Eight life lessons you learn as a pilot

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Becoming a pilot changes who you are, even if you don’t realize it at first. Sure, there are the practical lessons about math, physics, and engineering you don’t encounter in everyday life. But as a recent trip through my logbook proved, aviation offers courses in the humanities as well as the hard sciences.

Video tip: angle of attack

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Angle of attack is a hot topic in aviation right now, with the FAA promoting new indicators and flight instructors offering courses on how to fly it. But what does this phrase really mean? In this month’s video tip, we explore the essentials of AOA, from the aerodynamics to the avionics.

Shot down over North Vietnam

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Without any electronic gear onboard to warn us of active SAM sites, there was no way for us to know that at that very moment a Soviet-built SA-2 missile was streaking its way towards our Phantom from directly behind us, “Dead 6 o’clock,” in fighter pilot lingo. Just as the original lead aircraft rolled back to a wings-level position a mile to our left and reacquired us visually, the SAM struck our F-4 too late to shout a warning.

Friday Photo: sunset on a first flight

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Taking a son or daughter for a first flight in a general aviation airplane is enough to make a flight memorable. For pilot Eric Villiger, though, his sunset flight in his Cessna 150 was even better because his daughter shot this beautiful picture on final for runway 25 at Indy Regional Airport. The lights of the runway contrast against the warm colors of the sunset to make a gorgeous view.

Two airplane rides I’ll never have again

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Several contributors have reminisced about experiences in commercial or military aircraft that meant a great deal to them, but which, because of later security issues, could not happen again. One of the most common experiences described is the in-flight cockpit visit. I have had two such visits that come to mind often with pleasant nostalgia.

The test: when things go wrong in a DC-3

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This is no way to begin a trip and I knew it. What if I lose an engine on takeoff tonight in this crud? Nothing like the real thing to test a pilot! Every pilot will tell you there is a big difference between engine-out flying during training or a check ride, and engine-out flying for real. But how will I do if it happens tonight?

Caption contest #5

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Welcome to our latest Caption Contest at Air Facts. Once a month, 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. In two weeks, we’ll cut off this contest and the staff of Air Facts will choose their favorite caption.

The RV-12 fraternity in action

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There are a lot of benefits accrued through the building of an airplane, and one of the longer lasting is the friendships built in concert with the plane itself. In the case of any airplane in the Van’s Aircraft fleet, this is even more common due to the popularity of the designs. In my case, I was building an RV-12, which is probably the fastest selling model in the fleet.

Friday Photo: solo cross country view

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Wow, this was an crisp and beautifully clear morning for my second solo cross country flight. The marshes of southern Louisiana and Texas fade into the Gulf of Mexico. This was my first time into Galveston Scholes Airport and doing it solo was a great confidence builder.

I have slipped the surly bonds – in a Spitfire

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On August 22, 2008, I finally achieved a lifelong dream: I flew a Spitfire 1X two-seater PT462. For many years, I have been trying to arrange a flight in a two-seater but, so many times, weather or aircraft serviceability caused cancelation. Finally, it was all arranged and off I went to North Wales with my friend Peter Holland driving.

Four flights and a lifetime of memories

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Among the hundreds of flights in my logbook, there are three flights, and a memory of my first airplane ride with my dad, that define my love for aviation and are the DNA of my flying soul. As I have I have gotten older, I’ve come to understand how these four flights, spread out over 30 years have given me the love that I have for flying, and appreciation for the opportunity to have shared it with my parents.

Quiz: instrument approach plate challenge

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How much do you know about instrument approach plates? There’s an amazing amount of information packed into one page, and some of it is confusing. Take our 9-question quiz and find out how good your instrument knowledge is. You’ll learn the finer points of MSAs, FAFs, MDAs and more.

The complex art of finding the IFR Sweet Spot

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There’s a big difference between finding the VFR and the IFR sweet spot on an arrival. Weather doesn’t play much of a role when it’s really VFR and it plays a humongous role when it is IFR. In fact, weather determines the location of the IFR sweet spot. Sweetest of all would be when the runway pops into view at minimums with the airplane speed and configuration in perfect order.

Friday Photo: San Juan Mountains

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Sometimes waiting is the smart thing to do. Dan Littmann spent an extra day at the FBO before taking off for Oklahoma in his Cessna 182, and was rewarded with this beautiful view of the San Juan Mountains topped with snow. Most importantly, he had a safe flight. As Dan says, “it’s better to arrive alive.”

Mountain wave: an invisible threat

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We heard an aircraft on the frequency report the loss of an engine. It first sounded as though the flight crew was reporting the loss of an engine’s thrust… but further transmissions revealed that engine had been torn from the aircraft wing! Shortly thereafter another airliner reported a turbulence-induced injury to a flight attendant. The controller was suddenly very busy.

Two men, a tropical storm and a hurricane fly into the sunshine state

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Sunday June 5th, tropical storm Colin suddenly popped up in the Gulf of Mexico. Hoping it would die out or veer away from Florida, I got up at 4 a.m. Monday morning to get a weather briefing for our proposed 6 a.m. departure. The briefing confirmed Colin was headed for the mid-section of Florida so I let Stan know that today was a no-go but hoped we could try again tomorrow.

Confessions of a former line boy

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You see, being a line boy teaches us how to treat people and, in turn, how we like to be treated. The fact that I can remember N222GL, N399TL, and N11LA from 43 years ago, but can’t remember what happened last week is probably more indicative of age, but also a vivid reminder of the experiences around each of these airplanes.