The before-takeoff check is the systematic AFM/POH procedure for checking the engine, controls, systems, instruments, and avionics prior to flight. Normally, the before-takeoff checklist is performed after taxiing to a run-up position near the takeoff end of the runway. Many engines require that the oil temperature reach a minimum value as stated in the AFM/POH before takeoff power is applied. Taxiing to the run-up position usually allows sufficient time for the engine to warm up to at least minimum operating temperatures; however, the pilot verifies that temperatures are in their proper range prior to the application of high power.
A suitable location for run-up should be firm (a smooth, paved or turf surface if possible) and free of debris. Otherwise, the propeller may pick up pebbles, dirt, mud, sand, or other loose objects and hurl them backwards. This damages the propeller and may damage the tail of the airplane. Small chips in the leading edge of the propeller form stress risers or high stress concentrations. These are highly undesirable and may lead to cracks and possible propeller blade failure. The airplane should also be positioned clear of other aircraft and the taxiway. There should not be anything behind the airplane that might be damaged by the propeller airflow blasting rearward.
Before beginning the before-takeoff check, after the airplane is properly positioned for the run-up, it should be allowed to roll forward slightly to ensure that the nosewheel or tailwheel is in alignment with the longitudinal axis of the airplane.
While performing the before-takeoff checklist in accordance with the airplane’s AFM/POH, the pilot must divide their attention between the inside and outside of the airplane. If the parking brake slips, or if application of the toe brakes is inadequate for the amount of power applied, the airplane could rapidly move forward and go unnoticed if pilot attention is fixed only inside the airplane. A good operational practice is to split attention from one item inside to a look outside.
Air-cooled engines generally are tightly cowled and equipped with baffles that direct the flow of air to the engine in sufficient volumes for cooling while in flight; however, on the ground, much less air is forced through the cowling and around the baffling. Prolonged ground operations may cause cylinder overheating long before there is an indication of rising oil temperature. To minimize overheating during engine run-up, it is recommended that the airplane be headed as nearly as possible into the wind and, if equipped, engine instruments that indicate cylinder head temperatures should be monitored. Cowl flaps, if available, should be set according to the AFM/POH.
Each airplane has different features and equipment and the before-takeoff checklist provided in airplane’s AFM/POH must be used to perform the run-up. Many critical systems are checked and set during the before-takeoff checklist. Most airplanes have at least the following systems checked and set:
- Fuel System—set per the AFM/POH and verified ON and the proper and correct fuel tanks selected.
- Trim—set for takeoff position which includes the elevator and may also include rudder and aileron trim.
- Flight Controls—checked throughout their entire operating range. This includes full aileron, elevator, and rudder deflection in all directions. Often, pilots do not exercise a full range of movement of the flight controls, which is not acceptable.
- Engine Operation—checked to ensure that temperatures and pressures are in their normal ranges; magneto or Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) operation on single or dual ignition are acceptable and within limits; and, if equipped, carburetor heat is functioning. If the airplane is equipped with a constant speed or feathering propeller, that its operation is acceptable; and at minimum idle, the engine rpm continues to run smoothly.
- Electrical System—verified to ensure voltages are within operating range and that the system shows the battery system charging.
- Vacuum System—must show an acceptable level of vacuum, which is typically between 4.8 and 5.2 inches of mercury (“Hg) at 2,000 rpm. Refer to the AFM/POH for the manufacturer’s values. It is important to ensure that mechanical gyroscopic instruments have adequate time to spool up to acceptable rpm in order for them to indicate properly. A hasty and quick taxi and run-up does not allow mechanical gyroscopic instruments to indicate properly and a departure into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) is unadvisable.
- Flight Instruments—rechecked and set for the departure. Verify that the directional gyro and the magnetic compass are in agreement. If the directional gyro has a heading bug, it may be set to the runway heading that is in use or as assigned by air traffic control (ATC).
- Avionics—set with the appropriate frequencies, initial navigation sources and courses, autopilot preselects, transponder codes, and other settings and configurations based on the airplane’s equipment and flight requirements.
- Takeoff Briefing—made out loud by the pilot even when no other person is there to listen. A sample takeoff briefing may be the following: “ This will be normal takeoff (use normal, short, or soft as appropriate) from runway (use runway assigned), wind is from the (direction and speed), rotation speed is (use the specified or calculated manufacturer’s takeoff or rotation speed (VR)), an initial turn to (use planned heading) and climb to (use initial altitude in feet). The takeoff will be rejected for engine failure below VR, applying appropriate braking, stopping ahead. Engine failure after VR and with runway remaining, I will lower pitch to best glide speed, land, and apply appropriate braking, stopping straight ahead. Engine failure after VR and with no runway remaining, I will lower pitch to best glide speed, no turns will be made prior to (insert appropriate altitude), land in the most suitable area, and apply appropriate braking, avoiding hazards on the ground as much possible. If time permits, fuel, ignition, and electrical systems will be switched off.”
Runway numbers on paved runways agree with magnetic compass and heading indicators before beginning takeoff roll. The last check on engines as power is brought to full takeoff power includes:
- Is power correct?
- RPM normal?
- Engine smooth?
- Engine instruments normal and in green ranges?
- Doors latched and windows closed as required?
- Controls held so rudder is used to keep airplane parallel to centerline and ailerons are used to keep airplane on centerline?
During the after-landing roll, while maintaining airplane track over runway centerline with ailerons and heading down runway with rudder pedals, the airplane should be gradually slowed to normal taxi speed with normal brake pressure before turning off of the landing runway. Any significant degree of turn at faster speeds could result in subsequent damage to the landing gear, tires, brakes, or the airplane structure.
To give full attention to controlling the airplane during the landing roll, the after-landing checklist should be performed only after the airplane is brought to a complete stop beyond the runway holding position markings. There have been many cases where a pilot has mistakenly manipulated the wrong handle and retracted the landing gear, instead of the flaps, due to improper division of attention while the airplane was moving. However, this procedure may be modified if the manufacturer recommends that specific after-landing items be accomplished during landing rollout. For example, when performing a short-field landing, the manufacturer may recommend retracting the flaps on rollout to improve braking. In this situation, the pilot should make a positive identification of the flap control handle before retracting the flaps.
Clear of Runway and Stopped
Because of different configurations and equipment in various airplanes, the after-landing checklist within the AFM/POH must be used. Some of the items may include:
- Power—set to the AFM/POH values such as throttle 1,000 rpm, propeller full forward, mixture leaned.
- Fuel—may require switching tanks and fuel pumps switched off.
- Flaps—set to the retracted position.
- Cowl flaps—may be opened or closed depending on temperature conditions.
- Trim—reset to neutral or takeoff position.
- Lights—may be switched off if not needed, such as strobe lights.
- Avionics—may be switched off or to standby, such as the transponder and frequencies changed to contact ground control or Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF), as required.
- Install chocks and release parking brake in accordance with AFM/POH.
Unless parking in a designated, supervised area, the pilot should select a location and heading that prevents propeller or jet blast of other airplanes from striking the airplane unnecessarily. Whenever possible, the airplane should be parked headed into the existing or forecast wind. Often airports have airplane tie downs located on ramp areas which may or may not be aligned with the wind or provide a significant choice in parking location. After stopping in the desired direction, the airplane should be allowed to roll straight ahead enough to straighten the nosewheel or tailwheel.
The pilot should always use the procedures in the airplane’s AFM/POH shutdown checklist for shutting down the engine and securing the airplane. Important items may include:
- Parking Brake—set to ON.
- Throttle—set to IDLE or 1,000 rpm. If turbocharged, observe the manufacturer’s spool down procedure.
- Magneto Switch Test—turn momentarily OFF then quickly ON again at idle rpm to check for proper operation of switch in the OFF position.
- Propeller—set to FULL INCREASE, if equipped.
- Avionics—turn OFF.
- Alternator—turn OFF.
- Mixture—set to IDLE CUTOFF.
- Magneto Switch—turn ignition switch to OFF when engine stops.
- Master Switch—turn to OFF.
- Secure—install control locks and anti-theft security locks.
A flight is not complete until the engine is shut down and the airplane is secured. A pilot should consider this an essential part of any flight.
Securing and Servicing
After engine shutdown and deplaning passengers, the pilot should accomplish a post-flight inspection. This includes a walk around to inspect the general condition of the aircraft. Inspect near and around the cowling for signs of oil or fuel streaks and around the oil breather for excessive oil discharge. Inspect under wings and other fuel tank locations for fuel stains. Inspect landing gear and tires for damage and brakes for any leaking hydraulic fluid. Inspect cowling inlets for obstructions.
Oil levels should be checked and quantities brought to AFM/POH levels. Fuel should be added based on the immediate use of the airplane. If the airplane is going to be inactive, it is a good operating practice to fill the fuel tanks to prevent water condensation from forming inside the tank. If another flight is planned, the fuel tanks should be filled based on the flight planning requirements for that flight.
The aircraft should be hangared or tied down, flight controls secured, and security locks in place. The type of tie downs may vary significantly from chains to well-worn ropes. Chains are not flexible and as such should not be made taught as to allow the airplane some movement and prevent airframe structural damage. Tie down ropes are flexible and may be reasonably cinched to the airplane’s tie down rings. Consider utilizing pitot tube covers, cowling inlet covers, rudder gust locks, window sunscreens, and propeller security locks to further enhance the safety and security of the airplane. Hangaring is not without hazards to the airplane. The pilot should ensure that enough space is allocated to the airplane so it is free from any impact to the hangar, another aircraft, or vehicle. The airplane should be inspected after hangaring to ensure that no damage was imparted on the airplane.