How to not crash an antique plane

In 1935 the aircraft company Boeing developed what would be one of the most important planes in history. The B17 bomber was unlike anything that came before it, capable of flying higher and longer than any other plane on the market. Boeing spent countless hours and most of its capital on development, essentially staking the company’s future on the success of B17. The only problem… when it debuted, the US government didn’t want to buy it.

The B17 had developed a reputation for being unsafe. On its very first flight, three pilots were seriously injured. In later testing a prototype crashed shortly after takeoff, causing the deaths of three pilots. With other aircraft companies competing for large government contracts, Boeing knew they had to find a solution and fast. The test pilots were already well qualified, while the plane was technically leagues ahead in terms of stability and control. What was going wrong?

It was in an internal meeting that Boeing’s engineers came up with a simple solution to such a disastrous problem. They figured out the plane’s controls were just too complex for anyone’s memory. The takeoff, flight, and landing procedures were so detailed that no pilot, no matter how skilled, could be expected to remember each step. So they made a checklist.

It turns out that the checklist saved not only the lives of pilots, but the whole Boeing company. After implementing the checklist, 18 B17s flew a total of 1.8 million hours without further safety issues. Having been proved safe, the US government ordered 12,731 B17 bombers, not only saving the company but turning it into the powerhouse we still fly on today. More importantly, those planes eventually found their way into World War II, where they became one of the deciding factors helping the Allies win the war.

Checklists don’t have to be complex to be valuable. Following a simple set of rules can add tremendous value to any process. Investing is just one of them.

Ben Kizemchuk is a Portfolio Manager & Investment Advisor with Altus Securities Inc. in Toronto. He offers financial planning and investment management for high net worth Canadian investors. Ben focuses on high quality investments, the Growth and Income Portfolios, low risk investing, and reducing tax.