Props for the prop

This time of year I find myself doing a lot of intro flights. The first question people ask is, “is it safe?” I reply that I’m more concerned about my safety driving to the airport than I am in the airplane.

Over the years I’ve learned that there is a fine line between making sure your passengers are briefed on what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency and scaring them before you even get the engine started. The FARs dictated that the Pilot in Command is responsible for the safety of the flight. Take that responsibility seriously, but also realized that when you say the c-word (crash), you’ve lost them.

I don’t like scaring my passengers with the mention of a possible crash. Because of this, my passenger briefing includes the use of seatbelts, how to open and close the door, a caution to keep your hands and feet to yourself, how to look for traffic, and when I am on the radio I will hold my hand up and you must be quiet. Then, in my best Disneyland-you-are-on-the-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-ride-voice I say,

“If we make an unscheduled off-airport landing we’re going to wait for the airplane to come to a full and complete stop, then we will remove our headsets and seatbelts. Go out your door and meet me back by the tail and we’ll go get ice cream.”

Little kids LOVE the mention of ice cream.

You have to be careful during the pre-flight inspection as well. If the intro flight client has brought a family member or friend along, I ask the non-flying passenger to stand back by the wall of the hangar as the intro flight recipient and I inspect the airplane. I don’t want any distractions.

The most dangerous moving part of the airplane, in my opinion, is the propeller. It’s a propeller BLADE, people. You don’t have to fear it, but you should respect it. Don’t put your hand on it to see if you can get the airplane to start like you saw in the movies. That’s like pulling the trigger to see if the gun is loaded.

Are you sure the magnetos are off? Are the keys out of the ignition? Do you really want to risk your life on “I think so”?

10Touch&GoMaulePropThe propeller can complicate photo shoots. I have lost count of how many times I have said no to a photograph of someone posing with their hand on the propeller. I don’t care if you are in front of the most rare airplane in the world with Jimmy Hoffa and Amelia Earhart standing next to you, if you put a hand on the prop that photo won’t be happening. At General Aviation News we get complaints if we run a photograph of someone touching the propeller because it sends a bad message.

If you’ve been flying for any length of time you probably know someone who has had a bad experience with a propeller, be it a hand-propping accident — there is a reason you have to learn how to do this — or someone who went into a prop blade.

When the propeller is moving, it is a blur and can’t be seen by the naked eye. Add the cloak of darkness and the chance of an accident increases, as was demonstrated on Dec. 3, 2011, when 23-year-old Lauren Scruggs, a Dallas fashion blogger, joined a friend of the family for a night flight aboard an Aviat Husky to view Christmas lights. The flight went well until the very end when Scruggs exited the aircraft. According to media reports, pilot Curt Richmond warned her about the prop and leaned out of his seat and placed his right hand and arm in front of her to divert her away from the front of the airplane. However, she walked into the turning propeller, losing her left hand and left eye.

It’s not just the aviation-challenged who walk into propellers. In November 2008 a student pilot in California was killed when he walked into the propeller of a Cessna 152 at night. The student pilot had illegally flown with another student pilot on a cross-country flight. Both were aware that the FARs prohibit student pilots from carrying passengers. The student pilot who was killed sneaked aboard the airplane and was trying to sneak off when he was killed.

Accidents do happen, but we have to do our best to mitigate the risk. CFIs need to make sure your students understand the potential dangers of the prop, and that they understand that they are not allowed to be the Pilot in Command and take passengers until they become private pilots. Incorporate the passenger safety briefing into all your training flights.

Teach them to take those extra precautions. Check for yourself to see that the magnetos are off and the key is out before you approach the propeller.

Be wary of the person who thinks it is funny to make jokes about pushing someone into a spinning propeller. That’s right up there with the person who thinks stealing an airplane and crashing into (insert name of an institution he doesn’t like) is appropriate. People like that shouldn’t be allowed on the ramp, much less in to the cockpit.

If you are participating in an aviation event that involves airplane rides, make sure you have plenty of passenger wranglers to escort the aviation impaired to and from the aircraft. During loading and unloading, have an aviation veteran stand by the strut like a territorial guard dog, ready to block the person who tries to walk toward the front of the airplane.

Most pilots are safety conscious and pride themselves on keeping their passengers and themselves safe. Instead of scaring them, let’s focus on giving those folks a wonderful memory, and perhaps we can turn a few of those passengers into pilots.


  1. says

    Meg, you did a great job explaining the dangers of the prop and explaining how to protect those who are near the plane. I appreciate the reminder. I love the way you used humor to talk about a serious safty issue.

  2. says

    “The propeller can complicate photo shoots.” I understand the point and that of statements like, “I don’t like scaring my passengers by mentioning a possible crash”. But to do just exactly by instilling overpowering fear of a motionless prop seems like over kill. Yes, yes, I know if one does not touch a motionless prop it is very likely to remain motionless. If the PIC can’t remember if the mag switch is off, the key removed and the mixture to full cutoff position, well then……. It is also a truism that if you don’t fly, you will avoid aviation’s risks and you won’t be involved in a plane crash. That’s the not choice of most pilots. It’s not true that if you touch a mounted propeller, the engine will start. C’mon, how does one check the faces and leading edges of a prop for damage without touching it. How does one clean a prop without touching it. In order to support instilling maximum fear of a motionless prop, many professional aviators cite death and injury caused by a ROTATING prop. Why not simply and emphatically convince your passengers that if they MOVE the prop, the engine could start(only if the PIC forgot to do something), the plane of the spinning prop is invisible and that it can cause serious injury or death. That should be quite sufficient for an adult passenger. Kids must handled differently. Sometimes when I hear the “order” to not touch the prop, I think that it is a display by the PIC, to make it clear to all present, that he/she is in supreme command, thereby satisfying an intrinsic ego need. Let them take the photo.

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