Cockpit simulator

Desktop Flight Simulation and COVID: how it helps, how it hinders

The coronavirus pandemic caused the flight school to close for several months and also imposed some funding issues on me. I am even at the point now where I have to repeat the theoretical exam, because it is more than three years since I passed it. However, whenever I go back to the cockpit, I feel right at home. I am convinced that flight simulation on desktop computers helped me to keep in a mental state of preparedness.
Garmin Autonomi

How much should the autopilot fly?

Now that the Garmin Autonomi has been developed and certified the question of how much flying an autopilot can do has been answered. Everything. How does the human pilot retain and practice the skills necessary for precision hand flying while still making best use of the autopilot system? That’s the question.
Thermometer at 100 degrees

Density altitude: the calculation you cannot ignore

Density altitude. We cannot see, smell, or taste it. However, it is something that must not be ignored. There was an incident in which four people died because they failed to account for density altitude. Three Marine Corps helicopter pilots went up to a high altitude airport to pick up a passenger with their baggage, and, on a hot day, took off and tragically never got out of ground effect. 
Crosswind landing airliner

Landings at the crosswind limit

We’ve all seen this movie before on countless videos of airline pilots attempting to land in extreme crosswinds. More often than not, the amateur videographer captures the jet touching down in a significant crab angle to the runway, tires smoking, and the airplane nose pivoting back toward the runway centerline. How is it possible to land in such extreme conditions?

Preparing for the trip of a lifetime to Alaska

There is a lot of preparation for any long cross-country journey, but this trip had two elements that I hadn’t had to include in any of my trips before. These are the specific items needed for flying from the US through Canada, and the preparations for survival, in case of a forced landing, potentially hundreds of miles from the nearest town or road, across a largely uninhabited and often rugged wilderness.
Jet engine fire

Mayday, mayday, mayday!

I am surprised at how reluctant some pilots are to declare an emergency with ATC, as if some stigma is attached to saying the “E” word, that follows you around for the rest of your flying life. What I find more intriguing is some folks who are the most hesitant to declare one have never had an actual “real world” emergency. Yet.
Cirrus EIS

Fuel Reserve Requirements—the FARs Aren’t Much Help

You’re pointed away from the destination airport on some controller’s vector and you are sweating the near-empty fuel gauges. As a last resort you tell the controller you are minimum fuel and need priority to the runway. Did you violate FAR 91.167, the rule that sets the requirements for minimum fuel when flying under IFR?
Garmin engine gauges

Why it quits—and what to do about it

If you are into the sort of thing that warrants full tanks of fuel for every flight, then you are already in the realm of those who live to read these tales. Otherwise, this one is for you. You see, flying with a half tank of gas when the trip requires more is asking for a prayer at some time before you reach your destination.
Low approach

How low can your autopilot go?

The Collins autopilot in the King Air 350i did its usual perfect job of flying the ILS. When the radio altimeter system called “100 feet” I bumped the trim switch under my thumb to disengage the autopilot. It handed me the airplane in perfect trim and exactly on centerline over the lights. An easy landing. So was that all legal? Do you know the operating altitude limitations for the autopilot in your airplane?
Steep turn

An engineering approach to the impossible turn

The FAA’s official recommendation on losing power after takeoff is to proceed straight ahead and not to attempt to return to the runway or airport. That existing policy position by the FAA assumes there is an open area available for a successful touchdown. The second assumption is that pilot skill level is not sufficient to execute a 180-degree turn in order to return to landing without stalling and spinning in. Both positions are not much help.
PIREP turbulence

Understanding Vb: turbulence penetration speed

It should be clear that when expecting/encountering turbulence, that pilots should fly a speed that is slower than Va by at least the value of the maximum gust—airspeed gain—they expect to encounter, and higher than Vs1 by the same value for potential airspeed loss. Va is simply too fast!
Pilatus ice

Ice bridging: the myth that won’t die

Ice bridging is the idea that if you operate the boots too early, you will stretch the ice but not fracture it. When the boot deflates following the cycle, the stretched ice will remain, with more ice building on top of it. Yet there is not a single test conducted in anyone’s icing research wind tunnel that has been able to replicate ice bridging, nor are there any accidents that document ice bridging as a cause or contributory factor.
New engine

The $20 an hour Cessna 172 experiment

Although I had a GA background and built time as a CFI, I’ve been flying for the airlines for three decades and have been absent from the GA scene, which I mistakenly assumed had long evolved and would now seem foreign to me. After just a few calls, nothing had seemed to change except that the same 1970 vintage 172s were now renting out at $115-$125 per hour.
Foggy runway

Low Visibility Takeoffs: How Low Is Too Low?

The big risk that jumps to mind is engine failure during a low visibility takeoff. And that would be a critical situation. But the accident record shows that is an extremely rare event. Given that engine failure itself is uncommon, and that low viz takeoffs are infrequent, the odds of an engine failure during the seconds or couple minutes of a low viz takeoff are very long.

Startle: what it is and how it affects your performance

When is the last time you heard “Whoop, Whoop, Pull UP!” or “Wind Shear, Wind Shear!” or a loud bang accompanied by a breathtaking yaw or loss of thrust? Have you been in 90 degrees of bank on final following that Gulfstream? The Greeks survived as the underdogs for centuries. In aviation you never know when YOU will be the underdog. How far will you fall before your training catches you?
Ice on King Air

Icing diversions—an overlooked threat

In a study of icing accidents that I presented as a paper for the American Institute of Astronautics and Aeronautics in 2006, I identified 142 events in which the pilot made the decision to land due to ice accumulation; in 84 of these, the decision was made before any aerodynamic consequences had been encountered. In only 23 of these 142 cases was a successful precautionary landing made.

Stepping down in automation—the real lesson for children of the magenta line

Van Vanderburgh and the American Airlines Training Department determined that pilots flying the new automated jets were becoming “Automation Dependent Pilots.” One of Van’s slides defines such a pilot as one who does not select the proper level of automation for the task and loses situational awareness.
Turning final

High energy approaches: student edition

Recently, a video of a Cessna 172 crash into a hangar after landing in Canada went viral. The student pilot got out of it with minor injuries, but the fact that he was just another one saved by Cessna's generous engineers underscores a critical point in training that might have been overlooked. It is a systemic issue across the industry, and it has to be mitigated, like any threat.
Airplane engine and prop

It’s annual time! Here’s what you should know

Are you ready for your plane’s annual inspection? If you are a relatively new aircraft owner you may not be anticipating your upcoming (and, hopefully not too expensive) mandatory trip to the airplane doctor. Here are a few steps.
Gulfstream takeoff

What’s different about flying jets

Pilots of piston airplanes wonder what it’s like to fly a jet. Do I need different pilot skills? What are the sensations? Just what is it that makes jet flying different from piston powered airplanes? Here are some answers.