Photo: Immaculate Flight
While we all know that a clean airplane gets a few extra knots, looks better and extends the life of the multitude of components that make up the machine, not many pilots clean the airplane they fly themselves. If you fit that category, either because you would rather pay for the service than do it yourself or because you rent the airplane you fly, it is wise to put in some elbow grease and wipe the airplane off on a regular basis.
Getting a rag and wiping the fuselage is work, but you may be surprised at how much it can pay off. There may be a small crack developing somewhere that you likely would miss during a regular preflight inspection. Addressing cracks in their infancy can be much less costly than if the problem develops into more substantial damage. A tiny crack can be stop drilled before it grows whereas a larger fracture may require the replacement of an entire section.
Care should be taken when cleaning components in the engine or other places with movable parts, hose attachments and the like. But the same attention to detail should be given under the cowl and in the gear wells, if you have retractable landing gear. The task of cleaning cylinders, lines and hoses is tedious, but what you may find could potentially save your life. An overall visual inspection is great, but you are likely to find a lot more with a rag in your hand. And while the propeller is unlikely to be dirty enough to require a rub down, running your fingers along the leading edge will help you catch any dings or, worse, cracks.
Getting your hands involved focuses the eye on each part you touch and, in areas that get dirty quickly, you’re likely to see cracks if you wipe off the surface dirt. This type of thorough inspection may not be realistic for each preflight, but it could pay off to do it on a regular basis.