Amy's Back country aircraft preflight checklist

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Airstrips in remote and back country areas are typically far from maintenance facilities, thus thorough aircraft preparation and preflight is of paramount importance.

Aeronca Sedan at Sulfur Creek Corrall

photo by Amy Hoover

I sat down over coffee with my friend George, a highly experienced back country pilot, Idaho Air Taxi operator, and retired Air Force Pilot and instructor, and the following suggestions are what evolved (several espressos later). When operating from rough airstrips, the airframe, landing gear, and other components are subjected to a lot more vibration, flexing, and all around '"use". There is no substitute for an intimate working knowledge of an aircraft's systems and components. Owners and pilots are often the first to detect differences in the way the aircraft sounds, feels, smells, and performs, so pay close attention to those differences as you fly and operate your airplane.

This list is by no means comprehensive; it gives suggestions for preparing the aircraft prior to operating from unimproved airstrips. Pilots should check with their mechanic or consult FAR's regarding legal aspects of what maintenance they can and cannot perform. FAR 43.3(h) states that the holder of a pilot certificate may perform preventive maintenance on any aircraft owned or operated by him that is not use in air carrier service. Appendix A of FAR Part 43 lists 27 examples of preventative maintenance. Many routine maintenance items may also be conducted under the supervision of a willing A&P mechanic.

Landing Gear:

Gearboxes -- Have a mechanic ensure main gear boxes are in good condition, with no corrosion or signs of fatigue or stress fractures.

Nose gear -- Ensure oleo struts are properly inflated. Strut seals should be clean and show no signs of leakage. Check scissors links for cracks and loose hinge joints, and check driver arms for proper operation. Check snubbers for proper inflation and ensure attach points are not loose.

Tailwheel -- Check leaf springs or stingers for cracks, dents, and corrosion. Make sure cables are tight and cable attach points and springs are clean and work freely. Keep tailwheel assemblies clean and properly lubricated, and have the steering/castoring mechanism cleaned and inspected.

Retractable gear -- Verify gear is clean and working properly. Squat switches or mechanisms should be tested for operation.

Wheels and brakes:

Fairings -- Remove wheel fairings for back country flying so they will not collect debris and to expose tires and brakes for regular inspection.

Wheel rims -- Check rims for cracking, particularly at the through-bolt holes.

Tires -- inspect for cuts, excessive tread wear, sidewall weathering, and overall condition. Keep tires properly inflated.

Brakes -- Inspect lines, bushings, flex hoses, and connections for cracks and leaks. Check master cylinder for fluid level and leaks. Ensure brake pads and discs are in good condition and are of acceptable thickness. Check for "dragging" brakes and ensure the parking brake release mechanism is working properly.


Engine -- Look at the general condition of the engine. Pay close attention to evidence of fluid or exhaust leaks and bring any suspicious or questionable items to the attention of a mechanic immediately.
New engine

photo courtesy Cub Crafters

Ignition -- Inspect condition of the harness and spark plugs and ensure magneto and plug
connections are tight

Hoses & Clamps -- Check that hoses are in good condition, are seated properly, and clamps are tight

Baffling -- Make certain baffling is in good condition, without cracks, and is not prohibiting smooth airflow over the engine.

Cowl -- Have cracks repaired as soon as they are detected. Inspect hinges, access doors, cowl flaps, air filters, and openings on a regular basis.

Filters -- Inspect and assure air filters are clean and unobstructed

Engine Controls -- Inspect and ensure throttle, mixture, prop, and carb heat controls are working properly and not sticking or binding

Cabin heater -- If muffler bypass type -- inspect for leaks

Propeller -- Inspect and insure propeller has no nicks or cracks, and check all seals and hubs for leaks and proper operation. Make sure spinners are secure


-- make sure backs are secure and check seat rails for cracks

Seat stops -- insure seat stops for both left and right seats operate smoothly and properly

Seatbelts and shoulder harnes
Inspect for proper and smooth operation and security, make sure buckles latch properly and adjustment points work, inspect and repair torn or frayed belts.

photo by Amy Hoover

Cargo area -- Secure cargo properly by means of some type of net or tie-downs. Inspect cargo net attach points.


Skin -- Visually check the underside of the fuselage, wing, and tail surfaces for damage.

Flaps -- verify proper operation and check tracks, hinges, and rollers for cracks.

Windscreen -- repair cracks and polish our crazing. Replace excessively scratched or crazed windshields.

Landing light -- confirm lights are working for safety.

ELT -- verify the ELT is working properly and has good batteries.

Fly a safe airplane to ensure a safe flight!

Author: Amy L. Hoover