ABBA: The Universal Mnemonic
Sweden has produced some impressive things to leave their mark on this world: Saab automobiles and aircraft, IKEA furniture and household goods, and legendary pop music group ABBA just to name a few. I realize the Saab Gripen fighter jet might seem the logical segue here, but I am actually more interested in getting ABBA to stick in your memory. No, not their music necessarily (although now I have Dancing Queen stuck in my head.) I’m talking about their name, ABBA, and the mnemonic value it has in aviation.
Mnemonics are constantly used in aviation as with most areas of expertise. They help us commit things to memory, shorten your sentences, and make us sound cool…. sometimes. Most of us would argue that TOMATO FLAMESS is not exactly a mnemonic you drop at a party, but a party full of pilots will universally know what you mean. In short, they make life as a pilot easier. On the other hand, some mnemonics are a bit of a stretch. For instance, I have never personally been a fan of BGUMPS. Why? Because there are way too many derivatives of it and it isn’t universal. What if my plane has fixed gear? Scratch the “G”. What if my boost pump is for starting only? Scratch the “B”. What if my constant speed propeller has no propeller control in the cockpit? Scratch the “P”. While I encourage people to think of creative ways to remember something, “BubbaGUMPShrimp” as I lovingly refer to it, has too much clutter and isn’t very universal. I digress…back to ABBA.
So what is it about ABBA that I love so much? Let’s go back to my first type rating. A typical type rating involves at least a couple weeks of ground and simulator training. During each simulator session, it is not uncommon to fly five or more consecutive instrument approaches all while never going more than 25NM away from the virtual airport. It’s fun, fast, sweaty, tense, frustrating, and rewarding. Up until this moment in my career, I had been teaching instrument procedures in a variety of aircraft with a variety of avionics. I did my best to apply both old and new procedures and mnemonics: the 5 T’s, “Lights, Camera, Action”, glideslope alive = gear down, cleared to land = landing light on, “pickle, pitch, power”, etc. However, nothing seemed universal and at times I found myself creating a bit of a Charlie Foxtrot in the simulator. That was all solved one day during my instructor’s debrief. He popped the cap to his dry erase marker and wrote “ABBA” on the board. At that moment, with a contorted, sweaty brow I huffed from my dry mouth reeking with three-too-many cups of coffee “WTF, over?!” He smiled, probably knowing he had successfully planted Mamma Mia in my head and explained: “ATIS, Build, Brief, Approach Checklist”. In four elegant letters my instructor cracked the code to flying instrument approaches in any aircraft imaginable.
When you break it down, ABBA not only encompasses the major components to being set up for an approach, but does it in logical order. You can’t really build and brief an approach unless you have ATIS (ASOS for uncontrolled airports of course). Build the approach into your FMS and avionics. Briefing the approach checklist after you build it serves as its own checklist to ensure all pertinent waypoints, frequencies, and altitudes are correctly entered. Finally, complete the approach checklist so that any nuances for your specific aircraft are complete. If you complete ABBA before joining a published portion of an instrument approach, you are left to do the one thing you are meant to do during that phase of flight: FLY THE PLANE!
I still use ABBA to this day and teach it to instrument students as well as CFIIs. I will always be appreciative of that instructor and the immense reduction in workload he gave me. So in conclusion I ask you to Take A Chance On Me and try this out during your next instrument flight.