Read Time= 4 Minutes

All of us know the afamed B-17 used during WWII, which helped to win the war. You probably didn’t know, however, that the B-17 was the first aircraft to get a checklist!

This came about when, on the first B-17 flight, 3 men we’re seriously injured, and a few later died, when the aircraft stalled shortly after takeoff. After further investigation, it was found that the Captain had left the elevator lock on, and the aircraft was unresponsive to pitch control.

At the time, in 1935, the aircraft was challenging a few other companies for large government contracts that could mean either the demise or the success of Boeing. Therefore, Boeing set out to find out what they could do.

During a major think-tank session, it was determined that the pilots needed a checklist. It wasn’t a knock to the pilots, or that the aircraft was too hard to fly, rather the aircraft was just too complex for a pilots memory.

The first checklist was born!

Real B-17 Checklist
Real B-17 Checklist

So, as a flight simulator pilot, how should you use checklists in your virtual flying? Read on.

Many people have the notion that a checklist is supposed to be checked off, one item at a time, as they are done. This is time consuming, distracting, and potentially more dangerous than not having a checklist!

Throw out those old ideas, and clear your mind for something that works!

Here is my method for using checklists, that I think you’ll find very useful!

  1. Memorize your checklists to the best of your ability. Some may use simple acronyms, and others just flat out memorize item-by-item. While memorizing a checklist, it may be best to do the old “step-by-step” method and gradually work your way out of needing to see everything on paper.
  2. As you move through memorizing the checklist items, it’s important to simply start doing things because they are in your memory. Your memory-to-kinetic connection is much faster than the “What’s next? Read. Look. Do. Back to Checklist” way of doing things. A proactive method of doing checklists is much better than reactive.
  3. As you begin to memorize the items for certain phases of the flight, soon you won’t need the checklist at all. Does this mean that you shouldn’t still read it? Not at all! Now the checklist is used to VERIFY what you have done. I can tell you right now that things get busy and you’ll often forget something. Although you may think you know it, ALWAYS VERIFY. Very, very few pilots are perfect, and those that are use checklists.
  4. When you finally have a checklist memorized, you’ll do all the items, THEN you’ll grab the checklist and VERIFY everything has been done.

I challenge you to try out this method of using checklists. Feel free to report back with your findings. Doing checklists this way will certainly improve the speed of checklists in your virtual flight deck.

Oh yeah, and the B-17? After the accident the Boeing company was threatened with collapse. By implementing the checklists, they flew 1.8 million hours with 18 B-17s without incident, proved to the government they were safe, and eventually nearly 13,000 were built. What is more telling is the images of these four engined, resilient monster fending off the evil forces of the Axis Powers.

B-17 Group Formation

And to think that this aircraft could have been eliminated from it’s place in history because they continued not to use checklists.

B-17 Formation

This article was posted in AOA, Blog

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  • My problem is that real life gets in the way of flight simming, so memorizing thing doesn’t work as I forget from one session to the next. What *does* help is writing my own, more detailed checklists. Often I make them while taking notes from watching a section of an AoA DVD. I might not be an expert pilot but I’ve at least been able to try out various procedures in this way.

    • Rob,
      Very good point! I think it’s important to keep in mind that we all have our own ways of doing things. One of the most important things about being a pilot is making sure that you investigate how you interact with the machine and the environment around you, and then adjust your actions and attitudes (sometimes literally) accordingly.

      Whenever a pilot comes out and says, ‘You’ve got to do it this way and that is the only way to do it!’, he’s wrong. I’m sure if someone really wanted to dig in with me here, they could find something that HAS to be done ONE way in aviation, but honestly, I can’t think of one right now. I even think about proper engine operation, takeoff technique, and HOW lift even happens. All of those are open for debate.

      That is part of the reason why aviation is so rich with depth. Not only is it technical and analytical, but it’s also about being creative with the tools around you.

      Anything to promote greater safety, flight sim or not, I’m all for!

      It’s very neat that you’ve found a way to keep things on the right path for yourself on your checklists! Keep up the good work, and keep evolving!

  • Cheers, Chris. That there are different ways of doing things is something that becomes apparent when you read tutorials from various places. There are Mike Ray’s books, AoA stuff, PC Pilot magazine, web forums… Everyone has their own approach and I can only assume this reflects real aviation.

    “…HOW lift even happens. All of those are open for debate”

    Hm, I wonder if the name of your company indicates a preference in that debate. 🙂

  • Agreed. Real aviation is much the same way. As long as we all follow the same rules, generally the governments don’t care how you get there.

    I actually have a different take on lift than the ‘company name’, although that obviously has something to do with it 😉

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  • R D

    Great story, ruined by poor grammar.

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  • danielle

    Nice discussion, it’s pretty close to how we teach in the real world: first pilots need to read and do from an expanded checklist when learning , followed up by a checklist, then they learn the checks off by heart and follow up with a checklist. Only difference is checklists check critical items, and usually don’t have as many items as the actual checks, which are done in a “flow pattern”. I like the comment about perfect pilots using checklists. http://www.gonumbers.com. Don’t worry about the grammar – most pilots didn’t finish high school 🙂 😉

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  • Huge Rod


    (It wasn’t a B-17)

  • Ahmad Amaah


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