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Aircraft Maintenance: It could have been worseAircraft Maintenance: It could have been worse

When my boys were little, we used to read a book at night titled, “It could have been worse,” chronicling a mouse’s journey home with a series of small mishaps along the way. The series of problems leave him frustrated, bruised, and wet, but they also unknowingly help him evade much more serious trouble. I was reminded of that book recently after I had my own series of mixed maintenance blessings.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Simon.

It started with a temperamental vacuum warning light, which, after some investigation, turned out to have been installed incorrectly and never would have warned of a vacuum failure if it weren’t for the loose wire that was causing the light to flash. Each time I saw the light come on during a flight, I got more frustrated. Little did I know, it was serving as a helper to force me to ring out all the wiring, test, and correct the entire warning circuit. While I was under the panel, I also found and replaced a cracking vacuum hose that was well hidden by firewall insulation. Two potential issues were averted by that annoying little light, but more was to come.

Next came the muddy grass runway: A visit to a friend left me with lots of gear cleaning to do. While I was under the nose gear, I discovered two small bolts at the top of the gear strut that had come loose because they had not been properly safety wired together when the gear had been overhauled. I should have caught that one during installation. However, without the mud experience, this article might be about a gear failure, rather than a children’s book and lessons learned.

The last experience was more luck than lesson. Returning to Boston from a trip to Atlanta, my boys and I hopped out of the airplane at our home airport tired and ready to head home. As we hooked up the tow bar and prepared to push the airplane back into the hangar, we noticed a hissing noise. A brief investigation revealed that the left main gear was quickly losing air. We had just enough time to push it back into the hangar, position the jack, and lift the gear leg before the tire went flat.

There was no sign of damage outside the tire; the tube itself had failed at one of the seams. We didn’t have a spare tube, so the airplane was out of service until a new one arrived. It was frustrating, to say the least. But, just as with the children’s book, had the tire gone flat prior to landing, the outcome could have been much worse.

Unplanned aircraft maintenance is rarely good news, but sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise. If we view it as an opportunity to look deeper and do a focused “wellness check,” we can sometimes turn a minor inconvenience into preventive maintenance that ultimately saves us from more dire future consequences. Just like in the children’s book, we can make sure we make it home safe and sound, slightly frustrated, but safe, because “it could have been worse.”

Happy flying!

Jeff Simon

Jeff Simon

Jeff Simon is an A&P mechanic, pilot, and aircraft owner. He has spent the last 14 years promoting owner-assisted aircraft maintenance as a columnist for several major aviation publications and through his how-to DVD series: The Educated Owner. Jeff is also the creator of SocialFlight, the free mobile app and website that maps over 20,000 aviation events, $100 hamburgers, and educational aviation videos. Free apps available for iPhone, iPad and Android, and on the Web at www.SocialFlight.com.
Topics: Maintenance, Ownership

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