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Archives for November 2012

Preflight: Step 2 – Exterior (Tail)

Small Airplane Tail

Last post, we began working through the exterior part of the preflight, and we had checked the glareshield, static port, and left wing including the leading edge, trailing edge, aileron, and flap, and the  left main gear and brake.  This left us under the wing, ready to move on to the tail.

NOTE: the specifics in this series apply to Cessna 172 aircraft, as that is what I instruct in most – in any case, always use the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) for your aircraft to confirm that you have not missed anything on your preflight!

From under the wing, after checking the left main gear, lightly knock on the fuselage as you make your way to the tail. When you get to the cargo door, check to make sure it is closed, latched, and locked. Keep knocking the rest of the way back. You are listening for a rattling noise that would indicate a loose screw or rivet. If a rivet starts coming loose it might start vibrating and creating aluminum dust, which trails back as the plane moves through the air, making it look like smoke is coming from the rivet; this is known as a "smoking rivet" and is a good reason NOT to fly a plane. Also watch for missing access panels.

Once you have reached the tail, look for dents and issues on its leading edge and on top, as well as missing or smoking rivets or lost access panels, and move around to the back where you can lift the elevator. Lift the elevator up on the left side, and check the elevator on the right side - it should also go up. Check the yokes (if possible) - they should move toward the back of the plane (aft) when the elevator is up, and toward the front of the plane (forward) when the elevator moves down. With the elevator down, check the hinge bolts to make sure they are secure and have safety wire.

To check the rudder, lift the elevator, and push the rudder away from you and pull it toward you, and take a look at the cables that pull the rudder for secure bolts and safety wire. You can also see the cables and bolts that move the elevator from this vantage point, so check them here as well. Also check any of the rudder hinge bolts you can reach (bottom and middle, most likely).

The right side of the tail has all the same checks as the left side with one major difference - the elevator trim tab is on this side of the elevator. Lift the elevator, and check the trim tab does not move very much. Check the bolt and safety wire on the trim tab pushrod. Then check the rudder from the right side and all the other elevator checks on the right elevator.

Once done with the tail itself, it is a good time to take a look at the antennae on the plane. You will probably see two antennae on the top of the vertical stabilizer, sticking out of each side of the tail at an angle, looking like the letter "V" laying on its back. These are the VOR antennae.

You will probably also see one or two antennae on the top of the wings, at an angle leaning toward the rear of the plane. These are communication antennae. You might see a "hockey puck" like antenna above the cockpit, near the comm antennae - this is a GPS antenna.

On the top of the fuselage is a thin, wiry antenna, just behind the rear window of the cabin - this is the antenna for the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT). You might see a "clothesline" wire from the top of the tail to above the cockpit. This is a Non-Directional Beacon (NDB) antenna (also called "Automatic Direction Finder" or ADF).

Under the fuselage are "fin" type antennae - these are antennae that belong to the transponder.

Move forward on the right side, knocking lightly on the fuselage, toward the wing, pretty much in reverse from what you did on the left side of the plane (see Preflight: Exterior - Part 2 (Wing) for a reminder!). Check the right wing just like you did the left wing, starting with the flap, then the aileron, wingtip, and leading edge. Once done, check the right main gear, just as you did the left main gear.

Once you've completed the right wing, it's time to check out the engine area and propeller - which we'll do in the next post!


Do you have anything to add to this part of the preflight? Add your tips to the comments!

Andrew Hartley is a Certificated Flight Instructor in Columbus, Ohio.

Preflight Series:
Preflight Step 1: The Cockpit Check
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Wing)
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Tail)
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Engine)
Preflight Step 3: Fuel

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Preflight – Step 2: Exterior (Wing)

Piper Cherokee

In the first part of this series, Preflight: Step 1 - The Cockpit Check, we talked about starting your preflight in the cockpit.

But the exterior check in step 2 actually starts even before step one.  Confused?  Let me explain:

Every preflight really should begin as you are walking out to the plane.  Or - if you're lucky, as you enter your hangar, before you even touch the plane at all.

Is the plane leaning to one side or the other?  Does it look very tail-low or tail-high? Are there puddles of fluid under the engine cowling or at the main gear?  Are there stains on the wings or anything new that you never noticed before? Do you always lock the plane, but the door was open when you first look?  If you don't own your plane, some of the above things may not apply, but even if you rent, there are probably processes and patterns where if something is different, you'll notice.  If you ever have a question, grab a flight instructor and ask!

After this first look, do your cockpit check, and when that is complete, move on to the exterior check!  Because the exterior check is the longest part of the preflight, we'll break it up into 3 sections - wing, tail, and engine.

NOTE: the specifics in this series apply to Cessna 172 aircraft, as that is what I instruct in most – in any case, always use the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) for your aircraft to confirm that you have not missed anything on your preflight!

I tell my students to step forward and out, putting them in front of the plane, to the left of the engine cowling.  From here, they can start by checking the cowling itself for loose or missing screws, checking the static port to make sure it is not blocked or covered by anything. This is also a good vantage point to look at the wind screen - is it dirty? Does it have bugs splattered all over it? Clean it before you go!

Now look up - at the leading edge of the wing at the wing root.  There is probably a vent here - check to make sure it is not blocked. Now run your hand along the leading edge of the left wing, looking for big dents that might change the wing's ability to create lift.  As you move from the wing root toward the wing tip, you'll run past the pitot tube - check all the openings/vents to make sure they are not blocked by anything (including a pitot tube cover).  Keep going to reach the stall warning opening - check to make sure it is not blocked.  If you have a suction tool, you can test whether it is working or not as well.  Keep moving toward the wing tip and check to make sure that the fuel tank vent is also not blocked, and the fairing for the wing strut is secure and in relatively good shape.  While checking all of this and the leading edge, you should also be checking the bottom of the wing for loose rivets or loose or missing inspection covers, or anything else out of the ordinary.

Once at the wingtip, just check the plastic tip cover for any major cracks (you may find small cracks that have been stop drilled, but those are okay), and make sure it is secure.  Now on to the trailing edge.

You removed the control lock during the cockpit check, right? If not - go remove it now, because we're going to check the ailerons.  First, push the left aileron up, and look over to the one on the right wing to make sure it is down. Also, if you can see it, check that the yoke turns toward the left while the left aileron is up (the yokes should always turn toward the up aileron).  Now push the left aileron down, and check the other aileron (which should be up now), and the yokes (which should be turned to the right now - toward the up aileron).

Now, hold the aileron up with one hand, and duck under the wing and turn around so you can look between the wing and aileron at the following:

  1. There should be three counterweights on the outside of the aileron, securely attached
  2. Three hinges, all of which should have secure bolts and safety wires, and none of which should be cracked or broken in any way.
  3. A pushrod, which will rotate a little, but the bolt should be secure - it should not be loosened or turned by your fingers.

Make sure you hold the aileron up with one hand and do these checks with the other! Even if the aileron seems to stay up on its own, even a slight wind could push it down and pinch your fingers - consider this the voice of experience telling you that THIS HURTS. Avoid this by learning from my mistake and holding the aileron up with one hand anytime you have your fingers in the gap between the wing and aileron!

You may also see one or two wires coming out of the back of the aileron - these are called static wicks, and they help protect the airplane and its electronics from static electricity and/or lightning strikes.  Just make sure that if the plane has any, that they are all there, secure, and in good shape.

Now continue moving inboard to check the left flap.  Push on it - it will give a little - maybe an inch or so.  Too much is a cause for concern.  If you are in doubt, ask your instructor or a mechanic.  Check the tracks - there will be two (one on each side of the flap).  Look at the rollers for cracking, wear, or other issues (including being gone completely!).  The tracks should have a little grease on them - not necessarily sopping in grease, but enough to let the rollers move smoothly.  Check the pushrod on the flap just like you did with the aileron.

Now that we've completed the left wing, let's check the left main gear.  Is it fully inflated? Are there bald or flat spots or belts showing from excessive wear?  Now roll the plane forward or back to see under the tire, too.  What about the brakes? Is there fluid leaking? Check the rotor for wear, and both pads (each pad should be at least as thick as two quarters pressed together).  Check the brake line for security, and the "bolt" to make sure it is not loose.

Once you are done checking the main gear, it's time to move back toward the empennage (tail). We'll talk about the tail in the next post in the series!


Do you have anything to add to the preflight series so far? Add your tips to the checklist by leaving a comment below!

Andrew Hartley is a Certificated Flight Instructor in Columbus, Ohio.

Preflight Series:
Preflight Step 1: The Cockpit Check
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Wing)
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Tail)
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Engine)
Preflight Step 3: Fuel

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Preflight – Step 1: The Cockpit Check

I teach students to do preflight in 3 steps:

                    1. cockpit
                    2. exterior
                    3. fuel

Preflight should actually begin as you are walking out to the plane - does it look right? Is it leaning to one side, or sitting funny on the ramp? Do you see any fluid under the engine cowling or by the main landing gear? Then immediately upon reaching the plane, check fuel levels - that way you can call for fuel and they can come and fuel it up while you do the rest of the preflight.

NOTE: the specifics in this series apply to Cessna 172 aircraft, as that is what I instruct in most - in any case, always use the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) for your aircraft to confirm that you have not missed anything on your preflight!

Step 1 really starts after that. Turn on just the battery side of the master switch, and listen for the electric turn coordinator gyro to start spinning up... it will sound like a computer fan. Then turn on all the electric switches (taxi light, landing light, nav lights, strobe lights, beacon, and pitot heat). Check your ammeter or load meter (load meter should show a definite load, and ammeter should show a discharge and your "low voltage" light should be on, if you have one.

Now do a quick walk around, checking all these lights. Yes, even if you are flying during the day. This is part safety and part courtesy. Even during the day, these lights can make you easier to see for traffic avoidance, so you will want to know whether they are working or not. Courtesy-wise, you'll want to "squawk" any light that isn't working so that any pilot who has that plane scheduled to fly at night can be notified or can be switched to a different plane - one that is "legal" for night flight with all the lights working. I know I would be unhappy as a renter if I showed up to fly at night and no one had checked the lights all day. I've been in exactly this situation, and I would have rather stayed home than made the trip to the airport just to not be able to fly that night.

The last check at this point is the pitot heat. CAREFULLY touch the pitot tube after your walk-around... It should be getting warm. You should always be careful here, because the pitot heat gets HOT if it is working, and could be very hot depending on the length of time your walk-around took.

Once pitot heat is confirmed, turn off all the switches in the cockpit except the master battery. Turn ON the avionics master switch, and listen for the heat fan (if equipped). Wait for any GPS or other electronics to go through their full "boot up" before turning the avionics master back off.

Now drop the flaps, check the fuel gauges to make sure they are working, and once the flaps are fully deployed, turn off the master battery switch and take out the control lock.

Make note of anything that isn't working, and talk to your instructor about whether (and how) you can still fly legally and safely with inoperative equipment.

Don't forget to check for AROW (these things are required for the plane to be considered airworthy):

A - Airworthiness Certificate
R - Registration
O - Operating Limitations (Pilot's Operating Handbook [POH] & placards)
W - Weight & Balance (should be in the aircraft-specific POH in the plane)

Stay tuned for step 2 of the preflight - exterior!


What would you add to the interior / cockpit check? Check it off your list by adding a comment below!

Andrew Hartley is a certificated flight instructor in Columbus, Ohio.

Preflight Series:
Preflight Step 1: The Cockpit Check
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Wing)
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Tail)
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Engine)
Preflight Step 3: Fuel

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Airspace: Aircraft Speed Limits

Sky SignOne of the benefits (and excitements) of learning to fly is that you have the ability to GO REALLY FAST.  "There are no speed limit signs in the sky," you might say.

You're absolutely right that there are no speed limit signs in the sky.  But that doesn't mean that there are no aircraft speed limits.  Because, in fact, there are.

The main thing to remember is that, in general, "if you go high, you can fly!" - Above 10,000 feet MSL (mean sea level - this means "above sea level") there are no aircraft speed limits.  You can fly as fast as your little heart (and the planes little - or not so little - motor) desires.

But below 10,000' MSL, you have to maintain an indicated airspeed at or below 250 knots (KIAS).  And that's not all.

If an airplane is within class B airspace, regardless of altitude, it is limited to 250 knots indicated airspeed. If it is flying "under the shelf" of class B airspace, it is limited to 200 knots indicated airspeed.  There are also areas called "class B corridors" where aircraft can fly without clearance into class B airspace, and in these corridors, they are limited to 200 knots indicated airspeed as well.

Regulations also state that at or below 2500 AGL (above ground level - over the ground), when within 4 nautical miles from a class C or class D airport, you cannot fly any faster than 200 knots indicated airspeed. Air Traffic Control (ATC) may ask an aircraft to deviate from the 200 KIAS limit, but cannot ask an aircraft to go faster than the 250 KIAS limit (though they can always ask you to go slower).

Generally, these rules are in place so that aircraft with wildly different performance aren't flying at all different speeds when they are likely to be near one another.  Additionally, the lower you go, the more likely you are to be flying with birds, and if you are flying more slowly, if you happen to hit a bird (known as a bird strike), you are less likely to do significant damage to your airplane, such that you would not be able to control and land it.

For those of you who want to see the actual regulation, see 14 CFR 91.117. The above information applies to aircraft speed limits in the United States, under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. Other countries may have different rules.


Have any more questions or comments about aircraft speed limits? Hurry up and tell us below!

Andrew Hartley is a Certificated Flight Instructor in Columbus, Ohio.

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Weather Terminology: Winds

windsockHere's something dumb - "direction-erly" winds.

Have you ever heard someone say the winds are easterly today, and wondered what that meant? I always assumed that easterly winds meant that the winds were going towards the east (like an easterly facing wall, or a boat moving in an easterly direction).

But when it comes to winds, easterly actually means "from the east," - so the winds are actually moving from east to west.

WTF?

I actually discovered this because of an aviation quiz question in a magazine - probably AOPA Pilot or Flying Magazine.

I got the answer wrong, so I googled the term so I would understand it if I heard it or saw it again.  Personally, I think it is dumb.  But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

Here's why:

Winds in aviation are always reported using the compass direction they are coming from and then their velocity, in knots.

An example of this is on a METAR:

KCMH 021551Z 33011KT 10SM BKN042 07/M03 A2995 RMK AO2 SLP147 T00671028

In bold, above, this METAR says that winds at Port Columbus airport in Columbus, Ohio, are from 330 degrees (from the northwest) at 11 knots.

Another example of this is when you listen to ATIS or get your departure clearance from the tower - they will almost always give you the current winds in degrees and speed, just like the METAR above does.

In summary, since all other aviation winds are reported as "from" some direction, it makes sense that "westerly" winds would be "from the west."

So, below, I offer a handy "key" to direction-erly winds:

easterly = from the east

westerly = from the west

northerly = from the north

southerly = from the south

You can apply this as well, if you like, for non-cardinal directions - like north-westerly winds in the METAR example above.

Just don't try to tell the tower or your instructor that the winds are 330 degreeserly.


Anybody else out there who struggled with this kind of seeming inconsistency? Tell us about it in the comments. Erly.

Andrew Hartley is a Certificated Flight Instructor in Columbus, Ohio.

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