Preservation and Storage of Aircraft Engines

An engine awaiting overhaul or return to service after overhaul must be given careful attention. It does not receive the daily care and attention necessary to detect and correct early stages of corrosion. For this reason, some definite action must be taken to prevent corrosion from affecting the engine. Engines that are not flown regularly may not achieve normal service life because of corrosion in and around the cylinders. The normal combustion process creates moisture and corrosive by-products that attack the unprotected surfaces of the cylinder walls, valves, and any other exposed areas that are unprotected. In engines that have accumulated 50 hours or more time in service in a short period, the cylinder walls have acquired a varnish that tends to protect them from corrosive action; engines under favorable atmospheric conditions can remain inactive for several weeks without evidence of damage by corrosion. This is the best-case scenario, but aircraft that operate close to oceans, lakes, rivers, and humid regions have a greater need for engine preservation than engines operated in dry low humid areas.

Corrosion-Preventive Materials

An engine in service is in a sense self-purging of moisture, since the heat of combustion evaporates the moisture in and around the engine, and the lubricating oil circulated through the engine temporarily forms a protective coating on the metal it contacts. If the operation of an engine in service is limited or suspended for a period of time, the engine is preserved to a varying extent, depending upon how long it is to be inoperative. There are three types of engine storage: active engine, temporary, and indefinite. An engine in active storage is defined as having at least one continuous hour of operation with an oil temperature of at least 165 °F to 200 °F and storage time not to exceed 30 days. Temporary storage describes an aircraft and engine that is not flown for 30 to 90 days, and indefinite storage is for an aircraft not to be flown for over 90 days or is removed from the aircraft for extended time.

Corrosion Preventive Compounds

The preservation materials discussed are used for all types of engine storage. Corrosion-preventive compounds are petroleum-based products that form a waxlike film over the metal to which they are applied. Several types of corrosion-preventive compounds are manufactured according to different specifications to fit the various aviation needs. The type mixed with engine oil to form a corrosion-preventive mixture is a relatively light compound that readily blends with engine oil when the mixture is heated to the proper temperature.

The light mixture is available in three forms: MIL-C-6529C type I, type II, or type III. Type I is a concentrate and must be blended with three parts of MIL-L-2285 1 or MIL-L-6082C (SAE J1966) grade 1100 oil to one part of concentrate. Type II is a ready-mixed material with MIL-L-22851 or grade 1100 oil and does not require dilution. Type III is a ready-mixed material with grade 1010 oil for use in turbine engines only. The light mixture is intended for use when a preserved engine is to remain inactive for less than 30 days. It is also used to spray cylinders and other designated areas.

The desired proportions of lubricating oil, and either heavy or light corrosion-preventive compound, must not be obtained by adding the compound to the oil already in the engine. The mixture must be prepared separately before applying to the engine or placing in an oil tank.

A heavy compound is used for the dip treating of metal parts and surfaces. It must be heated to a high temperature to be sufficiently liquid to effectively coat the objects to be preserved. A commercial solvent, or kerosene spray, is used to remove corrosion-preventive compounds from the engine or parts when they are being prepared for return to service.

Although corrosion-preventive compounds act as an insulator from moisture, in the presence of excessive moisture, they eventually break down and corrosion begins. Also, the compounds eventually dry because their oil base gradually evaporates. This allows moisture to contact the engine’s metal and aids in corroding it. Therefore, when an engine is stored in a shipping case or container, some dehydrating (moisture removing) agent must be used to remove the moisture from the air in and around the engine.

Dehydrating Agents

There are a number of substances (referred to as desiccants) that can absorb moisture from the atmosphere in sufficient quantities to be useful as dehydrators. One of these is silica gel. This gel is an ideal dehydrating agent since it does not dissolve when saturated.

As a corrosion preventive, bags of silica gel are placed around and inside various accessible parts of a stored engine. It is also used in clear plastic plugs, called dehydrator plugs, that can be screwed into engine openings, such as the spark plug holes. Cobalt chloride is added to the silica gel used in dehydrator plugs. This additive makes it possible for the plugs to indicate the moisture content, or relative humidity, of the air surrounding the engine. The cobalt-chloride­treated silica gel remains a bright blue color with low relative humidities; as the relative humidity increases, the shade of the blue becomes progressively lighter, becoming lavender at 30 percent relative humidity and fading through the various shades of pink [Figure 1], until at 60 percent relative humidity it is a natural or white color. Some types of dehydrator plugs can be dried by removing the silica gel and heating the gel to dry it out, returning it to its original blue color. [Figure 2] When the relative humidity is less than 30 percent, corrosion does not normally take place.

Preservation and Storage of Aircraft Engines
Figure 1. Dehydrator plug “pink” showing high humidity (Sacramento Sky Ranch)

Preservation and Storage of Aircraft Engines
Figure 2. Dehydrator plug “blue” showing low humidity (Sacramento Sky Ranch)

Therefore, if the dehydrator plugs are bright blue, the air in the engine has so little moisture that internal corrosion is held to a minimum. This same cobalt-chloride-treated silica gel is used in humidity indicator envelopes. These envelopes can be fastened to the stored engine so that they can be inspected through a small window in the shipping case or metal engine container. All desiccants are sealed in containers to prevent their becoming saturated with moisture before they are used. Care should be taken never to leave the container open or improperly closed.