A ‘Killer’ Preflight

On May 12, 2000, a Beech Baron was destroyed when it impacted terrain after takeoff. The instrument rated private pilot and his 5 passengers were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed for the personal flight.

According to numerous witnesses, the airplane was taking off from runway 22 when it was observed to pitch up to a 70-80 degree nose high attitude. The witnesses reported that the nose of the airplane momentarily pitched down slightly and immediately pitched ‘very nose high.’ The airplane then rolled to the left and subsequently impacted the ground in a nose low, left wing low attitude and was destroyed by the ensuing fire. The witnesses stated that they heard ‘both engines producing power’ during the incident.

Post-crash examination of the airplane revealed that the flight control lock was installed in the cockpit’s flight control column. The control lock pin was found bent to the left. The control lock hole, mounted on the instrument panel collar, was broken. The control yoke was separated from the control column and both the left and right control yoke horns were separated from the yoke.

Clearly, if the pilot had checked his controls for freedom of movement, as is required by the Baron Flight Manual, this accident and the ensuing loss of 6 lives could have been avoided. Don’t become a sad statistic.

You don’t need to leave the control lock in to suffer a jammed control. A loose pen or clipboard, glasses case or chock can find its way to an area of your aircraft it’s not meant to be and after checking for freedom of movement five hundred times without incident, your vigilance for the task may have eroded.

Follow your written checklist prior to every flight. Almost every checklist on the planet has this line item: Controls: Check for freedom of movement. How you interpret and perform that check may make all the difference between your having a bad day or not!

What to do: Check to make sure your controls will move through their entire range of travel. That means you should pull back your yoke and make certain that your elevator correctly follows it. While you are pulling back on your yoke, feel and look for problems.
You should also move your ailerons through their full range of motion as well, and visually check their performance.

Elevator: Did your panel bulge out towards you when you pulled back? Did your control yoke get ‘sticky,’ or not pull back fully? If you see anything out of the ordinary during this check, find the cause. It’s far too easy to convince yourself that the new reality is ‘how it’s always been.’

Ailerons: Did the ailerons move up and down as they should, or did one droop or not move at all? Have you ever looked closely enough to notice? Did the controls move back to the neutral position when you took off the pressure, or did they stay where they were momentarily?

Rudder: Did it move in the correct direction and did it return when you released the rudder pressure? Are you able to see it from the cockpit? Maybe it’s time you had another pilot move the rudders to full deflection while you watched from outside. It’s worth knowing what normal, full travel looks like … at least once, isn’t it?

FLAPS: Whether they are manual or electrically driven, a quick check of the flaps can help you to avoid problems while in the air. Flaps on some low-wings are prone to damage from passenger traffic climbing onto the wing and when the flaps get bent, they can stick — asymmetrically. Make sure both flaps deploy correctly and retract when you need them to. A split flap condition — when one flap deploys while the other flap does not — will get your attention much faster in the air … and that’s a bad thing. If a split flap condition is detected on the ground, have it repaired prior to further flight.

One other task that all these checks usually perform is … to confirm that your gust locks have been removed from the airplane. Gust locks hold controls in a neutral position while our aircraft is on the ground — and they don’t all look the same. If you tend to fly multiple aircraft (even of the same type) CHECK FOR THEM.

While your passengers will never know what this simple task is accomplishing, it may teach them where to *not* keep their knees and give you the peace of mind that you should be able to maintain. Know that your controls are true before you leave the ground.