Why Do Pilots Use Checklists?

The main purpose is to ensure specific items are inspected correctly, and memorization never hurts.

The purpose of the checklist is to make sure specific items are inspected in a logical manner. [Adobe stock]

Question: I'm training to be a pilot and my CFI keeps hounding me to use the checklist, especially during the preflight inspection. But when I flew with another CFI and we were going over engine failure at altitude, the CFI told me I should have the procedure memorized although it is printed on the checklist. Which instructor is correct?

Answer: They both are. The purpose of the checklist is to make sure specific items are inspected in a logical manner. For example, on the preflight you start in the cockpit of the aircraft to check for documents then continue to the exterior of the aircraft, following a path that takes you around the airplane until you end up back in the cockpit. Pro tip: If you are interrupted during the preflight inspection, back up three items on the checklist.

When there is a loss of engine power at altitude, the first thing you do is achieve best glide airspeed. The second thing is to identify the best place to land, and then you go to the emergency checklist. It is critical to establish the best glide because that airspeed gives you the most distance for the altitude you have. Best place to land could mean the difference between going down in the trees or making a deadstick landing in an empty field.  Once you have achieved the best glide and the airplane is heading toward the best place to land, that’s when you pull out the emergency checklist, verify you have done the first two things, and commence troubleshooting.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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