How Aircraft Engines Are Washed


Washing a plane is easy – if you have enough water, enough manpower, and enough ladders to cover the aircraft’s nose to tail. However, the engines are a bit of a tricker part to tackle. You can’t just crawl into the powerplant with a bucket and nor do you want to take it completely apart to clean it.  How do airlines wash engines? Let’s find out!

How do you clean a million dollar engine? Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Why clean an engine?

Aircraft engines require special attention than other parts of the plane.

For one, they are arguably the most complicated part of the aircraft that powers the flight. Without the engines, the aircraft is just a metal paperweight with comfortable lie-flat seats. Thus any maintenance or cleaning performed on the engine must be done so with the utmost care.

Secondly, engines suffer in the elements 24/7, unlike the wheels or other components that move in and out of the fuselage. They must perform in the baking desert heat, snowy blizzards, tropical humidity, and foggy condensed mornings. Thus they not only have to perform flawlessly for the aircraft operation but also are arguably exposed to the most elements.

Lastly, the engine is susceptible to freight objects such as dust, ice, sand, ash, and even birds. The engine does operate in high temperatures that usually vapourises these elements, but residue leftover can stick around (such as grease or crystals). Engine objects may accumulate and lead to failure.

How to wash the aircraft engine

We know how important it is to keep an aircraft engine clean, but how is this performed. First, engineers open the engine to allow water to escape and activated to a slow RPM cycle. Freshwater is pumped into the turbine and cycled through like a washing machine. Only once the water coming out of the back of the machine is clear is the cleaning considered done.

Engineers will then look over the engine output on monitoring systems, and there should an a noticeable improvement to the engine’s power.

Practically, the most common way is when an engine is taken off the plane (and replaced so the fuselage can keep flying) and overhauled. Once the engineers have examined the powerplant for all essential components and given the green ticket, a team member will give it a deep clean.

Despite water being sensitive to electrical components, one of the best ways to clean the engine is by using flowing water with detergent. For stubborn particle build-ups, some aerospace firms used to suggest breaking out natural exfoliant products – such as nutshells.

“Field cleaning the engine compressor stator vanes and rotor blades by use of water or chemical solution liquid cleaning, or, for tough jobs, abrasive cleaning (using ground walnut hulls or apricot pits, for example” – Lockheed Martin engine washing guide.

Today, however, engine engineers use special solvents to break down the particles without affecting any engine components.

Sometimes the engine can’t be removed (because the plane is at a remote airport) but still needs to be cleaned. In this case, the engineers bring cleaning equipment out to the plane and do it on site.

What do you think of this? Would you like to wash a plane engine? Let us know in the comments.

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