Checklist or Do List
Fly with any number of pilots and you begin to realize that checklist usage varies dramatically. For the sake of this discussion we will only deal with single pilot operations. On one end of the spectrum is the pilot who claims to have his checklist “memorized”, while on the other end of the spectrum you have the pilot who reads each item and then performs the items. This brings several questions to mind. Which method is more accurate? Which method is more efficient? Which method lends best to a single pilot IFR environment?
Webster says a checklist is a list of items, as names or tasks, for comparison, verification, or other checking purposes. It is my belief that the key word in that definition is verification. When you look at the two aforementioned pilots the memory pilot knows the items well and performs the items, but did not verify that all items were completed. The second pilot simply reads the items, not checking the items, but rather performing the items as a do list. Both pilots run the risk of missing crucial items. One is relying only on memory, while the other is relies only his ability to follow the list point by point despite distractions. The best method in my opinion lies somewhere in between the two methods, a sort of compromise between not even looking at the checklist and reading it item by item.
The word “flow” has become somewhat of an aviation buzz word. A “checklist flow” is a way of proceeding through any number of items in an orderly manner based on the physical location of the items in the aircraft. With an aircraft that has most of its switches on the left (twin Cessna) you might start on the left and move to the right ending up at the fuel selector. In many Cessna singles you may start at the fuel selector move up the center pedestal and then over to the left side of the panel. In the later Piper Malibu Mirage, Matrix, and Meridian most of the switches are in the overhead panel, you may begin working from there down. The point is that you need a logical starting point and stopping point which will pass by items related to the checklist that you can complete in a fashion so as to not miss anything. After this flow is complete, now is the time to consult the checklist paper or electronic. I have found over the last 10 years of flying that the electronic checklists are fundamentally a much better and more efficient way of completing checklists. It is almost like having another pilot to reading them aloud.
My first introduction to the use of electronic checklists was in the King Air 200. We had a Primus radar with a built-in electronic checklist. The checklist items could be advanced via a selector on the lower center pedestal, and a switch on the yoke. This is far more efficient for a number of reasons. The first reason is that you never lose your place as happens with a paper checklist. When an item is checked electronically the checklist moves to the next item and shows which item is next. Here is a scenario which happens often in flight. You are reading down through the paper checklist when ATC calls with a frequency change, so you stop, tune the frequency, check in with new ATC controller, and then return to the paper checklist. Now you must reread several items to find your place again before you resume your checklist. This all takes time at the crucial point of a flight where the workload is the greatest. Using your electronic checklist allows you to go back to the exact point you stopped.
Garmin has been a leader in the area of electronic (well up until the touch screen units came out). In 1994 when Garmin introduced the GPS155 which was the first approach certified panel mount GPS it had a checklist function built into it. Garmin continued this with later panel mounted units including the ubiquitous GNS 430/530 models. Even the portable 696 unit and the newer 796 models have the checklist function available. For some reason Garmin must have not seen the usefulness of their built in checklist and as a result the 650/750 models do not have the software. Don’t lose heart however as there a number of electronic checklists available. See the You Tube video of my utilizing the checklist function on the Garmin 430.
Since the iPad and iPhone have found their way into the cockpit in great numbers pilots now have an easy avenue for the use of electronic checklist. There are at least a dozen or two iPad and iPhone apps for electronic checklist, so there are no shortage of apps. Personally I have Foreflight on my iPhone as a back up to my other Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) software, so I am somewhat partial to their apps. The picture below is a screenshot from my iPhone using the Foreflight checklist lite.
My main EFB software which I use for charts, XM interface, and a multitude of other flight related tasks is FlighPrep Chartcase Professional. Part of their software is a checklist interface. I have used this interface and it has worked well for me. See the picture below for an idea of what their electronic checklist looks like. I currently run their software on a HP Slate 500 tablet.
Whether you want to continue using the old faithful paper checklist, or you like me are using an, electronic checklist, I encourage you to analyze how you are completing your checklist. Are you performing the items and then returning to the checklist for verification, or is the checklist little more than a do list that you roam aimlessly through? Consider sitting in your aircraft(s) and writing down a flow pattern that you can memorize and then verify completion with the checklist. You will be surprised how much easier, more accurate, and more efficient this method is.