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It may be second nature to you, but don't forget what flying really means. You're about to pilot a complicated piece of equipment through the air with passengers that rely on you for safety. Here are a few things every pilot should do before takeoff:
Always remember to check the aircraft logbooks before you fly. Even if the plane has been inspected, it's not technically airworthy until it's been properly signed off in the logbook. As PIC, the responsibility will fall on you for flying an un-airworthy aircraft.
By calling 1-800-WX-BRIEF or going to DUATS online, you'll learn about the pertinent weather that may affect your flight.
Once you're in the air, if you don't talk to ATC, there's little stopping you from breaking a NOTAM or busting a TFR if you haven't been briefed.
Are you doing a cross country or overnight trip with a full plane? Make sure to do your weight and balance calculation and fuel allocations before you take off.
Why risk not making a takeoff or landing when you can just calculate the aircraft's performance, especially if you're "hot, high, and heavy?"
As the PIC, it's your responsibility to become familiar with all aspects of the flight BEFORE you take off. Become familiar with frequencies, airspace, and airports so you're not fumbling around mid-flight looking for an answer.
Always have a backup plan in mind if you hit unexpected weather, have an in-flight emergency, or need to take a break. Consider planning your route to overfly airports that you could use.
Cutting corners before a flight is a good way to put yourself at risk in the air. Don't forget to manually check fuel, oil, tires, control surfaces, and the engine, among others, during a pre-flight check. Even if you've only landed for a quick break, it's always a good idea to check for unexpected issues. Consider having your passengers wait at the FBO while you do a pre-flight check, so you can focus all of your attention on the airplane.
Before you start the engine, set up the cockpit the way you like it. Make sure you have everything secured and in its place so you don't get distracted in the air.
If you're flying with passengers, especially those new to flying in general aviation aircraft, don't forget to make them feel comfortable by explaining why, when, and how the flight will work, and what to do during possible emergency situations. Staying calm, collected, and confident, yourself, will spread to those in the plane with you. Explain to passengers that you'll be using checklists not because you don't know what you're doing, but because it's a way of cross-checking procedures.
Always use manufacturer checklists for your aircraft as you run through procedures. Make sure checklists, including emergency checklists, are within reach of your seated position for easy access.
Most of all, just relax. If you see something questionable as your prepare for a flight, don't hesitate to make the decision not to fly. While it may be second nature to you, flying an airplane is complicated and involves a lot of critical steps, so don't rush as you prepare. Take a few minutes before you climb into the cockpit to get some water and relax.
Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, commercially licensed pilot with multi-engine and instrument ratings, and a commercial aviation student at the University of North Dakota. He's the author of the articles, quizzes and lists you love to read every week. Swayne's experience ranges from international flights in a King Air F90 to ferrying a 1943 Grumman Widgeon across the country. You can reach Swayne at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow his flying adventures at http://www.swaynemartin.com.