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checklists_1Copyright – Chris Kyle

For most of us, before we hurtle off to the Supermarket we at least make a mental note or written Shopping List and if we have any sense at all we have a pretty good idea of what we need, why we need it and how it is going to be used.

Merchandisers spend a lot of effort and time in laying out stores in the most logical and ‘Ergonomic’ way possible. This is to make the store as ‘shopper friendly’ as possible so that the maximum and most efficient through-flow of feet can be achieved.Note that ‘like’ items are usually grouped with similar or other ‘like’ items.

Because we don’t like supermarkets as much as we love aeroplanes we want to spend the least amount of time there and so we plan our tour through the store in a logical sequence perhaps starting on right moving through and ending off on left at the pay till.

After visiting each section or groups in sections in turn, 
we take a brief peep at the shopping list to ‘check see’ that what we have placed into the trolley is what we need.

Now if we were smart in creating our shopping list we would have compiled it such that it follows the ergonomic flow of the store thus precluding the need to walk from one end of the store and then back again in a haphazard style to get what we need and then forget something. The ability to do this depends on how well we know the store.

Now imagine how the dynamic could change if you went shopping with your partner. As you arrive at the Meat section for example your partner could call out the required items e.g. Lamb Chops, Rump Steak, Mutton Stew as you place them in the trolley and then when complete with that section called “Meat list complete”.

This analogy can be applied to pilot checklists.


Do List or Checklist for the Single Crew Operation?

All too often candidate pilots in ab-initio training are taught to use a Checklist as a Do List meaning that each item is read from the checklist and then done in turn, for example After Start Checklist reads “Oil Pressure” – pilot checks oil pressure – Checklist reads “Alternator Charging’ – pilot checks ammeter – Checklist reads “Suction/ Vacuum in limits” – pilot checks Suction and so on.

This goes on and on with the head down in the cockpit reading off the Checklist while the aircraft starts rolling forward ready to chew up an unsuspecting object.

The real question is why must the oil pressure be within limits shortly after start and what action is required if it isn’t. It’s all about understanding the aircraft systems and why we do certain checks and what to do when things do not turn out the way that they should and what does it mean? In this instance would the pilot have to revert to the Shut down Checklist in order to shut the engine down to prevent damage to the engine? We are just using this as a very simplified example.

This learnt pattern frequently goes on to form the way the pilot uses a Checklist way into his/her flying career.

Now using the After Start Checks as an example would it not be better to keep heads up while remaining fully situationally aware and doing what is necessary from a standpoint of understanding of why and what needs to be done, following a logical and sequential flow pattern relevant to the aircraft type. And then only once all is done to revert to the Checklist to ensure that no item has been omitted or neglected.

Using a Checklist as a Do List can lead to unthinkingly following written instructions and then applying the instruction without understanding why they are being done.

Understanding the Aircraft Systems, what and why is crucial!


Note from the above cockpit layout how systems, switches and controls are grouped together logically e.g. Electrics and Circuit Breakers are grouped together, Avionics and Nav Aids are grouped together, Engine Controls and Instruments are grouped together, Flight Instruments are grouped together etc. Note the Ergonomics – Left to Right and Right to Left ‘Flow Patterns’.

We should make a point of utilizing these well thought out aircraft design features to our full advantage and benefit!

Points to ponder:

# Make sure that the Checklist and Vital Actions being applied are ‘AIRCRAFT TYPE SPECIFIC’ and aligned to the approved Pilot Operating Handbook.

# For example what is the point of including ‘Undercarriage Up or Down and Locked in your Vital Actions or Checklist when the aircraft type has Fixed “Welded Down’ Undercarriage? What’s the point of including ‘Fuel Pump On or Off’ when the aircraft does not have an electrical fuel pump? Doing this has a way of causing pilots to recite things in ‘Parrot fashion’ without thinking and then one day when flying an aircraft with Retractable Undercarriage, sure enough they’ll go through the recital without carrying out the action – voila – ‘Wheels Up!!!! Habits die hard!

# It is crucially important to know and understand the Aircraft Systems extremely well so that actions are not just that. A thorough understanding must be had as to what the effect is to the aircraft systems and status when switches, knobs and buttons are pulled, pushed or tweaked.

# Good ‘Situational Awareness and Airmanship’ must prevail at all times and so a thorough understanding of what the aircraft status or configuration should be or should not be during all regimes of flight must prevail. At all times during flight ops we must have a very good sense of what we need, why we need it and how it is going to be used.

# There is no such thing as a ‘Bullet Proof Checklist or Cockpit Procedure’. External distractions such as ATC and looking out for other aircraft are a major cause of pilots failing or forgetting to carry out a vital action. If interrupted then start the sequence of checks again or proceed from where you left off only if you are very sure of what was completed and what was not.
# Never allow yourself to be rushed into a situation – that is when you are most likely to forget something – make haste slowly! Make sure that you do not look without seeing and that your brain actually registers what you see.

# Be careful of how you name your Vital Actions. For example naming ‘Pre Landing Checks’ as ‘Down-wind Checks’ is wrong! If you do this then one day you will be cleared onto to Base Leg or a straight in Final Approach and then you know what? You’ll forget to put the undercarriage down because you have programmed your mind that this happens on Down-wind!

# Certain checks and procedures should be memory based only – some examples Forced Landing Emergency Procedures and Cockpit Drill.

# Final Approach Checks – single crew – no time and too a critical phase of flight to revert back to a checklist unless your desire is to depart the glide path and see the houses getting bigger when they shouldn’t.

Last but not least – is your Take Off Briefing purely a recital of a good model or is it tailored and well thought out to suit the prevailing conditions, topography and patch of lawn available. Are you thinking?

I don’t know about you but what I like best about flying is that it offers a constant challenge to continue learning and striving to do things better and better and more safely! We should never accept stagnating on a plateau of minimum standards, but should seek a path of continual growth in the interest of general aviation flight safety and standards.

Now I’m off to have a braai! Gosh – hope I didn’t forget to put the Fire Lighters in the Shopping Trolley!

Until next we meet – Fly safely and enjoy!

The contents of this article is not meant to be prescriptive but was created to offer guidelines only. Information may not be technically correct and should therefore not be used for actual flight situations.