Research has shown that a single cold start in frigid temperatures can create as much internal engine wear as hundreds of hours of normal flight operation. AOPA columnist Mike Busch says the culprit isn’t thick engine oil, it’s close-tolerance engine components made from different metals that shrink in extreme cold.
The Sweeps Van’s RV–10 was built in Canada and had an oil-sump heater when AOPA bought it. But warm oil does little, or nothing, to help crankshaft journals and bearings high in the engine that may bind in extreme cold. And warm oil may cause condensation in other, cooler places, which accelerates corrosion.
Carlo Cilliers, AOPA’s resident airplane whisperer, installed the $1,200 Tanis system in half a day. The largest heating element was attached to the oil sump with red RTV adhesive; six round heating elements connected by a wiring harness went to the cylinder bases, and six more went to the rocker covers via heated bolts. Connecting a power plug at the bottom of the cowl to an extension cord activates the system, and an internal LED light shows that it’s working.
“It’s a very complete heating system,” he said. “It’s well thought out and straightforward to install.”
I plugged the system in for the first time in early March, the night before the Sweeps RV–10 was scheduled to fly to Florida for an overhaul of its three-blade MT propeller. The overnight low was 32 degrees Fahrenheit, about normal for the mid-Atlantic in late winter. But the next morning, even before starting the engine, the oil temperature was 120 degrees F and cylinders were warm to the touch. By the time I started the engine and taxied to the runway, the engine monitor showed all the temps “in the green” and ready for takeoff.
This airplane was built to fly long distances over remote regions, and we want to take care of the engine that takes care of us.
About that propeller
I was staunchly opposed to the idea of overhauling the AOPA 2020 Sweepstakes RV–10 propeller, and deeply concerned about the timing.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is a saying I’ve taken to heart. Every aircraft owner has surely been involved in well-intentioned but ultimately pointless efforts to improve something that didn’t need improvement.
That said, eventually, something had to be done about the Sweeps RV–10 propeller. It had been nicked and chipped, especially on the back of the blades, during years of hard duty on gravel airstrips across Canada. The blades were corn yellow and clashed with the airplane’s gleaming new red, black, and gold paint scheme.
But the painters at Lancaster Aero had thoughtfully covered them with a temporary coat of glossy black, and that seemed good enough to get us through the airplane’s scheduled public debut at the Sun ’n Fun Fly-In at Lakeland, Florida.
I told Peter Marshall, vice president of MT-Propeller USA, that I intended to drop off the Sweeps RV–10 after the big show, but he had a better idea. “Bring it before and we’ll overhaul the hub, paint the blades, and make them look factory new,” he said. “We want the prop to look as good as the rest of the airplane—and we want to show off our very best work.”
I appreciated his pride and professionalism. But we were on a tight schedule that couldn’t slip. Besides, the prop performed brilliantly. Even after years of hard use, it was smooth, quiet, and hadn’t given a hint of trouble.
With deep misgivings, I took off for MT-Propellers USA in Deland on a Saturday morning. At 10,500 feet, the RV–10 rode a booming tailwind over Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and northern Florida, covering the 700 nautical miles nonstop in 3 hours 40 minutes. The technicians at MT got on the job first thing Monday morning, but then a global pandemic struck, and Sun ’n Fun was reluctantly canceled.
MT finished its work in record time, even though the deadline had evaporated, and I found my way back to Florida to retrieve it. Now, the blades have a matte-black finish and look and feel brand new. Instead of overhauling the governor, MT replaced it with a new one, fresh from the company’s main factory in Germany.
We were all disappointed not to be able to show off MT’s latest technology and craftsmanship in person at the Florida airshow. But it’s a thing of beauty, and it ran smooth and strong all the way home. Run your hands over it when you finally do get to see it in person. The nicks and dents are nowhere to be found.
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