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First off, let me be clear that I only advocate customizing your training checklist for the purpose of helping during your part 142 training program.  Please do not alter the manufacturer checklist.  The manufacturer checklist is considered part of the aircraft equipment and shouldn’t be altered, tweaked, or changed.  On the other hand, a training checklist is a learning tool.  Often during ground school, instructors will dive deep into the checklist.  After all, the checklist is the most succinct document that you have available in the cockpit.  The ground school classroom is the perfect place to dissect this resource.  A good instructor will explain its structure, identify its shortcomings, and help you navigate it better.  Despite the familiarization, the checklist for a jet aircraft may more closely resemble a book.   It may go by different names depending on the manufacturer, but one name is a “Quick Reference Handbook,” or QRH.  This reference material does indeed contain more information than a checklist for a piston single.  It may contain the normal, abnormal, and emergency checklists as well as performance tables and even schematics.  It is a formidable document to thumb through, particularly when your engine is on fire.  For that reason, customizing your checklist will set you up for success.  Incorporating the nuggets you learn in ground school into your own training checklist will help you be prepared in the simulator.  Now, rules and policies may change from time to time allowing or disallowing your personal training checklist during a practical test.  However, the physical act of tabbing, highlighting, circling, and taking notes in the margins of your checklist will help you learn to navigate it better even if the examiner won’t allow it in the checkride. 

Not all checklists are created equal.  Some are better than others, but even the best checklists may need some clarification.  And let’s not forget they are just BIG.  What can you do to improve upon your checklist?

Write down the frequencies

While this might be more checkride related than checklist related, do yourself a favor and write down the frequencies for the airport where you will take your check ride. Typically, you find out the airport in advance of your check ride. Even if you find out during the brief, take a moment and jot down the clearance, ground, tower, and approach/departure frequencies. The last thing you want to hear from your examiner during your check ride is, “you received this frequency in error, go to your last,” or “aircraft holding short, you’re still on ground.”


Write down your frequencies to be better prepared.

At a minimum, this looks unprofessional and makes you appear ill-prepared. At worst, this can compound your challenges during an emergency. Jotting down the freqs can save you critical seconds by eliminating the need to pull up a chart. You will always know what frequency you need to be on. If you have these details down cold, this will inspire confidence in your examiner. What a pro!

Tape the mode card to the cover

Increasingly for new aircraft, mode cards are being made available to crews during check rides.  These laminated mode cards have a matrix that include the flight control panel mode selections required for every instrument approach. They tell you whether to select LNAV, heading, approach, VNAV, etc.  They also may tell you at what phase of the approach to select them and what annunciation you will see in return. This is an invaluable tool with the increasing complexity of modern automation. Hopefully, you will know this information by memory during the check ride, but there is a reason you are allowed to have it. Did you just get thrown a curveball during your check ride? Perhaps you need to verify your decision. This also may be a great way to support the flying pilot if you are the pilot monitoring. Is he or she unsure of the mode? Be a good copilot and provide this information for them.  This invaluable cheat sheet will be easy to find in the dark simulator when you tape it to the cover of your QRH.

Clip together unused sections

I find that clipping together unused sections of the checklist is a great way to reduce this large book. Typically, much of the performance sections are not utilized during the check ride. Some are, however. You might need to utilize the table for the air start envelope. Even if an aircraft has performance data in the FMS approved, often you need to go to the QRH for single engine landing performance. Go ahead and eliminate the other performance data. Use a binder clip and clip together these big sections.  If you are doing your entire check ride at Memphis, you don’t need landing data for airports at 2000, 3000, 4000 feet elevations. You won’t likely require cruise tables, either. Clip these sections together, so you don’t inadvertently pull bad data.  Nor will you lose critical time lost flipping through the wrong section.

Eliminate pages you don’t need.

Tab or paper clip commonly used procedures. 

This one is pretty obvious.  I prefer paper clips because they’re a little more substantial, but many people also use colored tabs. Either way, find a way to denote the most commonly used pages and procedures in your abnormal/emergency checklist.  Engine failure, engine fire, engine restart, and single-engine landing are essential to tab.  Electrical emergencies and flap malfunctions may be worth tabbing, as well.  As you progress in your training, you will figure out what other items you need to mark.  Let your fingers do the walking!

Make the commonly used procedures easy to find.

Direct yourself to the next procedure. 

I joked in the ground school for one particular airplane that rather than having the words “end of procedure” at the end of the checklist, it should have read “LOST IN SPAAAACE.” Because that is how the checklist left you: hanging. A good checklist will alert you that the procedure is completed with words to that effect.  Also, if there is a complementary procedure, it will send you there. It will give you the options and page numbers for your next move. For instance, after the engine failure checklist, you know that you will either go to the “engine restart” checklist or the “single-engine” landing checklist.  Some checklists do this, but some do not.  If your checklist doesn’t include this, write out the possible options and page numbers. Direct yourself to where you need to go.

“LOST IN SPAAAACE.” Where do you go from here? Direct yourself to the next appropriate checklist.

Make notes for clarification

Even the best checklists can be confusing, especially in the heat of battle.  While I can’t offer any definitive guidance, just help yourself as much as possible.  Here is an example:

At my most recent initial, the instructors kept seeing clients make the same error over and over in the simulator.  During an engine restart, several bleed sources on the checklist read “push in.”  This direction was a little unclear since the normal position of those buttons is in.  So, while adrenaline was high, pilots were reaching up and inadvertently pushing the buttons out: exactly the wrong position.  While technically in line with the manufacturer verbiage indicating status, pilots were interpreting this checklist item as a command.  I simply notated “verify” next to these items.  Problem solved.  Do yourself a favor and solve similar problems in your checklist in advance while you’re still “on the ground.”

Make notes for clarification.

Make two sides

This trick only works with a binding that can be separated.  You have to be able to take the checklist apart to make a normal ”side” and abnormal/emergency “side.”  Imagine assembly instructions for a piece of furniture from Ikea.   Once you finish the last item in the assembly directions, and you flip to the next page, have you noticed the instructions are upside-down and written in another language?  This method is similar.  Fundamentally, all of these techniques help navigate a big, non-descript document.  Nothing makes the checklist more navigable than taking the sections apart and putting them back-to-back.  Take the checklist apart, and separate the abnormal/emergency section from the normal checklist.  Then, flip the checklist over and put the abnormal/emergency checklist on the back.  When you’re in the simulator and an annunciator flashes in your face signaling a caution or warning, just turn your checklist over.  You’ve immediately eliminated roughly half of the checklist pages (i.e. the normal checklist) from your flipping in less than a second.

Make two sides.

Add a memory item to your memory

This technique is more of a memory trick than a checklist tweak.  Consider it a memory item to commit to memory.  The only thing you need to change here is your thinking.  You know, of course, that memory items are the checklist items that you must memorize.  For time sensitive events like fires and pressurization emergencies, you are obligated to remember a handful of immediate action items.  After talking with several instructors, there is a common error with crews handling emergencies.  Often, crews do the memory items then stop.  They never go to the checklist.  To avoid ever making this mistake, commit this to memory:

The last memory item is always “go to the checklist.” 

Memorize this mantra and verbalize it during emergencies.

Use this memory trick to avoid a common misstep leading to checkride busts.  Don’t neglect critical steps because you forget to finish the procedure in the QRH.

How do you customize your training checklist?

Leave your recommendations in the comments and GoEightOh!