Prop 'er Procedures

Battery dead? Consider this before considering hand propping.

Every spring the FAA accident records are littered with a few reports of runaway aircraft -- the result of hand propping gone awry. Usually, no one is injured. But innocent aircraft parked nearby are often victimized. In some cases, the errant aircraft will actually take off and fly around until it runs out of fuel -- probably not exactly what the FAA has in mind as it writes new regulations to accommodate unmanned aircraft. It makes sense that the cold winter months can take a toll on battery power. Airplanes aren't flown as often during colder weather and shorter daylight hours. But before you consider hand propping to jump-start a weak battery, it's a lot safer to call the FBO and get a boost from a ground-power unit (if you have an exterior power receptacle); or to have the battery removed and charged.

It's the first warm day in months. You're all ready to fly, you turn the key and all you get is a few blades and that 'rrrRRRrrrRRR … clkkkkkk' sound. For sure you'll be frustrated, and this is the worst time for impatience. So carefully consider your priorities as you contemplate employing the so-called "Hemmingway" starter ('Farewell to Arms'). Check your insurance policy, too. You might find that it specifically excludes hand propping. It could cost you the proverbial arm and a leg.

Hand propping can be done safely, if you are trained and you prudently follow the appropriate safety procedures (No, I'm not going to go through them here -- liability, you know). There are still plenty of certified airplanes flying that don't even have electrical systems, so each and every start is performed by person power. But if you're thinking you can save some time (and expense) with a quick spin of the prop because you saw someone do it once in a movie, you're probably asking for big trouble. And if someone offers to "pull 'er through" for you, or to sit at the controls while you do it, you'd be wise to carefully verify their credentials, too.