Boeing wing

Fly-by-wire for beginners

What makes a fly-by-wire airplane fly-by-wire? The term is broadly used nowadays, but not often explained. Since we have many GA colleagues here, and the fly-by-wire is a concept more common to the military and airline world, it might be interesting to share some pilot perspective about its way of working and our way of flying it. Since I spent the last couple months transitioning between the only two Boeing fly-by-wire models, I thought it would worth sharing it with you.
Plane in field

Engine failure: how to predict it and how to react

A friend of mine flying an RV-6 had an engine failure on takeoff. He was 15 seconds into the flight, airborne with no going back. He put down in a corn field. He and his passenger walked away mostly unhurt. The aircraft not so much. There are lots of articles out there about flying the aircraft in this scenario but very few about what caused the abrupt power failure.
Cessna 172

Safe landings are no accident

“No two landings are alike!” They keep saying that, and after thousands of landings I am reluctantly beginning to agree. Many factors are editorialized in that saying. There is the power, configuration, attitude, and then there is the biggest bugaboo: weather, as in wind and its fickle direction. Ah, I exclaim, how about in calm winds, what then?
Takeoff from runway

Are “impossible turns” worth all the attention?

A major purpose of gathering accident statistics is to assess where safety resources should be allocated. In other words, are pilots being trained on the right things? Are safety messages targeting the right things? Are researchers’ efforts addressing problems with the most likely payback? And, as the title states, are “impossible turns” worth the effort that is being expended upon their study?
172 landing approach

On landing well: 9 steps for success

Because most of what I do is helping Civil Air Patrol pilots transition to our high wing Cessna airplanes, I tend to fly with a lot of different folks but in just a few airplane types. This has allowed me to observe aviators using a wide variety of techniques to fly “nearly the same” airplane, including in the traffic pattern. And because some folks I have recently flown with have struggled with landings I will share what I have done to help them overcome their landing issues.

Time management, buffaloes, and airplanes

We all seem to have challenges in managing all we want or need to get done in life, and as pilots we have many things to manage in order to be safe and have a good flight. Time management guru Peter Drucker said there are three rules for effective time management. They work well for pilots. These are also concepts I teach to my high school aviation students.
Flight simulator

Building a frugal flight simulator

Covid shut down Young Eagles and $100 hamburgers, and my flying skills were going to pot. "Use it or lose it" is true where adherence to procedures and reactions to emergencies are concerned. Would a flight simulator help? What would one cost?

Podcast: aviation safety and airmanship

Recent episodes of the Pilot's Discretion podcast from Sporty's cover some important topics in aviation. Richard McSpadden, the Executive Director of AOPA's Air Safety Institute, shares his perspective on the GA safety record, including VFR-into-IMC accidents, the role autopilots can play, and why good pilots make bad decisions. In episode 23, flight instructor and airshow performer Spencer Suderman explains what airmanship means to him and offers some suggestions for improving your stick and rudder skills.

Podcast: Max Trescott on technology, pilot training, and Cirrus

As one of the premier Cirrus flight instructors in the country, Max Trescott has strong opinions about pilots and technology, including: "the debate about the parachute is over" and "the autopilot is the glass cockpit." In this episode of Sporty's Pilot's Discretion podcast, Max makes the case that technology has changed and pilots need to change too.
Len Morgan by airplane

Tips from the Ancient Pelicans

“Good judgment comes from experience,” said the early aviators, “and experience comes from poor judgment.” Fifty years later, I still hear the voices of those Ancient Pelicans who had learned in taildraggers or biplanes—many of whom had flown in the big war. Though they are long retired, their hard-won wisdom still instructs us today, such as these nuggets.
ForeFlight filing

Filing, dialing, and smiling—and a touch of humility

Why don’t more pilots file a VFR flight plan on CAVU days when IFR pilots do? I wonder if some of us, myself included, are perhaps haunted by the notion of, “if we forget to close it we’ve got some tall ‘splainin’ to do." Never mind the cost of that practice SAR exercise. I’m not exactly sure, but it’s the only reasonable explanation I can come up with.

Objective area analysis for GA pilots

During my Air Force career, I flew to remote airstrips in places like Ethiopia and New Guinea, and busy airports like Bogota, Colombia, where nobody I knew had been. My crew and I had to study these places on our own to ensure that we could safely accomplish our mission. In military jargon, we called this preparation “objective area analysis” and used a mnemonic, called OUTCAST, to guide our preparation.

Learning the hard way

In flying, as they say in recovery programs, “One has to do the work.” A written article may make an impression. Far better for learning is deep and concentrated study. Study plus practice is better yet. Then, there’s experience. One can learn from experience. Sadly, a wise man noted, “That always means bad experience.” I would like to offer you several learnings of this kind.
Super Cub landing

Stabilized approaches: the last six inches is all that counts

There are groups of pilots who seldom use a stabilized approach because the variables of most of their landings make that difficult, and their normal landing is to use a flexible approach with almost everything varying except the final contact with the ground. A stabilized approach is best for normal flying but is a luxury that some pilots don’t have.

Flying perpetual VFR—PFDs, HUDs, and conformal displays

The key is that with a full conformal display cockpit we are flying as though we are looking out the window in clear skies while still seeing the most precise flight guidance available. Are you flying instruments, visual, or both? Really both. And that’s the best of all worlds.
F-14 catapult

Learn to love stalls

Stalls are not a subject I ever expected to be writing about. They have been part of my flying repertoire since I first learned to fly in the 1970s. So why write this article? After a 25-year hiatus from flying, I returned to making stalls…

Managing engine failures on takeoff: a new approach

I have just read another accident report about the fatal crash of a twin engine aircraft following an engine failure shortly after takeoff. Conditions were VMC. The accident report stated that the pilot applied the wrong rudder, which resulted in loss of control. The bottom line is that training for this critical emergency was and still is woefully inadequate.
Decathlon takeoff

Crosswind operations—no drama, please

Contrary to the title, you frequently hear two different viewpoints being vociferously debated between the proponents of crabbing into wind or wing down and slipping for crosswind landings. Let’s dissect the arguments.
Cessna flare

Smooth operator: sometimes you can go too far

How smooth is too smooth? And how to achieve that? Before we start the never-ending discussion about super butter/greased touchdowns, an essential disclaimer right from Boeing’s Flight Crew Training Manual: “A smooth touchdown is not the criterion for a safe landing.”

Checklist vs. memory items

An old saw among pilots is that you use a checklist for actions you perform on every flight, such as lowering the landing gear, but for a very rare event, such as an engine fire, you’re required to perform the proper actions from memory. Does that make sense?