It’s sometimes said the reason the venerable WWII DeHavilland Mosquito combat aircraft is found in so few numbers these days has less to do with wartime attrition as it has to do with the termites that ate their wooden structures at mealtime. Apocryphal though such stories may be, they nevertheless suggest an important point to which all pilots should remain fundamentally aware: airport critters can force alterations to your flying plans. Here are a few anecdotes that may help expand your pre-flight considerations.
A pilot at a local airport, initiating his first engine run-up of the season, fired up his Cherokee’s Lycoming to check its operating parameters, and witnessed his engine bay turn itself into a barbecue. The conflagration could have been worse had it not been for the helping hands of a student and instructor taxiing by on their way to an afternoon lesson. The reason for the flames licking out from beneath the cowling soon became clear once the fire had been thoroughly dowsed: smouldering remnants of a bird nest sitting atop a hot exhaust brought the investigation to a quick and conclusive close.
At this same airport, not two weeks before the above-mentioned incident, a perceptive club member reported seeing a bird in the wing of parked aircraft. The aircraft’s owner, upon notification of the sighting, proceeded to the airport to investigate the report. What appeared as a minimal nest through an inspection hole at the tip of a wing turned out, with a wingtip removed for better viewing, to be a meadow’s worth of nesting – eggs, twigs, and grimy earth included – liberally scattered throughout the outer section of the affected wing.
Recently, a pilot reported doing his usual pre-flight inspection from which all appeared normal. What wasn’t normal, however, was his carburetor heat check during his pre-takeoff run-up. Smartly abandoning any further ideas of flight for that day, the pilot retreated to park, dove into investigating the power anomaly, and found that his carburetor heat hose was plugged full with June Bugs. Not a week later, the same fate befell a club aircraft, its carburetor heat hosing also being blocked with the same nefarious summer bugs.
A veteran pilot recently told a story of how he once heard a rustling of noise emanating from the inside of a fabric-covered wing of a colleague’s Piper Cub. Investigation revealed that a mouse had thought this the perfect place to build the family home. The mouse’s handiwork was removed through inspection holes and no more was thought of the stowaway until a few weeks later when a sizeable piece of fabric separated from the bottom of the Cub’s wing while the pilot was aloft for a pleasure flight. What happened? Mouse-droppings and urine unseen inside the wing caused rapid deterioration of the fabric, leading to its departure in flight.
Uncovered pitot tubes are famous for wasps and other insects to use as a place to reside. Other holes that may become plugged include those commonly positioned between fuselage bulkheads and which drain away standing water inside your aircraft. Left plugged up, this water can contaminate surfaces and adversely affect the trimming of your aircraft during operations. Make sure they’re free of grit, or any insect-related residue.
This spring, a pilot famously reported having to wrestle a snake while cruising in his aircraft one afternoon. This incident may be tough to repeat but such examples tell us that birds, bugs and other living creatures make use of airplanes but not necessarily for the purposes for which they were designed. A thorough pre-flight, therefore, is always good insurance against costly, or scary, aftermaths resulting from critters invading your craft.