One way is to uncover a glitch during the preflight and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you headed off a problem that might have become a huge headache after takeoff.
The other way is to get the headache—so let’s not dwell on that.
Typical problems turned up during preflight inspections are one-offs like a flat tire, depressed nosewheel strut, oil or fuel leak, contaminated avgas, or a dead battery.
In other cases, a deficiency discovered during an aircraft inspection can have far-reaching implications including uncovering a defect that might be present in multiple aircraft—in other words, you could conduct a preflight that makes its mark wherever like aircraft are flown.
We reported on an example of that scenario on September 17, informing pilots that the FAA had issued an airworthiness directive requiring inspection of horizontal stabilizer components of several models of one aircraft following three field reports of failures. One of the discoveries occurred during a scheduled inspection. Another was made during a reskinning of one of the tube-and-fabric airplanes. The third occurrence was discovered during a preflight inspection “and included a complete failure of the forward horizontal stabilizer inboard support assembly,” the FAA noted. The FAA also documented other failures including one that occurred during ground handling of an aircraft, and another found when an aircraft was being moved into a hangar.
Preflight omissions can be trying or tragic; many pilots have filed reports that shared the lessons of their lapses.
The pilot of a Piper twin rejected a takeoff based on an erratic airspeed indication that was later traced to pitot-tube blockage. “I believe this problem can be prevented by doing a more thorough preflight inspection, paying attention to smaller details,” the pilot said in a filing with the Aviation Safety Reporting System.
Another ASRS report included the insights of the pilot of a homebuilt aircraft who vowed to do something extra when preflighting after the failure of a tailwheel installation caused a loss of control during a landing.
“Both alignment bolts in the tail wheel are sheared off,” the pilot reported, adding, “In the future I plan to check the torque every 100 hours and make a visual inspection of the bolts for security on every preflight inspection.”