Author: Marshall, J Alan
Date published: April 1, 2012
We all use checklists - pilots, maintainers, heavy equipment operators, and virtually everyone else in the Air Force. Even in our private lives, most of us use checklists. I have forgotten my wallet, watch, hat, keys, cell phone, and sunglasses so many times, that my wife puts a checklist on the refrigerator and has me read it off before I leave for work each day. I have to admit, I no longer keep forgetting those things as much. The only time I seem to forget something now is when my checklist cycle is broken. That happens when I spill my orange juice, drop my laptop, or one of my kids pokes himself in the eye with a toy while I am reading my checklist. Your checklist cycle is the continuous loop that you follow as you perform a task, reference a checklist, and complete each item on a checklist. Any time you fly an aircraft, drive a vehicle, or operate a piece of equipment while completing a checklist, you are in a checklist cycle. I believe the main reason why aviators and other checklist users fail to complete checklist items is that once their checklist cycle is broken, they fail to resume the checklist, they skip a step, or they only partially complete a step when they resume the checklist. Most of us naturally have an unconscious safety mechanism to mitigate checklist interruptions but I would like to coin a term for it.
What I call "Checklist Check" is a safeguard I use when I recognize that my checklist cycle has been interrupted. A radio call, a required flight control input, an equipment malfunction, or an interaction with the crew chief, are all examples of events that can interrupt a pilot's checklist cycle. A fuel spill, a lost tool, an unscheduled meeting, ora VIP visit are all examples of events that can break the checklist cycle of a maintenance crew. When I recognize a break in my checklist cycle, I think, "Checklist Check" and go back and review the entire checklist that I was executing to make sure that I have completed all of the steps (or determine the appropriate place to resume the checklist). If I get a priority radio call that interrupts a checklist, I maintain aircraft control, continue to navigate, respond to the radio call, and then perform a Checklist Check to ensure each previous step was completed before determining which step needs to be resumed. That doesn't mean I re-accomplish every step of the checklist. It only means that confirm that each step is complete. There are other times when I perform a Checklist Check, such as when I have comfortably completed a phase of flight and have a moment to spare. I then take time to review all of my previous checklists items to make sure I haven't missed something. Maybe after a maintenance team takes a break from a task, a "Checklist Check" would be good to perform before resuming work. When a group or team is performing a checklist or Tech-Order action and someone interrupts the process with a phone call or a question, the group can lose focus on the task and skip a step when they start again. That would be a good time for some one to say, "Let's do a Checklist Check."
There have been many times when flying a mission that I have experienced a strange feeling that I have forgotten something or that something was "just not right." Maybe this feeling was my subconscious brain trying to keep me alive and more often than not, that feeling alerted me to something that needed attention. When you experience that feeling, I recommend that you go with your instincts, perform a Checklist Check, and take a good look at the aircraft systems or equipment that you are operating. By using Checklist Check, I have saved missing many checklist items in the past and I bet you have also. Now we all have a mutual name for it!
BY COL. J. ALAN MARSHALL, Ph.D.