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A Piper Arrow pilot lands without extending the landing gear... A jetliner takes the runway, when the crew discovers they forgot to start an engine...A Piper Arrow pilot lands without extending the landing gear... A jetliner takes the runway, when the crew discovers they forgot to start an engine... A Bonanza pilot loses control and crashes, because he was distracted by a door that popped open right after takeoff... A pressurized twin runs out of fuel and impacts in an industrial park, killing the lone occupant -- who had forgotten to lean the mixture. All these accidents have one thing in common: All of them could have been avoided if the pilots involved had made good use of their checklists.

I would never do THAT!” -- Say it now and someone else will say it about you later.

Most pilots can’t see themselves ever doing something embarrassing, or that could cost them and their passengers their lives. They read accident reports for the same reason they gawk at traffic accidents— and always think it can only happen to the “other guy.” Unfortunately, a depressing number of airplanes do crash, and a great many more are involved in incidents. In almost all cases where a pilot survives a mishap, he or she says that they’re surprised it happened to them, and that they could have avoided the incident with better checklist discipline.

We’re almost all taught a “right” way to use checklists: “Read a step, do a step, read another step, do another step.” Remember: There are many ways to use a checklist and whatever way works for you is the “right” way. The only wrong ways are ones that involves skipping steps -- or not to using the written checklist at all.

Caution: Once we get comfortable with an airplane or a procedure, it’s easy to throw the printed checklist aside, and fly strictly from memory. Trouble is, there’s a lot going on in most single-pilot airplanes. And we’re *all* subject to the negative effects of workload, health, fatigue, and even our own personality styles. Any of these factors can easily cause us to forget to do something, or to do something wrong. It’s good to try to commit important tasks to memory -- BUT, *always* pull out the checklist and confirm you’ve done everything you thought you did.

In a single-pilot environment, there’s no one between our own failings and our fate

Using a checklist is like flying with an expert co-pilot even when you fly alone. It’s easy for age, experience and ego to lead you astray, but the fact remains that the lists were created by the people who designed and tested the aircraft. Used correctly, the lists remind us to do things we may overlook when outside forces make things complicated in the cockpit. You don’t have to be a slave to the “read a step, do a step” method, but be practical in your approach and USE THEM to:

  • C Confirm we’ve completed critical tasks
  • H Help pace our actions—not too fast, not “TOO LATE!”
  • E Ensure we do things in a logical order
  • C Command our actions properly when timing is vital ( such as in emergencies)
  • K Keep airplane designers and engineers “in the loop”—checklists are the “experts’” guidance as to how best to fly the airplane. Don’t give up that insight!
BOTTOM LINE: Where our lives -- and the lives of our passengers -- are concerned, a little constructive paranoia is a good thing. Use checklists for every phase of flight: start-up, run-up, takeoff, climb, cruise, descent, approach, landing and shutdown. Checklists are *not* a crutch! Checklists are a tool that verify you’ve covered everything -- regardless of interruptions -- in a busy, single-pilot cockpit. Sure, you don’t have to use them ... but, you don’t *have* to put the gear down either.

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About This Author:
Tom Turner is a widely published author and regular forum speaker at EAA's Oshkosh/Airventure and American Bonanza Society. Tom holds an M.S. in Aviation Safety with an emphasis on pilot training methods and human factors. He has worked as lead instructor at FlightSafety International, developed and conducted flight test profiles for modified aircraft and authored three books including: Cockpit Resource Management: The Private Pilot's Guide and Instrument Flying Handbook (both from McGraw-Hill). His flight experience currently spans 3000 hours with approximately 1800 logged as an instructor. Tom's certificate currently shows ATP MEL with Commercial/Instrument privileges in SEL airplanes.
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