Fuel Reserve Requirements—the FARs Aren’t Much Help

You’re pointed away from the destination airport on some controller’s vector and you are sweating the near-empty fuel gauges. As a last resort you tell the controller you are minimum fuel and need priority to the runway. Did you violate FAR 91.167, the rule that sets the requirements for minimum fuel when flying under IFR?

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.

What’s different about flying jets

Pilots of piston airplanes wonder what it’s like to fly a jet. Do I need different pilot skills? What are the sensations? Just what is it that makes jet flying different from piston powered airplanes? Here are some answers.

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.

Why upset training just doesn’t work

During my 45 years of observing and writing about aviation, pilot upset training is a topic that has waxed and waned. For the past few years the idea of learning how to recover from an extreme attitude is in ascendance. But the reason upset training emphasis falls in and out of favor is because it just doesn’t work.

Who Needs Charts? Under the Rules You Probably Don’t

If you want to win a bar bet among your pilot friends, ask them to show you the FAR that requires you to have charts in your general aviation airplane. After some fumbling around on the FAA site on the web, one pilot will probably declare the rule is FAR 91.502. But before you pay off ask your friend to read the title of the FAR subpart that contains rule 91.502. It’s Subpart F.

Are single pilot risks real?

In the past year or so it has become very, very expensive to insure a light jet flown by a single pilot, particularly an owner pilot. In some cases the single pilot may not be able to buy coverage at any price. This is significant because the light jets provide our only glimpse into the risks of flying solo.

When pilots have too much experience

As pilots we spend our flying careers amassing hours of experience. Our skill and competence, and qualification for new ratings, and certainly for flying jobs, is largely based on our hours of logged experience. But when does a pilot have too much experience? In other words, when do the number of years logged since birth matter more than the number of hours in the logbook?

The perfect pilot myth is finished

The rules are that test pilots must recognize the trim failure, for example, by some positive event. Once that positive identification is made, the test pilot must wait exactly three seconds before taking the proper action to disable to system. When non-pilots hear this information, their mouths drop open. They utter something like “that’s crazy. Three seconds! That’s just nuts.”

Pilots make a deal with the devil

As an industry, we know how to essentially eliminate fatal accidents. As pilots flying for our own reasons we can learn how the big boys did that, and adapt as many of the lessons as we can afford, or decide are worth the required tradeoffs. We still must make our own deal with the dark side to fly our own airplanes for our own reasons by ourselves, but I hope we are making the best and most informed deal we can.