Checklists and Lawsuits

February 19, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

Precision LandingAn accident that involved a new pilot and an old Cessna 172 is in the news. The Cessna was seen to takeoff with 40 degrees of flaps, get to about 100 feet agl, stall, crash, and burn. The NTSB investigation shows the aircraft right at gross weight despite having four adults aboard. That means the fuel load was light. The runway was more than enough to get airborne—more than 5,000 feet—so even if they were a bit overweight (which we don’t recommend) that wouldn’t necessarily have caused the crash.

What will guarantee no climb, and almost certainly a stall, is a takeoff with full flaps. My bet is that the pilot, used to flying newer and different aircraft, extended the flaps on preflight and never verified that they were up prior to takeoff. It was a simple but critical lapse.

The old C172s did not require a preflight flap check. That’s a newer checklist item that I’ve never quite been able to understand. Some say it’s to “check the flaps.” Flaps are, by design, robust and I’ve never had a mechanical problem with them. Lucky perhaps, but for most aircraft full flaps forgotten is takeoff denied. I’ve observed, on a few occasions, a full flap takeoff about to be attempted. A gentle reminder on the CTAF has always saved the day, but that’s a long way into the accident chain. Checklists are important but fragile barriers. If you’ve never missed an item you’re better than most!

So what happens by not checking the flaps on the preflight? Several possibilities:

1) On Run-up pad: They won’t come down—if needed for takeoff, taxi back, and get it fixed.

2) On Landing: They won’t come down—not a problem unless it’s a short field in which case, find a longer runway.

3) Numerous other what-ifs can be conjured up, but flaps are not a primary flight control and non-essential for light aircraft.

4) Forgetting to raise them is an impossibility and accidents like this are avoided.

Just to be sure I wasn’t too far off into Wonderland, I asked around and got some interesting answers. A student admitted forgetfulness on a go-around and the aircraft didn’t climb well at all—that’s not directly applicable but proves the point—it was also a newer Cessna with only 30 degrees of flaps. Two old timers agreed with me that this creates more problems than it solves. A new CFI thought it was a really good idea and the codgers ganged up on her. She suddenly became reasonable (that’s a great political technique as well, but it doesn’t mean you’re right!)

The lawsuit that was just filed is complex since it involves family members suing other family members. According to the Detroit News: “….The son of one of four people killed in a June 21 airplane crash is suing the estate of the dead pilot—also his stepbrother—and the plane’s owner (flight school), for negligence….The lawsuit alleges both (the pilot and the flight school) never conducted a pre-flight checklist inspection of the aircraft, which would have included operation of wing flaps that should have been up or retracted prior to takeoff. The apparent oversight, subsequently taking off with the plane’s flaps still fully extended, caused a ‘lack of thrust or attaining altitude on takeoff,’ according to the complaint.”

No question that this is a tragedy, but I have trouble seeing how the flight school is responsible for the pilot failing to follow the before-takeoff checklist. The legal system will sort that out for us, at considerable expense for all concerned.

The other question is whether the new checklists are setting people up to forget. Yes, there are two places to check the flaps—right after engine start and before takeoff—but frankly more steps in a checklist, especially if they are superfluous, are more opportunities for mischief. Do you believe that checklists are always sacred—especially if poorly written? It is presumptuous of me to claim to know more than the aircraft manufacturer but too often, the legal tail wags the operational dog.

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Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Scott Woodland

    I always appreciate seeing your weekly email. This one got me thinking, and pulling up my electronic checklists… I’m more of a flow check guy, but I do review the checklist to make sure I haven’t missed anything…

    I’ll be darned but for older Skyhawks there isn’t a flaps item, though there is for the newer ones.

    I was taught and follow the practice of flap extension while the master is on checking fuel quanities on the gauges, then you can more easily check linkages during the walk-around. Oh, and it also enables me to more easily wak into them if I’m looking down during that walk around…

    Once the engine is started, raise the flaps.

    I could see a challenge on a go around, but seriously, can’t you just look over your shoulder and see those barn doors hanging there? I know I can!

    I would have thought the pilot of the accident plane would have noticed them hanging there when doing his check for free movement of controls, and are the ailerons moving correctly.

    Could checklist have too much on them, maybe… but I’m betting mostly no they don’t.

  • Mark McCormick

    Set the flaps at 10 for the preflight. There is no FAA approved checklist and no requirement to use what Cessna provides.

  • david

    One thing to be keenly aware of on the older 172’s with 40 degree electrical flaps is the location of the flap circuit breaker. If it pops after significant flap extension on approach (as it has on me on one occasion) and a go around is necessary, one may find oneself in quite a jam if one does not have presence of mind to reset it promptly.

  • Walter Hankinson

    Checklist? What about the POH!!

  • Jim Miller

    I believe the young pilot’s history was predominately in aircraft (Cirrus?) that use a 50% flaps (half) for takeoff too.

  • Peter

    Use the checklist. If you think a change to the same is needed then do the research, change the format, and….USE THE UPDATED CHECKLIST. Failing to check the flaps during a preflight may be unwise. Flying off into the wild blue yonder without doing so, only to find that upon reaching your destination the flaps have failed, requiring you to fly on to another airport with a longer runway falls under the category of poor preflight/poor planning. Check the flaps prior to your flight and check them prior to takeoff.

  • Robert Vuksanovic

    Go-Arounds are a challenge if the Flaps do not retract. However, the “After Landing Checklist” that is occasionally not completed has caused Takeoff Fatalities. How many times have you seen aircraft parking at the FBO and the Marshler signals the PIC to retract the flaps! Thank you Military Aviation Line Men/Women
    Maybe we need to install a Take Off warning horn like the Airlines have for too many flappers?
    Then we have to hope to educate pilots on the difference between the stall horn, gear horn, flap horn, altitude deviation and autop-pilot disconnect.
    Global Flight Research will help you make Checklists a safe comfortable routine instead of a dreaded nuisance.

  • Manny

    What a mess. This flight has so many things going wrong for it right from the start. A pilot who had very little 172 time, maybe not much more than his basic checkout in that plane? It was a Warm sunny day. Four adults on board. And a newbie at the controls who seemed to somewhat panic when the plane didn’t climb. It’s all on the pilot. Not on cessna or the rental.

  • Tom keller

    I was doing touch and gos at islip ny when the flaps would not retract from 40 degs. That c172 was a horrible flyer. But it taught me to glance over my shoulder to visually verify the flaps coming up before lifting off!

  • Roy Kinsey

    Bruce, you wrote, “No question that this is a tragedy, but I have trouble seeing how the flight school is responsible for the pilot failing to follow the before-takeoff checklist.”

    The answer is that airplanes (and automobiles) are “dangerous instrumentalities” under the laws of most states. This means the owner of an airplane, which in this case is the flight school, is responsible for damages caused by the negligence (mistake) of anyone they permit to operate it. The plaintiff is not required to prove the flight school did anything wrong; the pilot’s mistake is sufficient to make the school responsible.

  • Codedog

    This is one more reason I like my Musketeer, manual flaps.
    No electricity required. It’s all one piece so not even cables to worry about.
    Big handle sticking up in my way if I left the flaps down. Kind of hard to miss if you can’t get in the plane easily with it in the way.

  • Brian Bos

    It has been many years since I have operated a Cessna Skyhawk but I have to agree with Scott Woodland’s comments, those flaps at 40 degrees are like barn doors. They are very hard to miss.

    When you take into account all the turning in taxiing, looking down the wing as you pull onto the runway somewhere along the way one would have no choice but to notice them.

    Any person who has flown the Cessna Skyhawk in a tough and go situation will tell you there is a considerable difference with the way the aircraft performs with flaps down to what happens when you bring them up.

    It seems that there are a lot of factors to consider here. Things like experience, familiarity with the aircraft, standard of training, training on the aircraft, what aircraft did he usually fly, was the checklist used, were there distractions, why did the aircraft stall and why wasn’t it put back down when no climb performance was found? There would have been plenty of runway left at a 100 feet.

    Of course most of this would be speculation as we will never know.

  • Jim O

    But always remember, just because something worked during preflight or pre takeoff doesn’t mean it will work when you need it.

  • Alan

    The owner of the aircraft, in many, if not most, states, is liable for the use of the aircraft. Just like a car. Pretty simple concept and an aviation fact of life that owners should be aware of. If you dislike the rule, then contact your legislator and get it changed. Otherwise, just keep yourself insured.

  • Glenn Swiatek

    To All Instructors out there. Here’s what I was never taught by any of my instructors, although the one I fired certainly enoyed his massive ego in quite a little pond – THESE ARE THE ITEMS THAT CAN KILL YOU !

    It’s a list that repeats itself over and over and over. Now of course I would not recommend bringing this list up at the first lesson. I would suggest it be a part of the sylabus – you have one, don’t you ? – to be presented about the time the student is showing the ability to pass a check ride.

    An instructor drilling into a student’s brain, DO THIS AND YOU DIE … hmmm . Maybe even have an itemized list, similar to Bart Simpson, where the student writes under the specific line item – IF I TAKE OFF WITH FULL FLAPS I WILL DIE.
    Then repeat the method with every imaginable scenario, ie, If I fly into clouds, If I run out of fuel, If I buzz, If I try to take off high and hot, etc., etc., etc.

    Then have them sign and date it. Along with the clause, and have the student write it as well, I acknowledge this list is incomplete and not comprehensive. Keep it for the judge and jury, just in case. Tell them you told Dilbert to read it every time before he went up.

    This is Yet Another Totally Inexcusable Screwup.

  • Danno

    Roy Kinsey says:

    Bruce, you wrote, “No question that this is a tragedy, but I have trouble seeing how the flight school is responsible for the pilot failing to follow the before-takeoff checklist.”

    The answer is that airplanes (and automobiles) are “dangerous instrumentalities” under the laws of most states. This means the owner of an airplane, which in this case is the flight school, is responsible for damages caused by the negligence (mistake) of anyone they permit to operate it. The plaintiff is not required to prove the flight school did anything wrong; the pilot’s mistake is sufficient to make the school responsible.

    Roy, you must be an attorney. The aircraft owner could be responsible for an UN-airworthy aircraft or negligence on their part but not on the negligence of a pilot flying a sound aircraft. Thought processes like yours is why so many good businesses go out of business. They spend all their money on defending frivolous law suits.

  • Cary Alburn

    We tend to fly like we were trained, even if it doesn’t quite match the POH, flight manual, etc. I was taught in 1972 to lower the flaps of every Cessna I flew, to check the linkage for security as well as the condition of the flap tracks & rollers. Especially on rentals, there is the possibility of damage from extending the flaps at too high an airspeed. So whether the Cessna’s POH or manual specifically calls for the flaps to be lowered, it’s a common thing to include in the training–or in transition training.

    BTW, although I see it all the time, I don’t personally lower the flaps during preflight to the full extension, whether that’s 30 or 40 degrees, as it’s easier to determine if something is loose or needs repair at only 20 degrees.

    Additionally, on every airplane I’ve ever flown, Cessna or otherwise, during the pre-takeoff check, I always run the flaps all the way down and back up, checking again to make sure that they go down together and that they fully retract. On my airplane (1963 P172D), that’s with a manual Johnson bar, and one of the things I’m checking for is any feeling that something is binding. But I’ve had several occasions on other airplanes with electric flaps, in which at full extension, the circuit breaker popped. Every time, it was because the flap motor kept turning because the limit switch needed adjusting. But it was definitely better to find that out before taking off rather than learning about it after a botched approach which required retracting the already extended flaps.

    So I think it’s valuable for a pilot to extend the flaps on Cessnas and other airplanes as part of the pre-flight and as part of the pre-takeoff checks, whether or not it’s in the manual.

    But it’s the pilot’s responsibility to make sure that they are in the takeoff position before taking off. In some airplanes, that might be zero or 10 or 20 degrees or some other position. Especially a pilot new to a particular airplane needs to be even more conscious of what that airplane requires.

    So regardless of what legal responsibility an FBO or other owner might conceivably have under the law, the person with the ultimate responsibility for making sure that the airplane is ready to fly is the PIC. That’s the rule for every airplane that flies, from the smallest to the largest. Period.

  • Don

    I had a Piper Cherokee 180, and I was practicing and getting night current doing takeoffs and landings. after 4 or 5 landings I intended to park the plane, but it was such a nice night and things were going so smoothly I decided to do 1 more, so I taxied up to the runway. Started my take off roll and kept thinking something doesn’t feel right. I kept checking my airspeed indicator and RPM oil pressure and all appeared normal but something still did not feel right. When I reached rotation speed I applied normal back pressure to the yoke and left the ground. My air speed started deteriorating so I lowered the nose, airspeed came back up applied back pressure to climb and airspeed deteriorated again. I wasn’t more than about 20 feet above the ground. I then realized that I forgot to retract full flaps between the last landing and this takeoff roll. I took out 1 notch of flaps, climbed out and slowly took out the last 2 notches at a safe altitude.
    So, in my opinion, if this pilot was paying any attention at all to what was going on, he should have been able to rectify it, even in the air.

  • Jason

    It’s a simple fact. The POH checklist are written by ENGINEERS and not pilots. We all know any checklist or performed “flow” is only as good as the discipline used to execute it. Our “lucky” guy here in the article never found a flap issue on preflight. He never got to fly the trash heaps from a big flight school in Sanford that had C-172s/C-152s. On numerous occasions, I discovered cracked flap track brackets, missing rivets, lose jam nuts and severe chaffing on the upper skin rubbing on the aft part of the wing. Would any of these thing have caused an accident? I highly doubt it. But if you ever DO have a major malfunction of a flap and I’m not talking them not moving in flight either, it will bring down an airplane.


    This is an unfortunate and totally preventable accident and now it’s a pay day for the lawyers. Our PIC of the accident aircraft is totally at fault here, not the flight school, not his flight instructor and not the mail man. These old 172s have been around for decades, Run a search for bozos taking off with 40degrees of flaps and crashing. 2Bucks says I bet you find less than 3. That’s not enough to reinvent the way people today conduct a preflight on cessna high wing aircraft. Our article writer here is obviously not a CFI or a very young CFI at the least. One thing that works in the flying world that has served me well,


    Next week someone here will be preaching shut the transponder off when switching codes so you don’t bump 7700. I had to laugh when I heard that from a young CFI recently. “I was watching you on my TIS and now you vanished!” Thaaaannks!

    As a high time CFI, I too was taught if you take off with full flaps, U WILL DIE!
    This mentality has worked fine for me for the last 7000hrs. 😉

  • Randy Coller

    Preflight Hint:
    Master on.
    Flaps down.
    Check lights.
    Check fuel quantity gauge(s).
    Master off.
    Flaps up.

    With the master off, the flaps will remain down as you walk around the plan for the preflight.

    When you turn the master on again to start, the flaps will come up as they have already been selected.

    Remember to look out the window to make sure they came up.

    P.S. Always do a visual check on fuel quantity—fuel guages lie.

  • Bill Renaud

    Your poll should include one more choice: “Use the checklist provided by the manufacturer, but add any additional items you feel are necessary.”

    This is the basic policy I have always followed. I have always extended flaps on a C-172 during preflight to check mounting hardware and then retracted them after engine start. I double-check again during runup before takeoff.

    Also, in a Piper Arrow (retractable), I have always had the “Landing gear down” item at more than one place in the checklist. Redundancy may be a little bit of overkill, but it increases safety! On short final, I tap the landing gear selector lever to verify the down position. This is a great safety item after a go-around where the gear was retracted for some reason.

    I believe it would increase safety to build more redundancy on the important things into all procedures.

  • Mike Hudson

    When I was a student pilot, I flew different airplanes and all seem to have a different checklist. This was very frustrating and I made a personal decsion to order my own current checklists made by the same company for each different model plane I fly. These newer checklists did have the Flaps on them, but the most important part was that everytime I flew I used a checklist with the same layout, regardless of model. No matter what plane I am flying, all the information is in the same place, layed out exactly the same as another model. I check flaps on every flight just like the checklist states. I also retract them just like the checklist states. If I am at an airport away from home, I’ll only lower to 10 degrees in case of a malfunction. This will let me get back to home base.

  • Tom Nimsic

    I have copies of checklists from my POH taped to my sun visor and use them! I use 20 degrees flaps for take offs and landings in my C182 unless going into a very short field and then use 40 for landing. In high wind conditions, I use no flaps. So far, so good. I did have one failure of the left flap motor on approach, I just reset the breaker and landed with no flaps.

  • Jamie MacDougall

    I much prefer using a “flow” tecnique, meaning I move my hands around the panel in an organized way, touching items to verify they are where they need to be for that particular phase of flight. In particular, I pay attention to the “killer” items, like flaps prior to takeoff. Works for me.

  • Tim Orbison

    This discussion is about flaps, but flying any aircraft is a complex mental activity that requires MANY things ALL be done properly. More people in an aircraft beside the pilot, in my experience, increases the likelihood of a mental mistake. Flying in an unfamiliar airplane increases the likelihood of a mental mistake. Flying at gross reduces the margins for error. Weather, conversations, time restraints, personal frustrations, passenger excitement and such all take a toll on our mental focus. Surely I am not the only pilot who has had to ask everyone else in the plane to cease conversation for a few minutes (sterile cockpit) so that I could attend to the important details of flying a properly configured, fueled, operational aircraft. With enough commotion in a cockpit one can overlook almost anything!

    I have no idea what was going on in that plane but barring mechanical failure clearly the pilot was not completely focused on the details of flying. I’ve been there and done that and was lucky enough to live through it. Perhaps many of us get a little too complacent with aviation. I enjoy flying and hope to continue doing so for a long time. But as pilots, we all need to have the icy claws of death tickle up the hair on the back of our neck before we board an airplane with the gentle reminder that if we loose focus on what we are really doing, people could die. That’s part of the reason we pilots pour over accident reports. We put ourselves in doomed cockpits over and over asking ourselves, “Would I have done that? Would it have gotten me too?’ The reality is that most of us, though some would never admit it, have made dumb mistakes but either recovered or got away with it.

    Over time we forget the chill and thrill of that first solo and the thought, “if I screw this up I’m dead.” I don’t think I can placard that on my instrument panel but maybe I should write “FOCUS” as the first checklist item. We have the skills but sometimes we lose our focus…with tragic results.

  • Sam Beale

    I did my primary training in C150’s, moving up? to a 172 after getting my ppl. My instructor taught me a short mental 4 item checklist to run when the engine began running, 3 of which should be automatic anyway. Oil pressure up, flaps up, beacon on, radios on. Simple.

  • http:[email protected] Scott Wright

    I can sum up checklists in two words; cigar and gump. (my spell check didn’t like the “word” gump!)

    I have 5000 hours in aircraft from a C150 to a Falcon 10. No matter the complexities of each aircraft, and their accompanying checklists, I still followed up every one with Controls, Instruments, Gas, Run before brake release, and Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Prop for landing on turn to final or the crossing of the final approach fix.

    I realize this sounds to simplistic, especially when a Falcon 10 doesn’t have a prop attached. Yet with some imaginative thinking I was able to apply each letter in these acronyms’ to a meaningful safety item. For example, in the Falcon 10, for Gas I would do a quick mind check on current full state and verify I have what I need to go to the alternate if needed. Undercarriage, speaks for itself. But when I came to Mixture and Prop it was my reminder to verify that my given power setting, configuration and gave me the expected airspeed within +-10kts.

    When I used these acronyms I also did a check on all related items. Control, for C in cigar, meant I did a full control check of the yoke by pushing all the way forward, turn all the way left and then pull all the way aft, maintaining full left aileron, then rotate the control wheel full right and move it full forward and at that point return to neutral. Next I checked physical, and indicated flap setting, are correct for that takeoff. If you are a private pilot student I hope your CFI is teaching you this proper control check. Just a random flapping around of the yoke doesn’t check for any binding at the controls full range of travel.

    So by now you have the general idea. Each item does a pretty good, but not through job of covering the deadly items. Even in an unexpected go around at fifty feet I would run through CIGAR right after doing the required full power, pitch to level while retracting gear and flaps as required.

    I recommend that if you choose to use these suggestions that you log a few hours of hangar flying thinking these acronyms through and how to best apply them. There have been a few times in my flying experience that these two “words” have saved the day.

    When I was preparing for my type ride in the Falcon my sim partner saw the nervousness I was experiencing. When the instructor would apply various emergencies, like an engine fire, I would try to fly through the checklist which was causing me to make mistakes. One night at dinner he told me that before responding to an inflight situation the first thing to do was sit mentally sit on my hands for a few seconds and think! It is really extremely rare to find a situation requiring an instantaneous reaction.

    Finally, the FAA needs to require one more checklist item. Prior to flight the PIC tells their passengers that he is the sole person responsible for the safety of this flight and that each passenger signs a document indicating their understanding of such. This could prevent hundreds of lawsuits filed on behalf of the surviving family members. I say this tongue in cheek. Such a document can’t cover all the possible factors of an aircraft hitting the ground in an uncontrolled manner. The definition of PIC in the FAR’s and the AIM covers the many aspects of flight that the PIC is to be familiar with.

    I lost my medical several years ago at a young age. I still follow what is happening in aviation, but as a pilot, please grant me some latitude if some comments don’t quite ring true, but also please correct anything that I may have said that could may not be stated in the proper “lingo” of aviation.

    I hope we all enjoy many thousand more hours of safe flying!

  • Terrence Murphy

    “Trust but verify.”

  • John Callender

    I’m in agreement with Mark McCormick’s post on setting flaps only to 10 degrees for preflight. The main objective I’ve got for checking flaps on Cessnas during preflight, besides the fact that they extend and retract, is to check for proper tension on the flap push rods. Years ago I had an instructor friend convey to me that he experienced an asymmetric flap situation in a ’69 model 172 due to failure of a flap push rod, which was later determined to be caused by excessive tension on the rod during flap extension. While on final approach, as this gentleman went to extended full flaps flaps, he heard a loud pop and quickly discovered that one of the flaps was almost fully extended, while the other was almost fully retracted. Needless to say he had a wild ride for several seconds until he was able to retract the extended flap and eliminate the asymmetric flap situation. Ever since learning of this event, I’ve always inspected the flap push rods where they connect to the flaps and make sure there’s some play in the rod while flaps are extended somewhere out of the “up” position. When doing this I recommend only going to 10 degrees of flaps for number of reasons: (1) 10 degrees of flap will allow an adequate inspection of the flaps, along with the flap push rods for a tension check. (2) It allows the pilot to know that the flap motor is working, and that it will indeed extend and retract the flaps for an adequate preflight inspection. (3) It prevents unnecessary wear and tear on the flaps and flap motor, especially if the plane is used a lot at an FBO as a rental or for instructional purposes. (4) In the event that you’re ever stuck in an out-of-the way place (a remote, rural strip) with no maintenance for miles around, should the flap motor ever fail during preflight with the flaps extended, it will allow the plane, in most situations, to be safely flown out to a mechanic rather than having to wait for a mechanic to come to you. This in no way is an endorsement of operating an airplane with a known mechanical defect, but in the event you’re ever stuck in the “back 40″ with no assistance around, in most cases the plane could be safely operated and flown out as is, rather than waiting possibly for days for a mechanic or other assistance to come to you. Of course if your flap motor fails during preflight at a field with maintenance readily available, even if that maintenance is at another nearby field, get it fixed before going flying. Only fly with the motor failed if you’re stuck at a remote field with no assistance available. (5) By preflighting with flaps only to 10 degrees, there are far less catastrophic results should you forget to retract flaps prior to takeoff. Of course if your checklist or flight handbook recommends or calls for a specific flap setting for preflight, follow the checklist and/or flight handbook recommendation rather than my advice. I hope this information is useful to some of you and safe and happy flying.

  • al

    Checklist to blame…?

    How about look out the windows?

    Anyone can forget something on a checklist…how about some “plane olde sense and airmanship”?

    Flight control check? How about doing it on the way to the runway and actually verifying things workby looking out the windows…It would be hard to miss the flaps at 40…

    How about the take off roll being way screwed up by the plane wanting to lift off the ground at a ridiculously high nose attitude…probably a good time to abort…

  • Roger Halstead

    Flap are Important. We’re talking about a simple check, but a pilot or student would do well to ingrained checking the flap prior to departure every time. the reasons extend beyond the particular airplane. Some plane can not climb at all with full flaps, but require partial flaps for takeoff. On the other hand a go around with full flaps is not possible in some, while going full power in others will cause the nose to rise abruptly to a very steep angle that takes considerable muscle just to hold the nose at a reasonable and safe angle while re-trimming AND “milking” the flaps up. Either case can get you killed if the pilot is not prepared. Two planes I’ve flown that wanted to go nose up were an F33/Debonair and a later model 182. both took considerable strength to hold the nose down while getting the flaps up and re-trimming. The Deb/F33 did not change pitch with flap settings, but it did so, drastically with power. Landing the Deb with full flaps when done right would end up, with the trim at full nose up as the mains touched the runway. I never found it necessary to land with less than full flaps and I flew that plane to its limits in cross winds and gusts many times. We departed Marysville KS with winds 50 right of the nose. at pattern altitude the winds varied around a 100, give or take. Throttled back to 150, we were showing well over 250 ground speed. at times.

    The point is to make a flaps check part of every departure check list, particularly if you ever plan to fly high performance, or something that can’t climb with full flaps.

    I’ve always used a check list. Either the one with the plane (if it had one) or made my own, but I always checked the flaps. BTW flap settings in the Deb were simple black lines “on the flaps” so you had to look at the actual flaps when going up or down.

  • Herb Ludgewait

    Electric flaps and acronyms should both be banned. Electric flaps for many of the reasons stated above, and acronyms because they add complexity to an already complex activity

  • Kareem Omar

    Excellent article! I too dislike electric flaps. Here’s another reason, my two cents: from the Piper Warrior I fly, with that good old Johnson Bar at 40 degrees for preflight and the door on the right side, you can hardly get into the pilot’s seat without putting them down first! Intentional or not, this practically guarantees you’ll see them and drop them before engine start.

  • Dan Williamson

    I do not know the postion of the flap lever on a 172. On my checkride the examiner said touch and go after landing in the 150 I trained on. I retracted the electric flaps and inadvertantly hit the switch again extending them to the full 40%. Being a warm June morning close to max takeoff weight performance was quite poor. I knew immediatly what the problem was but he had already called for the controls. this of course was immediate flunk material. I had already inadvertantly done this once before (at the same airport none the less) practicing solo to his home base. I passed quite well on my return ride but ran out of $$$$ after 98 hrs. If I ever buy a plane I think a Johnson bar for flaps appeals to me.

  • Dennis Lou

    I think there’s too much focus on the checklist and flaps. Those are really only the first link the accident chain. The focus ought to be on the last link, which is the pilot’s possible lack of an abort plan, his inability to recognize trouble during the take-off roll and his failure to execute an aborted take-off. Had the mag switch gotten bumped out of position, a bird struck the wing, contaminants gotten into the fuel line, the air intake gotten blocked, etc, the outcome would have been the same and could have been prevented in the same way.

    Besides, as has already been mentioned, the 172M, 172N, 172R and 172SP POH’s that I have all say “FLIGHT CONTROLS – FREE and CORRECT” in the pre-takeoff checklist and it’s darned near impossible to establish correctness of the ailerons with those barn doors hanging out 30-40 degrees. A few items down, they also all say “FLAPS -UP” in the very same checklists (“FLAPS – 10 degrees preferred” in the case of the 172SP).

  • Larry Coleman

    Jason: ” Our article writer here is obviously not a CFI or a very young CFI at the least.”

    You’ve never heard of Bruce Landsberg? He’s been the head of the Air Safety Foundation for the last 20+ years. If you keep up with aviation safety issues, his name is as recognizable as Rod Machado or John and Martha King.

    Here’s a piece of advice, Jason: not everyone who does something differently from you is wrong. Not every different idea is right, but not every one is wrong. There’s more than one way to fly an airplane, and once you start dismissing everyone else just because they propose something different from the way you’ve always done it, then it’s time to start re-evaluating your own mindset, not others’. When you decide you’ve reached a point where you don’t have anything to learn from anybody else, you’re basically saying that you’re better than Bob Hoover, since he was always looking for a way to get better than he was and you don’t need to get better. Although I’m a fairly high-time CFI myself, I still consider any flight in which I don’t learn something as a wasted opportunity, not a confirmation that I already know it all.

    To the main point: I always teach my students to do a lineup check. Before the throttle goes in, they re-re-recheck the killer items: fuel, flaps, trim. I always make sure they absorb the fact that “killer items” is not an exaggeration. I also teach them that when they’re flying with passengers (especially with non-pilot passengers because those simply LOVE to talk since they don’t know you need to concentrate) to say to them once the plane is entering the run-up area, “Don’t take this personally, but I’m not going to talk to you again until this plane is 1000 feet off the ground.” I teach them that specifically because it reduces the chances of exactly what most likely occurred here: chatty passengers making for a sloppy run-up/pre-takeoff check. If you read the Apollo transcripts, at times even the astronauts told Houston to be quiet while they were busy, and (just like checklists) if it’s good enough for the astronauts, it’s good enough for my students.

  • MIke Dalrymple

    I think we’re overlooking something.

    How do we know he didn’t believe that if one or two notches of flaps help him climb that full flaps at full load might work better?

    But as stated don’t forget that three people in a 172, perhaps on their first flight, can add a lot of distraction to a low (or even high) time pilot. Even if your trying to ignore it, it’s still there. Very few of us (none?) can shut it all out, or even want too.

  • Tractorking

    Flow and Check!

    8yr CFI +6000 hrs

    I always teach and lower full flaps during preflight, and yes I have found worn and faulty flaps during the preflight lowering and inspection process.
    I also make sure my students observe the flaps retracting to verify they are smooth and equal so no asymmetric flap situations occur at takeoff.

    Just saying

  • Jason


    Thanks for pointing out who wrote this article. I obviously do not look at the author, this way I approach it with a completely open mind. He may be aopas top exec so I highly doubt he is out here everyday in the trenches with shall I say students that increase the pucker factor? I still stand by my comments, more so now that I know Mr Bruce is so apt to give questionable advice. I would NEVER advocate NOT looking at any component on an aircraft to inspect for safety prior to flight on the basis I might not do my job as a pilot prior to trying to take off with full flaps? (Thats hysterical!) Perhaps he should pass his writings around to those that do this everyday for a living to see if his idea of making something safer even holds weight? The problem arises when people take these ideas of his printed above as gospel and I get to UNTEACH these inventive thoughts! Agreed there are many ways to skin a cat, but my students, co-pilots and myself will continue to look in all the nook and crannies available to our ever untrusting eyes!

    Remember, mechanics get to drive home at the end of the day. I need my airplane to get me there.. 😉

  • http:[email protected] Paul Sciortino

    Another comment on the flap issue: I owned a 2007 G1000 C172S NAV III AC.

    My understanding of the flap question and pre flight concerns.
    At no time did I lower the flaps during any pre flight. Reading from the Cessna manual only says to check security and condition, for the aileron it is freedom of movement.
    Section 4 of the Cessna Information Manual for the 172S NAV III

    Thanks, as always great reading- Paul Sciortino

  • Randy

    Hello, I will like to know if you know about a good Flight School , I am looking for one to take my private piloting course, that accepts international students.
    or a private flight instructor, I do appreciate your possible information.
    Regards Randy Nobile

  • Randy
  • Mike Bevan

    While flaps are not primary flight controls, it turns out that flap tracking problems, which can happen with age in a 172, can lead to an interesting problem. The flaps can cant outboard slightly as they extend inflight and jam the ailerons and flaps so neither can be moved. This has happened at least twice that I know of personally in older 172 airframes. The best way to check for this is to extend the flaps fully on preflight and examine the flap rollers and to also look at the metal brackets attached to the flap tracks which hold the lower wing skin where it curves above where the flaps retract. If they are being scratched by the brackets which hold the flap rollers then you pass it along to the mechanic to check for the rivets holding the flap tracks possibly loosening with age and causing this problem.

    With an emergency descent now part of the private pilot PTS the flaps on trainers are now getting more stress than they used to and the possibility of this problem manifesting itself between 100 hour checks is almost certainly increased.

    Incidentally, in both cases the pilots involved managed to make slipping and skidding turns and fly and land the aircraft in a slip without further damage or any injury.

    While you might argue that this problem happens rarely enough compared to people trying to take off with full flaps that it would be safer overall to skip checking for it and take the smaller risk, I personally will keep fully extending and checking the flaps during preflight and advising both people I check out in the aircraft and primary students I instruct to do so. However, I also teach them not only to check the aircraft configuration at the hold short line but to always raise the flaps for taxi and as soon as they have checked RPM, oil pressure and ammeter readings when they start the engine.

    Incidentally, I love the “Johnson Bar” purely mechanical flaps on the old Cessna 170s and very early 172s. I wish that, like Piper, Cessna had kept them.

  • Deb Dreyfuss

    Roy Kinsey must be a lawyer. Using the logic that aircraft owners are responsible for all actions by those that rent them, if I do a leaseback to a flight school, I actually don’t have any control over who rents my plane. Just like Hertz or Avis, who is responsible for the accident?
    I’m a flight instructor, and when we do the preflight flap check, I have my student lower and raise tha flaps in the same motion, regardless, emphasizing that leaving it down can kill you.
    When I was a student pilot doing my preflight on a 1946 Piper Cub, my instructor taught me tha flow method, repeating all actions each time. I still use tha flow method, with checklist in hand for my new 182. Double checking never hurts, but checking the flaps twice is superfluous, and doesn’t guarantee anything that happens after taking off. Still scratching my head over the flight school being sued. So like no AUTO DRIVER ever makes a mistake in a rental car?

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  • sam sibells

    There is a simple way to prevent this from happening every time. After you have finished your checklist, check your killer items. They may vary from aircraft to aircraft. On a C172, they would be flaps, trim, carb heat, mixture, mags, and perhaps boost pump on an occasional version.
    One poster below did mention this although it was to be done while taking position on the runway. Why not do it while there are no other distractions such as prior to taking the runway.