Saturday, September 28, 2013

LaTeX Airplane Checklist

The use of checklists is one of the tenets of aviation.  We have them for pre-flight inspections all the way thru shut down procedures and even emergency procedures.  Aviation checklists are so pervasive that they have even sprung up a cottage industry around their sale.  You can purchase colorful, durably laminated checklists for around $15, and you can buy iPhone/iPad or Android checklists too.  Although I am iEquipt and Android enabled, at this point I am preferring the paper checklists.

At any rate, if you are a student pilot like myself, you may have been given a few checklists from your CFI or FBO.  And if your FBO is anything like mine, your checklist probably contains some vestigial entries from equipment long gone.  For example, the checklist I was given for my plane had checks for an autopilot system which does not exist.  It also had IFR procedures, but my plane is not currently IFR legal and I doubt it is a priority to make it such.  I found these superfluous entries distracting and they disrupted the flow of my procedures.

Well, for better or worse I am a DIY type of guy, and so I reject the pre-made checklists - both old and new and decided to roll my own using LaTeX.  LaTeX ( pronounced latek ) is a typesetting system primarily used in technical and scientific writing.  I am pretty new to using LaTeX, but the more I use it the more I like it.  My pedagogical interest in LaTeX quickly turned utilitarian and it is rapidly filtering thru my life, both professionally and in academia.  The end result of all this is a really classy looking document with none of the formatting hassle associated with WYSIWYG editors such as MS Word or OpenOffice Text Document.

Here is a LaTeX code snippet from my checklist. I basically just copied the checklist from my FBO, making changes where appropriate.  For example, I tried to maintain consistency in language throughout the list.  My brain is happier when I am not identifying inconsistencies in my checklists.  Having said that, if you see any typos please let me know.  I am also going to ask my CFI to double check the final checklist before we fly next.

\subsection{Before Takeoff - Run-Up}

  \item Cabin Doors and Windows - \textbf{Closed \& Locked}
  \item Parking Brake - \textbf{Set}
  \item Flight Controls - \textbf{Free \& Correct}
  \item Flight Instruments - \textbf{Set}
  \item Fuel Selector Valve - \textbf{ON - Fullest Tank}
  \item Elevator Trim - \textbf{Takeoff}
  \item Mixture - \textbf{Rich or As Required}
  \item Throttle - \textbf{2000 RPM}
    \item Magnetos - \textbf{Check}
    \item Carburetor Heat - \textbf{Check}
    \item Engine Instruments \& Ammeter - \textbf{Check}
    \item Suction Gauge - \textbf{Check 5"$ \pm $0.1}
  \item Throttle - \textbf{Idle, then 1000 RPM}
  \item Radios - \textbf{Set}
  \item Transponder - \textbf{Set, then Altitude}
  \item Throttle Friction Lock - \textbf{Adjust}
  \item Fuel Pump - \textbf{ON}
  \item Lights - \textbf{As Required}
  \item Parking Brake - \textbf{Release}
And the result of this code output looks like this screen cap from the PDF.

Here is a picture overview of the checklist.  You can download a PDF checklist and the LaTeX code to make your own down further.

One of the main advantages to having this template setup is that I can quickly make adjustments to the checklist contents.  If I need to add or clarify anything it is quick and easy and the formatting stays the same.

If you would like a copy of the LaTeX code you can download it here.  You are welcome to download the output from the code aka my checklist, but I imagine you would want to customize your own checklist.  Either way, here is the PDF checklist I made for the plane I usually fly.
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