Important paperwork

Important paperwork


There is a saying among many in aviation that the airplane won’t fly until the weight of the aircraft equals the weight of the paperwork required to keep it legal.

Although there is the obvious amount of humor in the statement, it nonetheless provides a hint that documentation is important to safe aviating.

The primary document pilots are supposed to keep in the aircraft is the Pilot’s Operating Handbook.

The handbook is developed by the airplane manufacturer and contains the Federal Aviation Administration Airplane Flight Manual information.

The manual contains general information about the make and model of the aircraft.

The handbook of a general aviation aircraft may contain as many as ten sections.


These sections are:  General; limitations; emergency procedures; normal procedures; performance; weight and balance/equipment list; systems descriptions; handling; service and maintenance; and supplements. The manufacturer may include a 10th section on safety tips, as well as an index of subject matters.

The handbook is required to be carried in the airplane any time it is flown.

Pilots refer to the handbook to obtain the normal checklist items required for pre-flight inspection, engine start, taxi, run-up, take-off, climb, cruise, decent, landing, after landing, and shut down checklists.

A conscientious pilot will make use of checklists for each phase of flight, as the checklist ensures that an important or minor item is not forgotten.


Pilots of larger aircraft carrying cargo or passengers for hire are required to use checklists.

These pilots use a callout-response procedure to perform such checklists. This procedure allows one pilot to call out a checklist item, such as “flaps set for takeoff 15 degrees,” with the other pilot touching the flap handle and confirming with a response, “flaps set, 15 degrees.”

The handbook also contains emergency procedures that should be followed when appropriate.

Most pilots will memorize the first several items of emergency checklists in order to accomplish those immediately important in an emergency.

The following is an example of the first several items of the emergency checklist for the loss of power in one engine of a twin-engine aircraft during the climb phase of flight: Upon noticing the loss of power … Airspeed (pitch angle for best single engine rate of climb); Heading (maintain directional control); Altitude (maintain altitude or minimum sink rate); Mixture (mixture controls to full rich for best engine power); Prop (propeller control to high RPM setting); Throttle (throttle to full power); Gear (be sure the landing gear is in the up position to reduce drag if no landing is possible); Flaps (check flaps up to reduce drag); Identify (identify the “dead” engine by slapping your “dead” leg, the one not pushing on the rudder); Verify (verify that the engine you identified as “dead” is in fact the dead engine by retarding the corresponding throttle slowly so see if there is no change); Feather (pull the propeller control of the dead engine to feather causing it to align with the slipstream to decrease drag); and finally raise the dead (bank 5 degrees into the good engine as asymmetrical thrust from one side will cause a side slip.)


Although the checklist may seem daunting, the entire engine-out procedure can be accomplished within about 10 seconds.

After the procedure is performed the pilot should confirm that all necessary items are done by using the printed checklist in the handbook.

The handbook also provides performance information important to the pilot. Takeoff and landing distances at various weights, temperatures, and altitudes allow the pilot to compute safe margins and runway usage. Weight and balance data provides information on maximum weights that the aircraft can carry and where those weights can be placed.

Other performance data in the handbook allow the pilot to compute fuel consumption, range, and stall speeds.


Other documentation that is required to be in the aircraft includes an airworthiness certificate, a registration certificate, and weight and balance data. Until several years ago, a radio station license was required to be carried in the aircraft giving a useful mnemonic for pilots to remember what documentation was needed in the aircraft, ARROW. 

There is substantially more information in the aircraft, including placards that identify critical speeds for the aircraft, operating limitations, fuel placards around the fuel tank filler necks, and markings on instruments showing normal operating ranges and out-of-normal ranges.