Danger Signs – When A Drip Is More Than A Drip

A cockpit is one of the best classrooms. When you fly, there are always chances to learn lessons from what you are doing. Whether it is a long cross-country flight into an unfamiliar area, or handling the chores of a hard IFR flight, each time you get into the plane and turn the key you start a new learning session… provided you are willing to learn.

Take my airplane for example. A high performance single, the Beech Debonair has a good record of dependable performance. It has two glitches when compared with the majority of the rest of the fleet: the flap and gear switches are reversed from what they normally are in most planes, and the fuel selector allows the engine to draw from only one tank at a time. All in all, some pretty minor differences, and obvious only applicable to pilots who have had the luxury of “getting around” in more than one model of airplane.

The other day I noticed something different in my preflight. My new, high-tech quick drain that was installed with my new fuel tanks was seeping. “No problem,I thought.Looks like some stuff is stuck under the o-ring.” With that in mind, I used the knowledge I gained from my training, and thoroughly flushed the quick drain. Throughout the flushing, I never did see the speck … which, in the end, seemed to make sense since the leak wouldn’t go away.

Not to worry, I put my plane in for maintenance to correct the problem. I live in the Midwest, where the temperatures have gone from 60 a few days ago back down to the teens. With an engine heater plugged in, I really don’t like fuel leaks, either major or minor, on my airplane. After the shop got the quick drain out, they found something interesting that I hadn’t expected: the o-ring on the quick drain was disintegrating. It was cracked and while still an “o-ring,” was not serviceable.

WHAT HAPPENED? I bought my quick drains from a certified OEM, who had tested and advertised their products. I even paid EXTRA for the darn things, since they were the new models that helped to protect the fuel cell while sumping by protecting the tank nipple against upward forces.

It turns out that the vendor that supplied the quick drains used the wrong o-ring. You see, some o-rings are for fuel service, but others are for hydraulic fluid. Use the wrong o-ring, and the whole thing starts to become very un “hole” some, and a risk to flight safety.

LUCKY FOR ME, I CAUGHT THIS ONE BEFORE IT FAILED AND LEAKED ALL THE FUEL FROM MY LEFT WING. But the question is: how many more are out there? The FBO is filing an FAA Service Difficulty Report on the matter, since they found a degraded or non-conforming condition. The manufacturer is sending out new o-rings that are rated for fuel. My plane will be back in the air, and assuming the express delivery service is working, I should have it back in time to go flying over the long upcoming weekend.

Lesson: WATCH THOSE DRIPS. This was pretty minor when you think about it. It isn’t like I lost a gallon of gas, or there was a continuous stream of fuel leaking out. This was a minor, low level leak that I decided to go after. Fortunately, my intolerance for unexpected conditions found during the preflight, seems to have saved me a huge headache.

WHAT IS YOUR “INTOLERANCE” LEVEL? Are you willing to continue to fly with uncertainty, or do you put the plane into the shop to have that uncertainty ferreted out and eliminated? Do you question every drip and fluid leak as to whether it might have an adverse impact on your flight safety, or do you wanly accept it, hoping for the best? While it is more expensive, the former of these selections is far better than the latter.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Take control of your fate. Question the things that don’t look or feel right. While this may sound like preaching to the choir, if you think about it, I’m sure you might find something you worried about, but let pass. Let my lesson help you to understand — unless you know EXACTLY what is going on, the price of that pass can be more excitement than most of us want!