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What Does Corrosion Do To A Metal Airplane?

You simply never want to see rust on an airplane. Aside from costing thousands of dollars in inspections and repairs, corrosion poses as a serious safety risk if left undetected and untreated.
The good news is if you have an aluminum aircraft you may never see rust on your aircraft, despite it’s constant exposure to wet weather conditions such as rain, sleet and snow. That’s because aluminum has a powerful chemical element that can resist corrosion incredibly, but that doesn’t necessarily protect it from oxidation. After all, corrosion is only a small part of oxidation. More importantly, not all aircraft are made of aluminum, and any metal aircraft owners will quickly recognize corrosion and oxidation to be their worst enemies.
Whether on the frame or in the engine or in the nooks and crannies of your aircraft, these are two processes you never want to deal with and we’re about to tell you why.

Internal Engine Corrosion

Metal corrosion is incredibly damaging to your entire aircraft, but especially the engine. Unfortunately, the deteriorating or destructing materials aren’t always seen unless a thorough inspection or complete overhaul is conducted on your aircraft. Everything from acids, salts and alkalis (chemical or electrochemical agents) can cause metal corrosion to occur, and will typically appear as a discoloration or pitting of the metal. The discoloration can be white, green, gray or red, like common rust. As for the pitting, it can significantly decrease the strength of the structure, can cause cracks and ultimately, put your aircraft completely out of commission.
It’s important to recognize that even if your aircraft has not been flown recently or if the engine is coated with oil, it is still prone to corrosion. In fact, it could increase the possibility of corrosion as the oil can drain down to the exposed metal, making it a prime candidate for this harmful chemical agent. Furthermore, moisture can be present in oil. So, forget the theory that water and oil don’t mix – and certainly don’t test this theory out on your aircraft by ignoring this crucial tip. Even a well-lubricated engine is subject to rust because moisture particles are everywhere.

External Metal Corrosion

Similar to your engine, the frame of your aircraft is susceptible to corrosion. It too can cause discoloration or a weakening of the metal.  Unfortunately, with the climate being a leading contributor to aircraft corrosion, it’s quite inevitable without proper polishing, treatment and maintenance. What’s even worse is that the water vapor in the air has a corrosive effect and when combined with wet climates, a powerful corrosive agitator is formed. With the addition of industrial particles and fumes commonly found in the atmosphere, the risk of aircraft corrosion is significantly increased.
Like the engine, even if the aircraft has not been flown or come into contact with wet weather conditions, corrosion is still possible. Even the slightest bit of moisture, or puddle of liquid can accelerate corrosion rates.  There are also small corrosive agents in the air at any given time, and an inactive engine or aircraft can still be affected.

Common Areas of Aircraft Corrosion

As if the engine and frame of your aircraft being susceptible to corrosion wasn’t enough, there are many other areas that get affected by these terrible chemical and electrochemical agents. It’s crucial to get in the habit of giving your metal airplane a thorough and regular inspection to ensure any damage is spotted immediately, and can be treated accordingly to deter further corrosion. Some additional areas to check include the battery compartments, bulkheads, bilge areas, wheel wells, landing gear, wing flaps, cooling air vents and water entrapment areas.

Heat Accelerates Oxidation

With any aircraft comes heat, and as the engine fires up, oxidation begins. As the oil gets heated, moisture is driven out and often rises to cooler parts of the engine. The vaporized moisture will then settle on the metal, and accelerate the corrosion process on that particular surface. However, it’s important to recognize that this can occur any where heat and/or condensation builds up within or on your aircraft.
Certainly, you can now see why corrosion (and oxidation) are aircraft owners’ worst nightmares. Internal engine damage is prevalent and damaging, but even external aircraft corrosion can be detrimental to your metal airplane and safety.
With many natural and environmental factors having the ability to accelerate corrosion rates, it’s imperative to take proper precautions to deter aircraft corrosion on both the interior and exterior of your metal airplane. The good news is, with proper inspections and preventative maintenance, you can instantly decrease the risk of aircraft corrosion.

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