The correct oil can reduce friction losses in an engine to a minimum. To find the correct oil, factors such as engine usage, ambient temperature, climate, location, and engine design should all be considered. Lubrication plays a critical role in the life of an engine. Without it, the engine would fail within minutes, meaning keeping a close eye on it during flight is important. The oil system in an aircraft engine is very reliable and only requires minimal maintenance in the form of regular oil and filter changes and visual inspections. Having a basic understanding of the engine system is critical for professional and private pilots alike. In this blog, we will discuss the basics of oil maintenance.
Regular oil changes are the basis of preventative maintenance. In general, oil should be changed during every 50-hour check, though some have 100-hour intervals. This also allows the maintenance engineer to check under the cowling to ensure everything is as it should be. This is also a good time to analyze an oil sample, which will provide insight into the condition of the engine in terms of the bearings, pistons, cylinders, valves, and more. Engine oil has many important functions, among which are: lubrication of moving parts, cooling of internal engine hot spots, keeping dirt and other contaminants suspended, sealing pistons in cylinders, reducing sound, corrosion protection, and more. Oil must carry out all of these functions in harsh conditions like extreme temperatures, pressure, and shearing.
After the first 100 hours of engine use, ashless dispersant oils are typically used. These contain additives capable of holding dirt suspended in the engine, allowing it to be collected by the filter. This is critical in preventing clogs and oil starvation. During normal operation, the oil collects dirt from many areas. It can enter from the atmosphere through the air filter, come from soot during start and idling, and hot areas can cause burnt oil to build up. Additionally, blow-by gases can produce sulfuric acids, which when combined with water vapor, can be corrosive. Acids are corrosive, but only when combined with water. As such, it is important for the oil to reach the proper operating temperature to ensure any water is boiled off.
A filter can only remove particles of a certain size and larger. No filter can remove 100% of particles, as such a filter would block the oil too. For example, a 10 micron filter will remove particles of 10 microns and larger. The longer the filter is on the engine, the more dirt it collects and the more its effectiveness diminishes. The oil and air filters should be replaced during the 100-hour or annual check. Engines are ‘broken-in’ at the factory, but the first 100 flight hours of your use are generally considered a final break-in period. During the first 25 hours, straight mineral oil (oil without additives) should be used. This helps with the break-in, as additives could prevent the piston rings from properly seating in the cylinders or cause the break-in to fail in some other way. When changing the oil, the brand is not important, but it should always be the same type: straight mineral or ashless dispersant.
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