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.
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.