What are your favorite airports?

Pilots all have their favorite airports, for any number of reasons including the fun that’s awaiting once they arrive. When a friend asked me the other day which airports were my favorites, I made a list. So, in no particular order…
Bush pilot landing

The old, bold pilots of Alaska

We’ve all heard it, and most of us have said it: "There are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots." I’m here to tell you that such purported wisdom isn’t very wise at all. Not long ago, Alaska was filled with old, bold bush pilots. In fact, if you weren’t just a little on the bold side, you had no business at all in trying to fly Alaska’s great outback.
Night flight

Why night flying is special

Night flights are distinct. They are pretty rare for me. They seem unorthodox and more dangerous. It’s uncomfortable not being able to see everything as one would during the daylight hours. The excitement of my first night flight during training was unforgettable. The whole atmosphere around the airport was different. It was eerie.

Purchase your training aircraft prior to your first flight lesson

I was seriously investigating the pursuit of my lifelong dream of becoming a pilot when I engaged a corporate pilot in conversation about learning to fly. One of the things that he spoke about in becoming a pilot was to consider first purchasing a taildragger aircraft of my own to take my flight lessons in.
Cessna on final

Basic math for pilots: does it still matter?

Most of the new-hires came completely unglued when forced to execute visual approaches – especially when cleared for such approaches while still quite high and many miles from the field. He said his flights were often forced to miss the first attempts at visual approaches and go around because of the airplanes being much too high on their profiles; I wondered to myself how such a systemic problem could exist in this computerized age.
San Juan Islands

My Bonanza is a time and dimension machine

Bonanza N3255V, born in 1947, is the machine that allows us to enter a world that I still struggle to get my head around. It is a world of possible extreme juxtapositions. We climb into the aluminum tube, go up into the air, and whisk across the planet to land anywhere we choose and instantly enter a different world – not forgetting the experience along the way.
CFI with student in Cessna

What I learned about instructors during private pilot training

The greatest weakness a student pilot has is that they lack the pilot skills to judge the quality of the super pilot assigned to be their instructor. Before first solo, the new student has all instructors on a throne. The CFI is god-like, certified by the government and endowed with such superior skills that they can “teach ME to fly.”

Where is the upwind leg?

I had taken off from a small airport in southern Arizona, when the tower asked me to extend my upwind leg. “I’ll extend departure leg,” I acknowledged. I just happened to be flying with my CFI, who is also a controller at the same airport. My CFI gave me a quizzical look. I asked, “why do controllers use incorrect terminology to describe the departure leg?”
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.