Before-Takeoff Check

The before-takeoff check is the systematic AFM/POH procedure for checking the engine, controls, systems, instruments, and avionics prior to flight. Normally, the before-takeoff checklist is performed after taxiing to a run-up position near the takeoff end of the runway. Many engines require that the oil temperature reach a minimum value as stated in the AFM/POH before takeoff power is applied. Taxiing to the run-up position usually allows sufficient time for the engine to warm up to at least minimum operating temperature; however, the pilot should verify that the oil temperature is within the proper range prior to the application of high power.

A suitable location for run-up should be firm (a smooth, paved or turf surface if possible) and free of debris. Otherwise, the propeller may pick up pebbles, dirt, mud, sand, or other loose objects and hurl them backwards. This damages the propeller and may damage the tail of the airplane. Small chips in the leading edge of the propeller form stress risers or high stress concentrations. These are highly undesirable and may lead to cracks and possible propeller blade failure. The airplane should also be positioned clear of other aircraft and the taxiway. There should not be anything behind the airplane that might be damaged by the propeller airflow blasting rearward.

Before beginning the before-takeoff check, after the airplane is properly positioned for the run-up, it should be allowed to roll forward slightly to ensure that the nosewheel or tailwheel is in alignment with the longitudinal axis of the airplane.

While performing the before-takeoff check in accordance with the airplane’s AFM/POH, the pilot divides attention between the inside and outside of the airplane. If the parking brake slips, or if application of the toe brakes is inadequate for the amount of power applied, the airplane could rapidly move forward and go unnoticed if pilot attention is fixed only inside the airplane. A good operational practice is to split attention from one item inside to a look outside.

Air-cooled engines generally are tightly cowled and equipped with baffles that direct the flow of air to the engine in sufficient volumes for cooling while in flight; however, on the ground, much less air is forced through the cowling and around the baffling. Prolonged ground operations may cause cylinder overheating long before there is an indication of rising oil temperature. To minimize overheating during engine run-up, it is recommended that the airplane be headed as nearly as possible into the wind and, if equipped, engine instruments that indicate cylinder head temperatures should be monitored. Cowl flaps, if available, should be set according to the AFM/POH.Each airplane has different features and equipment and the before-takeoff checklist provided in airplane’s AFM/POH should be used to perform the run-up. Many critical systems are checked and set during the before-takeoff check. Most airplanes have at least the following systems checked and set:

  • Fuel System—set per the AFM/POH and verified ON and the proper and correct fuel tanks selected.
  • Trim—set for takeoff position, which includes the elevator and may also include rudder and aileron trim.
  • Flight Controls—checked throughout their entire operating range. This includes full aileron, elevator, and rudder deflection in all directions. Often, pilots do not exercise a full range of movement of the flight controls, which is not acceptable.
  • Engine Operation—checked to ensure that temperatures and pressures are in their normal ranges; magneto or Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) operation on single or dual ignition are acceptable and within limits; and, if equipped, carburetor heat is functioning. If the airplane is equipped with a constant speed or feathering propeller, that its operation is acceptable, and the engine continues to run normally as the propeller is exercised.
  • Electrical System—verified to ensure voltages are within operating range and that the system shows the battery system charging.
  • Vacuum System—shows an acceptable level of vacuum, which is typically between 4.8 and 5.2 inches of mercury (“Hg) at 2,000 rpm. Refer to the AFM/POH for the manufacturer’s values. It is important to ensure that mechanical gyroscopic instruments have adequate time to spool up to acceptable rpm in order for them to indicate properly. A hasty and quick taxi and run-up does not allow mechanical gyroscopic instruments to indicate properly and a departure into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) is unadvisable.
  • Flight Instruments–rechecked and set for the departure. Verify that the directional gyro and the magnetic compass are in agreement. If the directional gyro has a heading bug, it may be set to the runway heading that is in use or as assigned by air traffic control (ATC).
  • Avionics–set with the appropriate frequencies, initial navigation sources and courses, autopilot preselects, transponder codes, and other settings and configurations based on the airplane’s equipment and flight requirements.
  • Takeoff Briefing–made out loud by the pilot even when no other person is there to listen. It should include a visual verification of the correct surface and direction to preclude a wrong surface departure. A sample takeoff briefing may be the following:

“This will be normal takeoff (use normal, short, or soft as appropriate) from runway (use runway assigned), wind is from the (direction and speed), rotation speed is (use the specified or calculated manufacturer’s takeoff or rotation speed (VR)), an initial turn to (use planned heading) and climb to (use initial altitude in feet). The takeoff will be rejected for engine failure below VR, applying appropriate braking, stopping ahead. Engine failure after VR and with runway remaining, I will lower pitch, land, and apply appropriate braking, stopping straight ahead. Engine failure after VR and with no runway remaining, I will lower pitch to best glide speed, no turns will be made prior to (insert appropriate altitude), land in the most suitable area, and apply appropriate braking, avoiding hazards on the ground as much as possible. I will only consider turning back to runway __ if I have reached at least __ feet AGL, which would be __ feet MSL. If time permits, fuel, ignition, and electrical systems will be switched off.”

Takeoff Checks

The pilot should ensure that runway numbers on paved runways agree with magnetic compass and heading indicators before beginning takeoff roll. The last check as power is brought to full takeoff power includes:

  1. Doors latched and windows closed as required?
  2. Controls positioned to account for any crosswind?
  3. Power correct?
  4. Engine rpm normal?
  5. Engine smooth?
  6. Engine instruments normal and in green ranges?