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Why learning to fly can be good for your mental health

Americans seem to be especially gloomy right now, according to a popular book and a report from the US Surgeon General. There are no miracle cures, but becoming a pilot can provide many of the positive experiences these experts recommend. No, I’m not suggesting the federal government mandate flight training to make American teenagers happy, but consider the following.

What a difference a decade makes: the GA boom in statistics

General aviation is growing. That simple statement would have been unremarkable to a pilot in the 1960s or 1970s, as surprising as saying the sun rose in the east that day. But for anyone who learned to fly after about 1990, and especially between 2008 and 2016, it’s a shocking thing to admit. Yet that is exactly what is happening right now, as data from a wide variety of sources show. 

Go or No Go: Gulf Coast rain showers

A two hour flight instead of a six hour drive through rush hour traffic—that’s what you’re hoping to pull off today, and that’s why you own an A36 Bonanza. After a week of work in Lake Charles, Louisiana (LCH), you are headed to Corpus Christi, Texas (CRP), for a long weekend and mini-family reunion. Now you just need the weather to cooperate, but at first glance it’s not a sure thing.

Go or No Go: ice before snow

After a long weekend visiting family in Syracuse, New York, the weather forecast might cut your stay short. Can you get home from SYR to Leesburg, Virginia (JYO) today, before the rain and snow move in from the west? Read the weather forecast below and tell us what you would do.

Pilots need to be generalists, not specialists

American education has been obsessed with STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) for at least a decade, and the aviation industry has eagerly jumped on the bandwagon. The FAA is leading the charge to fit our square peg into this round hole, declaring aviation to be the ultimate STEM career path. I’m in favor of anything that attracts a new generation of pilots, but this framing is a radical oversimplification—and it sets up some pilots for failure. 

Go or No Go: windy weekend escape

As a longtime resident of Minnesota, you’re used to fast-changing weather—and this week is no exception. After some beautiful 75-degree days, a fall cold front has come slamming through the Upper Midwest, dropping temperatures by 25 degrees and kicking up the wind. Will that ruin your weekend plans, which involve flying to meet some friends at a lodge in South Dakota?  Read the weather forecast below and tell us what you would do.

TAFs are so last century—here are four new tools to try

If your preflight weather briefing habits don’t change every few years, you probably aren’t curious enough. Occasionally there are major shifts, like the one from Flight Service phone calls to iPad app self-briefings, but more often we slowly integrate new weather resources and let others fade away. That’s exactly what I’ve done with the Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF), the gold standard of aviation forecasts. I still read them, but it plays a much less central role in my decision-making process than it did five years ago.

Five changes the new MOSAIC rule could bring to aviation

The word mosaic can be a noun, meaning a beautiful arrangement of glass, or an adjective, as in the tablets that Charlton Heston brought down from the mountain. Whether you view the FAA’s recently released Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certification (MOSAIC) proposal as a work of art or a restrictive set of commandments from on high, this 300-page document will definitely change general aviation.

Go or No Go: never judge a forecast by its radar image

No matter how often your instrument instructor told you to look beyond the radar image, you still start every preflight planning session with a look at the green and yellow on ForeFlight’s Maps page. Unfortunately, today’s map looks quite colorful, with rain all over the eastern half of the US. That could be a problem, since you’re trying to fly your Mooney 201 from your home in Richmond, VA (RIC), to Charleston, SC (JZI), for a family vacation. Read the forecast below and tell us if it’s a go or a no go.

What pilots can teach the world about AI

In 2023, Covid has rapidly receded from the headlines, but now artificial intelligence (AI) is here to kill us. That’s according to many prominent voices in the computer science community, and more than a few traffic-chasing news outlets too. Once again, I believe pilots have relevant experience to share on this topic. In fact, how to manage technology has been the defining aviation debate of the last 50 years.

Go Or No Go: skirting a low

General aviation worked its magic for the first half of this trip, with your Piper Saratoga delivering you and your spouse to the Bonnaroo music festival in rural Tennessee in just over two hours compared to the six it would have taken to drive. Now can it work on the way home? Departure time is 1900Z—read the weather reports below and let us know if it’s a go or a no go for you.

What it means to fly like a pro: 12 habits

Flying like a professional doesn’t mean you get paid to fly, it doesn’t mean you wear epaulets, and it doesn’t mean you burn Jet A. More than anything, it means you understand the responsibility you have as a pilot and you take pride in how you conduct every flight. Here’s how to approach flying with a pro’s mindset, and 12 habits for safer flying.

Go or No Go: spring cold front

Sometimes it feels like Mother Nature has access to your Flights tab on ForeFlight: it sees your planned trip and places a front right across your route. That’s what today looks like a first glance, as a solid line of rain stretches from Maine to Texas—right in the middle of your planned Atlanta (FTY) to Memphis (MEM) trip. Read the weather briefing below and then tell us if this flight is a go or a no go.

Autopilots are underrated

It’s time to add the much-maligned autopilot to this list of life-saving technologies—and retire some old myths in the process. The latest generation of digital autopilots are nothing like the “mechanical brain” of 1947 or even the analog systems of the 1970s and 80s. They are the first models to truly live up to the grand title they are often given: “automatic flight control system.” 

The joy of IFR

Really flying IFR (not just earning the rating) is probably the most challenging activity you can do these days, unless you’re a heart surgeon or a Navy SEAL. Flying blind in the clouds, managing dynamic weather, and keeping up with air traffic control is like a mental treadmill that’s permanently set on 10—there is no stopping to take a break, and losing focus can lead to real pain. But that’s exactly why it’s so fun.

Go or no go: Appalachian IFR

Today’s trip, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Greensboro, North Carolina, is perfect for general aviation. Instead of a six hour drive along the winding roads of the Appalachian Mountains, you can fly your Mooney there in less than 90 minutes. That’s assuming the weather cooperates, of course, and a quick look at ForeFlight suggests there might be some work involved. Your airplane is well-equipped and you are instrument current, but is that enough today? Read the weather briefing below and decide what you would do.

Top 10 articles of 2022 on Air Facts

It was another busy year at Air Facts: we published 156 articles in 2022, written by more than 100 different writers. Many of these writers were first time contributors at Air Facts, just pilots with a story to tell or a lesson to share. Hopefully you’re enjoying a moment to relax this holiday season. While you’re doing that, enjoy the 10 most popular articles of 2022 below.