“Kick the tires and light the fires.” It’s a comment often heard at general aviation airports. And while many say it with a grin and actually perform a preflight before they take to the skies, most pilots probably don’t take the time to preflight sufficiently. And if they do, it is possible that some items are overlooked because they’re not intimately familiar with each part of the airplane and how it’s supposed to function.
I recently spoke with Pat Carey, a long-time flight instructor and owner of Beach Cities Aviation in Hawthorne, California. Carey said he has conducted preflight competitions where students are tasked with finding items that are missing or flawed during a preflight inspection. “We’d take parts off and put broken parts on and disconnect things and let them preflight,” Carey said. “Only one out of ten would figure out that the shimmy damper was missing.”
So, ask yourself: “If the shimmy damper was missing, would I notice?” If the answer is no, then perhaps you need to either study the systems of your airplane more carefully or you need to take your preflight more seriously.
There have been cases where mechanics have accidentally attached the ailerons so that they move in opposite directions, making it nearly impossible for the pilot to maneuver the airplane safely. But this error should be caught before the airplane ever takes flight, either in the preflight inspection or during the runup when you should verify that the ailerons are working in the correct direction. Similarly, imagine the repercussions of the elevator working in the opposite direction.
As an airplane owner, you may think you only need to conduct a thorough preflight after a mechanic has touched your airplane. But unless you watch the airplane 24/7, you won’t know whether someone stole a part or vandalized the airplane since your last flight, so it’s worth taking a close look at the airplane before each flight.
For renters, a thorough preflight is critically important every time. While it is rare and unlikely for a facility to dispatch an airplane that is not airworthy, it is not worth it to find out that there is a part, bolt or nut missing, a hose is disconnected, the tires are worn beyond the tread or (the preflight component that surprisingly is overlooked way too often) there is a sufficient amount of gas in the tanks once you’ve taken flight.
If you know your airplane well, you should be able to complete a thorough preflight in about 15 to 20 minutes. It’s time well worth spending. And even during the day, a flashlight can help you inspect areas that are otherwise hard to see, such as the engine compartment. To learn more, read this tip.