: Front heavy loading improves stall recoveries, which is good for training flights; but for cruising, aft loading improves fuel economy.
  • Tires inflated: May seem minor, but you can get off the ground faster with properly inflated tires.
  • Dings, dents, and pockmarks: Have them removed, if possible, as they can only contribute to drag and slow you down.
  • Improper coordination: Climbing out with too little right rudder usually leads to an unintentional slip, with a corresponding loss of climb performance and a waste of fuel to get to altitude. The climb will be longer and slower. Check and neutralize rudder trim in cruise to minimize drag.
  • Washed: AOPA cannot prove that a clean airplane flies faster than a dirty one, but dozens of smashed bugs on a wing leading edge can only slow an airplane down!