After maintenance, and before filing a flight plan, perform a pre-flight inspection
Most professional pilots know the drama often associated with getting a plane out of maintenance. It isn’t pleasant when multiple delays are the rule, not the exception. But when you finally get the keys and the signed logbook, there’s one thing you must do before you file your flight plan and blast off into the wild blue: make sure you take the time to do the best preflight of your life.
I was fresh out of Gulfstream training and was tasked with picking up our brand new (to us) airplane from an extensive pre-buy inspection when I learned about this the hard way. When I say extensive inspection, I mean 6 months extensive. They practically gutted the plane because they kept finding new issues as they fixed the last one. That should have been the first red flag.
The boss was threatening to leave the “lemon” there and walk away from the whole deal, but eventually, the day came to fetch the plane. Of course, with all the delays, I was now over 6 months out of initial training on an aircraft that I had never flown before, so we hired an experienced pilot to fly left seat while I tried to remember how to start the engines.
I had the guy with thousands of hours in type do the preflight because he had thousands of hours in type. Unfortunately, one of the benefits from having thousands of hours in type is a certain relaxation and familiarity with flows and checklists, etc., which I didn’t have, but I sure was trying. He found me in the airplane doing all the first flight of the day checks to make sure everything worked.
Everything worked until we were 200 feet in the air on takeoff. I swear I thought the forward windshield had departed the aircraft. Then, there was a loud bang and a roar of wind to beat the band. It was so loud we couldn’t even communicate about gear and flaps, not to mention trying to figure out what just happened in an airplane that I had only previously seen in pictures.
The deafening roar eased slightly when the power was pulled back, so we limped around the pattern and brought her back to the shop that she had called home for the last 6 months. The problem was a broken air hose that happened to separate directly over my right ear. The other problem was that it had happened before and was one of the items they addressed in the pre-buy. My bad.
Honestly, I’m unsure what kind of preflight inspection would have caught that loose connection behind the panel. Ok, I do know. We wouldn’t have caught it because pilots don’t look behind panels, but if I had seen the write-up in the logbook, I might have been able to troubleshoot and identify what had happened immediately. That would have helped.
My excuse, and there’s always an excuse, was that the logbook write-ups were longer than my arm. Yes, we went over all the work that had been done in the last 6 months, but no, I did not sit down with each item and go into detail over each issue. Maybe I should have. I still feel like this was an unusual case because I was uncomfortable in the aircraft, the Captain was a little too comfortable in the aircraft, and of course, there was an incredibly long and drawn-out maintenance process necessary for us to take possession of the plane.
Having said all that, I have learned my lesson. We have another plane currently in maintenance, and the delays are adding up. Here is my plan when I am finally cleared to get it:
- The weather will be VFR, both at the departure airport and my destination,
- I will sit down with the maintenance supervisor to discuss in detail what work was done,
- I will review the logbook personally, including write-ups and sign-offs, and
- I will do the mother of all preflights.
Then, and only then, will I file my flight plan home.