Learning formation flying – hard work, but worth it

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About a year after buying an already-built Van’s RV-6 and spending a very hot July earning a tailwheel endorsement, I thought I knew the airplane well enough to attend a formation flying clinic being hosted by the Ohio Valley RVators at the not-too-distant Parkersburg, West Virginia, airport. As interesting as it sounded, the very idea of it caused me quite a bit of stress.

Introducing the Air Facts Caption Contest

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Today we launch a new monthly feature in Air Facts – our Caption Contest. Once a month, we’ll post a photo and call on our very talented readers to provide a caption for that photo. Check out our first one below and if an amusing or clever caption comes to mind, just post it as a comment. We want everyone to be able to enjoy all the entries, not just us.

Sully and the impossible turn

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Let’s cut right to the chase – Sully is a movie that any pilot, and especially an airline pilot, can watch without being mortified by technical and artistic errors on the part of the filmmakers. The portions of the movie that depict the flight and the water landing are done to near perfection. Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart not only play the role of airline pilots superbly, but they even manage to look a good deal like the originals.

Friday Photo: Tennessee sunset

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The sunsets always look best after some time in IMC. That’s what Rick and Karen Mills saw from their 1949 Ryan Navion, as they flew home to Louisville, Kentucky. The setting sun over Central Tennessee made for the perfect ending to a beautiful day.

What controversy? 5 debates new pilots don’t understand

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Pilots love a good debate. This may be the only thing that isn’t controversial in aviation. Enthusiasm for debates doesn’t necessarily make aviation unique; after all, sports fans are famous for their spirited arguments too. What is different is our need to debate the same issues, year after year, sometimes decades after the facts are settled. Two recent examples are particularly long-running – to the point of being frustrating.

Quality miles: the best route isn’t always the shortest

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As we crossed into Michigan, the satellite downlink picture beyond Lake Huron showed an irregular line of large thunderstorms stretching on a 35 degree angle from right to left across our path. I had been warned about scattered thunderstorms across Ontario leaving Green Bay but this looked more than scattered and I could not tell if there was a gap at least 50 miles wide for us to go through.

Why a 10 mile flight in a 727 took 30 minutes – or 4

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A flight from LGA to JFK was normally nowhere near as short as you might think. Although the direct distance between the two airports is less than 10 miles, the flight itself often involved a tour of Long Island nearly out to Montauk to fit into the arrival pattern at JFK. It was not uncommon for the off-to-on time of this ferry flight to exceed 30 minutes.

Friday Photo: storm over the Everglades

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Most pilots can think of at least one experience that made them appreciate the power of Mother Nature. For Joel Graham, it was this picture, captured from his Piper Arrow on the way to the Florida Keys. It shows towering storms over the Everglades, and “has a way of reminding you how small you and your airplane really are.”

Head games: getting IFR current with a big trip

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After a few more minutes of discussing the round dials and radios, my wife began to ask about the clouds in front of us. I did my best to be nonchalant about the approaching wall of smooth, white clouds, but in the back of my mind was the thought that this was the first time in over 10 years that I would be in actual “hard” IFR. I could feel that my smile lacked some sincerity when I joked about the weather.

Friday Photo: Monday over the rainbow

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Wow. That’s about the only reaction that seems appropriate after seeing this week’s Friday Photo. Ethan Levi’s wife snapped this photo of a beautiful rainbow just off the wing of their Mooney as they were vectored for the ILS 13R approach into Hillsboro, Oregon. Hopefully good weather and light winds were at the end of this rainbow.

Stayin alive – 16 favorite aviation quotes

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Sometimes a simple phrase can sum up the essence of flying better than a chapter in a textbook. Here, experienced pilot Dan Littmann shares 16 of his favorite aviation quotes. From Wolfgang Langewiesche to Bob Hoover, well-known pilots share words that are funny but lessons that are serious. Read his list, then add your own.

Go or No Go: afternoon buildups

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The goal today is to get to Tallahassee, Florida, so you can be at a meeting first thing tomorrow morning. On paper, this is an ideal trip for you and your Piper Arrow. It should take just over an hour and a half, and a colleague will be waiting to pick you up in Florida. Of course the only question now is the weather. Let’s look at what your iPad has to say, then decide whether it’s a go or a no go.

Confessions of a timid pilot

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Would it be VFR by the time I got there? Maybe… maybe not. Sure I’m instrument current, but is that good enough? Maybe… maybe not. It’s legal, but legal isn’t always smart. So, with full tanks I taxied back to the hangar and, after some light ribbing from my flip-flop-wearing buddy who questioned my judgment on such a perfect day, we heaved her back into the hangar.

Friday Photo: Blue Cut Fire

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Peter Hudson (photographer) and I happened to witness Mother Nature in all her fury as the “Blue Cut Fire” raged on day one. The awe of the strength of a wildfire like this is quickly tempered by the enormous consequences it has to everyone and anything in its path.

A really quick turn: a DC-8 evacuation from Uganda

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There was some apprehension as we approached the terminal as we could see a lot of military personnel and when we parked, I left the No. 3 engine running until I was assured of an airstart as we had no APU on DC-8 aircraft. I opened the forward door to be met by a six-foot Ugandan soldier holding a rifle at me.

How to fly safely when you’re low and slow

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You don’t have to fly IFR at 10,000 feet to travel efficiently by general aviation. I was reminded of this fact after logging 15 enjoyable hours over the past month – all at 500 feet and 100 knots in VFR-only aircraft. That doesn’t mean it was boring. Over the course of two long trips, I had a few speed bumps, and in the process I re-learned some important lessons about weather, decision-making and technology.

Merlin’s magic: unintended fireworks from a P-51

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I lined up on the centerline and advanced the throttle. The aircraft accelerated rapidly and broke ground. This was my fifth solo takeoff in this aircraft, a North American P-51D Mustang. I raised the landing gear, and the climb speed reached about 175 knots. Approaching the airport boundary, the engine began shuddering and vibrating.