Homage to an Oil Burner
Owning an airplane is always a learning experience. When it comes to having an airplane to fly, I can be a bit impulsive. I know pilots who agonize over which airplane to buy for years, often never coming to a decision. I, on the other hand, bought my current airplane without knowing everything I could have. It had been overhauled two years before I bought it. The red flag should have been that it had only been flown 39 hours in those two years, but it had just gone through an annual and been declared fit by a mechanic that I trusted. I was told that it had chrome cylinders, but wasnít aware of all the implications of that. I remembered that my Dadís M&M tractor had been fitted with chrome rings in the 50ís and that they were supposed to have been the best thing since sliced bread. Only later did I read the following on the AvWeb website:
"Conventional chrome cylinders differ in break-in in that the rings do probably 95 percent of the wearing to break-in and seal the combustion chamber. This takes about twice as long compared to steel cylinders and will always yield oil consumption higher than one quart per 10 hours. Perhaps quite a bit higher. That's just the way they go. It's been that way for 50 years so you might as well get used to it. Chrome cylinders are known for low wear rates and better corrosion resistance against the trade-offs of using a little more oil."
My old Tri-Pacer had gotten up to needing a quart every three or four hours before I had it overhauled. With its new Millennium cylinders, it would then easily go twelve hours or more on a quart. I was more than a bit disappointed to find I was adding a quart of oil every two to three hours to my "new" Cherokee. Still, it ran well and compressions were good, so we lived with it. Some three years and six hundred hours later, we picked it up from an annual and set out on a long hot cross country. Cruising across South Dakota, I was shocked to see the oil pressure towards the lower end of the green instead of near the top. I made a quick landing and found only four quarts of oil in the crankcase. From that point on, the oil consumption continued to climb. We limped along for another two years, supporting her habit. Oil stops soon became more frequent than fuel stops. Finally there were signs of the case fretting, so it was time to bite the bullet and get a rebuild.

Last week we flew thirteen hours behind the new power plant. Iím still shocked when I pull out the dipstick after two hours of flying and am unable to see any change. Itís amazing how that changes my entire outlook. The sky is bluer and I climb back into the left seat with a smile on my face. We can once again soak up the sights and sounds of being suspended in midair without the nagging questions about how much longer we'll be able to keep the old Lycoming spinning.

I suppose the experts can tell me that I messed up by not having a more thorough pre-buy inspection done. They may be right. But we flew five years and eight hundred hours - probably a good 100,000 miles - on that oil burner. She served us well and never once let us down. I could have maybe found a "better" aircraft. I could have paid a lot more - maybe more than I could have afforded at the time. But, she was paid for long ago, the engine payment is manageable, and the oil savings cover a fourth of it! Now we know what weíve got and like I always say, "Because we fly, we envy no one." Especially the guy whoís been searching ten years for the "perfect" airplane.

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