Flight School Update: Why We Do Run-Up Checks

So last night was interesting. I was doing more night circuits. Got in the plane, started it – it didn’t want to start but I figured, well it’s been sitting a couple hours since it’s last flight, it’s a cold start and I only primed it once.

As I was doing the rest of my start-up checks, I knew there was something not right. The engine wasn’t running rough, it just sounded weak. I glanced back at the tachometer, because usually you set it to 1000 rpm and then it rises as the engine warms up and you have to pull the throttle back a bit. Only it wasn’t going up, it was going down. I thought hmm, that could be a problem. Double checked my start-up checklist to make sure I hadn’t missed something that could cause it. But maybe it just needs warming up – we’ll see what happens in the run-up bay.

Taxied up to the hold short line at the end of the apron, and it was still doing the same thing, so I thought before I get all the way out to the run-up bay, lets see what happens if I pull he throttle to idle. And the engine died.

I started it up again, brought it back to the hangar and got another plane. That’s one of the nice things about Harv’s Air – they have like, 12 C-152s. But I know someone going to ask, didn’t that scare the bejeebers out of you, that it could have been in the air that happened?

And they’d be partly right – it’s not like that plane wouldn’t have flown if I’d tried to take off in it. It didn’t fail when I added power, it failed when I took it away. So if I’d taken off, it would likely have had enough power to take off, but would have failed in the circuit as I turned final to land – and chances are, that’ll be too far to quite make the runway at best glide, and too late to try and restart the engine.

But the reason I say it didn’t scare me is we do those run-up checks every time we take off, even if the plane’s only been on the ground, shut down, for a few minutes. One of the checks is pulling the power to idle. Even if I hadn’t been paying attention and noticed right away that there was something wrong, it would have failed in the run-up bay, before I ever tried to take off. I mean, sure, it’s possible a careless pilot might skip something and just take off, but it’s drilled into us enough times to do these checks, very few pilots would do that. (And the ones that would, probably don’t fly that long.) Even if nothing’s ever happened to them, there are stories of things happening to others, and those stories get passed around.

Aviation is kind of a study in risk management. Every time you go flying, you’re hoping the weather doesn’t turn bad at the wrong time unexpectedly, and the wind doesn’t change to give you a heavy crosswind at your destination, and a handful of other things you can’t control. So you make sure all the factors that are in your control and make sure they’re in your favour.

And that’s why we do run-up checks.


2 responses to “Flight School Update: Why We Do Run-Up Checks

  1. There is a place at the back of my mind where I think about stuff that I know is not going to happen or is vanishingly unlikely, and one of those things is:

    “what would I think if Lindsay didn’t do any posts for, a long time, a long long time, what if something happened? Or what if it was left to Nathan to leave a very short explanatory message on here? Well that would just be like *****!”

    But all this run-up checks stuff gives me that bit more assurance that the probability of that happening is very very small, so that’s good šŸ˜‰

    • I know what you mean. There was a blog, Hyperbole and a Half, that the author does the most adorably obnoxious comics. One day she posted a comic, rather long, about the trials of dealing with depression, and then just didn’t post again. People were definitely worried. I think it was a year or so later before she finally posted again, and the new comic brought tears to a lot of eyes. It was about the start of recovery from depression, light at the end of the tunnel, etc.

      I have thought about that though – having got to the point where I have a fair number of followers on my blog who I don’t know well enough for them to hear about it if anything happened to me, but I’m certainly not famous enough for it to get in the news. I wonder if I should maybe make sure that Nathan has my wordpress password so such a post could be made – but then on the other hand, I might change it and forget, so I don’t know if there’s that much point.

      But still, I’m not any more likely to die than anyone else here, since flying is still statistically safer than driving. Granted, most aviation accidents involve small planes with private pilots. But we do checks, and I’m not someone prone to skipping stuff like that. I have a decent sense of my own mortality and while I’m not scared enough to stay on the ground, I’m scared enough to be afraid not to do those checks.

      In fact, that’s one of the themes I want to go into on my next Nano novel. šŸ™‚

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