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Training Tip: Checklist challengeTraining Tip: Checklist challenge

With the destination airport near, the Cessna 182 pilot disengaged the autopilot—and immediately noticed that the aircraft had been flying “more and more out of trim” to compensate for an unbalanced fuel load. Pondering causes was cut short when the engine quit at 1,500 feet agl, forcing an off-airport landing in a plowed field.

Before starting the engine, note preflight checklists carefully, including fuel selector position as shown in this Cessna 182 October 3, 2016, in Frederick, Maryland. Photo by David Tulis/AOPA.

The power loss “was caused by fuel starvation due to the fuel selector switch set to the right tank and the previous flight conducted while on only one tank,” the pilot explained in an Aviation Safety Reporting System filing (a “NASA report”).

When you thumb through one edition of the Cessna 182 Pilot’s Operating Handbook, you find a reminder to verify that the fuel selector is set to “both” tanks at Item 17 of the Preflight Inspection Checklist. It reappears as Item 10 of the Before Starting Engine Checklist and again at Item 9 of the Before Takeoff Checklist.

That’s fairly typical treatment, so how does a pilot blow the drill?

By not bothering to look at the selector.

The accident was triggered “by the complacency of the Pilot in Command and failure to properly use and abide by checklist procedures in the cockpit,” the pilot wrote, adding, “The belief that the selector switch was ‘Always on Both’ allowed the checklist item to go unnoticed and the enroute phase of flight conducted.”

An energetic discussion challenging and championing checklists arose on an AOPA social media outlet as a byproduct of the Sept. 26 Training Tip’s scenario, in which a student pilot nearly stalls an aircraft while lunging to retrieve a checklist that had been carelessly tossed away earlier in the flight (a poor but not uncommonly observed habit).

Posts discussed how, when, and even whether to use checklists. Is a checklist a “do list”? A back-up? A crutch? Is using it merely a nod to “good form”?

You could look over NASA reports filed by pilots who in distracted moments inadvertently landed retractable-gear airplanes gear-up for insights. Of course, FAA guidance remains in effect; find it on page 1-6 of the Airplane Flying Handbook, excerpted here: “Without discipline and dedication to using the checklist at the appropriate times, the odds are on the side of error. Pilots who fail to take the checklist seriously become complacent and the only thing they can rely on is memory.”

And you’ve seen how reliable memory is.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Pilot Training and Certification, Power and Fuel, Flight Training
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