The Preflight Process for an Airplane
**The purpose of this post it to share with you a video that walks you through the preflight process. If you are a new student then I suggest watching it just before you go to the airport to do a preflight. Most students will be long past this and so will most pilots.
It sounds stupid to say, but, my first feeling of accomplishment as a student pilot was mastering the preflight inspection. My first lesson ever was with Jim, he opened those tin hangar doors and rolled that 150 out into the cool morning light and walked me around the aircraft explaining the whole process in what felt like warp speed, from draining fuel, examining the scent and color, to checking hinges and travel limits, checking the lead counterweights for corrosion, recognizing a working or smoking rivet, pre-flight was intimidating.
It was winter in Salt Lake City and if you know what that means then you know it was COLD! The objective was to learn to do the pre-flight from memory by following a pattern around the aircraft then grab the checklist and carefully go over each item to check that I did not miss anything. My breath was visible, my coat was thin, and my nerves were like live wires because I knew once this part was over I would have to get in and fly. That part still scared me, actually, it still does.
Don’t rotate the prop or the engine could start! Birds nesting under the cowling, and bugs in the pilot… Shit, why do we fly these things? Anything that had to be checked this thoroughly for so many fail points was a ridiculous, archaic, mechanism that was still stuck in the 1950’s as far as I was concerned.
I have always been defiant, in fact, my first memory is giving my father a hard time over the necessity of cleaning my room and to this day I think that if we have to worry over every single aspect of engineering on aircraft then we really, as a species, shouldn’t fly them. Seriously, there is less to do when pre-flighting a wing suit.
It seems to be to be evident to me, that a higher power wants us to know it’s there, by the way, everything eventually becomes its opposite.
Today, the pre-flight is my favorite part of the flying experience. I am an aircraft owner, her name is Stacy. During preflight, I run my hands down my 172’s spine and I delight at the slight amount of grease left on my hands. I know the smell of her, when I first open the door to the cockpit, when I crouch down and look at the antenna’s, wheels, and peek inside the cowling.
I love rolling her out of the hangar with that broken red fork thing that tugs at two bolts on the nose fork. It’s a moment of reckoning between the aircraft and her pilot as I try to make sure she understands that “I am not interested in any trouble today”. It may be that silent, unspoken understanding that causes such heartbreak when the engine is too cold to start, or when she runs rough on run-up… “I thought we had an accord young lady“.
Stacy, my 1977 172n, she’s got a dark navy blue stripe down her side, she’s beautiful to me and she knows by the way I handle her that I don’t trust her. I sometimes get the impression when I am putting her back in the hangar that she is trying to earn that trust. She seems to remind me that she’s never let me down.
Anyway, back to the subject at hand:
Pre-solo it was all about showing Jim I was hungry enough to memorize and understand Pre-Flight. After-Solo it was about me and the airplane and I take great care in inspecting every inch of her before we fly…. honestly I hope that never changes.
For anyone learning Preflight Inspection, here’s a video we made to at least get you out of the cold: