Every part of an aircraft has a specific function, and with that function, specific maintenance requirements. The Federal Aviation Authority mandates regular maintenance and inspections of all aircraft, with some parts being required to be replaced after a certain number of hours in flight, no matter their current condition.
The airframe consists of the aircraft fuselage, wings, airframe, and undercarriage. It does not include the propulsion systems, which are complicated and important enough to warrant their own regulations. The airframe is subject to a significant amount of stress in flight, which can lead to cracks and fatigue in various areas of the airframe. Mechanics are trained to know where and how cracking will occur, and how to detect fatigue before cracks form. Corrosion can also be an issue as weather and extreme temperature changes during flight can cause rust and other forms of corrosion in seams and connections.
The engines, or power plant, provide thrust, hydraulic, and electric power the aircraft needs to fly. Taking the form of either lightweight piston engines or gas turbines, the power plant is made up of many different subsystems. Because it is so critical to the aircraft’s functioning, the FAA has many regulations requiring special inspections and routine maintenance. The hydraulic and pneumatic systems have their own set of regulations regarding inspection and maintenance as well.
In piston-driven aircraft, propellers convert the rotary motion from the engine into the force needed for aircraft to fly. Corrosion is a consistent issue for propellers, as it threatens the strength and integrity of the aviation propeller. Propeller blades can also become twisted or misaligned and suffer from nicks and cracks.
Instruments used in navigation must be constantly checked to ensure proper functioning. The altimeter, for instance, is used to determine the aircraft’s altitude, and must be removed from the aircraft, run through a bench test, and then reinstalled. At the same time, the pitot-static system that works in tandem with the altimeter must be tested as well to ensure there has been no leakage.
The transponder, or transmitter-responder, is used to identify the aircraft on radar and assist in collision avoidance systems. If the transponder is out of alignment, it can cause incorrect altitude readouts, duplicate targets, or no targets at all.
The emergency locator transmitter, or ELT, is used to track an aircraft if it is in distress. The FAA requires the ELT be permanently attached to the aircraft. It can be automatic portable, which means it can be readily removable in case of an emergency, or automatically deployable, which means it automatically deploys after a crash. The FAA requires that the ELT’s battery is replaced before its expiration date and be inspected within 12 months after its last inspection. Batteries must be checked for corrosion and the whole unit needs to be activated per manufacturer instructions to ensure it works properly.
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