It wasn’t until I looked around, perplexed, that my eye fell on
about the trailing portion, which can only
the gap cover. It was sticking up like a misshapen shark fin.
be seen from behind the wing.
If I had looked at it from behind the
I landed, unbuckled, got out, and
wing, I’d have noticed that the trailing
portion’s Velcro edges were gradually
unsticking along its length. “Whaddaya
wanna look at that for?” the monkey asked.
“There’s never anything to see. Get on
All that was necessary for it to get
loose, evidently, was for the airplane to
pass through a sharp patch of wake turbu-
lence from another aircraft. Just after I hit
the patch, the GT began to buck, with
short spasms that could be felt through the
yoke as well as through the seat of the
pants—nothing so bad that I wanted to
reach for the BRS handle, but enough to
induce a desire to get this thing on the
ground right away.
looked at the tail, expecting to find the
horizontal stabilizer loose or the elevator
unhinged or something.
Nothing appeared to be wrong. A flying
buddy was called over and confirmed my
impression that the tail was still solidly
connected to the airframe. It wasn’t until I
looked around, perplexed, that my eye fell
on the gap cover. It was sticking up like a
misshapen shark fin. Understanding
dawned: The shark fin had disturbed the air
passing over it, causing the strange behavior. Weirdly, it had re-Velcroed itself to the
gap over the wing and was actually kind of
hard to pry out of its peculiar new shape.
A tactile check of that item has since
been added to my preflight sequence. I
reach a hand up over the wing and feel that
the gap cover is firmly stuck down.
The printed checklist is usually recommended as the way to go, and that may be
best for those who like the reassurance that
everything is there in black and white. (I’ve
drawn the monkey’s victim—who doesn’t
look remotely like me—with one, but just
for illustration purposes.)
The problem with my preflight was not
the lack of a printed checklist, but the failure to ensure that everything was included
in the sequence. Either kind of checklist
will work. Either one, in order to work, has
to be followed zealously.
The monkey will insist that nothing
ever comes up. The monkey is wrong. For
example, I always give each spark-plug
cap a tug to ensure that nothing will
move, and nothing ever did—until the day
when one did move. It turned out that the
plug threads had stripped. If I had not
caught that, my guess is, the plug would
have blown out of the head on takeoff.
One week and one threaded insert later, I
was back in the air.
• Safeties that look like rings or safety
pins are okay for use only if they are
high enough on the airframe that tall
grass or weeds cannot snatch them
off. If you do go into the weeds at
some point, be especially alert to anything that may have been caught and
LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT
Each aircraft has a specific preflight
checklist, and this is no place to do a one-
size-fits-all. But here’s an assortment of a
few items that are not always mentioned:
• Slide your hand along the propeller’s
leading edges before each flight. A
roughness will accumulate over time.
It’s progressive, and must be
addressed at some point before it
becomes too rough. Try to be objective
about just how much roughness you
• Every nut must be safetied in some
way. Nyloc nuts are not supposed to be
reused. If a Nyloc nut has been in
place for several years, put a wrench
on it to confirm that it is still as snug
as ever, and make at least a mental
note of the torque it will withstand
without moving. Replace any Nyloc
that moves easily.
• Also slide your hand along each cable
or wire. Any little meat hook that
catches your hand is a serious sign
that must be looked into.
• Pay particular attention to Nicopress
fittings, examining them closely for
any sign of slippage. Thimbles also
should be watched for elongation.
• If you interrupt the preflight at any
point, go back to the item before the
one you were checking when you
• If you finish the preflight with
clean hands, you didn’t look closely
It’s never okay to be cruel to an animal, but you can make an exception in the
case of the distraction monkey. Don’t feed
him, don’t pet him, and above all don’t
pay any attention to him. He’s a jerk.
Dave Matheny, EAA 184186, is a private pilot and
an FAA ground instructor. He has been flying light
aircraft, including ultralights, for 30 years. He accepts
commissions for his art and can be reached at