Gregory Penglis’ book The Complete Guide to Flight Instruction is one of the best books written about aviation and its training I have ever read. Penglis has a snarky, curmudgeonly style that is fantastic in its dry humor but quite immense knowledge. Reading, you can tell the man came by his knowledge of aviation the hard way.

Here’s his take on the old GUMPS mnemonic:

One might wonder why we still use such a peculiar acronym as “GUMPS” for a final landing check. This is the most bizarre and ludicrous procedure in all of flight training. There you are in a brand new aircraft (to you), with lots of new things to do, going much faster than you are used to flying, coming in for a landing (which is one of the most critical phases of flight), and you are suddenly expected to use new names for the controls as you go groping around the cockpit, when you should be looking out the window and flying the airplane. Does this make sense to anyone, or am I the only one who finds this practice not only strange, but dangerous?

“G” stands for gas. We never gall it gas—we call it fuel. You check the fuel, drain the fuel, check for water in the fuel, and switch tanks with the fuel selector. But on base leg in a high-performance aircraft, it suddenly becomes “gas.” The G could stand for gear. That would make sense as it is often the first control in a power down flow check. No, I’m sorry, the “G” could not stand for gear, that would be logical and consistent. Of course, whenever you do a GUMPS check, the first word out of your mouth is guaranteed to be “gear.”

“U” stands for undercarriage. This just fractures me. Do we all suddenly take out British citizenship when we fly our first base leg in a high-performance aircraft? Honestly, undercarriage? That word is three syllables too long for use on base.

Of course, now being British, we would have to call the fuel (excuse me, gas), “petrol.” I suppose we could change the acronym to PUMPS for consistency. The only places the British have good names are when they describe the prop pitch.

“M” is for mixture. I recognize that word.
”P” is for prop. I recognize that one, too.
”S” is for systems.

Having a lengthy systems check right before landing is nuts because we now know that any pilot who doesn’t want to grope when he should by flying does all that stuff way out on the prelanding check during descent. Besides, after the prop is checked, no one has the time or inclination to go through the systems. Most students just say “systems” to humor the instructor and hope that it covers the check.

You already checked the fuel, so toss out this nasty word “gas” that we never use. “Undercarriage”—be serious. What we have left are the essentials of “mixture” and “propeller.” What about the gear? Following the crazy order of GUMPS sends your hand in a star pattern around the controls just like the published prelanding checks. You could very well forget the gear as you try to pronounce “undercarriage.” If you are that distracted, you could very well not hear the gear warning horn (or is that undercarriage warning horn?), no matter how loud it is. The stuff you land on should always be called gear, period.

Well for all you folks who learned the GUMPS check, we can modify it to Gear, Mixture, and Prop—”GMP.” You can still pronounce it “gump” and keep the familiar sound of you check with familiar names for the controls and use them in a familiar order, without unnecessary groping. Even on airplanes that change the classic positions for the controls a GMP check with hit the biggies.

Anyway, I’m sure students will be taught the GUMPS check for some time because, like child abuse, these things just get passed down the aviation family. There will come a time when logic, initiative, simplicity, and making the system better will triumph over rote memorization, trying to make the best of bad procedures, and training without any conscious thought or responsibility, but we can make it happen. I still think the GUMPS check came to us from some English mole instructor trying to sabotage our flight training system.

The problem with dumping a useless check like GUMPS is that it is so imprinted on so many pilots’ minds that there will be tremendous resistance to change. Pilots and instructors go through such incredible efforts to learn these inadequate and inferior procedures that even if something better comes along, instructors still want students to suffer as they did. It’s like some archaic fraternity ritual. All us new and improved GMP types will conflict with the old GUMPS instructors who will insist their way is preferable, simply because after doing all the work to learn it, they are used to it. When will we stop adapting ourselves to the procedures and start adapting the procedures to ourselves? For the rest of your life when on base and final, say “gear, mixture, prop” and end your groping. If you forget that, then go back to the old power-up/power-down flow checks. Either way, you will get all the important stuff.

Definitely food for thought.