Just Out Of Annual


Wisdom in aviation, if there is such a thing, seems to be the sum total of bad experiences, hangar flying lies, magazine articles and direct advice from various characters who may or may not fit the description of “mentor.” At some point in my flying career, one of these old salts advised me to be wary of flying an airplane freshly out of annual.

“It probably worked okay when you brought it in, but it probably wont when you get it back,” he used to say. I took the advice to heart, so my standard procedure in doing the first pre-flight after annual was to uncowl the airplane and have a good, long look at the engine room and at the airframe in general. I once found an unsafetied oil filter-no big deal, really, but satisfying to have detected and drawn it to an embarrassed mechanics attention.

When I got busy instructing, I waxed and waned on this inspection habit. Sometimes Id do it and then, well, Id get in a hurry and not bother. After all, I really hadnt found that much before, so how much risk could there possibly be in skipping the check?

Pre-Flight Checklists


That was the operative logic when I met a student for an IFR cross-country early one Saturday morning. I picked up the keys and clipboard at the desk and handed them to the student. On the log was a notation that this was the first flight after annual. I thought about my uncowl/inspection ritual, then dismissed it. We were already running late.

I had the student do the preflight and we both settled into the Skyhawks cockpit. After running through his start-up ritual, my student cranked the engine, the 172 doing its usual shake-like-a-dog bit. Just as it settled into an idle, a pair of wire cutters fell from behind the panel, bumped off the students shin and thumped to the floor. We both looked at each other for about 10 seconds before I said, “Lets shut this thing down.”

I grabbed the tool and walked into the hangar, just as the mechanic was finishing his first cup of coffee. When I showed him the wire cutters, he had an “oh #$%^” moment and suggested we take one of the other airplanes instead.

Later in the day, I tracked him down to find out what he found under the panel. One of the other mechanics had started a job rewiring the turn coordinator, got interrupted and just forgot to finish it. The TC would have been inop. While a proper ground preflight should have caught this, ours didnt. The second chance would have been on the taxi check.

Whatever. The point is, Im now back to the fastidious preflight after the annual. Besides, I could always use an extra pair of wire cutters.


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