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Check-lists or Do-lists?

"Gas: leave it alone; undercarriage: three green lights; mixture: rich; prop: full forward; fuel pump: on; seat belts: on and secure. Landing checklist complete," I called out as my instructor Bill and I descended on a long straight-in approach after a lesson. I wasn't referring to the printed checklist, although it was on my lapboard. When approaching to land at busy Reid Hillview airport in San Jose, California, with its high volume of training activity and parallel approaches, I want my eyes outside the airplane as much as possible until we're off the runway and stopped.

Is it a problem that I wasn't actually using the checklist? The FAA practical test standards (PTS) for various certificates and ratings contain boilerplate language referring to "appropriate use of checklists." So how, exactly, are checklists most appropriately used? Many instructors advocate always using them as do-lists: read the item on the list, do it, and move on to the next item. Other instructors, concerned about the head-down time required to use checklists this way, advocate doing a procedure from memory and using the checklist afterwards to verify that the items are done.

It's helpful to understand that modern aircraft checklists have largely evolved for use by professional, multi-pilot crews. These crews have the luxury of dividing the workload into "pilot flying" (PF) and "pilot not flying" (PNF) duties, with the PNF usually reading off "challenges" (items requiring a response) from the checklist and the PF doing those items and responding appropriately. This is an effective division of labor in part because one pilot can remain head-up while the other is head-down.

Single-pilot flying, however, requires one pilot to perform both PF and PNF duties simultaneously. For this reason, in my opinion, head-down checklist reading is best done only in low-workload phases of flight or when stationary on the ground.

Enter mnemonics and flows. Besides allowing more heads-up flying, they engage more of the senses, which is especially important for pilots whose thinking is primarily visual (most people), auditory, or kinesthetic rather than text-oriented. I'm partial to flows because I'm primarily a visual and kinesthetic thinker. Seeing and touching the items I need to attend to in a logical order is actually a more reliable method for me than the printed checklist. I'm much more likely skip a line of text than a step in a flow.

And even though I'm not primarily auditory, I find mnemonics like GUMPFS (gas, undercarriage, mixture, prop, flaps (or fuel pump), seat belts) especially useful when I need to be really heads-up, with eyes outside looking for traffic. I can usually complete these items by feel, or with only very brief glances inside the cockpit. This check is quick enough that I can afford to do it at least three times before landing.

"Three green lights," I called out, taking a quick glance at the landing gear indicators as we crossed the airport fence on a very short final.

Yes, like most pilots who fly retractable-gear airplanes, those little green lights are the main reason I'm such a maniac for GUMP checks. I don't care how high the workload gets—I do not want to be the guy who lands a perfectly good airplane gear-up!

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September 15, 2011

John Spiteri @ 3:18 pm #

Checklists I am sure save you from an absolute fright or may even save your life. I was taught to follow checklists fully on the ground step by step and commit other checks to memory during line-up and the takeoff roll. Pre-landing checklists should always have the essential auditory melody that you can recall. All though I have a non-complex aircraft designated in the UK as a SSEP ( Single Simple Engine Piston) aircraft with a fixed undercarriage and no mixture control I still say "Bumfitch" which stands for Brakes (are off), Undercarriage (mine is fixed undercarriage, but one day I may fly complex aircraft), Mixture (I have a large Motorcycle Carb, with no Mixture control, but I do have carb heat and check Engine T&P ), Fuel (check fuel is on both tanks and sufficient for a go-around), Instruments (level flight, altitude, flaps, speed etc.), Transponder (Normally perform a FREDA+L for landing prior to a Bumfitch), Hatches & Harness. I commit pre-landing and post-landing taxi checklists to memory; it took me a lot of practice.

My takeoff checklist serves many purposes: Firstly, take your time and don't feel rushed. Secondly, my GPS gains signal prior to takeoff. Thirdly, my engine gets to operating temperature. My instructor always says don't rush aviation; get into the zone and go when ready.

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