Video Tip: weather radar 101

We see radar all the time, but how does it really work and what does it show? In this video tip, meteorologist Scott Dimmich dives into the details of NEXRAD, including: the difference between base and composite reflectivity, how to use echo tops, and what signs indicate severe weather.

What the artificial intelligence boom means for aviation

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the hot technology of 2016, finding its way into research papers and cocktail party conversations alike. As usual, most talk is either hopelessly optimistic or relentlessly negative (you know a trend is mainstream when you start reading headlines like, “Is fashion ready for the AI revolution?”). Cut through all the hype, though, and pilots can find a lot of reasons to be enthusiastic about AI.

Caption Contest #2

We recently launched 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 most recent one and add a witty caption. The best one wins an autographed Dick Collins book!

Air Facts video tip: understanding airframe ice

Fall flying weather is here, with shorter days and cooler temperatures. That means airframe icing will start to become a threat again for many pilots. This month’s tip is a great way to knock the rust off and refresh your memory of in-flight icing basics. Where do you find the most ice? What’s the difference between clear and rime ice? What are some avoidance strategies?

The end of FAA charts as we know them?

The summer of 2016 may be viewed as the beginning of the end of standard FAA charts. It sounds foolish to make such a bold prediction, but there are some very good reasons to believe a decade-long trend away from traditional sectionals and approach plates has accelerated recently. Technology plays a significant role, but so do changes by the FAA.

Introducing the Air Facts Caption Contest

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.

What controversy? 5 debates new pilots don’t understand

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.

Go or No Go: afternoon buildups

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.

How to fly safely when you’re low and slow

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.

The pilot brotherhood – only as good as your next action

I think we get carried away with this brotherhood talk. Sure, pilots can be accepting and caring folks, and the common bond of aviation often does bring wildly different people together. That hardly means such behavior is guaranteed, though. Pilots are still human beings who often bring their own powerful emotions, biases and agendas to any situation.

To go or not to go? That is the (wrong) question

We falsely view most aviation decisions as binary. The language of decision-making subtly reinforces this, with exhortations to “keep it simple” or “be confident.” What we end up with is a hopelessly unrealistic set of answers: yes or no, black or white. We should know better. Flying is all about subtle clues, 50/50 decisions and shades of gray.

General aviation in Europe is both inspiring and frightening

For a crass American, AERO is a very civilized show, held in a beautiful convention center with great coffee and lively beer gardens. Oshkosh this isn’t. Beyond these mundane differences, though, the show offers a fascinating lesson for US pilots. If all you’ve heard is how awful things are for private pilots in Europe, let me offer a more complete – although not entirely rosy – portrait.

Area Forecast replacement – what does it really say?

The old Area Forecast (FA) is going away, and I for one say good riddance. This textual forecast product has plenty of valuable information, but its ALL CAP format is a leftover from a previous era, making it a pain to use. Besides, almost everything in the FA can be found elsewhere these days. Everything, that is, except cloud top forecasts.

Debate: what’s going on at ICON?

ICON Aircraft’s self-proclaimed mission is to “create products that not only deliver great functional benefit but also deeply inspire us on an emotional level.” But inspiration isn’t the word that comes to mind right now for many ICON position-holders. As the A5 finally gets close to being delivered to pilots, the company’s purchase agreement has raised a number of questions.

Why you should care about the new Part 23 proposal

There has been a lot of talk lately (perhaps too much?) about aviation issues in Washington: Air Traffic Control privatization, the third class medical, and user fees to name just three. Somewhat obscured by these Capitol Hill battles is a more complicated but also arguably more important legislative issue: aircraft certification reform.

Air Facts turns five!

This magazine was founded in 1938 by Leighton Collins to advocate for “facts – knowledge – safety.” Since then, its pages have been filled by some of aviation’s greatest writers, including Richard Collins, Wolfgang Langewiesche, Bob Buck and Richard Bach. Given that rich history, it may seem odd to celebrate a fifth birthday, but Air Facts in its current form was relaunched five years ago, in March 2011.

We’re thinking about electric airplanes all wrong

Bill Gates has famously said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” Thus we overhyped the internet in 2000, but failed to recognize how completely it would change life by 2010. The same could be said for electric aircraft, an emerging technology that seems to have been on the “coming soon” list for decades.

Go or No Go: coastal California flight

It’s not a long flight, and it’s the type of mission that makes your Cessna 182 such a valuable asset to your business: a dash down the coast of California from Santa Barbara (KSBA) to your home airport of Montgomery Field in San Diego (KMYF). A four hour drive turns into a one hour flight, but will the weather cooperate?

IFR departures: the forgotten procedure

Instrument pilots obsess about approaches: if you can keep those needles crossed all the way down to 200 ft, you must be a good pilot. While shooting an ILS to minimums is an important skill, this all presupposes you managed to depart safely. Unfortunately, NTSB reports prove that’s a big assumption – each year, a few pilots tragically learn that IFR departures aren’t as simple as they seem.