Aircraft Corrosion: Preventative Maintenance and Inspection
To ensure that your aircraft remains airworthy, preventative maintenance and inspection is necessary, and since the Wright brothers first took flight in 1903, several improvements have been made to such processes. For instance, the corrosion resistance of aircraft has been enhanced by improving materials, surface treatments, insulation, and protective finishes, and these changes have been aimed at reducing the overall maintenance effort required while boosting reliability. Despite these improvements, the control of corrosion requires continuous preventative maintenance.
How To Prevent Corrosion Through Maintenance
Corrosion preventative maintenance consists of a series of specific functions:
Ample cleaning and periodic lubrication of rotating components
In-depth inspection for corrosion and failure of protective systems
Timely treatment of corrosion and restoration of damaged paint areas
Accurate record keeping and logging of material or design deficiencies to the applicable manufacturer and the FAA
Use of appropriate materials, equipment, technical publications, and adequately-trained personnel
Routine maintenance of the basic finish systems
Keeping drain holes free of obstructions and draining fuel cell sumps on a daily basis
Wiping down exposed critical areas on a daily basis
Proper sealing of aircraft against water during foul weather and sufficient ventilation on warm, sunny days
Replacing decayed or damaged gaskets and sealants to prevent water intrusion and/or entrapment
Maximum use of protective covers on stationary aircraft
If, at any point, corrosion preventative maintenance is interrupted, the maintenance needed to repair accumulated corrosion damage and bring the aircraft back up to standard can be unprecedentedly high.
Based on the points above, the inspection process for corrosion is a continuous effort that must be handled daily. Keep in mind that tackling a corrosion issue where you are only targeting one specific problem area rather than conducting an overall inspection is an unsafe, costly, and troublesome practice. As such, scheduled maintenance checklists provide an exceptional guide for how to carry out a successful inspection. However, there will still be trouble areas where corrosion may still set in regardless of your routine efforts.
All corrosion inspections start with a thorough cleaning of the areas being assessed. To begin, a general visual inspection using a flashlight, inspection mirror, a 5-10x magnifying glass, optical micrometers, and depth gauges should be conducted. Using the sense of touch is also an incredibly effective inspection method that can uncover hidden, but well-developed corrosion. It is important to note that the visual inspection of certain areas may be obscured by structural members, equipment installations, or awkwardly positioned elements. If this is the case, the removal of access panels and adjacent segments may be necessary.
Apart from a visual inspection, there are several nondestructive inspection (NDI) methods, such as liquid penetrant, magnetic particle, eddy current, x-ray, ultrasonic, and acoustical emission methods, that may be useful in the detection of corrosion. These methods have limitations and must be performed only by qualified and certified NDI personnel. For eddy current, x-ray, and ultrasonic inspection methods, it is necessary to have properly calibrated equipment and a controlling reference standard for the means of acquiring reliable results.
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