Spring preflight

April 7, 2009

Engine compartments, wheel wells, and tail cones may seem inhospitable, but to birds, mice, and insects, such areas look like perfect places to raise families.

And this is the time of year that critters nest with gusto.

A busy bird can set up a bachelor pad in an engine compartment in one day. And pilots won’t be able to spot the out-of-the-way nests with a peek through the oil door. It’s necessary to remove the cowling for a full inspection, as these photos show.

A set of cowl plugs can discourage birds from entering through the front of the engine compartment. But cowl plugs aren’t enough. Some enterprising birds are willing to fly in through the basement, the low-pressure opening around the exhaust stacks. And hangars are no guarantee that an airplane won’t become an apartment house for birds.

Mice are also on the move this time of year, and though they’re usually slower than birds at setting up residences in airframes, they can do tremendous damage to wiring and metal structures. Rodents regard insulation as a delicacy, and after they’ve been fed, their urine is horribly corrosive to metal aircraft structures.

Bees and wasps love aircraft interiors. And even if they’ve been evicted, insects have an annoying habit of plugging pitot tubes with mud.

Don’t take any of these stowaways on your first flight of spring. Find out about some post-winter inspection tips in the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s Spring Preflight Safety Hot Spot.

Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman | AOPA Pilot Senior Editor, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.