A final walk-around is a double-check for many possible hazards, including ones you didn’t create yourself.

It was a flight I had piloted before. The customer was using an antenna in the aircraft to detect radio interference from ground-based transmitters. I had assisted the engineers when installing the equipment in the rear cabin of the aircraft, ensuring it was secured.

We briefed the operation, pulled the helicopter out of the hangar, and were ready to go. I made sure the engineer was seated and belted, and I closed the door. One last step before departure—the final walk-around.

In my final check, I noticed something sticking well out of the air vent on the rear window—a large piece of high-density packing foam. Where did that come from? The engineer explained casually that he’d placed the foam in the vent at the last minute to stabilize the antenna. The problem, of course, was that this large piece of FOD (foreign object debris) was very loose and liable to become a major airborne hazard.

Stopping the Accident Chain
The above incident marks one of countless times over the years that a final walk-around has prevented the potential destruction of a helicopter and its occupants. In many cases like this one, issues found on the final walkaround are often symptoms of another, deeper safety problem that should have been caught earlier. In cases of unsecured fueling caps, tie-downs, pieces of foam, and so on, a procedure should have already been in place that would have prevented the hazard from being created in the first place before being found on a walk-around. When a walkaround does uncover a problem, an analysis should be done to find out what went wrong procedurally. That’s why a final walk-around is so essential and why it’s the subject of this month’s Spotlight on Safety. A final walk-around is a double-check for many possible hazards, including ones you didn’t create yourself.

A final walk-around is a simple, effective, proactive way to stop the accident chain before even firing the engine. Unfortunately, there are many examples in which a walk-around wasn’t done and didn’t break the chain, often resulting in fatalities.

In one case, an MD 500 pilot forgot to remove the pedal lock. In another, a Robinson PIC forgot to fully remove the main rotor tie-down straps. In a third, a TwinStar aviator took off with an engine cowling unlatched. And a Bell 222 pilot departed with a tail rotor tie-down strap still installed. Each of these pilots, and dozens of others, omitted a final walk-around that could have prevented an accident and even saved lives.

Have you ever been one of these pilots?

The reasons cited for skipping the final walk-around vary, from being short on time and rushing the departure to feeling overly confident, believing nothing critical would be missed, to not wanting the customer to realize you forgot something to letting complacency and inconsistency compromise safety procedures. If any of these behaviors sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

The operational environment is riddled with hazards, sometimes including our own thoughts and attitudes. The good news is that if you’ve been negligent or inconsistent with your final checks, you can start anew today, vowing never again to start the aircraft before performing a final walk-around. Conducting final walk-arounds consistently is a great way to make sure momentary pressures or creeping thoughts don’t get between you and a safe operation.

Preflights and Walk-Arounds: Partners in Safety
Preflight procedures vary by industry segment and company; many different factors dictate what a preflight inspection looks like. Best practices, however, bridge all types of flying. A thorough preflight inspection should be completed at least once each day before any flight takes place. This should include the use of a manufacturer’s checklist and any additional equipment or installations. For every accident that could have been prevented from a final walk-around, there are as many or more that were caused by issues that can be identified in a thorough preflight inspection.

Following the full preflight inspection, the walk-around entails a final look at the aircraft and surroundings before each start or takeoff. If the aircraft is hot-fueled, train the fueling personnel to do the final check for you. When loading passengers, have them seated and secured with the aircraft doors shut before conducting your walk-around.

Some obvious items to check are fuel caps, cowling doors and latches, cabin doors, tie-downs, protective covers, wheels/chocks/carts, and equipment. Additional considerations go beyond the helicopter itself to include loose cords or clothing, nearby people, obstacles, brush, FOD, aircraft position, and slope. You probably have other things on your aircraft that deserve a final look, such as sensors, cameras, rescue equipment, utility equipment, and so on.

The walk-around is a time to mentally prepare for the flight, slow the pace, and ensure that you, the PIC, are in the headspace to prioritize the safety of the operation. In concert with other careful preflight procedures, the walk-around sets the tone for a safe flight.

Additional Resources
In addition to any published preflight requirements, a simple Internet search will reveal several other helpful tips on preflight planning and inspection. Below are a few examples you may find useful.

Author

  • Dave Dziura is chief pilot and chief instructor at Colordao Heli-Ops in Broomfield, Colorado, and chair of the HAI Safety Working Group. Dave is also a designated pilot examiner.

Dave Dziura

Dave Dziura

Dave Dziura is chief pilot and chief instructor at Colordao Heli-Ops in Broomfield, Colorado, and chair of the HAI Safety Working Group. Dave is also a designated pilot examiner.