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Podcast: GA trends and urban air mobility hype, with Mac McClellan

Mac McClellan is a frequent contributor to Air Facts, but as Editor-in-Chief at Flying magazine for 20 years he flew just about every new airplane delivered since 1976. In this podcast episode, Mac shares his favorite ones and some that he wished he’d never flown. As a keen observer of general aviation trends, Mac also explains why pilots are flying fewer cross countries, why personal flying inevitably means tradeoffs between safety and efficiency, and what the future holds for urban air mobility/eVTOL proposals.

The greatest aviation safety improvement is…

The improvement in aviation safety is astonishing. No major US airline has suffered a fatal crash since 2001. Before this incredible 20-year period, the longest stint without a major airline fatal crash was barely more than two years. Though many factors contribute to the enormous advance in aviation safety, the single greatest factor is development of GPS.

Checklist vs. memory items

An old saw among pilots is that you use a checklist for actions you perform on every flight, such as lowering the landing gear, but for a very rare event, such as an engine fire, you’re required to perform the proper actions from memory. Does that make sense?

Are IFR Approach Charts Obsolete?

Why did we as a crew, and even more critically a single pilot, spend valuable time reading from an approach chart information and functions that the FMS had accomplished automatically, and clearly displayed, with a single entry? Because the approach briefing from a chart is a leftover from the days when we had no other options to obtain the necessary information to fly an approach.

How much should the autopilot fly?

Now that the Garmin Autonomi has been developed and certified the question of how much flying an autopilot can do has been answered. Everything. How does the human pilot retain and practice the skills necessary for precision hand flying while still making best use of the autopilot system? That’s the question.

Landings at the crosswind limit

We’ve all seen this movie before on countless videos of airline pilots attempting to land in extreme crosswinds. More often than not, the amateur videographer captures the jet touching down in a significant crab angle to the runway, tires smoking, and the airplane nose pivoting back toward the runway centerline. How is it possible to land in such extreme conditions?

How low can your autopilot go?

The Collins autopilot in the King Air 350i did its usual perfect job of flying the ILS. When the radio altimeter system called “100 feet” I bumped the trim switch under my thumb to disengage the autopilot. It handed me the airplane in perfect trim and exactly on centerline over the lights. An easy landing. So was that all legal? Do you know the operating altitude limitations for the autopilot in your airplane?

Is that airframe icing or snow?

You’re flying in visible moisture with the air temperature below freezing and you notice something building up on the leading edge of the wings. Is that airframe icing? What you see collecting on the wing leading edges in a cold cloud could be airframe icing, or it could be snow. Icing is bad, maybe very bad, but snow isn’t much of a problem. How do you know the difference?

Low Visibility Takeoffs: How Low Is Too Low?

The big risk that jumps to mind is engine failure during a low visibility takeoff. And that would be a critical situation. But the accident record shows that is an extremely rare event. Given that engine failure itself is uncommon, and that low viz takeoffs are infrequent, the odds of an engine failure during the seconds or couple minutes of a low viz takeoff are very long.

Should you take your grandchildren flying?

Both of our kids were in the backseat of our Mooney 201 headed off to visit one grandmother or the other before they were two weeks old. Stancie and I never really gave it a second thought. But that was 40 years ago. And much has changed—actually, almost everything has changed—when it comes to risk assessment for young children.

Corporate Flying During the Pandemic

The ATC frequencies are still pretty quiet. It’s easy to get direct routings and weather deviations most of the time. And FBO ramps are not often crowded. But corporate and charter flying are back. In fact, many charter, membership and fractional ownership aircraft operators are reporting record interest, mostly from first time private flyers.

Train like you fly—not really

A number of years ago safety and training experts realized few, if any, crashes were being caused by the events pilots spend training time for. Those action-packed simulator sessions were difficult, and we sweated through them, but in reality accidents were happening because of much more mundane aircraft failures and pilot mistakes.

The magical Mooney

Richard Collins often told me that the Mooney was a cult airplane. And he was right. While all pilots would brag about how fast their airplane was, and how much it could carry, and how fast it climbed, and how far it went on full tanks, Mooney owners focused on one thing. How fast they flew on so little fuel.

What to practice with limited flying time

No matter what you fly or why, you’re certainly doing less flying now as the country tries to survive the Covid-19 virus. So how can we get the most effective practice and proficiency retention out of the limited flying we can do? Practicing landing is important, for sure, but I think there are some other maneuvers that can test and refine your skills more effectively in less flying time.

Be afraid of stalls

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.

Say your airspeed—which one?

Say your airspeed. Seems like a simple question. And it’s one controllers often ask when separating in trail airplanes in busy airspace. But there’s nothing simple about airspeed. There are at least four kinds of airspeed—indicated airspeed (IAS), calibrated airspeed (CAS), true airspeed (TAS) and Mach. Each value has significance to pilots.

When to disengage the autopilot

A real hardware/software failure of an autopilot could lead to a dangerous situation, but so can pilot mismanagement of a fully functioning autopilot. The results are essentially the same in either situation—the pilot in command is not fully in control of the airplane.