Inspection by Camera

By Michael Stephan


I love tools.  There is a proper tool for every job.  I’m willing to try them all until I find it.  So, my tool box is full of useful and not so useful tools.  If it is useful, I have more than one of them (mostly so I can find one when I need it).

Recently I have been fond of the camera as an inspection/maintenance aid.  Construction photos have helped when doing an inspection.  It shows how things went together initially and can be compared to current photos. I have used it to get that linkage hardware (washers, lock washers, large washers and spacers) all back on in the right order.

In the last year I have invested in a few inspection scopes, also known as endoscopes (not the kind most people people dread).  These are the camera on a long flexible tube that can get in those tight spaces. I have been looking at these for the past few years.  There are a few places in the RV-8 that I can’t see very easily.  With the scope, I can not only see those areas, but get a picture of them for study in the future.  A camera came in handy when a fellow RV builder talked about bolts not being installed in the spar in quickbuild kits. Not remembering if I had installed them, I pulled out my camera.  Poked it into the affected area and took a picture.  I had proof that they were there. Recently a factory service bulletin mandated a horizontal stabilizer inspection for cracks.  It was reinforce the area or inspect every year for cracks.  Pulling the entire fairing off takes time, but loosening it up at the rear and sending in the camera was an easy way to inspect the area (stop laughing).

The cadre of pictures can be used as a historic record of the aircraft, much better than a few words indicating condition.  Marking all the nuts and bolts with torque seal makes it is easy to tell if the nut has moved at all on the bolts.  That really comes in handy when checking the nuts on the RV-8 gear leg bolts which are buried deep inside the gear leg towers or the jam nuts on linkage tubes. The camera lens and housing is small enough to fit inside your spark plug hole so you can see inside the cylinder as well.

Another benefit of the picture is the time and date stamp on the picture file.  Not only can you see the condition but also know when.

Once very expensive, these devices are coming down in price dramatically.  For about $20 you can buy an endoscope.   They will have a USB plug end and require a laptop computer to plug into to see the image  and most will have LED lights on the end to illuminate your subject. Dimmer control gives just the needed amount of light.

Disclaimer: Pictures are not a replacement for inspections.  Tactile feel on a linkage or a nut and bolt is the best way to get a sense of the condition of an assembly.  Looseness is not something that can be seen in a photograph. Pictures only give a visual record.

I have three endoscopes that I have bought in the last year. I bought all of them from

The first was a 2 Mega Pixel Handheld USB Digital Borescope/Endoscope/Microscope with 8.2mm Tube Diameter made by ViTiny (Model UM07).  It has a 8.2 mm diameter metal tube that houses the LEDs and lens and cost $119.98.  At the top of the tube is a focus ring, which makes it work really well in examining objects real close.  Finding stress cracks in a dimple would be a good use. I liked it so much I bought two (actually I carelessly broke the first one).

Then I found the Vividia Waterproof Mini 7mm USB Flexible Inspection Camera for $39.99.  Nothing unique other than it was much cheaper then the first one I bought and it not as delicate. It is a It has led lights in the tip and comes with a 90º mirror adapter and a magnetic pick up tip as well.

It also has the USB connection that requires a computer connection.  I found that trying to hold the camera still on the subject while trying to hit the record button on the computer was a little tricky.  The flexible rod is sometimes frustrating to work with.  It takes twisting and bending adjustments to get it on target. It is like trying to snag your car door lock with a hangar after you locked you keys in the car.

The one I am most excited about is the WiFi Hd 2.0 Mega Pixles Inspection Camera/ Borescope /Endoscope by  DBPOWER for $99.

It includes a built-in WIFI network that connect wirelessly to my iphone/ipad/android or anything that can connect to a WiFi network.  The apps that come with it can then take pictures and videos of the images from the camera. Now that is cool.  The image resolution is about the same as a 2 megapixel camera. It has an infinity length focus that gets blurry if the camera is less than about an inch away.

With the pictures on my phone, I have to transfer them to my computer for long term storage.  Currently that process is a little tedious, but maybe future software updates will make it a little easier.

The three that I have shown here are just a few of the options that are out there. Once scarce, now very plentiful. A neighbor at GPM showed me one that he bought for $14.  That is cheap enough to permanently install in the airplane with a built in USB port.  Maybe, put it trough the firewall and watch what happens under the cowl on my EFIS screen while flying.  That might be a bit frightening.