Flight check, the way to save pain and expense.
How important is the pre flight check? That depends on your point of view I suppose. You could probably get away without doing it every time as you usually don't find anything wrong. Given that you can't just pull over like you do in a car if you feel a vibration or hear an odd noise, I'd invest the time.
It pays to do things right even for the peace of mind in knowing that if something does go wrong you did all you could before flight. That is doubly true if the aircraft does not belong to you and you have to explain to the flying club why their aircraft is parked in a field ten miles away with no nosegear.
The same applies to in flight checks, spotting something when all is still going well is far easier than trying to fix a problem with a spluttering engine and cold sweat seeping all over you.
A pre flight check begins from the moment you see your aircraft as you walk towards it. Does it look ok? Is it sitting properly, nice and level? what is that hanging down underneath?
It is best to have a system and stick to it, then whatever aircraft you fly you can adapt that system and you will know what you have to do next.
It is normal to start in the cockpit to ensure control locks are off, flaps are extended and to check the fuel gauges. The ignition should also be off to lessen the likelyhood of the engine firing when checking the propeller. It pays to treat every prop as live and about to start but it pays more to check.
I then work around clockwise with a full walk round check. The exact order depends on the aircraft type. Sometimes the fuel drain valves at nearer the leading edge of the wing sometimes further back so I would work round the wing tip and ailerons first. The engine should be checked for leaks etc and the oil level dipped.
Once I have checked all the panels, fasteners, lights, glass, hinges, wheels and controls then it is time to get inside. In the early days it is best to use a printed checklist and during training your instructor will insist on it. It is also possible to use a systematic scan technique to visually and physically examine all the instruments and systems in the cockpit.
Again having a system and sticking to it will help as there may be switches on the ceiling or behind your normal view between the seats.
Once complete and the engine is running I like to do my first FREDA check.
Fuel, Radio, Engine, Direction indicator set to align with the compass and Altitude set to field elevation. (QFE) Once you have clearance to taxi it is always wise to check the brakes before you pick up speed.
Just prior to takeoff I use the generic acronym TMPFICH. One instructor taught me how to remember it, too many people flirt in cheap hotels. Each letter actually has two things associated with it.
Throttle friction set, Trim set to neutral, Magneto on both, Mixture fully rich, Pitot heat on if applicable and pitch set for take off if appropriate. Fuel on fullest tank, pump on, Flaps set for takeoff. Instruments clear and operational, Indicated altitude QFE / QNH as instructed. Carburettor heat on, Controls full and free movement. Hatches closed and secure, Harnesses tight.
Once in flight the FREDA checks are carried out at each waypoint and they have more significance.
Fuel quantity is of course important but pilots have crashed with plenty of fuel aboard, just not in the tank they had selected. Not all aircraft have automatic transfer between tanks.
Radio frequency changes you tend not to forget but you may select another standby or the next approach controller.
Engine monitoring is vital, both in terms of temperatures and pressures via the panel but also the note of it through your ears. As I mentioned earlier relaxed monitoring is better than troubleshooting.
Gyroscopic instruments can topple especially while maneuvering so it is important to make sure your course is still valid to avoid embarrassment. That is why it is important to check the direction indicator which is a gyro and a primary reference is still correctly aligned.
Maintaining a safe altitude is pretty obvious you would think but each leg of the journey , after each waypoint, may have a different safe altitude depending on geography.
Accidents tend to happen for more than one reason. Little things come together and make big problems. If you are a little off course, a bit uncertain of your position and a bit below the safety altitude for the leg you are on the risks start to multiply together.
It is bad enough if air traffic call you to confirm your position and you are not sure or they tell you different as they have an accurate radar fix. Worse if you have to call them and ask for a fix and worse still if you find the top of the tv transmitter poking through your seat.
Pre landing checks are next. There is a saying that there are two types of pilot, those who have landed wheels up and those who will. Best to be one of the ones who haven't yet. Schedule that for your simulator.
I use BUMMFFICHH to remind me as you certainly don't want to be reading off a check list in flight. It is fine if you have a passenger who reads one out for you to follow, that's how the professionals do it. Not recommended while flying solo though.
Brakes off, Undercarriage down & locked if retractable, Mixture rich, Mags on both, Fuel fullest tank selected pump on, Flaps as required, Instruments checked and QFE set, Carburettor heat on, Harness tight and Hatches secure.
You can now settle in for a beautiful approach and landing.
Finally there are checks to be done on shut down and as you leave the aircraft but I'm not going to dwell on them as they are very dependent on individual aircraft and local procedures. There is also one that divides opinion re checking the ignition on shut down. I was taught it as good practice but others have said it can split exhausts so let's leave it at that.
The point is to ensure a safe and enjoyable flight and to protect the aircraft. If you bear that in mind with everything you do, you will not go far wrong.