That mindset doesn’t prepare you for the day when you will own an airplane. It won’t help you the day you get the “I can’t ask the flight school for help anymore” revelation.
You know the “ask the flight school” impulse. The landing strut doesn’t look right, but you’re not sure, so you ask somebody at the flight school to check it out. Or the landing light isn’t functioning. You can still fly your daytime pattern, but when you get back on the ground you note it on the squawk sheet, and now it’s the flight school’s problem. Does the nosewheel look a little low? You shrug and think, lesson’s done—let the next guy deal with it.
Over 10 years of renting airplanes, I picked up some knowledge from airplane owners to help prolong the life of an airplane and, hopefully, keep down the costs of annual inspections.
Keep it neat. Don’t leave trash in the airplane—no empty water bottles, no oil-stained paper towels, and certainly no food wrappers. A friend once found a used diaper in her Piper Archer that she leased to the local flight school. Gross.
You know the “ask the flight school” impulse. Does the nosewheel look a little low? Lesson’s done—let the next guy deal with it.Nothing on top of the instrument panel. Don’t place a headset, kneeboard, or anything else on top of the airplane’s instrument panel as you preflight. These can scratch the airplane’s windshield.
Lean the mixture. On the ground, before taxiing, lean the mixture. (Follow the pilot’s operating handbook recommendations.) This will help to prevent carbon buildup on the spark plugs.
Be judicious with the lights. It’s not a crime to turn on the landing light before takeoff and leave it on for the duration of the flight. But it does wear out halogen lights quicker—and not everybody has upgraded to longer-lasting LED lights. Lights are expensive to replace. Follow your checklist and shut off the landing light during cruise. If it’s a hazy day and you want extra visibility insurance, you have my blessing to keep the light on.
Don’t ride the brakes when you taxi. Brakes are expensive to replace, too.
Button up the airplane when you’re finished. Follow your checklist to ensure the master switch is off. Make sure the gust lock is in place and the airplane is locked, securely tied down, and chocked. Some pilots will reposition the seat belts so they’re ready for the next person. (I’m trying to train myself to do that, too.)
Do a final walk-around, checking for things such as low tires or struts, or an anticollision light or beacon still merrily flashing. That means you forgot to follow the checklist and left the master switch on, and that means a dead battery could be an unpleasant surprise for the next pilot. Is there a cover? Put the cover on.
If somebody is literally walking out to the ramp to take the airplane from you as you shut down, perhaps many of these final steps are not necessary. For every other occurrence, they should be.
I share these with you so that, as you rent airplanes, you’ll develop good habits. And, should you choose to buy an airplane or join a flying club, these habits will already be ingrained.