Dust Off Those Pilot Operating Handbooks

by Jeff Taylor
Aviation Consultant, WisDOT Bureau of Aeronautics

Sometimes, reading a “hard copy” flyer or booklet is still the most practical way to learn important information. But how many people actually sit down and read through their car’s operating manual? Probably not that many. After all, you can just get in, buckle up, turn the key, look around carefully, and you’re on your way. For many car owners, the only time they look at their owner’s manual is to figure out the stereo system or set the clock. Besides, if you ever really need to study your vehicle’s manual, you can just pull over to the side of the road, grab the manual and do a little studying.

In the world of aviation, things are different. The Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) is your comprehensive guide to your aircraft. There’s no way to simply “pull over” and study the manual when you’re flying. So it’s imperative to become familiar with your handbook and understand the operating limitations of your aircraft before you take to the air.

Unless you are the sole user of an aircraft, it’s a good idea to acquire your own personal copy of the POH for the aircraft you fly. By regulation, a copy must be kept in the aircraft, so taking the aircraft’s POH home is ill advised. Having another copy at home will allow you to study at your leisure.

The Pilot Operating Handbook is full of important information including the aircraft’s limitations, normal operating procedures, emergency procedures, performance data, checklists, weight and balance information, and descriptions of the aircraft’s systems. The weight and balance of your aircraft is very important.

For the aircraft to fly the way it was designed, the weight of the aircraft must be within limits. The POH will not only tell you the minimum and maximum permissible weights; it also specifies the limits for the location of the center of gravity, both forward and aft.

Could you pass a pre-solo written exam for your aircraft? For about the last 10 years, all student pilots must pass a knowledge test before they solo. The test must include questions about the regulations, airspace and airport procedures, and most importantly, “flight characteristics and operating limitations for the make and model of the aircraft to be flown.” Where do student pilots find this information? In the POH.

I recently gave a quiz to a group of experienced pilots with questions taken from a pre-solo test. Like most pilots, they want to learn and be challenged, but their initial reaction was disappointment with the “simple” questions. Their mood soon changed to frustration as they struggled to remember basic information about their aircraft. To me, it illustrates the importance of reviewing the POH to learn information that can be critical to a safe flight.

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