From the May, 2013 Issue
The pre-flight inspection is something we learn about during our first flight lesson. We poke, prod, uncowl, measure and eyeball various fluids and components while the airplane is still safely on the ramp, all to help decide if its safe to fly. Yet, once we take off, we often find we missed something. Hopefully, what we missed is relatively insignificant and merely embarrassing, rather than a safety-of-flight issue. In any case, we should be striving for perfection and ensuring weve not forgotten anything. So, based on our long experience in missing things during a pre-flight inspection, heres our list of the top five pre-flight mistakes.
Its impossible to deny the importance of risk management in maintaining safe flight operations. Accident data consistently show the root cause of some 75 percent of general aviations fatal accidents is the pilots poor or non-existent risk-management skills. Whether they were never properly trained to consider the consequences of their decisions, didnt understand those consequences or minimized their importance, well never know. But we do know that a large proportion of them could have been prevented if the accident pilots had performed even minimal analysis of the risks presented by their proposed flight.
For most of us tooling around the airstrip and to the occasional pancake breakfast, the size of our fuel tanks doesnt matter. But when youre planning a longer flight, your aircrafts range becomes a consideration. Put another way, if you want to travel more than 500 nm, tank-size matters, and not all of us are endowed with long-range tanks. It may be your tanks are too small, or your passengers are too big. You may want to bring along too much gear for use at your destination, or youre carrying too many gadgets to use while airborne. Of course, your fuel burn rate may be too high, or perhaps your airspeed and headwinds make your groundspeed too slow.
Your instrument training was all about the physical tasks of flying approaches, missed approaches and holds. Your CFII didnt spend a lot of time on en route descents, or an efficient way to get prepared for those close-in, slam-dunk procedures...youd pick up all that with experience flying in the system after passing your instrument check ride. At least that was the unspoken understanding. Trouble is, youve been flying IFR for a while, even completing a couple of instrument proficiency checks since passing the practical test, but those quick IPCs focused on the same terminal procedures youve been flying since your instrument training began, and youre starting to wonder if theres an easier, more efficient, better way to get from cruise altitude to the ground.
Like debates on high-wing versus low, discussions of proper crosswind techniques stand among those topics that split pilot opinions. Roughly speaking, its long seemed that aviators maintain membership in one of three groups: One group favors flying crabbed approaches and departures. Another insists the wing-low, upwind-gear-first technique works best. The final group recognizes values in both and offers an answer often irritating to members of the other two groups: It depends, they say. Pilots should be competent enough to embrace either solution to crosswind transitions, employing the technique best for the time, the place and the aircraft.
Anyone whos spent much time using a personal airplane for transportation hasat least oncefound themselves disoriented when maneuvering to land at an unfamiliar airport. Among the challenges can be picking out the right runway, especially if there are multiple choices. Operations into strange-to-us airports can generate lots of confusion. Thats especially true when the runway configuration isnt what were used to. An example might involve someone accustomed to a single runway who suddenly must cope with intersecting pavement, or where two runway thresholds are adjacent to each other, even though theyre oriented approximately 90 degrees apart.