Flying IFR is a challenge for any pilot flying any aircraft. You might think a pilot flying solo would have double the workload of a pilot in a two-pilot cockpit; but I think it is probably triple.

— James Albright





The Cirrus Vision Jet

Of course my single pilot time is quite limited and a bit dated. I did get a chance to fly the Cirrus Vision Jet in 2021, with an instructor. More about this, Pilot Report: Cirrus Vision Jet. Researching the topic, I spoke with the finest pilots I know who fly as single pilots to come up with what they think are the most important things to place on a safety checklist. Here is what they had to say.

1 — The checklist

2 — A high tech "just in case" recommendation

3 — A low tech "just in case" recommendation



The checklist


Typical flight bag contents,
Steven Foltz

There are a number of existing checklists to help pilots in single-pilot cockpits prepare, organize, and safely fly. While torturing the mnemonic a bit, the FAA’s “IMSAFE” works well as does the private pilot’s “ARROW” reminder. The NBAA offers a single-pilot risk management guide. But there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” checklist for single-pilot cockpits. The things to do and space available for a CJ2 pilot, for example, is a world away from a pilot taking a Citabria through its paces. What follows is a starting point, ready for customization.

Personal Questions . . . “IMSAFE” plus “Am I?”

  • Illness?
  • Medication?
  • Stress?
  • Alcohol?
  • Fatigue?
  • Emotion?
  • Am I tired?
  • Am I distracted?
  • Am I in a rush?
  • Am I legal? (experience, recency, license, medical)
  • Am I proficient?
  • Am I sure?

Aircraft Questions . . . "ARROW"

  • Airworthiness Certificate
  • Radio Station License
  • Registration Certificate
  • Operating Limitations
  • Weight and Balance
  • Equipment . . . Pack

  • Aircraft checklists
  • Flight plan
  • Charts
  • Pencil and paper
  • iPad, smart phone
  • Kneeboard, headset, oximeter, eyeglasses
  • Portable GPS, backup radio
  • Timing . . . Adjust

  • If operating unassisted, remember you will not be able to multi-task and normal completion times for many events can double or triple; such as: getting the aircraft on line, fueling, catering, stocking, maintenance tracking, loading bags, briefing passengers, updating aircraft manuals, and so forth.
  • Aircraft . . . Checked

  • Inspections signed off?
  • Equipment need for forecast conditions operable?
  • Performance adequate for climb, en route, and landing?
  • Weather . . . Checked

  • Ceiling and visibility above minimums for takeoff, en route, and landing?
  • Turbulence, icing, winds, and other hazards within acceptable limits?
  • If flying VFR, you will need to ensure you can remain VFR
  • If flying IFR, you will need to ensure the weather doesn’t exceed your aircraft or your personal capabilities
  • Electronics . . . Checked

  • Fully charged
  • Applications updated
  • Flight Tracking . . . Enable

  • File a VFR or IFR flight plan
  • At the very least, let someone know when you are leaving and your destination
  • Cockpit . . . Organize

  • Build your “nest” with everything you need within arm’s reach of the pilot’s seat
  • Secure your backup equipment in a backpack or suitable bag that is itself secured to something within arm’s reach
  • Organize paper documents (flight plan, airfield diagrams, departure procedure, en route charts, arrival, approach charts) in the order you will need them.
  • Organize electronic documents with each application open to correct pages.
  • Passengers . . . “SAFETY” Brief

  • Seat belts (Fastened for taxi, takeoff, landing), Seats adjusted and locked in place
  • Air vents (location and operation, in case of passenger discomfort)
  • Fire extinguisher (location and purpose)
  • Exit door (how to secure and open), Emergency evacuation plan, Emergency survival kit (location and contents)
  • Traffic (scanning, spotting, notifying pilot)
  • Your questions?
  • Cover pilot distraction prevention techniques (don’t interrupt when pilot is talking into microphone, manipulating controls or other instruments, studying paper or electronic documents)
  • A few extra notes

    Electronics. An iPad can host everything you need to conduct everything from the simplest VFR to the most complex IFR flight, but you will need a backup. That can be a second iPad with identical applications. Or, if the applications have iPhone or Android versions, it can be your phone. But you need to make sure the backup electronics are fully charged and updated.

    Backpack. Gulfstream G650 pilot Ron Rapp has some advice for packing equipment for single-pilot duties. (He spends almost as much time flying crew aircraft as he does single-pilot in a wide variety of airplanes.)

    “I do fly single pilot a lot, but not in turbine aircraft. It’s all light GA flying. Despite that, I actually travel with the same stuff I use when flying the Gulfstream, and the cockpit is set up the same way in a DA40, Cirrus, RV6/7/9, Stinson, Bonanza: everything is on the iPad.”

    “The only concessions I make are 1) since Foreflight updated the iPhone app so that it’s identical to the iPad one, in a tight airplane like an RV-4 or -8 I’ll use the iPhone in place of the iPad due to the tandem seating configuration, and 2) if I’m flying the Pitts or Extra, there’s room for… nothing. No pens, no kneeboards, no cellphone, no iPad. That stuff, if it came loose, would migrate to the tail and jam the elevator. I literally sit on the checklist – it lives between the parachute seat pack and my thigh. I use a paper chart and also jam it under my parachute. Being paper, those items are unlikely to jam the elevator completely, even if they did come loose.”

    “In a more typical GA airplane I use the same backpack I take into the Gulfstream. For one thing, it’s easy to have a single container for all airplanes. Also, I know where everything is inside it. Batteries, flashlights, cables, battery pack, cellphone, laptop, headset, iPad, oximeter, even snacks if I need some energy. Lots of compartments. Flexible container. And everything is zippered so nothing falls out.”

    Most of the skills and techniques needed in a multi-pilot cockpit have their place when flying single pilot, but the requirement for proper planning and organization are even higher. Customizing a checklist ahead of the flight allows you to think things through without the pressures of on-the-spot decision making clouding your judgment.


    A high tech "just in case" recommendation


    ForeFlight display on a G500's flight,
    using a Garmin GDL-52 portable ADS-B receiver

    We fly with a "just in case" portable ADS-B receiver that fits into a cubby hole in our cockpit but could just as easily be stuffed away in a backpack. It is on the pricey side (around $600) but it has more than just your normal portable GPS. It includes the ability to generate an attitude heading and reference display:

    We have this because our aircraft is little more than a flying super computer and I am worried that I will be halfway across the Atlantic at night when those computers decide to go on strike. (See Technophobe.) Imagine flying your aircraft anywhere at night or in the weather when your aircraft's attitude indicator flies south without you. This technology can be a life saver. There are other versions out there, this is just the one we chose: Amazon.


    Garmin GDL-52


    A low tech "just in case" recommendation

    The beauty of the iPad is you can cram a lot of stuff into a small space and have all of it available to you in seconds. The problem with the iPad is that something can happen to turn it into an inert object. If you have the space for a spare, you should do that. But if you don't (or even if you do), remember a simple piece of paper can be a life saver.

    Fellow Gulfstream pilot Justin Serbent built an RV-8 and does indeed fly with an iPad, an iPad Mini to be exact. But he keeps a paper checklist:


    Justin Serbent's paper checklist, in his RV-8

    Paper is cheap and sitting in a pocket of your backpack will not get in your way. But when you need it, it will be there.