While displaying electronic navigation charts on an iPad is arguably the most popular feature used by pilots today, the iPad can be used simultaneously for other helpful functions as well. We’ve covered how you can use it for electronic logbooks, flight computers, aviation handbooks, weather and more in previous articles. Here we’re going to show you how the iPad can further extend your paperless cockpit by using it as an electronic checklist.
Why use an electronic checklist
Electronic checklists have been around for decades, but were traditionally found in transport category airplanes with high-end avionics. They more recently started showing up in glass cockpits in the new GA aircraft that started rolling off the line in the mid-2000s. Garmin’s popular G1000 glass panel featured an option that allowed pilots to view the checklist on the 2nd screen (MFD) and helped reduce cockpit clutter. Now pilots flying with an iPad can also take advantage of an electronic checklist with affordable apps designed for specific airplane models.
Electronic checklists aren’t for everyone, but there are some real benefits to be gained by using one of these checklists apps over its paper counterpart:
- Less paper–eliminating the need for paper charts is one the reasons you bought an iPad in the first place, right? Using it for your checklist in the airplane allows you to keep your printed version in a side pocket and is one less thing to clutter your cockpit in flight.
- Reliability–how many times have you gone out to a rental airplane to find the checklist torn up, missing pages, or missing altogether? Bringing your own checklist on your iPad ensures you will have the procedures you need on every flight.
- Customizable–most of the checklist apps currently available allow you to start with a checklist designed for a particular airplane model, and then allow you to customize the checklist for your airplane or operation. They make it easy to reorder items or add additional checks as you see fit. One feature to look for is the ability to modify the checklist right from the app, as many of the apps require you to visit a website to make changes, and then manually sync the app for the changes to take place.
- Quick-access to emergency procedures–you’ll find that the emergency/abnormal checklist items are quickly accessible in the iPad apps. Several of them feature a quick-access button to instantly load the emergencies section, and then group them by system, meaning no more digging through pages to find the right section.
- Visual feedback–Most of the checklist apps allow you to check off items on the list by tapping the items as you complete them. While you may find this tedious for things like preflight and starting the engine, many pilots like to take advantage of this during the descent and before landing checks where you may not typically complete the check start to finish in one steady flow. Seeing the checkmarks for what has already been accomplished serves as nice reminder.
While it’s important to consider the user-interface and design of a checklist app, we think the other important aspect to consider is the source of the data used in the checklist. You’re going to be relying on this data to safely operate your airplane, so look for a checklist from a company that has a solid reputation in authoring checklists. At a bare minimum make sure they at least use the data from the airplane’s operating handbook. We’ve found some of the best iPad checklists originate from companies that started by producing paper checklists years before the iPad was invented.
There are a variety of checklist apps currently available. A few are dedicated to one specific model of airplane, but here we’re going to cover universal checklist apps that allow you to buy or install checklists for multiple models of aircraft from within the app:
Sporty’s Aircraft Checklists–this brand new app features checklist data written by Qref, authors of one of the most widely-used printed checklists available today. This app is a free download and includes a sample checklist that allows you to instantly take the app on a test flight. You can then purchase detailed aircraft specific checklists for $9.99 each. There are currently 50 models available with more coming soon. One of the standout features of this app is that allows you to modify checklists right from the app in the airplane, and does not require you to login in to a website to make modifications. Available for iOS in iPhone and iPad formats, Android coming soon.
- ForeFlight Checklist Pro–while ForeFlight’s primary product is the ForeFlight Mobile digital chart and flight planning app, the company also offers a checklist app. This app is only available for iPhone, sells for $19.99 and includes 20 checklists for the most common general aviation airplanes. These are derived directly from the pilot operating handbooks. The app does allow you to modify each checklist, but you must visit the company’s website. Available for iOS on the iPhone.
- AirCheck Aviation Checklist–AirCheck offers an iPhone only checklist app that is available for $1.99 in the app store. It includes checklists for a Cessna 172 and Piper Warrior, but offers the ability to download additional checklists created by other users from their website. You can create new checklists and modify existing ones, but you must visit their website. Available for iOS on iPhone.
- i-FLYTE Time and Checks–this app is developed by the same company that developed the popular Air Navigation Pro app, and includes some basic navigation features in addition to checklists. It’s available for $7.99 and includes 6 ready templates for the most common airplane categories. From there you can modify them to match the specific requirements of your airplane. When used with a GPS the app also logs your flights, airports visited, takeoffs/landings and more. Available for iOS on iPhone and iPad.
- Audio CoPilot–there are high-end audio checklists systems available for airplanes today that interface with your airplane’s intercom, and allow you to hear the checklist items instead of reading them. The Audio CoPilot app recreates this experience at a much more affordable price of $8.99. After downloading the app, you’ll need to record the audio for each item and organize them into groups which can take 20 to 30 minutes. You can then connect your phone to either the intercom or headset, and minimize heads-down time by eliminating the need to look at each item on a list. Available for iOS on iPhone.
- Checkmate–this company has been producing checklists for over 20 years and has also brought its extensive and widely-endorsed checklist collection to the iPad. The app is free to download and offers aircraft specific checklist for $14.99 each. Like the other apps listed here the app does offer customization features, but you must visit the company’s website to add or delete items on your purchased checklists. Available for iOS on iPhone and iPad.
Making the Transition
After choosing a checklist app that works for you, the next step is to make a transition plan. The first step we recommend is sitting down with your new checklist app and compare it item by item with your current paper checklist. This is also a good time to add any custom items that may be unique to your particular airplane. And don’t forget to review the emergency items too.
The first time you use the checklist in the airplane you may find there’s bit of a learning curve, balancing its use alongside your aviation chart app. The best way to do this is with the iPad’s multitasking feature. First, open your aviation chart app, then press the home button to close it and then open the checklist app. Now use the iPad’s multitouch gesture to switch back and forth quickly between apps. Place 4 or 5 fingers on the screen and swipe from right to left to switch to the previous app. When ready to go back to the other app, place your fingers back on the screen and swipe from left to right. Check out this article for more information on how to use multitouch gestures.
Another helpful tip is to move your checklist app icon down to the bottom row dock so that you can find and open it quickly when you need it. To do this, press and hold on the checklist app’s home screen icon until it wiggles and then drag it down to the dock. Once it’s there, press the home button lock it in place.
As with making the transition from paper charts to digital charts, you’ll want to keep the paper checklist nearby until you’re comfortable using the new iPad checklist. After a few flights you’ll quickly realize the benefits of flying with this technology, and you’ll really appreciate the ability to customize the electronic checklists as your preferences and equipment change over time.