Airlines spend a lot of time crafting standard operating procedures (SOPs), which describe in exquisite detail how each part of a flight should be conducted. For the average private pilot, such formal SOPs are probably overkill and remove some of the flexibility that makes general aviation so rewarding. Instead, a few simple habits can prevent embarrassment – or worse.
“Messy aviation weather today.” That’s what the forecaster wrote in the forecast discussion this morning and a look at the TV screen in the FBO at the Elkinds-Randolph County Airport (EKN) confirms that. The radar images shows lots of rain in the area and the forecast is for things to get worse. That’s mildly annoying, as you’d really like to get back home, a 1:15 flight to Raleigh, North Carolina.
Many pilots worry about colliding with another airplane in flight, but not nearly as many worry about power lines. According to FAA numbers, that’s a mistake. There are roughly 75 accidents every year involving wires and while many of them involve helicopters, not all of them do. As the three accidents below show, airplane pilots regularly find ways to turn a fun flight into a fatal mistake.
Robinson R44 helicopters are death traps, right up there with Mitsubishi MU-2s and Cirrus SR22s – at least that’s according to a lot of articles you read online. But does it tell the whole story? In the spirit of Richard Collins’s very popular “What’s wrong with Cirrus/Mooney/Bonanza pilots” series of articles, I’d like to offer a more nuanced perspective.
After a long Christmas break, it’s time to return to your home south of Seattle, Washington. The flight from Ocean Shores Airport (W04) to Pierce County Airport (PLU) is an easy 30-minute flight in your Cirrus SR22 – much better than a two and a half hour drive. But as always, the weather may spoil your plans.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Three fatal Cirrus accidents in late 2015 and early 2016 caught my attention, since all three involved low-level stalls. Two occurred with flight instructors on board and one with an experienced Cirrus pilot at the controls. Each one has lessons for us as we try to reduce loss of control accidents. Consider each scenario, and think about how you would react.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you ever noticed that you become less and less flexible as a flight goes on? Decisions that once would have been easy and stress-free become fraught when you’re close to home. It’s a natural human instinct, but it’s one pilots need to aggressively fight.
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.
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.
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.