It’s winter now, whether you’re in New England, the midwest, the plains, the West Coast or even in Florida! The temperatures are decreasing and the cooler to frigid winter weather is upon us for the next few months (okay, maybe less so here in Florida…). During this time, especially for pilots who don’t fly too often, like me right now, it’s important to remember the aircraft preflight goes from the ground up!
Everyone knows (I hope!) that when it gets colder, things contract. The same is true for the air in tires… This isn’t limited to airplanes either. Earlier this year, my girlfriend’s Acura gave her a tire pressure warning when she started the vehicle up in the morning to head to work. It was the first “cool” southwest Florida day, meaning it was less than 70 degrees. Nothing had changed with the vehicle, the tires were in good conditions but as the air temperature plummeted (remember we’re talking about Southwest Florida, so the temperature description is relative) the air contracted in the tires and thus she received the low pressure warning.
The day after Christmas was a chilly mid-20’s morning when Peter and I pulled the Piper Cherokee out of the hangar at the Mansfield Airport (Massachusetts). Aircraft owners, more so than renters, are more likely to gloss over simple items on the preflight inspection. Renters know the anyone and everyone could have flown the aircraft before them and thus, it’s up to them to find all of the issues caused by the prior renters… Owners have the relative security of knowing exactly who used their aircraft and when that use occurred. This is one of the benefits of owning an airplane. In my experience, flying with a lot of aircraft owners as a flight instructor, I’ve noticed that many owners often overlook simple items because they are the lone operator of their aircraft and thus they’d know if there were any issues based on the last flight.
When Peter and I looked over the aircraft in the bright sunlight of the cold December New England day, we realized that the tires, specifically the nose and the right main were low. Peter added the necessary pressure to the tires, after confirming the pressure levels of all three tires. After this was done we closed up the hangar and started up the Cherokee to head towards our upcoming lunch at Plane Jane’s at the Plymouth Municipal Airport.
The important take away here is to remember the preflight inspection begins at the ground up, with two items. The first should be a simple scan of the ground for any fluids and then the next should be a scan of the tires for proper inflation. Checking for fluids should be completed before the aircraft is moved from where it has been sitting. This can tip the pilot off to potential leaks, whether it be fuel, oil, hydraulic fluid, etc…
Remember, during the cold, winter weather aircraft components are prone to contracting, so make sure your preflight inspection starts from the ground up!
-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9