When I was a student pilot on my first solo flight, the biggest comfort I found amongst the butterflies of being alone in an airplane was to talk myself through everything – out loud. It gave me a sense of normality, but there is also something very solidifying about speaking actions out loud. It’s easy to have multiple thoughts bouncing around your head, but to speak key actions out loud helps to verify that it was done and brings more weight to the action. To this day, there are certain callouts that I make, whether I am with a passenger, another pilot, in a simulator or all by my lonesome.
I begin each checklist by reading the name of the checklist out loud. “Engine Start Checklist,” for example. Then after the checklist is complete, I finish with the checklist title and the word “complete.” Much like a bell signifies the start and finish of a boxing match, “Engine Start Checklist complete” brings an official sense of completion to the process.
This one is more for the person who might be near the airplane than for me, but “Clear prop!” is still one of my (loudest) regular callouts out the window before the prop turns over.
Approach Path Clear
Before entering or crossing any runway, I like to look at both the approach and departure sides of it to ensure no rogue planes are slipping in on me. “Approach and departure path clear” gives me the confidence to safely maneuver onto or across the runway.
When lined up on the runway for departure, I speak the runway number out loud as I read it from the pavement, followed by reading my compass heading and heading indicator. Ideally, this sounds something like “two six on the ground, two six on the compass, two six on the heading.” It not only verifies that I am at the beginning of the runway, but at the correct runway, and that my instruments match that as well.
As power is applied and the takeoff roll starts, there are several callouts I use when they happen. “Power set” verifies that I have full power, followed by “airspeed alive” once there is enough airspeed in the pitot tube to register on the airspeed indicator. Then a quick check of the engine instruments verifies that the “oil temperature and pressure are in the green.” If they weren’t, the takeoff would be aborted, assuming enough runway remained. Finally, a deliberate speed announcement of “60 knots – rotate” configures me to become airborne. Different aircraft will have different callouts, from various critical speeds in the takeoff roll like “V1” to the familiar “positive rate – gear up” shortly after liftoff.
Approaching Target Altitude
To ensure that I’m watching my altitude carefully as I climb or descend, I like to call out a verbal “1000 feet to altitude” as well as “500 feet to altitude.” It builds in some redundancies because now I have three altitudes to catch instead of just one (the target). Even if I were to miss one of the first two calls, it trains the eye and ear to be in sync with that altimeter.
Flight Control Exchange
Communication with a fellow pilot is essential, and while there are lots of resources dedicated to CRM (crew resource management), perhaps the most basic in early training and beyond is verifying who is flying the airplane. As the astronauts of Apollo 8 commented on approach to the Earth after orbiting the moon, “I think Sir Isaac Newton is doing most of the flying right now,” It’s important to be clear about who is flying and make the transition of controls from one pilot to the other very deliberate. Thus, a three part verbal call and response has been designed. “You have the flight controls” is initiated by the pilot relieving the controls, followed by “I have the flight controls” by the receiving pilot. The relieving pilot then concludes with “you have the flight controls.” The redundancy ensures clear exchange and reminds me of looking left, right and left again when crossing a street.
Flap Operating Range
I’m not sure how I came up with this, but I began calling the flap operating range the FOP when in my Private Pilot training. My instructor and I got a good laugh out of it after I remarked that “we’re in the FOP” as I slowed down into the white arc, but it just stuck. Now “we’re in the FOP” is announced anytime I am slowed to flaps operating speed on approach. You can join me on this terminology, or simply announce “flaps operating range.”
A GUMPS check is an easy to remember pre-landing check that applies to many airplanes. There are many variations of the acronym as well as precisely when it is used, but I like to go through the check out loud on downwind and again after stabilized on final approach. Read more about GUMPS here.
I believe that adding a verbal component to these key phases of flight will not only help to remember if I did it, but will hopefully trigger that sense that I missed something if the habit and cadence is disrupted by the unusual silence. I’ll often speak out loud that the “back door is locked, front door is locked” in my home before I head to bed at night. It gives me the confidence that I really checked it rather than just thinking about checking it. What are some of YOUR callouts that you use? Let me know in the comments!
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