Posts Tagged ‘preflight’

A flat start

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

A good pilot is always learning.  Here’s what I learned a few weeks ago: If you don’t  fly for two weeks, and you don’t visit your airplane within that two weeks, you could find this the next time you want to go flying:

Flatter than the proverbial pancake, the tire’s sidewall most likely had been compromised, and so the folks at Landmark Aviation removed the tire, installed a spare (a spare tire for airplanes! Who knew?) and a brace for the wing, and prepped a new tire and tube. They had it installed and ready go to within about 90 minutes of my discovery.

On the grand scale of airplane maintenance, this is minor. It went flat at my homedrome, and it didn’t blow on a takeoff or landing roll. The repair was quick because Landmark had the tire in stock. I was able to go flying in a couple hours. The winds had picked up by then, which was a minor annoyance, but not a compelling reason to cancel the flight.

But you can bet your next tire change that I will not let two weeks–or even one week–go by without checking on my airplane and giving it a once-over. After all, it’s tough enough to get the stars aligned so that your schedule, the weather, and airplane availability work in your favor. Why stack the odds against yourself? —Jill W. Tallman

What I miss about GA

Monday, May 21st, 2012

I recently did a flight from DTW to Kalamazoo (AZO). We had some time on the ground to kill, and our gate’s location gave us a great view of the approach end of Runway 17. Several airplanes were doing pattern work, including a Cessna 172 (with a horribly ugly paint scheme, I might add), a Piper Cherokee, and one or two others. A couple were flown by students, as evidenced by the hesitant radio transmissions and the near-misses of nosewheel-first landings. Others were likely someone out just practicing, taking advantage of the clear sky and summer-like March weather.

My first officer and I began chatting about how nice it would be to trade places for a day with these pilots.

The truth is, I can’t tell you how much I miss general aviation flying. I don’t get to do it nearly as much as I would like because of the cost, and when it comes to travel, you can’t beat the free flight benefits of the airline.

But I miss everything about GA—getting dirty on a preflight, being able to turn the radio off, tracing my flight on a sectional (not easy at 400 knots true while in the flight levels), or just taking the airplane around the patch one more time because I didn’t like my landing. If I tried that at my day job, I’d have more than a little explaining to do. They might even deduct the cost of the extra fuel from my paycheck. And I especially miss doing primary flight instruction. I’ve long maintained that if I could make the same income as an instructor as I do now, I’d trade my uniform for shorts in a heartbeat.

On occasion, we will see a 172 or a Cherokee on our TCAS that is flying at or below 1,000 feet just sightseeing or slowly going from place to place, or maybe even nowhere in particular. Once in a while we see those airplanes doing ground reference maneuvers or lazy 8s. It’s hard not to think about how far my own career has come watching somebody else go through those maneuvers that I too had to master.

If you are pursuing a professional career, take the time to enjoy the steps along the way, and if you can pull it off, stay involved in your GA roots. You will miss it more than you ever will imagine. I fly whenever I can, and I keep my CFI certificate active; I worked way too hard to ever let it expire.

There may be a thing or two about GA that I don’t miss—the broken orange juice cans in the Cessnas, not having a weather radar, bouncy fuel gauges, and I’d like to have an autopilot—but the benefits way outweigh the cons. I think I’d like more than anything to be able to fly a cross-country and substitute my iPod for ATC…just once.—By Chip Wright

The May “Since You Asked” poll: Preflighting

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

In the May issue of Flight Training, we asked digital subscribers a very particular question: “If you preflight an airplane the night before a planned flight, do you:

a. Conduct a thorough preflight the next morning as well. You never know what could have happened over night.

b. Conduct a streamlined version of the preflight, focusing on only certain things.

c. Kick the tires and light the fires; I’m good to go.”

The question was pretty directed because it was inspired by a particular set of circumstances put to Rod Machado in the May “Since You Asked” column. Specifically, K.L. wanted to know what Rod thought of this situation:

“I met someone who was preflighting his airplane the night before he was to take a trip. He was the sole owner, and the airplane was hangared. He indicated he would do a quick walkaround in the morning, but he felt taking his time the night before would result in a more thorough preflight and nothing significant would happen overnight. So the question must be asked: Do preflights have an expiration date (time)? How long is a preflight good for?”

First, let’s look at our responses to the digital poll. A whopping 87 percent of respondents said they’d conduct a thorough preflight the next morning. Just 13 percent said they’d conduct a streamlined version of the preflight, and no one–not one person–confessed to the notion of kicking the tires and lighting the fires.

When you consider that our readership is aimed at primary student pilots, many of whom rent aircraft that sits outside and unattended, it stands to reason that they would prefer to do a preflight both the night before and the morning of the planned flight. This is your last chance to check everything before you go hurtling into the air, so why waste the opportunity?

Then again, 13 percent said they’d be comfortable with conducting a streamlined version of the preflight on the morning of the flight. This could represent our readers who own aircraft and are reasonably confident that nothing will have happened to their aircraft over the eight, 10, or 12 hours preceding the flight.

And here’s what Rod told K.L.: Preflights do have an unofficial expiration time that’s based more on common sense than a timepiece. “If the airplane is secured in a hangar,  then it’s entirely reasonable to do a thorough and detailed preflight the night before departure and a less-detailed inspection the morning of the flight. This is based on the assumption that the hangar is completely secure.

“On the other hand, if the airplane is out in the open, it is unreasonable to assume that something or someone can’t adversely affeected the airplane’s airworthiness overnight. Therefore, the next morning’s flight should be preflighted by an equally thorough preflight.”

In the year I had access to a hangar for my 1964 Piper Cherokee 140, I never preflighted the airplane the night before a flight with the intention of saving time and doing a quickie the next morning. It never even occurred to me to do something like that. I know myself too well. Any tasks that take place after 6 p.m. aren’t going to be ones that involve operating an aircraft or checking its airworthiness. I prefer to leave enough time in the morning to do a thorough, unhurried preflight, when my brain is sharpest.–Jill W. Tallman

“Since You Asked” polls appear monthly in the digital edition of Flight Training. If you’d like to switch your magazine from paper to digital at no additional charge, go here or call Member Services 800-USA-AOPA weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern.

Spring is just around the corner…and so are birds

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Editor’s note: Thanks to Ron Klutts, who snapped this photo just for this blog. Follow Ron on Twitter (@Captain_Ron).

If you see a bird hanging out on the empennage of an airplane, I have news for you: She’s not admiring the scenery. She is looking for a nesting place. She may have already found one–inside the airplane she’s perched on.

This fake owl is parked on top of an airplane that sits outside in the hopes that it will scare away actual birds from building nests.

It’s getting to be that time of year when birds go from being a lesson in ground school to a practical, hands-on exercise in good preflighting. Birds can and do nest in airplanes. They nest in airplanes that are sitting outside; they nest in airplanes inside hangars. They will nest in the tailcone and the engine compartment and probably would slip inside an open window and make themselves at home in the cockpit if given the opportunity. And all it takes is an opening the size of a quarter or so. As these Bird hazard photos from the Air Safety Institute show, even cowl plugs can prove ineffective.

And they are super-fast at what they do. As Steve Ells reported in AOPA’s Reporting Points blog, he parked his airplane in his hangar and came back 10 days later to find a complete nest and four eggs on top of the engine’s number 1 and number 3 cylinders. (Click the link to see a photo.)

I see barn swallows every year. If I have a decorative wreath on my front door, they will nest in it. Mind you, this is a door that sees a lot of activity–we go in and out of it several times a day.

Another article from the Air Safety Institute explains why some birds build their nests in what you’d think would be dangerous locations. “Birds don’t associate nest removal with predation,” an expert says. “Nesting materials will naturally drop, so they’re used to seeing some disappear.” When a nest with eggs or baby birds is removed, it finally sinks in that this could be a bad neighborhood.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to assume that a bird has built a nest in your trainer every single time you head out to the ramp or hangar. Then prove otherwise.—Jill W. Tallman