I shook my head in disbelief while reading the NTSB’s report on the May 31, 2014, nighttime accident involving a Gulfstream G-IV at Hanscom Field (BED) in Bedford, Mass., which was released a couple of months ago. How could the experienced, professional flight crew of the modern twin-engine jet try to take off with locked controls? Sounded impossible to me, but that’s what the Safety Board said happened. The airplane overran the end of runway 11, crossed a grassy area, hit approach lights and a localizer antenna, passed through the airport’s perimeter fence and finally stopped in a ravine, bursting into flames. Both pilots, a flight attendant and four passengers were killed.
Perhaps one reason I was taken aback by what investigators found was that I’m so committed to a “belt and suspenders” approach when it comes to ensuring unlocked controls before flight. I’m not satisfied until I’ve double-checked, and I can’t imagine why other pilots wouldn’t feel the same way. The “belt” part comes after initially opening the door of the Piper Cherokee I usually fly. I reach in and remove the bright-red control lock from the left-side yoke’s shaft and place it in the left sidewall pocket. Still on the wing walk, I use the right yoke to cycle the controls left and right, and forward and back, observing the control surfaces to be sure everything is moving smoothly, fully and in the proper directions. The “suspenders” part comes as part of the run-up before takeoff. When I come to the checklist item “controls free,” I again cycle them through the full extent of travel, and observe what’s happening outside.