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Mnemonic Reminders

Double-Checking The Checklist
The checklist is probably the most important document in any aircraft. If we forget to use it on a routine flight, we could land with the gear up-or worse. Forget a checklist on a checkride, and you'll probably get to take it over on another day. Still, distractions or a slip of the finger can result in a missed checklist item.

One way to double-check the checklist is with a mnemonic phrase or memory jogger. Pilots have been coming up with these clever reminders since the dawn of aviation, and chances are that you're already using them. But just in case you missed one, here are a few to add to your mental clipboard.

Runup Or Ground Check

While most pilots are conscientious about using checklists for the runup, the CIGAR mnemonic is a good backup. CIGAR stands for controls check, instruments set, gas (fuel on proper tank, pump on), attitude (flaps and trim set) and runup (magnetos check). Most runup checklists are more extensive, but the CIGAR check accomplishes the common items that are critical in most small aircraft. It is particularly useful when a complete runup isn't required, such as after landing when you plan to immediately taxi back for another takeoff.

Before Takeoff

"Lights, Camera, Action" is a convenient pretakeoff crosscheck. Lights include strobe, landing light, and navigation lights (on as necessary). Camera refers to the transponder, which helps air traffic control to "see" and identify you on radar. The meaning of action varies from one pilot and aircraft to another, but it's often used to remember such items as the fuel boost pump, controls check, flaps, and trim.

Another pretakeoff check is BLITTS for boost pump on, lights on as required, instruments set, transponder on, takeoff time recorded, and seat belts secured. Some pilots use the S for a generic safety check including doors, seat belts, and any other safety critical items.

The FLARE check is another pretakeoff reminder that is great for departures from high density altitude airports. This one stands for flaps set, lights as required, auxiliary fuel pump on, radar transponder on, and engine. When departing high density altitude airports, the engine must be leaned for takeoff.

Climb And Cruise

Probably the most widely used aviation mnemonic is GUMPS. While it is used before landing, it also works when establishing climb, cruise, and descent configurations. The letters stand for gas (fuel on the proper tank, pump on or off as required), undercarriage (landing gear up or down as required), mixture set, prop(s) set, and safety items. Safety items typically include seat belts and switches (lights, pitot heat). Some pilots add a Charlie to the front for cowl flaps or carburetor heat, making the mnemonic Charlie GUMPS.

Prelanding Checks

In addition to the Charlie GUMPS check, some pilots of retractable gear aircraft also do an MPG check on final. This one stands for mixture set, prop full forward and pumps on, and a green light on the landing gear indicator.


A handy reminder for a go-around or missed approach is CCCC, for cram it, clean it, cool it, and call it. Cram it refers to adding full power. Clean it refers to retracting flaps (in increments) and landing gear. Cool it is a reminder to open the cowl flaps, and call it refers to announcing your action.

After Landing

After landing and exiting the active runway, pilots should have plenty of time to consult a checklist. However, a mnemonic reminder can still be a good crosscheck. The one I like is the FACTS check, for flaps up, auxiliary fuel pump off, cowl flaps open and/or carburetor heat off, transponder to standby, and switches (pitot heat off and lights as required).

The FLARE check can also be used for an after-landing crosscheck. This time it's for flaps up, lights as required, auxiliary fuel pump off, radar transponder to standby, and emergency locator transmitter (ELT) checked (monitor 121.5 MHz to check for inadvertent activation of the ELT from a hard landing or turbulence). When operating at high density altitude, add another E for engine leaned as required.

Securing The Aircraft

Once the engine is shut down is no time to become forgetful. Failure to properly secure the aircraft can result in serious damage or injury. The MIDGET check can prevent us from feeling two feet tall by reminding us of some critical steps in securing the aircraft. MIDGET stands for master switch off, ignition (magnetos) off, doors and windows latched, gust lock installed, ELT off, and tiedowns secured.

Instrument Flying

Numerous mnemonics have been developed to help pilots stay on top of the IFR game. Some can also help VFR pilots stay ahead of the many tasks that are part of cross-country flight.

Most instrument pilots are familiar with the five (or six) Ts used when crossing a fix in a hold or on approach. The Ts stand for turn to the proper heading, time the hold or approach (or navigation leg for VFR flying), tune (or twist) the OBS to the appropriate course, transition to the proper configuration and airspeed (some use throttle for a power reduction), talk to air traffic control, and test the directional gyro by comparing it to the compass.

Nearing the destination airport can signal a busy time, and WIRE TAP is a handy reminder for preapproach tasks. It stands for weather (ATIS, ASOS, AWOS, etc.), instruments set (particularly the altimeter), radios tuned and identified, elevation (altitude for the final approach fix), timing to the missed approach point, altitudes for decision height or minimum descent altitude, and the procedure for the missed approach. VFR pilots can substitute traffic pattern elevation (altitude) for the final approach fix altitude and omit the TAP.

Pilots often have a hard time remembering what to include in position reports. An old standby for remembering the items in sequence is A PTA TEN Remark. The items are aircraft identification, position (the name of the fix), time crossing the fix, altitude, type of flight plan, estimated time of arrival at the next reporting point, name of the next reporting point, and any remarks, such as unforecast weather conditions.

Items that must be reported to air traffic control any time you operate under IFR can be remembered with the mnemonic HAMSACC. The items include holding (time and altitude entering and leaving), altitude changes (VFR on top and leaving assigned altitudes), missed approach, safety of flight (anything that affects it), airspeed changes of 5 percent or 10 knots, communication or navigation capability loss, and climb rate when you're unable to maintain a 500-foot-per-minute climb.

Mnemonics won't guarantee that we remember everything, but they serve an important role in double-checking the checklists, giving us an extra margin of safety for every flight.

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