Aircraft Documents and Interior Preflight

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Begin by opening the door to make a visual sweep around the interior, checking for any irregularities or problems. If all seems to be in order, the next step is to check the paperwork. Make sure the airworthiness certificate, registration, operation limitations, radio station license, weight and balance data, and all placards are in order. Remember, the FAA requires that the airworthiness certificate be in full view at all times. Keep it in front of the little plastic window that most aircraft have for document storage.

A note on the airworthiness certificate: its mere presence isn’t enough; it needs to be valid. Inspect the airframe and engine logbooks to make sure the aircraft has had all pertinent AD notes, inspections, and damage repair endorsed by the proper authority. Then, providing you have checked the logs prior to arriving at the aircraft and you don’t discover anything during the preflight inspection to prove otherwise, the airworthiness certificate is indeed valid. The date of issuance is attached to the airworthiness certificate, indicating simply that on the date of issuance, the aircraft was airworthy. After a detailed examination of all required aircraft documents, return them to their proper place and continue with the preflight.

Interior preflight
Next, position the fuel selector so that the engine would draw fuel from a full tank. For aircraft equipped with multiple positions, this may be the left, right, or both tanks or for aircraft that has only ON/OFF positions, merely switch to the ON position. The fuel is turned on at this point in the preflight so that the sumps will drain from the tank rather than just the line, thus keeping any water or sediment from remaining settled on the bottom to cause problems later. 

With the fuel selector in a supply position (ON), make sure the mixture is pulled full lean, throttle idle, and carburetor heat or alternate air in the cold, or off, position. Make sure the magnetos are OFF. If your aircraft is equipped with a key, don’t insert it until you are ready to start the aircraft. This method is the most effective way to prevent an accidental hot prop during the exterior preflight. Even with the key out, always treat a prop as if it were going to bite you, because it can.

Next, turn on the master switch and check the fuel gauges to get an indication of available fuel. Later, during the exterior preflight, verify the readings given by the interior gauges by actually opening the fuel tanks and taking a look inside because gauges can sometimes give false information.

If your aircraft is equipped with electric flaps, lower them while the master switch is still on. They will then be in a better position to be checked during the exterior preflight.

While checking the fuel indications and lowering the flaps, listen for the whirling sound of the electric gyro instruments as they begin to wind up. These will be checked in more detail later, during the pre-takeoff run-up.

Next, turn off the master switch in order to save battery power, and set all trim tabs for takeoff. If possible, watch for the movement of the trim tabs as you turn the trim tab in the cockpit. This will tell you that they are indeed in good working order and should function properly in flight.

Unless there is a strong wind blowing, remove the control lock to accurately verify all control surfaces are functioning properly.

Now, go back through and double-check to see that the fuel is on, the mixture lean, carburetor heat cold, throttle idle, trim tabs set, magnetos off (leave the key out), and control lock removed. Stow any baggage, maps, etc., and you will be ready to begin the exterior preflight.

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