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Aircraft Inspection Techniques for Homebuilders - Part 3

Preparing Yourself - Clear Your Time

By Bill Evans, President - EAA Chapter 266, EAA 794228

Inspecting your aircraft is not something you can do well with any number of other things happening. You also will not do well if you have "Blood, Sweat & Tears" blasting on the hangar stereo. Turn off the phones. Whatever it may be, it will have to wait.

Spectators - The very last thing you want is company while you are inspecting your aircraft. You need to be intensely focused on the task at hand to inspect properly. It may be a good idea to have help to open panels, disassemble, wash, and clean the structure, etc. But at inspection time, be alone. Make your hangar just as quiet as you can.

Do list - Should an important matter arise, jot it down on a Do List - then turn back to your aircraft.

During inspection - You should use all of your senses. You inspect as much with the sense of touch, sound, and smell as you do with sight. Components coming adrift, or already loose, will move when touched. They may even make a small sound when moved. You want to feel and hear those signs.

Inspect to a list - Never "wing it". If you were an inspector working on jet transports, at the start of the day, you'd read all the documents pertinent to the inspection assigned to you, then go ahead and inspect the aircraft. But you are not! You are new to this; so you have an inspection list, and you have included service bulletins and airworthiness directives and any other documents. You bring them with you and inspect to those documents. You do not move down the wing, noting defects as you go, or if you do, you also reinspect that wing part by part. You inspect each and every hinge and attachment.

Inspection is the proper use of paranoia. You suspect everything as you inspect. Nothing is okay. Nothing is serviceable until your inspection proves it so.

Look for defects just starting. My 35 years of experience suggests that before aluminum structure will crack, the paint will crack. Look very closely at bends in structure, radii in welds, casting lines, and stress points.

You are seeking the hidden flaw. Sometimes cracks can exist underneath the aluminum skin that you see. Feel your way along the structure. Is it soft? Does it look strange in any way? Is it loose?

Every time you find something that seems odd, cracked, bent, or leaking, jot it down on a card. You want maybe a hundred 4 x 6 cards. The stationery stores carry them. Buy a pack. They will be a huge help to you from beginning to end. I'll show you how to use them in another part of the series. After all, this part is to prepare yourself!

You will write down each defect or snag you find on a separate card. You do this so that you can sort them: for area, type of snag, and available parts and tools.

Make a list - As soon as you have completed the inspection you intended to do, before anything else make a list of snags, on a sheet of lined paper, one snag per line, numbered and with the title of the snag. A cracked spar tells you a lot. Even if the card is misplaced the list remains. Tape the list to a table, bench, or the wall.

While inspecting you write down each and every defect you find regardless of what you think it might be. Record everything. Aviation became as safe as it is because we keep a paper trail - a record of defects, work done, and procedures used. It allows others to follow you, and like Hansel and Gretel, retrace your steps to get out of trouble.

Let's say you have inspected your aircraft. Now it is the time to prioritize. In most cases money does not grow on trees. The available finances to maintain your aircraft may be finite, so you need to know where to spend your hard-earned money first. Fixing or replacing items that will take your life come first. Items that will adversely affect flying your aircraft are also at the top. They come before new avionics, that electronic flight bag, or new accessories. Your aircraft may well look better cosmetically with a new interior, new lights, new panel, or even new paint. But if the gear is shot, the engine runs rough, and the controls are worn and sloppy, then your priorities need to show that. So you sort those snag cards in the priority needed to continue flying.

Those snag cards will also come in handy to record parts, tools, procedures, and processes. At the end of the day those cards will allow you to record all the work done in the aircraft and defect logbooks. They will become the bread crumbs of the paper trail. They are all you need to record your work. Keep them well.

Below is the type of job card I used most often in my lifetime of work. It tells everything from the time and date the snag was found to the date the snag was signed off. It is, in a word, comprehensive. More about this in a future installment of this series.

Job Card

I've said from the outset that I won't write about regulations and laws. This is about aircraft and inspecting them. It really is essential that you record every snag you find.

While you are buying 4 x 6 cards, buy a plastic card box and use it. Always put it in the same place, a place where you can always find it easily.

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