July 2009

Aviation Oil Analysis
Forecasting Potential Problems

by Jim Klippel
Business Manager, Western U.S. Region

Aircraft owners must rely upon many different factors to ensure safe and successful flights. Pilots concern themselves not only with their own skills, abilities, and well being but must also be confident that their aircraft is in the best physical condition possible. It is imperative that the aircraft is airworthy. One factor that contributes to an aircraft’s airworthiness is the condition of that aircraft’s oil.

What is Aircraft Oil Analysis?

The analysis of aircraft oil is a laboratory-based testing program designed to determine the condition of your engine’s life blood. You submit a sample of your engine oil and—much like a medical laboratory assesses a human’s health based on blood samples—oil analysts use the oil sample to assess the health of your aircraft’s engine. The laboratory performs routine tests of the engine’s oil and the debris in that oil to assess potential problems and alert the aircraft owner to potential maintenance issues.

How Does Oil Analysis Benefit Me?

Aircraft oil analysis can act as an early warning system, reduce equipment downtime, lower maintenance costs, and even help you spot trouble before it becomes serious. Monitoring the engine’s condition through regularly scheduled oil analysis helps aircraft owners locate excessively worn parts and predict potential failures. Oil analysis serves as a forecaster of possible engine problems—something that may happen in the future if precautionary action is not taken. We provide the tools you need to predict machine wear and to schedule preventative maintenance. Monitoring the engine’s condition through regularly scheduled oil analysis gives you the ability to spot trends in your data. Due to the fact that most bearings have a high iron composition, the most common wear metal to manifest changes is iron. Tracking the iron in this way, monitoring the trends of the iron and other metals, is an easy way to spot slowly progressing wear and damage to bearings and gears in your aircraft’s engine.

How Does the Program Work?

The lab needs certain information in order to provide the highest level of analysis possible. Each test kit contains a sample bottle and a sample information form. You (or your maintenance technician) draws an oil sample at each regularly scheduled oil change and submits the sample with the completed sample information form. Samples are mailed to the laboratory via regularly U.S. postal service (or whichever other carrier the customer chooses). The aircraft, engine, and sample information provided on the information form supplies the laboratory diagnosticians with an overall picture of the sample and the circumstances of the aircraft under which the sample was taken. After the lab receives the sample, it is tested, and you receive the results of the analysis within 24 hours from receipt of the sample.

What Tests are Performed?

The oil sample is used to perform a variety of tests that determine the levels of specific wear metals and abrasive dust. Elements included on your analysis report are: aluminum, iron, copper, nickel, chrome, silver, silicon, lead*, and magnesium* (*turbine engines only). These tests help pinpoint the type of wear that is occurring and the possible sources for that wear. In addition to engine oil analysis, AOA also offers microscopic chip evaluation and analytical ferrography to determine the metal constituents that may be wearing in your aircraft. After the tests are performed, an experienced diagnostician evaluates each piece of data and offers specific observations and recommendations that are provided to you in a report (which can be emailed to you, mailed to you, or accessed through our online Praxis program). In cases when the results suggest severe wear, the diagnostician will phone you with your test results so you have information about potential problems as soon as we are aware of them.

How Our Customers are Benefitting

Routine oil analysis really can provide pilots with the critical information needed in order to fly safely. Recent testimony from an aircraft owner who now has first-hand knowledge of the importance of oil analysis and understands the consequences of ignoring test results serves as corroboration that regular oil analysis is essential to safe and successful flights.

This aircraft owner has used AOA oil analysis services since 1995. Perhaps by sharing his story other pilots will identify with this experience and realize the necessity of acting on the testing results. He writes:

“When I received my latest test results, I was in denial and thought that there had been a mistake in the readings that came back. I wrote it off to some cold starts. . . . on our climb out from Ramona Airport to return to Oregon, passing through 4,000 feet msl, the engine started to ‘give up the ghost’. There was first a large shutter, then it smoothed out for a few seconds, followed by major vibrations. I was able to go through my engine out checklist and make a turn to go back to the airport. The engine was running ever so rough and the whole plane was vibrating. By holding 2,000 rpm, the engine ran until I got to the airport. After a successful landing, the analysis showed a broken piston pin and loose fragments rattling around doing destruction. I only had 2 cam followers left. I do not know how the engine was able to run. Bottom line, we should have heeded the oil analysis report seriously. For your information, your program works.”

Aviation Oil Analysis is ALS Laboratory Group’s oil analysis program that is designed specifically for aircraft owners. Contact us at nainfo@alstribology.com

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