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Rushed Preflight Leads To Cessna Taking Off With The Tow Bar Attached

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Today is the first official day of winter.

We'd all like to think that we spend as much time thoroughly pre-flighting on a frosty morning as we do in the middle of a beautiful July day. But when the cold wind is whipping through your checklist (and your jacket), you tend to move a little bit faster around the plane.

Add in a change to your normal preflight routine, and you increase the chance of something getting skipped or forgotten.

That's exactly what happened to this Cessna 172 student and instructor.

Running Behind Schedule: The Preflight

I had a student meeting me for a lesson [early in the morning]. My student was running late, so I performed the preflight and got the aircraft ready to fly. It was cold out, so once I pulled the aircraft out I hopped into the aircraft to stay warm and let my student know where I was (newer student) and that the aircraft was ready to fly.

He showed up shortly after, and we got ready to go and started up and went on with the lesson. I had left the tow bar on the front of the aircraft nose wheel. I did not notice it or remember it at the time. The tow bar didn't make any noise I could hear as it scraped across the ground, but looking back it did seem a little more difficult to steer than usual, but not enough to raise a flag. Not outside of the realm of possibility for a Cessna in my experience.

On takeoff I heard a bump that sounded like a door opening. I looked around, didn't see anything unusual and continued with the lesson. We landed, and as soon as I looked in the back of the aircraft for the bar I immediately knew what happened. I called the Tower, they sent Operations to find the tow bar (it was on the runway), and then I went and told my Chief Pilot. I ordered a new tow bar for the aircraft and maintenance took a look to make sure nothing was damaged. No damage occurred.

Factors that I believe led to this:

  • not getting a great nights rest beforehand
  • I have a new job as a first officer, so flight instruction is now a side job, lack of consistency in instruction
  • it was cold, so I rushed my preflight and hopped inside the aircraft to wait for student
  • inconsistent chain of events (normally my student is with me for preflight)
  • it was dark, sun was just starting to rise

Analyzing the event:

  • steering was slightly abnormal, but still maneuverable with nose steering
  • takeoff I heard an unusual bump

Had I correlated these at the time it would have been evident what had occurred.


Rushing Leads To Mistakes

A cold morning, a behind-schedule pilot, and an abnormal preflight were the recipe for forgetting the tow bar. Fortunately, the plane wasn't damaged, and it was nothing more than a lesson learned.

I've been in a similar situation myself: preflighting on a cold morning, and hopping in the plane, waiting for another pilot or passenger.

I spent 6 years pre-flighting airplanes in North Dakota. In the winter months it's a real challenge to take your time when the below-zero wind chill is driving through your hat, gloves, and jacket.

When you're in a hurry, or if you're not preparing for your flight the way you normally do, that's when you need to pay extra attention to what you're doing.

I've started a plane with the chocks still in. And it was a direct result of rushing my preflight. While it didn't cause a problem (aside from some deflated pride) it's an eye-opening experience of how quickly you can make a mistake that can have a negative outcome.

If you need to, run through your exterior preflight checklist one more time in the cockpit, to make sure you didn't forget anything. Dress warm, so you don't feel like you're taking a polar plunge while you're preflighting.

And most importantly, when you feel like you're rushing, take a second to think things through before you turn the prop.

Paying too much for aircraft insurance? Get your free quote from AssuredPartners today.

Colin Cutler

Colin Cutler

Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder and lifelong pilot. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed the development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at

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