by Scott Gardiner
reprinted with permission of FAA Aviation News
first flight lesson (1968) began with the walk around inspection. My
instructor pointed out all the things to look at and explained why
they were important to check. Lesson number two started with me doing
the walk around inspection, explaining as I went, while my instructor
asked questions. When I had trouble answering a question, he would
provide additional explanations. By lesson number three, I could
answer all of his questions. So, for lesson number four and for all
subsequent dual flight lessons, back at the FBO he would hand me the
keys to the plane, tell me to go do the preflight, and added that he
would be following me out shortly. Then he would stay in the
air-conditioned office, chat with his buddies, and join me at the
airplane in about 10 minutes.
became an instructor, I started my students out in the same manner.
"You go do the preflight and I'll join you shortly" became a very
routine statement. I didn't know what I didn't know.
3,000 hours with students, one day I told a student to go do the
preflight and I would join him shortly. Then I found there was no one
in the flight school to talk to. I didn't need any more coffee, the
logbooks were all up to date, and the temperature outside was really
nice. So, I followed about a minute behind my student. He walked
straight to the airplane, untied it, opened the pilot's door, climbed
into the front seat, fastened his seatbelt, and waited for me.
When I got
to the airplane I asked him why he had not done a preflight
inspection. "Oh," he said, "I never do a preflight. You wouldn't put
airplanes out here if they were junk. Besides, the preflight has
already been done on this airplane two or three times today by other
students. If there was something wrong, we'd know about it by now." I
was shocked that anyone would take responsibility for his own safety
so lightly. If we are going to fly any aircraft higher than we can
afford to fall, surely everyone would want to know it was airworthy
before taking off! I was amazed at his answer and vowed that it would
never happen again with any of my students.
wasting time sitting in the office while my students did the
preflight. I began accompanying all of my students when they walked
out to the airplane. I am there to make sure they do a thorough job,
partly for their education and partly for my own self-preservation.
Then, when they are back at the tail checking nuts and bolts and trim
tabs, I climb into the cockpit and "mess something up." Simple things
like unlocking the primer. Not pulling it out, just turning it to the
unlocked position. Then when the students get to the engine start
checklist and it says, "Primer as required and locked,' and conditions
are such that primer is not required, we soon find out whether or not
they check to insure that it is indeed locked.
I might turn a radio on (or the radio master switch on). The
airplanes' battery switch is off at this time so the radio makes no
noise, but the radio switch is turned on. When the student gets to the
pre-start checklist and it says, "Radio off, - there are many times
students just assume the radio was off because it's not making any
noise. It doesn't take long and they are actively insuring that the
switch is indeed off.
I might turn all of the light switches on. Again the airplanes'
battery switch is off at this point so we're not draining the battery
or overheating the lights. But when the student gets to the pre-start
checklist and it says "Lights off, - it is amazing how many will look
at the switches, see all of them pointing in the same direction, and
assume it is correct. This little exercise soon fixes that.
airplane is equipped with fuses, it's fun to remove one, like maybe
the fuse to the fuel gauge. Then put the fuse in your pocket and
replace the cap to its proper place on the panel. When the engine
starts and the engine gauges come to life, it is amazing how many
people take a look at them but do not see that the fuel gages read
empty. They are looking, but they are not seeing. They might not see
it the first time, but I guarantee they will see it the second time
you do it. And that after all is the goal of this education job we're
didn't take long before the students learned to enjoy this little
pre-flight exercise. They would come into the cockpit knowing that
something was amiss and took great pride in finding it. It is always
something covered by the checklist. They become quite proficient at
running checklists and actively checking and insuring that things are
correct. They stop assuming things are correct and start thinking like
a pilot in command should think.
get to this point it's really underhanded, but fun, to climb into the
cockpit and mess up nothing. We get all the way to the runway, all of
the checklists have been completed, and the student has found nothing
wrong. Before they take to the runway they invariably remark, "Okay,
what did I miss?
there are other things you can "mess up,' but I think you get the idea
by now. One caution in using this learning tool. Never mess up more
than one thing at a time. That way it's easy to remember what it was
make sure it's fixed before
technique has, for me at least, proven successful in keeping me
involved, in motivating students, and in helping them transition to
the point that they are actively involved in making sure things are
correct rather than simply assuming. It also provides for the
self-preservation of both the student and the instructor.
knows, it just might someday prevent a pre-solo student from stealing
a general aviation airplane and slamming it into the side of a
high-rise office building.
Scott Gardiner is the
Safety Program Manager at the Seattle (WA) Flight Standards District