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!

Repost: Falling Water – A Flyout that wasn’t

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function.
This is the law.

— Louis H. Sullivan

If I were asked to name my second passion, I would have to say it is Architecture. With  a sister studying Architecture, I grew up surrounded with designs, drafting, discussions on famous architects such as Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright and The Fountainhead. In my spare time I pored over my sister’s books with flashy images of buildings from around the world; mesmerized by the intricate designs, lofty skyscrapers and flowing structures that could only be imagined and executed by the intellect of man.

Falling Water is a masterpiece by architect Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW). Nestled in a valley in rural Pennsylvania, away from civilization,  it is one of the most enduring buildings designed by FLW that propelled him to fame and success. It was built for the Kaufman family in the 1930s as a weekend home and is now preserved by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and open to the public as a museum.


Continue to read here

Repost: Half Moon Bay

Quaint fishing village. Art Galleries. Shops. and so much more.

Even the name sounds quaint… like a town out of a story book!

Half Moon Bay (HAF) is a delightful town in the North Coast of California. Less than 30nm by car from the San Francisco, it is easily accessible by car or airplane. More fun by the later.

Pacific Coast Freeway or Cabrillo Freeway as it is known in these parts meanders as it winds its way south through Monterrey, Carmel and the Big Sur Coast, continuing south through beautiful Central Coast, San Simeon, Cambria, Morro Beach, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and further south to San Diego and beyond. It is the most driven road out west for it’s pristine beauty. Most tourists stop over on their way south at the famous Lone Pine Tree golf course and the town of Carmel as they make their way south along the scenic Pacific Coast. Art Galleries abound. Quaint local restaurants and shops grace the streets.


Continue to read here.

Repost: Closing the Loop

My personal attachment with Discovery started back in 2010. I finally came face to face with it, this past weekend when I visited it in its  final resting space. Discovery, after a successful 26 year career, shuttling astronauts to the space station and more, finally rests at the Udvar Hazy Smithsonian Museums in Dulles,  VA.

Continue to read here.

See Also:

Has it really been five years

It’s an AIRPLANE… It’s a CAR… No, It’s a Flying Car!

More Pilot Speak

“I was changing lanes to get to the right most lane since I needed to do a right turn, and keeping an eye on the two aircraft coming on the right lane, they were at ….”

What! I thought flabbergasted. Did I really say that? I smiled mischievously as I corrected myself and went on with my narrative.

“… and when are you going to tow it to the hanger? I thought you said 1-2 days?” I queried another time.

“… when she was at the other flight…” Oops. Not again, I thought.

Here we go again I thought, amused at the easy slip of the tongue, when it felt totally normal to mix terminology used with one mode of transportation with another mode. The rate of such occurrences can be more frequent especially when one is engaged, preoccupied, or engrossed daily on the topic.

Recently perusing through a car owner’s manual looking for information on controls to open the baggage compartment (oops did it again), I was amused to learn that the terminology shift was not one sided. Cockpit?

As technology and modes of transportation continue to evolve, the day is not far when ground and aerial transportation converge into one. Today there is a distinction between whether it is surface transportation vehicle i.e., a car, or an air transportation vehicle, i.e., an airplane. As technology and automation advanced over the last few decades and continue to evolve, increasing automation in both surface and air transportation has drastically enhanced the capabilities in both modes of transportation. Self-driving cars continue to grow and replace manual transmission vehicles just as drones have started to invade the skies. In the not too distant future, it will become fairly common for someone to drive out of their hanger, accelerate to take-off speed, lift-off, cruise at altitude to desired destination, descend, land and taxi-in, park, and head in for a another day at the office. 

That future of the flying car is coming and will bring forth a host of blended terminology and these unexpected slips of the tongue will no longer be atypical, but the norm.

Book Review: Fly Girls

The Daring American Women Pilots Who Helped Win WWII

Written by P. O’Connell Pearson, Fly Girls, tells the stories of the daring women pilots who helped win World War II. Only men were allowed to fly military airplanes and as war loomed, the US Army Airforce had a desperate need for skilled pilots. Through pure determination, 1,100 female pilots were finally allowed to ferry planes from factories to bases, to tow targets for live ammunition artillery training, to test repaired planes and new equipment among other things.

There is Jacqueline Cochran whose persistence and perseverance in appealing to the US Army Air Corps, or advancing the ideas to General Arnold at a White House event to allow women to support the military pilots by conducting noncombat flying jobs finally paid off. She was invited to head a program for training women pilots. As head of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) she supervised the training of over one thousand women to fly experimental Air Force planes.

There is Nancy Harkness Love who convinced Col. Tunner of using experienced women pilots to supplement the existing pilot force and was instrumental in recruiting 29 experienced women pilots to join the newly created Women’s Auxiliary Ferry Squadron (WAFS). During her tenure as Commander of the ferrying squadrons the WAFS merged with the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and became a single entity: the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

There is Cornelia Fort who was airborne on that fateful day and saw with her own eyes when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. She went on to become the second applicant to be accepted to the WAFS. She along with many other women pilots flew successful aircraft deliveries.

Fly Girls covers the stories of these and other daring women who through their grit and determination, patriotism, love of flying, and willingness to serve worked tirelessly during the war effort and helped win the war.

A brief description about the book on Amazon reads:

In the tradition of Hidden Figures, debut author Patricia Pearson offers a beautifully written account of the remarkable but often forgotten group of female fighter pilots who answered their country’s call in its time of need during World War II.”

The book can be purchased as hardback, paperback, or kindle.

See Also:
Jacqueline Cochran
Nancy Harkness Love
Cornelia Fort
Betty Gillies
Betty Tackaberry Blake
Teresa James
Ola Mildred Rexcoat
Ann Baumgartner

WAFS: Betty Tackaberry Blake

“Just believe in yourself. Study and work hard, and you can get to your goal, no matter what it is, if you just believe in yourself and try

Betty Tackaberry Blake was a United States aviator who witnessed the arrival of the Japanese at Pearl Harbor and was the graduate from the first class of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS).

Source: Veteran Tributes

Born on October 20, 1920 in Honolulu, Hawaii, Betty Guild was encouraged to learn to fly by Amelia Earhart whom she met when she was 14 years old. Betty took her first flight at 15. She earned her license from the Civilian Pilot Program at University of Hawaii and went on to complete her commercial and instructor pilot training. On Dec 7, 1941 she witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor from her balcony. She had received her instructor’s rating and regular commercial license the previous afternoon, but civilian flights were immediately banned in Hawaii.

In 1942 Betty married Robert Tackaberry, a naval officer. She later applied and was accepted to the first class of Jackie Cochran’s new experimental flight training program Army Air Corps base in Houston, TX. She served as ferrying pilot stationed in Long Beach, CA. After the WASP was disbanded, she received instruction at the air force officer’s training school in Orlando, FL. She served as simulated flight instructor for air force trainees until 1945, when she divorced Tackaberry and stopped flying.

She later married George Blake, an officer in the Air Transport Command and moved to Arizona. She passed away on April, 9th 2015 at the age of 94. She is believed to be the last surviving graduate of the first WASP training class during World War II.

See Also:
Wings Across America
Veterans Tributes

WAFS: Betty Gillies

Betty Gillies was an American Aviator who became the first pilot to qualify for the Woman Auxiliary Ferrying Service (WAFS) and the first woman to fly the Republic-47 Thunderbolt.

Born in 1908 in Long Island, NY, Betty Gillies, while a student nurse in New York City, began flying in 1928 and obtained her license in May 1929 after 23 hours of flight. She continued to build hours towards her commercial license. She joined the Ninety Nines in 1929, and was serving as their president between 1939-1941 when the US entered World War II.

Source: Wikipedia

Betty became one of the original WAFS members in 1942 and later that year, she was named commander of the WAFS stationed at New Castle Army Air Base in Delaware. She became the first woman to fly the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt in March 1943.  WAFS name was changed to Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in 1943, and Betty remained as squadron leader of the WASP assigned to the 2nd Ferrying Group at New Castle Army Air Base until they were disbanded on December 20, 1944.

After more than 50 years in the air, she stopped flying in 1986 due to vision problems. She died on October 14th, 1998 in San Diego.

March is Woman History Month and Women of Aviation Month

See Also:

Womens History

WAFS: Teresa James

Teresa James was a stunt pilot and barnstormer known for two key things – flew more P-47 Thunderbolts than any other pilot during the war and she also had the distinction of ferrying the “10 Grand” which was the 10,000th Thunderbolt off the Republic Aircraft assembly line.

Born on January 24, 1914, in Pittsburg, PA, Teresa James soloed at age 19 and became the first female flight instructor to graduate from Buffalo Aeronautical Institute. She received her commercial transport license October 1941, with over 600 hours. She performed as a stunt pilot at air shows around Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York. She flew the mail, hauled parachute jumpers, and worked at her family’s flower shop.

Source: Wikipedia

In October 1942, she was sworn into to the Woman Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and was the first WAFS pilot to fly a military plane (PT-19) coast-to-coast across the United States. She stayed with the WAFS as they were merged to form the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) and until the organization was disbanded on December 20, 1944.

She resumed giving flying lessons and in 1950, accepted a commission in the Air Force Reserve, retiring 27 years later at the rank of major after serving in Pennsylvania, California and Alaska. She was a member of the Ninety Nines since 1939. Her WAFS uniform is displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D. C.

She flew her final flight in July 2008, and passed away on July 26th, 2008 at the age of 94 years.

March is Women History Month and Women of Aviation Month.

See Also:

Ninety Nines – Teresa James
WAFS – Teresa James
Wikipedia – Teresa James
Foundation for Women Warriors – Teresa James

WAFS: Cornelia Fort

Cornelia Clark Fort was a United States aviator who became famous for being part of two aviation-related events: Pearl Harbor and second woman to join the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS).

Cornelia Fort was born in 1919 in Nashville, TN. Her interest in aviation was born at a young age of five when she watched a barnstormer perform in the Curtiss Jenny. She took her first lesson in 1940 and was hooked becoming an instructor in 1941. Her first job was at Fort Collins, CO flight school where she was the only woman flight instructor in a government sponsored pilot training program.

Source: Wikipedia

One warm December morning Cornelia and her student were out flying. The student practiced, honing his skills prior to solo flight, practicing take-offs and landings and level flight when Cornelia observed a military aircraft headed in their direction. While not unusual since the military base was next to the civilian airport, something was off. It was December 1941. Knowing something was off, Cornelia had seized the controls from the student and averted an incident with the oncoming aircraft, and watched in utter disbelief, as the Japanese aircraft passed by. She and her student landed and fled to safety.

Knowing US was soon headed to war she was interested in contributing to that effort. She accepted a instructor position at Andrews Flying Service in Honolulu in September of 1941 and by December of that year she had 300 flight hours. In September of the same year she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Service (WAFS). WAFS was created in September 1942 within the Air Transport Command, under Nancy Harkness Love’s leadership. WAFS were recruited from among commercially licensed women pilots with at least 500 hours flying time and a 200-hp rating.

She was based in Long Beach, CA and checked out in the BT-13 and participated in ferrying missions. It was during one of those missions when she was transporting a group of pilots from Long Beach to Dallas, TX in March 1943, she perished in during a mid-air collision with another aircraft that resulted in her aircraft crashing to the ground. She was the first of the WAFS to be killed on a mission.

March is Women History Month and Women of Aviation Month.

See Also:

Wikipedia: Cornelia Fort

Lost Aviators of Pearl Harbor

Plane and Pilot Magazine: Cornelia Fort

Fly Girls: Cornelia Fort