Pilot's tip of the week

Preflight Checklist?


Subscriber question:

"I usually just follow a flow around the airplane without the written checklist. I find it just gets in the way. Then I pick up the written checklist in the cockpit before starting. Thoughts? By the way, I've owned this airplane for almost 10 years." — Alan L.


Preflight Distractions“There are two kinds of mistakes that can happen on a preflight inspection: You can miss items because of distraction, or you can miss them because you’re in a hurry to get going. Using your checklist every time will help you eliminate both types of mistakes.

A preflight checklist saved me from a serious mistake one day. Many years ago I owned a Cessna 195 based at a little airport in the mountains in California. The runway was short with nothing but trees and rocks off both ends. If the engine quit right after takeoff there was no chance for a safe landing.

I arrived early one day for a scenic flight and some takeoff and landing practice. The aircraft had the three typical fuel drains. During my preflight, I drained the right wing sump and the engine fuel sump … but I forgot to drain the left wing tank.

I got in the airplane, fastened my seatbelt, and then I pulled out my pre-flight checklist—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 door is closed, and my seatbelt is on. Now I’d owned that airplane for several years and never gotten any water before. Do I really need to go through the trouble now?

Fortunately, I decided I wasn’t in a hurry. So I got out and checked. The first sample I drained was pure water. I drained another cup full … all water. By now I was getting goosebumps. In total, I drained 17 cups of water from that tank.

It turned out that the rubber gasket on the gas cap had failed because of age and it let rain in the tank. The engine probably would have run just long enough to get me over the trees and rocks. 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. First, I used the checklist, and it reminded me of my mistake. Second, I wasn’t under any time pressure that day. Had I been in a hurry, I might not have caught or corrected my mistake, and the outcome might have been much worse.”

How do you use a checklist during preflight?

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