Principal Air - Flight Training / Charter in Canada

Principal Air - Flight Training / Charter in Canada, Learn to Fly


Unit D 30460 Liberator Ave. (Just past the Main Terminal)
Abbotsford International Airport
V2T 6H5
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“Nobody who gets too damned relaxed builds up much flying time.”
--Ernest K. Gann, The Black Watch, 1989--

 I have the opportunity to observe pilots, day after day, preparing their aircraft for flight. I see an interesting variety of techniques and styles. On occasion, I have learned a good trick or two.

Each one of us, of course, has his or her own way of going about things. Some of us are painstaking and methodical and through. Others of us, somewhat less so. A few of us are pretty darned casual about how we approach this very important job of inspecting an aircraft before flight. Most of the time we will get away with almost anything. Unfortunately, not always.

Transportation Safety Board report Number A00P0077 reads, in part: at 0850 Pacific daylight time, May 10, 2000, a Bell 47 helicopter, piloted by a student pilot and his flight instructor, took off from the south ramp of Abbotsford Airport in visual meteorological conditions. On departure, as the helicopter climbed through about 700 feet above ground level, still over the airport, it lost tail-rotor thrust and began to spin to the right. The nose then dropped and the spinning turned into a spiral. As it descended further, the helicopter appeared to be totally out of control. It struck the ground in a steep, nose-down attitude on the infield of the airport, broke apart, and a post-impact fire ensued. Both occupants were fatally injured by the impact forces.
On the previous afternoon, maintenance personnel conducted a 100-hour inspection on the helicopter. Among other details, this inspection required that the tail-rotor gearbox oil be changed. While the aircraft maintenance engineer (AME) conducted other portions of the inspection, he assigned an apprentice AME the job of changing the oil. The apprentice AME drained the tail-rotor gearbox oil, inspected it for metal particles, and installed and lock-wired the drain plug. In addition to the normal actions of the 100-hour inspection, the forward section of the cables that move the horizontal stabilizer were replaced. The AME signed the aircraft journey log book as having completed the 100-hour inspection. The 100-hour inspection check sheet item that called for draining and refilling of the tail-rotor gearbox was initialled by the apprentice AME.
The first two findings regarding causes and contributing factors are:
1. Maintenance was conducted (100-hour inspection) on the helicopter just before the accident flight and oil was removed from the tail-rotor gearbox. The oil was not replaced; however, the inspection was signed as having been completed.
2. The apprentice AME, the AME, the student pilot, and the instructor pilot did not detect the lack of oil in the tail-rotor gearbox prior to the flight.
Every aircraft’s POH describes the recommended pre-flight inspection method and procedure, and the POH, of course, is the place to start when learning about a new aircraft as each aircraft has its own particular little tricks and inspections characteristics.

As we learn from the tragic accident described above, becoming very familiar with the inspections requirements of the aircraft you fly and following them before each flight should be a very high priority. The lives of a very promising young instructor and his student, who, no doubt, had great hopes for a career in aviation, ended suddenly that day for what, looking back, was such a small oversight: a failure to check the oil level in the tail rotor gear box.

“But the aircraft is just back from the shop. Everything should be ready to go,” you say. I agree. But, witness the truth: mechanics are human, just like you and I. They, just like you and I and everyone else on this little blue planet of ours, make mistakes, even the very best of them. Knowing that an aircraft has just been serviced should be a clear flag for all of us to complete a very good inspection before flight rather than a moment to relax and let our guard down. We know things have been tampered with, worked on, changed.

An outstanding example is recorded in the TSB accident Report Number A01Q0009, which describes the events of January 13, 2001 at Mascouche, Quebec. It reads, in part, a Piper Cherokee PA-28-140, with two pilots on board, took off from Runway 29 on a visual flight rules flight. During climbout, about 25 feet above ground level, the aircraft rolled to the left. The pilot flying, who was also the owner of the aircraft, applied right aileron to compensate for the turn, but the aircraft continued to turn left. The other pilot also tried to straighten the aircraft by applying right aileron until the ailerons jammed in the full right position. The aircraft flew over Highway 640, and the left wing tip struck a snowbank on the side of the highway.
The ‘Findings as to Causes and Contributing Factors’ states:
1. The aircraft was returned to service with the aileron controls reversed.
2. The independent inspection made by another aircraft maintenance engineer (AME) did not reveal the reversed aileron controls. As a result, a defective aircraft was returned to service.
3. During their pre-flight checks, the two pilots did not notice that the ailerons were reversed.
4. The AME elected to perform the work from memory instead of using the microfiches. As a result, a check was not made when the aileron controls were reassembled.
5. The procedures described in the manufacturer's maintenance manual for installing the aileron bell cranks were not followed, resulting in an error when the bell cranks were reinstalled.
Of particular interest to pilots is the sentence included in the analysis portion of the report: “The pilot-owner was aware that he should pay particular attention to the ailerons because maintenance work had been done on them.”
Several years ago, I went out with a relatively new student to supervise a pre-flight inspection on the C-150 we were planning to fly. We methodically went through the steps and completed, so we thought, all the inspections. I was about to climb into the aircraft when I looked down at the landing gear strut—this was an older C-150 with the leaf spring gear—and noticed a U fitting used at the shop to provide support for jacking up the aircraft to lift the wheel off the ground.

The aircraft had been in for maintenance about a week previously. The right tire and brake rotor and pads had been replaced. Apparently, the mechanics had failed to notice that their U fitting was still attached to the aircraft when it left the shop. The aircraft had been flown all week by quite a number of different pilots and instructors, including me. None of us had noticed that extra pound of metal riding along.

Fortunately, the piece did not vibrate loose and fall from the aircraft in flight. Fortunately, it did not shake loose and create a hazard on a taxiway or runway for landing or departing aircraft. Fortunately, it was not the type of obstruction that would cause any control difficulties for the aircraft in flight. Fortunately. The fact remains, however, that I and several of my colleagues flew that aircraft for a week without noticing the problem even though the aircraft was inspected before each flight.

The next time you walk out to your aircraft ready to go flying, maybe just take a moment for a deep breath. Enjoy the process of carefully inspecting that lovely creation which sits poised to take you into the sky. Kick the tires and light the fires may work, if you’re lucky, for years and years. And then, it may not.

All considered, a careful check of all the items on the pre-flight list and a very good look at the aircraft you are about to fly—particularly right after mechanical work has been performed—is a small price to pay for the peace of mind you will earn. If there is a problem with an aircraft, wouldn’t you just love to find it on the ground where it can be easily rectified rather than in the air where it may become a serious and potentially lethal problem? I know I would.