A Christmas book list for pilots: 18 top picks

As social media and cable TV deteriorate into ill-informed shouting matches, I find myself reading more and more books. And as a book lover, Christmas means making my list and distributing it to family and friends. So in the spirit of the holidays I’ll offer my list of great aviation books.

The unleaded fuel disaster – what it means for pilots

The transition from leaded avgas to an unleaded future has been decades in the making, and countless articles have discussed everything from the certification process to the chemistry. And yet many pilots don’t know how bad things are right now, as other topics (ADS-B, drones) get most of the attention.

I’ve got connections

What is aviation, in a word? Many writers have tried to answer that question, and the word mentioned most often is freedom. Aviation sets you free, whether it’s freedom from the ground-bound view of the world or freedom from everyday worries. That’s certainly true, but I’d like to offer another nominee, even if it’s not as poetic: connection.

The bad news and good news about engine failures

You’ve probably said it to a nervous passenger: “Don’t worry, airplane engines almost never quit.” It’s only in World War II movies that engines cough and pilots have to save the day, right? This is mostly true for turbine engines, which have a stunningly good reliability record. Unfortunately, it’s far less true for piston engines.

Avionics transitions – ain’t nothing like the real thing

After logging about 1,000 hours in a Pilatus PC-12 with a combination of round dials and EFIS tubes, the cockpit was recently transformed with a pair of Garmin G600 TXi primary flight displays (PFDs). The bright screens filled with synthetic vision views are simply incredible, and I genuinely feel safer flying behind them, but they also sent me back to school.

Don’t ruin a flying vacation with weather worries

Sure, the convenience of traveling by general aviation is hard to beat, and as pilots we usually have a lot of fun just getting there. But there’s another factor that can quickly overshadow the fun – weather worries. I’ve battled this off and on for years, but a recent family trip to Disney World was almost ruined by my constant stressing about the weather.

The GPS revolution at 20 – how aviation has changed

Decades after it first caught on, GPS is so deeply embedded in everyday life that we now take it for granted. But as important as GPS has been for the world as a whole, it’s hard to think of an industry more transformed than general aviation. Consider the long list of capabilities that even a 60-year old Light Sport Aircraft can now have thanks to this revolution.

Go or No Go: finding a gap

You’ve just passed 500 hours in your Cessna 182RG, and it has proven to be a very reliable traveling machine over the last four years. Today’s mission is to get you home from Columbus, Ohio (TZR), to South Bend, Indiana (SBN). The flight will take just under 1.5 hours, compared to over four hours driving, but as always weather is a potential factor.

Friday Photo: Richard Collins with Concorde

There were many important airplanes in Richard Collins’s life, including his Cessna P210, N40RC, which he flew for almost 9,000 hours. Close behind that special airplane was Concorde, the groundbreaking supersonic airliner. He rode on it 14 times, flew the simulator, and became good friends with John Cook, a British Airways captain on the graceful bird.

Aviation’s everyman hero

Dick wouldn’t have wanted a long tribute. While nobody ever accused him of lacking confidence, Richard Collins was a surprisingly quiet and private man. His idea of a memorial would be a tall glass of whiskey and a nod. But I hope you’ll forgive me if I ignore his wishes and remember the life of a legend – and my aviation hero.

Glass cockpits – don’t make it harder than it really is

Too many pilots exaggerate the difference between analog instruments and glass cockpits, as if it requires a completely new pilot certificate to make the transition. That’s simply not the case – the basics of flying are the same no matter what avionics you use. Focus on basic attitude flying, which, if anything, is easier on glass cockpits with their full-screen attitude display.

The next Cirrus? SureFly tries to reinvent the helicopter

I have seen the future, and it works… sort of. The SureFly looks a little like an upside-down octopus, but this hybrid gas-electric octocopter is striking nonetheless. It also represents one of the most interesting ideas in light aviation right now, with a unique mix of big ideas and pragmatic engineering.

Flying solo – why everything is different when you’re alone

On those rare occasions when I am flying solo, I instantly notice how different the whole experience is. The safety record for solo flights is different too. A pilot flying solo needs to approach each flight with good habits and perhaps larger built-in safety margins. For me, that means thinking about four key areas: the condition of the pilot, cockpit habits, teamwork, and personal risk tolerance.

Go or no go: Thanksgiving trip across Florida

It’s two days before Thanksgiving, which means it’s time for the annual pilgrimage from your home in Jacksonville, Florida, to the home of your 91-year old mother in Naples. It’s a 6-hour drive or a 1:45 minute flight in your Cessna 182, so it’s easy to guess which method you would prefer. Will the weather cooperate? Read the weather briefing below and then tell us if you would go or cancel.

Death, taxes, and airspace

Pilots and aviation lobby groups are up in arms right now about the potential privatization of Air Traffic Control, and rightly so. Unfortunately, these same groups have been much quieter about another government-led aviation disaster, one that has happened right under our noses: the relentless expansion of restricted and controlled airspace.

Caption contest #9

Welcome to our latest Caption Contest at Air Facts, where 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.

How to interpret radar in the cockpit

Radar seems so simple at first: red is bad, green is good. What else is there to know? As any pilot with more than a few cross countries in the logbook knows, quite a lot. While a lot of the problems with radar operation have been solved by datalink weather, few of the problems with radar interpretation have been solved.

Quiz: sectional charts

Even with iPads and iPhones, the sectional chart is still an essential tool for pilots. From planning a route to avoiding restricted airspace, no other resource packs as much information into a single page. How much do you know about all the airspace, airport, and obstacle symbols? Take our latest quiz to find out.