I read with interest your article “Trust, But Verify” (Accident Probe, March 2012) and the tragic story about the owner of the Cirrus to whom the airplane was released by the maintenance shop before its annual inspection had been completed.
I took my Cessna 210 to the largest GA maintenance facility at one of the busiest airports in Southern California for an annual inspection. Three weeks later, the airplane was released to me, together with the logbooks showing that the annual inspection had been completed and the airplane had been returned to service.
On the first flight after the annual inspection, I took off, flew for a few minutes and then lost all oil pressure. Fortunately, I was able to make a dead-stick landing with no serious injuries or damage to the airplane, except for an engine that had seized as the result of the loss of all of its oil.
It turned out that the maintenance facility had never torqued or safety-wired the drain plug after changing the oil. The drain plug was just finger-tight, so that after a few minutes of flying and vibration, it loosened, backed out of the oil drain hole and fell off, allowing all the engine oil to drain out.
In the ensuing lawsuit, I learned the only person at this maintenance facility who held any certificate issued by the FAA was the owner. Under the terms of his repair station license, he was supposed to be actively supervising all of his employees, who were not certificated. Clearly, the owner was not doing a good job of supervision.
So I would add to your article the following warning: In addition to verifying that all maintenance has been completed on the airplane, also verify that the people working on it are properly certificated, and not simply mechanics hired away from the local Jiffy Lube.
Newport Beach, Calif.
It’s true that a repair station can operate with only one employee certified by the FAA. In the agency’s oversight scheme, its inspectors are supposed to monitor its activities and correct any deficiencies. As your experience highlights, however, things don’t always work out as planned. There’s no way pilots/owners can reliably inspect an airplane coming out of maintenance for items like oil drain plugs missing their safety wire.
Checking for complete paperwork is only one safeguard pilots and owners have when it comes to ensuring the maintenance they’ve requested is performed. Using facilities with good word-of-mouth is another, as is taking the time to personally participate.
Backing Up Glass
As Tom Turner mentions in his article, “When Glass Goes Dark” (November 2011), “Most challenging, in my opinion, would be use of the backup (steam) gauges in Mooneys…installed about as far away from the pilot as possible, on the far right side of the panel.” Personally, I think it is dangerous to fly G1000 Mooneys with the steam gauges since the required head movement and parallax-generated inaccuracies could easily induce vertigo and disorientation.
As a CFI-I instructing in G1000 Mooneys, I recommend the following in two specific situations:
If the pilot is the sole occupant, I suggest sliding over to the right seat, provided the pilot is comfortable flying from the right seat. Not a problem with CFIs and airline first officers. If not comfortable, then flying from the right seat should be part of steam-gauge partial-panel instruction.
With two occupants in the front seats and if the right seat person is a qualified pilot, then he/she should become the PIC (sole manipulator of the controls definition) in such a scenario.
Luca F. Bencini-Tibo, ATP/CFI-I
Other G1000-equipped airframes also have their back-up gauges mounted in inconvenient locations. New-technology, all-in-one instruments coming on the market can help eliminate this problem.