Detailed preflight

Here’s a long-winded question from a naive non-pilot: When I had the pleasure of being drafted into the army, I learned truck driving on really, really old trucks. Due to this, and due to the duties as a driver in general, I developed a habit of doing walkarounds and checks before getting into a car. Checking the tires, occasionally checking the fluids, etc. As the years went by, I regressed into a “let’s hop in and drive” attitude again, probably because cars nowadays are so reliable, that I barely ever run into any troubles at all and it makes the “preflight” unnecessary. So, to the actual question: Is it the same with airplanes? I mean I know that there are preflight checklists that you have to stick to, but do those lists get shorter over time, because everything gets more user-friendly and reliable? Or is it the opposite, because aircraft carry more and more gadgets?

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14 comments on “Detailed preflight
  1. oddball says:

    In answer to your question: when I fly my models as long as the fan turns the right way and the waggley bits wiggle in the right way we are good to go .

  2. jan olieslagers says:

    The presence of gadgets is not relevant: by definition gadgets are not essential for flight, or the safety thereof. That said, there are checklists, yes. Myself tended to be a bit negligent about them, until the day I took off with the main fuel cock unopened…

  3. Turbomallard says:

    ALWAYS do a preflight. As a CFI, I will not pass a pilot who fails to do one if I’m giving a flight review. Your life may depend on it. One former student of mine, after she got her license, rented one of the trainers she flew and discovered a crack in the nose gear on a preflight… the crack had almost certainly been there a while but no one else had noticed it. All this said, I will scrutinize a rental or trainer more than I will my own (I’m the only person who flies mine and I should know its condition).

  4. flytdeck says:

    Good question and from my observation, it depends. I fly a B777 and a walkaround is completed by one of the flight deck crew prior to EVERY flight as well as a detailed inspection of the technical and, on passenger flights, the cabin logbooks. Any defects must be explored in the Minimum Equipment List (MEL) which is a document developed by the aircraft manufacturer to determine if the flight may operate with the defect, and what provisions must be made by maintenance and the flight crew. It also gives the maximum time or number of flights before the defect MUST be fixed (though in rare cases, this may be extended).
    When flying light aircraft (such as Chuck), there may be a tendency to “kick the tires and light the fires”. As a pilot, one must always be cognizant of what may increase operational risk. Performing a walkaround decreases risk as things can get missed such as covers on the pitot or static tubes (used by several instruments in the aircraft), external control locks (a fatal oversight if left installed), loose gas caps (a fast way to drain a fuel tank while in flight) and even, a missing tire! Love this strip, and Chuck often makes me cringe. Full marks for his enthusiasm but the execution needs a bit of polishing. As for the ego…

  5. Dom says:

    My experience is that walkarounds should always be detailed, but then again, the p’anes I fly get flown by a lot of different people that I don’t trust. I think newer planes require a bit more work, AHARS alignement (which should be automatic, but sometimes you have to wait for it), putting fuel quantity into the computer, ect. Every plane has different gadgets that need different set-ups.
    What I personally enjoyed was at my flight school we had some cessnas from the 70s and some that were only a couple years old. The planes from the 70s only had four fuel drains (to check for contamination) whereas the new planes had something like 16 drains. By the time you were done checking your fuel, you had just about drained the whole tank! Apparently people kept sueing Cessna for fuel contamination, so they installed more points so tha people were more likely to spot the contamination.

  6. Grayzzur says:

    When a car breaks down you pull over to the side of the road. When an airplane breaks down in flight, you have an emergency situation that can lead to serious injury or death. Always do a pre-flight inspection. Too many NTSB reports list pilot’s failure to perform a pre-flight inspection as a major contributing factor to an accident. Short answer: It’s the opposite, but for a different reason — higher chance of fatality. Planes are not inherently dangerous, though there is significant risk — but they are exceptionally unforgiving of carelessness and neglect.

  7. John says:

    I was under the (naive) impression that prefligt check is not an option but a requirement…

    btw. according to the law in most countries you are also required to do a pre drive check when driving a car.

  8. Johsua says:

    As a CFI, I make sure that the aircraft is adequately preflighted. Opening inspection panels or hiding sticky notes are good motivations to the student. Hopefully the patterns will stick. Of course when I fly by myself I make sure to preflight extra hard.

  9. BR549 says:

    “according to the law in most countries you are also required to do a pre drive check when driving a car.”

    If the test specifies “check trans fluid” they’d be in for a surprise with a lot of new cars, and even “check oil” on an increasing number.

    (Because you literally can’t. An increasing number of cars don’t even have a dipstick for ATF, and new BMWs, as I recall, have oil as a ‘non user serviceable’ thing.)

  10. Bernd says:

    I always do the detailed pre-flight inspection as per checklist, and more than once I have caught stuff I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.

    There is one item in particular I had previously skipped once or twice, that is extending the flaps for the walkaround. After the external inspection while preparing the cockpit for engine start I noticed that the (electric) flaps would not retract. Since I take off without flaps, that would not be a problem on a normal flight, when everything goes right. But the machine is somewhat underpowered so a go-around with full flaps, when it became necessary, would be … very interesting. I have never skipped that point again.

  11. ThunderClaw says:

    he forgot to check for propeller and ‘tail feathers’

  12. Poz says:

    I also was a truck drive during my military duty! My truck was only one year younger than me.

    I took the habit to make a weekly vehicle inspection ever since.

  13. jmpmtbn says:

    This situation happens often in m’y job –construction

  14. LDP says:

    Chuck’s behavior might be result of complacency (and logically laziness). Yes, in training, every pilot is taught to do a thorough preflight but it seems that more and more pilots just rely on the airplane to be in good shape “cuz it just flew fine a few hours ago” (for rentals) or “cuz it’s been locked up in my hangar since last time I flew it” (for owned aircraft). So what could go wrong, right?
    Looking at fuel exhaustion statistics, the numbers are not coming down and we only have the human factor to blame.
    Be safe and keep flying!

    P.S.: FWIW, Chuck did not do even his abbreviated lazy preflight right. It goes “one prop, two wings, three tires, let’s light the fires”. 😉

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