5 min read

An old saw among pilots is that you use a checklist for actions you perform on every flight, such as lowering the landing gear, but for a very rare event, such as an engine fire, you’re required to perform the proper actions from memory. Does that make sense?

Any pilot who’s been through a formalized type training course has had to deal with “memory items.” The memory items deal with possible system failures or other emergencies that require specific pilot actions. And to pass the oral exam, or check ride, you need to know the memory items and be able to repeat them verbatim, or perform them in the sim, in the exact order specified.

Once you have completed the memory item actions you can consult the checklist to perform the rest of the necessary steps to deal with the failure or emergency.


How many memory items can you really remember?

I’m not sure how the concept of memory items became imbedded in pilot training, but I’ll blame it on the military. The core of military pilot training, particularly in decades past, was single pilot flying under high stress. Think fighter pilot. There was nobody else in the cockpit to read a checklist, and our hero had his hands full with the emergency, so he had to know the proper procedures by heart. From memory.

As the years went by safety and training experts realized checklist use was one of, if not the most important elements of safe flying. And crew resource management (CRM) developed and was elevated to a required component of any training. Always using a checklist, and consulting with any other aid in the cockpit such as a second pilot, is the core of CRM.

So where does trusting your memory instead of using all the resources in the cockpit—as in checklist and copilot—fit into safe flying? The answer has become clear: memory really isn’t reliable, particularly under the high pilot workload of a system failure or emergency.

Certification authorities have been working hard to reduce and eliminate memory items as much as possible from newly designed airplanes. Cockpit automation has helped that cause a great deal, but mostly it’s a change in attitude.

While a recently certified jet may have only a handful of, if any, memory items to learn, the airplane I fly most often, the Beech King Air 350i, has 27 memory items. The King Air I fly is brand new but its certification roots date back to the 1960s. In many respects it’s a newly built antique, at least in terms of much of its certification basis, and the reliance on memory items.

Some of the memory items in the King Air are absurdly obvious. For example, if you get a warning message that fuel pressure is low the memory item is turn on the boost pump. Duh. Or if the warning message is that both generators have failed there are six memory item steps to perform before you consult the checklist. The battery is still there and will keep the essential loads powered for at least 30 minutes, so why all the switch flipping from memory before looking at a checklist?

One memory item for the airplane that I find to be really really strange is recovery from a spin. The memory item includes five steps. They are the cookbook techniques of full forward stick, neutral aileron, rudder opposite rotation, and so on. But the weird thing is that the King Air has never been spun in flight test. The flight manual says these steps are the best guess on how to recover from a spin, if recovery is even possible. Wouldn’t a better memory item be don’t stall, then you won’t spin?

What we need is a way to teach and check a few emergency pilot actions that really need to become instinctive. For example, if you get a stall warning there shouldn’t be any need for a memorized or any other checklist. If your instinct isn’t to unload the wing and add all available power when a stall threatens, a memory item can’t possibly help.

If your instinct isn’t to push and hold the red button under your thumb if the automatic flight control system is doing something you don’t understand, that’s a problem. The checklist can help you sort out what’s wrong after you are in control, but the first and essential action needs to be automatic.

Cessna stall

There’s no checklist for stall recovery—it has to be an automatic reaction.

I believe our training techniques sometimes interfere with developing the essential instincts to handle the initial and most critical phase of an emergency. For example, when we practice approach to a stall in training we are graded on performing a series of actions in a required order. Raise the flaps or gear first? Roll the wings level or not? Recover with least altitude loss, or with most positive escape from the stall? To pass you need to perform the tasks in the exact order specified for that airplane training program, and they can be different from one type course to another.

The proper pilot instinctive action to any stall warning should be to unload the wing and add power. Trade altitude for positive flying speed. And over the past few years the FAA is coming around to that attitude. The past emphasis on minimum altitude loss during stall recovery is being replaced by positive action to escape the stall condition as quickly and positively as possible.

I don’t know how we teach essential pilot actions so they become instinctive, but that’s the goal. Teaching memory items was an attempt to do that, but I think it misses the point. When you lump in a generator failure as something that requires immediate actions from memory with what should be instinctive reaction to a true emergency, such as an impending stall or loss of power at low altitude, the crucial objectives of pilot training and performance are in conflict.

We need consistent and effective checklist use for safety. We need to have learned the few fundamentals of true emergency actions to the point they are instinctive and appropriate for any airplane. Memory items? I think that’s something to reserve for the eye chart before your next physical.

Mac McClellan
41 replies
  1. Enderson Rafael
    Enderson Rafael says:

    I see it somewhat in a different way. The airplane I fly has around half a dozen memory items, related to stabilizer, depressurization, unreliable airspeed and engine fire and severe damage (engine flame out has none other than keeping the airplane under control), things that need immediate action to prevent a disaster. They are, I think, almost as few as it can be. Another model of the same generation even does the emergency descent by itself, saving stress both in real life and in the sim. But when it comes to instinct… hum… well, our instinct betrays us, because we were not made to fly. A human being instinct will not put the nose down on a stall, nor use pitch for speed and power for altitude. The human being will startle, will freeze, will feel millions of butterflies in his stomach and become a passenger, trying to give the autopilot an out of trim airplane or steer the airplane on the ground with the yoke (we’ve seen that). So, it is not instinct that saves the day, but training, practice, hard and repeated practice, dozens, hundreds, thousands of times, until you think no more, it becomes a mechanic reaction other than conscious or instinctive. That’s how you make the airlines as safe as 0.2 hull losses per million departures. And about the memory items, if we fail to do the few memory items we must know by heart, as the name suggest, we have things like the french A330 over the Atlantic in 2009 or the MAX crashes in 2018 and 19, where in all cases, half the required actions by memory were never accomplished.

    • Robert Johnson
      Robert Johnson says:

      In a complex acft or in training/ simulator were
      An audio’s are in play ie: “pull up-pull up” is it possible to have an audio check list play? Or in training ( for reiteration/ talk threw.or as is acft or situation were a pilot has hands full and cannot flip to chapter & page. Or maybe a check list fast card display?
      All minds do not learn the same, to go from book to instinctive & in emergency mode. #1 rule ! ( avoid panic! & panic thinking) something that doesn’t come into play in a simulated/ practice/training ( unless ie:CFI chops the throttle in flt on the guy or things to that effect. How does one train one not to go into “panic mode” when it’s our most human instinct? Q. How many accidents happened because of pilots mind gets/ dose not do right thing because of “panic mode”?? How much dose it play a part as in a pilot’s mind like the guy who has hidden stress going threw a divorce, or things to that levels? What part/how many accident investigations found out “yes that guy had been going through…”? Falling under the category of contributing & non contributing factors? Those hidden stress’s my not show face in flight but do in emergencies?
      Food for thought & hope it helps. RJ
      Just food for thought

      • Robert Johnson
        Robert Johnson says:

        P.S. having been in life & death situations ie:(true) I have a guy who is not breathing, full of water, blue in the face and most likely has a broken neck, I have his 2 friends at the scene. One guy is coherent and able to follow every instruction that I give, the other guy is just jumping & yelling”come on Jack ! Wake Up! & totally useless to me. The point being is ,a person does not know how he will act (before) when his buddy is dieing in front of him, or any other traumatic situation like blood etc. witch one are you ? How does one train for truly emergency? To follow a check list on paper of memory? RJ

  2. Richard G
    Richard G says:

    Depends on the aircraft and how many crew members are on the flight deck. In some aircraft for certain situations, you will be dead before you can reach the check list if you don’t instantly react to the emergency.
    I use a check list for everything on the ground. EVERYTHING. I never use TOMATO FLAMES, ARROW (now AROW), or any other acronym on the ground. All are done by checklist referencing the correct FAA regulation with detailed notes.

    • Stu
      Stu says:

      I agree except for emergencies where you don’t have time to thumb through a checklist…like engine fail on takeoff or in-flight fire.

    • Conrad Pillai
      Conrad Pillai says:

      I agree with what you say in the first para, particularly in multi-engine aircraft, say you have an engine out on short final; in our aircraft (SA227) clean up is essential to keep the aircraft under control, and feather ( take your time in getting the right engine feathered ); and simultaneously, once more than VMC, get the power up on the live engine,

      When you have the time use a checklist, and sure on the ground always use a checklist. Airlines use a flow and then the checklist, which is an efficient way to go.

  3. joseph f craven
    joseph f craven says:

    Coming from the Navy I was required to memorize lots of emergency procedures. Then when hired at NWA, I was shocked to find they had no emergency procedures. The first item on every emergency checklist was DO NOT HURRY. I am convinced for transport category aircraft, this is the way to go.

  4. Paul D
    Paul D says:

    All the responses here are correct. It takes instinct and practice. I am a pilot in their sixties working on becoming current. Working on stalls, it was my instinct that pushed the nose down when I heard STALL! This was the result of the repeated practice when I first learned to fly. With the complexity and trend to glass cockpits, the checklist is very important. However, my experience in the Nuclear industry has taught me that practicing drills and working with procedures pretty much adds up to memorizing a checklist. Some of our procedures we are allowed to perform from memory, other procedures require us to follow it like a checklist. When we perform our procedures frequently we develop muscle memory and instinctive skills.
    Practice perfects the skills.Checklists teach us the skills

    • Tom Curran
      Tom Curran says:

      As a retired USAF fighter pilot….I’d have to agree. Being required to memorize the critical action “BOLD FACE” steps for multiple emergency situations saved me, and lots of your tax dollars, a few times.

    • Bob Besal
      Bob Besal says:

      Amen, brother. 30 years in Carrier-based Naval Aviation. Immediate execution of bold-face checklist procedures — in exact order when required – kept me alive. Engine fire / failure off the cat? You’d better be on your “A” game— or you’ll have more to worry about than “blame.”

    • Mike McGinn
      Mike McGinn says:

      I’ll “second that emotion”. I’m a retired USMC F/A-18 pilot and I’ve had several occasions where knowing your “bold face” procedures was critical. The reality of life is that we respond to external stimuli either by “gut feel” or what we know about the situation. Our species didn’t survive because people stopped to “look it up” when something happened to or around them. Aviation is one of those places where often times you don’t have the luxury of “pulling over to the side of the road” to address the issue. Checklists are a fantastic tool, but far too often I find that folks don’t learn how their aircraft works because they rationalize they’ll just “look it up in the book” if they need to figure something out. When you’re in the middle of something not working the way it’s supposed to, that’s probably not the best time to be “going to the table of contents”. When I studied and memorized bold face procedures in my military days, I tried to understand why they were written and placed in a specific order by better understanding the underlying system. When you understand how the system works, it is often times blatantly obvious what you need to do when something goes wrong. Checklists are a great “reminder” tool, but putting your faith in them is a sure path towards an accident when the “snakes in the cockpit” are biting you faster than you can read the checklist.

  5. Alexander Romero
    Alexander Romero says:


    I get what you are saying but the King Air 350 is a poor example. This is one of the few airplanes certified in the part 23 commuter category AND as a single pilot airplane. Hence the standards assume a single pilot who can’t initially reach for the QRH. Furthermore, more then half of those 27 memory items you mention are ‘don oxygen mask, switch to mask mic, refer to QRH’ for fires and depressurization. That is not much of a memory item and takes obvious priority over grabbing a checklist. The dual generator memory items sound long and cumbersome initial but in reality is basically resetting the generator switches to see if you can get a generator back online, if you can’t, refer to the QRH.

      Mac MCCLELLAN says:

      Hi Alexander,
      The King Air is an example of an airplane with an ancient certification basis so its many required memory procedures date back to an earlier period, as you note.
      However, virtually every oral exam on any airplane of any size demands memorization of limitations, particularly key airspeed limits. But for many years now certification standards–even for old cert basis airplanes like the King Air–require all important airspeed limits to be placarded in the cockpit. The really important limits have always been painted on the airspeed indicator. And now electronic airspeed displays show essentially all critical airspeed limits, change colors if you exceed them, and most even yell at you in some way to speed up or slow down. Better than memory, I think.
      Even nuttier is the oral exam to memorize weight limits. When you’re sitting on the ground with all the time in the world to work the weight and balance calculation how hard is it to look up and confirm weight limits without relying on memory.
      But the situation is a little better than 40 years ago when I had to memorize how many drain suppers are on each elector to pass my Learjet oral exam.
      Mac Mc

  6. Dino Ferrari
    Dino Ferrari says:

    For me, military trained, memorizing things like “boldface” and the landing checklist are engrained and frankly, work for me. I think that what it boils down to, aside from what is required in the POH, what works for you? What I think really works best is acronyms to get started on the EP and get my brain thinking about things I need to be thinking about. For instance, ABCDE for eng off, works perfectly for me to get the airplane to the correct glide speed and start thinking about landing spot, wind, etc … those are the important things and then I get to the checklist to ensure I am properly complying with the POH and setting myself and the airplane up for success. Regarding landing checklist, I would never put my head down to read a checklist in the landing pattern for a normal landing. I memorize the checklist and use acronyms so I do not have to be heads down. Works for me, but figure out what works best for you and keeps everyone as safe as possible.

  7. Paul Zahner
    Paul Zahner says:

    Mac, I believe what you are talking about is experience, not instinct.
    I have it, you have it, but my 5 hr private student, nor the green Ensign don’t.
    Memory and flows,be it a 172 or a 777 are the next best thing.

    • Christopher e PetersHey man
      Christopher e PetersHey man says:

      Fly the aircraft, determine the fault and apply corrective measures. Be organized on the flight deck. Stay as calm as you can. Use appropriate checklist.

  8. Rich R
    Rich R says:

    All in alignment with Aviate/Navigate/Communicate/Checklist. If the action priority puts it in “Aviate” category, i.e bad things happen right now, well you better memorize the bold face or sit on the ground where it’s safer. More important is analyzing what emergency you have before reacting…post stall or spin? do spin recovery in post stall and congrats, you probably just bought a spin. My direction to nuggets in our airframe way back then was assume ANY loss of control is post stall, execute stall recovery while analyzing for spin…if not in spin you’ll be flying again before you figure it out, if actually in a spin you haven’t made it worse while verifying/confirming direction. Engine fire above abort? fly the airplane until ground is not the biggest threat then procedure…verifying which engine first! Doing the wrong thing right away does not make it better.

    If you really want to go after memorization items, how about we remove all the FAA directed procedures for setting up an extremis situation for demonstration and just focus on the recovery?

  9. Krack
    Krack says:

    Mac, I really think that your losing your memory. The BOLD FACE memory items are done and then you get the checklist out to insure that they were done correctly. The reason military pilots are in demand is because they are trained to perform at the highest standards know to man. That’s that. Please stop writing to try and dumb down the industry. Just stop.

      Mac MCCLELLAN says:

      Hi Krack,
      We have just lived through the aftermath of a total memory item failure–the two 737MAX crashes.
      Disabling the trim when it runs away for any reason is a memory, or bold face item if you prefer, in any airplane. It didn’t work. And the aviation world lost billions of dollars while Boeing the FAA worked to find a fix that didn’t rely on memory any other “correct” pilot actions.
      You may call it “dumbing down” but the reality is society demands everyone land safely on a pilot’s worst day, not only on days where pilots are at the top of their game.
      Swift and correct pilot actions have saved the day on many occasions, but that’s not good enough now. Mistakes aren’t allowed so pilots can’t be put in a position to make them.
      Kind of deflating to our egos, isn’t it?
      Mac Mc

      • Rich R
        Rich R says:

        human factors issues are just as present in software development (adequate use cases, logic trees, management support to testing, etc)…it’s just relocated away from the cockpit.

      • Krack
        Krack says:

        Mac, your thinking is wrong. Flying has never been safer! Stop trying to compare your 27 memory King Air items to other airframes. That may be excessive, but a majority of airframes do not have that high in number. Most people are losing the ability to spell correctly because they rely on cell phone spell check, should we now ban cell phones? Please don’t write any more articles along the lines of EP’s.

      • Robert Patlovany
        Robert Patlovany says:

        There has actually been three 737s lost recently lacking airmanship in checklist use. The Transair Flight 810 737 that ditched south of Honolulu July 2, 2021, was probably lost mostly because of checklist flying, in the absence of airmanship. One pilot radio comment mentioned their focus on their checklist priority. Look at the distance of the ground track from the first moment of engine failure to the off shore ditching location. The actual ground track to actual splash down location was about 3Xs longer, than the projected ground track back to Honolulu if the pilots had simply turned immediately for Honolulu and landed on pavement doing exactly what needed to be done. For about two minutes they flew a dead straight line away from Honolulu in the general direction of Australia while executing the checklist. Turning immediately back to Honolulu, they’d have easily been safely on pavement during the time of their straight line Australia-bound checklist execution before they ever even began their torn back to Honolulu. Sully would never have maintained flight control to his Hudson River landing if he’d have gone exactly by the checklist. Getting the APU started was something like item 32 WAY down the checklist. Sully’s airmanship impressed him with the idea that with two engines out, if he did not skip ahead and get the APU running IMMEDIATELY, he was going to loss all flight control long before he needed APU power for a controlled flare to a smooth landing. Sometimes compulsive worship of checklist compliance can cause disaster if the big picture out the window is ignored while looking at the little checklist inside the cockpit.

      • Andy
        Andy says:

        Absolutely, I expect no mistakes when flying commercially with two pilots up front. But I fly single pilot IFR and requires significant memorization of what is the right thing to do at what time. I have created numerous checklists to the point of have a checklist for my checklists. Does it help I’m not convinced. I was taught the checklist is for confirmation of what you should know not to replace knowledge. I know one thing, proficiency is the key to my concern about safety. More hours in the saddle, more time practicing emergency procedures with a good instructor. Thank you for your efforts to bring these topics into view. Keep up the good work

  10. Steve
    Steve says:

    I think Mac is 100% spot on. I have nothing against memory items, there are some circumstances I think they are needed – but they are heavily overused in some airframes and consume mental energy where it is not helpful.

  11. Jong
    Jong says:

    In the past couple of months I’ve administered about a dozen stagechecks, flight reviews, airplane and instructor checkouts. I’ve found that most pilots are not listening to the scenario and then applying the correct procedure. The initial reaction to in-flight emergencies has been Emergency Descent, RTB or “mixture idle cutoff” (BTW I’m GA and civilian trained) regardless of the actual situation. Essentially they now have two problems when they only had one – one of which they created!

    So to dovetail into some of the previous comments, it’s not just a matter of regurgitating procedures. With fixed wing airplanes, for the most part, one can briefly pause and engage the grey matter before applying the Bold Face. But the Bold Face is a great tool once the issue is correctly identified.

    For small GA, the Bold Face, is essentially the same across the board e.g. Piper, Cessna, Maule, Beech, Mooney. And for planes with a fuel pump, standby battery, turbo or landing gear, they too can be grouped together. So asking pilots to memorize those steps shouldn’t be too onerous. Furthermore, the average pilot will only fly in one of those groupings.

    In helicopters on the other hand, (I’m only Robinson trained), the reaction to a couple of the situations has to be near real-time and with little allowance for contemplation. Identification of the problem and application of the correct procedure has to be without delay.

    So somewhere, somehow, collectively we have to do a better job and teach the “when” and the “which” of EP’s, not merely to recite them.

  12. Kenny
    Kenny says:

    Memorization items should be limited to conditions where the correct response in the next 30 SECONDS OR LESS determines whether you will survive the condition. The proper response to impending or actual stall / spin, fire, smoke, rapid ice accretion, low altitude engine failure, any engine failure in a multi, etc. MUST be memorized. Everything else should come from the QRH / checklist. Limiting the amount of memorization makes it more likely that you will remember the procedures you do memorize. I agree with Mac on this.

  13. Kathleen Bangs
    Kathleen Bangs says:

    Who else among us will go to the great beyond in the sky with this memory checklist forever (and effectively I might add…) chiseled into their brain…that if the big circular red light ever illuminated…you then memory groped your way in a dark cockpit to:

    *ESSENTIAL POWER (Protect)

    Ahhh…good times ;)

  14. Tom Norton
    Tom Norton says:

    I completely agree with Mac. The only memory item that a pilot should cement in his brain is “fly the airplane” or “maintain aircraft control”. That might mean a lot of different things in a lot of different situations, but that is where training comes in. In my opinion as an examiner and instructor, I see the memorization of action items (which unfortunately I still must teach and test) takes away from the number one action item; fly the airplane. Do we really need pilots to memorize “Throttles – IDLE, Brakes – AS REQUIRED” to abort a takeoff. Give me a break (or brake)

  15. Dale Hill
    Dale Hill says:

    From my Air Force days: Step 1: Maintain aircraft control. Step 2: Take appropriate action. Step 3: Land as soon as conditions permit (NOT ASAP as that could get you into greater problems). Critical Action Procedures (CAPs or Boldface items) are for when you need to do something IMMEDIATELY(!) or you will crash and/or die, but 27 CAPs seems a bit much.

    I last flew the OV-10 in October of 1973 and the CAPs for Engine Failure on Takeoff were: Gear Up, Stores Jettison, Condition Lever Feather. Step one reduced drag, step two reduced weight and drag, step three reduced drag. If you didn’t do those three steps quickly, you were probably going to end up either ejecting or else riding your Bronco into the ground — there was NO opportunity to read a checklist. Whenever I flew a Bronco maintenance hop (a Functional Check Flight) as soon as I broke ground on my takeoff, I would do the first two steps (it was OK to hit the jettison button because we flew our FCFs in a clean airplane) and I would only touch the condition lever and not move it to the feather position. That gave me the muscle memory to do it in real life if that ever arose, which it didn’t.

    I last flew the F-16 in August of 1989 and the CAPs for Engine Failure on Takeoff were: Zoom, Stores Jettison, Eject. Step one got you moving away from terra firma, step two reduced drag which helped you get further from terra firma, and step three was an admission that turning back to the runway was an unwise move. I couldn’t practice those steps at any time other than in the simulator, and I always did it there. Again, I was developing muscle memory..

    For every AF aircraft I flew (OV-10, T-38, A-10 and F-16) as a student, IP, or flight examiner whenever I took the active runway and stopped for my line-up check, I would check the ejection seat was armed and then I would assume the ejection position and touch the ejection handles/D-ring. Once again, I was developing my muscle memory on where to reach and what to grab when time was critical.

  16. Bob O
    Bob O says:

    I usually read and stay on the sidelines but this time just can’t. There is much discussion about bla, bla, bla. ;we used to call emergency responses emergency action drills or muscle memory. If you stall, checklist, no, muscle memory to unload the wing. Somehow enter a spin checklist, no muscle memory to unload the wing and recover. Engine fire, checklist, no muscle memory then figure out what next. Engine out, checklist, no muscle memory. In a twin, delay can be fatal.

    After emergency action and muscle memory, then get out the checklist and figure next steps. Air France had no idea what to do because they didn’t recover from the stall. Emergency action/ muscle memory!

  17. Karrpilot
    Karrpilot says:

    I once almost forgot to lower the landing gear in the 182 i fly. Until the warning alarm went off in my headset. That was the one thing my flight instructor didn’t go over with me when he taught me how to fly it. What kind and sort of noise would be emitted if and when i was dumb enough to do such a thing. Luckily i caught it before i put the plane on the ground. Getting distracted in bad weather and it almost was a perfect recipe for disaster. I won’t make that mistake ever again.

    • Mike McGinn
      Mike McGinn says:

      Your story reminds me of an old story from several decades ago about two USMC helo pilots who were on the MCAS Iwakuni staff and flying the Air Station C-12. Being helo pilots, they never had to think about “gear down and locked”. As they were on ILS final approach, a beeping noise came up and a red light started flashing. Rather than go around, they decided that since they were just seconds from landing, they’d continue the approach, land, and figure out what the issue was once they were on deck. When the landing “roll out” ended up being SIGNIFICANTLY shorter than normal, they quickly figured out what the problem was. At least you appropriately responded to the warning alarm.

  18. H. Rawlins
    H. Rawlins says:

    I think what Mac was referring to when he said he blames the military, is single-seat airplanes where there isn’t anyone to pull out and read a checklist for them, and so memory items would be appropriate. Somehow, however, that philosophy made its way into two and three pilot airplanes. I too blame the military. Sorry, Goose.

    It wasn’t all that long ago that the flying pilot was required to fly and recite the memory items. Fortunately, that gave way to the PF calling for the PNF (now the PM), to state the items. “I have the controls and radio, Engine Fire Checklist”. This came about in the mid-90s, thanks in no small part to input from NASA, if I recall that correctly. From them, idea that putting all the memory items into a single card, a “quick reference checklist”came about. I distinctly remember being told, “speed decreases, but accuracy increases”. I guess doing it right was finally deemed more important than one’s memorization skills.

    After 17 years in the airlines, with AQP, QRCs, Flows, Standardization, and a custom, in-house QRH where every checklist began with, “assign pilot flying/not flying duties”, I entered the corporate world. My first company had no flows, no procedures, few manuals, and everyone just did their own thing. If there was a “procedure”, it was internal tribal knowledge only. Check rides were once again a pass/fail jeopardy event and I felt the clock had been rewound back to 1990. When some of us with an airline background volunteered to help tighten up the operation it was not enthusiastically received. Still, we persevered. One of the things we created was a QRC for all fleet types. It was met with much enthusiasm and acceptance by the pilot group, until one day when an FAA inspector saw it while observing a sim check, and that was the end of that. No sir, you have to MEMORIZE the 36 items that the manufacturer’s attorneys must have demanded pilots burn into their brains. Incidentally, this was 13 years after our 121 carrier had adopted the same concept in the interest of safety.

    I’ve never understood why I’m not allowed to memorize a four item Before Landing check, that we complete every flight, yet I was expected to memorize 36 emergency checklists, for instant regurgitation, at a time when stress was at its peak and aircraft control paramount. Insanity? Or was it CYA on the part of the FAA?

    Fortunately, the manufacturer who wrote 36 memory items finally adopted a QRC and now officially publishes it. No longer do the sim check airman ask the memory item for an aborted takeoff. Oh it’s still written down in the QRC, exactly as when it was a memory item, but it is never called for. Maybe they finally figured out what pilots knew all along, that we were smart enough to just stop the airplane on our own.

      Mac MCCLELLAN says:

      Hi H.,
      You’re right. It’s the airplane manufacturer who, in coordination with the certification authority, creates standard checklists, including memory items.
      Individual operators can earn approval for their own checklists, and airlines and larger fleet operators do. But it’s not an easy process, and eliminating steps from the originally approved list faces resistance at every level.
      Like you, I suspect that company lawyers play a key role in checklist creation. The good old “we told you do that” defense is at work.
      But streamlining of checklists, and minimization of memory items, is a widespread industry objective for newly certified airplanes. And newly certified certificate holders, for that matter.
      As you note, safety experts now understand that burdening pilots with the requirement to memorize the obvious in an emergency situation is not productive.
      Mac Mc

  19. Fernando Mendoza L
    Fernando Mendoza L says:

    Memory items are designed to give you trained responses to a determined situation, it’s very close to muscle memory, you act you move you resolve the issue and then you secure the AC.

  20. Joe
    Joe says:

    Mac must be from another planet, this is the same guy who professes NOT teach stalls. He must have something again military pilots. Military pilot are taught from day one to fly under stress. Where memory item are burned into their memory to the point they become instinct, reactionary. So memory items should be taught to develop instinct.
    Not sure where get his philosophy, must be from another planet or maybe he likes to stir the pot to get notoriety. I am surprised people publish his trash.

  21. Bill N.
    Bill N. says:

    I instruct on gliders. All ab-initio students are taught from their first day that in case of an emergency there are three things they must do in this order if time allows: 1. Aviate (retain control of the glider and keep it flying), 2. Navigate (know where you intend to go), 3. Communicate (use the radio to advise your position, situation and intentions to other aircraft and ATC if applicable). Prior to taking off all glider pilots must consider and have a plan for the eventuality of a launch emergency at low altitude. Stall and spin recovery is critical in gliders. No student pilot is allowed to fly solo until they have demonstrated competency in recognizing the signs of a stall and incipient spin and recovery from a fully developed spin. To achieve this they must execute many full spin recoveries with an instructor until such action becomes automatic. Most glider pilots will experience a stall/spin situation several times during their flying career, because gliders are often flown near the stall speed in turbulent thermal conditions to achieve the highest possible rate of climb for the conditions.


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