A Riveting Preflight

Rivets will tell you how an airplane has been flown and whether or not it is safe to fly again — if you know how to read them. When you walk around your airplane, there are several subtle indicators that are present to help you to identify major problems and some of the best indicators are often the most overlooked: The rivets in your control surfaces and especially…

Flaps modify the wing surface planform. By increasing the wing surface area and camber, flaps allow aircraft to fly safely at lower airspeeds. The benefits do not come free. Because of their size and function, flaps are subject to large amounts of force when they are deployed. The pilot sees this through the aircraft’s flight manual, which often lists airspeed restrictions for flap extension.

Why: Structural limitations. Generally, if flaps are extended at excessive speed, the force of the air being driven against the flap will cause structural damage.

Identifying the problem: Loose rivets on the trailing edge of the flap indicate damage to that flight surface. How to check: Carefully run your fingers along the underside of the flap’s trailing edge. If you can hear rivets rattle, the control surface needs to be inspected and repaired.

Loose rivets are a problem. As pilot in command, you are responsible for determining the airworthiness of your aircraft and an aircraft with loose rivets may no longer conform to its type design under FAR 21.183 and FAR 121.153 does not allow a certificate holder to operate such an aircraft. Translation: Loose rivets need to be inspected and repaired before you can go flying.

Consider this: your airplane is basically held together by rivets. If you see several rivets in the same area that are loose — anywhere on the aircraft — HAVE THE AREA INSPECTED by a qualified Airframe and Powerplant mechanic.

Bottom Line: Every pre-flight is an opportunity to get to know your aircraft better. Knowing what to look for when you are performing your preflight will help assure that your flight will be safe and uneventful. Take the time to get to know your plane. The more time you spend looking for problems on the ground, the fewer times you’ll find them in the air.