I once watched a pilot perform a quickie preflight inspection of a Skyhawk at a flight school and then hop in the airplane and try to taxi out — with the tail still tied down. The red-faced pilot shut down and untied the rope as those of us on the ramp offered words of encouragement.
That’s the kind of error that will lead to some momentary embarrassment and probably nothing else. But if you overlook more vital preflight items or try to rush through this important phase of flight, you might being putting yourself and your passengers in grave danger.
According to the NTSB investigator in charge, the pilot of an Aeronca Champ that crashed this past weekend appears to have neglected to remove the rudder gust lock before takeoff. A witness watched the airplane reach a height of no more than 100 feet before it started a gradual right turn and crashed, killing both people on board.
There are plenty of things that need to be considered beforehand to ensure your airplane is fit for flight. Checking the oil level and fuel quantity are at the top of the list, followed closely by the condition of the flight control surfaces and prop. If you’ll be flying in IMC, a pitot-static system check is a must.
There’s really no reason to hurry through your normal preflight inspection. It will take you just a few extra minutes to follow the checklist and make sure you’ve performed a thorough walk-around. I like to circle the airplane one additional time after my initial detailed preflight just to make sure I didn’t miss anything that should have been obvious — like gust locks and tie down ropes.
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