Your Mind, Your Ailerons and Your Life

Looking over the flight controls is one of the important tasks that a pilot performs just prior to taking to the air and the extent of your effort here might be a good judge of your overall thoroughness as a pilot. The ailerons control the roll of the airplane, and therefore, their proper operation has a direct impact on how well a flight will go, or won’t for that matter.

When you are walking around the airplane, take note of your ailerons. There are some lessons learned that have come up over the years for various models of aircraft and their ailerons. By keeping these problems in mind as we look at our own ailerons, we can avoid getting into a situation that could cost our lives.

What To Look For

  1. There should be no slop in the control hinges, since slop could cause the control surface to jam against the airframe while under the forces of flight.
  2. The hinges and especially the hinge pins and the keeper pins (or safety wire) that hold the hinge pins should be in position and their structure should be uncompromised.
  3. Check the stopnut, is it tight on the rod end/are the cables firmly attached to the control horn? Note: A hinge pin that is missing a keeper can cam out in flight and jam the flight control, or worse yet cause flutter.
  4. Look at the surface of the aileron for cracks or missing rivets. Their presence is a sign of previous overstress conditions that should be fully evaluated and corrected prior to flying the airplane. If your ailerons are covered with fabric, look for cuts and tears in the fabric as well as rot, which could cause the aileron to shred and fail in flight.
  5. Finally, check the controls for full freedom of movement and proper deflection before your wheels leave the ground. Sometimes, an annual inspection can result in reverse rigging — which tends to result in a confusion that is not resolvable during climb-out. How: Rotate the control wheel from full left deflection, to full right, in both elevator up and down positions. Tip: Grip the yoke with thumbs extended. As you move the controls, your thumbs will point toward the upward moving aileron. If you see anything strange, go back to the parking area and investigate.

Why it matters:
For 99.997% of all flights, the aileron is pretty much something you can forget. But remember: In flying, everything you learn to take for granted is something that can get you killed. A good preflight will not only sniff out trouble before it can turn into an in-flight emergency, it will also be performed in a manner which maintains the mental vigilance that keeps you safe when you fly. Keep an open mind, look for the unexpected and you will find it before it finds you – maybe on your next flight.