Sunset from cockpit

An ode to flying – and why it’s different from piloting

So what is flying? Clearly it is riding inside a machine in the sky. The machine can be very simple or extremely complex -- but each one is a ride into the sky. From takeoff to landing, the pilot is flying in the sky by controlling a machine which will return to earth.
Wall map

The enlightenment: how flying has made it all my hometown

I realized flying has made it all my hometown. My neighborhood now stretches from sea to shining sea; I am a part of all of it. I thought of a trip from Chicago to Texas where a storm system left me options through Kansas or through Georgia. Either one would work. As easy as picking a bank branch on one of two corners, my choice for convenience now can cross a thousand miles.

Risk management: it’s a personal thing

What are you willing to risk? It's a question at the heart of everything we do as pilots. Obviously, we're willing to take a few risks or we wouldn't be flying at all. Fact is that flying is a gazillion times safer than many other activities. It's also a fact that it can be terribly unforgiving of errors or carelessness compared to other hobbies.

What all pilots can learn from glider flying

I don't mean to suggest the absence of a few self-inflicted off-airport sailplane landings precludes a person from being a fundamentally skilled, aware, and eminently safe power pilot, of course. Far from it. It's just that even the relatively simple act of “collecting a glider rating” can easily have beneficial blow-back; learning how to soar without ever leaving the vicinity of your training airport even more; planting a foot in both the power and soaring worlds still more.
Tom Hanks as Sully

Sully and the impossible turn

Let’s cut right to the chase – Sully is a movie that any pilot, and especially an airline pilot, can watch without being mortified by technical and artistic errors on the part of the filmmakers. The portions of the movie that depict the flight and the water landing are done to near perfection. Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart not only play the role of airline pilots superbly, but they even manage to look a good deal like the originals.
Instrument approach from cockpit

Confessions of a timid pilot

Would it be VFR by the time I got there? Maybe… maybe not. Sure I’m instrument current, but is that good enough? Maybe… maybe not. It’s legal, but legal isn’t always smart. So, with full tanks I taxied back to the hangar and, after some light ribbing from my flip-flop-wearing buddy who questioned my judgment on such a perfect day, we heaved her back into the hangar.
Author in airplane with grandson

Aviation’s next generation – be the spark

Look around for that airport kid in your neighborhood or at the local airport and make his or her day by offering them some time exploring your plane or taking a short hop. It won’t cost you anything but some time and kindness and most of their parents would be thrilled to let them have the experience.
Tesla autopilot

Are car autopilots the equivalent of airplane autopilots?

A fairly basic autopilot with an altitude hold function allows a pilot to focus elsewhere safely for long stretches, especially if en route under IFR rules, with ATC providing traffic separation. Even so, that isn’t an invitation to watch a Harry Potter movie, as the Tesla driver is alleged to have been doing.
Citabria in roll

What are aerobatics, and when do I need a parachute?

A recent magazine article on the subject of aerobatic flight got me to thinking about what the regulations actually say. While looking for information, I ran across a recent (2012) legal opinion from an FAA counsel that left me more confused than enlightened.
Pilot talking on radio in Cessna

5 things every VFR pilot should say

Radio communication is always one of the hardest things to learn for many pilots. It actually seems to make flying harder sometimes: you’re already busy flying the airplane when ATC gives you a call so fast all you catch is your tail number. Other pilots in CTAF areas can make it even worse. Let me give you the top five things I’ve learned to say over the years that have made flying easier and safer.

Certifying pilots: the new Airman Certification Standards

The FAA is gearing up to start replacing the Practical Test Standards – the FAA’s checkride guidance for applicants, instructors, and designated pilot examiners (DPEs). The PTS has been the “Cliff Notes-to-the-Checkride” for years. Why in the world would the FAA mess with a good thing?
Confidence thermometer

Why CFIs need to think about confidence more

Who would feel safe flying with someone who did not have an appropriate level of confidence? In my mind, developing a student’s self-confidence should be one of the main jobs of the instructor. During periods where pilots are not actively undergoing flight training, it needs to be something they work on themselves. I can think back to several experiences which taught me this firsthand.
Facebook flying posts

Facebook is bad for general aviation

How can we turn around the public’s fear and confusion about GA? Let’s all agree, and get other pilots we know, to take the three-item Facebook pilot pledge. The three items are simple: Don’t share bad news, share only good news and share the beauty we see.
S-Tec 55X autopilot

The case for automation

Lately there has been a lot of focus on over-reliance on automation in the cockpit – both in general aviation and the Part 121 world. Most of us can agree that as our avionics and aircraft become more sophisticated and automation becomes more affordable, this is a very real problem. But what about those of us who insist on flying with too little automation?
Piper Cub

Old men and old airplanes

Are old guys attracted to old airplanes by nostalgia? For sure, in the first 30 years or so after WWII, there were lots of pilots whose romance with aviation began in the excitement of Lindbergh’s Atlantic crossing, grew through the “Golden Age” of ‘30s air racing and record-setting, and perhaps matured as biplanes went to war.
Mechanic helping kid

The real incentives young aviators need

Aviation is not just about playing with your family’s toys and living out the thrills of flying every day. It’s about the friendships that are created in hangars, the sound of a Lycoming roaring to life after YOU replaced that cylinder, the old school feeling of grass under your landing gear, the controlling of numerous aircraft simultaneously, and the everlasting wonder of flight.

Global attacks on general aviation: freedom in retreat?

When I thought about why GA is distributed so unevenly across the world, and why it is so heavily assaulted by governments at all levels, I wondered if there is something about GA in particular that worries governments. Then it hit me: they don’t like the freedom that flying gives to their citizens.

Automation, technology and flying light aircraft

Sorry, the buck stops here with us pilots. Technology doesn't make us do anything, or enslave us. When we sign up to be aircraft pilots in command, we elect to use technology. We become solely responsible for flying the airplane, and for the safety of the flights that we conduct.

At home in the night sky – the most honest place I know

I assume my late night cruising position, lights down low in the cockpit, forearm resting on top of the instrument panel, chin resting on forearm, face as close to the windshield as I can get without leaving a smudge. I’m struck with an intimidating thought. The only thing between my forehead and a 470 mile per hour -54C breeze is about one and a half inches of glass.

Comparing your dreams – why owning an airplane is worth it

What we love about these aeroplanes is how we feel when we are inside them, travelling across wide open spaces, chasing small puffy clouds or even just mastering two landings in a row without the instructor grabbing the yoke. It’s nice to have a beautiful interior, modern avionics and a super modern profile. But what’s more important is being able to fly, safely and passionately.