Aircraft Questions

Where is my sample? I sent it in at least a week ago and haven’t heard anything.

Chances are we don’t have it yet. We do a pretty good job keeping up, and unless there was a holiday or something and we’re just inundated with samples, we try to run it within a few days of receiving it.

Aw, come on. Are you sure you don’t have it stashed away somewhere?

Trust me. We don’t make money unless we run your sample, so we don’t have any reason to leave them sitting around in back somewhere. If you receive more kits from us, then we either got your sample or we got your online payment. We automatically send a couple kits when we put you into the system. We only charge your card after we do the analysis, so if your card has been charged then we did your sample but the email report didn’t go through. Check your spam filter, and if it’s not there, give us a call.

You know, I thought the post office looked kind of suspicious when I took the sample in. Since you don’t have it yet, maybe it’s lost. Should I yell at the post office?

Feel free. They are pretty good about delivering…eventually. Be sure to check your tracking number…you’d be amazed at the number of people who don’t take this simple step before calling us.

But I need to yell at someone. How about you? Can I call up and yell at you?

Knock yourself out.

Seriously. How long should I wait before I give it up for lost and send in another one?

Give it at least a month. They don’t actually get lost very often, and they do usually find their way here eventually. Sometimes they go to another lab and then to us. Sometimes they get held up in quarantine while the post office figures out whether it’s hazardous. (For the record, it’s not: You can print off a letter that explains so here.) And sometimes, we think the pony must die en route to Indiana.

Is there any way to avoid the post office hassle?

Sure, put your sample in a box. Postage will cost a little more, but it might be worth it. Or send it UPS or FedEx.

Do I need to have one of your kits to send in a sample?

No. You can send it in any package that won’t leak. Notice the key words here: won’t leak. Any clean and dry container with a screw-on cap should be okay. Bad choices for the mail include Tupperware, film canisters, pickle jars, and aspirin bottles. Believe me, nothing ruins my day like opening an oil sample and getting oil all over my clothes.

How about tape? Will it help if I tape the hell out of it?

Apparently everyone loves tape. We get so much tape on oil sample containers that we should be in the used-tape business. But you know what doesn’t work very well? Scotch tape. Don’t do it. It’s really not any good. Our apologies to the Scotch tape people. Now electrical tape…that’s tape we can respect.

I don’t think you understand my deep, unyielding love of tape. I am going to tape that container so well, the oil couldn’t get out if it tried.

You and everyone else, brother.

I’m a little confused about how this kit works. I see a black bottle, a white bottle, some gray stuff, a Ziploc bag, and a slip.

Put the oil in the white bottle, put the bottle and the gray absorbent material in the bag, then put the bag and the slip in the black mailer. That way, if your sample leaks, it’s contained in the bag and doesn’t get all over your slip or check. The bank really hates it when we send them oily checks. Also, make sure the lid is on tight! We can’t test your oil if it all leaks out by the time we get it.

This oil slip paper sucks. My pen won’t write on it.

I know. Use a pencil.

How much oil do you need?

Our bottle holds 3.5 oz, or a little less than half a cup. You can get away with less, though we need at least 2.5 oz to do all of our tests.

I took a sample three months ago and forgot to send it in. It’s been on a shelf in the hangar ever since. Can I still send it in? Will the results still be good?

Should be fine.

Well, when I took the sample this time, I forgot to catch it as it was coming out, so I had to dip my sample out of the drain pan. Is that okay?

Depends. Was the pan mostly clean?

No, it had a bunch of old oil in it from about 15 other oil changes.

Then no, don’t send it in. Your sample will be contaminated.

What about the oil left in the filter? Can I use that instead?

Sure, just make a note on the slip that the oil came from the filter. If something really bizarre shows up, we’ll take that into account. It shouldn’t change much in the analysis, though.

Can I ask for a pump when I request my kit?

You can, but we’ll write back and ask you to pay for it. Pumps are not free. You can order one for $35 under Products/Vacuum Pump.

What if I don’t have your kit when I take the sample? What should I store the oil in?

Just put it in anything that’s clean and dry, like a dry plastic water bottle. Storing it won’t hurt anything.

I think $30.00 seems kind of steep for an oil analysis. I know other labs do it cheaper. Why should I pay you $30.00?

Because a person – not a computer – sits down and writes the comments for each and every sample we do. We look at your results and tell you in plain English how your engine is doing. Plus, if you call us you always get a live person, and we’re happy to talk to you about your results. Plus, each report is infused with love. Can’t you feel it? Feel the looooove!

Uh, whatever. $30.00 still seems steep.

Then you are just the candidate for our discount program. Click here to read more about it.

So do I need to set up an account to get started, or what?

All you have to do to start is send in a sample. If you’ve got one of our kits, just fill out the little slip that comes with it, and we’ll set up your account when we get the sample. If you don’t have one of our kits, you can print out a form from our website to include with the oil.

I don’t want to use this black mailer you sent me. I march to my own drummer. Can I just use this address on the bottle and send it in something else?

Yes, but be sure to send it to the correct address. We are at 416 E. Pettit Ave., Ft. Wayne, IN 46806.

I don’t want to write my credit card number on the slip. What do I do?

We have a secure area on our website for payments. Go to Services/Pay and you can enter your credit card info there.

Ok, now for the technical questions. Can I use an ND 10W/40 oil in my engine?

No. Any automotive-use oil (even those marked “non-detergent”) contains additives that will harm your engine. Use only aviation-use oil in air-cooled engines.

I don’t understand the Unit/Location averages.

These averages are particular to your own plane, so you can compare your own engine’s average wear to national averages, which are what you see in the universal average column. Note that if you have two planes with the same type of engine, the unit/location averages will show average wear for both engines together. Your “fleet,” if you will.

How long should the oil stay in the engine before I sample it?

We like to see at least 5 hours to get decent data. Ten hours is better. If the engine has a problem, it may very well show up with fewer hours than that, but more hours are preferred.

I’d like to get my filter analyzed. Can I send it to Blackstone?

Yes. If you want to send us a filter pleat or metal to look at, we will be happy to check it out and write up the results. If you send pleats, the cost is $50. If you send the entire filter, it’s $75.

Does it matter if I take my sample at the beginning, middle, or end of the drain? I forgot this time and caught the very last oil out of the pan. Is that why metals went up?

It doesn’t really matter. The optimal time is the middle of the drain, but the oil does a pretty good job holding everything in suspension. We don’t suggest the beginning because there might be a little dirt around the drain plug. We don’t suggest the end just because you might run out of oil and not have enough to fill the container. But if you catch the beginning or end, it doesn’t usually make a difference in wear. Just let us know on the oil slip when you send it in.

I’m confused. I got some results, but they’re addressed to Oscar Huff. That’s not me, and this is not my engine.

What you are looking at is a sample report. Oscar is my old dog, and he’s dead, and he never did an oil sample in his life. Look for an attachment to your email. Those are your results.

I said on my slip that the engine has not been inactive. But in the comments, you talked about inactivity. What’s up with that?

We consider an engine to be inactive if it sees less than 5 hours flying time per month, on average. So if it sat for 4 months, and then you took it out and flew 15 hours in the month before sending in a sample, we still consider that inactive because it averages out to 3 hours per month (15 hours over 5 months).

Well, that makes me hoppin’ mad. I don’t want to have anything in my records that says this engine has been inactive!

Look at it this way: Which would you rather have as an explanation for all those metals? Inactivity, where the solution is to fly more, or a mechanical problem, where the solution is going to cost many thousands of dollars?

Okay, okay. So why are my phosphorus and zinc levels different from universal averages?

We do not separate out the various types of aircraft oil when we calculate universal averages, so in effect, the universal averages are a mix of all the different types of aircraft oil out there. Therefore, the additives that are present in your sample will not match those in the universal averages column. Click here to see what all the elements mean and where they come from.

What does a question mark or “TR” on the report mean?

A question mark means there are signs of contamination, but not enough to say for sure. We usually use a question mark in the antifreeze category; since most aircraft engines don’t use antifreeze, you might be seeing it in the water category. In that case, a question mark means the oil behaved unusually and we suspect a contaminant is present, but we weren’t able to identify it. “TR,” on the other hand, stands for trace, or an extremely low level.

The Post Office refused to take my sample and said this is hazardous material. Is that true?

No. Click here to see a letter that explains how our kit (and the oil in it) meets postal regulations.

What the heck? I just dropped off my sample at the post office. I came home to check the tracking and it says it was delivered last April!

The post office says if we wait four months, the tracking number can be used again. So we wait at least four months and then reuse the labels. It should update in the USPS system right away, but sometimes it takes a few days. Give it some time, then check it again – it should update to be current with your tracking info.

I was a horse’s behind when I filled out the slip, and I didn’t put down the hours on the oil, the hours on the engine, the right engine type, or the right oil type. Can I give you that info now and have you redo the report?

Well, yes, we’ll do it, but repeat offenders make me grouchy.

But not me, right? I’m special. You wouldn’t get mad at me!

Uh, right.

 

Blackstone Labs. Not your everyday oil lab.