Engine failure is not uncommon in airplanes and is no stranger to piston engine aircraft. These engines use one or more reciprocating pistons to convert pressure into a rotational motion and operate on the same basic principles as automobile engines. Piston engine aircraft utilize dual ignition systems to improve redundancy and air cooling to reduce weight. Despite this, these aircraft are susceptible to mechanical failure including spark failure, fuel issues, and airflow deficiencies.
Mechanical failures can be attributed to overheating, corrosion, or a lack of lubrication. An oil pump failure usually results in a seized piston, rendering the engine inoperable. Cracked cylinders, broken valves, and failed oil pans are typically caused by a combination of corrosion and overheating. Poor engine management is also a common reason for engine malfunctions. A cracked or broken propeller can deteriorate an engine over time and ruin the mounts holding the engine in place. Be sure to do regular maintenance checks on your aircraft to avoid mechanical failures.
Another common challenge that can occur with piston engine aircraft failure is a lack of spark. There are multiple reasons a spark plug might fail. One is due to lead fouling that accrues around the plug, leading to the deposit of metallic lead within the spark plug housing. Although each cylinder has two plugs, routine inspection is necessary to ensure that you aren’t running the engine on one plug. Spark plug cables are also prone to failure, especially if the plane operates in hotter climates.
Fuel issues also contribute to mechanical malfunctions. Contaminants in fuel, specifically water, can disrupt a successful flight. Water is denser than fuel and will be drawn to the engine quicker. Water that is dissolved in the fuel can also cause it to freeze. A fuel pump also has the possibility of failure; however, most aircraft have an electrical backup to circumvent this issue.
Piston engines can also fail due to a lack of air. Ice can impede the airflow in an aircraft, specifically if the intake filters freeze. Ice can also accumulate on the carburetor, blocking airflow to the engine as ice accumulates in the carb venturi. This problem is solved by adding engine heat to the frozen areas.
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