How to Wash Your Airplane – Aircraft Cleaning Guide

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How to Wash Your Airplane - Aircraft Cleaning Guide

Guide to Cleaning Your Aircraft

You just purchased your dream aircraft, so of course, you want to make sure it looks the best! Aircraft cleaning can be a point of pride in an owner’s life. Being able to take care of your investment can become a leisure activity.

This guide will primarily cover cleaning the external parts of your aircraft. In order to learn more about cleaning the interior of your aircraft check out our guide on that here.

In this article we will go over:

  • Why you need to clean your aircraft
  • Ways to wash your aircraft
  • Key areas to wash
  • Recommended tools and Chemicals to use on your aircraft
  • How not to clean your aircraft?

Why do you need to clean your aircraft?

Drag effects

Believe it or not, the Bugs, Dirt, and Debris that form on your aircraft can build up over time and start to cause drag on your aircraft. Even though this drag may be negligible it is still there and can become an issue if it builds over time. In addition, over time dirt can weight, people don’t necessarily realize but having a layer of dirt over your aircraft can weight down its entirety. It may not be as much as people realize but it can have an effect on the performance of your aircraft.

Corrosion

Every pilot’s worst nightmare is corrosion on their airframe. Corrosion can lead to premature wear of your Hull leading to issues that can affect the aircraft’s airworthiness. In addition, corrosion can come with heavy repair bills as if there are structural components that corroded this can warrant a full replacement of aircraft components. You do not want to be stuck having to pay for a new part of your wing or fuselage if it can be avoided. This is why aircraft cleaning is important as it can be a great way to avoid corroding aircraft components.

Visibility

This can actually be a big factor in the safety of your flight,

Cited from the FAR AIM:

  1. Windshield Conditions. Dirty or bug‐smeared windshields can greatly reduce the ability of pilots to see other aircraft. Keep a clean windshield.
  1. Visual Obstructions in the Cockpit.
    1. Pilots need to move their heads to see around blind spots caused by fixed aircraft structures, such as doorposts, wings, etc. It will be necessary at times to maneuver the aircraft; e.g., lift a wing, to facilitate seeing.
    2. Pilots must ensure curtains and other cockpit objects; e.g., maps on the glare shield, are removed and stowed during flight.

 

Source: https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/atpubs/aim_html/chap8_section_1.html

It is clearly denoted that anything that obstructs visibility can potentially become a hazard and safety caution to the flight. It is important that your windshield and windows all around the cockpit stay clear. It’s very easy to mix up small bug particles with actual aircraft approaching. In addition, the opposite can happen, ever get complacent with a bug on the window? Well, there is the potential to mistake an aircraft approaching as a bug on your windshield.

All in all, as the Pilot in Command (PIC) it is important to make sure your field of view is absolutely clear of obstructions, cleaning your aircraft is a big part of making sure that stays true.

Pride and appearance

As we have noted before, owning an aircraft can be one of the most rewarding experiences. In addition, it’s probably one of the most expensive additions to your lifestyle. You want to take pride in your investment, and you want to make sure people who also see you understand that you enjoy your aircraft. Having pride in yourself and your aircraft means that you are actively working to make sure it looks 100% under all conditions!

Tools and Materials you will need

Click on each one to check our recommendations for each product.

How to Clean an Aircraft

  1. Mix soap and water together in a bucket
  2. Load the mixed soap and water into a spray bottle
  3. Start by spraying small areas of the aircraft
  4. Soak your Microfiber cloth with the soapy water
  5. Gently brush back and forth to remove dirt and debris from the aircraft hull
  6. Add water as a lubricant
  7. Rinse your Microfiber cloth of dirt gathered and repeat!

Key Areas to Wash on your Aircraft Hull

The Pitot / Static System

From training, we are taught the importance of making sure the Pitot Static system is clear of all obstructions. As you all know these two areas are vital for altitude and speed readings on an aircraft. Ensuring these ports and the surrounding areas stay clear is important to the safety of your flight. Make sure to take extra precaution when cleaning your aircraft and when you are done cleaning these portions, reinstall their respective covers to ensure that nothing gets trapped while cleaning the rest of your airplane.

Above & Below the Wings

 This goes out to all our high-wing pilots out there. You have to put in the effort to get on top! For the low wing pilots, you have to get under the wing to make sure it’s clean. Why? Because it’s all part of the flight profile. We have all learned how aircraft fly, and you should know that aircraft need a smooth flowing chord line. This is in order to assure airflow can move properly above and below the wing. Making sure the wings surface is clear is the most important part of the aircraft as it ensures you can maintain appropriate lift.

The Underbelly

Many people don’t realize this but the underbelly of the aircraft also assists with the flight profile of the aircraft. It is always important to get under the aircraft and remove dirt and buildup over time. This is especially important since a lot of aircraft expel exhaust onto the underbelly of the aircraft. 

Tail

The tail of the aircraft is a flight control surface. It is important that you make sure you clean carefully around the trim tab. We advise never to apply external pressure to the tab. As long as dirt and grime do not rest on the main flight control surface you should good at cleaning.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you clean your aircraft if you are just renting? 

Yes! Part of making sure your aircraft is airworthy is making sure essential flight surfaces are clean. Now we aren’t saying that you have to polish the aircraft however doing a once over and making sure any obvious spots are cleared and cleaned, Especially the windows! Keep reading to find out the correct way to clean aircraft windows.

What are the three categories of aircraft washing? 

Wet Wash, Dry Wash, Polishing

The three types of aircraft cleaning that you should know. In this article, we have highlighted wet washing. We want to make these important distinctions so that you don’t apply our knowledge to dry washing or polishing.

Substances you should avoid when cleaning your aircraft

  • Power washers
  • Wood-Shine / Cleaning products
  • Buffer machines
  • Dish soap
  • Bleach products
  • Ammonia-based window cleaners
Pilot Jobs

The Bottom Line

It’s important to keep your aircraft clean for yourself and the overall value of your aircraft. Keeping your aircraft in tip-top shape can make sure it flies smoother and more efficiently. This is an important safety factor as making sure the aircraft wings are absolutely smooth is a priority. Next time you go flying, whether it’s a rental or your own aircraft, make sure everything is in tip-top shape before you take off.

Cleanliness is another measure of a good pilot, because a clean aircraft, clean cockpit, leads to a clean mind and the best decisions in the sky.

Or read our article on Questions to ask yourself when purchasing your first aircraft!

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