Timely and appropriate maintenance is the most critical component of aircraft operation aside from safe flying… With maintenance comes someone other than a pilot (no disrespect to mechanics) handling, altering and working on aircraft. As I said, this is an absolute necessity for safe and successful aircraft operation.
However, this also opens up the possibility of something (which normally wouldn’t be a concern) being a problem! Take for instance an inspection panel… If you fly an airplane one evening, tie the aircraft down for the night and return to fly it in the morning, the inspection panels will be intact and secured. That is unless the inspection panel gremlin decided to stop by your airplane that evening…
But after maintenance is done, this is the type of often-overlooked item which can lead to trouble, maybe not end of the world trouble, but the aggravating type of trouble that costs a a lot more money than it needs to. So let’s take a look at the 3 Things Every Pilot Needs to Know About… The 1st Preflight Inspection After Maintnenance!
- Some items which aren’t usually part of your preflight NEED to be!
I’ll never forget the day at the New Bedford Regional Airport, a decade before I would become the assistant airport manager there, I was working on my instrument rating at the time… In all honestly I don’t remember the exact day, but I do recall what happened and what I learned that day. I learned (for sure, I knew about it before, but not as vividly) that Cessna Skyhawks (C-172s) have four inspection panels on the top forward edge of their flaps. When the flaps are up, these panels are hidden from sight and no one is the wiser. If the flaps are down you have to be of good height to see them fully.
That day I was preflighting a Cessna 172 before a typical lesson filled with “hood time” doing holds and approaches and when I got to the flaps, I noticed the panels, with two screws removed, the third loosened with the panels swung around. A neat trick I thought, to not have to fully remove the panels and potentially loose more items. The downside though was because of the position of these inspection panels, they are easily forgotten, because hey mechanics are humans and we make mistakes. Remember that , if not you’ll read it again soon anyways…
Subsequent to this I have found other instances of this issue too and it was always something I trained my student to check for!
- Move the flight controls and watch what happens! Listen and feel too…
I’m a fan of being safe. I literally have a life goal to not die of a fully preventable death. For example, I will not be killed being eaten by a Great White Shark because I am kayaking in the ocean… It just won’t happen, end of story. Similarly, I’m not going to be someone who perishes because the flight controls of my aircraft were rigged incorrectly, same end of story, I promise!
Everyone who has been in aviation for a while has heard some (likely) old-timer’s tale of the plane that took off with the trim rigged in the opposite direction as it was supposed to be or the ailerons rigged backwards… Sometimes fast-thinking pilots are able to overcome these circumstances, but sometimes they are not. Dealing with controls rigged the incorrect way requires a pilot to overcome all of the physical muscle memory they have developed over years of flying, not as easy task by any means!
A pilot can miss the controls being rigged incorrectly during their preflight inspection… It can happen, how this occurs I have no clue, I feel like this would be a gigantic miss, but it has and can happen… As a result it is important to be vigilant during our preflight inspections, this goes for every inspection, but it is especially pertinent during the first preflight inspection after ANY maintenance event.
Open the door(s), windows, whatever is necessary, have someone help you if entirely necessary but walk around your aircraft and move all of the control surfaces. Whether by hand or in the aircraft operating them. Don’t just move the ailieorns up and down or spin the trim wheel, take your time. Move the control surfaces, look inside the cockpit and really, truly ask yourself is that the right way ti should be moving? Make sure it is, move the trim wheel, watch the deflection of the tab and think about the airflow around that surface and have the mental or out loud conversation with yourself where you say, the trim deflected up or down, was that right? If the air is moving by the trim tab does it produce the right effect? Make sure it does! Don’t just move the ailerons up and down and think yeah free and easy to move. No, look at the yoke/stick, look at the opposite aileron and make sure that what is supposed to be happening really, actually is happening…
This could literally save your life and save you from a fully preventable death!
- Be informed, know exactly what was done… This is crucial, I’ll explain why!
Why is it vital to know exactly what was done to the airplane you’re about to fly now that it has been returned to service? Keep in mind this goes for any plane- your own, a friends or a rental… The reason is simple, to be prepared. On the whole, the industry average for safe maintenance work has a great record and all of us that fly should be thankful for that. But mechanics are humans just like you and I and all humans are prone, from time to time, to make mistakes! Remember, when I said you’d read that again… Well I told you so!
Knowing the details of the work that was done to an aircraft gives you a chance to consider the implications and potential issues which could arise from an error in the work. For instance, say an oil change was done, definitely make sure there is oil showing on the stick and make sure you don’t see any leaks around the nose wheel. Also pay attention for a burning smell during run up incase an oil leak leads to drips on or near the exhaust manifold. More importantly though, consider that if something failed and you lose oil, this will likely happen soon after departure and will likely be indicated with a high engine temperature, shortly followed by low oil pressure and then a deafening silence.
My point isn’t to scare you, but simply to point out it is better to be prepared than not, the Boy Scouts’ motto does come in handy here. Similarly, of work was done on the fuel pump or fuel system, understand what was done and what potential impacts this could have. A lighter version of this, if you will, would be if you had electrical work done. Maybe you takeoff and find your radios not working properly or your electric flaps misbehaving. Think about the potential system impacts before you go, you never know it might just save you!
-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9