As a professional pilot, do you ever look back to the days when you first approached the airplane that would take you off of the solid ground you were standing on? Can you still feel the excitement and exhilaration of your first flight? The thought that you would someday be flying to a destination without any help?
Do you remember the flight instructor introducing you to the aircraft? What was the first thing that you were taught? Hopefully, you had a great instructor who walked you through the aircraft and what makes it work—ailerons, elevators, rudders, flaps, and a multitude of instruments and radios that were all foreign to you.
Prior to your first flight and with the aid of the aircraft flight manual, did you and the instructor do a walk-around inspection? Starting at the pilot’s side of the aircraft, did you look at the wing, the aileron, the flap, landing gear, and tire? Did you continue to the tail, looking at the horizontal stabilizer, elevator, and rudder? Did you then continue to the co-pilot’s side of the aircraft and examine the same areas?
Your visual inspection should have been conducted thoroughly and with flight safety as your top priority. Did you witness any damage or worn and problem areas? When renting the aircraft, you certainly did not want to be blamed for any bent or problem areas that would need to be repaired on your dime.
Fast forward to the present day and you have now completed all the requirements to pilot an aircraft and you have accumulated hundreds of hours of training in VFR and IFR flights. You do your homework on filing flight plans and checking weather and conditions along your planned flight path. Do you continue to do a thorough walk-around of your aircraft?
The importance of knowing your aircraft
So often, a customer comes to our facility for maintenance, and the pilot exits and never looks back at the airplane. Did anything get damaged while in flight, are there any leaks, are the brakes hot? How are the propellers – did they get nicked or damaged on landing or while taxing in? Was all paperwork completed, including aircraft total time and cycles for the engines? Were the current hours and landings given to the chief inspector as an aid in completing the logbook research? Was the coffee pot emptied and the trash cleared, and all food or catering is thrown away? At Winner Aviation, we encourage each and every customer to perform their own pre-flight and post-flight inspections. When pilots take an extra 10 minutes before and after a flight to check the tires, logbooks, and interior and exterior of the aircraft, they’ll be able to quickly spot an issue before it becomes a bigger one.
We also encourage aircraft owners and operators to complete a walk-around after they pick their aircraft up from our maintenance shop. Of course, we want you to trust our work—and we will stand by our work every time—but we also want our customers to intuitively know their aircraft inside and out. They will be the ones spending the most hours with their aircraft, so they will be the ones spotting an issue before the aircraft comes through our shop. In this walk-around, we encourage you to:
- Check to see if all panels are on
- Assess the engine oil levels
- Check the nitrogen and oxygen to ensure it was serviced properly
- Perform a cockpit check
- Evaluate all circuit breakers and ensure the switches are in the correct positions
- Make sure the radio settings are where you left them
During inspections and operational checks, settings have to be changed to complete inspection items as required. These settings should be changed back to their original positions before the aircraft is returned to the client, but in some cases, they may not be. While these sound like minor items, it’s important to address them while you’re on the ground. A climb out in nasty weather is not the time to be looking over your shoulder.
As for maintenance professionals, we have seen quite a lot of issues that could have been avoided prior to departure or a customer having to return because something wasn’t right. Fortunately, they have all been small issues that could have been found with a good walk around, and extra time getting re-familiarized with your aircraft. Think back to when you did your first walk-around, enjoy the time getting to know your aircraft. Treat each and every flight like it’s your first. That’s the best way to stay safe when you leave solid ground.