Editor's Log

June 2003 Issue




Another Set of Eyes

When the proud owner’s too proud, it may be time for someone else to check things out

Before I let someone else fly my airplane, I didn’t realize what a big favor I would be doing myself.

As the only pilot who had flown the airplane since its delivery flight from the factory, I was quite used to predictable preflight inspections. Since I wipe down the airplane after every flight, I was pretty sure what I’d find the next time I opened the hangar door.

Because of that – and a certain confidence instilled by having a new airplane – my preflights went from being thorough to somewhat cursory. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A friend asked if he could use it to entice his kids into taking lessons. I wrung my hands a bit at the notion of handing the keys to someone else, but this guy’s a better tailwheel pilot than I am, so I figured it could do no harm.

Quite the contrary. After his first flight, he called to thank me for the use of the airplane, but then a pregnant pause hung over the conversation.

“But there was something about the airplane I wanted to talk to you about.” Uh-oh. Visions of ground loops and bent wings and broken longerons and scorched tires and ruined props danced momentarily in my head.

“Yeah, uh, I noticed some corrosion on the horizontal stabilizer’s strut brace fittings.”

To my credit, I responded with extreme eloquence: “Huh?” I’m sure he was impressed with my grasp of aircraft dynamics.

The next day, I hightailed it to the hangar and, sure enough, spotted a pair of severely corroded fittings that I had overlooked on at least 100 occasions. Although I wasn’t planning to fly that day, I conducted perhaps the most thorough preflight of my career and noted a couple of other spots where my diligence has been less than exemplary.

I found a few spots where my cleanings had missed. A missing screw on one of the wheel pants. A chip in the paint on the steel spring landing gear strut.

While I resolved to do better henceforth, I began reflecting on how I had started down the road to complacency, spurred in part by my conviction that a new airplane should be squawk free – without ever considering at what point “new” became “used” and therefore warranted a closer look.

While this lesson was particularly poignant, preflights have long been a subject I was interested in as a human factors exercise. Pilots bring their unique biases, habits and myopia to every preflight they do.

In a way, having several people fly your airplane is a method to ensure that it gets the best look it can get. While multiple pilots raise other issues that are not so savory, this is one aspect in which more definitely makes merrier.


-Ken Ibold