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I've taken a few hours towards my private pilot's license and each time we land I've smelled this plume of engine exhaust that we seem to fly/roll through just as we're touching down. I must be sensitive to the fumes because I usually end up with a slight headache after a few minutes. I haven't asked my instructor yet (because he may think I'm nuts) but is there any way to avoid this short of holding my breath? I'm flying in a Cessna 152 for my training.

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@SkipMiller's answer hits all the points. I'm commenting to emphasize: always ask your instructor. If you have a question that you are embarrassed to ask them, maybe you need to find a different instructor to fly with. – egid Jun 8 '14 at 17:37
even a comment of "could the exhaust be leaking? I think I smell something odd here." would be enough – ratchet freak Jun 8 '14 at 19:59
Thanks for the thoughtful responses. I only smell the fumes at a single instance in the landing, so my thought was that it was just the exhaust getting carried into the fuselage at a certain point (perhaps when the main wheels are down but the nose wheel isn't, allowing exhaust from below to travel up), but I will bring it up with him and get his thoughts. – TimeTrap Jun 8 '14 at 20:36
up vote 34 down vote accepted

Smelling exhaust in the cockpit is not normal. Tell your instructor and squawk the problem. Bonus - turn it into a learning experience by arranging to be with the A&P when he decowls and inspects. You can learn a lot about the engine that way.

If you are getting a headache from this you may have mild CO poisoning. This does need to be checked out.

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a page about the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. Headaches are a common symptom so you I concur with the need to get to the bottom of this, and urgently. – David Richerby Jun 8 '14 at 17:59
+1 - there are some times where you might get a whiff of exhaust in the cabin (mainly ground operations), but on landing isn't one of those times. The aircraft should also have a CO detector (either a "chemical spot" type or an electronic one) - If it doesn't you can get battery-operated detectors relatively cheaply at your local hardware store. A good piece of equipment to keep in your flight bag. – voretaq7 Jun 8 '14 at 20:30
I wonder if you would get enough CO on a quick roll through on landing to get a headache. It sounds more like a crack in the heater muff that is leaking into the vent/heater system. Did you have the cabin heat on? Even whith the vent closed (heat off) it is not so airtight to keep the CO from making its way into the cabin during the entire flight. On touchdown (low airspeed) there is less air flowing through the heater muff and thus a lot higher concentration of CO possibly making it more noticable. As an A&P, Ive seen many cracked exhaust systems in the heater area. – Steve H Jun 12 '14 at 20:47
Steve, I agree with you. @time trap, please let us know what the mech found. – Skip Miller Jun 17 '14 at 2:12

Dear Aspiring Pilot;

By all means; you have stumbled onto the most important issue of being a PIC [Pilot in Command]. You only let that happen ONCE without fully understanding why it is happening. There are no little issues as a PIC.

Part of your pre-flight check walk around should have included pushing down on the 'nose' of the Cessna and check the condition of the shock on the nose-wheel. I.E. leaks in hydraulic shaft, tire condition, [nails,glass?]. It also seems when you were checking the wing tanks for water and checking engine oil you would have seen a black 'smudge where the exhaust was leaking.

It is imperative that walk around is done; It can point out little things like the fact that a '152' DOES NOT have retractable landing gear;

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Not sure what tire condition has to do with exhaust smells in the cockpit. Also don't understand the importance of the 152's fixed landing gear - I expect the OP knows this... -1. – dvnrrs Jun 9 '14 at 13:07
The OP said "perhaps when the main wheels are down but the nose wheel isn't", which if it has fixed gear, must mean "the main gear is on the runway, but the plane is still a bit nose-up". That would be an unusual airflow (compared to the rest of the flight), which could bring exhaust into the cockpit, perhaps through a leak somewhere. – Phil Perry Jun 9 '14 at 14:07
I completely agree that you should check the exhaust system as part of your preflight checks (and that you shouldn't let a problem like this go unfixed when you notice it in flight), but it's definitely possible to miss an exhaust crack, even in a through cowling-off preflight. Some of the most deadly cracks happen under the cabin heat shrouds where you can't see them (and where the result is pumping exhaust directly into the cabin when you have the heat on). – voretaq7 Jun 9 '14 at 17:09
@PhilPerry - Yea, that's what I was thinking -- the unusual airflow briefly caused exhaust to flow into the cabin, although I'm hopeful this can be remedied (as all the responses seem to be leaning towards) because I really don't like the post-flight headache. – TimeTrap Jun 11 '14 at 0:33

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