I've watched a few youtube videos on pre-flighting a Robinson R22 helicopter, and I'm always impressed by the way the pilot methodically does the external checks and the internal pre-start, start-up and warm up.

For me, there's a big gap: knowing what to check (because the checklist says so), and being able to identify it (put your finger on it / point to it), and knowing how to check it.

How does a student pilot learn the process? How long does it take to master the process?

Assuming being able to pre-flight is a pre-requisite for flying solo, and a private pilot has one lesson per week, and there are say 20 1-hour lessons before solo is even considered, then 20 opportunities to learn such a complex set of processes does not seem enough repetition and re-enforcement somehow, and the risk of stuffing it all up seems very high.

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    $\begingroup$ There's an enormous difference between watching a YouTube video and actually walking around a machine you're about to go flying in. $\endgroup$ Dec 20 '17 at 22:51
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    $\begingroup$ On your first lesson (of flying any new aircraft), you will spend time with your instructor to go through each and every part on the aircraft. What takes 5 minutes to do on video, may take the instructor some 2 hours to explain it to you. $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    Dec 20 '17 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ "The checklist says to check X, but I can't find it on the aircraft. Ah well, how important can it be? I'll just skip that item. Surely someone checked it earlier and it was fine." Said no responsible pilot ever. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Dec 21 '17 at 8:42
  • $\begingroup$ I can only speak to airplanes, but when I was learning my first lesson had about an hour just going over the various parts of the aircraft. After that my instructor would preflight while I watched/repeated and asked questions for a few lessons then I would take over. Aside from how they look, aircraft aren't (purposely) overly complicated. It helps to have a knowledgeable CFI though, for example on my 177 I wouldn't have known to check the fuel drain retaining clips (it isn't on the checklist) because they've caused accidents jamming ailerons, but my CFI went over it with me. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Dec 21 '17 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer "fuel drain retaining clips (it isn't on the checklist) because they've caused accidents jamming ailerons" That seems odd to me, to be honest. I suppose they may or may not be in the checklists in the POH(?), but there's nothing preventing the use of a different, more thorough checklist if you know the manufacturer's one doesn't cover some particular, relevant item, as long as everything from the manufacturer's checklist is on it and especially for something like a preflight, where you have ample time. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Dec 22 '17 at 18:10

I have never flown the R-22 but I am rated in RH and ASEL. I can answer specifically about the Schweizer (Sikorski) 300C/ CB/ CBi helicopter.

1) How does one learn the preflight? From your instructor. During each lesson the first part of touching the aircraft should be the preflight. Legally speaking, that is after touching the log books/ registration/ weight and balance/ etc. to make sure that it is potentially airworthy in the first place. First you watch them do the inspection, then you do it under supervision, then they watch you from a distance, then the instructor finishes up whatever they are working on last while you preflight it solo (with the best instructors doing the preflight themselves before you even start).

2) How long does it take? For the Schweizer it took me probably the first 10-12 lessons since I was initially not able to fly frequently enough to remember most of what I learned the last lesson and I was working 80+ hours per week at the time. Going 1-2 months between lessons is very bad for retaining new information. Had I worked less and flown more it probably would have taken half of that for me to get comfortable doing the preflight myself.

The items on the checklist are really not that hard when you understand the function of the parts you are checking. When you check control rod integrity you know what they do. You follow them from the cyclic and collective through the cabin, up the mast, through the mixer arms, and to the swash plate. You check the swash plate. You follow up the mast to the control rods attaching from the swash plate to the rotor blades themselves. Other than the climbing around the aircraft it probably took me longer to type that than to actually do it for a preflight.


I have a little over 100 hrs in an R22, and the POH section 4 explains what to check and what to look for, that is the best and safest way to perform a preflight inspection. If you're not sure what your looking at ask the Instructor. I would never rely on memory for a preflight Inspection.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to aviation.SE! $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Dec 28 '17 at 18:44

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