Checklist, Not a Do-List

Some flight schools will hand you wrinkled up photocopy of an aircraft checklist and tell you it’s the most important tool available to you. It’s something you need to get to know and follow precisely every time you fly. I always wondered, “if this is the most important document in the aircraft, can’t we get a copy I can actually read?”

Checkmate offers some very sturdy checklists that cost about $15 for a standard size, or $9 for a very convenient pocket size (you can order one here). These are rigid plastic and stand up to all sorts of abuse. If you’re a student, I strongly encourage you to order one, so you always have what you need when you fly.

Many student, myself included, will use a checklist as a set of instructions, carefully going through each step one at a time before moving on to the next one. This may seem like it would be the most thorough procedure, but it’s extremely easy to accidentally skip an item and never realize it. If you’re marking your place with your finger, it’s very easy to move past one and not know. It’s impractical to physically put a check mark on the checklist, so that won’t happen.

The solution to this issue is to use your checklist as that, a CHECKlist. Not a do-list or a step-by-step set of instructions. If you learn to follow logical patterns in your pre-flight and run-up, things will make more sense to you. You’ll be able to logically think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. It will become a system. Then, before moving on, you go down the checklist and “check, check check.”

Think about it, you don’t use a checklist when landing the aircraft, do you? Have you ever been turning to final, reached over and looked to make sure you didn’t miss the next step on the card? Of course not. Considering the fact that landings are the most dangerous step in the process of flying, if there was ever a time to make sure you didn’t miss something, it would be here. But we don’t, because we learn a logical sequence of steps and make them into a fluid motion.

Take some time to study your checklist so you can move through the steps in one fluid motion and then go through the checklist. You’ll not only become quicker at doing the things you need to do, but you’ll make sure you didn’t forget anything when your finger accidently slid to the next item and you didn’t notice.

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