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The story of the pilot checklist: its history, examples, and importance in aviation

Flight Chain App - NTSB Aviation Accident Reports - Helping pilots learn from accident chains By Dan Sobczak
February 2021

Editor's note: This content does not constitute flight instruction. Consult a certified flight instructor in your area for proper flight instruction.



Ever wondered when pilots started using checklists?

Did it start with that first flight by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina -- or more precisely -- Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina?

What did Orville and Wilbur Wright's 1903 pre-flight checklist look like? Did they use a GUMPS checklist?

Gas = On.
Undercarriage = Skids attached.
Mixture = Yep.
Prop = Still attached.
Seatbelts/Switches = Seatbelts? There were no seatbelts on the Wright Flyer. Switches? Wooden lever mounted.


Aviation checklist history


A Curtiss JN-4 'Jenny' circa 1918. Photo source: Wikipedia.

A Curtiss JN-4 'Jenny' circa 1918. Photo source: Wikipedia.


Of course, there was no such checklist -- at least one that is familiar to pilots today -- for that famous first flight.

In fact, the first "pseudo-checklist" wasn't used until the "Jenny" in 1918.

A special handbook was created by Glenn H. Curtiss for the JN-4 "Jenny" airplane. The Jenny's checklist was not a "use this while flying" checklist, as pilots use today. Rather, it served more as a list of items to remember before the pilot strapped into the airplane and took off.

With brief sections that detailed actions to take before takeoff, some in-flight procedures and safety precautions to remember, some advice on landings, and ways to avoid stalls and spins, it was not exactly the birth of the pilot checklist.

But even then, the checklist didn't really come into existence until 17 years later in 1935 with a crash.

The Boeing XB-17 (Model 299) in flight. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo.

The Boeing XB-17 (Model 299) in flight. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo.


The history of the aviation checklist as we know it today is quite an interesting story. And it began with the Boeing XB-17 Model 299's test flight which ended in a crash just after take-off. Of course, the Model 299 later went into full production as the B-17 Flying Fortress.


Aviation checklist examples


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There are many pilot checklist templates, examples, acronyms, and mnemonics in aviation, just as there are variations among airplanes and pilots themselves. What sort of checklist pilot are you?

Do you prefer the 'Challenge and Response' approach?

Or the 'Flow' method, sometimes referred to as the 'Do then Verify' approach?

Or maybe you approach your checklist differently -- as in 'Review then Do'?

Either way you carry out your checklists, you can't argue the importance of checklists in aviation. These lessons from aviation checklists can also be applied in non-aviation areas of life.

Stay sharp!
The Flight Chain App team




Flight Chain App - NTSB Aviation Accident Reports - Helping pilots learn from accident chains Dan Sobczak is the founder of www.FlightChainApp.com, a mobile app that helps pilots learn from accident chains by making NTSB reports more convenient and easier to digest. Dan received his private pilot certificate in 2003.


Flight Chain App and its companion blog www.AheadOfThePowerCurve.com are committed to reducing general aviation accidents, helping improve aviation safety, and growing the pilot population.


Ahead Of The Power Curve
Blog Archives

2021


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June 2021:
Learning to fly a plane: The cross country flight (part 2 of 3)
May 2021:
Learning to fly a plane: The first solo flight (part 1 of 3)
April 2021:
NTSB report released in crash of Boeing B-17
March 2021:
Flight Training Tip: What does a Cessna 172 and Phantom of the Opera have in common?
February 2021:
The story of the pilot checklist: its history, examples, and importance in aviation
January 2021:
Accident case study: The DECIDE model, aeronautical decision making, and an ILS approach below minimums



2020


December 2020:
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November 2020:
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October 2020:
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September 2020:
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August 2020:
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July 2020:
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June 2020:
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May 2020:
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April 2020:
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March 2020:
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February 2020:
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January 2020:
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2019


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November 2019:
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October 2019:
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September 2019:
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August 2019:
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July 2019:
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June 2019:
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May 2019:
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April 2019:
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March 2019:
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February 2019:
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January 2019:
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2018


December 2018:
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November 2018:
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October 2018:
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September 2018:
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August 2018:
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July 2018:
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June 2018:
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May 2018:
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April 2018:
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March 2018:
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February 2018:
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January 2018:
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Flight Chain App and its blog Ahead of the Power Curve are committed to reducing general aviation accidents, helping improve aviation safety, and growing the pilot population.