Read More: How Far Is Too Far?
February 26, 2019

Preventive maintenance is always better than reactive maintenance.

Earlier this year, I was having maintenance challenges with an aircraft. Sometimes everything was perfect and nothing amiss, but other times, something wasn’t right. The plane would be hard to start but then would run perfectly. Other times, it wouldn’t start at all.

I read maintenance manuals, troubleshooting charts, and online blogs. I spoke to tech support people. I checked p-leads, spark plugs, fuel delivery, and the electrical system. I changed the ignition switch and installed a new carburetor. But I didn’t get to the root of the problem until the last maneuver of a biennial flight review, when the engine quit and the proverbial light came on.

What I had been experiencing all along was an intermittent magneto problem—a dual magneto problem at that!

A dual magneto failure. What are the chances? I hadn’t thought it possible. Our machines are redundant in so many ways. The electrical system is designed to make a dual mag failure very unlikely.

Here are some clues as to how this happened: Both magnetos were installed new at the same time during an engine overhaul. Both had 950 hours on them. Although both magnetos should have had 500-hour inspections, that never happened. At each annual inspection, the timing was checked, along with all items spelled out in FAR Part 43, Appendix D. Ops normal.

For Part 91 operations, the FAA allows us to continue to fly our aircraft if they pass the Part 43 annual inspection. We do not have to abide by the criteria for manufacturers’ recommended inspection or recommended time before overhaul.

This usually works out because much has been done in the past five decades to improve the equipment we fly. The machining process is better. The lubricants we use are a lot better. Parts are precision machined and last longer than components of yesteryear.

Many owners and pilots continue to fly beyond the recommended time limits. Is that a problem? It could be. You must ask yourself: If I do not use the manufacturer’s limit, then what is the limit? How far beyond the inspection criteria is too far?

When you fly that component to failure, you will know exactly how far is too far. But when you reach that point, where will you be? On the ground at your local airport or helipad? Or in the air, perhaps far from a hospitable forced-landing site?

A few days ago, I was in a different aircraft, out of town on a short flight of about 35 minutes each way. On the way back, I experienced an alternator failure. Not as big of a deal as the dual magneto failure, but still I had to do some higher-level math to determine how soon I needed to get the electric landing gear down with available battery power. I was certainly grateful to have an engine monitor, an electrical system monitor, and a navigation system with time-to-go displayed.

With a little brain power, I calculated I could get back to base with no problem. I chose to slow down and lower the landing gear at 11.7 volts to allow some juice to spare for radios. It worked out nicely. The gear went down, and the radios, autopilot, and transponder continued to work with the battery power I had.

Upon landing, I went through the logbooks. The alternator had been in service for 20 years and one month, or 1,756 hours. Kudos to the company who assembled such a robust alternator, but it should have been replaced or overhauled well before that day.

We have the right and authority to fly our machines beyond manufacturers’ recommended limits if we do not fly for compensation or hire. But we need to be smart about it and not put ourselves in a position where we fly them to failure. If you fly a component beyond the manufacturers’ recommendations, fine. But then whose recommendations will you follow?

Fugere tutum! 


Read More: Shop Talk
February 26, 2019

Make a plan to share what you learned at the Rotor Safety Challenge.

Don’t look now, but HAI HELI-EXPO 2019 is here. It’s hard to believe the year has gone by so fast.

As you make your plans for attending the show in Atlanta, think about attending some of the great sessions available in the 2019 Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) Rotor Safety Challenge (RSC), sponsored by MD Helicopters. These 60-plus education sessions cover everything from improving pilot proficiency to developing a safety management system to managing aircraft vibration. And they are free to all HAI HELI-EXPO® attendees and exhibitors.

There are tracks for safety, pilots, operations, maintenance, and career development (you can see the complete schedule at Which sessions will you attend? Well, what were some of the hot-button topics in your shop or office this past year? Is there an issue that created a lot of discussion? Use the 2019 RSC to get on top of some of these subjects.

The HFI Rotor Safety Challenge is an outstanding opportunity to network with folks who face the same operational issues that you do. Is keeping track of all the inspection and repair paperwork for your operation a pain? Of course it is! So why not attend the session on best practices in in maintenance recordkeeping (Tuesday, March 5, 9:15 a.m.) and learn how others are coping with it. Get a fresh perspective from the RSC presenter or other attendees. Follow up with the presenter to discuss a particular point.

At a RSC session, you may learn new techniques or operational advances for dealing with common issues. But whether you are an owner/operator, manager, line pilot, or maintenance technician, to really make a difference, you need to share what you’ve learned with your colleagues.

Consider organizing a lunch-and-learn at work around your takeaways from the 2019 Rotor Safety Challenge. A lunch-and-learn is an informal learning opportunity organized around lunch time. Some people “brown-bag” it; some offices order pizza for the group. Meanwhile, everybody gets together to learn something new.

Bringing together different groups to discuss current topics in aviation is one of the best features of lunch-and-learns. Breaking down the silos that divide pilots, maintainers, managers, dispatchers, and office staff and learning more about each other’s challenges can go a long way to improving team functioning and operational efficiency.

Some people structure their lunch-and-learns as a lecture. And if you are only concerned with providing everyone with the same information, such as when announcing a policy change, this is a good format.

However, consider using more of an open forum format for your lunch-and-learn. Encourage discussion. Be open to hearing different opinions and interpretations of certain regulations. While compliance with aviation regulations is a must, our work in the cockpit, hangar, and flight line has a way of exposing the gray areas between regulatory certainties. A spirited discussion of these issues is a good sign—it means your folks are thinking about their work and are not complacent.

Listen carefully to what is being said at the lunch-and-learn. The beliefs and attitudes expressed can alert management to confusion about company policies and procedures as they relate to safety, pilot operations, or maintenance. Remember, in a just culture, the focus is on improving safety. Expressing honest opinions or thoughts, even if—especially if—they expose potentially hazardous conditions, is encouraged.

As a service to HAI members, most of the 2019 RSC sessions will be available online beginning in May. Login to, and you’ll have access to the slide presentation synced to an audio recording of the presentation. These online learning tools can be used to address a particular issue or as content for your next safety meeting.

The HFI Rotor Safety Challenge can be a resource for ongoing safety education throughout the year—even for those who don’t make it to HAI HELI-EXPO.