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What New Pilots Need To Know About Airplane Engines

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If you're working towards your pilot's license, you can't wait for the freedom of flying wherever you want in your own plane. Whether your dream about soaring over the coast or gliding over mountains, there are a few things you need to know about your craft's engine before you take off on your own. Educate yourself about these parts of your engine long before your first solo flight.

Learn the Different Parts
There are many different parts of air craft, and you must understand how they all work together. That way, if something goes wrong, you have an easier time diagnosing and addressing the problem. Although the location and appearance of each part vary based on your airplane's model, each engine shares the same basic components. Inside the cockpit, you determine the engine's operation with the throttle and prop control. In the engine itself, the carburetor provides your engine with the fuel and air it burns, and the magnetos power the spark plugs. In addition to these components, your engine has a fuel-burning chamber called a cylinder, several pistons, a crankshaft, and a propellor.

Learn How Engines Work
While your engine looks different from that of a car, it works the same way to produce the energy necessary to keep your plane in the air. When you open the throttle, air enters your engine through the carburetor, where it blends with fuel. Newer models sometimes have fuel-injected engines that do not have carburetors; instead, the air blends with the fuel inside each cylinder. Regardless of which model you have, once the fuel and air are in the cylinder, the piston compresses them and the spark plug causes them to combust. As the gases burn, they expand, moving the piston out of the cylinder, where it turns a crankshaft, which makes a propeller rotate. The motion of the propeller gives your plane its energy.

Learn About Common Problems
Now that you know the basic parts of your airplane's engine and how they work, you need to learn about common problems that engines develop. If you have a carbureted engine, watch out for carb ice. As you allow air to pass over the carburetor with your throttle, it gets cold so quickly that it sometimes freezes on your carburetor's interior. When this happens, air and fuel don't get to the engine as efficiently, resulting in engine failure if you don't address the problem. Another issue that you might overlook is running out of fuel. While you could forget to check the fuel gauge before you take off, it's more likely that your fuel gauge is broken. Dip your tank before you take off to ensure that your gauge's reading is accurate. Similarly, depending on your plane's size, you may have to flip a switch to move your fuel source from one tank to another. If you forget this critical step, the first tank runs out and your engine stops working because it doesn't have access to the rest of your fuel.

Learn How to React During Engine Trouble
You've learned that most engine problems are preventable, but that doesn't mean they won't happen to you. Thankfully, if you keep a level head and follow these steps, engine troubles don't have to end your career as a pilot. It's helpful to recognize the source of your engine problem, but unless you can immediately rectify it, don't worry too much about figuring out what's wrong. For example, if the problem is that you forgot to switch tanks, do so immediately, but if your carburetor is icy, you can't do anything about it now. Instead, get your plane ready to glide and identify a safe landing site, such as an empty field. Once you've made your emergency landing, call for help on your radio or address the engine problem on your own.

As a new pilot, it's critical that you understand these aspects of your plane's engine so that you can safely take to the sky.

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