Pilot training without checklists is not safe or smart

Single Pilot resource Management

Pilot training without checklists can have deadly consequences 

This year, I have been having trouble scheduling recurrent pilot training. Most recently the scheduler gave me a date that was 10 months past my grace month. My jaw hit the floor; this has never happened before. 

In my search to find other options for recurrent training, I was given the name of an examiner who did recurrent training in the airplane, not the simulator. Even though I didn’t like the idea of the extra wear and tear on the plane, I decided that it was probably the best option. But first, I called around to see what the guy was like and something I heard stopped me dead in my tracks. He didn’t use checklists. 

That is the worst thing I have ever heard. Checklists save lives. People die without them. I returned to plan A, begging and pleading until a spot opened for me in the sim 2 months after my base month, but hey, better late than never. 

But back to the no checklist thing. How many times have we read an accident report to see that the pilots were distracted and forgot to remove the gust lock, or set the flaps for takeoff, or check that the trim is in the takeoff range? Clearly, these pilots did not take the time to use the checklist and they paid for their mistakes with their lives. What a senseless way to die. 

Normal checklists are as basic as can be. They’re just a simple confirmation that critical safety systems and controls are configured correctly for flight. It only takes a minute to run through this short list every time you fly.  

There’s a simple reason why we all need to use checklists: we’re human. Humans aren’t perfect. We get tired. We get distracted. We have any number of other things on our minds. Even if we’re not thinking of something else, we may be thinking that we’ve flown this airplane long enough to know what goes where and we don’t need a piece of paper to remind us (Yes, pilots can be conceited). Which is why, more than ever, we need the assurance of a checklist to be on the safe side. It costs us 1, maybe 2 minutes of our lives to make sure our planes are ready to fly.  

It amazes me how the simplest little things can cause fatal accidents – things that would take a nano-second to confirm before takeoff. Remember the GIV accident in Massachusetts? They left the gust lock on. In fact, they did not complete even one checklist before rolling down the runway. In this case, the accident pilot was known for never asking for a checklist. When investigators checked the FDR data for the accident plane, it was found that the flight crew only did a flight control check on two of the previous 176 flights!  

What about the King Air accident that occurred 3 years after the GIV? The rudder trim was left in the full nose left position. The pilot never noticed as he taxied out for takeoff.  He probably wondered why the aircraft entered a substantial side slip after liftoff. Tragically that sideslip ended with the aircraft descending and crashing into buildings at a retail outlet center, killing all on board. 

There is no acceptable reason to skip the normal checklist, especially before take-off. We all started our pilot training with checklists in our hands. It’s time to remember the basics and return to our humble beginnings. 

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