Product idea: An always-available button for each normal checklist

Checklist discipline is one of the key elements for safe flying. It is easy to achieve when there are two pilots. One pilot can read the checklist while the other makes sure that aircraft attitude and power are correct. A single pilot can juggle a paper checklist or try to use the various electronic checklist options, but the workload is too much for some people and/or some situations. Checklists in multi-function displays, such as Garmin and Avidyne, are buried a little too deeply for maximum safety. To get to the Climb checklist, for example, the pilot might have to press several buttons and take his or her attention away from aircraft attitude for 5 or 10 seconds to get through the relevant menus.

Here’s what I want, especially in an aircraft that has a lot of free panel space: a ribbon of switches, one per normal checklist, running next to the pilot’s primary flight display (PFD) or multi-function display (essentially in front of the pilot’s right hand). Pressing a switch labeled “Climb” would start the climb checklist. Each item would show up as a one-line display either above the PFD or on the PFD. If the aircraft could figure out that an item had been accomplished, e.g., gear up or flaps up, the item could be displayed with a checkmark next to it. The ribbon would have one additional button labeled “Next” that would sequence the system to the next checklist item.

A pilot could press one always-available button at any time to get to a checklist and then deal with one item at a time.

This is the kind of thing that could be built by a “maker” with perhaps $50 worth of parts, including the Arduino (massive overkill!) to drive it all and a battery for power. Certified and powered from the aircraft? Well… let’s try not to think about that! But I can dream…

Readers: What do you think of this idea? And what maker parts would you actually use if you wanted to build this as a portable device to be taped to an aircraft panel?


  1. SuperMike

    December 17, 2015 @ 5:34 pm


    Why not an IOS app?

  2. Stephen dennis

    December 17, 2015 @ 6:43 pm


    Because its a closed source and hardware device in a mobile phone ecosystem

  3. philg

    December 17, 2015 @ 8:03 pm


    SuperMike: Why not an iOS app? Where is the iOS device? Is it charged? Is it unlocked? Is the iOS device running the app in question? How can the iOS device be either above the PFD or on the PFD? (most panels don’t have a lot of extra room above the PFD)

    If you can make an iOS device that is arranged as a ribbon of buttons on the right of the PFD and a one-line display above the PFD and is powered legally from the aircraft and is never doing anything other than running the checklist app… sure!

  4. jay c

    December 17, 2015 @ 8:19 pm


    I’d do it with a small array smartswitches (LCD backlit switches) link , a small LCD display, and a raspberry pi 2 zero mounted in a low profile metal box (EMC) behind the LCD display . LCD backlit switches are expensive (12x the cost of the Pi Zero!) but I think it would be neat in this application. Each checklist could be labeled and colored ‘red’ for unchecked and then switch to ‘green’ once it was pressed.

  5. Izzie L.

    December 17, 2015 @ 9:23 pm


    I would hack the speed dial buttons from a landline phone. The one on my desk has a row of nine buttons (with a convenient area for labels and a shift key that doubles the capacity to 18. How many checklists do you need?

    It also has a 4 line x 20 character display and a 5 way switch (4 cardinal direction + enter) that could be used for scrolling up and down thru the list (enter = check).

  6. Izzie L.

    December 17, 2015 @ 9:53 pm


    Add a thermal printer and now you have a paper trail proving that you followed the checklist.

  7. anon

    December 17, 2015 @ 10:18 pm


    @Izzy: that paper would come in handy during the crash inquest 🙂

  8. Marc

    December 18, 2015 @ 1:30 am


    Lower tech version in the 757 cockpit (to the right of the gear handle)…

  9. Mark Finkelstein

    December 18, 2015 @ 9:47 am


    I had been planning to send you a message encouraging you to blog more frequently on aviation matters, so was very pleased to see this item when opening your blog today.

    Yesterday, I flew through the worst turbulence I’ve experienced as a pilot. To make matters worse, I was on my way home from having some troubleshooting done on my EFIS’s, and they went haywire during the flight to the extent I had to ask ATC for vectors. I also experienced some scary backfiring, probably a result of over-leaning in all the chaos. For good measure, I was getting a high-voltage warning.

    Coming in to land, there was a strong and gusty crosswind. I was happy, and kind of proud of myself, when I got the plane on the ground safely.

    However, back in the hangar, I saw that I had forgotten to go full rich prior to landing. For that matter, I had completely forgotten to do a GUMPS check. If I had been flying a retrac, there’s a decent chance I would have had a gear-up.

    On another recent flight, the nose seemed strangely high during the flare. Instead of going around, I continued the landing. Later I saw that I had forgotten to retract the speed brakes I had deployed.

    Bottom line: anything that could be done to increase the odds of completing a checklist would be very welcome–and could be life-saving. So, great idea, IMHO.

  10. philg

    December 18, 2015 @ 10:24 am


    Thanks, Mark, for the support for my brilliant idea. Marc’s comment above, however, implies that perhaps Boeing stole this idea from me back in the late 1970s when they were designing the B757.

    [And separately, I applaud you for recognizing your own lack of heroism on that particular flight. I feel that one of the most dangerous attitudes in aviation is “I would never do that” or “That other pilot was an idiot”.]

  11. Alan Cima

    December 18, 2015 @ 10:58 am


    Why not “Siri can you lead me through the climb checklist”?

  12. J. Peterson

    December 18, 2015 @ 3:31 pm


    It sounds pretty simple, except for this part:

    If the aircraft could figure out that an item had been accomplished…

    That seems like it’d take a fair amount of hacking into the aircraft to pull off successfully.

  13. philg

    December 18, 2015 @ 5:18 pm


    J: Airplanes that are newer and/or more complicated oftentimes have a moderately centralized place for warnings, engine instrumentation, etc. So it wouldn’t be tough to build this awareness into a checklist system that was part of the certified panel. Adding this on after the fact? Maybe use a camera pointed at the panel!

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