Plane & Pilot
Thursday, April 1, 2004

The Ultimate Preflight

The assumption that the airplane has always worked in the past is no excuse for a hasty inspection

preflightThe operative word there is “almost.” “Almost zero” isn’t zero. Although we’ll never get an airplane to be 100% in terms of condition, wouldn’t it be silly to get hurt just because we didn’t bother to spend an extra five minutes and missed a loose nut or a crack that was right there, ready to be discovered?
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Tail Cone
Check to see the tail cone is securely attached and that the position light is tight in its mount. Look down inside for birds’ nests or anything else that looks as if it shouldn’t be there. Also, use the flashlight to examine the elevator pushrod bolts. All bolts in an airplane should show no less than three and no more than five threads.

Grab the top of the vertical stabilizer and rock the airplane back and forth while you watch the tailwheel. You’re looking for relative movement between the fuselage and the spring, between the spring and the tailwheel, and between the tailwheel and the wheel itself. Listen for clicking, which will indicate something is moving.

Pitot System
Bugs are the pitot’s biggest enemy, with dings being next. Some pitot tubes are mounted in such a way that fuelers with hoses have to work hard to avoid them, so watch for indications they’ve been hit or bent. If you change the angle of the pitot tube, you also change the airspeed indicator. And don’t forget the static ports that may be located somewhere on the aft fuselage. Keep them clean.

Don‘t Take Any Chances

From this point on, it becomes a pre-start, pre-takeoff checklist that requires a vigilance all its own. The bottom line on a preflight, however, is to get to know your airplane intimately, which includes the little dark places you don’t normally look into.

The assumption many pilots hide behind is that the airplane has always worked in the past, so what are the odds of something happening on this particular flight? The exact opposite point of view should prevail—because everything wears out eventually, make the assumption that the last flight the airplane was on was when something important broke. Healthy pessimism has its place and one of those places is every time you prepare to go flying.


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