“November three nine six delta mike, on departure turn left heading zero seven zero, cleared for takeoff runway one three left,” came the instruction from Dallas Love tower. I advanced the throttles of my C90A King Air to takeoff power. “Power set, two good engines, airspeed alive both sides,” I said to myself on the cloudless early morning. At about 40 knots indicated airspeed, something caught my eye on the master warning panel: HYDRAULIC FLUID LO.
“Love tower, three nine six delta mike is aborting one three left,” I said. As I exited the runway, the tower asked the reason for the abort. “No big deal, it’s just for the paperwork,” said the controller. I wasn’t that surprised about the light. The airplane had just come out of maintenance.
One of the most dangerous times in aviation.
The day before, the mechanic and I did engine run-ups and taxied the airplane around the ramp to make sure the brakes worked fine. During the two-week inspection, the gear was adjusted, tires replaced, and new brakes were installed. All checks were normal. But today, as I taxied to the active, the low fluid light flickered for a second or two and went out. I pressed the test button to check the system manually and all worked as I expected. But on the takeoff roll the message light illuminated.
I returned to the maintence facility next to my hangar. Sure enough, the reservoir was very low. The mechanics had failed to service it.
We had a heart to heart talk.
As pilots, we make mistakes every flight. We are human. And so are mechanics. In my experience, the most challenging flight is the one right after maintenance. I have had a hydraulic pump circuit breaker pulled in my Mustang, causing the loss of normal brakes and the use of emergency brakes as I taxied to the runway. Emergency exit doors improperly replaced resulting in the cabin not pressurizing after takeoff. Friends have taken off without noticing that the pressurization controller was set to off instead of on, requiring an emergency descent during climb out.
You name the problem and someone has experienced it.
As pilots in command, we are totally responsible for determining that our aircraft is airworthy. Even more so after maintenance. For the last few years, I have gone through the mental “game” of saying to myself, “Someone moved a switch during maintenance to try to kill me. I just need to find the switch and fix it.”
Sometimes the offense is small. Like the time my hand mic was replaced under my Mustang’s dash with the mic button depressed, disabling my normal radio communications. That took a while to figure out.
I’ve heard stories of oxygen bottles accidently safety wired closed resulting in no flow to the masks. Cockpit seats have been improperly installed only to be discovered as they travelled backwards during rotation. Tools have been forgotten and discovered in engine inlets.
I take an extra 20 minutes post-maintenance to look at every item on the panel, especially avionics settings. The worst time to experience a surprise is the first departure. And I will not take an airplane right out of major maintenance into hard IFR or night conditions.
Our safety record is pretty darn good. Perhaps because we are extra vigilant after maintenance. Play my little game next time you pick up your airplane.