Preflighting an airplane can often become a mundane activity. And students are especially susceptible to this when, after many successive preflights, they fail to find anything wrong with their airplanes. You can help them maintain their preflight vigilance by using the following technique.
Before your student shows up for a lesson, place small pieces of masking tape (approximately 2"x1") at strategic locations on the airplane. On each piece of tape write statements like, "Rivet missing," or "metal cracked" or "wire frayed."
Let your student complete his normal preflight, then ask if he found anything wrong with the airplane. Sometimes he'll say, "Wrong? There's seldom anything wrong with the airplane." Amazed that I'd ask such a question, I've had students stare at me, as if I just walked up to them in Beijing and asked for directions to Chinatown.
Now the fun begins.
Take him on another walkaround and point out the pieces of tape. A crafty student might try to wheedle and two-step his way out of embarrassment with humor. Be prepared for this. I had one student say, "Oh, I thought that tape was holding the airplane together." At which point I replied, "Don't be silly, this is masking tape, not duct tape." Touché!
You can even write the words "Bald spot" on tape and place it on one or more of the tires. Your student won't notice this unless the airplane is physically moved and each tire observed. Of course, you want to retrieve all pieces of tape after the lesson is completed.
This technique is also useful during flight. On several occasions I wrote the words "Ammeter shows discharge" on tape and placed it directly on the ammeter. You'll be amazed at how infrequently pilots check their ammeter. Additionally, this is an excellent way to tell how often they scan important instruments like, oil pressure and oil temperature gauges.
The value in this technique is that it keeps students from becoming complacent about preflight. But don't be surprised if sharp students gain the upper hand in this lesson. Several years ago I wrote, "Suction gauge shows inadequate suction" on tape and placed it over the gauge. I looked away to take care of cockpit business. When I looked up, on the same piece of tape, the student had written, "No it doesn't!" I love sharp students.