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Cabin class aircraft and other flying machines... a personal checklist for safety PDF Print E-mail
Written by Aero Publisher   
Wednesday, 16 June 2010 14:18

You would think that after reaching this level in aviation that the very last thing any pilot would want to do would be to create more paperwork. With all the forms and graphs they gave out at the recurrency school, the aircraft manual, Pilot’s Operating Handbook, manufacturer’s preferred checklist, GPS manual, approach plate books and charts, what could anyone possibly need with another scrap of paper? Well, on that last flight you took you were in a hurry, had a bad night or day, then this happened and that happened, and after landing safely at your destination, you remembered that you had forgotten something. No one probably even noticed because it was such a small thing to begin with, but it concerned you just the same.

Try doing too much…and then add something extra just for safety. You are just about halfway home… Now get out your CHECKLIST! The list I’ve been compiling over many years and have witnessed as a flight instructor in this level airplane includes: left the dipstick out; forgot to turn on the lights; landed on 20 left after being cleared for a visual to 20 right; forgot to change the frequency after being told to do so; took a 200 mile trip with the gear down; forgot to retract takeoff flaps; forgot to switch fuel tanks; forgot the approach plates because this was supposed to be all VFR; left the keys hanging in the door of the aircraft for the entire trip; forgot to top the tanks because I thought that line would do it and then forgot to check to see if they did. This list gets a lot longer and more use out of the word “forgot” than we really need to see in one article, but the point is made that we are all human and therefore susceptible to making mistakes, usually brought about by getting in a rush which causes us to forget on occasion.

The only thing that works well and on a regular basis is a personal checklist that you take the time to make up for yourself. Mine is four pages and it covers four subjects where I have found that I sometimes need a little prodding, such as (1) the walk around and start-up; (2) run-up and takeoff; (3) in flight and the emergencies that can happen; and (4) landing and shutdown. All the items included on this list are necessary and have been shown by past experience to sometimes get lost in the process.

The size of my checklist is 6” by 9”, laminated and on a chain. The items are in the same sequence as they appear in my trip, and they are not for anyone else but me. In the middle of each page is a 3” x 3” blank area with the title “New Items To Add,” and this is used from time to time to make an addition to my masterpiece in case something new rears its ugly head. I’m not saying that this checklist has given me all my memory back or made me a better or more competent pilot, but of the 100 items covered on the four pages, none have been forgotten in a long, long time.

Would you like to eliminate 100 bad habits from your life that could really cause you some problems? I certainly hope so. Why haven’t you thought of this yourself? Probably because no one wants to admit that they could be just a little bit less than perfect, especially a pilot, and no one wants to be responsible for creating more paperwork to deal with. But the process might also turn out to be enjoyable.

To create my own checklist, I first got together every piece of paper in the airplane and laid it all out on an empty desk. I then asked not to be disturbed for a couple of hours, or at least until I was heard screaming for help. Decision time—what information is absolutely needed for page number one—“The Walk Around and Start-up”? What am I looking for? What have I forgotten in the past? (I wonder if they make safety chains for those dipsticks?) I read the manufacturer’s list of items, the handbook checklist, got some great ideas from the first class I took, and now I’m writing stuff down. Trying to limit each page to 25 major items and no more, I walk around the airplane and touch and feel the metal and the glass and the rubber and the fluids, reminding myself that this is something I have not done in some time. It’s my airplane and no one flies it but me so that brings a quick thought to mind. All these things I haven’t been doing have not been getting done. Now that is pretty scary! My first page now has 34 items that I will pare down to the required 25 very quickly, but instead of just whacking some items I walked around the airplane again and that made it easier to eliminate a few things that would be easy to spot if left unattended.

Now with 25 items clearly in my mind and on my list and room for my “New Items” also, I was ready to proceed to the next page, “Run-up And Takeoff.” While sitting there with all this paperwork, I mentally taxied the airplane over the run-up area, going through all the checks and balances and then doing the takeoff in my mind. (When was the last crosswind, short field, or even good soft field takeoff I had done?) My Private Pilot checkride looms in my mind. This page is made up of a lot of numbers that need to be checked to see if they are the same as they were when this airplane was born. Probably not. VX, VY, V this and certainly V that. Set this and call them and copy this and do it all in some sort of sequence that will allow me to get off the ground and on course in a safe manner. What can I do to organize this entire sequence of events to minimize head movement and, in case someone is looking, try at least to look organized and professional in the cockpit? If your arm bone is connected to your head bone, everyone on board is going to be keenly aware of it as you rock the boat back and forth trying to get things done that should perhaps have already been done on the ground.

This page is very important to pilots because we tend to have almost as many takeoff accidents as we do landing mishaps, and we must do everything in our power to avoid either one. I always ask myself two questions before applying the power, “Am I ready to fly? Which way am I going to turn after takeoff?” This is important to a smooth and safe flight. What do you ask yourself? Never any questions might mean you are not concentrating completely on the flight at hand.

You should be really getting into this checklist thing by now and you may be enjoying the productivity of the effort. Nothing bad can come from this kind of effort on your part. There is no such thing as being too prepared and too ready to fly. Let’s move on to page number three, which is “In Flight and The Emergencies.”

This particular list changes almost every time we fly, different course, altitude, weather, weight and balance, time, approaches, routes, so the only thing that this checklist has to guarantee is that we are completely ready for this particular flight. Even though we are all getting GPS lazy, stuff can still happen and does quite frequently. Let’s make this list work on us in such a way that we are prepared to hand fly the airplane if necessary and do it well and safely. Design each step on the flight so that you are in complete charge of the entire operation.

At this point in the sequence of events that take place from the time we leave home for the airport until we land and leave the airplane at point “B”, there is nothing more frightening than to have the airplane start flying you or have it really get ahead of you and your planned thinking process. It can’t happen, you say? If you don’t think the airplane is faster than you are while it is in cruise, then you are further behind than you thought. Our only defense is to be better prepared for anything that could possibly take place on any given day and flight. This list might have the least amount of writing of the four pages, but it encompasses by far the most information. With this list you are going to have to fill in the mental blanks because each flight is usually different from the others, but you can do this. It just takes some time and some thinking from you as the pilot in command.

As you mentally fly a few flights that you have taken recently and start writing the necessary items for this page, you are going to start feeling smarter from day one. Part two of this page is for the emergencies that can sometimes occur. Those things that we call emergencies are different for each and every pilot and as such are handled differently. What you think of as an emergency could be considered run of the mill for the next pilot. Usually it’s what we are doing when they occur, how busy we are, how we as pilots react to them, and most assuredly the final outcome that makes them an emergency or not. If you think you needed more of this and less of that when the last emergency happened, prepare for it now with this list. Again we are limiting ourselves to 25 items on this page of your personal checklist and leaving room for “New Items" that may crop up. Don’t even think of leaving something out of your personal list because of how someone else might feel about it. This is for your personal use only, and in your mind it will make you a better pilot and a safer one, too, and that’s the bottom line with all this training and work that we do.

Checklist page number 4 is “Landing and Shutdown.” According to statistics, this is the other area where we have the most trouble. Most accidents happen in some stage of takeoff and landing and usually mention weather in the final report. What does it take to land your particular airplane and how well do you usually do it? Twenty-five items that get it on the ground, locked and chocked, serviced and ready to go again if necessary. This is your responsibility; no delegation, no subbing it out. This is your airplane and you are the pilot in the air and on the ground. You are in charge. As a reminder, my landing list has some critical V speeds and the point in this particular approach where I have everything done except touching the ground with the wheels. Gear is down at a certain point, radio is finished, landing configuration, flaps if needed, passengers are ready and so am I . . . at some point. Review with this list any problems you may have had in the past with this part of the flight and cover yourself now with information so that it never happens again.

Your checklist is now nearing completion in a rough draft. Not taking any chances, we mentally fly our last trip again as best we can and try to see if we could add or subtract anything that seemed important at that time. How we finish these lists up and how elaborate they appear in final form is up to the individual, but our very own flying record has established the completeness of the list. This is your personal list and no one else would feel comfortable with it. The rhythm and flow of the way you get things done, the order in which you check things off, would probably never, ever fit the flying style of another pilot. This is great! We are all individuals and as such have the leeway to make these decisions ourselves. We as pilots have only one main objective and that is to fly from “A” to “B” and land safely.

Nothing we can do will ever replace recurrency training, keeping up with the changes in our industry, and actually flying the airplane, but sometimes something as subtle as a personal checklist might just make us think a little about the job at hand and that is, bottom line, “flying the airplane, better and safer.”

If this article seems like a good idea to you and you would like some help getting started with the project, feel free to e-mail me at ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) and I’ll be glad to share the way I’ve seen these lists used and the best way to organize them from the start. No charge, just glad to help a fellow cabin class traveler and aviator of other flying machines.

If I could go back in my career as a flight instructor and measure what I have spent the most time teaching to pilots and students alike, it would come up heavily in favor of safety. Everything we do in the name of safety affects everything else we do in the course of a flight in a positive way. Aviation is a lot like speaking Latin and playing golf. I personally don’t think that you ever get perfect at either of them. In order to try, we have to keep asking more of ourselves. This list is just another tool that allows us to be a little more on top of our game.

I’ll see you at the airport—using your personal checklist, I hope!

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 June 2010 14:49