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Checklists are a common tool in aviation to help make sure you don’t forget to do something at some point in time. Even if you don’t always follow them line by line when in a familiar situation, I am sure they helped you develop those subconscious routines you use in all phases of flight, from startup to shut down with maybe an ILS approach down to minimums in between for good measure.

Despite the obvious benefits of using checklists, many pilots fail to recognize the real cognitive value of checklists lies in the process of creating them. One of my favorite activities when purchasing or transitioning to a different light aircraft is creating my set of checklists for it. Having completed six now, I have a pretty good idea of the process.


Generic checklists are pretty good, but doing it yourself has a lot of benefits.

Start by studying the POH front to back, page by page. Make sure to do the same for any POH supplements, especially for performance modifications such as larger engines and aftermarket intercoolers. Using the checklists provided by the POH as starting templates, consider the equipment and avionics actually installed on the aircraft and make appropriate changes. For each phase of flight, think about how you like to perform that process and compare it to the process outlined in the POH’s checklist. A significant advantage to creating your own checklists is that since they will be pertinent to your aircraft/situation, they are less likely to be ignored in actual use.

Compare the operating instructions detailed in the POH and supplements to your own thoughts on engine leaning procedures, preferred power settings, temperature limits, etc. If you think that climbing with CHTs below 400 degrees, cruising at 65% power and a five-minute turbo cool down before shut down will help your engine last longer, then put that information on your checklist where appropriate. That way when your buddy jumps in it for a joyride, he’ll hopefully at least operate the aircraft same as you do.

In addition to customizing the POH’s checklists, you can also make versions with additional information for certain situations, such as programming the radios and navigation equipment before an IFR departure or getting the one-minute weather and identifying appropriate NAVAIDs before contacting approach. When training for my instrument ticket, I hit a wall with trying to keep everything in one shoe when starting an approach. Finally I had to break down and create a separate checklist for each type of approach, i.e. non-precision timed, ILS, etc. and although they seem a bit overkill today, the process of creating them brought order to my cockpit and got me over that wall.

Print your checklist on paper in an order and format that makes sense to you and your aircraft. For relatively simple aircraft that you know like the back of your hand, I like the shirt pocket sized cards. They’re easy to make if you can find a (gag) typewriter and are easy to stick in a nook on the dash. For more complex aircraft with expanded procedures you may have to move up to larger formats. If you wish to protect your work, slip them in a clear plastic sheet cover instead of laminating them. That way you can easily mark on them right then and there as needed. Although you can keep your checklist electronically on your tablet or phone, I don’t as it’s inconvenient to switch between apps, especially when you’re relying on your tablet for charts and plates.

If you’ve read this far, then you probably realize that downloading someone else’s checklist or buying one from the pilot store doesn’t cut it. So dig up that POH, fire up Word and have fun. Maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two while creating your own set of checklists.

Matt Hanson
Latest posts by Matt Hanson (see all)
6 replies
  1. Duane
    Duane says:

    Good post, Matt.

    For VFR flight in relatively simple GA aircraft, the commercial checklists are fine to use. There’s usually a little white space on the commercial checklists that you can mark up with additional items if you like. Or you can provide an addendum list for specific items (see following).

    For more complex operations like instrument approaches, departures, and other operations, creating a custom checklist appropriate to the specific nav equipment in your panel is helpful, because panels vary too much to standardize by aircraft type. Don’t forget to include specific procedures for your GPS and auto-pilot!

    Just don’t get too carried away with multiple checklists or lists that are simply too long and too detailed – then it defeats the purpose of the checklist, which is to remind you of what you already know, not burden a pilot in the cockpit with too much information that is too hard to access.

  2. Ken
    Ken says:

    This process also helps when transitioning to a new A/C. My “first” checklist for that aircraft is very detailed with safety and instructional items. After a while, I refine and simplify the checklist. For instance, you may list all the items to check in the cabin (i.e. door latches, seat locks, passenger briefing, etc.) just to make sure at first. Then later on, the new checklist may only say “secure cabin”. I’m on my fourth revision for the current airplane. The comment in the article is true – if the checklist is relevant to the way you fly, you are more likely to use it.

  3. Tucker Axum
    Tucker Axum says:

    I agree with you about creating your own checklist. I created my own for the Cessna 172 I used to rent, and now for my own Cessna Cardinal. I incorporated a “flow pattern” into my checklist so that it makes logical sense whether you used the checklist or just referenced it. It is two pages–a front and a back. The front is the Normal Procedures and the back is the Emergency Procedures. At times, I’ll also have my passenger enjoy the flight experience more by being more actively involved. I’ll have him/her read the checklist aloud while I perform the actions. They learn more about flying this way, and feel like they’re “part” of the crew. Happy Flying!

    • Thomas Autrey
      Thomas Autrey says:

      I use the Foreflight checklist on my iPad mini and mount it as a knee board. It works great and I can see the print. I can also customize it to fit my needs.

  4. Paul Frere
    Paul Frere says:

    I fly a half-dozen different airplanes, hence am subject to many different factory and aftermarket checklists. Identical items are done in different orders, described with different phraseology, and often important items are completely missing. My solution, too, is custom checklists. All my checklists have items in the same order (to the extent possible) with the same wording used on every checklist. Frequently or always-omitted items (like “GPS North Up” and “DG Set”) are there for me, etc.

    Doing a custom checklist is also a great way to become familiar with a new airplane. Mine also include a small data section with things like approach speed, V-speeds, short field takeoff parameters, fuel tank capacities, tire pressures, etc. Yeah I should know all that stuff and I mostly do, but having it right under my nose is good risk reduction IMO.

  5. Ray
    Ray says:

    Good idea…make your own check list.
    Most check lists are out of order in spots and way over done. Example:flaps are important for take off, but you do not need to check them 3 different times for taxi, runup aand take off.

    Here are some rule to follow:
    1. first develope a flow pattern that covers all your instruments switch areas, CB’s, and floor. This may start at the top and work down with some vertical paterns for the instruments and radio rack. It could be drawn with arrows of the flow or scan on a cockpit picture.

    2. use this flow for very check list you label, example
    Cockpit preflight
    Before start, start, after start
    Before takeoff and lineup
    After takeoff
    Landing, after landing
    Shut down

    For IFR, add:
    clearance and departure,before run up (and set your NAV right after you get your clearance)
    approach, after descent

    3. don’t repeat items

    4. print your check list in sections that allow you to fold it, keep it small and easy to find the section for present area of opperation. Example: preflight – taxi (you are parked), runup – cruise, descent – landing, after landing – shut down.

    5. do it all on your computer so you can modify it has you go.

    Flying single pilot the flow patterns will help prevent you from skipping steps if you lose your place, and you can do one area of instruments or radio then refer to check list to insure completion.
    These ares could be separated by a line.

    I found in single seat fighters for example, your flow would become the chek list without the cardboard, but this is when you fly every day.

    Have fun and put your IFR appoach check and landing check right up on the instrument pannel!

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