Thursday, January 02, 2014

Electronic Checklist Redux

It's been six years since I first reported on G1000 checklists displayed on the Multi-function Display (MFD) and while my initial reaction to the cumbersome user interface was less than enthusiastic - yet another version of BigKnob/LittleKnob purgatory - I began to recognize their potential usefulness. I started coming around while using the G1000 Perspective in the Cirrus and have become more accustomed to using them in the Diamond DA42NG. From an instructional standpoint, I have seen positive training benefits from electronic checklist usage, yet two problems continue to plague checklists on the G1000: Missing content and inefficient structuring of the content that is present. So after a bit of on-line sleuthing I discovered how to create or modify checklists for the G1000 to make them more usable. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether or not to make your own G1000 checklist, sources for creating your checklist content, and the software you'll need to complete the task.

Caveat Emptor

If you decide to create your own G1000 electronic checklist or modify an existing checklist file with the information I'm providing, you are doing so at your own risk. If you make a mistake or screw something up, it could cost you some time and money. The information in this post may be incomplete or it may not apply to your particular installation, so proceed with caution.

Not all G1000 installations support electronic checklists, including the current G1000 software version for many DA40 aircraft that introduced a bug preventing the checklist file from being accessed. There is an update from Garmin that fixes this for many DA40, but no fix is currently available for non-WAAS G1000 and KAP-140 autopilot-equipped DA40. That's a shame because it is one of the more common types of Diamond singles out there.

NEVER insert or remove an SD (Secure Digital) card from a G1000 unless the unit has been powered OFF or you risk doing expensive damage.

The standard arrangement is for the checklist to be contained on a file named chklist.ace and to be copied on the MFD supplemental data card (the card in the lower of the two SD slots) that contains terrain data and the like. You may be able to put a chklist.ace file on a separate SD card, insert it into the upper slot, and successfully access it, but I've not tested this.

Exercise extreme caution when adding or replacing files on the MFD supplemental SD card (the card in the lower of the two SD slots): If you modify or remove any of the existing files other than the chcklist.ace file, you are in for an expensive disappointment.

Before you customize an existing G1000 checklist file, back-up the original chklist.ace file.

Customize Wisely

Modifying a G1000 checklist to add missing content and eliminate various annoyances is great, but the folks at your local FSDO may take a dim view of any checklist (electronic or otherwise) that is not the manufacturer's approved checklist. Using a non-approved checklist in day-to-day operations is unlikely to garner scrutiny, but using such a checklist on a practical test may be disqualifying based on language recently added to the practical test standards. There are a couple of ways to approach the "manufacturer's approved checklist or equivalent" issue.

Some checklist providers add a disclaimer, saying that the checklist is "intended for training purposes," encouraging pilots to "always follow the manufacturer's recommended operating procedures." I'm not a lawyer, but adding this doesn't seem to address the FAA's "manufacturer's approved checklist or equivalent" requirement.

In addition to any disclaimers you include in your custom checklist, why not base your content on the manufacturer's most current checklist, use the same numbering scheme (if any), and clearly indicate any additional items you have added. I like to add a "+" prefix to any items I've inserted into the manufacturer's checklist. This seems to be a more sound approach since one could argue "Your honor, I was using a custom checklist, but it contains all the items in the manufacturer's checklist and is therefore 'equivalent.'" Just sayin' ...

Remember that the ultimate authority on which to base your own checklist is the Approved Flight Manual (AFM) for the specific aircraft in question, not a generic Pilot Information Manual (PIM).  Be aware that aircraft manufacturers release updates to approved flight manuals on an infrequent, as-needed basis and it is common for flight manuals in rental aircraft to not contain the latest flight manual revisions.

Become an ACE

The chklist.ace file's ".ace" file extension stands for Aviation Checklist Editor, not to be confused with WinAce compressed archives or genetic gnomic config files.  To edit the chklist.ace file you will need to download Aviation Checklist Editor software from Garmin. This software is not easy to find because the description only makes mention of the G300, G3XX cockpit display systems, GPSMAP 695/696, and the Aera 796/795 products, but it does indeed work for the G1000, too. The ACE application runs on Windows XP (service pack 3). It will also run on Windows 7 or Vista, but help files won't be available on those platforms.

The ACE editor provides a three-level hierarchy:

  • Checklist Group (e.g. Normal procedures, Emergency procedures, Abnormal procedures)
  • Checklist (e.g. Engine Start, Before Takeoff, Engine Failure In Flight ...)
  • Entry (e.g. Master Switch ..... ON)

An Entry can be one of the following types:

  • Plain Text
  • Note
  • Subtitle
  • Warning
  • Caution
  • Challenge

Four levels of justification/indentation are provided for checklist items and you can specify the number of blank lines to follow a checklist entry, all of which can improve readability on the screen.

First Things First

Use the Edit->Properties pull-down to set the checklist to be displayed when you first access the checklists on the MFD. In the DA42NG checklist, I modified the file so that the Check Before Engine Start checklist is displayed first instead of the User Agreement. In the interest of completeness, I also added a line to the beginning of that checklist saying that the User Agreement/Terms and Conditions must be reviewed prior to using the checklist.

And in addition to adding some new checklist items, I also reordered the Emergency checklists so that the emergency procedures most often used in multi-engine training (such as Engine Failure In Flight) come first.

The best part? Adding some obvious, crucial items that were missing from the supplied G1000 checklist.

In the Cessna 172, the MFD is not accessible until the avionics master (bus 2) is turned on, so I chose to leave out the checklists and entries that would need to be accomplished earlier: There still is a place for paper checklists. For the C172 emergency group, I left out the checklists that are impractical to access in flight, such as engine failure immediately after takeoff because really, who's going to have time to bring that up on the MFD?

I included several Pre-takeoff Brief items in my checklists to remind a pilot to say out loud, or at least consider in their mind, how they'll respond to an abnormality or emergency during or after takeoff as well as their initial heading and altitude. And there was something particularly satisfying about fleshing out the C172 manufacturer's After Landing checklist, which consists of one entry - Flaps .... Up.


If you own an aircraft, creation customized G1000 checklists is a viable option. If you rent an aircraft or fly several aircraft in a rental fleet, using custom G1000 checklists are probably not practical. Even when armed with your custom checklist, you still must confront the convoluted Garmin checklist user interface, one that often conflicts with other G1000 functions. We live in an imperfect world, but every now and again we still can polish off some of the dust and debris.


Unknown said...

Nice article. I don't have a G1000, but I found some of the information relevant and useful for setting up custom checklists using mobile/tablet apps.

One reason to consider including checklists like engine out after takeoff would be so you could regularly brief them as part of final takeoff checks.

John Ewing said...

Glad you found the info useful.

As regards using the Engine Failure After Takeoff checklist to brief a departure, that's a fine idea where it not for the G1000's checklist interface. Navigating from the Normal Procedures checklists to the Emergency Procedures checklists and back again is a cumbersome and time-consuming process.

Adding a departure brief to the Before Takeoff checklist that includes how emergencies will be handled means 1) you don't have to exit the checklist you're currently viewing and 2) you're more likely to actually complete the briefing.

Terence Wilson said...

One thing that I noticed on the checklist example, one that has always bugged me, is the the use of "best glide speed" on an emergency checklist. Best glide to where? Best glide depends on ground speed. Winds affect best L/D speed. Minimum sink speed makes more sense until a landing decision has been made.

John Ewing said...


I agree with you in theory, but in practice I'm not sure that a checklist can help a pilot decide whether they need to glide the greatest distance (Vg) or stay in the air for the longest time (minimum sink). Maintaining positive aircraft control in an engine failure scenario is paramount and Vg seems a reasonable starting point.

Vg is what most manufacturers provide on their checklists. Some aircraft now list a range of Vg speeds based on aircraft weight, which is another variable to consider in addition to wind and ground speed.

chris parker said...

The same software can be used to create checklists for the Garmin 695/696.

John Ewing said...

You are correct. I actually mentioned that, though the focus of the post was the G1000.