What to do when the panel goes dark

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Just after Hollister had passed under the left wing, the transponder flashed an error message, and went from their assigned squawk code to 1200. “Huh?” says the instructor, “What’s up with that?” The instructor tried to enter the assigned squawk code a couple more times, with the same result. That was exactly when the wheels fell off the cart, electrically speaking.

Friday Photo: Blue Ridge Mountain sunrise

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This week’s Friday Photo pretty well sums up why you became a pilot. Fitzwilliam King snapped this amazing photo from the cockpit of his PA-11 Cub, just as the sun peeked over the Blue Ridge Mountains outside Greenville, South Carolina. The rolling hills, the lingering valley fog, the warm colors of the sun, and the yellow fabric of the airplane – it’s recreational aviation at its very finest.

Saying goodbye to a beloved airplane

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The flight was supposed to be pretty much a routine trip, though not really a happy one. I was relocating my turbocharged 1984 Cessna TU206G amphibian from West Palm Beach, Florida, to St. Cloud, Minnesota. Economics had demanded that I sell the marvelous ship, and I was delivering it to the buyer.

The hunter and the door

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Night. Rain. Extremely high surface winds. Low visibility. Mountains. Less gas then I would have liked. Now I couldn’t get the lights to the runway at Martin Campbell Field (1A3) to come on. “This is how people kill themselves in small planes,” I thought to myself as I passed the final approach fix and decided to go missed. I thought back to the start of the trip, The Hunter and The Door.

Ice, acorns and blind hogs

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Flying out of El Paso earlier this week I picked up a little airframe ice. It would have been a non-event for a more capable airplane, but the anti-ice equipment on 32A (pitot heat and windscreen defrost) just wasn’t up to the task.

Friday Photo: downwind for Sedona Airport

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Sedona is one of the more unusual airports in the US. With a field elevation of nearly 5,000 feet, the runway sits on top of a mesa, some 500 feet above the surrounding terrain. It’s a wonderful fly-in destination, but the conditions can be turbulent. This photo from Mike Landis shows the rolling terrain on short final.

When the margins get thin

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Richard Collins once summed up risk management, a subject that now elicits PhD-level jargon, in four simple words: “it’s all about margins.” Shave the margins too close and you’re one bit of bad luck away from an accident. The importance of those margins was driven home for me on a recent flight in a Pilatus PC-12, when I allowed schedule pressure to reduce them just a little too much, but not in the usual way.

Old Navigators Never Die, But They Do Fade Away

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One of my favorite flying memories happened while I was a part-time single-engine Part 135 charter pilot for the FBO at Laramie, Wyoming. My occasional charter flights were a welcome respite from my law office, allowing me to meet people who weren’t in legal trouble and to take them places I might not have gone otherwise.

Friday Photo: sunset over Grand Lake, Oklahoma

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David and Judy Smart were up for a sunset flight in their Cessna 172 when everything came together. The sun dipped in between clouds on the horizon, throwing a soft shadow over Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, in Northeast Oklahoma. David says it’s “perhaps the most beautiful sunset we have ever witnessed together.” Hard to argue with that.

Learning to fly: a serendipitous journey

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I started out as a boy who was scared to death of flying and ended up falling in love with it while going to see a sick grandfather who, coincidentally, had once been a private pilot and aircraft mechanic in the Navy. There are many names for such instances of luck and happenstance: fate, destiny, whatever you want to call it. The word that happens to come to my mind is serendipity.

Caption contest #7

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Welcome to our latest Caption Contest at Air Facts, where we post a photo and call on our very talented readers to provide a caption for that photo. Check out our most recent one below and if an amusing or clever caption comes to mind, just post it as a comment.

Friday Photo: Alaska solo cross-country

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Cross-countries are a little different in Alaska, as Herbert Mann proves in this photo. He flew across the Turnagain Arm, then used the Anchorage East Side Corridor to fly between Anchorage and the Chugiak Mountains on the east all the way to Palmer. He then departed Palmer behind a DC-3 and landed on the dirt strip at Willow before coming home to Soldotna. He says, “Dreams do come true if we work hard enough.”

A prop strike, a little adventure and some lessons learned

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I made a perfect wheel landing and rolled to the crossing runway 24, where I was told to take a left turn on the crossing runway to taxi to parking. The winds were now 70 degrees off my nose, and I was moving at a slow walking pace. The crosswind was causing the tail wheel to skid, but I was nearly to the parking area. Suddenly I heard a wind gust and the tail lifted into the air until “WHAP!” the prop struck the ground.

Stumbling into IMC without a plan

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I believe this is where things go bad for well-trained pilots. It’s not that we can’t improvise and come up with new plans, but when we’re a little lost and our original plan isn’t working out, we need a few moments to compose a new one. I was in the pattern in IMC, trying to descend well below pattern altitude to get below the scattered clouds while trying to do what I told the tower I would be doing – and also not get in trouble with ATC.

Friday Photo: grass strip fun

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Darin Moody and Paul Leadabrand were doing some backcountry flight training in a Kitfox when this photo was taken. As they traded seats on the grass runway at Big Creek airstrip, Paul writes, “Blue jeans, blue sky, and training with your wing man – what could make a better weekend outing?” Not much, we would say.

What I learned about instructors during private pilot training

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The greatest weakness a student pilot has is that they lack the pilot skills to judge the quality of the super pilot assigned to be their instructor. Before first solo, the new student has all instructors on a throne. The CFI is god-like, certified by the government and endowed with such superior skills that they can “teach ME to fly.”