How well do you know your aircraft? Whether you’ve been flying the same aircraft for several years, or are transitioning into a new make and model, knowing your plane is crucial to understanding its systems and limitations. Prior to a first solo flight, a student pilot will complete a presolo knowledge exam. This exam will, in part, ask about the aircraft intended for use on the flight to help ensure that the pilot becomes familiar with that aircraft, and has verified that maintenance and inspections are up-to-date. Even an experienced pilot would benefit by researching the aircraft systems, specifications, performance, and maintenance log books just as a student should. After all, we are always learning!
What specifically should we look at? As a starting point, Gleim Aviation has provided a free Aircraft Information Worksheet with six categories – weight, airspeed, fuel, center of gravity, performance data, and maintenance records. This checklist can help you become familiar with your aircraft and determine if you are comfortable flying the aircraft based on your personal minimums. To download a free copy of the Aircraft Information Worksheet, click here.
Diving deeper, we want to be critical with our analysis to ensure that we minimize risk tolerances. Prior to any flight, you should reference your personal minimums. As aviators, we have learned mnemonics such as the IMSAFE and PAVE checklists to help us recall risk management factors. Since we’re discussing the aircraft, lets dive into the “A” from PAVE and ask ourselves, ‘how do we ensure that the aircraft is operable and in an airworthy condition?” The questions every pilot should be asking during preflight planning/inspections should include at least the following:
- Is this aircraft suitable for my intended flight?
- Is this aircraft equipped for the flight? Instruments? Lights? Navigation and communication equipment adequate?
- Can this aircraft use the runways available for the trip with an adequate margin of safety?
- Can this aircraft carry the planned load?
- Can this aircraft operate at the altitudes needed for the trip?
- Does this aircraft have sufficient fuel capacity, with reserves, for trip legs planned?
- Does the fuel quantity delivered match the fuel quantity ordered?
Remember, these questions are just a starting point. You can, and should, add more. With experience and guidance from other trusted pilots and instructors, you’ll no doubt expand on your own preflight preparation and planning. The Gleim worksheet is by no means exhaustive. Use it as a template and include other considerations such us familiarity with avionics, currency of navigation charts, pilot experience, currency, and so on.
The Gleim Aircraft Information worksheet is also provided in our series of Flight Maneuvers books for each certificate level. In preparation for your practical test, purchase a copy of the Private Pilot Flight Maneuvers book which includes the illustrations and step-by-step instructions for all areas of operation in the Airman Certification Standards including all flight maneuvers required for the Private Pilot certificate.
Written by: Ryan Jeff (CFI, AGI), Aviation Research Assistant