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Anatomy of a Checklist
Anatomy of a Checklist
Safety Wise

wpe5.jpg (5720 bytes)SAFETY WISE

August 1999

Anatomy of a Checklist

  I have observed that very few acro pilots actually use a checklist. They rely on a flow pattern or mnemonic to finger the appropriate switches knobs and levers at the appropriate time. I suppose the fact that acro aircraft are fairly straightforward, seduces the average acro pilot into feeling that a checklist is not necessary. Let's delve into the fascinating subject of checklistsà People are creatures of habitàif you don't believe me, let's recall how you shave (faces for guys, legsàmy favoriteàfor girls!). I am willing to bet that each of you always starts at the same place and finish in the same manner. Ok, same with the aircraftà right side flowing to the left side, or whatever your particular "habit" is. Here is the pitfallàif something interrupts and knocks you out of your normal routine flow, items CAN and probably WILL get overlooked, (if you don't believe me check with the insurance companies!). 

WB01372_.gif (406 bytes)  A written checklist is a delicate balance between detail and workability. One can have the most exacting checklist, yet owing to its complexity, fail to use it correctly, or even get lost and skip and item or two. An overly simplistic checklist is the inverse, too generic and not specific enough to be of any real value. The aircraft manual usually contains the approved aircraft checklist, yet in many cases (such as the Pitts) it was written to cover required items, recommended item, and FAA mandated itemsànot necessarily in an ergonomic flow which would be easy to use or recall in a flowing pattern across the cockpit. 

  The concept of the flow is a "touching scan" of the cockpit in a logical flow of knobs and switches from one side to the other in a manner which is easy to recall and execute. The checklist is the "clean up" of this flow and should be used in single seat aircraft to verify that the flow has, in fact, set the switches correctly. This means one should NOT read an item, then do it, (it can be done that way but that is not an ideal way to accomplish checklists as proved by years of documented airline and military experience). The pilot should memorize his flows, (normal and emergency), then use the checklist to insure that the cockpit is configured correctly. 

  My personal philosophy in the Pitts is that one should only read a checklist when the aircraft is stopped or above 1000 feet agl. Anything accomplished in between those two points in time is inviting disaster.  Therefore, the correct checklist is one which conforms to the pilot's personal flow, satisfies the aircraft flight manual, and complies with any pertinent FARs. Therefore, I encourage each of you to sit down with the flight manual and identify what specific items are required for each regime of flight. Next, study your personal habit patterns and flows as they relate to your individual cockpit set up, then combine the two into something that truly works and hits all of the key areas.  Write the checklist out in big enough letters and simple fonts so that it can be read from the pilot's seat. Tape/Velcro the checklist to some part of the cockpit so that you do not have to do anything more than perhaps cock your head to read it clearly.

  Practice both normal and emergency flows, then back it up with reading the items you have taped to the cockpit. I "guarondamtee" that your confidence both in normal and emergency procedures will increaseàand you will be amazed how many little things you catch that you normally would not. Think of a checklist as an insurance policy against embarrassment, financial loss, and perhaps even your or someone else's life.

Fly safe and RTFCL!


Capt. Ron Spencer can be contacted via email at

Previous Safety Wise articles:
[ The 3 "F's" of flight prep. May 99 ]

[ No Ordinary Pilot, Feb. 99 ]

[ A Weighty Situation, Nov. 98 ]



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