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.
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.
Think about the excited guest or family member about to have that first airplane and/or glider flight. Most of the people who visit our glider field can fall into a few different categories, and each category has different backgrounds and expectations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The facts I am about to tell didn’t happen to me. They happened to a very close friend of mine whose determination, clear thinking and excellent airmanship contributed to save the lives of four people on board a Cessna 172 and probably some other lives on the ground.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Before I obtained an instrument rating and began using IFR charts, I, too, relied primarily on visual cues; I never paid a lot of attention to actual geodetic elevations of obstacles and terrain. This type of “feel-as-you-go” operation is fine in good, daytime visibility. But in darkness or reduced visibilities, it can quickly lead to disaster. Simply said, when the visibility goes down, you need a better plan.
Single Pilot IFR is one of the most dangerous types of flying in general aviation, because it requires high workload and multitasking. The human brain is always more effective when it can focus on one thing; that one thing should be flying the airplane. Over the years I’ve found five key phrases that, when told to ATC, reduce workload and make IFR much easier.
The detail and depth of a preflight inspection can vary from day to day based on the type of airplane we are flying, where that airplane is parked, and even whether recent maintenance has been conducted. Let’s talk about our preflight attitude or mindset for renters/flying clubs/partnerships, individual owners, Part 135 or Part 91 corporate operations, and airplanes fresh out of maintenance.
Instrument pilots obsess about approaches: if you can keep those needles crossed all the way down to 200 ft, you must be a good pilot. While shooting an ILS to minimums is an important skill, this all presupposes you managed to depart safely. Unfortunately, NTSB reports prove that’s a big assumption – each year, a few pilots tragically learn that IFR departures aren’t as simple as they seem.
As the adage goes, the superior pilot will avoid demonstration of superior skills through superior judgment. The pilot who is extremely nervous before every flight may have a genuine concern for their ability, but a pilot without any self-questions or ongoing self-assessment may be supremely confident, yet much more dangerous. The best pilot is somewhere in between.