Get extra lift from AOPA. Start your free trial today! Click here
Aircraft Spruce logo
Sponsored by Aircraft Spruce

Training and Safety Tip: Get to know your airplane’s operating handbook

Just like people and life itself, airplanes are divinely complex. But unlike people and life, an airplane comes with an awesome instruction manual called the pilot’s operating handbook (POH).

Photo by Rebecca Boone.

The POH is actually a legal document required by FAA regulations. Each and every individual airplane has its own POH, with its serial and N numbers tattooed into the book. That said, you can usually get a “generic” POH version, handy for general study and overall knowledge.

And you should study it. I grant you this takes some effort, as POHs are technical in nature, and—I suspect—lawyers may have a hand in writing them. So, no POH will ever make The New York Times bestseller list, not even for one week. But if you approach it like eating an elephant (one bite at a time), I think you’ll find the information in it is not only useful but fascinating, giving you the ultimate insider’s view.

The modern POH is divided into standardized chapters, always presented in the same order so that you, the pilot in command, always know where to find the information you need. That said, as you fly more airplanes, you’ll find some differences in how manufacturers present the information. For instance, Cessna tends to use tables for performance data, whereas Piper prefers graphs.

Newer airplanes have fatter books; older ones tend to be skinnier. But thick or thin, the POH is your guide to understanding your airplane. What makes it tick? Which fuels and oils make it happy? How much room and time does it need for various operations? How much can it carry? And, perhaps most importantly, what can go wrong and how to make it right again?

So, spend some time with your POH every night. And as to the instruction manual-free people and life? Well, yeah, good luck with those.

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: Flight School, Training and Safety, Student
aircraft spruce logo

Aircraft Spruce

Sponsor of the AOPA Air Safety Institute's Training and Safety Tips
Aircraft Spruce provides virtually everything a pilot or aircraft owner might need. As a Strategic Partner since 2012, the company sponsors programs that bring hands-on knowledge and DIY spirit to AOPA members.