Hand-propping goes awry

Aircraft: Cessna 172. Injuries: 1 Minor. Location: Johnson Valley, Calif. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: An acquaintance of the pilot expressed an interest in learning to fly his newly purchased airplane. The pilot agreed to provide a demonstration flight.

The acquaintance had no prior flight experience.

On the morning of the planned flight, the pilot discovered that the airplane’s battery was dead and decided to start the engine by hand-propping. The pilot instructed the passenger, who was seated in the left seat, how to operate the brakes and throttle.

The pilot was able to start the engine by hand, then the airplane began to move forward. The pilot was unable to board the airplane, and the passenger was unable to control or stop the airplane or shut down the engine.

Witnesses said that the engine rpm increased and the airplane accelerated as it crossed a runway and crashed into ground-mounted solar panel array.

Probable cause: The pilot did not properly secure the airplane prior to rotating the propeller by hand, resulting in inadvertent movement of the airplane.

NTSB Identification: WPR12CA153

This April 2012 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.


  1. Bruce Corey says

    I occasionally have to prop airplanes when I’m alone, actually I prefer to do it alone, here’s my procedure.
    1. Tie the tail and set the brakes.
    2. Prepare engine for the start: prime, set mixture and throttle, turn on left mag.
    4. Prop the engine, it will run with the fuel off plenty long enough to adjust the idle and recheck the brakes.
    5. When sure the idle is stable and brakes are still set, turn the fuel on and untie the tail just before entering the cockpit.

    • Bluestar says

      It doesn’t get any more right than that, you nailed it, especially one mag with the fuel off, not many pilots think of it. And, for anyone not chocking the wheels before starting is just simply not sane to fly.

      • Tom says

        The Keystone Cops were so very very glad,
        Their Chief had given them an airplane to use,
        Though the taxpayers would surely be “had”,
        Those cops now had a toy to abuse.

        “You prop it” one said to the other,
        “I’ll hold the tail with one hand”,
        “No need to chock it my brother”,
        “Just push in the throttle my man”.

        Well you guessed it all pilots of substance,
        Replacing the battery is a much better fix,
        The smoke and flames you could see from a distance,
        Keystone Cop types and airplanes don’t mix.

  2. John says

    Dead battery means aircraft didn’t meet the TDC, and was therefore unsafe to operate (fly). Grounded until fixed. Absent an emergency or exigency (they were stuck in the back country with a dead battery) there was no need to hand prop. Yeah, I’ve heard all the arguments that “it can be done safely…”

  3. BlueStar says

    RUSH, it’s all about rushing, time is important and these little things like setting the parking brake, chocking wheels are time consumming, come on, we all know that!!!

  4. Chritz says

    Everything about this from the beginning spelled disaster. As an instructor I will be sure to use this as a teaching tool. Hope the individual is ok, but what he did was so stupid, careless, reckless and I could go on. .02

  5. Ray says

    So many options to avoid this! First being GET A BATTERY, or get a qualified pilot to assist you, then set the parking brake and instruct the non qualified passenger on pulling the red knob all the way if things get out of hand, or feet firmly on brakes until you are seated and transfer of controls are complete, and on and on.

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