Technique

Flight simulators, safety, and the power of AI

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We are now at the cusp where combining capable simulators with high-powered compute environments can enhance safety in aviation. Consider this—can flight simulator data tell us more about yet to be known opportunities that can improve airspace safety; or tell us more about how to prevent loss of control incidents; prevent communication lapses from turning into serious issues?

Fighter pilot skills every aviator needs to fly safe

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Fighter pilots are some of the most skilled aviators in the world. But just because you’re not a fighter pilot doesn’t mean you can’t borrow from their tool set. Whether you’re a 100-hour general aviation private pilot or a 10,000-hour commercial pilot, it behooves you to think and perform like a fighter pilot in some key areas.

ICAO – more than just a flight plan format

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Older pilots may wonder why they used to be able to refer to “decision height” on an approach chart rather than “decision altitude.” Or why they now have to refer to their home airport, as I do, as “KFDK” (Frederick, Maryland), rather than the old “FDK.” What my pilot friends are dealing with is the work of a fairly obscure international agency, created under the auspices of the United Nations.

Say your airspeed—which one?

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Say your airspeed. Seems like a simple question. And it’s one controllers often ask when separating in trail airplanes in busy airspace. But there’s nothing simple about airspeed. There are at least four kinds of airspeed—indicated airspeed (IAS), calibrated airspeed (CAS), true airspeed (TAS) and Mach. Each value has significance to pilots.

The promise of proficiency

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Proficiency is a story of safety through constant practice, of acquiring experiences and then putting these experiences to hatch their possibilities. These experiences however must be taught to the “habit monster” within us to have the element of precision baked into them. All other non-precise experiences are side shows.

When to disengage the autopilot

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A real hardware/software failure of an autopilot could lead to a dangerous situation, but so can pilot mismanagement of a fully functioning autopilot. The results are essentially the same in either situation—the pilot in command is not fully in control of the airplane.

No stall, no spin: why angle of attack is essential

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Pilots often only associate stalls with the slow airspeed regime of the energy envelope. That’s why it can be misleading when instructors caution students to, “watch your speed or you’ll stall” because an airplane can be stalled at any airspeed, in any attitude.

How to safely reduce the radius of your turn—in case you need to

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If you’re asked about the minimum ground turning radius of the airplane you fly, you probably know the number or at least you know where to find it in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH). What if the question is about the minimum turning radius when the airplane is flying? The answer might not be that simple, given the number of factors it depends on.

Learning Morse code in the 21st century

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I didn’t really need to be able to copy Morse code at full speed to recognize the two or three letters used to identify aviation navigational aids. Nonetheless, I thought I would give the Koch method a try and learn at low full speed. At the time I thought, “What could it take—a few weeks of working on it in the evening?

Engine out: the essential steps to a safe outcome

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In the unlikely event that you encounter an emergency like the one Sullenberger was faced with, there are a few things that need to be processed immediately and without hesitation to ward off a disaster. Let’s first ask the question: when would a pilot face such an emergency?

Always read the fine print

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It was pretty obvious that some folks hadn’t cracked open their respective book(s) in a long time. Those who had studied their documents, tended to be familiar with the BIG PRINT stuff, like their Normal Procedures sections and Emergency checklists, but were not so well-versed when it came to the various Notes, Warnings, and Cautions found throughout. There’s a lot of free, but hard-earned, wisdom in that fine print, all intended to protect life and limb.

Lessons from a later bloomer CFI – and why you should be one too

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A CFI friend who worked with me on this rating told me that I would probably ruin the lives of my students for the first 100 hours that I instructed. It was true, but hopefully not that bad. As of this writing, I have over 700 instructing hours in most every single-engine trainer out there, and I have evolved in my thinking about this whole business of training homo sapiens to safely take to the skies.

What is that dragging behind the Boeing 737 MAX in TV news video?

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I’m sure you’ve seen video of a Boeing 737 lifting off as yet another news reader drones on about the MCAS troubles in the MAX version of the world’s most popular airliner. If you watched closely, you have seen what looks like a wire or tube with a cone on the end trailing from the top of the rudder.What the heck is that thing, and why is the 737 dragging it through the air?

Landing energy management – the key to smooth touchdowns

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You go up in the air with a whole bunch of fuel burn and then coast down with a bunch less. But in that bunch less is a major wizardry of airmanship. How we manage that energy is what determines the difference between the sound generated by the repeating Doppler-effect-engine-power-hog-jock and an aviator.

The other 4 C’s of aviation

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We are taught the 4 C’s of aviation in primary training. When faced with difficulty, such as getting lost or flying VFR into IMC, the safest course of action is to Climb, Communicate, Confess and Comply with instructions. But there is another set of C’s that has become more relevant to me as my flying experience has progressed.

A pilot’s dilemma: inoperative instruments or equipment

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A recent legal interpretation by the FAA’s Office of Chief Counsel (dated June 13, 2018) addresses the rule on operating an aircraft with any inoperative instruments or equipment, FAR 91.213. It gives us an opportunity to review this sometimes complex rule that has bedeviled many general aviation pilots and owners for years.

Threats: can they keep us safe?

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Humans make mistakes. We always have and always will. We have to use our training and skills to recognize the fact that we will make errors, recognize those errors, use techniques to minimize errors and mitigate any negative outcomes caused by those errors. There are many methods and tools to accomplish this, but let’s focus on the management of the “threats.”