Your first step in a preflight inspection is to make sure your aircraft is legal. What’s required to be legal? Your aircraft must have paperwork on board that indicates it is airworthy and registered. In addition, it should have the operating handbook with weight and balance information and a list of installed equipment.
If you’re renting a craft, or even if you own it, don’t assume that all the paperwork is onboard. Make sure it is. Typically, the critical paperwork is in a see-through pouch near the pilot’s door or in a glove compartment along with the operating handbook. Get into the habit of verifying that it’s there because the FAA examiner will want to see you verify it during your checkride.
Also make sure you have your paperwork: your student- or private-pilot certificate, your valid third-class FAA medical certificate, and your flight log.
The preflight inspection list might seem long, but, with practice, it will take you less than 10 minutes and will save you many hours of worry.
Pull out the plane’s checklist and follow the Preflight Inspection list. It will go something like this:
- Remove any leftover trash and stow anything that’s loose, as appropriate.
- Make sure the parking brake is set. You don’t want the plane rolling away while you’re inspecting it.
- Remove any locks on the control yoke or stick (installed to keep the plane from lifting off the ground in a strong wind).
- Make sure the ignition switch is off
- Make sure the mixture control (if equipped) is off (typically, pulled out).
- Turn on the master switch, if needed, to check instruments.
- Check the fuel meter for quantity. Some airplanes might have sight gauges that don’t need the master switch turned on.
- Turn on the aircraft lights and inspect them for operation, then turn them off.
- Turn off the master switch, if appropriate.
- Make sure the fuel tank selector is in the correct position, depending on the number and location of fuel tanks.
Take a final look around and then leave the cockpit to continue the inspection. Get rid of any trash you found inside the cockpit. (Better is to remove all trash after a flight.)