Do we want flying to be hard or easy?

Earning a pilot certificate is one of the most difficult things you can do as a hobby. While technology has made many activities easier these days, pilots still have to learn about magnetos and Morse code, bank angle and Bernoulli. For some aviation boosters, that’s a problem; for others, it’s an opportunity.

Go or No Go: over the ice at night?

Today’s mission is to fly from Duluth, Minnesota (DLH), to your home in Columbus, Ohio (OSU). It’s nearly 5pm in Duluth, so this flight will be completely in the dark. Your airplane is a Cirrus SR22T, with a full Garmin G1000 glass cockpit, autopilot, and datalink weather. Read the weather briefing below and tell us if you would take off or cancel.

What I learned about flying in 2020

The end of the year may be a magical time for personal reflection, but my latest trip down memory lane was caused by something much more prosaic: filling out my annual insurance renewal form. Besides a feeling of gratitude for the hours I logged this year—and a burning desire to reschedule some canceled trips in 2021—I came away with a few lessons learned. None of these are exactly revolutionary, but at least a few were surprising to me.

Go or No Go: above or below the clouds?

You earned your instrument rating years ago, but you haven’t been current in a long time. Now you’re kicking yourself for that lapse in currency, because your VFR-only limitation is going to make an easy IFR flight into a marginal VFR flight. You’re hoping to fly your 1972 Cessna 182 from your home in Middletown, Ohio (MWO), to Marion, Illinois (MWA). Will the weather cooperate?

GA safety trends: what should we worry about?

FAA regulations are written in blood, according to the cliche, but it doesn’t seem like flight training reacts to accidents quite so consistently. That’s a mistake. While being a good pilot means more than just avoiding an accident, that goal is certainly a good place to start. That mindset is what makes accident statistics so valuable for general aviation, and the recently released Nall Report from the AOPA Air Safety Institute is a gold mine.

Go or No Go: above the bumps, below the ice?

Fall in Maine is simply wonderful, as you’ve seen for yourself this week. The air was crisp and the colors on the trees were beautiful, but now it’s time to fly home. Your Cessna 310 is fueled up and ready to make the 3.5 hour flight from Bar Harbor (BHB) to your home near Gaithersburg, Maryland (GAI). Will the weather cooperate?

Go or No Go: smoky San Carlos

The overall weather for your flight today from Scottsdale, Arizona (SDL), to San Carlos, California (SQL), looks excellent—no fronts, no storms, no ice, hardly any clouds—with one exception. Huge wildfires have covered much of Northern California with smoke. That means widespread IFR conditions near your destination. Can you make the trip?

Stop calling it the impossible turn

Pilots love a good debate, and some topics seem to come in and out of fashion like bell bottoms. Right now the wars over lean of peak and angle of attack indicators have cooled (thankfully), but the war over “the impossible turn” seems to be heating up. In the last few months I’ve seen multiple articles, videos, and forum threads on the subject. It’s fun to debate, but what problem are we trying to solve here?

Go or No Go: another summer day in the Southeast

Another summer afternoon, another radar splattered with red and yellow cells. After many years of flying in the Southeast, you’re used to this picture but that doesn’t mean you ignore it—thunderstorms are a serious threat for any airplane. The goal today is to fly from Sarasota, Florida, to Atlanta, Georgia, in your Cirrus SR22. Will the weather allow it?

Are pilots rediscovering how to travel by light airplane?

By long standing tradition, baseball players never talk to a pitcher in the middle of a perfect game—if everything is going well, why jinx it? The same mindset applies to pilots, who are often hesitant to acknowledge good news for fear of chasing it away. I’m going to violate that unwritten rule because I think it’s worth exploring an interesting development: general aviation is doing surprisingly well during the coronavirus pandemic.

Go or No Go: dodging storms in the Southeast

The mission today is to fly from your home in Louisville, Kentucky, to visit your business in Atlanta, Georgia. With the coronavirus pandemic, you’re trying to do it in a day and save the hotel stay. You made it to Atlanta easily with an 8am takeoff, but now the question is whether you can make it home. As you review the weather in the pilot’s lounge at PDK, ForeFlight shows some pop-up storms.

Five airplanes every pilot should fly

While all airplanes have stories to tell, some are more important and more interesting than others. Here are five I believe should be in every pilot’s logbook or on their to-do list. These aren’t necessarily the best or most exciting airplanes ever to take to the skies, but they define specific ages in general aviation and make up the rich history of our industry. Call it the general aviation canon.

What pilots can teach the world about managing risk

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?

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?

Go or No Go: low IFR in a Baron

It’s a typical late afternoon flight for you, with the mission of returning your boss to his home in Lexington, Kentucky (LEX) after a day in Greensboro, North Carolina (GSO). The trip should take just under two hours in your Beechcraft Baron, which you fly professionally. Take a look at the weather briefing below and tell us if you would make the trip or cancel.

What will general aviation look like after COVID-19?

Making predictions about COVID-19 is a fool’s errand right now, with a year’s worth of news happening in a week. But that doesn’t mean we can’t think in broad outlines about the future of flying. I’m obviously biased because I love light airplanes and the freedom they offer, but I genuinely believe general aviation will come out of this crisis stronger. This isn’t just wishful thinking; there are reasons to be optimistic.

Go or No Go: a windy trip

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.

Go or No Go: California convection?

It’s a perfect day for general aviation: your trip from San Diego (MYF) to Oxnard (OXR), California, should take just under an hour in your Cirrus SR22, which is a huge improvement over the typical 4-5 hour drive. The weather isn’t great today, but at first glance it doesn’t look impossible. Read the weather reports below and tell us if you would fly the trip or cancel.

Light Sport Aircraft aren’t selling well, but the LSA rule has still worked

Time to update an old debate: have Light Sport Aircraft (LSAs) taken off in popularity over the last five years? Are Sport Pilot certificates more common now that the economy is stronger? At the risk of provoking another argument, my review of the data suggests no. The Light Sport world is still alive, but it’s a niche industry with few real winners. But there is a silver lining.