How about an IFR Checklist? Pilots Love Checklists!!

The Pilot World is a Checklist!




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It seems that the aviation world has a checklist for everything. We have IMSAFE, PAVE, GUMPS, pre-flight, post-flight, cruise, climb … like for everything!

There’s a reason. It’s actually been proven through studies that checklists are effective in preventing errors during procedures, so much so that the medical profession has adopted them. In an interesting study it was found that surgical staff who followed a checklist were significantly less prone to errors and mistakes. The outcomes were not just a little better, they were A LOT better. You can read more about this in the book “The Checklist Manifesto”

So why no IFR checklists?

I’m not really sure to be honest. I think it’s just assumed that pilots develop their own procedures and flows as they relate to instrument procedures. That’s fine if you fly IFR a lot or even professionally.  Memory muscles develop and you do things more by rote. Better yet if you’re in a multi-pilot situation, there’s CRM and teamwork that reduces workload and thus mistakes. For the rest of us, I feel that checklists are a cheap insurance policy. Let me tell you a little story.

I was out flying around with one of my students. He’s transitioning to a new-to-him aircraft and the insurance company has mandated 10 hours of dual training before they’ll insure him to fly solo. There are only so many steep turns, slow flight and touch-n-goes you can do with a pilot before insanity sets in. I suggested we work on some instrument procedures and off we went.

We were doing the VOR 05 approach into KPTB. Now here’s the thing: I NEVER do VOR approaches! Yeah, I know, that’s bad but I just don’t! I’m either flying ILS or RNAV+WAAS for approaches. I just don’t see the point of VOR approaches with these other, more capable procedures available. So strike #1, I’m starting out rusty on VOR approaches!

As we’re motoring down the final approach and descending to our altitudes, I notice that we’re offset to the left of the runway but the picture out the window and the track on the GPS didn’t look right, the VOR needle doesn’t look right either. Nothing really looks right! Listen to the little voice in your head: If things aren’t adding up, there’s probably something wrong. Mistake #2. We motored on and I just caulked it up to me and my student being “rusty”. I asked for a go-around, which we did and I suggested we try it again.

We came around for a second approach and dagnabit; things still didn’t look right! We were misaligned and the HSI was telling us to go in the opposite direction from where we needed to be, just like the previous approach. What the heck! Then it dawned on me! We had the KFCI ILS frequency in the primary frequency box and the VOR 05 frequency on standby. I totally forgot to swap + “Tune and Identify”. Mistake #4.

So it got me thinking!

Why not develop a soup-to-nuts IFR checklist that runs from the preflight to shutdown? Better yet, why not build this out on ForeFlight’s checklist feature? I’m a big fan of Max Tresscott’s book “GPS and WAAS Instrument Flying“. In his book, Max gives a nice checklist flow that I borrowed and modified for ForeFlight. Here’s what I did broken down for each phase of flight. Each phase of flight became a page in ForeFlight’s checklist:

  • EFB Checklist — COMPLETE
  • Destination Approaches — BRIEF
  • 800/2 for GPS and 600/2 for ILS — PICK ALT IF REQ’D
  • Destination Taxi Diagram — BRIEF
  • WX Better or Worse than Forecast — DIVERT IF REQUIRED
  • Destination WX — REVIEW
  • Divert to Alternate — If Required
Approach Brief
  • Destination ATIS — TUNE AND COPY
  • Approach, Tower, Ground and CTAF Frequencies – SET AS STBYS
  • Approach Chart Notes — REVIEW
  • Char Obstacles — REVIEW
  • MSA altitudes and Waypoints — REVIEW
  • Vectors to Final or IAF — SET
  • Approach Category — CHOOSE
  • Missed Approach — MEMORIZE FIRST 2 STEPS
Approach Land
  • Termination Airport — VERIFY
  • Approach — SELECT AND LOAD
  • NAV Source — SET
  • Autopilot Mode — SELECT
Final Approach
  • 2 Minutes before FAF: GUMPS — DO
  • Inbound Approach Heading — VERIFY
  • Tower Frequency — VERIFY STANDBY
  • Missed Approach — FIRST 2 STEPS MEMORIZED
Missed Approach
  • Published Missed — FLY UNLESS ATC VECTORED
  • At Initial Missed Altitude — OBS KEY PRESS
  • Autopilot — CONFIGURE
  • Proceed to Missed Approach Point and Hold — VERIFY

I hope this helps and please take advantage of the offer up top! Happy flying and tailwinds always!!

Helpful resources:

Learn more about ForeFlight’s checklist feature here

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