Five Mile Final | A Flight Instructor's Sandbox

Airplane Flying Handbook

The ground operations phase of flight provides pilots with the opportunity to assess various factors before leaving the ground. This includes regulatory requirements, an evaluation of the airplane's condition, and the pilot's own readiness for acting as Pilot in Command (PIC).

Preflight Inspection

The preflight inspection ensures that the airplane meets regulatory airworthiness standards and is in a safe mechanical condition prior to flight. The pilot also conducts a preflight inspection of the airplane, using the AFM/POH or an appropriate checklist to determine the required items for inspection.


The aircraft's owner/operator is primarily responsible for maintenance. The pilot in command is responsible for determining the airworthiness of the airplane before each flight.

Each airplane has logbooks. These include airframe and engine logbooks. Some aircraft also have propeller and appliance logbooks.

Typically, logbooks are not kept in the airplane, but instead in a location that's secure, while also available for inspection. Pilots who are flying an unfamiliar airplane should request the logbooks for review to ensure that all requirements have been met.

Items that should be noted in airplane logbooks include:

Prior to any flight under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), the pilot also will want to confirm:

Preflight assessment

The preflight assessment should begin with a basic walk-around of the airplane to look for obvious issues, such as misalignment of the landing gear, airframe distortions, airframe skin damage, and any staining, dripping, or puddles of fuel or oils.

During the preflight assessment, the pilot should look for potential areas of concern. This includes signs of deterioration or distortion of the structure, as well as loose or missing rivets or screws.

The following documents are legally required to be on board. They commonly are referred to with the acronym AROW, and thus called "AROW papers":

The following items also should also be inspected and confirmed:

These items are not common for flight training operations:

The AFM/POH is the primary source for conducting the preflight inspection. An appropriately expanded checklist may also be used. This checklist will always use the manufacturer's specified sequence for preflight assessment as a foundation for the complete checklist. It may also include other items, such as updated avionics and other equipment that were not present when the airplane left the factory.

Fuel and Oil

All aviation fuels have grades have an associated color, added as a dye for grade identification:

The first three are commonly referred to as AVGAS.

100LL AVGAS is the most widely available in the United States, and it is commonly used in flight training aircraft such as Cessnas, Pipers, and Diamonds. The blue dye is sometimes difficult to identify unless a fuel sample is held up against a white background in reasonable white lighting.

Fuel of a lower grade should never be substituted for a required higher grade. Detonation will severely damage the engine. Detonation is an explosion of the fuel-air mixture inside the cylinder.

Automobile gasoline is sometimes used as a substitute fuel in certain airplanes, provided that they have been issued an appropriate Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) to both the airframe and engine.

Jet fuel is a kerosene-based fuel for turbine engines and a new generation of diesel-powered airplanes. If jet fuel is inadvertently added to an airplane requiring AVGAS, the engine will fail, possibly just after takeoff as the engine attempts to develop full power. Because of this, jet fuel filler nozzles are flared at the end to prevent insertion into AVGAS fuel tanks. (AVGAS fuel filler nozzles are straight with a constant diameter.)

During the preflight assessment, fuel should be drained from the fuel strainer quick drain and from each fuel tank sump to check for fuel grade/ color, water, dirt, and odor. If water is found in the first fuel sample, continue sampling until no water and contamination appears.

The engine's oil level should be checked during each preflight assessment. The proper level of oil is required to ensure lubrication, effective heat transfer, and the suspension of various contaminators.

During the preflight assessment, if the engine is cold, oil levels on the oil dipstick show higher levels than if the engine was warm and recently shut down after a flight.

Oil color darkens as the operating hours increase. This is common and expected as the oil traps contaminators. Piston airplane engines also consume a small amount of oil during normal operation. If oil darkening or consumption happens at a faster-than-normal rate, the airplane should be grounded for mechanical inspection.

Landing Gear, Tires, and Brakes

Landing gear should be relatively free from grease, oil, and fluid without any undue amounts. Any amount of leaking fluid is unacceptable.

Tires should be inspected for proper inflation, an acceptable level of remaining tread, and normal wear pattern. A "flat spot" indicates that the airplane came to a skidding stop (most likely after landing). Flat spots should be inspected by a mechanic before the airplane is flown.

All brake lines should be secure, dry, and free of signs of hydraulic leaks. Brake pads should be secure, with a proper amount of material remaining.

Risk and Resource Management

Approximately 85 percent of all aviation accidents can be attributed to pilot failure. Reduction of these failures is the foundation of risk and resource management.

Risk management is a formalized structured process for identifying and mitigating hazards and assessing the consequences and benefits of the accepted risk.

Hazard identification is the critical first step of the risk management process. If a pilot fails to search for hazards or risks, it is likely that he or she will neither see it, nor appreciate what it represents. If pilots do not recognize and properly identify a hazard and choose to continue, the consequences of the risk involved is not managed or mitigated.

Risk is the future impact of a hazard that is not controlled or eliminated. It can be viewed as future uncertainty created by the hazard.

Risk assessment determines the degree of risk and whether the degree of risk is worth the outcome of the planned activity. A pilot must always have viable alternatives available in the event the original flight plan cannot be accomplished.

After determining the level of risk, the pilot needs to mitigate the risk. In the case of a poor weather outlook, risk mitigation might include waiting for better weather, adding a second pilot to the flight, and canceling the flight altogether.

Crew Resource Management

Crew resource management (CRM) and single-pilot resource management (SRM) is the ability for the crew or pilot to manage all available resources effectively to ensure that the outcome of the flight is successful. Effective CRM/SRM requires situational awareness, human resource management, task management, and Aeronautical Decision-Making (ADM).

Situational awareness is the accurate perception of operational and environmental factors that affect the flight.

Human resource management requires an effective use of all available resources: human, equipment, and information.

Task management requires the pilot(s) to complete all of the necessary tasks required for the safe outcome of the flight. Inappropriate attention on one item (such as an instrument light failure) is an example of poor task management.

The Aeronautical Decision-Making (ADM) process addresses all aspects of decision-making in the flight deck and identifies the steps involved in good decision-making. This includes:

The FAA's Risk Management Handbook should be reviewed for a comprehensive discussion of these topics.

Ground Operations

Ground operations provide unique hazards. Pilots must watch for other airplanes, ground vehicles, airport personnel, pedestrians, and obstacles. Mitigating these hazards requires proper planning and situational awareness at all times.

Prior to engine start, the pilot must ensure that the ramp area surrounding the airplane is clear of persons, equipment, and other hazards from coming into contact with the airplane or the propeller.

An awareness of what is behind the airplane prior to engine start is standard practice. Debris blown by engine thrust can result in injury to persons and damage to property.

Just prior to starting the engine, the pilot should always call "CLEAR" from an open window and wait for a response from anyone who may be nearby.

After engine start, the pilot should be attentive for sounds, vibrations, smell, or smoke that are not consistent with normal operations. Any concerns should lead to a shutdown and return to maintenance.

Hand-propping to start an engine is a hazardous procedure, even when done perfectly. When done incorrectly, serious injury or a fatality may be the result. Therefore, the procedure must be carried out only by trained and competent persons. All alternatives must be considered prior to hand-propping an aircraft.


Control positions of the nosewheel airplane.

Control positions of the nosewheel airplane.Taxiing is the controlled movement of the airplane under its own power while on the surface. During taxiing, the pilot must maintain situational awareness of the ramp, movement area, runway environment, and all persons, equipment and aircraft.

The pilot should be familiar with the parking, ramp, and taxi environment. This can be done by having an airport diagram, if available, out and in view at all times.

When at an airport with an operating control tower, the pilot must remain in contact with ground control and listen attentively to all instructions to all aircraft. Knowledge of all instructions from ground control to aircraft within the movement area increases situational awareness.

The taxiing speed should permit positive control, the ability to recognize any potential hazards in time to avoid them, and the ability to stop or turn where and when desired.

Pilots should keep the airplane in the center of the taxiway at all times and use the yellow taxiway centerline stripe for guidance, if one is present.

When taxiing, the pilot must slow down before attempting a turn. Sharp high-speed turns place undesirable side loads on the landing gear and tires.

The presence of moderate to strong headwinds makes the use of the elevator necessary to maintain control of the pitch attitude while taxiing. In a headwind, the elevator control should be held in the neutral position.

When taxiing with a quartering headwind, the wing on the upwind side tends to be lifted by the wind unless the aileron control is held in that direction. In a quartering headwind, the upwind aileron should be raised.

When taxiing with a quartering tailwind, the elevator should be held in the down position, and the upwind aileron should be lowered.

During crosswind taxiing, the airplane has some tendency to weathervane, although the nosewheel's ground friction helps to resist the tendency. Normally, only rudder pressure is necessary to correct for a crosswind.

Before-Takeoff Check

Normally, the before-takeoff checklist — commonly referred to as the "run-up" — is performed after taxiing to a run-up position near the takeoff end of the runway. Taxiing to the run-up position usually allows sufficient time for the engine to warm up to at least minimum operating temperatures.

At towered airports, ground control may request — via the Automated Terminal Information Service (ATIS) — that the run-up be completed before pilots request a taxi clearance. Therefore, pilots should ensure the engine has reached a minimum operating temperature before starting a run-up checklist.

While performing the before-takeoff checklist, the pilot must divide his/her attention between the inside and outside of the airplane.

Prolonged ground operations may cause cylinder overheating before there is an indication of rising oil temperature. To minimize overheating during engine run-up, the airplane should be headed into the wind (or as close as possible). Engine instruments that indicate cylinder head temperatures should be monitored, if equipped.

Pilots must follow the AFM/POH or appropriate checklist during the before-takeoff check. Common items that are covered during the run-up check include:

Another checklist, "Hold short," occurs just before departure, when the aircraft has stopped at the runway holding position marking. This checklist prompts a review of radio frequencies, the transponder code, pitot heat, heading indicator, lights, and engine instruments. Follow the AFM/POH or appropriate checklist.

As power is applied on the runway, the pilot will confirm that RPM is normal, the engine is smooth, and that engine instruments are in normal (green) ranges.

After Landing and Engine Shutdown

After landing, the airplane should be gradually slowed to normal taxi speed with normal brake pressure on the runway centerline before turning off of the landing runway and exiting across the runway holding position marking to the movement area.

The after-landing checklist should be performed only after the airplane is brought to a complete stop beyond the runway holding position marking. Impatience, which causes haste and improper division of attention, can lead to a mishap.

The after-landing checklist is brief. The pilot will retract flaps, turn off carb heat (if equipped), set the elevator trim to neutral, turn off strobe lights, open cowl flaps (if equipped)

Once the after-landing checklist is complete, the pilot should contact ground control to request a ground clearance, stating his/her parking destination. The pilot may also request a clearance to return to an active runway.

If the flight has terminated at a non-towered airport, the pilot should announce his/her taxi intentions and parking destination on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF).

The pilot should always use the procedures in the AFM/POH shutdown checklist (or an appropriate checklist) for shutting down the engine and securing the airplane.

A flight is not complete until the engine is shut down and the airplane is secured.

Commercial Pilot & Flight Instructor Test Questions

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Robert Wederquist   CP-ASEL - AGI - IGI
Commercial Pilot • Instrument Pilot
Advanced Ground Instructor • Instrument Ground Instructor