Attention Aviation Engine Oil: Lube It or Lose It!


Illustration by the talent engine known as Lauren Horgan©2013

An engine without oil is like a heart without blood: one does not function without the other. Imagine then what would happen if that heart was clogged with contaminants, or worse, deprived of nutrient-rich blood. Thump-thump. Thump. Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. A heart attack is imminent with neglect.

Slurp. Slurp. Gulp. Choke. Hack. Wheeze. You hear that? That’s the cacophony of sounds your engine is making. Maybe it’s dying of thirst or screaming because of the unhealthy lube it’s being fed. If that’s the case then it’s time to refill or replace your oil. Just as a once healthy heart can reach critical condition without the proper blood supply so can an aircraft’s engine without fresh oil.

During the course of your travels among the clouds your aircraft’s engine works tirelessly to keep you afloat. During that time, the engine’s oil accumulates by-products as a result of the engine’s activity. These by-products include dirt, metallic wear particulates and carbonaceous materials. Constantly heating and cooling, the oil can also wear thin, so to speak, while also corroding parts that make up the internal structure (e.g. the combustion chamber) of the engine.

It’s inevitable that an oil change is required, in fact, many experts suggest every four months even if your plane has been idle. Planes that sit in hangars for long periods of time are subject to condensation and corrosive atmospheric elements. Just because the engine hasn’t been used doesn’t mean it is safe. And if you’re a frequent flyer, an oil change is even more crucial. In that case, a good rule of thumb is to change every 50 flight hours (without an oil filter, 25 hours). Otherwise, extending the interval between oil changes may reduce your engine’s life and may even void your engine’s warranty. So when it comes time, please service your engine.

SkyGeek puts the “serve” in service by offering a multitude of options so your engine can get its fill of oil. Search and find and select from our exhaustive list. Even if your plane’s engine is picky when it comes to petroleum that is not a problem: we’re serving you a pu pu platter of aviation oil.

Specials of the day include:

Mineral Oil – Has two distinct features: (1) it doesn’t conduct heat or electricity and (2) it keeps parts from corroding as it takes the place of air and water (known corrosive elements). In regards to aviation it is used in new engines or those that have just been overhauled. Famously used for engine break-ins.

Straight Piston Oil – Also known as straight-weight (grade). Provides effective lubricity and contains anti-rust and anti-corrosion properties. It doesn’t quite have the range as multi-weights. It would need to be changed depending on the season and the region where a plane normally operates. Good for cleaning, but tends not to offer the additives that multi-weights do. Most suitably used during break-in periods of either new or recently overhauled engines. Once break-in is achieved, an ashless dispersant (AD) oil, i.e. one with non-metallic additives, is often used. This dispersant suspends by-products in the oil.

Multigrade Piston Oil – Offers a wide range of viscosities (grades) across a broad range of temperatures. Advantages include working well during cold start-ups. Drawback: anti-corrosion properties not as good as single-grade due to the increased additives. The numbers on the bottles refer to the oil’s thickness; the higher numbers refer to thicker (higher viscosity) oils. Thus, an SAE 50 has higher viscosity and is thicker than, say, an SAE 20. When ordering, know the difference between the various grades (*Note: this link is used to give you an idea of what those numbers mean when choosing oil. Do NOT use automobile oil in place of aviation oil).

Turbine Oil – Not all planes carry a piston engine. This type of slippery synthetic oil lubricates for a long time. It is specially designed for use in turbine engines and is known for its endurance (i.e. long service life). Possesses the following additional benefits: sludge and varnish deposit prevention; rapid separation from water; foaming resistance; chemical stability.

Still not sure what to choose? Reading labels is important.

Perhaps established brands are a delicacy worth ordering. AeroShell is one of the top trusted brands with a variety of aviation oils, depending on your location of plane operation (See accompanying map). AeroShell Oil W 15W-50 is a particularly popular choice. As a semi-synthetic with mineral oil and AD additives, it offers versatility in composition as well as application.

Want more? If you wish to put on your dish another brand we have plenty of Phillips 66®, especially their X/C® 20W-50, a multiviscosity, all-weather condition AD-infused oil.

If you are still not satisfied and insist upon giving your engine that little extra boost in performance why not add to its effectiveness with some of the oil additives we stock. In addition we have a full inventory of oil filtersand filter can cutters.

Once you have your supplies, you’re ready for the main course of action. That’s right, an oil change. Not sure how to do it? Has it been a while? Check out SkyGeek’s helpful Online Guide to Oil Changes. In it, author Mike Berry answers such questions and address such issues as:

• You’re changing oil where now?
• Why gloves are more than a fashion statement during an oil change.
• I have a bottle of oil and an old bucket from KFC – what else do I need?
• Oil drains and oil stains need not coincide.
• How do I know that I did this right?

Oil inspection and oil changes should be a permanent fixture when it comes to maintenance and repair. Mechanics know this and so should do-it-yourself pilots. If said procedures are not routinely upheld and performed properly the life of your engine could be in jeopardy. Put another way: no oil, no running engine; no running engine, no flying.

Regardless of the issues, we have the answers that will lead to the proper lube. The products on our site are sure to have your engine feeling full and satisfied. So here’s a tip: when it comes to engine performance, it’s all about the oil. Bathe ol’ Betsy (or whatever nickname you give your plane) in the stuff that keeps you running smoothly on all cylinders. Have your engine run slick, look sleek, all because of the oil and related items we provide at SkyGeek.