Each aircraft must have a routine preflight inspection before flight. Use a written checklist during preflight and ground operations to maintain an established procedure. [Figure 5-40] A written checklist is required so nothing is forgotten. Ground checklists include preflight preparation, preflight inspection, occupant preflight brief, flight deck management, startup, taxi, before takeoff, and aircraft shutdown. Be smart and follow the regulations—use a written checklist. All checklists should be secured so they do not fly out of the flight deck in flight and hit the propeller. Securing with zippered pockets and having lanyards for the checklists is recommended. Manufacturers of Special Light-Sport Aircraft (S-LSA) have checklists that come with the aircraft. Pilots with an experimental aircraft may need to develop their own.
Certificates and Documents
The first step of preflight inspection is to ensure the aircraft is legally airworthy which is determined in part, by the following certificates and documents:
- Airworthiness certificate
- Registration certificate
- Operating limitations, which may be in the form of an FAA-approved AFM/POH, placards, instrument markings, or any combination thereof
- Weight and balance
ARROW is the acronym commonly used to remember these items. The PIC is responsible for making sure the proper documentation is on board the aircraft when operated. [Figure 5-41]
Aircraft logbooks are not required to be on board when it is operated. However, inspect the aircraft logbooks prior to flight to confirm the WSC aircraft has had all required inspections. The owner/operator must keep maintenance records for the airframe and powerplant. At a minimum, there must be an annual condition inspection within the preceding 12 calendar months. In addition, the WSC aircraft may also need a 100-hour inspection in accordance with 14 CFR part 91 if it is used for hire (e.g., for training operations). [Figure 5-42] If a transponder system is used, the transponder must be inspected within each preceding 24 calendar months.
The pilot must have in his or her possession a Sport pilot certificate for the aircraft being flown, medical eligibility, and government-issued photo identification. For a Sport Pilot Certificate, medical eligibility can be a valid United States driver’s license, which also serves as government-issued photo identification.
To fly the aircraft with Private Pilot privileges, the pilot needs a valid FAA minimum third-class medical certificate accompanied by a government-issued photo identification and Private Pilot certificate for WSC aircraft. See Chapter 1, Introduction to Weight-Shift Control, for details on specific pilot certificates and privileges.
Routine Preflight Inspection
The accomplishment of a safe flight begins with a careful and systematic routine preflight inspection to determine if the aircraft is in a condition for safe flight. The preflight inspection should be performed in accordance with a printed checklist provided by the manufacturer for the specific model of the aircraft. However, the following general areas are applicable to all WSC aircraft.
The preflight inspection begins as soon as a pilot approaches the aircraft. Since the WSC aircraft can be transported by trailer, first and foremost, look for any damage that may have occurred during takedown, loading, transit, unloading, and setup. Make note of the general appearance of the aircraft, looking for obvious discrepancies such as tires with low air pressure, structural distortion, wear points, and dripping fuel or oil leaks. All tie-downs, control locks, and chocks should be removed during the unloading process.
The pilot must be thoroughly familiar with the locations and functions of the aircraft systems, switches, and controls. Use the preflight inspection as an orientation when operating a particular model for the first time.
The actual walk-around routine preflight inspection has been used for years from the smallest general aviation airplane to the largest commercial jet. The walk-around is thorough and systematic, and should be done the same way each time an aircraft is flown. In addition to seeing the aircraft up close, it requires taking the appropriate action whenever a discrepancy is discovered. A WSC aircraft walk-around covers four main tasks:
- Wing inspection
- Carriage inspection
- Powerplant inspection
- Equipment check
Throughout the inspection, check for proper operation of systems, secure nuts/bolts/attachments/hardware, look for any signs of deterioration or deformation of any components/ systems, such as dents, signs of excessive wear, bending, tears, or misalignment of any components and/or cracks.
Each WSC aircraft should have a specific routine preflight inspection checklist, but the following can be used as an example and guideline.
Start with the nose. Inspect the nose plates and the attachment to the leading edges and keel. Ensure the nose plates are not cracked and the bolts are fastened securely. Check the wire attachments, top and bottom.
Inspect the control frame, down tubes and control bar for dents and ensure they are straight. Inspect the control frame attachment to the keel. Inspect the control bar to down tube brackets and bolts. [Figure 5-43] Inspect fore and aft flying wire condition, attachment to the keel, and the lower control bar corner brackets.
Inspect the left side flying wire attachment to the control bar bracket and condition of the flying wire up to the wing attachment. Examine the flying wire attachment to the leading edge and crossbar, as well as all hardware at this crossbar and leading edge junction. [Figure 5-44] Inspect the condition of the crossbar and the leading edge from the nose to the tip. Any discrepancies or tears in the leading edge fabric must lead to more detailed investigation of the leading edge spar itself.
Inspect the tip area, including the washout strut and general condition of the tip. If it is a double surface wing, look inside the tip and examine the inside of the wing and its components. [Figure 5-45]
From the tip, inspect the surface condition of the fabric. Generally, if the fabric has not been exposed to sunlight for long periods and stored properly, the wing fabric should stay in good shape.
Move along the trailing edge of the wing, inspecting the condition of the trailing edge and the tip batten attachments back to the keel. [Figure 5-46] Inspect the sail material, top and bottom, on the wing. Note that the trailing edge is vulnerable to rocks flying up from the wheels and hitting the propeller. Therefore, it is especially important to inspect the trailing edge in detail before each flight.
At the aft keel area in the middle of wing, inspect the kingpost and all the condition of the wires from the kingpost to ensure they are not wrapped around the trailing edge battens. [Figure 5-47] Inspect the wing tensioning hardware where the crossbar tensioning cables attach to the rear of the keel. Repeat this same sequence for the right (or opposite) side of the wing, in the reverse order. Inspect the condition of the wing attachment to the carriage, including the backup cable. [Figure 5-48]
Inspect the mast from the top to the bottom and the carriage keel from the back to the front. [Figure 5-49] Check the front tube attachment and top and bottom security attachments. Check the seat security and seat attachments from the keel to the mast.
Check the front nose wheel for proper play, tire inflation, and secure axle bolt. Test the ground steering bar and ensure there is smooth steering range of motion. Check the front shocks, if installed, the brakes for rust and corrosion, loose nuts/bolts, alignment, cracks, signs of hydraulic fluid leakage, and hydraulic line security and abrasion, if so equipped. [Figure 5-50] Check the foot throttle for smooth operation and assure the parking brake is secured.
Inspect the main landing gear drag struts, attachment to the keel, and attachment to the rear wheels. Examine the rear tires for proper inflation and tread plus the wheel attachment nut for security. Check main landing gear strut, landing gear shock absorber strut, and shock absorber operation. [Figure 5-51] Inspect all landing gear strut attachments to the airframe. Inspect the other side’s rear landing gear by repeating the above procedure in reverse. Check all cowling for secure attachment and cracks. [Figure 5-52]
Inspect engine attachment to the carriage for security and cracks. In addition to looking at the bolts and mounts, shake the propeller, as shown in Figure 5-53, to provide a secure check of the propeller, gearbox, engine, and engine attachment to the carriage.
- Inspect fuel tank attachment and condition.
- Inspect fuel vent system, and ensure the fuel supply line is open (some WSC aircraft have fuel shut off valves outside the fuel tank).
- Inspect fuel pickup and fuel line running up to fuel filter. While inspecting all fuel lines, jiggle all fittings and connections to ensure they are secure.
- Inspect fuel filter and continue to follow fuel line up to fuel pump.
- Inspect the security and condition of fuel pump.
- Inspect fuel lines up to carburetors. [Figure 5-54]
- Inspect carburetors, including float bowl attachment and rubber bushing from carburetors into engine.
- Inspect fuel lines from float bowls to carburetor inlet.
- Inspect air inlet filter to ensure it is clean and secure. [Figure 5-55]
- Inspect ignition system wires to spark plugs.
- Inspect spark plug caps and wires to CDI units to ensure they are secure and fastened. [Figure 5-56]
- Ensure ignition switches are turned off.
Ensure there is clear airflow for any cooling system fan or radiator. Ensure no insects or birds created an obstruction to the airflow for the engine cooling system.
Air-cooled—rotate the propeller and ensure that the cooling fan rotates also.
Water-cooled—check the coolant level to ensure there is cooling fluid in the system.
Four-stroke with additional oil coolers—ensure the oil cooler has clear airflow and that nothing is blocking it.
Inspect exhaust attachment to engine, and EGT senders. Slightly jiggle the exhaust system to inspect the springs holding it together. All springs must be secure. Inspect the condition of exhaust system for cracks and attachment security. [Figure 5-57]
Rotate the propeller in the proper direction only and inspect blades for cracks or nicks. Listen and feel for smooth operation and engine compression while rotating the propeller. Inspect propeller attachment to the gearbox and the gearbox attachment to the engine.
Check all throttle controls for smooth operation and proper travel and locking. Also check choke and/or primer system for proper operation and travel.