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Industrial-Strength Preflight

In The Name Of Safety

People who work around industrial plants and heavy equipment learn quickly about safety. Their employers and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration require it. I came across a safety poster the other day that served as a reminder that CFIs should indoctrinate new students into the fine art of industrial safety during the preflight. It's pure common sense, and if the advice were followed, we'd have fewer in-flight emergencies and fewer preflight injuries. Guaranteed, you won't see these in NTSB or FAA records.

Don't Talk To Me

Avoid distractions. Several senior instructors I know will not talk to anyone while doing a preflight inspection because of the distraction factor. Passengers and guests seem to have a knack for asking about something just as the pilot needs to focus on the primary task. This is the ground version of the sterile cockpit. After you're sure the aircraft is airworthy, then indulge your passengers. Take them on a second walk-around, if you like, to explain the preflight. Walk the walk or talk the talk - just don't do both simultaneously.

Cold Turkey

Dress properly. Mom told you to dress warmly with mittens and galoshes. Ever hurry though the preflight because you didn't have the appropriate cold weather or rain gear? People take short cuts when they're uncomfortable. But comfort isn't the only factor to consider when dressing for a flight. Loose clothing around machinery is also great entertainment for bystanders when you get caught on a protrusion.

Call Me Stumpy

Watch for pinch points. Don't want to get your rings re-sized? Then don't check the ailerons on a cold windy day using one hand while keeping the other warm in a jacket pocket. The operation is performed by pushing the aileron up and then using your fingers to check the actuating rod without using the other hand to hold the aileron up. When a gust of wind pushes the aileron down - chop, chop. Doors and hinged cowlings present other opportunities for dismemberment.

Burn, Baby, Burn

Does your aircraft have a fire extinguisher, and do you know how to use it? How about the fire gear on your favorite self-service fuel pump? Always know the location of the fire equipment. When the fuel truck pulls up, make a mental note of where the emergency shutoff is and where the extinguishers are. Sure, the line personnel should know all this, but they may be unable to get to the emergency gear, or they may be headed for the hills when a fire breaks out. (Depending on the circumstances, you may decide to let the insurance company work this one out.) During a cold weather start, particularly on a carbureted engine, having a fire extinguisher nearby is not a bad idea.

Get A Bigger Hammer

Use the right tools. Towbars are essential gear for ground handling, and untold numbers of prop spinners have been damaged when someone decided to move an airplane by pushing on the spinner. The damage may not be immediately apparent, but chances are good that the backing plate will be weakened or cracked by this kind of maneuver. Likewise, horizontal stabilizers have been damaged when someone lifts the nose of an aircraft to pivot it around. Even something as simple as a fuel drainer cup with the appropriate probe to reseat quick drains is important. We've all seen people use keys and screwdrivers with poor results.

Just One More Step

Checking the fuel tanks on high-wing aircraft may mean using that most dangerous piece of preflight equipment - the ladder. Standing on the top step and not securing the base are two ways to verify that it's not the gravity that's the problem, it's the sudden stop. Review basic ladder safety. Volumes have been written (and ignored by the thousands of people who receive ladder injuries every year).

Cessna Diamond

We're not talking about the sparkly, expensive kind, but rather the shape of the mark in one's forehead after walking into the trailing edge of a Cessna aileron. Preflighting in a quasi-crouch may look funny to bystanders, but it saves on stitches. Of course, there's always the hard-hat alternative, but that may be taking the industrial theme a bit far.

Drip, Drip, Drip

Leaks are a big deal around industrial plants and aircraft. Fluids that show up where they aren't intended mean something is awry. Spotless engines, cowlings, and ramps make it easy to identify liquid migration. Cleanliness isn't just good housekeeping, it's a great early warning system. When approaching an aircraft, always check out the airplane itself and the ramp beneath it for stains.

Basic industrial precautions should be second nature around machinery, and CFIs should include them in the training on preflight. It might be a good idea to revisit them in flight reviews, too.

Bruce Landsberg is executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.

By Bruce Landsberg

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