External Pre-Flight Checklist

I wanted to put together a checklist for the external pre-flight procedures to ensure a safe and thorough pre-flight inspection. Below is the list of items that I have compiled from numerous online checklists. I have condensed them and broken them down into several sub-groups which seem to make the process flow for me a little better. Each and every checklist I have found has varied to some degree, but I think the basics should all be covered. This Pre-Flight Checklist was put together with the Cessna 172 Skyhawk in mind since that’s the primary aircraft I am training in.

I usually begin my pre-flight inspection while walking up to the aircraft. Basically, I am taking note of what should be expected and to note if there are any irregularities or anything out of the ordinary. Part of this process is to assess how the previous user left the aircraft and to determine if the previous user left the aircraft in the best condition possible.

Before Getting to the Aircraft:

  • Aircraft Specific Items
      • AROW Items
      • Air Worthiness Certificate
      • Registration
      • Operating Limitations
      • Weight and Balance
    • Keys
    • POH
    • Headset
    • Kneepad
    • Notebook/Pen
When Walking up to the aircraft

Theses are all very simple steps to take that can be accomplished while walking up to the aircraft.Do you have the Aircraft book which includes the following:

  • Are the tires chalked?
  • Is the aircraft tied down on both sides
  • Are any of the tires flat?
  • Is there any visible damage to any part of the aircraft?
  • Any oils, water, fuel or other substance leaking, dripping or spilling from the aircraft?
  • Are there any parts/pieces or any type of debris on the ground?
  • Is the tow bar still connected?

Once I have made it to the aircraft, the external pre-flight inspections next. I like to break this down into a few small chunks to make it simple and to ensure I cover all of my bases. As a student pilot, I am being billed per hobbs time, so the clock is ticking any time the master switch is on. While I do not want to rush the inspection, I do want to turn the lights on, check the lights, then shut off the master as to not be billed more than I need to be. Also, since we are checking the lights at this point, we do not want to cause any confusion with regards to other aircraft or our intentions at this point, so the least time with the lights on at this point, the less confusing it will be.

  • Remove the Tow Bar
  • Remove the Pitot tube cover
  • Open the cockpit door
  • Put Binder on Pilot seat and make sure the Keys and
  • Put the pitot tube cover in the back seat
  • Remove the control lock
  • Check all of the
  • Turn on Master Power
  • Turn on Lights & Switches (starting with the top row)
    • Landing Light – LDG LT
    • Pitot Heat -PITOT HEAT
    • Navigation lights – NAV LT
    • Beacon Light- BCN LT
    • Strobe Light – STROBE LT

Once those are switched on from inside the cockpit, I then go outside the aircraft to physically inspect the lights. I start at the front of the aircraft and  circle the aircraft counter clockwise towards the pilot side first.

  • Landing Light – front of the aircraft below the propeller
  • Port Side Wing Navigation Light – this is the “pilot-side” navigation light that will be a steady red light near the leading edge of the wing. – Gently feel the light to ensure it isn’t loose or damaged.
  • Port Side Wing Strobe Light -This is a flashing white light located near the red port side navigation light. Gently feel the light to ensure it isn’t loose or damaged.
  • Tail Light – Solid White Light
  • Tail Beacon Anti-Collision Light – this is a rotating red beacon light mounted to the top of the tail.
  • Starboard Side Wing Navigation Light – this is the passenger side navigation light that will be a steady green light near the leading edge of the wing.
  • Starboard Side Wing Strobe Light – This is a flashing white light near the wingtip on the starboard (passenger) side.
  • Check pitot tube for heat – be careful, this may be hot.
  • Return back to the cockpit and notate the level of fuel indicated on the fuel gauge
  • Turn off the lights and Master power.

Once all of the lights are checked, Make sure to turn off all of the lights as well as the master switch as to not drain the battery and in my case, reduce the billing for the aircraft rental. Some of these steps may be duplicated, but safety is key here so I am ok with a little overlapping. To make this simple without all of the explanation, here is this writeup in a checklist format:

  • Remove Tow Bar
  • Remove Pitot Tube Cover
  • Remove the Control Lock
  • Turn on Master Power