10 Things to Carry in Your Aircraft That Could Save Your Trip
by Paul Volk
Every so often, I find it necessary to empty my aircraft of everything in the various seat pockets, baggage areas, and stowage compartments. By the time I finish the purge, there are a few plastic storage bins filled with the stuff. Besides wondering how much it all weighs, I try to mentally justify why it’s there in the first place. Some of these items never make it back into the aircraft, but some tried and true traveling “companions” go right back where they were because they have proven their value over the years. Here is a list of things that I carry (and why), in hopes that you might find them useful, too.
1. Spare Parts
Here’s the thing about aircraft mechanical failures – they always seem to occur either when the local repair shop is closed for the weekend, or when the replacement part can’t be ordered until Monday. Practically speaking, most repairs can’t be done by the owner. Even if a mechanic is available, nothing can be done without the right part. The candidate list of spare parts to carry is large, but over the years, I’ve settled on a few items.
Spark Plugs – Eventually, you will have a plug failure. If you have a cylinder-temp monitor, it’s straightforward to identify the offending plug during the mag check. While most shops stock spark plugs (any compatible plug will get you going), you might be stuck at an airport without a shop, or it might be closed. FARs permit aircraft owners to service the spark plugs in their engine. With the right tools and techniques (which you should familiarize yourself with beforehand), replacing the offending spark plug isn’t that difficult, assuming you have one with you. And they are very easy to carry – take two!
Accessory Belts – When the alternator output goes to zero, your flight is effectively over, especially when IFR. Under most conditions, you’ll probably want to shed electrical load and land before the battery dies. The usual suspects in this scenario are: 1) the alternator; 2) the alternator belt, or 3) the voltage regulator. I’ve experienced all three of these failures in the air or on the ground, and I’ve settled on carrying a spare alternator belt. The regulator, while easy to obtain and carry, doesn’t fail as often. I seriously considered carrying a spare alternator for a while but decided against self-stocking a $1000 part. Since my aircraft is equipped with an air conditioner, I also carry a spare A/C belt. Although you are facing a prop pull to replace an accessory belt, this can be done in the space of a half-day of shop time with the belt(s) in hand.
Most of the time, I find that the slotted and Phillips-head screw driver built in to a fuel sampler covers most of my needs (I can get my entire engine cowl off using one). A few other tools are needed to cover specific situations.
For instance, if you buy into carrying spare spark plugs, they won’t do you much good without a spark plug wrench. You will also need a crescent wrench to remove and replace the high-tension leads. Again, this is an operation that you will want to familiarize yourself with BEFORE you need to do it for the first time.
Ever have a radio in your panel start misbehaving? Balky avionics can sometimes respond to a simple reseating of the radio in its mounting tray. To do this, you will probably need a hex key of the appropriate size to unlock the radio before you pull it out, and to re-lock the radio after you’ve reseated it. This is a low-risk operation; it can’t make things worse if you are reasonably careful.
Safety pliers and safety wire are like the duct tape of aircraft repair. Mechanics are trained to safety wire properly, but carrying your own can help effect a temporary repair that will last until your home mechanic can get involved.
3. Handheld Radio & Accessories
I got one of these as a gift, and carried it religiously for years before I finally needed it. It was during one of those alternator failures, on a VFR flight from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to New Mexico. The weather was severe clear, fortunately, but the airports are few and far between in that part of the country. I shed electrical load and set my sights on the Double Eagle II (KAEG) airport west of Albuquerque. It had a maintenance shop and was within easy reach of Albuquerque International in case I got stuck. The battery almost made it, but I had to use the handheld to call my pattern at the uncontrolled field.
Of course, this might not have worked as well had the handheld battery not been fully charged. Keeping it on charge in your hangar before you leave is a good idea; carrying the charger with you and using it while you fly is better.
Also, I recommend that you carry a headset adapter for your handheld, preferably one with an integrated push-to-talk switch. Ambient aircraft noise makes these radios hard to hear otherwise and you’ll be busy enough when and if you need to use this radio in-flight.
4. Fire Suppressant
Ever thought of what you’d do if you had an in-flight fire? Besides using a parachute, I mean. I’ve read the emergency procedures for engine fires, and diving to snuff out the flames sounds like a sporty maneuver, to say the least. What about cabin fires? There are plausible, but unlikely, scenarios for fires in the cabin (electrical shorts in your wiring, misbehaving lithium batteries in someone’s carry-on, etc.). Since it’s easy to find very portable, light and disposable fire suppressants for less than $20, why not carry one and check that worry off your list?
5. H.E.R.E. (And Cleanup Supplies)
H.E.R.E. is an acronym for Human Element Range Extender – a portable potty. I think these get used more than any other item of my “emergency” equipment because I keep replacing them. My passengers and I even have a favorite brand (they’re disposable). Sometimes, the alternative for not carrying these is cancelling IFR and diverting to the nearest airport (I had to do this once). The cleanup supplies are in case of turbulence, bad aim, or (heaven forbid) BOTH.
6. Spare Prescription Glasses
Don’t throw away or donate your old prescription glasses – put a pair in your airplane! If you break your glasses on a trip, at least you won’t be Mister-Magoo’ing it all the way home. My glasses broke once in the Bahamas, and for the rest of the trip my retro-look old specs made me an easy target of ridicule. But they worked, and had I not brought them, I don’t think I would have attempted the flight home without waiting for replacements to arrive.
I keep coming back to electrical failures, but have you thought of what you’d do if your electrical system failed? At night? Sure, navigating would be tough, but how about just flying straight and level? Your primary flight instruments must always be visible to do this. Vertigo and loss of control can happen very quickly otherwise. I carry MULTIPLE flashlights in easy to reach places for this potential emergency.
8. Paper Copies of Approach Plates
I have embraced the paperless cockpit and rely on my tablet app for ALL my subscription charts. I also have backup air charts on the in-panel MFD, but my MFD doesn’t display approach plates. Since I don’t have a backup in case the tablet goes dark, I print out my origin, destination and alternate plates before I go. They make handy note sheets for writing clearances, too.
9. Battery-Powered Tire Inflator
I’ve used this item a lot, surprisingly. It plugs into the accessory outlet in my aircraft, and it’s how I fill the tires when they’re low. Light and portable, it is easy to justify bringing the inflator along. Tires that look great when you leave home can very suddenly look under-inflated when you park outside on a cold night (ski trip, anyone?). If your inflator doesn’t have a pressure gauge built in, bring one.
10. Duct Tape
Surely you saw this one coming. I’ve used duct tape for a variety of INTERIOR repairs, like holding the weather window in place when the latch fell off. I would NOT recommend using duct tape for any exterior repair on your aircraft. But if you want to be amused, look at these pictures of a pilot who used duct tape to (temporarily) repair his Super Cub after a bear attack!
Figure 2 After the bear attack…
Figure 3 Duct tape to the rescue…amazing!
Paul Volk is a pilot, engineer and aviation enthusiast with over 4200 hours of flying time. His experience in avionics development and avionics-related research has been at the vanguard of technologies such as ADS-B, cockpit-based decision aids and FAA NextGen capabilities that will affect the future of general aviation.
How it Started
One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.
It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.
The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.
First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).
At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.
Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.
Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.
In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.
More about Randy here: https://www.flyhpa.com/team/randy-delong/
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