Post Annual Flight and Night Currency

Annual inspection was completed and I enjoyed a post maintenance flight. Three trips around the pattern for night currency….
Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
4 Mar 2024

Every twelve months a plane must go through an annual inspection. Everything gets opened up and the IA (Inspecting Authority) goes through looking at everything to make sure the plane is still in airworthy condition. The IA will do compression checks on all the cylinders along with a list of other things that must be done depending on the type of airframe.

Some owners will just drop their plane off at the mechanic and pick it up when it is done. I have always liked doing what are referred to as “Owner Assist” annuals. There is a limited number of things a pilot who owns the plane can do to the plane, but if it is done under supervision of an IA and signed off by the IA that list gets much longer.

I will remove all the inspection panels, and go through the checklist lubing and greasing everything that Mooney requires. My IA checks all the work and will give me a punch list of things that he wants taken care of and inspect everything after it is completed.

I like seeing everything on the plane myself, and not that the mechanic isn’t careful with their work, but I feel like I have just a little more vested interest in seeing that everything is back together correctly.

This year I decided to replace the battery that was 4 1/2 years old as a preventative item. It still passed a capacity check, but I felt like I was on borrowed time. I also replaced the brake pads after 7+ years of ownership. They had a little life left in them, but at under $40 for the linings I felt it was better to replace them now and not let the rivets eat into the rotors.

Everything else looked good, except the line for the manifold pressure which was showing some cracks in the rubber, which he wanted replaced. A trip out to Aircraft Spruce to get the required supplies and replaced that hose and also the one that runs to the fuel pressure sensor which was just as old.

I had everything back together on a Saturday but didn’t have time to go up for a post maintenance flight that day. So, with a friend scheduled to be my safety pilot the following Tuesday evening to get that one missing approach done for my IFR Currency, I headed to the airport after work on Monday.

My plan was to combine a post maintenance flight with three trips around the pattern. I always like to stay close to the airport on a post maintenance flight, and three night take offs and full stop landings would make me night current to carry passengers.

I performed the pre-flight inspection, giving a little more attention to everything than normal, checking to ensure everything that had been taken apart was back together. Satisfied that all was in order I pulled it out of the hangar, did another walk around, and then climbed in.

Brake pads must be broken in to put a glaze on them which makes them stop effectively. You are supposed to taxi 500 yards at 1500-1800 RPMs while riding the brakes hard enough to keep at 4-9 knots, then let them cool. I did that to the run up area, and then let them cool while I went through my run-up and pre-takeoff checklists.

My plan was to go around the pattern and upon landing get heavy on the brakes to heat them up again, knowing that during the next trip around they would cool. It was quiet at the airport. I had told tower I was looking for three trips around the pattern. Before getting to the end of the taxiway I was cleared for right closed traffic.

With light fuel and solo the plane leaped off the runway. As I began my turn to the downwind leg the tower cleared me to land. Like I said, it was quiet with no other planes on frequency.

The landing went well and tower had me exit to the right and taxi Bravo back the runway 24. At Fullerton (KFUL) that is the typical routing when doing pattern work. Right traffic, and Bravo back to the runway. 

The second trip around went well and the landing was smooth, the engine was running well, the plane felt great, and I was feeling pretty good. The brakes must have been broken in by that point because they slowed the plane wonderfully well.

The test to know if they are sufficiently broken in is to see if they will hold the plane at high RPM’s. But, I could tell they were slowing the plane better than the old pads.

As I was turning final another voice came on frequency, a helicopter inbound from the north for a low approach. This time the tower had me exit the runway to the left and take Alpha back to 24 where he cleared me for left closed traffic to put me on the opposite side of the field from the approaching helicopter.

Every now and then there is an “entertaining” conversation on the radios. I was on the downwind leg and tower cleared me to land.

Tower: “Mooney one-zero-one-five-echo, runway two-four, cleared to land.”
Me: “Two-four, cleared to land, one-five-echo.”

Then the following took place on the radio. The funniest part about it was that it was the “mellow” controller. There is one guy who people like to complain about, because he tends to have less tolerance for radio calls that aren’t perfect.

There is standard verbiage on the radio and certain things that must be said, like repeating back a runway number with your tail number when cleared. There seem to be variations to the order things are said or abbreviated which still accomplish the task, but the “grumpy” guy as he is referred to, wants to hear things the way he wants. And, if you don’t he will make you repeat it again and again until it is “right.” I haven’t ever had an issue, but I have often heard what sounds like a student on the radio who is probably doing everything he/she can and the controller getting frustrated doesn’t help.

Anyway, back to my flight on this evening where the “mellow” guy who I don’t think I have ever heard get cross was working the tower. I had previously been cleared to land and he was talking to the helicopter.

Tower: “Helicopter xxx, cleared runway two-four low approach, number two following a Mooney in the left downwind, give the Mooney plenty of room.”
Helicopter: “Cleared two-four low approach behind the Mooney, looking for the Mooney.”

The “plenty of room” comment seemed odd, but I soon found out it was because he was in really tight to the runway on his downwind. As I turned on the base leg I could see the lights for the helicopter in tight on a right downwind.

Tower: “Helicopter xxx I said to give room to the Mooney, make your downwind wider.”
Helicopter: “We’ll go wider.
Tower: “Helicopter xxx, break off your downwind and turn north now.”
Helicopter: “Turning north.”
Tower: “Helicopter xxx, I show you at 600 feet, traffic pattern at Fullerton is 1,100′, I need you to climb.”
Helicopter: “We’ll climb after the low approach.”

This is where he was no longer “mellow.”

Tower: “Helicopter xxx, you are at 600′ over a residential area that will call and complain, you will climb to 1,100′ now or you will leave my airspace.”

It must have been a student on the radio before because a new voice came on the radio.

Helicopter: “We’re climbing now.”
Tower: “Thank you.”

My third landing was as smooth as the others and I was laughing a little to myself as I rolled out. Most of the time now, unless the tower is really busy, I don’t have to request where I am going after landing, they know where my hangar is on the field. Tonight was quiet and he cleared me as I began my turn off the runway.

Tower: “Mooney one-five-echo, taxi to southeast hangars via Alpha, have a good night.”
Me: “Alpha to southeast hangars, have a good night, one-five-echo.”

Back at the hangar I took another look over the plane, checking for any oil leaks or other issues, it all looked great. I was night current, and ready to fly the following evening to get IFR current too.                                                                                               

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