What pilots can teach the world about managing risk

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When talk around the dinner table turns to Covid-19 these days, I find myself increasingly using the language of risk management, as if I were evaluating a tricky go/no-go decision in an airplane. I’m certainly not suggesting pilots are experts on infectious diseases, but I do believe the lessons learned by the aviation industry over the last 50 years have something to offer as we all think about life in a world of risk.

Go or No Go: heading to the beach?

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After nine weeks in quarantine, your family is ready for a visit to the beach. It might involve more quiet walks and fewer packed restaurants this time around, but in your Piper Saratoga, the beautiful beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama, are only two and a half hours away. Will the weather cooperate?

Friday Photo: P-38 Lightning

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This Lockheed P-38L Lightning now is part of the “Flying Bulls” collection under the very wide Salzburg, Austria-based Red Bull corporate umbrella. It has had a long and highly public career that spans some three-quarters of a century. Built in 1944 and given serial number 44-53254, it was purchased surplus for $1,250 from the War Department.

On the shoulders of giants

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Upon hearing of the recent passing of Galen Hanselman, my thoughts immediately turned to the awe-inspiring flying trip I took in the Utah backcountry exactly one year ago. The current prohibitive travel restrictions make it an even more valuable experience today. The memories stirred by looking at the video and the pictures puts a smile on my face every time.

Why is it so dark? An important lesson learned

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About an hour into that leg, I noticed something disconcerting. It was getting dark, and it was only 7:30. All my questions about why this was happening didn’t stop it from happening, and by 8:00 PM, it was totally dark. It had never dawned on me that I lived on the western side of the central time zone, and that on the eastern side of that time zone, things were quite a bit different.

That radio is there for communication: a close call

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All went well, I reported final on 07, and was getting ready to perform a smooth touch down right past the threshold. Then, about one minute before touch down, I heard somebody saying something like, “LZPT taking off runway 25.” I was not sure I heard right. I mean, I just reported my final about a minute ago. Surely anybody on the frequency, let alone a pilot sitting in his aircraft about to take off, must have heard me?

The magical Mooney

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Richard Collins often told me that the Mooney was a cult airplane. And he was right. While all pilots would brag about how fast their airplane was, and how much it could carry, and how fast it climbed, and how far it went on full tanks, Mooney owners focused on one thing. How fast they flew on so little fuel.

Friday Photo: early evening in a Cub

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This photo was taken on the return leg of a day trip to Osceola, Wisconsin, from the Twin Cities, where there is still a grass runway to play on with this fun little taildragger. After a few landings with the wire and cork gas gauge telling us it was time to take a break, we took the courtesy car into the beautiful old town area for a look at Cascade Falls and lunch. Back to the airport for some gas, a few more times around the patch for good measure and then back home to finish off a perfect day of aviating.

Flying out of the pandemic

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With the honorable exception of the freighters, fighting the pandemic directly and covering for most of the belly cargo network lost due to the lack of passenger flights, pretty much everyone else in aviation has been flying less, perhaps not at all, during the last couple months. That is not healthy, either for humans or machines.

Beast on Paris Mountain: racing a thunderstorm

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We banked north and both of us saw what had been developing while we were engrossed in our pattern work. There was a beast sitting on top of Paris Mountain and it seemed intent on eating airplanes. KGMU was in front of us at around one thousand feet of elevation. Paris Mountain was only four nautical miles north, extending another thousand feet above that. The beast stood a few thousand feet over Paris—close and imposing.

Threat and Error Management for the GA Pilot

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“Threat and Error Management” has become synonymous with the airline industry and particularly within the major carriers who, due to the sheer scale of operations, require structured solutions to risk. This does not mean we are risk adverse as an industry; it can’t by the very nature of what we do. But it does mean we have to manage risk in a way that always keeps us in the middle of the envelope.

Friday Photo: Lake Champlain

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Lake Champlain, lying north to south and bordered by the Adirondacks to the west and Green Mountains to the east, represents one of the beautiful natural environments to fly. Even when life feels overwhelming, flying is a reminder of a sense of calm and distraction and the good fortune of being a pilot.

Automated flight—are you ready?

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Only a few years ago, a fully integrated automatic flight control system (AFCS) with an autothrottle was the sole domain of the air transport aircraft and heavy iron business jets. However, today’s AFCS with autothrottle (AT) are becoming common on single engine turboprops. Are you ready?

If only… The friends I’ve lost in airplane accidents

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I’ve struggled with writing about this tragedy for a long time. I wanted so much to give other pilots a glance at this image, hoping a few might take a moment before a flight to see if there were any gotchas they missed amid their haste and distractions. But I recoiled against the prospect of telling a very personal, painful, and graphic story about a good pilot buddy. Finally I decided to just start writing.

Video: instrument approach lighting systems

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Instrument pilots spend a lot of time thinking about approaches, but that usually means glideslopes and GPS procedures. Often overlooked in such discussions is the lighting system you hope to find at the end of the approach. This video tip, from Sporty’s Instrument Rating Course, explains what all those lights mean and how pilots can use them to transition from instrument flight to visual flights.

Friday Photo: Cheyenne Bottoms

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The ecological significance of Cheyenne Bottoms is impressive. It is estimated that 45% of the North American shorebird population stops at the Bottoms during spring migration. It was a beautifully calm morning in Kansas and it was a true joy to see the area from above. Flying brings us so many different perspectives!

A satisfying long cross country, with one flaw

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I planned to have Piper 4308M from 0900 to 1300 for my long solo cross country. As I pulled into the parking lot, my instructor’s pickup was already there. I had spoken to him about arriving early to pre-flight the Piper. I had been obsessing about the weather leading up to this flight and repeatedly looked at each airport along my route. I was worried about high winds in the days prior to my flight.

Once was enough—riding the Aluminum Overcast

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I grabbed a chance to take a ride on the Experimental Aircraft Association’s restored B-17, Aluminum Overcast. I had grown up with stories of those airplanes and the men who flew in them. I had to take the chance to ride in one. And so it was that one beautiful spring day, I clambered aboard and took a seat in the back of that big machine.