I sat in the cockpit, looking over the engine cowling, watching the mechanic as he worked his magic. “Okay try it now,” he called, stepping away from the airplane. I ran through the checklist. “Mixture rich, carb heat cold, throttle open a quarter inch.” I finished the checklist and yelled “CLEAR PROP” as I turned the ignition and hoped for a start.  Nothing.

A “Sub” Prime Situation
It was a cold day in Athens, Georgia, back in 2003. I was starting up the plane to fly over to South Carolina for my checkride – the final test to become a Private Pilot. I had gotten a couple subs for lunch to bring on the flight. My instructor and I had planned on eating once we got the destination airport to meet the examiner.  We didn’t want to waste any time in Athens and be late, but luck would have it that on this day the starter on the airplane was frozen over. I tried several times for an engine start, but even with the aid of the mechanic tinkering under the cowling, she wouldn’t crank.  The mechanic advised us to turn the plane into the sun to warm up the starter. That seemed an unlikely solution but we tried it anyway. After my last failed attempt, I sent the subs back into the flight school with my instructor, who was going to call the examiner and cancel the checkride. I would lick my wounds on the ground here in Athens over a foot long roast beef on wheat.

One More Try
As my instructor walked away towards the building, the mechanic headed back for the hangar. “One more try,” I said out loud. To this day, I like to read through checklists out loud, whether anyone is in the plane with me or not. “Mixture rich, carb heat cold, throttle open a quarter inch…” I felt a bit like Clark Griswold passionately connecting the Christmas light extension cords as I turned the ignition to start. The engine surged to life – I think I heard the same “hallelujah” choir song from the Griswold house when the lights came on as I laughed out loud with delight. Hearing the start, my instructor turned around just before getting inside.  We pounded our fists in the air, celebrating the mission being back online.

See It For Yourself
Starting the engine in an airplane is so much more involved than the simple key turn involved in our cars. In most flight simulators, the session loads up on the runway with the engine running. When I spend time on the simulator, I have settings saved to load up the airplane completely shut down – “cold” – just like I’d find it when I go fly. This gives me the chance to drill through the startup procedure, helping to make the process more of a fluid, well rehearsed motion. Each airplane has its own slight variations in the startup checklist, but take a look at a video of engine startup in a Cessna 172 on X-Plane. If you are in flight training, I suggest using the checklist for the airplane you are learning when you use the simulator.  It’s a great way to “chair fly” your checklists.  If you are a flight simulator enthusiast looking to add an element of realism to your flying, you can download a checklist I’ve formatted to use with the Cessna 172 on most flight simulators. If you’re like me, you’ll find it incredibly satisfying to fulfill the discipline and structure of using a checklist on the simulator.

And Now For The Video

 

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