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Feb/Mar 2000

Rod Machado's Private Pilot Handbook

Beyond The Checkride

Better Takeoffs And Landings

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SW Aviator Magazine
3909 Central NE
Albuquerque, NM 87108
Phone: 505.256.7031
Fax: 505.256.3172

Being Well Grounded In Your Flying
by Cordell Akin

There was once a pilot with a reputation as one who never took the time to preflight an aircraft. One day I watched him take off in a Cessna 185 and as the take-off roll continued, it was obvious that the plane was not going to fly. It lifted off 500 feet from the end of a 4,000 foot runway, mushed across a road and crashed in a field. The aircraft was not developing full power, and that could have been detected in a pre take-off runup. Events such as this underscores the fact that as a pilot, what you do, or do not do, on the ground can have a profound effect on your flight. This pilot should have given thought before hand to aborting the takeoff if not airborne at a certain point down the runway.

I don’t intend to go point by point over a preflight inspection, but simply to mention some things the are especially important not to overlook. The first cardinal rule on the preflight is to see everything you look at. By that I mean take time to really look at what you are inspecting on the aircraft. It is very easy to get into the habit of doing a walk around, touching a lot of things and never really “seeing” what you should be inspecting. Your mind may be on something else or you may even be looking in another direction when you move the elevator as you walk around it. A conversation with a passenger during the preflight is distracting and may cause you to miss something very important.

If weight and balance will allow it, fill the tanks after every flight to eliminate the possibility of condensation inside the tanks. For sure, sample the fuel for water and contaminants before each flight and after each refueling. By filling the tanks you will be certain as to the amount of fuel in the tanks for the next flight. If you do not like to take the time to refuel after each flight, then use a dipstick to measure the fuel before flying. Do not trust the gauges as they can be very inaccurate. After refueling or before the next flight, check the fuel level even if you told the FBO to “top off the tanks.”

On a CAP flight to southern New Mexico I stopped for fuel and asked for the tanks in the Cessna 182 to be topped off. Before starting I visually inspected the tanks and the right one looked low. I asked that more fuel be added and it was - to the tune of 12 gallons or about one hour of flight in that aircraft. A student in my flight school recently inspected the tanks after a refueling and found that a tank cap had been left off. Such things as this, if not caught on the ground, have been known to decrease the range of an aircraft.

Should you be flying an aircraft with an oil filler point different from the oil dipstick, always check that the cap is on tight. Before a 500 mile flight from Nairobi, Kenya to southern Tanzania, I asked for a quart of oil to be added to my Cessna P-210. On the preflight I opened the access door, saw the yellow cap and closed it again. I did not turn the cap to see if it was locked in place. About 30 minutes into the flight, oil covered the windscreen and I descended for an emergency landing on an overgrown dirt airstrip on the Kenya-Tanzania border. The first pass over the strip was to chase off the Wildebeest, Impala and Zebra. I made three landing attempts but had to go around each time because of no forward visibility. A P-210 does not have a window on the pilots side that can be opened far enough to look outside. On the fourth attempt the oil left a clear spot about the size of a marble in the center of the windscreen and I landed with small trees passing underneath the wings on both sides. Two quarts of oil were missing, but they were not hard to find. They covered the aircraft from engine to tail. I learned a lesson from that experience and now I always turn the oil filler cap to make sure it is on tight.

Check the alternator belt to confirm that it is tight, especially before a night flight. At the same time check the alternator itself for security because a bolt could break from vibration and the entire accessory may be loose.

When inspecting the tires, move the aircraft forward so you can see the bottom of the tires. The pilot before you (if you are renting), may have landed with the brakes on and cut the tire down to the cord. Besides being unsafe to fly, if you don’t see the bald spot you will probably be blamed for causing it by the next person who flies the aircraft.

One of the mysterious laws of inertia states that forward movement of an aircraft which is at rest is greatly retarded when the tail is tied down. If you require full power to taxi, suspect that there is a problem. The tail is the easiest of the three tie downs to overlook because it is hidden by the elevator. By the way, when you remove the chocks, it is helpful if you lay them aside by the tie down ropes, so they will not be an obstacle for the next aircraft using the parking space.

There are two considerations for taxiing, one good and one bad. Always try to taxi with the nosewheel on the yellow line, if there is a yellow line, to practice discipline and to clear obstacles in the taxi area. The bad, or at least the unwise, thing is to do your runup while taxiing. It is distracting and you may hit something and damage the aircraft. In addition, the added power while trying to keep a slow speed can be very hard on the brakes.

Speaking of brakes, when was the last time you drove down the street with your right foot on the accelerator and you left foot on the brake? Probably never. Anybody who does such a thing would be considered a bad driver, but who would ever drive with the brakes on? A lot of pilots do just that. I’m amazed to see how many pilots, many of them experienced, plop their feet on top of the rudder peddles while taxiing. You can feel the aircraft struggling down the taxiway and if it could talk would say, “Give me a break, get off my brakes.” Any time you are steering with your feet more than half way up on the rudder peddles, you are most likely applying the brakes with your steering. When I mention to pilots not to ride the brakes they usually deny they are doing so it is such a subconscious activity for them. When brakes are needed to assist in a turn or to stop, then use them. However, when you are taxiing, your heels should be on the floor and the balls of your feet on the lower part of the rudder pedals. When you want to stop or to slow down, retard the throttle to idle first, then apply brakes. Inadvertently applying a break during the takeoff can cause the aircraft to explore the grassy area adjacent to the runway. Applying brakes on touch down when landing will cause a heavy plume of smoke. The positive aspect is that it will give the appearance of a big jet landing with smoke from the tires at touchdown. The less desirable aspect is that there will usually be a disturbing vibration throughout the aircraft as both tires go flat. “I don’t know what happened, I wasn’t on the brakes, it must have been the wind…”

After landing, wait until you turn off the runway to begin moving levers and flipping switches. There really is no urgency to get these things done before you turn off of the runway and stop. I remember on rollout one day in a C-182RG the pilot reached down and flipped the gear handle up instead of the flap handle. That got my attention in a way I don’t like my attention to be got. Fortunately there was enough weight on the wheels that they did not retract.

Always put the control lock in place. One day I landed in Roswell, NM in a 40 knot wind. The wind was so strong I could not taxi and required a tug to pull the airplane into a hanger. When I walked outside I saw a C-210 parked on the ramp with elevator and ailerons continuously going stop to stop in the strong wind. I ran to the aircraft and put the control lock in place. And here’s another jewel–the key was still in the ignition.

After exiting the aircraft, place chocks on the tires. It is best to never leave an aircraft without tying it down. As it happened in Roswell, winds can come suddenly, sometimes in the form of nearby rotorblades and upset an aircraft not tied down.

When you conduct ground operations with safety in mind, it will contribute to a safer and more contented time in the air. Treat your aircraft with gentleness and respect and it will want to perform nicely for you. The next time you walk away from it having done so, look back for a moment. You just might see a smile underneath the spinner. J

Cordell Akin is a CFII, MEI with a total of 10,000 hours and 3,000 hours as a flight instructor. He spent 15 years in East Africa flying a C-185 and a P-210. He is the Chief Flight Instructor and owner of Akin Air at Coronado Airport in Albuquerque.
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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publishing, Inc. and the staff neither assume any responsibilty for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising out of it. Fly safe.