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The Private Pilot Flight Training Course 2

Updated on August 10, 2011


The External Inspection



Before you undertake any flight you have to ensure that the aircraft is sound; that there are no structural defects, broken aerials, that the control surfaces are working correctly and that there is no ice on any surfaces if icing conditions are present. In addition, you have to check you have sufficient fuel for your proposed flight and that you have the correct amount of oil. Do not trust fuel gauges in the cockpit as they can be unreliable. Always carry out a visual check.

However, before you carry out your external inspection, you should have also have checked all the aircraft’s documentation in order to make sure that it mechanically and legal to fly. Also, make sure that your personal documents are in order and that you are current on type.

The following list has to be a general one which will apply to most aircraft. But remember to always use the lists for your particular aircraft which can be found in your Pilot’s Operating Handbook. If you have any doubts about any checklists, consult your instructor or your Flight Training Organisation.

External Inspection

On arrival at your aircraft, you should first ensure that the;-

Brakes are ON

Magneto Switches are OFF

Control Locks are REMOVED

Flaps are LOWERED for inspection

Doors can be LATCHED.

As stated earlier, do not trust your fuel gauges. Instead, check each tank visually. Use a measuring rod for your particular aircraft and always allow enough extra fuel so that you can divert to another airport if you have to. Drain a little fuel out of each tank and ensure that it is not contaminated. Water is usually the culprit and since it is denser than fuel, it will be seen to collect at the bottom of your drainer. Also check for any sediment in the fuel and that its colour is the correct one for your type of fuel. Once you are satisfied, carefully replace the fuel caps.

Next check the Static Vents and Pitot Tube to make sure they are clear. This is especially important in the case of the Pitot Tube when flying in the summer months. Insects can get inside and block the airflow. This can result in your Airspeed Indicator (ASI) giving a low false reading which can be dangerous. A blocked Static Vent will affect your other pressure instruments.

Walk along the leading edge of the wing and check that it is undamaged and that there are no build ups of dead insects or dirt present as these can affect the airflow over the wing causing a loss of lift and performance.

At the tips of the wings, check that the Wingtip and Navigation lights for damage.

Check the Ailerons for full and correct movement; as one goes Up, the one on the opposite wing goes Down.

Now check the Flap Hinge mechanism to make sure it is secure and that there is no wrinkled skin.

As you reach the undercarriage, check the tyres for correct inflation. Carefully inspect them for any defects and remember to check the Creep Mark to ensure the tyre has not slipped. Whilst you are there, check the Hydraulic Lines going to the brakes and ensure there are no leaks. Then just check that the Brake Disc itself is secure. Finally, make sure there is no damage to the Landing Gear Strut which could have resulted from a previous heavy landing.

As you walk around the aircraft, continually look at all the surfaces for signs of damage; any popped rivets, wrinkling or buckling of the surface skin. If you find any defects, report it before you go flying.

When you reach the aft end of the aircraft begin your inspection of the Tail-Plane. Check that the structure feels secure and then that the control surfaces give full and free movement. This will include both the Elevators and Rudder. Carefully check that all the locking pins are in place and do the same for the Trim Tab.

At this stage, you will have completed one side of the aircraft. But you have two sides and two wings, so repeat the procedure just as carefully on the other side.

You’ve now completed your checks of both sides and the aft of the aircraft. You are now at the front where your powerplant or engine is situated. Go to the propeller and check for any nicks or cracks. This is especially important along the leading edge and at the tips.

Behind the propeller you should find the engine intake and filter, so make sure that they are clear of any blockages. If it is accessible, check inside the engine compartment for any broken or loose cables and that there are no cracks in the manifold.

Now check the Oil Level. There is a Dipstick which is similar to the types found in car engines. However, ensure the aircraft is parked on level ground so that the reading will be an accurate one. Once you have finished make sure that the dipstick is replaced and that the Inspection Covers are secured correctly.

It’s now time to check the Nose-Wheel assembly. First, make sure the Oleo Strut extends properly. For many aircraft, this is about 5 centimetres. Check for any fluid leakages. Then make sure the Shimmy Dampener is secure. Finally check the tyre for correct inflation and that the creep mark has not slipped.

You’re now coming to the end of the external inspection so stand back and just check that the windscreen looks clean, that there are no broken aerials you may have missed and that all the Tie-Downs and Wheel-Chocks have been removed. Once satisfied, you can get ready to enter the aircraft and begin your Internal Inspection and Pre Take-Off Checks.

And that will be the subject of our next article in this series.

The author, John Pullen has been a professional writer and producer of factual media programmes for over 25 years and a pilot for over 20 years.

The key to successful pilot training is preparation. Background reading of flight manuals is very important, but there is also another way. Flight Training DVDs are now available to take the aspiring pilot from their first lesson right through the Private Pilot’s Licence to the Commercial Instrument Rating. Each DVD follows the JAA syllabus completely. For further information on pilot training and details about how this series of flight training DVDs can help you to reach your dream of becoming a pilot, go to





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