I first learned to fly in the military. Helicopters had lots of moving parts to check. There were lots of checks to run through when starting up the aircraft. Lots of emergency procedures, each with its own "to do" list. Checklists were very important. So important that I carried in my flight bag a two inch thick, tab indexed checklist book.
For all these lists, the helicopter I flew was really pretty easy to start. Once the main rotor had been untied you only had to do three things to start it. Turn on the main fuel, battery switch to on, and pull the trigger. Immediately you would hear the ignitors firing and the turbine engine spooling up. In exactly 60 seconds you had enough power to pull pitch and take flight. Thatís how we could be playing cards when the call "fire mission" came over the radio and be airborne in two minutes enroute to our mission. Of course we had spent a considerable amount of time earlier in preflighting the aircraft.
When flying everyday, one tends not to look at checklists as much. After all, it is always the same procedure. But an interesting thing used to happen to me in Vietnam. If I didnít fly for even one day, I couldnít start the helicopter, without the full compliment of checks, and referring to the checklist.
We forget items in procedures when we are not constantly practicing them. Whether it is a sophisticated aircraft or a simple balloon, checklists play an important role. Each manufacturer has checklists in the operatorís manual for each balloon.
When I was a balloon student pilot, I remembered back to my earlier training and developed more detailed checklists for the brand of balloon that I was flying. I put the checklists in protective sleeves and used them to preflight the balloon and for pre- launch. As a training exercise, I developed checklists for in-flight, landing, packup, and emergency procedures.
The exercise of developing checklists for any balloon system will help to enhance your understanding and make you more aware of each task that needs to be completed. Checklists provide a valuable guide, that when used regularly, will help you to remember details that you might otherwise forget.
With the recent unveiling of the new private balloon pilot practical test standards, the concept of checklists have been formally incorporated into what the applicant must do. The Federal Aviation Administration is placing more emphasis on the use of checklists. As other practical tests are revised, checklists will also become an integral part of those tests.
APPLICANT'S USE OF CHECKLISTS (From the LTA Private PTS)
An example of a checklist that a pilot might use would be a pre-launch passenger briefing. What are all those things you want your passenger to know before takeoff: what they can and cannot touch; how and where to stand on landing; stay in the basket until they have your permission to leave; is there anything you want from them to help you.
Checklist arenít just for pilots. Crew chiefs have their own checklists, lists for the vehicle, lists of stuff to bring out for a flight, or for out of town trips. The number of possibilities is endless.
Developing checklists is as important as using them. As time goes along you will find yourself revising your lists.
In the new PTS for private pilot LTA, the FAA specifically requires the applicant to complete or follow checklists for 19 different areas. These areas are:
Crew briefing and preparation
Layout and assembly
Launch over obstacle
Approach to landing
High wind landing
Altitude control (level flight)
Systems & equipment malfunction
Emergency equipment and survival gear
Recovery (Postflight operations)
Deflation and packing
To these "required" checklists from the PTS I would add:
Weather gathering checklist for go/no-go decision
You may have others lists that you feel might be important. There are no set rules for how many there should be. Some balloon owners have a detailed crew book that can be used to train new crew members. Especially helpful for crew volunteers at out of town balloon events. Something that the new crew can read before the pilot and/or crew chief start assigning tasks and explaining how they would like certain tasks performed.
Accompanying this article are two examples of checklists. One was developed by Balloon Life and last presented in the January 1987 issue. For several years we supplied safety seminars with copies of this checklist/planning form, and a guide on using it. We still have some copies left. If you would like one, send a self addressed, stamped envelope to Balloon Life and we will send you a copy. The form is currently under revision and will be printed in a future issue during 1997. The second example of checklists was sent to us by Gail Turley, Worthington, Ohio. His include weather briefing and flight planning, pilot, and crew checklists that he has developed for his own use.
Creating checklists are fun and educational. Get the entire crew involved. Whether you have one that you use now or if this article has stimulated you to develop one, send a copy to us at Balloon Life. We would like to publish some brilliant ideas.