Go or No Go: a windy trip

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Today’s flight is one you know well, since you’ve flown this route at least once a month for three years, to visit your aging mother and father. It’s just under a two and a half hour flight in your Cessna 172S from Charleston, South Carolina (CHS), to Ocala, Florida (OCF). You don’t have an instrument rating, so you’ll have to fly this trip VFR. The weather looks reasonably good, but there are a few cells on the radar and the wind is blowing. Read the weather forecast below and tell us if you would make the flight or cancel.

Remembering my brother, who taught me to fly

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I took flight lessons from my brother later in life, acquiring my private license at age 62. Now age 73 and still flying a little, I look back fondly at those hours in training. He was a great instructor, demanding but extremely knowledgeable and experienced in a whole variety of aircraft.

Friday Photo: anticipating flight

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After a week in self-imposed quarantine, I decided to socially distance myself in the clear blue western sky over Texas. A creature of habit as all pilots are, I interrupted my preflight ritual of fully opening the hangar so as to avoid making contact with a fellow pilot who happened upon my same idea. Looking out through the partially opened hangar door as I’ve never before thought to look, I was rewarded with stunning contrasts.

Flight simulators, safety, and the power of AI

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We are now at the cusp where combining capable simulators with high-powered compute environments can enhance safety in aviation. Consider this—can flight simulator data tell us more about yet to be known opportunities that can improve airspace safety; or tell us more about how to prevent loss of control incidents; prevent communication lapses from turning into serious issues?

Don’t take things for granted

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In the late 1970s and early 1980s I was a traffic watch pilot in Phoenix, Arizona. Radio station KTAR provided the on-air reporter and the FBO at Deer Valley provided the Grumman AA-1C aircraft and pilots. The AA-1C certainly wasn’t the ideal aircraft for the task. It didn’t perform well in high density altitude operations. On a hot day with full fuel it would barely make it to 5500 feet.

From glider to hang glider to jet glider

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On a mild and sunny day in October, the quiet weekend atmosphere of Schekino gliderport was disturbed by three jet gliders. Unlike gliders with plenty of modern motor solutions nowadays, the Russian example has a unique feature. The empty weight of a glider is less than 115 kg, making it significantly lighter than its counterparts.

Be afraid of stalls

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Very early in a pilot’s initial training the instructor will reduce the power, raise the nose, feel the airplane shudder, the nose drops, and the CFI releases back pressure on the controls and adds power. See, that was a stall. Not so bad. Nothing to be afraid of. Really? Stalls are the leading cause of fatal accidents in general aviation airplanes.

Friday Photo: a quiet Dulles Airport

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Generally Friday afternoons are a hive of activity at Dulles Airport outside of Washington, DC, with a steady stream of incoming 777s and A380s from Europe and Asia all arriving within a few hours. Today, however, with all the coronavirus cancellations, Dulles was a perfect spot for a couple of touch and gos on runway 01C.

Fighter pilot skills every aviator needs to fly safe

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Fighter pilots are some of the most skilled aviators in the world. But just because you’re not a fighter pilot doesn’t mean you can’t borrow from their tool set. Whether you’re a 100-hour general aviation private pilot or a 10,000-hour commercial pilot, it behooves you to think and perform like a fighter pilot in some key areas.

Landing below sea level—my bucket list flight

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This little adventure is about two old pilots checking an item off their bucket list. One of the trips we have talked about for the last few years is flying to Death Valley and landing below sea level to watch the hands on the altimeter recede counter-clockwise past zero. This trip is best flown during colder months of the year because Death Valley is usually over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in warm months.

ICAO – more than just a flight plan format

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Older pilots may wonder why they used to be able to refer to “decision height” on an approach chart rather than “decision altitude.” Or why they now have to refer to their home airport, as I do, as “KFDK” (Frederick, Maryland), rather than the old “FDK.” What my pilot friends are dealing with is the work of a fairly obscure international agency, created under the auspices of the United Nations.

Towing at the Pan Am Gliding Championships

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You’ve completed your final checks. You look in the side-view mirror and the red flag is waving. You slowly move the Pawnee’s throttle forward and start towing the fully watered-up 18-meter competition glider down runway 36. It’s a hot, humid day and the density altitude is high. But you’re thinking, “hey, the grass has just had a crew-cut and the mud has dried out—so how hard can this be?”

Friday Photo: a road in the clouds

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Charlie Tillett was flying east from Columbus, Ohio, in his Piper Meridian when he took this shot. There was an overcast layer between 1,000 and 2,000 ft, and he passed over I-77 just south of where the highway passes through New Philadelphia. You can clearly see the road’s path in the cloud, with disruptions caused by road heat.

Pilot in command

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The fuel gauges were now bouncing between below a quarter tank and below half a tank. I knew we had enough fuel, but what was up ahead was not looking good. There was a thin layer of wispy, white clouds below us that allowed us to see the ground, so we continued. This lured us into a false sense of security that it was going to stay that way.

Flying my simulator during quarantine

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With all of California now under a state-wide stay-at-home order (and those in the Bay Area where I live having been on one for two days prior to the state-wide declaration), I have found myself strangely going back to my beginnings. The old Saitek joystick has been busted out, and Microsoft Flight Simulator X has been fired back up on my aging PC.

Aircraft building—a journey

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I knew I wanted to have my own plane, but I wasn’t sure which path to follow to achieve that goal. One option I considered was to buy a mid-70s Cessna 172 and upgrade the heck out of it. But I also considered building a plane because I felt I could do it and would end up with a thoroughly modern airplane for much less money than an equivalent new certified one.

The joy of a flying dad

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My dad recently flew west and I have been thinking about the gift of flying that he gave me from a young age. Flying has been a great joy in my life. I am very thankful that my dad was the original aviator in our family, because without his interest in flying I’m not sure I would have ever had mine. I’ve had much fun and learned a few lessons along the way.

Did I really hear that?

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It seems like the folks that ended up in Berlin were really different. They were like a family and a really close family at that. More importantly, they wanted everyone to know they were the best. They flew fast and when a fellow pilot got stuck somewhere in the maze of traffic schedules, they quickly changed and, even though they might be absent, another body took their place.