Check the Flight Controls

A few years ago I was doing a flight review and the instructor made a comment about my check of the flight controls. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. Apparently my technique, “wasn’t what the examiners (of time time and area) were looking for…”

My surprise was the compounding of a couple things, but mainly the remark about examiners since I was completing a flight review, not preparing for a check ride or even doing any training that would lead to an additional check ride practical exam in the future.


Regardless of the technology in the cockpit a thorough and detailed flight control check before each and every flight is a MUST!

My technique for checking the flight controls in the Cessna 172 we were flying was simple, turn the yoke to the left and then look out the pilot side window and verbally confirm the aileron is deflected up as it should be for a roll to the left. I then look to the right and confirm that the right wing aileron is deflected down. Once that is verbalized, I turn the yoke to the right and do the same, verbally confirming the correct location of the ailerons.

This is followed by looking to the rear while moving the yoke in and out to confirm the elevator deflects appropriately, verbalizing both movements. Lastly is the rudder, after pushing each pedal, confirming appropriate deflection and verbalizing I return all flight controls to neutral.

This method, which I teach and highly recommend to all pilots is very thorough and includes the “double check” of ensuring that what you are seeing is verbally confirmed.

In my mind this flight control check is extremely thorough. My surprise was sparked when the instructor said something along the lines of, “That works but examiners are really looking for a more fluid movement completed quicker.” The instructor then demonstrated moving the flight controls simultaneously while glancing out the windows to confirm the ailerons, elevator and rudder were moving. Movement was detected but proper deflection was not confirmed with this methodology. The movement was “a box movement” with the yoke turned left, pulled aft, turned right, pushed forward and then brought back to neutral and rudder medals depressed while the box was made.

You can make the decision as to what is the better check of the flight controls, regardless of “what the examiners are looking for,” I’m going to be sticking with my methodology for checking the flight controls. I recommend you give it a shot too. Think about where the flight controls are supposed to be and verbally confirm (to yourself) out loud that the flight controls are actually where they are supposed to be while you are checking them, let yourself confirm the surfaces are where they belong!

-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9


2 thoughts on “Check the Flight Controls

  1. You have a great point about checking to both sides for aileron up (and down). May I suggest that what you are missing is checking for a binding that could only be present at extreme ranges of movement along two axes.
    Case in point – I had new avionics installed in my 182 and had been flying it VFR for a month before having the opportunity to go fly with an instructor to learn the new instruments more fully. On my first flight with him, during the runup, he observed my flight control check (which you advocate). He suggested I change this method to boxing the controls, not for smoothness but for the realities of slow flight (during landing and takeoff in gusty crosswind conditions) where control motions may be exaggerated due to decreased control effectiveness. So, I tried boxing the controls and found with full back elevator and full yoke to the right, my controls bound up!!! I reflexively freed the controls with a firm tug, a circuit breaker popped and we taxiied over to an avionics shop on the field (not my home field). Deplaning and crawling in on my back, i found a wire that was not tied in a bundle was hanging loose. The shop reattached the wire, secured it to a bundle and we were off again, with a firm understanding of why we need to BOX THE CONTROLS!!
    It really bothered me that I had close to 20 hours flying since the avionics work and had missed this each time I checked the controls.!
    Your instructor had the right procedure, but the wrong reason for doing it. Now, having retired from my first career as am executive, I am now a flight instructor and I teach this to everyone who flies with me!!

    • John,

      Thank you for sharing this story and great example. Checking the flight controls to ensure nothing binds is vital. Using the box technique or fully deflecting the yoke in both directions while both all the way forward or all the way aft would allow for this. The box, in a sense allows this to be more efficient…

      -Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9

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