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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Pilots and aviation lobby groups are up in arms right now about the potential privatization of Air Traffic Control, and rightly so. Unfortunately, these same groups have been much quieter about another government-led aviation disaster, one that has happened right under our noses: the relentless expansion of restricted and controlled airspace.
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Radar seems so simple at first: red is bad, green is good. What else is there to know? As any pilot with more than a few cross countries in the logbook knows, quite a lot. While a lot of the problems with radar operation have been solved by datalink weather, few of the problems with radar interpretation have been solved.
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What's the state of the general aviation industry? That's a question we hear at lot at Air Facts, sometimes by prophets of doom looking for confirmation, sometimes by new pilots trying to get a handle on the community they have just joined, and sometimes by outsiders who genuinely don't know. Unfortunately there's no simple answer, but these 12 graphs offer a partial answer.
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While apps like ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot can simplify the flight planning process, if we’re not careful they can also make it confusing. We are all our own Flight Service Stations now, forced to assemble weather information, evaluate it, and make a plan. Which sources can be trusted? What do they all mean? How much weather information is enough? To answer questions like these, pilots need more than just a passing acquaintance with Aviation Weather.
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Richard Collins once summed up risk management, a subject that now elicits PhD-level jargon, in four simple words: “it’s all about margins.” Shave the margins too close and you're one bit of bad luck away from an accident. The importance of those margins was driven home for me on a recent flight in a Pilatus PC-12, when I allowed schedule pressure to reduce them just a little too much, but not in the usual way.
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When you consider the big picture, you're really creating a weather hypothesis - an overarching narrative that ties together the various weather reports. Not all weather reports are developed the same way, and not all deserve equal attention. Here are three questions to consider when comparing different weather products.