What’s the oddest thing you’ve found in a preflight?

The February 2012 issue, coming to your mailbox on or about Jan. 5,  has an excellent article by Jamie Beckett about the perils of not doing a thorough preflight.

Before you put your hand up and yell, “Not another preflight article!,” let me finish. Yes, anybody who’s had more than an hour of flight instruction knows that a preflight is your very last chance to check out your airplane before you launch into the sky. But those of us with a few hundred hours or a few years in our logbooks might one day find ourselves “sleepwalking” through the process, as Jamie notes. It’s not on purpose. Anything that is repetitious can become automatic, given enough time. Ever find yourself driving home from work and suddenly realize you don’t remember how you got there? Scary.

We asked our digital subscribers to tell us the oddest thing they’ve ever found in a preflight, and we want to hear from you as well. Snakes? Missing controls? Something not so obvious and much more insidious?–Jill Tallman


  • Thomas Boyle

    Disconnected flight controls on a glider. AFTER someone had done a check to confirm they were properly assembled. Fortunately discovered before launch. Connected controls before flying.

    A pair of pliars, sitting on top of one of the cylinders. It had been there for at least 15 flight hours since the last inspection. The plastic handle had melted and shaped itself around the fins of the cylinder, which seems to have held it in place. Removed pliars and presented to mechanic later.

    An airplane with 2 fuel tanks, but 13 separate fuel drains to check. Attributable to the design of the aircraft, apparently. Decided to switch to another brand of airplane, ASAP.

  • John

    Final phase check flight with the chief flight instructor, just before my check ride with the DPE, opened the oil cap to check the level and the cap fell off and down to the bottom of the cowling, leaving the dip stick down in the engine. The retaining pin had fallen out and was nowhere to be found. Chief flight instructor asked me what I planned to do. I said “find another airplane.”

  • Andrew

    Found the floorboard,of our school’s piper, covered in a pool of some type of liquid. At first I thought someone had left the window vent open over night, but I noticed a strong foul smell. After more investigating the cause was traced back to the brake system. The brake line had ruptured and drained into the cabin.

  • Herb Ludgewait

    Landed w/ one student in cessna cardnal RG, and demoed preflight to next one 40 min later. Removed half bushel birds nest from tail cone, while the birds perched on the hangar roof screamed at us!

  • Bill Crosby

    Started up, with short taxi to run-up area. No alternator output, so taxi back to find alternator had completely auto-disassembled, and disgorged its contents atop the main nose gear strut to a Beech A24R.

    During pre-flight of PA23-160, noticed light film of blue ‘goo’ on lower surface of port wing outboard – heavy oil consistency. Also noticed outboard AUX tank was only one not full. 1 + 1 = 2; port fuel bladder had been leaking for probably weeks …

    Best one? … during initial flight training in Rochester NY, found 1/2 cup of brake fluid on the tarmac just behind the port wheel of a Grumman AA1A. My Instructor had put it there, to make sure I was paying attention … thank you, Bob Vyverberg – you were the best.

  • Timothy A. Short

    Flew my CAL B737-300 from Houston to Cleveland uneventfully. Did my normal walk-around and found the left landing light mounted behind a shaped outer lens had exploded and burst through the protective outer lens–lamp and lens both shattered–parts that were normal on the Houston walk-around two and a half hours earlier. MX fashioned an aluminum patch that they cut and bent into shape to cover the hole, and we were on our way back to Houston (approved for daytime flight back to base where normal repairs could be made.)

  • http://Graemejwsmith.com Graeme Smith

    The vet with a walker who managed to sneak up on me while I preflighted and was waiting at the pilot door with his hand outstretched as I finished. I shook his hand and raised an eyebrow? He wanted to congratulate me on being the only pilot he had seen perform a full preflight at the end of the fly in and before departure. By his reckoning over 100 aircraft had departed already and the best he had seen to this point had been a few cursory glances at oil dipsticks.

    I tell this not to blow my own horn but to highlight an all too common practice I observe. The planes have been prodded and poked by members of the non flying public and other pilots all afternoon – yet people depart as if the morning preflight (if it was ever performed) is good for the whole day.

  • charles halter

    One day I was taking my son inlaw Steve on his first flight in a C172. During preflight inspection I heard a light scratching noise from inside the tail. I told him we had better find out what’s in there or we were going to have a really bad day! I took out a Leatherman tool from my flight bag and removed the access panel where the tail fin meets the elevator. After 45 minutes of banging and tapping on the tail, a large crow emerged and flew away. “Now we can go flying” I said as I replaced the access panel. The crow was so large I have no idea how it even got in there! Better safe than sorry, I can only imagined what might have transpired if I had not been observant as I was explaning the preflight to him. We had a very enjoyable flight.