Technique

Flight directors – a fatal attraction

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The very design of flight director systems concentrates all information into two needles (or V-bar) and in order to get those needles centered over the little square box, it needs intense concentration by the pilot. Normal instrument flight scan technique is degraded or disappears with the pilot sometimes oblivious to the other instruments because of the need to focus exclusively on the FD needles.

Great free resources for learning and practicing communications skills

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While not a genuine stick-and-rudder skill, being good at talking on and – equally important – listening to the radio is a crucial ability to have as a pilot. There are many ways to improve your radio procedures, even when not actually in the cockpit. Here are some great free resources to help pilots of all skill levels improve their communications skills.

Demystifying Special VFR

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During pilot training, some aviation procedures are dutifully explained, yet the context around the procedure is lacking. By “context” I mean the reason, possibly historical, that a rule, process, or procedure is in place, typical scenarios of use, and modes or mechanisms of failure. One prominent example is that of “Special Visual Flight Rules.” Few other procedures elicit mystery and wonder from fellow pilots, wondering how or why these secret code words could be used.

Saying no as a pilot

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“The pilot in command of the aircraft shall be directly responsible for its operation and shall have final authority as to operation of the aircraft.” Encoded here is that singular autonomy, that point of application of free will, that has not changed through eons despite all of the changes in the architecture of man-machine interface as well as the changes in management theory and even the emphasis on crew resource management.

Seven things you should probably know before flying IFR in Canada

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The US and Canada have harmonized a lot of the airspace rules and procedures to ensure seamless, safe travel between our two countries. However, I recently discovered some subtle differences between the US and Canadian rules while converting my US IFR rating to the Canadian equivalent that anyone who plans to fly IFR in Canada should probably know.

Why I’m a flight planning geek

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I’ve always been fascinated by flight planning. Dead reckoning in its purest form. It’s time consuming, but it allows you to get involved in the flight well before the wheels are up. It also acquaints you with the airplane you’re going to use, its performance and specifications.

How to nail taxi instructions every time

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Have you ever botched taxi instructions? I cannot count how many times I have made this mistake. The most prominent one I can remember was at Seattle (KSEA) in a King Air many years back. I called ground, proceeded to butcher the response call, and, because it’s a Class B airport, I advertised to the world I was an amateur.

Flying with a young child – is it possible?

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One of the things I used to dream about before getting my license was to fly my wife and two-year old daughter around, sharing the experience of flying together. I would daydream about flying off to a fun destination, grab lunch (and coffee) and then enjoy a nice flight back to the home field. I often questioned if having an enjoyable flight was doable with a two-year old.

Talking at non-towered airports

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During the last several months, I traveled around the country presenting an AOPA safety seminar on non-towered airport operations. I had some pretty interesting encounters/discussions with other pilots during my seminars. This subject seemed to inflame the passion in a lot of folks. I’d like to share some of my observations with you.

What is a Class B airspace excursion?

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Security makes getting a Center, TRACON or tower tour increasingly difficult, but I have done it several times dating back to my first tower visit (VNY) in 1965, and I think it is worth the effort. It is fun, educational, and can enhance safety by allowing you to spend time in the shoes of the guy or gal on the other side of the frequency. My Denver TRACON visit was no different: I learned stuff, had a great time, met some wonderful people… and got an interesting safety lesson that I would like to relate here.

A lasting impression: the power of spatial disorientation

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Sam was wise beyond his years and decided to show me what it’s like to fly over the Florida Everglades, at night. We departed our east coast airport in a cozy 152 and headed west toward our normal practice area. So far, so good. As the saying goes I was fat, dumb, and happy enjoying the smooth night air when suddenly all sense of relative motion was lost. I felt as if we were hanging by a string in a dark closet.

Should I touch that circuit breaker?

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Checklists are great, but consider this: can you locate all of the circuit breakers mentioned in the procedures in less than five seconds? Why not? It’s a bad idea to hunt for circuit breakers during an abnormal situation.

No fast hands in the cockpit – why patience is a virtue

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In our 24/7 world, some promoters of aviation have tried to sell flying as an extreme sport, packed with thrills and constant action. This is misleading, but it’s also an unhelpful mindset for the cockpit. As a recent training flight proved, sometimes you have to be comfortable doing nothing.

Practicing “incorrectly” is good practice

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The better we are prepared for mildly unusual conditions, the more equipped we are to face them at short notice. I feel that the introduction and practice of atypical scenarios in aviation during training and maintenance of currency is invaluable, and encourage pilots to exercise the following situations carefully, possibly in the presence of a CFI.

Top 10 activities for a cross country flight

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“Flying is boring,” said no pilot. Ever. Although most will agree that on a long VFR cross country flight, there are stretches of time when your mind can wander. Other than doing the usual drill during those lulls, here are some suggestions to put slack time to good use. In classic David Letterman style, here are the top 10 activities for a cross country flight.

Masters of the magenta – the real story

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Today, those seeking private pilot training have choices. There is now a fork in the road created by the introduction of TAA. Take the left fork to good old-fashioned seat-of-the-pants, look-out-the-window, finger-on-the-map flight training. Veer to the right and enter a world where bright lights, buttons and knobs take center stage.

What every VFR pilot needs to know about arriving IFR traffic

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VFR pilots operate in the same airspace as commercial IFR jet aircraft without having to ever hit the push-to-talk button. Most of the time things go just fine and the two operate without running into each other. Not having a requirement to talk to anyone doesn’t alleviate your responsibility as a small airplane driver to understand the airspace around you, though.

Helicopter techniques – (not) for dummies

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Some time after having served as a bush pilot and mechanic in the tropical rain forests of Borneo as well as in the high mountain regions of Papua – Irian Jaya for a few years, I was asked to present a lecture to a symposium of the Christian Pilots Association CPV in Germany, to broach the issue of advantages and limitations of helicopter operations in mission aviation.