Flying is great, but family is better – a Christmas story

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The first big cross-country flight I made in a light airplane was in 1976. A college buddy and I thought it would be fun to fly from Ohio to California and back over Christmas. Being young, single, and invincible at the time, we did not think too much about what the weather might have to say about it. We departed Springfield, Ohio (KSGH) on December 20 in a borrowed 150-hp AA-5 Traveler.

Christmas in Central America

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On Cay Caulker, Belize, the conch shell Christmas ornaments hanging on palm fronds marked the season as Christmas and my wife and I felt merry. It got even more Christmassy a few days later in Antigua where the ancient buildings that lined the large plaza were lit with small white lights. A band played Christmas music of all types. It was Christmas season 2015-2016.

The best Christmas lights I’ve ever seen

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I hadn’t wanted to work on Christmas Eve; my family had its own plans, and I had wanted to be a part of those plans. Nonetheless, I was fortunate that the three-day trip I had been assigned was scheduled to end at nine o’clock p.m. on the eve of Christmas that year instead of late on Christmas Day. I had to steel my resolve and think stoically. After all, it was my job; it was my responsibility.

Friday Photo: First Flight Airport

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It’s an airport that should be on every pilot’s bucket list: First Flight Airport at Kill Devil Hills, NC. Steve Ellis captured the sight from his RV-4 on a day trip to the airport, which perfectly shows the Wright Brothers monument in the foreground and the runway behind it.

The enlightenment: how flying has made it all my hometown

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I realized flying has made it all my hometown. My neighborhood now stretches from sea to shining sea; I am a part of all of it. I thought of a trip from Chicago to Texas where a storm system left me options through Kansas or through Georgia. Either one would work. As easy as picking a bank branch on one of two corners, my choice for convenience now can cross a thousand miles.

I was John Glenn’s flight instructor

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We had the honor and pleasure of Senator (Colonel) John Glenn’s attendance at eight Bonanza Professional Pilot Program (BPPP) clinics at Columbus, Ohio, from his age of 82 to his last clinic at age 90. Since I was his equivalent rank and a test pilot graduate, I was the lucky one to be assigned as his instructor pilot. Imagine that! I was John Glenn’s Instructor!

Friday Photo: sunrise over Kansas City

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Sunrises always look best from the cockpit, and this week’s Friday Photo proves why. The tip tank on Craig Cameron’s F33A Bonanza is just visible in the foreground as the sun slowly rises off the wingtip. Craig was headed home, and this view over Kansas City as he climbed out offers a reminder to all pilots that the early bird gets more than just a worm.

A white knuckle flight – even for an Alaska bush pilot

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After having flown the Alaska bush country for more than 35 years, and racking up more than 18,000 hours of such foolishness, the mountains and almost consistently terrible weather had inured me to most flights that stateside pilots would find truly white knuckle experiences. Of my many, many bush flights over the years, this one was perhaps the most sobering.

They didn’t follow the magenta line in 1942

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It wouldn’t be accurate to say that magenta lines are the only reason that airline flying is so much safer today than it was in the 1940s. Today’s airplanes are far superior in performance and reliability, and training and operational procedures are far better. However, in looking at the five DC-3 accidents during those war years, it is apparent that today’s high-tech stuff could have prevented most of them.

Video tip: understanding IFR clearances

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In many ways, clearances define instrument flying – what is IFR flight if it’s not about flying specific altitudes and routes? In this video tip, we cover some of the basics of IFR clearances, including what “cleared as filed” really means and how to handle void times. Then we’ll dive into some of the finer points of ATC, including VFR-on-top and cruise clearances.

Overcoming airsickness to earn my wings

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I was doing an okay job but I was beginning to feel weak. My arms were tingling, like my nerves were on fire. The bumps in the air were exacting their toll. We finished the air work and headed for the city tour, but I decided my instructor didn’t need any airsick heroes.

Friday Photo: Mt. Adams pokes through the clouds

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Breaking out on top of a cloud deck on a gray day is an amazing feeling. Patrick McClure did that recently and found a companion off the left wing: the second tallest mountain in the lower 48. In a turbo 182 with G1000, there’s plenty of performance and situational awareness to sit back and take in the view.

I have chosen my place well

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Thinking about the position I’m in strikes me a little funny, and I imagine anybody who might see me would think it’s funny too: stretched out on the ramp with my head propped up on a tire of a C-47 reading a magazine. I must look like I just laid down and sprawled myself out! But actually, I planned it very carefully. I’m clear of the occasional drop of oil from the left engine but still in the shade.

One heck of a checkride

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Today was the big day! I had scheduled my 9:00 am instrument checkride with the local Designated Pilot Examiner in sunny LaPorte, Indiana (KPPO). Upon arrival in the FBO’s briefing room, and much to my surprise, I shook two examiners’ hands; both the DPE and an esteemed member of the FAA would be administering my test today.

Friday Photo: Scottsdale takeoff

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Not every photo has to show a stunning sunset or a towering mountain to capture the fun and adventure of flying. This week’s photo shows a Cessna 172 taking off from one of the US’s busiest general aviation airports: Scottsdale. Braxton Norwood was chasing his shadow on a gorgeous day in Arizona.

Flying 400 miles to find a hotel room in the Caribbean

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There was no hotel space for Christmas Eve at the Punta Cana, Dominican Republic hotel where we were staying. Rather than change hotels, we decided to fly to the French island of Guadeloupe instead. Weather was not a factor, the distance was only about 400 nautical miles, and we had fuel for 850 so it just seemed like the thing to do.

Video Tip: LPV approaches

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In this month’s tip, Jason Miller of The Finer Points of Flying explores the LPV approach, a type of WAAS approach that acts like a precision approach but technically is not. So how do you fly an LPV approach? How do you know when you can fly one? What indications should you look for on your GPS navigator? Watch this six minute video tip for some practical advice.