Pilot's tip of the week

Preflight Checklist?


Subscriber question:

"Do I need to use a checklist during preflight? With a thorough walk-around inspection it seems unnecessary. Would like to get your opinion." - Alan L.


Preflight Distractions“Two things can happen on a preflight. Either you can be distracted and miss items.Or you can miss items because you’re under pressure to get going.

Always use your checklist. That’ll help eliminate the distracting items.

Let me give you an example of how a checklist saved me from a very serious mistake one day.

Many years ago, I owned a Cessna 195 and at that time I was based at a little airport in the mountains of California. It was a little short airport with nothing but rocks and trees off both ends of the runways. Certainly, there was no chance for a safe landing if you had an engine problem right after takeoff.

I arrived early one day just to exercise the airplane, go for a little scenic flight, practice my landings. That aircraft had the three standard fuel drains – two fuel tanks and a fuel sump. During my preflight, I drained the right wing sump. I drained the fuel sump at the engine. But I forgot to drain the left wing tank. Now I’d owned this airplane for several years and I had never gotten one drop of water out of that airplane. I drained it religiously, never had a problem.

I got in the airplane, fastened my seatbelt, then I pulled out my checklist (my pre-flight checklist, that is). A little bit late, but at least I pulled it out. I went through it and I realized I’d forgotten to drain the left tank. By now I’m in the airplane, the doors closed, the seatbelt’s on. I’ve never gotten any water before. Why should I go through the trouble of doing this? But fortunately I decided, hey I’m in no hurry. Why not just follow good discipline and good practice and do it?

I got out of the airplane. I got my fuel drainer. I drained a cupful of fuel. I looked at it and discovered it was all water. I drained another cupful, all water. By now I was getting goosebumps. I drained 17 cups of water out of that tank. (The rubber gasket on the left tank gas cap had failed because of age and rain got in).

That engine probably would have run just about long enough to get me out over those trees and rocks. And then it would have begun to swallow that water and I would have been a statistic in the NTSB files. I think there are two factors that saved me from that accident. And of course, discipline is the bottom line. But factor number one: I did use a checklist. Even though I didn’t use it perhaps quite as I should have, I did use the checklist. That reminded me that I’d made the mistake.

Secondly, I wasn’t under any time pressure, fortunately, that day. So that made it easy for me to do the right thing. I think not using the checklist or being in a big hurry trying to make up time, I might have done that differently. And it might not have turned out so nice.”

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