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Training and Safety Tip: Preflight mindset

Your training airplane doesn’t like you very much. You wake it at the crack of dawn. You abuse it with bouncy landings. You never take it anywhere interesting. And you openly yearn to leave it behind for faster, sleeker, more powerful airplanes—in its presence.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

Hey, there’s only so much an airplane can take. Someday it’s going to snap. Crack. Go haywire. Yes, one day, your training airplane is going to try to kill you.

That’s what I want you to tell yourself each and every time you walk across the tarmac to preflight.

This preflight mindset can—quite literally—save your life. Trust me, if there’s anything wrong with an airplane, it’s much better to discover it on the ground than deal with it in the air. But here’s the problem: Ninety-nine percent of the time, you won’t find anything wrong on preflight, because nothing is wrong. Well, actually, that’s not really the problem. That’s a good thing. But this leads to complacency, and that is a problem.

Routine checks that rarely, if ever, reveal anything amiss tend to degrade in quality over time. After dozens of snoozer preflights, maybe you don’t look as closely, sharply, and critically as you used to. Maybe you stop getting down on the pavement to check the brakes up close and personal, like you should. Maybe you just wag the ailerons rather than inspect each hinge carefully. Maybe you stop using the checklist because you think you already know it by heart.

That’s all fine, until the day that 1 percent of the time comes home to roost. Then you are in trouble. Your complacency led you to miss that one critical thing you should have caught.

But you can head this problem off at the pass through a simple shift in your attitude. Instead of the aviation default attitude, “I’m checking the airplane to make sure everything is all right,” approach preflight with the attitude, “Something is wrong with this airplane and I’m determined to find out what it is.

If you approach each and every preflight as if this is the day your airplane has decided to kill you, when the day comes that your training airplane does go off the deep end and makes its move, you’ll foil its evil plans.

William E. Dubois

William E. Dubois is a widely published aviation writer and columnist. He is an FAA Safety Team rep and a rare "double" Master Ground Instructor accredited by both NAFI and MICEP. An AOPA member since 1983, he holds a commercial pilot certificate and has a degree in aviation technology. He was recognized as a Distinguished Flight Instructor in the 2021 AOPA Flight Training Experience Awards.
Topics: Training and Safety, Situational Awareness, Student
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