Hat tip to the Fly With Blake blog for finding and posting this video!
John Laming has written an interesting and bound to be controversial piece about checklists for Air Facts where he asked whether or not checklists are actually necessary – especially for GA aircraft designed to be flown by one pilot. To put things in perspective: John says he first heard about written checklists back in the mid-1950s when he was a squadron QFI (a check and training captain) where he was involved in the training of newly graduated RAAF pilots to fly Lincoln bombers (similar to the wartime Lancaster). John noted that checklists were not used because cockpit drills were memorized. However, John also mentioned that the introduction into Australia of American Cessna and Piper trainers along with their Pilot Handbooks meant that printed checklists began creeping into general aviation.
John then recounted a story of how he once gave a dual check to a student with 15 hours in his log book but after the student was already strapped in, he announced that he had forgotten to bring his checklist and would need to go back to his car and get it. John said forget it and added: “You don’t need a checklist for a Cessna 150.” However and without his checklist, the student pilot said that he could not even turn on the engine.
John also wrote that the proliferation of read and do checklists in small general aviation aircraft now surprises him as these aircraft are designed to be flown by just one pilot. He then added:
I recall chatting to the smartly uniformed pilot of a visiting Trinidad. It was an immaculate aircraft with an impressive cockpit layout. While the pilot’s checklist was well designed and had lots of pretty colours, it was lengthy and included such read-out items as Check all clear for starting, taxi clearance received, ATIS received, cruise power set and a host of other reminders consisting of normal airmanship items which need not be included in a checklist.
On the other hand and after re-reading John’s article twice, Ron Rapp of The House of RAPP blog concluded that Mr. Laming has just encountered too many badly-designed or written checklists:
As anyone who’s operated a wide variety of aircraft types (I’ve flown over 60) can tell you, poor checklists are more often the rule than the exception, and the worst of them will leave a long-lasting bad taste in your mouth. They disrupt the flow of a flight much the way an actor with poor timing can disrupt a scene. One of the great aviation mysteries is why so many lousy checklists continue to exist. They’re not limited to small aircraft, either.
Ron wrote that the manufacturer-provided checklist for the Gulfstream IV is “comically long” and he doesn’t know “who designs these things.”
Hence, we want to ask you our readers what you think: Do you really need a lengthy checklist to operate a general aviation aircraft like a Cessna 150? Moreover, does Ron have a point when he wrote that there are too-many badly designed checklists?
Hat tip Sylvia from the Fear of Flying blog for finding and posting this old but amazing photograph of a Cessna 172 that flew into a Canadian house (the pilot limped away with a broken ankle) after its engine failed after take off. According to Sylvia, versions of the photo have been popping up all over the place (but she noted that she is “pretty sure the original is by Glenn Steplock and so I’ve used the version with his attribution from Airliners.net”)
The investigation by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (AVIATION REPORTS – 2001 – A01O0157) summarized the incident by noting that:
The pilot was conducting a visual flight rules local flight from the Toronto / Buttonville Municipal Airport, Ontario. When the aircraft reached about 400 to 500 feet above ground level during the initial climb after take-off from Runway 33, the aircraft engine (Lycoming O-320-H2AD) stopped. The pilot began a forced approach and attempted unsuccessfully to restart the engine. The aircraft struck a treetop and the back of a house and came to rest on the back deck of the house. The aircraft and the house were substantially damaged. The occupants of the house were not injured; however, the pilot received serious, non-life-threatening injuries. The accident occurred at 1952 eastern daylight time during daylight.
According to the accident investigation, it was not determined why the aircraft engine stopped during the initial climb right after take-off but the engine operated successfully during the engine tests and no mechanical abnormalities were noted. However, it was also noted that:
The pilot did not complete the appropriate emergency checklist, but concentrated instead on attempting to restart the engine. Directional control of the aircraft was not maintained during the forced approach, and the aircraft proceeded toward and crashed in a residential area.
My suspicion would be that the pilot may not have properly gone through all of the necessary checklists before taking off – which may have found the reason for why the engine failed. Nevertheless, he ended up in the side of the house due to the fact that he did not follow the engine failure procedure that is clearly outlined in the Cessna Aircraft Information Manual. Hence, the report is well worth reading and noting by other pilots so as to avoid a repeat of what happened.
Here is another photo from the accident report itself:
An effective departure briefing will be key to keeping you safe during and after takeoff. Hence, a recent video by Jason Schappert for his MzeroA site is well worth watching as he shows viewers how he does an effective departure briefing. Moreover, the video is intended to help students pass their checkrides and hence, it should be watched by any student pilot readers.
Checklist have become an important part of aviation and have gone a long way towards making aviation much safer – especially given how complex flying a plane has become. However, no safety procedure is ever perfect and all will have their share of flaws or issues that those who use them will need to be aware of.
Hence, a recent thought provoking post by John Ewing for his Aviation Mentor blog about the problems with checklists is well worth reading. To first put things in perspective, John noted that he has recently read The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande which deals with checklists for the medical profession and he noted that he believes that checklists are both appropriate and useful in aviation.
However, John then pointed out that he’d:
…be remiss if I didn’t point out that many aircraft manufacturer checklists are woefully inadequate, incomplete, and in some cases they even contain incorrect information. One manufacturer’s After Landing checklist for a late-model aircraft in which I instruct contains just one task: FLAPS UP. Don’t mistake this simplicity for elegance, because in point of fact it is inadequate. Checklist procedures continue to be spread throughout Approved Aircraft Flight Manuals, due to the manner in which aircraft and their components are certificated, and this may lead a pilot to incorrectly conclude that all of the manufacturer’s checklist content is irrelevant.
He then pointed out two other issues with the use of checklists:
- Familiarity Breeds … Complacency. John noted that doing the same routine countless times and you may soon start skipping the use of the checklist and instead do the tasks from memory or through the use of a flow check or mnemonic. However, John recommends variety. For example, once in the air you can “mix things up by alternating between the checklist and a flow check or a mnemonic backed up with the checklist.”
- Infrequently Used = Easily Forgotten. John pointed out that doing abnormal or emergency checklists may make pilots feel clumsy or confused – especially in a stressful situation. Hence, such checklists should be reviewed from time to time while sitting in an armchair or in a simulator.
However, John also noted that he has seen “numerous landing gear system problems for which there was no checklist.” Hence, the key to such situations will always be:
don’t be in a hurry. Think very carefully and avoid impulsively jumping to any conclusions or simple explanations. If you have another pilot or a passenger on board, involve them in the process even if that only means you talking out loud and them listening to your thought process. You can learn a lot by listening to yourself talk.
At the end of his post, John wrote that the “only thing standing between you and a fatal error just might be an open mind and a good checklist” – a point well worth noting by all pilots.
Todd McClamroch, the blogger behind MyFlightBlog.com, recently had the opportunity during the Chicago Air & Water Show to get a behind the scenes sneak peek at how the US military’s Blue Angels C-130 crew do a professional preflight briefing. The video is well worth watching and Todd wrote that:
We don’t all have the privilege to fly a four-fanned C-130 supporting the Blue Angels, but we can strive to bring that level of forethought, professionalism and preparedness to each of our flights. Whether you are flying with other pilots, passengers or flying solo I think it is extremely valuable to verbally walk through aspects of your upcoming flight including emergency procedures.
He also noted that:
I am fairly particular about who I choose to fly with and one immediate turn-off is when another pilot neglects to provide a preflight briefing. On the flip side, I am immediately put at ease when I share a cockpit with someone who takes time to conduct a proper briefing.
And if you are looking for additional tips about how to do a preflight briefing, Todd ended his post by suggesting a post by Paul on Ask a Flight Instructor for some sample scripts and then a podcast that was done several years ago by Jason Miller of FinerPoints.