THE SOCIETY OF THE FLYING COWL PLUGS
It’s not a very exclusive club. Anyone can join, from student pilot to ATP. The membership requirements are just a moment’s distraction or a forgotten checklist. Drop your guard during the preflight and you could end up flying with a pair of cowl plugs still in place and an engine that quickly overheats and seizes. If you’re lucky and have the strap connecting the plugs draped across the prop, you will likely end up flinging your cowl plugs through the air and possibly gain a valuable lesson. But if you’re not lucky, someone could get hurt or worse.
Because Avemco Insurance Company is a direct writer of insurance, we see all of our claims reports. Many accidents and incidents are caused by distractions, either in the air or on the ground. You may have seen this famous quote stuck on the wall of a flight school, "Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect." Interestingly, it is attributed to a pilot and aviation insurance executive from the 1930s, Captain A. G. Lamplugh, of the British Aviation Insurance Group in London1.
A large percentage of our claims can be lumped into the category of “distraction". It might be missing an item on a checklist because a passenger asks a question or possibly conducting pre-flight items out of sequence and checking one tank for water but not another. We see claims from pilots who forget to remove the towbar. In some cases, the secured towbar results in a prop strike while the pilot is taxiing. But we’ve seen more than one claim where somebody managed to take off with the towbar attached, only to cause significant damage inflight and on landing.
There are claims from pilots who run into taxiway lights, hangars, and other aircraft because they were programming the avionics or thought they were being extra careful by reading their checklist. A good idea, but not while the plane is in motion. We see claims from pilots who had an uneventful flight but weren’t paying attention while pushing the plane back into the hangar and ran a horizontal stabilizer into a wall. This is where that old cliché comes into play, “The flight isn’t over until you’re back in the chocks.” And, speaking of chocks, be sure the chocks or blocks that you carefully positioned to make sure you return the plane to just the right spot don’t slide backward. A few inches each time and you’ll be pushing the tail into the back wall before you know it.
All of these distractions are all too common and understandable and many are things that pilots might admit to having done at one time or another. They were lucky enough to get away with it unscathed. But, we have seen pilots attempting to take off with gust locks still in place and even an accident caused because someone neglected to untie the cement block that was securing the tail in a tie-down area. That plays havoc with your weight and balance! If you are going to use a small stepladder to assist you or passengers climbing into the plane, just remember that once you are safely in, hoist it inside as well. Otherwise, it is too late when you hear a loud banging on the fuselage after takeoff, a surefire giveaway that something is amiss.
The best advice we can give is to establish procedures and routines that you follow in the same order, the same way every single time you fly. And, above all, use a checklist. Just not while taxing.
One more bit of advice. If one of these unhappy occurrences happens to you, fess up to your insurance company. We can’t speak for all insurance companies, but Avemco will still pay your covered claim regardless of who was at fault or how embarrassing it was. We’ve seen it all, and then some.
1 Aviation insurance - Wikipedia
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