by Lt. Col. Nick Modders
130th Composite Squadron
On Checklists & Their Use
Checklists have been a popular aid in aviation since the Army Air Corps’ chief test pilot took off in a B-17 with the gust locks installed and crashed. It was realized that mere mortals couldn’t consistently keep it all straight and operate complicated machinery safely.
Checklists aren’t just for airplanes. You can find them everywhere. Even physicians and surgeons are into checklists.
The last time I visited a physician for a dog bite, he brought up a checklist on his iPhone and made sure he had covered all of the suggested treatment items. And the cops and animal control guys that incarcerated “Fido,” after he chewed on my ankle, had a checklist. Even that stronghold of resistance to change, the railroad industry, now uses checklists for many functions.
One thing I noted about the checklist users mentioned here is that they did the function and then used the checklist. One thing that I note about many of my airplane friends is that the checklist is used as a “Do List.” What is a “Do List.?” A “Do List” is where you move the switch or perform the function when you read it on the checklist. Not a bad idea, but not the best idea.
In my years operating air carrier aircraft, my employer had us follow a practice where the pilot (or copilot or flight engineer) would from memory go through a path around the cockpit, or over a particular panel, and position the switches, levers, knobs, etc. in the desired position. Then, when all of that was completed, the actions would be again gone over in response to a checklist read by another crewmember. The checklist reader would read the name of the item of interest, and the pilot would respond with the proper position for that item.
The beauty of such a system is that items get positioned to the desired position and then they are verified that they are really where they should be. The checklist is really a checklist; it was used to check that something was done and the item is in the right position.
Now you are saying, hold on, I don’t have all these crewmembers to read to me. You can read to yourself (or have your passenger do the reading. They would love the opportunity to become involved.) But, the reading should be after you have gone through “The Flow.”
Where do you find “The Flow?”
It’s on the checklist. Hopefully your checklist follows a logical sequence of actions. In the Civil Air Patrol Cessna 172 checklist, the preflight of the cockpit follows a reasonably logical, left to right sequence, across the lower instrument panel.
Even though an item may not be until a later checklist, you can check it now and then respond to the checklist when that item is called for. For example, after you are in the seat of your aircraft, and all strapped in, before you grasp the checklist, you can start at the lower left of the instrument panel and work your way to the right. Primer LOCKED, Master Switch OFF, Ignition Switch OFF, Avionics Switch OFF, Circuit Breakers IN, lighting switches OFF, Flashing Beacon ON, Carburetor Heat COLD, Alternate Static Source NORMAL, Throttle CRACKED 1/8 INCH, Mixture RICH, etc, etc. You can then reverse course, go up a level, and go through the instruments and make sure they are looking functional. When all of that has been done, then you are ready to check your work. It is time for the checklist.
You might be hearing that voice in the back of your mind saying, I’m not so sure about this flow thing. Try this. Make a little time before your next flight. Go through the checklist and identify each item and its proper position. Maybe go through the checklist a couple of times and notice the path that is followed. You don’t like the path? Make your own checklist that follows what you think is a logical path. Get so you can do it without reference to the checklist. Once you have completed the flow, you are ready for the checklist. You can read it or you can ask your companion to read it. You are on your way to a safe and satisfying flight.
Using the checklist as a Do List is better than nothing. Checking switches and items in a logical and complete manner is good, and then using a checklist to check or verify your work, maximizes safety.
Fly safely today and every day.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks once again to Lt. Col. Nick Modders for his contribution to our technical bulletin in the interest of aviation safety, for all.