The most famous decision pilots make happens before we even get airborne: to go or not to go? But after a busy summer of flying, I have learned that this is actually one of the easiest decisions in aviation. Saying “no” may be stressful when you’re on the ground, desperate to fly, but it’s much harder once you’re in the air. Call it plan continuation bias or get-there-itis; whatever the name, it is a worthy opponent.
The good news is technology like datalink weather has made it a lot easier to manage convective weather. With ADS-B on my iPad or SiriusXM on my panel, it’s fairly simple to avoid the worst weather; it just takes patience and discipline to go all the way around it. Since most of my cross country flights are IFR, those long deviations require a lot of coordination with Air Traffic Control.
Flying, something we both love to do, is much more than just a weekend hobby. It’s our version of playing catch in the back yard, a shared experience laden with meaning. Of course we do talk when we fly, but I’ve realized the most important words between father and son are unspoken.
Every airplane model has a personality; some even have a stereotype. So when a friend recently asked what I thought of the Cessna 210 Centurion, I hesitated. I felt qualified to offer an opinion since I flew one for about five years in the early 2000s, but I also felt obligated to go beyond cliches. I have very fond memories of the 210, but it is a love it/hate it type of airplane – its strengths are unique, and its weaknesses are maddening.
One year ago, aviation lost a legend. Richard Collins left behind such a huge volume of writing over his 60+ year career that pilots will find rich rewards from re-reading his work. In general, the lessons he reminds me of seem to center around four main ideas: building margins, managing weather, respecting technology, and flying for transportation.
I like to pause every few years and consider what’s going right in aviation. Call me a naive optimist if you like, but I still see a lot to appreciate, from the thousands of airports in the US to the relative openness of our airspace to the strong experimental aircraft movement. These trends are old news; five newer ones caught my attention at the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-in last week, and I think they bode well for pilots.
Would more pilots fly IFR if it were easier to get an instrument rating? Would it improve aviation safety if they did? A recent proposal by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to create a “basic instrument rating” should have pilots asking those exact questions, and not just in Europe.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.