Good airmanship starts before takeoff. A good pilot is dedicated to a higher standard of care for their aircraft before it ever leaves the ground. They know that the attention that they pay to detail is a mindset that correlates directly to staying safe and, ultimately, alive.
Keeping an airplane clean may seem meaningless in terms of aircraft safety. But to a discerning observer, it well reflects the mindset of a pilot that one can deem as being conscientious and safe. Think of it this way: with whom would a passenger be more confident flying, the pilot whose aircraft is full of dead flies, or the pilot off whose aircraft’s floor one could confidently eat a steak sandwich? A clean airplane establishes your mindset as a pilot. And in fact, it also so happens to pay a few dividends in the performance of the airplane itself.
A careful pilot always thoroughly inspects their airplane. They maintain it to standards beyond the minimum prescribed by regulations and by manufacturers. They service their aircraft not just because regulations tell them to do it, but also because they pride themselves in the ownership of their flying machines.
They keep the skin of their airplanes clean. They know that an accumulation of dirt, oil, grime, and grass-blades (pasted to the underside of an aircraft with an outside tie-down spot that requires regular summer mowing) increase the aircraft’s skin friction. They know that dead insects do the same. As knowing pilots, they never leave the ground without removing all drag inducing contagions.
Keeping their airplanes clean also means ensuring that drainage grommets in the lowest points of the wings, fuselage, and control surfaces remain clear for water and moisture to escape. To ignore these tiny drainage orifices is to prematurely welcome corrosion, rot, and that odd lingering smell in older airframes that makes you think you’re stepping into something that’s been around as long as a B-25 bomber.
Flying in an airplane affords every occupant the priceless beauty of viewing the earth from above. The aware pilot knows this, so he or she ensures that visibility through windows and, especially, the windshield is uninhibited as much for the benefit of the experience as for the safety of the flight. The windshield should always, thus, be washed and cleaned of any accumulated dirt and contaminants. Better still, for those aircraft regularly exposed to the harshness of daily sunshine, a canopy cover will prevent that cracking and fading that one so
regularly sees on windows of older aircraft well past their best-before date.
The conscientious pilot practising good airmanship also knows that dirt is not just a performance deterrent on an airplane’s outside, but also in its interior. Dirt and dust, accumulated over years, will actually increase fuselage weight as well as add to the fire hazards inside the cockpit. Dirt and dust can also fall beneath floor panels where control pulleys and linkages reside. Accelerated wear of bearings can result leading to reduced operational integrity. That dirt and dust can also interfere with electrical switches and connections. Though not the easiest things to vacuum, regularly running a dust-buster through the cockpit will rid the aircraft of that accumulation of dust and foreign matter.
A knowing pilot remains aware that the propeller of his aircraft requires the same attention as its wings. A prop is, after all, a rotating airfoil. Dirt, grass, dead insects have to be removed. Not to do so will compromise the props performance. At full power, a dirty prop won’t produce the same rpm that a clean prop will produce. Good airmen gain themselves that performance benefit, knowing that they’ll make up in flight performance what they lost in the little time it took them to clean their prop before flight.
A good pilot knows that forcing the aircraft to breath through a contaminated filter is like trying to run up a hill while breathing through a snorkel. The conscientious pilot gives their engine extra life and vitality by checking the condition of its carburetor air filter. Even between required inspections, making sure it’s clean of bugs, grass, dust and dirt will eliminate premature engine wear and gain performance advantage from the aircraft’s powerplant.
And of course, returning to the interior of the aircraft, a good airman secures all loose objects down. Turbulence – or worse: an accident – turns loose objects into deadly missiles. Good airmen leave nothing to chance, and don’t dare needless things to happen. They pay close
attention to details before ever taking their aircraft into the sky.