Aviation History

Did you know the B-36 Checklist lasted Six Hours (with another hour for a preflight check of 600 items)? The Shortest Checklist is instead that of the T-38 Trainer.

How many items are on a pilot checklist?

In aviation, a preflight checklist is a list of tasks that should be performed by pilots and aircrew prior to takeoff. Its purpose is to improve flight safety by ensuring that no important tasks are forgotten. Failure to correctly conduct a preflight check using a checklist is a major contributing factor to aircraft accidents.

According to researcher and writer Atul Gawande, the concept of a pre-flight checklist was first introduced by management and engineers at Boeing Corporation following the 1935 crash of the prototype Boeing B-17 (then known as the Model 299) at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, killing both pilots. Investigation found that the pilots had forgotten to disengage the crucial gust locks (devices which stop control surfaces moving in the wind while parked) prior to take-off.

How many items are on a pilot checklist?

‘Good question, easily answered by showing the shortest one and the longest one,’ Ron Wagner, former USAF Pilot and author at www.renazonce.com, on Quora.


‘The shortest one I know of was the spin recovery checklist for the USAF T-38 Talon. It was a bold-faced checklist, which meant we were required to memorize it verbatim.

‘T-38 Spin Recovery Checklist

‘Handles Raise

‘Triggers Squeeze

‘It was the bailout checklist for the original ejection seat—the one I rode when I flew T-38s.

‘The USAF replaced that old ejection seat about a decade ago and the new one has a loop to pull instead of arm handles that need to be raised to expose the triggers that need to be squeezed. So, the ejection checklist could now be a single item. And I suppose everyone is required to memorize that one, too. LOL.’


Wagner continues;

‘According to an article appeared on Flight Safety Australia, the record holder is the engine start checklist for the Convair B-36 Peacemaker.

‘The article says that it took the ground crew six hours to prepare this 10-engined Cold War strategic bomber for a mission, after which the flight crew took another hour for a preflight check of 600 items.

‘With six huge radial piston engines and four jet engines, it must have been long.

‘And it was a bomber, with far more systems than just the ten engines, such as armament, four bomb bays and associated doors, and guns and a galley.

‘And it had a crew of 15 and one of those crew members was the flight engineer who had a scope that could monitor the condition of all 336 spark plugs.

‘The checklist just for that engineer’s station might set the world record even if you left off the whole rest of the airplane.

‘Oh, and if it looks like you’re seeing two seats, well, yep.’

Wagner concludes;

‘Here’s a cutaway of the entire front crew area. A typical B-36 flight could last 40 hours. One would assume that was due to long flights, but, damn, it might have been because they had to start running checklists a day before takeoff.’

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Unknown

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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