RETIRE (Those Old Tubes!)

BEWARE OF WHAT YOU CANNOT SEE ON AN AIRPLANE. That lesson hits home with the plight of a friend, the owner of a perfect, low-time Cessna 182, who had some problems with his nose gear. If you think this sounds like kind of a drag … read on.

THE DAY WAS BRIGHT, THE SKY CLEAR, AND HIS THOUGHTS WERE ON FLYING. As he performed the preflight on his Skylane, the owner carefully looked over all the exposed parts of the airplane. He went over the tail with care, checked that all the critical pre-flight items were reviewed, and used the checklist with the deft skills of a thousand hour pilot who knows how important they are.

STILL, WHEN HE GOT TO THE NOSE GEAR TIRE, HE FALTERED. The problem was the swanky wheel pants. While they were original equipment, they did a pretty darn good job of completely covering the wheel, so our pilot made due with a cursory check of the nose and main gear, and then saddled up for his flight.

Once he had the engine started and running smoothly, our pilot started to taxi out to the active runway for departure. During his taxi out, our pilot quickly noticed that the plane’s steering was sluggish and unresponsive. Rather than take off from the inordinately short field where he happened to be based, the pilot carefully turned the plane around, and headed back to the hangar.

The FBO owner came out, and looked over the tire. It only took a moment to find out that the tire was extremely low on air, so the FBO owner used his airline and charged the tire up to the correct pressure. With the tire filled and the valve cap installed, our pilot was again ready to go, so he restarted the engine, and tried again to taxi.

IMAGINE OUR PILOT’S SURPRISE WHEN THE SAME PROBLEM DEVELOPED. He tried to taxi, and again felt the same sluggish and unresponsive behavior from the nose gear. After pushing the pedals hard enough to bend metal, our pilot AGAIN returned to the FBO for another go at the tire. This time, a check found that the tire was completely flat, with no air at all.

WHAT WENT WRONG? It turns out that the last time the owner had the tire changed, the shop had elected to use the old inner tube. The problem is that tubes take a set, and expand to the size of the tire with which they are fitted. The new tire had a slightly smaller casing, and the tube, when installed in the new tire, got a fold. After a few hours of taxiing and a few months, this old tube developed a crack and started to leak. Lucky for our pilot, the tube leaked on the ground and allowed him to find the problem before he landed with a flat tire, and got a real nasty surprise.

LESSON: TUBES — USE EM’ ONCE, TOSS EM’ OUT. The vendors have this advice for a reason. When you consider that the average airplane tube for light singles and twins costs less than $75, and the average ground loop or loss of control accident costs several orders of magnitude more, you can see the poor economic philosophy that inspires reuse of old tubes from your airplane tires.

THE BOTTOM LINE: DON’T USE TIRED TUBES – “RETIRE” them instead and dispose of them properly. Take the right actions with your tubes and you’ll likely avoid the problems that occasionally come with them. You’ll also be acting to save your plane and ego from a rough landing.