April 2009 Issue

Preflighting Your Prop

Your airplane’s propeller is one of its most neglected components. Use these tips to help make inspecting it easy and its lifespan long.

Unless you’re among the small number of personal aircraft owners lucky enough to own a jet, your airplane has at least one propeller. It might be a fixed-pitch, metal or wooden affair, a multi-composite blade reversible spun by a turbine engine or one of the more ubiquitous constant-speed offerings from Hartzell or McCauley. And you might have more than one of them. No matter: Even a basic fixed-pitch model is a fairly expensive component, spinning away for hours on end, its tips approaching—in some cases exceeding—the speed of sound. If you have a constant-speed or full-feathering version, you also have a small collection of very expensive and specialized parts regularly subjected to massive forces. Contrast all that with what many pilots seem to think: A prop is a poorly designed handle with which to help move the airplane back in its hangar. In fact, according to the pros, treating your propeller like the critical component it is and lending it a little TLC every now and then can go a long way toward preventing costly maintenance. Or worse. The average propeller’s main enemy? It’s not the wet-behind-the-ears private pilot who insists on using it to muscle the airplane in and out of the hangar. It’s not even the guy who taxis over runway lights and into potholes while talking on a cell phone—more about him in a moment. Instead, prop shop managers and manufacturers’ reps tell us it’s aviation’s oldest bugaboo: corrosion. Look at just about any metal prop out on the tiedown line. You’ll probably find its leading edge is rough, with small pits and—if it hasn’t been painted recently—some whitish discoloration. That’s corrosion, and it’s slowly eating away at the prop.

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