I'm training in a Cessna 172 for my private pilot license (PPL).

My flight instructor recommended that I keep my checklist in one hand (so that I can keep looking outside with my peripheral vision) and turn the magneto key with the other.

The other day another instructor told me that the checklist should be on my lap and my right hand should be on the throttle, in case I find the setting too high on starting the engine and I need to decrease power immediately. He sounded like this was something very obvious and said I'll fail my checkride immediately if I didn't have my hand on the throttle.

To be as safe as possible I could put my checklist down, start the engine with the right hand on the throttle, then pick up the checklist again, but is this really what I should be doing, and if I don't will I really fail my checkride?

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    $\begingroup$ I think most answers will be opinion based, but I would recommend that you ask your first instructor why he feels it is more important to hold the checklist while cranking than to have your hand on the throttle. Because I agree with the second instructor. (And will bet most others do too...) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ P.S. I don't like holding checklists when single piloting anyways. I would prefer they be clipped to the yoke, or on my kneeboard so that both hands are free if needed. If workload is light just trace your way down the items with finger or thumb of a free hand. If I am not flying and acting as co-pilot instead it's different... $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 22:41
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    $\begingroup$ Don't over think things, or you will psych yourself into making too many mistakes. $\endgroup$
    – Davidw
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 0:01

4 Answers 4


Yes hand on throttle when starting, always, except on engines with fuel injection where you have to have it on the mixture because you start on idle cutoff and move it up as the engine catches. In any case, you shouldn't be reading checklist items during the start; you just learn what to do and do it so you can be in total control. Back to the checklist after the engine is running and you are satisfied it's running properly on its own and you can divert your attention to other things. Whoever was telling you to hold the checklist during the start is... well... an idiot.

I don't think you'll fail a checkride, but will probably get marked down a bit for that item. Most checkride fails are because a series of screw-ups accumulates and drops your overall score, not because of a single item, unless the single item is something critical and screwing it up is dangerous, like taxing onto a runway with an airplane on final or making a really bad judgement call or leaving out a critical item.

When you do your check ride, you will probably be convinced at the end you failed, if you made this little mistake and that little mistake, and will be shocked to hear "you passed". Because unless you do something that shows the examiner you're dangerous, it's the overall scoring that counts.

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    $\begingroup$ +1, esp. for the reminder that checklist should be treated as a checklist (that everything has been done), not a TODO list. $\endgroup$
    – Zeus
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ On my own airplane, which is pretty simple, I don't use a checklist; I do a "flow", which is basically moving to the actual items, pointing and checking, in a standardized repetitive pattern. It pretty much as effective as a checklist once the flow is fully internalized. The physical pattern becomes your checklist. It works well when there aren't a lot of life or death items. Gliders do a similar thing, using mnemonics like CISTRSC. On transport a/c you generally do flows to physically check items, then get the checklist to do the challenge/response for the items you checked in the flow. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 1:35

It is of the opinion of the FAA that you should, according to the airplane flying handbook

When activating the starter, the wheel brakes must be depressed and one hand is to be kept on the throttle to manage the initial starting engine speed

This is merely a suggestion, there is no hard regulation on the books saying you should. Although if something were to happen as a result you could be in violation of § 91.13 Careless or reckless operation.


That is what kneeboards are for. I'd be surprised if you haven't seen one, but just in case, here is what I am talking about:

enter image description here

When you clip the checklist to the kneeboard, you are holding it. When I fly, the only time I actually touch the checklist is to turn it over (when it is two sided) or to point at items as I do them.

As to whether you should hold the throttle, I will give the rather unsatisfying answer of "That is what I was always taught." That said, an examiner is going to be following the Private Pilot ACS (assuming you are in the US) and is going to be evaluating you on those items, of which, keeping your hand on the throttle during engine start is not a part.

Personally, my hand stays on the throttle during all parts of a flight that don't involve cruising. IOW, Engine start, taxing, takeoff, climb, descents, traffic pattern and, of course, landing. YMMV as it probably also depends on the airplane, whether you have an autopilot, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ My instructor wanted the checklist pulled out of the kneeboard and held at eye level so that I'll realize mishaps like inadvertently releasing the brakes and taxing into something. But like @Zeus says I guess i should have been using the checklist after the procedure in the first place. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 1:08
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    $\begingroup$ Isn't the best way to avoid "inadvertently taxying into something" to be looking out of the windows, not at a checklist held up in front of your face at eye level? $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ @RyoMiyajima Surely in such a situation you'd feel the airplane moving, and can reapply the brakes, even if for whatever reason you are looking down at that exact moment? $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 19:52

I'd like to answer by offering a counter-question for you.

I think we can agree that the seconds surrounding the engine start is one of the few really critical moments in getting an airplane off the ground. Sure, the rest is important as well, but you can usually afford to lose a few seconds during, say, the magneto check, or while lining up on the runway for departure.

If we can agree on that, then the question for you becomes: does holding the checklist in your hand during engine start somehow help you start the engine in a safer manner?

Maybe, in some roundabout way, it can be argued that it does. But in this specific case, there seems to be a much more direct argument that can be made that holding the throttle will help you react much more quickly in case, say, it's mis-set and the plane lurches forward when the engine takes.

(You probably should verify that the throttle is set to idle, or very close to idle, before you begin starting the engine, but this is part of the belt-and-suspenders attitude you'll see a lot in aviation.)

When in doubt, always refer to an approved checklist. If the checklist doesn't say, then make a judgement call on what's more likely to make an emergent situation easier to handle, or what is more likely to improve aviation safety, and go with that. If you're having trouble working that out, talk to your instructor. I really recommend getting into the habit of not asking just what to do; rather, ask why to do it in some particular way. You're paying for your instructor's time, and their experience in these matters; as long as you're learning, they can handle the occasional "dumb" question.

Also, the checklist probably calls for you to somehow verify that the engine is healthy immediately after starting it. In the airplane I fly, the immediate check is for the oil pressure to be within limits. It pays to read ahead a little before starting the engine, so that you can proceed immediately with those immediately-after-start checklist items. The checklist is a tool to help you remember each and every step, but you are allowed to read ahead when doing so is beneficial. Just don't forget any of the steps.


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