Lights, Camera, Action!

Use this mnemonic to double check a few items right before takeoff.

Pilots longing to indulge their inner filmmaker must love the shorthand before-takeoff checklist “Lights – Camera – Action.” If you aren’t familiar with this handy mnemonic, it’s intended to be recited immediately after receiving takeoff clearance and rolling past the hold-short line onto the active runway (or making the call on the common traffic advisory frequency) and includes final to-do items you won’t have time to read from a written checklist. Here’s what it means:

Lights – turn on your required external lighting, i.e. landing light and strobe.

Camera – turn your transponder to “alt” so you can be seen by radar and TCAS.

Action – Check that the mixture control is full forward (or less for a high-density-altitude departure), check flaps and trim, turn on the fuel pump if required and apply takeoff power.

Your rotating beacon (and navigation lights at night) won’t bother anybody during taxi and should already be on before takeoff, but anti-collision lights are extremely bright and can blind other pilots. That’s why you shouldn’t turn on the landing light or strobe until taking the active. (Seeing these lights come on is also a subtle, nonverbal cue to the tower that an airplane is about to depart.) The exception is for airplanes, like Cirrus models, that need the strobes on for ground ops because they lack a beacon. And in some airplanes, like those equipped with Garmin’s G1000 cockpit, the “camera” (i.e. transponder) goes to alt mode automatically.

Another final “quicklist” I like to use (especially if departing into IMC) is “SHT,” which stands for Suction (making sure the all-important suction gauge is in the green), Heading (checking that the heading indicator does indeed agree with the runway heading) and Time (noting the departure time on the old Seiko). Just don’t say this acronym aloud if grandma’s on board.

Finally, be sure to glance at the engine gauges (CHT, oil pressure and oil temperature) during the takeoff roll to verify they’re in the green and confirm airspeed is alive – or you could find yourself in the climbout uttering things no passenger wants to hear.

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