Cowl clear of bird’s nests… Check!
Ready to fly? Ummmm… not quite yet.
The average pre-flight checklist includes a fairly thorough walk-around tour of the aircraft, inspecting the usual suspects for airworthiness and ensuring that the basic fuel, air and spark are ready for taking flight. However, there are a few other items you might want to add to your checklist that can cause serious problems if ignored. Here’s my top 5:
1. Move the plane
The greatest single mistake that many pilots make during their pre-flight is not moving the plane while on the ground. When you grab the tow bar and move the plane out, you have a great opportunity to feel how it moves on the ground. Are the brakes hanging up? Is the nose gear loose? Ground handling is a great opportunity to evaluate those systems.
2. Read the tarmac
Now that the plane has been moved from its storage spot, look at the ground for clues. My Bonanza always “marks its territory” with a few drops of oil from the breather tube in exactly the same spot (enough that I put a pan there when I’m not flying). However, I recently saw some drops of red brake fluid under the right wheel that led me to a leaking caliper. That was followed shortly by a bunch of spots left on the hangar floor under my car from a leaking power steering cooler… but I digress.
3. Exercise the struts
If your aircraft has oleo struts, grab ahold of the inside of the prop and gently bounce the strut up and down a few times to see if it operates smoothly and where it comes to rest. The same can be done for the wings if your main gear has struts. Struts require periodic maintenance, and the gas pressure in them varies with temperature. They will generally remain at the height they were left at until you work them a little. That will let you see what condition they will actually be in when you need them for landing.
4. Clean those antennas
The performance of antennas can be seriously degraded when covered with oil and dirt. It’s amazing how little attention they get until they stop doing their job. A quick wipe down with a rag will prevent airborne communication issues. And, the rest of the pilots out there will appreciate that you’re not the one clogging up the frequency with garbled transmissions.
5. Check the avionics
It’s a common practice to leave the avionics off until the engine is running. However, doing an avionics preflight can help you avoid in-air emergencies. This is especially true for IFR pilots. Power everything up and run things through their paces. Is the electric T&B noisy? Is the autopilot engaging? Do you get a good GPS lock? Don’t wait until you shoot into the clouds to see if the systems you rely on are working as expected.
Adding just a few more steps to your next preflight can dramatically increase your flight safety. You’ll get to know your plane just a little bit better and it’s always easier to resolve problems on the ground than in the air. Until next time… Happy Flying!