Checklist Fatigue

How much is too much?

“What are the after-takeoff checklist items?” I searched through the checklist to find the exact ones… meanwhile…“Watch your heading, maintain altitude”

As I took my eyes off from the panel to read the check list, of course I had drifted off course and deviated from my assigned altitude. As I transferred my attention to correct my course and heading, “Brief the procedure, what fix, initial or final, what heading,” snapped the next command.

This time I pulled my iPad up and tried to bring the procedure. It wasn’t sufficient that I review the key steps. Each time I had to read out the name of the procedure, valid dates, check any NOTAMs and whether they were applicable, and so on. Meanwhile … “watch your altitude… watch your heading.”

I switched again to level-off at 3000 ft which was what I had been cleared for and tried to orient myself to the avionics in the aircraft. I had never flown this aircraft before. Each time I fly a new aircraft, it does take a little flying to familiarize and get comfortable with the controls and avionics panel. As I tried to re-orient, “What are the cruise checklist items?”

 This time I pulled the cruise checklist to read the items of the list: “What is before that step… You need to read and confirm every one of them…”

I looked down, and repeated the one that I had thought was unnecessary to repeat… “Watch your heading… you are off course…”

I switched back yet again between checklists, cockpit familiarization, maintaining smooth control, procedure briefing from the iPad, and occasional communication with ATC. “How will you enter the hold …”

I switched to the iPad again. At this rate, I almost missed the days when I was using paper flight procedure plates. At least that was easier moving from departure procedure to approach procedure at a different airport.

And so, the flight progressed. Mostly VMC, going in and out of clouds. Wearing foggles limited my view of the outside, although I could see the occasional clouds as we pierced through them, vectored and rerouted by ATC to steer us away from other IFR traffic, and traffic advisories about VFR traffic in the vicinity.  Weather called for broken to scattered clouds at 4,000 ft at our departure airport and along our route. We had departed on an IFR flight plan with the intent to shoot some precision and non-precision approaches, holding and other required maneuvers for an Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC).

During the early days of flight, it was mostly seat of your pants flying. Airplanes had few navigation and flight control systems, and pilots mostly relied on their senses to gauge position and performance, and make decisions. Much of flying was by feel, intuition and experience.

In 1935 that changed. A B-17 Flying Fortress crashed after take-off when pilots failed to release a new rudder and elevator mechanism. After that event, checklists became a standard issue with an aircraft. As aircraft complexity increased more checklists were added. The 1990s saw the emergence of electronic checklists. Introduced in 1996, electronic checklists continue to be ever changing as technology evolves.

Initial checklists were made for completing routine procedures. A study issued by the FAA’s Commercial Aviation Safety Team [1] indicated that insufficient depth of system knowledge and/or over-reliance of automated checklist systems could lead to problems when managing unspecified failures. If the solution for every problem is another checklist, cognitive skills begin to diminish as critical thinking becomes unnecessary.

According to Flight Paramedic Dave Weber of Intermountain Life Flight in Salt Lake City, Utah [2], aviation and medical communities have reached a critical threshold with checklists. He suggests that we can’t make checklists for every part of our environment. Education and training are key and those items need to be trained and memorized. In his words:

“We’re seeing rapid skill diminishment across all fields when checklists are substituted for judgment. Critical faculties wither quickly once judgment is discouraged, and people are now becoming paralyzed when the problem doesn’t fit the checklist. They can’t process past that point in the checklist if there’s a problem mismatch.” [2]

Weber suggests checklists should be designed as reminders for experts who already know how to perform the tasks, not as “recipes” for beginners who are trying to use the checklist to figure it out. Weber’s solution for “checklist absurdity” is to streamline checklists down to include only the highest-risk procedures, and then edit those checklists to consist of five to nine bullet points.

I had never seen this drastic use of checklists before in my more than 20 years of flying. I have had my share of flying with different flight instructors in the course of that time either for flight reviews or advanced flight training. Many a time I have enjoyed these in depth flight reviews with my favorite instructors [3]. I had even done an IPC in the past. While every instructor has different techniques, this absurd adherence was almost negating the real reason why checklists are used in the first place: safety.

Good flight instructors are rare to find. Good flight instructors pay attention, adapt and train their students according to the situation, and student needs. No two students are the same. Further, every student is different. Not only in how they learn, and how they process and digest information, but also in the purpose and goal of their flying. While checklists are an essential part of flying, they need not be used to this level of absurdity.

I almost felt nostalgic for the good old days when flying was carefree and fun, and pilots were not bogged down by checklists.

Yep, the days of seat of your pants flying!

See Also:

  1. FAA: Commercial Aviation Safety Team: Operational Use of Flight Plan Systems
  2. AINOnline: Checklist Creep Adds Complexity
  3. Flynthings – BFR: It can be fun!

Checkride Anniversary: 5/5

Twenty-Two Years Ago

May is always memorable. I got my PPL . Three years later I got my Instrument rating.

“I hope we will be done by 3:00 pm, ” said Wanda, “I wan’t to watch the Kentucky Derby”

“I hope so too,” thought I. “With positive results.” For it was the day of my PPL check-ride and I wanted to get home without a pink slip! It was also Derby Day. And getting home to watch the race would be good too… I did make it home in time to catch the race that day.

As it happens, it’s also Derby weekend!

Repost: Flying the Hudson River Corridor

Remembering this flight from thirteen years ago…

“First will be xxxx aircraft, then John in xxxx will follow on and next will be…” continued Bob from our flight school, who had planned the whole flyout to the last minute detail.

I wondered how in the world we were going to keep the order straight leave alone spot the aircraft in front of us. Countless times ATC gives traffic warnings routinely. Only on a rare occasion am I ever able to spot the traffic. Often, I rely on ATC to tell me that I was clear of the traffic or to provide me deviations to avoid the traffic.

Maybe it will all work out, I thought.

Being on a C172 and in no hurry to exit the Hudson river corridor, I and my passengers opted to fly second last.

Continue to read here.

We All Fly: First Airplane Ride

No pilot ever forgets his first airplane ride – Bill Kershner

Coming across this quote recently brought back some fond memories of my very first flight in a small airplane. Seems almost another life time ago. but oh so true… a pilot never forgets!

It was back during my college days that I had the good fortune to go for my very first ride in a glider, ably piloted by my friend, a glider pilot and fellow class mate. It was a short and sweet flight. An introduction into the wonderful world of flying. Until then even though I had thought of it, it seemed beyond reach, not only in terms of access but also in terms of cost and effort needed. I had attended the local glider flying club meeting with him and considering the cost and options offered by the club, it almost seemed possible. I was excited and enthusiastic and ready to try.

Despite the excitement of my first flight, it’s my second flight though that overshadows my first one. Who can forget the adventure of an emergency landing on a street, the long day and process of dismantling the glider and towing it back to the airport?

Gliding? Hmm… maybe. While that episode caused a brief pause in pursuing my pilot license, it certainly did not deter me and a few years later, I did obtain my private pilot license. The joy of flying knows no bounds. It has to be experienced!

The National Air and Space Museum in DC is going through a complete transformation. The renovations in progress have added several new galleries. It is exciting to see a new General Aviation gallery. If it has been a while since you visited NMB, be sure to check it out if you are in the area. It might almost seem like a brand new museum!

See Also:

An Encounter with Gliding

National Air and Space Museum

Current Again. Yes!

Lately I have been thinking about the word “Rusty”.

Back in 2011, I had thought four months was too long a gap since my last flight. The gap this time was almost four years. For the first time, I even missed a flight review or two. It was interesting to experience the true meaning of “Rusty Pilot”. It was interesting to realize how much can be forgotten if one is not flying regularly!

While the review of current policies, procedures, regulations, aeronautical information, aircraft performance, weather and environmental factors are all vital and necessary, and can be part of every day activities even if one is not a pilot, the visual acuity, coordination, practical techniques, sensory perceptions, nuances, awareness and resource management are vital skills that are all accrued over time through application. These skills evolve and grow through continuous application, recurrent training, and pursuing other advanced ratings and endorsements.

As with anything, human behavior is built through constant practice and application. We focus on what’s in front of us or what’s important in the moment. With time forgetfulness can seep in. Other factors such as loss of memory, age etc. might add to it. As I attempted to refresh my memory, it was interesting to realize how much I had forgotten. Although I have been attending virtual rusty pilot seminars over the last two years, it was evident almost immediately to me that despite having flown for almost two decades one can forgot basic things from lack of practice.

May has always been the month. I got my private pilot license in May. Three years later, I got my instrument rating also in May. This meant every two years May was the month for my flight review with my instructor to maintain currency. That is, until this year.

Its good to be current again, after this unplanned hiatus!


AOPA Rusty Pilots

BFR, It can be fun!

Flying Lessons: Flight Review

Rusty Pilot Seminar

Rusty IFR Pilot Seminar

Repost: Rusty Pilot Seminar

There was time when I attended a safety pilot seminar monthly. Be it hosted by the FAA Safety Office, AOPA, 99s or other aviation organizations.  In fact I helped organize some fly n talk safety seminars as an active member of the local SLO chapter of the 99s. Living in a small town with numerous highly active aviation organizations there was never a chance to feel rusty.

Lately that is what I have been feeling. Rusty. I no longer fly as often as I did and I am sorry to report that today was the first in person safety seminar I have attended in the last 4 years (sans the one or two AOPA webinars I managed to listen in to). Living in a large metropolitan area, commuting on a weekday competing with the rush hour traffic attempting to get home expeditiously, it is impossible to consider attending a safety seminar.

Safety seminars on any topic are a great asset to general aviation pilots. It’s a shame to pay $50 when AOPA hosts so many freely if only they were conveniently timed and located. But considering I hadn’t attended one in 4 years, it was still worth the cost to attend one to review all that I had learned during my private pilot training. An in person safety seminar is also an excellent way to get all your doubts and questions answered. I even managed to come away learning something I did not know before!

Continue to read

Happy National Aviation Day

Source: NASA

In 1939, FDR proclaimed and congress codified August 19th National Aviation Day. It marks the anniversary of Orville Wrights birthday and each year allows the sitting President to proclaim August 19th, National Aviation Day.

Events are organized by airports, aviation organizations and associations across the US. It’s the day to spread your wings and go fly. Or visit a museum, watch an aviation themed movie, take an intro lesson or just go fly, hang out at an airport plane spotting, read an aviation themed book, or build a plane. It’s a day to celebrate.

It has been one thousand two hundred and forteen days since my last flight at the controls, not counting that Low and Slow Flight over Cape Canaveral back in January 2020. Back in 2011, I thought 4 months was too long. This is the first time, I missed a BFR (back in 2020), since I started flying. Happy to be back in the air for my flight review. Will take a few flights to feel normal again. But excited to be back at the controls after the long hiatus.

Happy National Aviation Day!

Repost: Oshkosh 02

Twenty Years Ago…

50 years of Airventure

Finally this year, I had the opportunity to attend Airventure 2002. It was well worth the effort to travel to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. We arrived in Oshkosh on Friday afternoon. The place was brimming with people and with luck we found a decent site to pitch tent and settle in.  Camp Scholler is not only a fun place to camp but is also very close to the action, within walking distance to the airport and the airshow. There are shuttle buses that operate on a regular basis between the campground, the entrance to the airshow, seaplane base and the EAA Museum.

This year marked the 50th anniversary of Airventure. It is estimated that more than 750,000 attended this year; an estimated 10,000 aircraft were flown with a total of 2503 showplanes.

Continue to read here.

Repost: Yikes I almost stalled over Lakeland

“Aircraft arriving over Lake Parker, expect holding until 7:15 pm over Lake Parker,” was what we heard on the radio a few minutes after our planned group departure from Leesburg International Airport (KLEE) in Leesburg, Florida.


Four aircraft from the Mid-Atlantic had made it easily, albeit, at different times to our chosen airport of rendezvous. Considering the aircraft in play: a Columbia 400, a twin Baron, a Cessna 182 and a Cessna 172, we definitely needed a rally point to meet, prepare, and plan a departure to Sun ‘n Fun (SNF).


According to our original plan, we had all congregated at KLEE, briefed the arrival procedures and departed on cue around 6:00pm. The plan was to arrive at Lakeland Airport around 6:30pm for a group arrival.

Continue to read here.