By Howard Deevers
“Multi-tasking” sounded like such an important word the first time I heard that term. It sounds like you must really be smart, or on top of your game, to be able to do more than one thing at a time, right? Our computers are designed to do more than one thing at a time, but are humans really able to do more than one thing at a time?
We would like to believe that we can, and many try to do it. The worst example that I can think of is “texting while driving.” I doubt that I will get much argument about that. The human brain can switch from one thing to another very fast, but that doesn't compensate for the muscular skills required to keep your vehicle in the proper lane and not run into the car in front of you. Those are called reaction times.
What does this have to do with aviation? Quite a bit. Think back to your original training in learning how to fly an airplane. On your first lesson, your instructor showed you a checklist, or should have showed you a checklist. It might have been the first time you had used a checklist for anything, unless you had military training. I like to think of checklists as 'organized multi-tasking.' The checklist usually follows a step by step procedure, so that we don't miss an important task.
The B-17 is credited as the first airplane to come with a checklist. That is because of an early crash where it was determined that the crew had missed an important item and took off with an elevator lock still in place. The Boeing Company quickly came up with a checklist, because there were too many things that needed to be done before flight, and they could not trust that memory alone was enough.
Multi-tasking quickly became a part of your early aviation training. Remember learning how to land that “mighty” Cessna 172 you were training in: slow the plane to approach speed, get into the correct traffic pattern, add flaps, line up with the runway, slow to final approach speed, descend, flare at the proper speed and place. That may sound very routine to us now, but it was definitely multi-tasking at the time of our early training.
I received a tour of a C-17 that was used for parachute jumping training at Pinal Airpark. The Captain took us up (yes, up) to the flight deck for a look around. The POH was the size of a phone book for a medium sized city. Naturally, you can't memorize everything in there. The pre-take off checklist takes almost 20 minutes after engine start.
The smaller checklists that most of us use to fly a Cessna, Piper, Mooney, or Bonanza can be memorized. Some acronyms help us remember items in a sequence. Memory is a much faster way to run a checklist than the read it, then do it, then back to the checklist way. However, the checklist is a great way to Verify that you didn't forget anything. In the famous Hawaiian Air B-737 incident that happened many years ago, a top piece of the fuselage separated shortly after departure from Maui. The crew used memory checklists from training to declare an emergency and get the plane back to the airport. The Captain told the First Officer to get out the emergency checklist. She said that they would not be able to do half of the things on that checklist. He said, I know, but let's see if we missed anything. I consider that serious multi-tasking.
Just as texting and driving are not a good idea, the same can be said about entering your flight plan in your GPS while taxiing to the runway for departure. Yes, it does happen. Why not just enter it before you taxi, then keep your eyes on the road while you taxi to the runway? Aircraft repairs are way too expensive to risk any damage due to multi-tasking.
Emergencies are another matter. In an emergency, use that memorized checklist to address the emergency, then get out the emergency checklist, if you have time, to make sure that you didn't forget an important item. This is especially true in fuel-related emergencies. There is a fuel-related incident (or crash) every week in the U.S. In many cases there was fuel in the other tank, and the pilot just had not switched tanks. A quick look at an emergency checklist would likely have saved the day for that pilot.
You don't have to multi-task to make it to a free safety seminar sponsored by your ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION. There are seminars in locations all over the state. Check the website for locations and times, and don't forget to “Bring Your Wingman.”