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Control Surface Checks


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Are you doing a complete check of your flight controls prior to takeoff? Or are you just giving it a quick wiggle?


Here is a good practice to follow during your flight control checks. Make a "box" pattern with the stick making sure to reach full deflection in all directions.


Start by informing your passenger to keep their knees clear while you are doing this! Move the stick full deflection right, look out at the wing the stick is pointing at (that aileron should be up), check and make sure the other one is down. Hold the stick full right then move the stick full forward. Unless you have an LS you wont be able to see the tail, but you might see the shadow of the tail in some situations which is helpful to see that its moving. Now hold full forward and move the stick full left, again make sure the ailerons are moving the correct direction. Now while holding full left, move the stick all the way back. Once your all the way stick aft, move the stick full right again. Now hold full right and move the stick back to pitch center. At this point I release the stick and verify it centers by the centering springs, I follow that with a push and release to the left verifying the centering springs are working on both sides. If at anytime you feel something abnormal, stop and figure it out before you takeoff.


Also make sure your autopilot is off during these checks!

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Don't become complacent. Always make sure the control surfaces are freely moving in the correct direction. We do this check so often it's pretty easy to get to the point that even though we are saying the right words to ourselves, our brain really has no idea if the direction of movement is correct. You would think that after major maintenance or wing removal that pilots would be especially vigilant. Unfortunately there has been more than one pilot (Now deceased) who has gone trough the movements only to find after lift off that the controls were binding or hooked up backwards or not at all. A Beaver crashed in front of my office in Anchorage 20 some years ago on a first flight after an AD requiring wing removal. This would ruin your day. Could have ruined mine, too.


You would also think that professional pilots wouldn't skip this check but more than one has taken off with the external control locks still in place. Ruined their day, too. I think you can find some of these on you tube.

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... and it doesn't have to be a loose cable or control rod. The recent Tecnam crash was due to a flashlight being left where it could get entangled with the controls. To my horror, I once found a "left-over part" rolling around back in the area below the rudder, where all the control rods and cables are within a few inches of each other. Had that part gotten wedged under one of those controls... it would not have been good.

Make sure goodies in your baggage area don't get loose, as they could easily migrate towards the rear during climbs. I now do not allow anything small or loose in the baggage area, and triple-check all zippers and pouches.


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  • 1 year later...

Some large aircraft, like the 747-200, have a control position indicator which shows rudder, elevator, aileron and spoiler position. The 747-400 has this included on EICAS instead. The checklist response to one pilot moving his control during the full and free check would be in terms of how many pointers move up and how many move down (or left right for the rudder). E.g. "Two up, one down" for a wheel movement, checking the correct scheduling of the spoilers and ailerons. This is done while taxiing. If the aircraft has rudder pedal steering, the tiller has to be held neutral while rudder pedals are checked to avoid an S turn on the taxi way.


Surface position indication is as reliable as anything else on the panel. It's possible the indicator might show a false position, most likely not move at all. In that case it would undoubtedly have to be cross-checked by an external observer.


Most non-EFIS aircraft don't have surface position indicators. All they are doing is checking for full and free control movement, not checking the surfaces move too. The tower is not involved in anyway.

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Unfortunately there has been more than one pilot (Now deceased) who has gone trough the movements only to find after lift off that the controls were binding or hooked up backwards or not at all.


To verify proper movement, in a somewhat rude way, move the stick full right and say to the passenger "Up Yours!" and verify "his" aileron moves up. Then move the stick left and say "Up mine!".


Once, on a preflight, I noticed a slight binding when I moved the elevator full travel. At first I assumed my headsets were interfering with the stick.


Best not to assume, and closer inspection revealed this (see if you can spot it):




A closeup:




Easy fix (now with Loctite and checked each preflight). Of interest is that the screw had probably backed out on my last flight - unlikely it did so sitting in the hangar. So it had been close to binding on my last landing. I probably could have overpowered it, but it could have been a huge distraction if happened during the flare.

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