Maiden Flight Checklist

Make sure your aircraft is air ready Written by Terry Dunn and Rachelle Haughn Featured in the Spring 2014 issue of Park Pilot.
Before you do take off, you should complete a number of preflight checks. Click here to download your own maiden flight check list. You don’t want something to unexpectedly go wrong, causing you to shed a tear or two (or maybe not) when it suddenly takes a nose dive into the mud. (If you are fortunate to live in a year-round warm-weather state, don’t rub it in.) There are a number of components that need to be ready and inspected before your aircraft takes its first outdoor flight of the year. Some could mean the difference between a nice, easy flight and landing and, well, picking up a bunch of foam pieces or balsa wood and lecturing yourself for not carefully reading and following these tips. If you are new to the sport, the term preflight may be foreign to you. If you are an experienced pilot, I hope that doing a preflight isn’t something that you occasionally do when you feel like it. All pilots should do a preflight inspection before each flight! If you were never taught this, shame on your teacher. If you were taught to make a preflight check, but still don’t, shame on you. Not only do preflights help keep your aircraft intact for many years of enjoyment, they also protect you and anyone who happens to be in the vicinity when you take off. Preflight checks make flying safe. (If you’ve read some of the readers’ tales in Dave Gee’s “Safety Comes First” column in Model Aviation, you will know this is true.) Foamies, multirotors, FF aircraft, helicopters, and even airplanes that are not considered park flyers, need preflight inspections. Some of the inspections I’m about to suggest that you conduct will not apply to all of the aforementioned aircraft, but most will.

The first thing you need to do is consider the weather conditions. Because park flyers weigh 2 pounds or less, flying them in 30 mph wind is not ideal. You could try it, but you may never see that baby again. In addition to wind speed, wind direction and the sun’s position should also be pondered. If the sun is shining directly into your eyes, it will be easy to lose sight of your model. Also, aircraft with dark paint schemes may be difficult to see if the sun is low in the sky. Brightly painted airplanes and ones with lights are typically the easiest to see in the sky. You should also evaluate the field or park at which you want to fly. Is there sufficient space for your model to take off, fly around, and land without bumping into a tree, building, or person? If the answer is no, look for a new flying site. If your airplane has trouble taking off or landing in grass, find another location with an adequate concrete surface. After you have checked the weather and decided where to fly, it’s time to inspect a number of your aircraft’s components. One of the most important things to check is the motor/engine. Make sure that it runs well in all throttle positions.

All of the power system components should be inspected. The battery should be fully charged and in good shape. The transmitter and receiver batteries need to be fully charged and hold that charge. The ESC and BEC must operate within their stated limits.

The control surfaces should be inspected and tested before flight. Make sure that they are moving in the correct directions.

Inspecting the propellers/blades is essential. Cracks or chips could lead to disaster. Replace any that show these signs of wear, and make sure you have extras available.

All of the model’s components should be properly mounted and attached so they can’t fall off or jiggle loose during flight. The control surface hinges, wing/tail/hatch, and all servo extensions need to be secured. Make sure that the servo extensions are correctly plugged in, and that the servos operate without binding and center accurately. It’s important to make sure that the CG is in an acceptable location. An off-balance model may not move the way you would like it to. The wheels and ground steering system must be inspected for the same reason. A disobedient aircraft is frustrating, and could be downright scary. So, you have thoroughly inspected your helicopter, foamie, multirotor, or whatever it is you choose to fly. It must be time to take off, right? Nope! It won’t fly unless you tell it to do so through your transmitter. It’s time to head out to the field, but make sure you bring tools, spare batteries and parts, or other equipment that you might need.

There are a few inspections that you need to complete in relation to the transmitter/radio. The dual rates and exponential must be set up for the appropriate channels. If you wish to add any mixes—such as rudder-aileron, flap-elevator, etc.—do that now. Obtain the correct frequency pin for the radio (if applicable) and make sure the correct model memory is selected. Conduct a thorough radio-range check. Before the first flight, have a plan in your mind for what you would like to accomplish. Are there certain maneuvers that you want to try? Know roughly how long your battery will last so you can determine if you have enough time to accomplish your goals. If you have any questions about how to get your model ready for its first flight of the year, you can always consult its manual. There also are some tips, learning tools, and videos available on AMA’s Flight School website. You can find it at Enjoy the skies! Click here to download your own maiden flight check list. —Rachelle Haughn

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I have been flying for years and do try to remember everything, but never made a list. This is very good information for anyone with a new plane.

This list with some applicable revisions would be applicable to multi rotor aircraft also. Is there such a list available?

Hello! We do not have a multirotor checklist, but some of the items on this list would apply to multirotors.

Now I know what to check for, before I start the motor. Just checking the control surfaces is only the tip of the iceberg.

One thing to make sure controls are going correct direction. I don't know how many times I see a new plane go in because aileron was backwards.

Also ask a veteran or seasoned pilot for help they may note something you missed and another helper can be useful.

One thing to make sure controls are going correct direction. I don't know how many times I see a new plane go in because aileron was backwards.

Also ask a veteran or seasoned pilot for help they may note something you missed and another helper can be useful.

Yup! Did that last week! Lesson learned.

Very helpful. Thanks.

We forgot to check the elevator hinges and thus completely destroyed my newly built Pulse last fall ... on the first flight. I had no idea how fast a plane comes out of the air when the elevator becomes detached. In seconds it was nose first into the runway. Sad day, but I learned a lesson.

Good article but one item on the checklist is missing...set the radio failsafe. Almost all newer digital radios have a failsafe program that allows the receiver to default to preset control settings in the event of a radio link failure. I have seen several near-miss incidents in recent years...and one at our club field last fall where a large scale warbird gasser went to full throttle after landing and destroyed itself, the pit fence, and closely missed several bystanders that were able to run fast enough to get out of harm's way. Always set your failsafe to idle or engine cut in the event of a radio failure!

A common problem I see with new flyers, or those accustomed to trike gear airplanes, is failure to ensure slight “toe-in” of the main gear on a taildragger. A lot of trainers are taildraggers, and many new flyers can’t even get off the ground with them because they can’t control the model on takeoff roll. It is important to check on-the-ground, rolling stability before a maiden flight attempt. If it won’t roll straight, make sure the main wheels are pointing slightly towards the centerline. This applies to tricycle gear as well, though the problem is usually reduced and somewhat masked by the nose gear steering.

I've been flying for years.. no need for a list, just do a preflight check, verify all control services. I also verify CG before every flight. The FAA doesn't hassle ultra light pilots the way they do r/c and gps guided drone pilots. A Parafoil Ultralight aircraft can do a lot more damage to an aircraft than my EPO foam/carbon fiber reinforced delta wings. It's the commercial drone industry that is trying to put an end to our hobby. I've flown model aircraft since I was a little kid. I hope the commercial drone delivery industry flops!

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