CFIs are habit-forming

October 5, 2010

Over the years, CFIs and other professionals have taught me several good practices. I am convinced these have helped keep me alive. Instead of just preaching the basics, they have added to the value of the training with various tips and tricks.

Some of flying’s most important moments take place during the preflight checklist. Interrupting that flow can be critical. Say you’re flying single pilot and ground control calls with new information while you are part of the way through the checklist. You stop, write down the info, and then return to the checklist. It’s easy to miss something, and I’ve proved it.

When selling airplanes for a living, it was typical for me to hop from one airplane to another on a regular basis. In one job, I regularly flew a Luscombe, Piper Comanche, Beechcraft Bonanza, 150-horsepower Cessna Cardinal, and any of several different ag planes (crop dusters). In another job, I flew a totally different ag plane, various single- and multi-engine Pipers, and a Beechcraft Baron. As one fellow put it, “You got to be sure you have the right hat on before takeoff.”

One way to ensure you went through the critical items on the checklist was the well-known acronym CIGAR TIP. The last thing before takeoff, after all checklist items were completed, I’d run through CIGAR TIP: C for controls, free and moving properly; I for instruments (including checking the directional indicator against runway heading and magnetic compass); G was for gas, both quantity and set on correct tank, alternate fuel pump on or off as appropriate, and also for gear (more on this later); A for altimeter; R for runup—not necessarily to do it again, but to remember if you really did it during the checklist; T for trim set for takeoff; I was for interior, doors and windows locked; P for propeller set for takeoff.

On landing, everything stood for the same items, but “gear” was, of course, a more critical part of G.

CIGAR TIP is particularly important when your checklist has been interrupted for any reason, or when you do the checklist, then taxi for several minutes before takeoff. It gives you one more chance to check on yourself. On landing, you can do it quickly, even while watching for traffic.

CIGAR TIP is useful on a missed approach. Once (right after I got my instrument rating and before I realized how important CIGAR TIP could be on a missed approach), everything went wrong. The tower controller and the airline flight in front of me got into a tiff, the airliner had to fly a missed approach, then I flew a missed approach in an Aztec. I quickly cleaned up the Aztec for the climb. Only after a few minutes, when well established on the missed approach procedure, did CIGAR TIP come to mind. Good thing it did, because the G uncovered the fact that I had left the gear down! True, I was the only person onboard and the Aztec can climb with the gear down, so nothing went wrong. But what if six people had been onboard and one engine quit?

A flight instructor taught me CIGAR TIP, and through the years and hours it became more important to me instead of less so. It is useful for a Cub, and I know jet pilots who use it regularly. Can you remember an accident that could have been prevented by using CIGAR TIP? I surely can—including all of those accidents caused by leaving the gust lock in place before takeoff, and the airline flight that took off on the wrong runway.

Many old pilots swear by CIGAR TIP. Give it a try.