How to destroy your aeroplane…

…and have a lot of fun, in a few easy steps.

The first golden rule to remember is that when it comes to your aeroplane, you know best! Most manufacturers generally do not design aircraft the right way and if you ask around, you’ll almost certainly find an engineer who will agree with you. So – don’t waste time reading the pilot or maintenance manuals, they are only there because the manufacturer legally has to issue them and they are full of antiquated procedures anyway. These manuals don’t carry anything like as much weight as your own knowledge and experience, seasoned with a liberal dose of advice from mates, who also usually know much better than manufacturers, engineers and the like.

Here are a few more specific tips on how to destroy your aeroplane:

When you park, don’t bother to secure the controls or control surfaces. If possible ensure you park the aircraft facing downwind so that even a light wind will help you get those ailerons, elevators and rudder flapping nicely – but the stronger the wind the better! Once the control surfaces have hammered up and down a bit – allow at least a couple of hours if possible, overnight is better – the hinges, control rods (or cables) and connections will be well stressed. If you’re lucky you might even pre-fracture a connection somewhere in the system which, hopefully, you won’t find out about until you’re in the air – it’s great fun flying an aeroplane on the rudder or aileron trim, assuming they aren’t busted too! Remember, if the aircraft manufacturer has supplied a control lock, lose it as soon as you can! And it is so fiddly to tie the controls with the seat belts, it’s best not to even think about using them!

Leave the doors or cockpit canopy open at all times when you aren’t flying. This helps to air out the aircraft, particularly on a breezy day. In fact, the stronger the breeze the better, as it will likely slam the doors or canopy closed for you. If all goes to plan, it may even damage the hinges or latching mechanism – it’s a wonderful experience to have a door or canopy come open when you’re flying! All the maps fly out and sometimes the aeroplane can get a bit tricky to handle, specially when you try to land. If you are extra lucky, the door slam may even weaken or damage the door frame, helping it to unlatch in flight even if you think you closed it properly!

Always clean the screen and windows with household products – Mr Sheen, Windex, truck wash, polishing creams, they are all good at attacking aviation polycarbonate or acrylic. Even better, wait until there is a good layer of dead bugs and dust on the windscreen and then use a slightly moistened cloth – a kitchen ‘wash-up’ sponge is better – to rub off the mess. If you are diligent, you can create some wonderful swirly patterns which look great when you fly towards the sun. After a time, you’ll get used to heading away from the sun most of the time, so an unexpected landing towards the west at the end of the day will be all the more exciting, as you guess where the runway threshold is.

If at all possible, keep your aeroplane in a damp environment – ideally put a few old bits of carpet over an earthen hangar floor and ensure they stay reasonably wet. That way, most aluminium and steel parts can start to corrode as quickly as possible. Even if you own a glass fibre aircraft, a damp hangar is still a good idea; even plastic planes have metal control systems and engines. And as every boat builder will tell you, moisture attacks glass fibre too! Here’s an extra tip for glass fibre plane owners: park your plane out in the direct sun as much as possible, particularly when the temperature rises above 25 celsius. That way, the composite material has the best chance of  UV decay. A good wheeze is to paint a dark colour on white composite wings and fuselage – the temperature differential in hot sun really accelerates the breakdown of the fibres.

If you have an auxiliary fuel pump – leave it switched on at all times! Even if the pump supplier says otherwise – after all, what do they know? Remember, the pilot always knows what’s best for their aeroplane, and the aux fuel pump is a good way of ensuring continuous fuel flow to the engine. A good time to switch on most pumps is at the top of a long descent; the slow rate of fuel flow cooling the pump might enable it to heat up and, if you’re lucky, could even start melting the insulation round it. This is terrific fun, as the cabin fills up with smoke, which might be smelly but at least it generally isn’t toxic. If you really want to let rip, leave the pump on after it starts smoking and it might even catch fire, so you’ll have a real emergency to tell your mates back home about.

Wherever possible take the opportunity to modify the aircraft from the condition the manufacturer specified. Here are a few tips:
– if the prop is pitch adjustable, coarsen the pitch to the maximum. You won’t get more cruise speed, the take-off and climb will suffer but hey! it will really stress out the gearbox and crankshaft
– if you can, redirect any drain and vent tubes to places that wizened old mechanics tell you. For example, carburettor vent tubes can be lengthened so they pass outside the cowling into the airstream. It plays havoc with the carburettor float levels but at least any vented fuel goes straight out into the slip stream instead of inside the cowling
– here’s a good one: replace the aviation (pink) brake hydraulic fluid with motor brake fluid (pale yellow). It’s much easier to get, it’s cheaper and the brakes will only seize up after a few weeks
– for you electrical buffs, try replacing fuses with the next size up; it helps to minimise the chance of an inconvenient fuse blowing when you don’t have a spare
– if the throttle lever seems a bit short, get an old piece of aluminium and bolt it on to make it a more comfortable length; don’t worry if it now fouls another control, it likely only does so at extremes and how often do you need those?
– wherever possible, replace fixed nuts and bolts with quick-release fasteners; they are weaker and there’s a reasonable chance they will ‘quick release’ when you least expect it, giving you some extra in-flight fun – well worth the effort to install
– a lot of people like to fit bigger tyres because they think (a) their plane looks sexier with huge tyres and (b) they think it makes it easier to land on bumpy surfaces. Because of the extra leverage from the radius of the bigger wheels, you’ll find the aircraft pulls up more slowly and/or wears out the brake pads three times as fast – either way, go for the fat tyres!

Last but by no means least, try to avoid pre- and post-flight inspections. First, they take up such a lot of time when you could be flying and, second, you never find anything anyway. If you have to check anything at all, maybe limit it to a look at the oil level – but only if there’s a little hatch to reach through; it’s such a hassle taking off the cowling to look at the engine because it never goes wrong. Does it? I mean, it’s not as if your life could depend on it….

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