Pilot flying in clouds

What matters for IFR proficiency? The answer is quite simple.

Assuming you are busy and have to make hard choices about what to focus on, I think there’s a strong case to be made for spending your precious flying time on basic attitude instrument skills. Flying approaches to minimums or practicing emergencies may be more fun, but those procedures are not where pilots make the most fatal mistakes.
Low approach

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. 

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.
VL-3 airplane

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.
Microsoft copilot

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.
Pilot in cockpit with instructor

The truth about learning to fly

As a community, pilots do a pretty good job of getting kids interested in flying. But I think we do ourselves a great disservice when we tell prospective pilots that learning to fly is all fun and excitement. It’s not, and we know it’s not.
Airline pilots

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.
Garmin GFC 500 autopilot

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.” 
Pilot in Cessna 182

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.

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.
Cirrus in flight

A safe pilot is a humble pilot—lessons from the Cirrus community

After a recent weekend immersed in the world of Cirrus airplanes, I have renewed appreciation for the old saw: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. No matter how you slice the data, and no matter what airplane you fly, the most important driver of aviation safety continues to be the person in the left seat. Even with all the latest technology—in fact, maybe especially with all the latest technology—there’s no substitute for a humble pilot.
Airplane off runway

What does “loss of control” mean? Probably not what you think

Before solving a problem, it helps to be clear about definitions. What does loss of control actually mean? The FAA says it’s “an unintended departure of an aircraft from controlled flight.” That definition is so broad as to be useless, like saying the leading cause of car crashes is “unintended rapid deceleration.” Unfortunately, if we’re trying to dramatically reduce fatal accidents, solving loss of control isn’t nearly enough.
Pilot in airplane

How to improve your aviation decisions

At some point in a pilot’s flying career, usually around 250 hours, the primary challenge shifts from a physical one to a mental one. When you finally master crosswind landings and learn how to use all the avionics in your airplane, what’s left is the never-ending task of making good decisions. How can we improve this skill?
Trevor Jacob jump

YouTube, Top Gun, and aviation culture

Is YouTube good or bad for general aviation? That seems to be a popular hangar flying debate these days, especially since a number of high profile pilots have found themselves in hot water with the FAA over the last month. The answer may be more important for the future of GA than you think.
Pilatus PC-12

What’s wrong with Pilatus PC-12 pilots?

A key reason for the PC-12’s popularity has been its stellar safety record, one of the best in all of general aviation. So any effort to answer the question, “what’s wrong with Pilatus PC-12 pilots?” has to begin with: not much. But accidents do happen, including a recent one off the coast of North Carolina. That means it’s worth our time to examine the safety record of a specific airplane type, even if you don’t fly that model.

Aviation’s roaring ’20s? A case for GA growth

Is the current GA boom just temporary, one that will soon break hearts and bank accounts, or has something fundamentally changed? I think we should seriously consider the possibility that general aviation has some steady tailwinds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not convinced we'll reach the dizzying heights of the late 1970s, but there are some long term trends that could make light airplanes more attractive.

Top 10 articles of 2021 on Air Facts

This year was another busy one at Air Facts: we celebrated our 10th year online by publishing over 250 articles, including personal stories and lively debates, first solos and harrowing military adventures. For now, we wish you a safe and happy new year—and hopefully one filled with flying. Enjoy the 10 most popular articles of 2021.
Garmin Pilot weather screen

The datalink weather revolution: safer and less stressful flights

I put the iPad down after a few minutes and said to the other pilot flying with me, “we’ll just keep going and see how that line develops when we get closer.” I suspect that’s a common phrase for many Air Facts readers who fly cross countries—and indeed, this was just another day at the office—but that doesn’t make it any less miraculous. Quite simply, datalink weather has changed how we fly.

It’s time to reform Obstacle Departure Procedures

What’s the most overlooked and misunderstood part of IFR flying? I nominate the obstacle departure procedure (ODP). While almost any instrument pilot can recite trivia like holding pattern entries or VOR test requirements—important but relatively rare procedures—many are quite shaky on ODPs. That’s a shame, because ignorance of this procedure can be fatal.

General aviation trends in charts—2021 update

Four years ago, I tried to capture the state of general aviation in 12 charts, covering everything from new airplane shipments to fatal accident rates. An industry as varied as general aviation cannot be summed up in a few charts, but sometimes graphics tell the story better than thousands of words. Many things have changed since 2017—some for the better—so I thought it was time for an update.