Memory Aids for Pilots


Memory is a crucial component to safe flying. Student pilots going through ground school are exposed to vast amounts of new information that is quickly put to use during flight training sessions. There are many techniques available to students and pilots alike that help to improve memory and recall. These range from simple exercises or games to relatively complicated codes or short-hand methods for remembering long strings of numbers. Below are a few simple aids that can help a typical pilot to make information easier to remember.


Mnemonics (pronounced “nuh-monics”) are a type of code used to make a piece of information easier to remember. They can take the form of a single word or an entire phrase.

Most pilots have probably encountered mnemonics as a way to remember pre-flight checklists. One example is CIGAR:

C – Controls

I – Instruments

G – Gas

A – Airplane secure

R – Run-up

They can also be used to help remember specific protocols as well, for example “Oddballs go east” can be used to help remember that when travelling eastward, your altitude should be in the odd-numbered thousands of feet.

Image Association Techniques

Image association relies on the feature of the human brain that allows it to remember images more easily than words. When a piece of information is coupled in your mind with a picture related to the information, the information becomes easier to recall than it would otherwise be if you simply looked at a list of the same information and tried to memorise it. There are a couple of different ways to apply image association.

The Word-Pair Method

The “word-pair” method of image association is straightforward. To use it, you simply group two words together (related or unrelated) and picture in your mind the image that you think of when you think of those words.

For example, if trying to remember specific combinations of activities that are relevant to a process or procedure, such as when flaps and landing gear are both supposed to be down, you could think of a giant duck coming into land on a pond with its wings flapping (flaps) and feet (gear) down.

The Journey Method

The journey method of image association involves linking items you want to remember with specific things you see as you walk along a path from one place to another.

As an example of this method applied to piloting, when trying to remember the items you need to check during a walk-around inspection, try to visualise the aircraft in your mind as if you are walking around it. Follow the same path around the aircraft each time you do it. Imagine what the parts of the aircraft that need to be checked look like and where they are in relation to other parts of the aircraft. If you regularly imagine doing the inspection in the same order, it will help you to remember when the time comes to actually do the inspection. Your brain will be following a path taken many times before as your eyes move over the parts of the aircraft as you look at them in sequence. Of course, this technique works best if it is checked against a list before you rely entirely on your memory.

Want to know more?

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1. Wikipedia (2011) CIGAR (aviation). 2011.
2. P. Scott (1998) Headwork. AOPA Magazine 1998.

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