5.) RUBBER HOSE
How it smells: Deep, sharp, acidic, toxic,
like burning tires or a car peeling out
Where it’s found: Fuel/oil line,
What to do: Shut off non-essentials,
watch ammeter, land, and investigate.
How it smells: Acidic, plastic, unnatural,
acrid, like burning tennis shoes
Where it’s found: Along cockpit walls,
floor, and panel
What to do: Shut off heater, turn off non-essentials, watch the ammeter, try to identify
source, land, and investigate.
I am one step closer
to distinguishing a drop
of smoking oil from a
loose hose cooking on
Here is our unofficial, non-scientific
analysis of what we burned and smelled.
How it smells: Metallic, hot, natural, dirty,
like a hot airplane engine after a flight
Where it’s found: Oil leaks can originate in
a variety of places like oil lines, oil filters,
etc., but it is likely to burn or smoke when
coming in contact with hot surfaces like the
exhaust pipes or cylinders.
What to do: Monitor oil temperature and
oil pressure; think about what’s been
worked on recently (i.e., an oil change, filter, etc.). If the smell goes away quickly on
its own, it may have just been a drop that
burned up. If it continues or gets stronger,
it may be a more serious leak. Either way,
land and investigate.
2.) SCAT TUBING
How it smells: Mild, rubbery, like an
old gym mat
Where it’s found: Air intakes, heater,
carb heat system, etc.
What to do: Turn heater off.
3.) ELECTRICAL WIRES
How it smells: Potent, sharp, unnatural,
plastic, sweet, like toasted marshmallows
Where they’re found: Wires to lights,
instruments, panel, etc.
What to do: Did you just turn something
on? Turn it off. Did a circuit breaker pop?
Turn off non-essentials. Monitor the ammeter. If the smell or smoke continues and you
can’t identify the specific source, consider
turning the master switch off.
4.) ELECTRICAL RESISTORS
How it smells: Toxic, potent, unnatural,
like burnt caramel
Where it’s found: In avionics, instruments
What to do: Look to see if an instrument or
radio failed; pull the circuit breaker for that
instrument if it hasn’t already popped. Does
the smell continue or does it go away?
Monitor the ammeter.
While burning smells are not commonly
experienced in flight, they’re also not particularly rare. There is a hot engine just a
few feet away from us on every flight, so
we’ll all likely smell something eventually.
It may just be a harmless drop of oil on a
cylinder, or it could be the first sign something is not right and you need to get back
on the ground immediately.
Every airplane has emergency
procedures for such situations, and it’s
important to know them for the aircraft
we fly. However, practical understanding
in diagnosing the situation can also be
Before those eight seconds at 9,000 feet,
I thought my textbook answer about what
to do with an electrical fire was sufficient. I
still may not be able to tell a merlot from a
shiraz, but I am one step closer to distinguishing a drop of smoking oil from a loose
hose cooking on exhaust pipes.
I’m extremely thankful for my experience with Jeff. Flying with other pilots,
especially experienced ones, can provide
some of the best training for new pilots
After we landed, I asked Jeff what he
thought the smell was. He didn’t have a
clue, but with a grin on his face, he said he
knew it wasn’t a bird.
Brady Lane, EAA 808095, is a multimedia journalist for
EAA and a sport pilot.