It was a warm Southern California morning as we sat on launch, waiting for the first thermals to start rolling up the hill. As we contemplated, talked, and speculated on the day a small group of local pilots showed up. They were kind and offered their thoughts and advice. As they began getting ready to launch we watched their preflight routine. A fellow pilot in our group (an instructor) noticed the local pilot getting ready to launch had missed a few things. He kindly pointed out that his speed bar was not attached, and that his reserve handle was broken and would not deploy if needed. It was a great reminder to me that day that we should all have a solid and consistent pre-flight routine.
It is spring again, and many pilots who have not flown for a few months are finding their way back to the mountains. Regardless of whether or not your a new pilot, rusty pilot, sharp pilot, or an old timer pilot, we all need to find a pre-flight routine that works. Making sure all the vital steps are followed is a great way to insure a safer flight. Every pilot’s routine is different, and that is okay, so long as it works and is consistently followed….every single time!
Since there is no right or wrong sequence, I thought I would share my 10-point pre-flight routine. It may not be perfect, but it is one I have followed for many years and has served me well.
My preflight routine begins as soon as I land from my last flight. I detach and fold up my wing every single time I land. This gives me a chance to do a proper line check and organize my risers in such a way that there is no guess work on the next launch. It also allows me to quickly look over my wing as a whole during the folding process. That way, when I am at launch I can be confident that my wing is ready to fly, the lines are clear, and properly aligned (A’s on top).
Another important aspect that should be discussed is of course whether or not to fly. This is actually not part of my pre-flight routine, because I will never even begin my routine until I am confident that the conditions are inline with my expectations and I have made the decision to fly. To understand what I do to determine if it is safe or not even fly, please see my article on The Energy Equation.
We are now at the launch site and everything looks good and a decision has been made to fly. All my stuff is now on my body, or packed in my harness. My helmet is on and nothing but my wing and harness are on the ground. The 10-steps I do are quick and I make it a point not to stop, or be interrupted. If by chance someone talks to me during the process, I start over and start counting again.
Step 1: I put on my harness, then leg buckle left.
Step 2: Leg buckle right.
Step 3: Chest strap left.
Step 4: Chest strap right.
I can usually take a break here, especially since my wing is usually folded up. If I am flying with radios or instruments, I get them ready at this point and make sure the are turned on and checked. I am about 60-90 seconds away from launching. At this point I lay out my wing and unfold it. I already know my lines are sorted and risers aligned so I can quickly connect to my wing.
Step 5: Riser left, until I hear the carabiner click.
Step 6: Riser right, until I hear the carabiner click.
Step 7: Speed Bar left.
Step 8: Speed Bar right.
I will often do another quick line check and make sure once again that the A’s are on top, and that the brake controls are pulled all they way out with no snags.
Step 9: Reserve chute handle check, just to make sure it is there and connected properly.
Step 10: Breathe. This calms me down for just a few seconds so I can pause, feel the air and make the last metal preparations required for executing a proper launch.
In the end, the local pilot decided he wasn’t going to need his speed bar, and that he didn’t think he would need his reserve. He inflated his wing and set off into the sky. As pilots, let’s all remember to follow a solid pre-flight routine. Regardless of what routine you decide to follow be vigilant and follow that routine every single time! It is a great, and perhaps life saving habit to get into. Remember, If someone, or something interrupts your routine, don’t be afraid to just start over and get it right. It makes for a safer and lower stress flying experience. I hope to see you in the sky soon.