Glider Portrait - Harris Hill, Elymra New York
After Test Pilot School, I went back to the F-15 schoolhouse to get re-qualified. I had been out of the F15 for three years. Part of the discipline pounded into us at TPS was the discipline of the checklist. As powerful as it is, using a checklist step by step by step takes time. This is especially true if you're flying by yourself. The auto-pilot doesn't work, it's night, you're in a simulated cloud. It can take forever for some.
The F-15 community prides itself to a large degree on the thoroughness of its training. Graduates know the aircraft inside and out. This is especially true of the emergency procedures. So thorough is the training that there are no memorized procedures on the checklist. There are no CAPS or Boldface for aborting on the runway or for engine, fire, thrust-loss on take-off and such, as you would with other aircraft. How do they get away with that? Because the training makes you memorize the whole darn thing. Sure you have a checklist but it's for "reference purposes only," meaning you should have accomplished all the procedures before referring to the thing -- which kind of ignores the whole point of a checklist, doesn't it?
One day, I was in my final practice emergency procedure simulator, during which the operator/instructor got to dial-a-disaster any way he wanted. It's supposed to be tough, a rite of passage in a way. Unfortunately, I disrupted his plan for my death and destruction by tackling the important things first, then diligently reading and confirming every step on my checklist. Of course, this took a lot longer than he planned. We didn't cover as many scenarios as he thought we would. And, I didn't crash once. We ran out of time before we got to his favorite epic Kobayashi-Maru style failure, which always caused a student to crash.
During the debrief, we had a disagreement on the utility of checklists. The instructor accused me of using it as a crutch for my seeming lack of knowledge about the aircraft. Of course, I disagreed. In retrospect, I think he was more upset about not being able to do his full dial-a-disaster plan than my use of checklists. At least I hope that's what he was upset about.
To this day, I make it a point to brief my crew mates that I won't karate chop my way through an emergency, "just 'cause." I had better have a really good reason to do procedures off of memory, versus reviewing them in the tech order first. Yes, there are times when you will do things from memory -- there was the pumping the gear down on final at night in Anchorage, which is a great learning story. But mostly, stick to the checklist. And wind the clock.