My idea of changing the oil in something is to show up at one of the many instant oil change places, sit down, read a book, and pay when I’m finished. So, when I was approached by my dad to help him change the oil in his airplane, naturally, my response was, “Do you need someone to meet you at the airport to pick you up?”
I’m sure you’re giving me the same look my dad did when I said that. I don’t have very much knowledge or experience when it comes to working with an aircraft engine, but I’m learning… one step at a time. What better place to start than changing the oil in an airplane?
Well, that’s exactly what I did, changed the oil on a Lycoming O-360, 4-cylinder, 180 HP engine. I didn’t know if I could do it, but much to my surprise, I did! Here’s how:
The first step was the worst part of the whole process (please note sarcasm here), warming the engine. Unfortunately, I had to go up and fly around a little bit, look out at the view of the horizon, practice a few landings and take-offs, etc. I know, it sounds horrible. When the engine oil is warm, it helps to get solid contaminants out of the engine.
Then, I had to uncowl the engine. Say what? Yeah, I said uncowl. In other words, take the hood off the airplane, except it’s not a hood with an aircraft; it’s the cowling.
Can It Really be That Easy?
Once the engine was uncowled, I found the quick drain valve which was located on the bottom of the oil sump. The quick drain valve helps to empty the oil quickly with less of a mess. With the drain valve hose, all I had to do was pop it up in there, lock it, rotate, and let the oil run out into a bucket. Piece of cake!
Ready to Make a Mess? Nah, It’s not that Bad!
The messiest part was the removal of the oil filter. There is no way around the mess, but there are ways to help limit the mess. I had a form-a-funnel and some rags, which saved me about an hour of clean-up time. The form-a-funnel directs the oil away from where it might naturally flow. We set that up; you would based on where the filter is on your engine. Then, I shoved 2 or 3 rags down under and around the filter to help soak up as much oil as possible.
I cut the safety wire that was securing the oil filter with some diagonal wire cutters. Then, I used a torque wrench to loosen the filter because it fits perfectly on top of the oil filter. This made it very easy to get off! Once it was loosened enough, I twisted it the rest of the way off with my hand. The faster I moved with the twisting and flipping it upside down, the more it helped with the mess too! Once the filter was off, I set it off to the side on a screen over the oil bucket to deal with later.
After the old filter was off, I had to prepare the new filter to go on. There is one easy step to prepare it, and it’s not just taking it out of the box! Take some engine oil and rub it onto the seal of the oil filter. This lubricates the filter seal to keep it from seizing up.
Then, I put on the new oil filter using a torque wrench. This really worked great because the wrench is already preset for the correct torque, so I could get it on there just right. I turned it until I heard it click.
Better to be Safe than Sorry!
Now that the filter was installed and torque properly, I had to safety wire it to keep it nice and secure. Even though it’s very rare to see an oil filter come loose, it can still happen. That is what the safety wire is for, a just in case! For this, I used the Milbar TigerWave wire twisters and 0.032″ safety wire. I cut a piece, threaded it through the filter adapter, clamped it down with the twisters, and pulled the lever. Then, I had to thread it through on the other end of the filter and pull tight. I had to make sure it was tight otherwise, it’s useless to do it because it would not be serving any purpose other than to have some fancy twisted wire. Once it is tight, I trimmed the wire down and folded over the end. Folding the end over is the thoughtful thing to do if another mechanic is going to be working on the engine ever. If you don’t fold it over, you can bet on needing to add a few band-aids to your material list!
After the new oil filter is secure, take a look around at the engine just to make sure everything looks good and that the quick drain is closed. Then, start adding the oil. For this engine, we used W15W50 Aeroshell engine oil. Most pilots know how many quarts at which their engines run best, and for this particular Lycoming engine, it runs best at 7 quarts. So, I added 8 quarts (it takes 1 to fill the filter) of oil and Camguard to help add a protective guard to keep rust from showing up.
Always Double Check!
Now that the oil and additive are in there, you might think you’re finished; however, you’re not really finished until you have checked your work! In this case, I put the cowling back on the engine and ran the engine for a few minutes to make sure the oil pressure was where it should be, and that everything functioned properly! Once the airplane was back in the hangar, we opened part of the cowl to make sure there were no oil leaks in the engine.
Once the work had been checked and given the all clear, I could finally say that I successfully changed the oil in an aircraft. Thankfully, I had a good teacher! Now, if I can change the oil, anybody can!
Need Some Other Tips?
Here are a couple of tips from an experienced pilot/mechanic that I picked up on this weekend:
- Getting gadgets are not a waste of money; these little supplies go a long way in this case and actually do help!
- Tempest oil filters are a good brand because they have a magnetic filtration system which is designed to collect fine steel particles that can be harmful to your engine.
- Be sure to check application on which oil filter is the correct one to use for your aircraft. You’d hate to get through all the messy work to find out that you have the wrong filter!
- You should change your oil every 25-50 hours if you use a filter and every 25 hours if you just use the screen.
- Before you put in your new oil filter, mark it with a permanent marker with your tack time and date. That way you don’t have to search through your log books to see when you’re due for an oil change; it will be right there for you to see.
- Another option for lubricating the filter’s seal, is to use the Dow Corning DC-4 compound. Either one works like a charm.
- When adding the new oil, first take off the plastic seal ring at the top of the bottle which can slip in and cause engine failure!
- Also, when adding the new oil, check that your drain valve is closed! Yes, I learned that the hard way this weekend and wasted about 2 quarts of oil! Whoops!
- Finally, cut the old oil filter open using an Oil Filter Can Cutter and look for metal in the paper. If you see a lot of metal particles, then you probably have other engine issues that you need to check out!
The supplies needed for changing the oil on your aircraft can be found at A.E.R.O., Inc.
Have any other tips or tricks to help me next time, please share! Do you have any challenges in mind you would like me to try to overcome? Share those! I’m always up for a challenge!