High wing or low wing? Ask Mother Nature

I agonized over this for a very long time before I bought my first airplane. It seems to be one of those endless hangar discussions that divides pilots into one of three camps that almost serves as a form of introduction. And so, “Hi, my name is Dan, I’m a high-wing guy. How about you? Oh, you like low wing aircraft because you can see the numbers as you turn base to final?”
Young Eagles

Aviation Education to the Masses: How do we do it?

While we were hanging onto the balloon to keep it on the ground, a group of high school age kids approached us. They were obviously super excited about being up and close with it, which is great—I love seeing it. But after conversing I realized that they didn't understand general aviation at all. What I gathered from them was that everything with flying seemed out of reach.

If we were all airplanes

If I were an airplane, I would be a Cessna 182. Because it “drinks” a bit, but it’s a trustworthy, sturdy airplane. If I were an airplane, I would be the Cessna 182 because it is simple and obvious but delivers what it promises and rarely lets you down. You can’t say it’s pretty, but it won’t scare you with its looks. It’s not nimble, but it climbs well and doesn’t need much runway to take off…
CFI with student in Cessna

Student pilot nerves and the fear of flying

Most flying instructors will be familiar with the sight of student pilot nerves and most pilots can remember experiencing them. Learning to fly presents the student with all kinds of challenges. How each person reacts to these depends upon their individual strengths and weaknesses.  For some, they must overcome a fear of flying itself.
787 cockpit

On automation and airmanship

The original intent of contemporary cockpit automation arose from the capabilities view of technology, in particular the capability to optimize aerodynamic efficiency while also optimizing airspace utilization. This was, and still is, clearly a machine in the service of man. The intent of automation began to migrate toward the cybernetics view with the notion that we could automate human error out of the equation.
Leonardo sketches

The famous quote that da Vinci never said

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” This Leonardo da Vinci quote is everywhere — aviation books, magazines, websites, Instagram posts, coffee mugs, tee shirts, several science textbooks and some Smithsonian publications. Yet Leonardo da Vinci never said it; and it’s nowhere close to 500 years old.
On final

Unstable approaches in a pandemic world

Who would have guessed? Most pilots—notably airline ones—are flying less than ever since March, and the number of unstable approaches has skyrocketed. According to a recent report from the International Air Transport Association, the rate of unstable approaches per thousand flights jumped from around ten to fifteen monthly in the last two years to 28 in April and 37 one month later.
Global Hawk

Autonomous control systems—what does it really mean for aviation?

This 1,200-word piece is not intended to be a manifesto of advocacy for autonomous aircraft. Its purpose is to explain what autonomous control systems in general do, and—at a very perfunctory level—how they do it. It is not a blueprint for how to build one. But if nothing else, it shows that that real people like me actually have considered these things, and have figured out ways to do them successfully.
On final

Pilot-induced oscillations: are you a sinner or a victim?

You have probably seen this before: a GoPro video showing a pilot struggling with large inputs on the yoke, giving the throttle a hard time with either high thrust or idle power, and after a fair amount of time focused on that demanding approach, a smooth touchdown followed by a reassuring smile. On the title of the video, something mentioning a high crosswind component, and below, the comments saying that the pilot nailed it like a boss. Did he or she?
Airbus A330 sim

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.
Walking to airplane

Flying out of the pandemic

With the honorable exception of the freighters, fighting the pandemic directly and covering for most of the belly cargo network lost due to the lack of passenger flights, pretty much everyone else in aviation has been flying less, perhaps not at all, during the last couple months. That is not healthy, either for humans or machines.

If only… The friends I’ve lost in airplane accidents

I’ve struggled with writing about this tragedy for a long time. I wanted so much to give other pilots a glance at this image, hoping a few might take a moment before a flight to see if there were any gotchas they missed amid their haste and distractions. But I recoiled against the prospect of telling a very personal, painful, and graphic story about a good pilot buddy. Finally I decided to just start writing.

Is traditional proficiency enough?

Regardless of license level, elements of being a good pilot normally include skill at operating the airplane; book knowledge; situational awareness of everything going on around the airplane and what it means; and experience. All of these are, good, no doubt about it, but what additional elements can be incorporated to make an even better pilot? In effect, what would constitute an Honors Course in flying?
Cessna stall

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.
Kid at airport fence

Training logistics—the forgotten problem with learning to fly

Airplane inflation has gone up more than wage inflation, but if my grandson wanted to learn to fly when he’s old enough, I suspect the money wouldn’t be an issue. The thing that has changed in his case—more than the money—is the logistics.
A340 cockpit

Is software enough to keep pilots safe?

As pilots, we are all to familiar with the problems on the Boeing 737 MAX. We are being told that faulty software is the cause. Yes, there were or could have been problems with the pilot training, but Boeing is re-writing the software and when complete, the problem will go away and the aircraft will be safe. Or will it?
Cessna 150

The little airplane that could… and still does!

Many airports here in the Midwest have almost all of their aircraft locked securely inside, with the possible exception of a small ramp space for the less fortunate. As pilots whoosh past this area in their BMWs and Range Rovers, they may be vaguely aware of the diminutive and familiar shape of the Rodney Dangerfield of airplanes: the Cessna 150.
Rusty hangar

There’s room for improvement at GA airports

I don’t like to pen anything negative, but I believe that there is room for improvement in the way that our General Aviation community conducts business. Let me start with the “simple” process of getting avgas. The larger airports have the hard-to-read, difficult-to-use credit card machines installed.

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.
Sectional charts

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.