4 Ways To Damage Your Piston Aircraft

Like any engine, aircraft engines require some tender loving care to ensure longevity. When it comes to your training program you want to make sure you keep your aircraft engines in optimal shape to help preserve your investment and keep maintenance costs to a minimum. Let’s explore ways you can damage a piston aircraft engine so you’re better prepared to protect your investment:

1. PROP STRIKES

The infamous US Airways Flight 1549 is the most notable bird-strike event to date. You may recall during takeoff the plane struck a flock of geese, lost engine power, and was forced to land in the Hudson. While bird strikes aren’t as much of an issue for piston aircraft you do still need to worry about prop strikes or hitting foreign objects other than birds on landing. Animals on the runway, tire fragments and runway debris can all cause damage to piston aircraft. Foreign object debris is an ongoing concern at airports. As a result, the FAA has
implemented a foreign object debris (FOD) management program to help make pilots more aware of these occurrences. Train your students and CFI’s on how to identify potential foreign object debris hazards at airports. If you encounter an FOD at one of the nation’s airports consider reporting it using the FAA FOD Reporting Form.

2. COLD ENGINE STARTS

Starting a cold piston aircraft engine can cause severe damage and stress to your aircraft. A start is considered a cold start when the temperature is 0 degrees C or below. Why is a cold start bad for your engine? Aluminum pistons heat and expand twice as fast as steel cylinders. A cold start causes a lot of stress on the piston engine which can lead to compression problems and cause 500 hours of cruise wear and tear. To prevent cold engine starts consider preheating options for your aircraft. While they can be costly, over the life of the aircraft they are a valuable investment.

3. LONG PERIODS OF ENGINE IDLE TIME

Don’t let your aircraft sit for long periods of time without use. Piston aircraft engines are built for-use. Not using your engine can result in corrosion damage. An idle engine can cause oil to drip off key parts and rust can form. As Flying Magazine points out; “any type of engine is designed and built to perform a specific duty cycle… an engine designed for stationary power...doesn’t need acceleration, and smooth idle is not important, but it must produce a big chunk of its rated power continuously for longer periods.” The duty cycle of a piston engine is designed for stationary power. The airplane engine is designed to run at 70 to 80% of its maximum power. By adhering to the duty cycle of your piston aircraft engine you will help maximize the lifetime value of your engine.

4. RAPID THROTTLE CHANGES

To help protect your piston engine your throttle management should be smooth. Rapidly heating or cooling of the engine can cause unnecessary damage. To help control your throttle, plan descents so you can gradually reduce power. Likewise, throttle management is especially important during takeoff. That sudden burst of combustion heat causes engine parts to expand at radically different rates. The resulting stress on the engine can cause a number of damages.

Properly managing your piston aircraft engine not only protects your investment but also helps to instill good habits in your student pilots. Being prepared for prop strikes, eliminating cold starts, preventing long periods of engine idle time, and educating against rapid throttle changes can all help protect your students and your aircraft.

If you have any other tips on good maintenance practices for piston engines or just have a good maintenance story, let us know below! Also, don't forget to check out our other post in this series: "4 Things To Expect As A Piston Aircraft Pilot".