Training Tip: First impressions

February 14, 2014

The Jan. 14 Training Tip: "Too much, too soon" presented a scenario of a mis-trimmed trainer catching a student pilot by surprise by unexpectedly pitching up before rotation speed during a takeoff run.

That could happen to a pilot who ignores proper pre-takeoff checklist use, or is distracted into missing the pre-takeoff trim check. The scenario moved a reader to write in and suggest that a sharp-eyed pilot could avert such a problem long before the takeoff run commences.

"During the walk-around portion of the preflight the pilot should have noticed the trim tab on the elevator was not in a clean position, and wondered what the cause was," wrote Thomas Szarewicz in an email. "That would pique one’s interest and provide cause to check the trim on entering the cockpit, or at least make the pilot aware."

Indeed, checking the tail surfaces during the walk-around inspection should include a knowledgeable examination of the trim tab. And even before that, most pilots begin sizing up their aircraft the moment they spot it on the flight line.

Any pilot gazes admiringly at his or her ride from afar, but don’t be blinded by love. You’d be frozen in your tracks if you beheld a flat tire, a low nosewheel strut, or obvious damage.

Everything look okay from a distance? Closer up, more detail will meet your eye: Are the wheels chocked? Is the aircraft tied down left wing, right wing, and tail? Are tiedown ropes secure, or limp and dangling from yesterday’s winds?  

Is the pitot tube covered? (Don’t just look for a brightly-colored pitot-cover ribbon. Check for an unmarked cover as well.) Are gust locks or cowl plugs installed? Must snow or frost be removed? Is there evidence of fuel, oil, or brake fluid leakage?

Most of the items mentioned appear on the checklists you follow before takeoff. But it is during the preliminary visual inspection that many pilots first spot items in need of attention. That could include an out-of-trim condition, which might be perceptible as a visibly deflected elevator trim tab.  Reset it promptly to the takeoff position. Doing so will have the added benefit of freeing the trim tab if it happens to be frozen and stuck.

The practiced eye admires, but also takes stock of an aircraft to be flown, providing an additional level of caution and safety.