The Bottoms Up Flow Check

Dan Moore & Junebug Clark & Jeff

The FAA puts great emphasis on the use of checklists, so much so that failing to use them during a checkride will result in a pink slip. While you should always have a checklist within reach to back you up, there is another easy way to make sure you are not missing any critical items if you are flying small, reasonably simple airplanes. The bottoms up flow can be used in pretty much all phases of flight, such as before departure (after the runup is complete), when established in a climb, after leveling for cruise, during certain intervals in cruise and after landing.

To do a bottoms up flow check, you start on the floor, in the center of a Cessna 172 or on the sidewall of a Piper or Beechcraft, move up along the center column or sidewall and then across the panel. In some airplanes the flow may continue down the sidewall or center column as well for a bottoms up and down flow pattern. Regardless, a good place to start is the fuel selector, which you may or may not need to switch to another tank. As you move up toward the instrument panel, you may encounter trim control, cowl flaps, landing gear or flap switches, and you need to simply verify that each is in a logical position. You may have forgotten to raise the flaps after takeoff, for example. The bottoms up flow check would catch this type of mistake.

Moving across the panel, you should check that the mixture, prop and throttle controls are set, all the circuit breakers are in, the electrical switches are correctly selected and the key has not accidentally been bumped to left or right. Another critical part of the flow is the engine gauges — a quick but critical visual check that takes seconds but can easily be forgotten. You may, for example, notice a discharge on the ammeter, indicating an alternator problem, which would eventually cause a complete electrical failure if radios and lights remain on. A negative indication on the ammeter is a good reason for landing as soon as possible, but you will not notice this critical failure unless you check periodically.

In some airplanes, such as Pipers, the bottoms up flow would continue all the way up above the windshield to make sure all the switches that are located there are placed in the correct positions.

So the next time you fly, try out the bottoms up flow check and incorporate it into your day-to-day flying. You may one day find something unusual that, if caught early, will prevent you from having a scary experience.

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Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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