Why change the oil?

Aeroshell W100 PlusContinental and Lycoming tell us that we must change the oil in our engines every 50 hours or 4-6 months, whichever comes first—and that’s if we have a full-flow oil filter installed. If we have only an oil screen, then the oil change interval goes down to 25 hours. Did you ever wonder why we need to change the oil so often?

It’s not because the oil breaks down in service and its lubricating qualities degrade. The fact is that conventional petroleum-based oils retain their lubricating properties for a very long time, and synthetic oils retain them nearly forever.

Consider, for example, that most automobile manufacturers now recommend a 7,500-mile oil-change interval for most cars and light trucks. That’s the equivalent of 150 to 250 hours of engine operation. In fact, oil analysis studies have shown that a synthetic automotive oil like Mobil 1 or Amsoil can go 18,000 miles without appreciable degradation, and that’s the equivalent of 400-600 hours.


No, the reason we change oil in our aircraft engines every 25 to 50 hours is not because it breaks down. It’s because it gets contaminated after 25 to 50 hours in an aircraft engine. In fact, it gets downright filthy and nasty.


Dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) is a highly corrosive chemical that is produced in copious quantities during combustion, and can cause great harm to costly engine components when it blows by the piston rings and contaminates the engine oil. You may be more familiar with DHMO’s common chemical formula: H2O.

Compared with automotive engines, our piston aircraft engines permit a far greater quantity of combustion byproducts—notably carbon, sulfur, oxides of nitrogen, raw fuel, partially burned fuel, plus massive quantities of the corrosive solvent dihydrogen monoxide or DHMO (see graphic)—to leak past the piston rings and contaminate the crankcase. This yucky stuff is collectively referred to as “blow-by” and it’s quite corrosive and harmful when it builds up in the oil and comes it contact with expensive bottom-end engine parts like crankshafts and camshafts and lifters and gears.

To make matters worse, avgas is heavily laced with the octane improver tetraethyl lead (TEL), which also does nasty things when it blows by the rings and gets into the crankcase. (If you’re as old as I am, you may recall that back before mogas was unleaded, the recommended oil-change interval was 3,000 miles instead of 7,500 miles.)

So one of the most important reasons that we need to change the oil regularly in our Continentals and Lycomings is to get rid of these blow-by contaminants before they build up to levels that are harmful to the engine’s health.


Another reason we need to change the oil regularly—arguably even more important than disposing of contaminants—is to replenish the oil’s additive package, particularly its acid neutralizers. When sulfur and oxides of nitrogen mix with DHMO, they form sulfuric acid and nitric acid. If you remember these dangerous corrosives from your high school chemistry class, then you’ll certainly appreciate why you definitely don’t want them attacking your expensive engine parts.

OIl analysisTo prevent such acid attack, aviation oils are blended with acid neutralizer additives. These are alkaline substances that neutralize these acids, much as we might use baking soda to neutralize battery acid. These acid neutralizers are consumed by the process of neutralizing acids, so it’s imperative that we replenish them before they get used up to an extent that might jeopardize our hardware. Of course, the way we replenish them is to change the oil.

How can we tell when the acid neutralizers in the oil have been used up? It turns out that there’s a laboratory test that measures the level of unneutralized acid remaining in the oil. This is known as the “total acid number” or “TAN” test. Some oil analysis firms can perform this test on your oil samples. However, it’s not routinely done as part of the normal oil analysis report, so you need to specially request a TAN test when you send in your oil sample (and be prepared to pay extra for it).


Tach w/hourmeterMost owners don’t bother with the hassle and expense of TAN testing, and simply change their oil at a conservative interval that’s guaranteed to get the junk out and fresh additives in before anything untoward is likely to occur.

On my own airplane, what I do (and generally recommend to my clients) is to change the oil and filter every 50 hours or 4 calendar months, whichever comes first. This means that operators who fly at least 150 hours a year can go 50 hours between oil changes, but operators who fly less will use a proportionately reduced oil-change interval.

This recommendation assumes that the aircraft has a full-flow (spin-on) oil filter installed, that it operates primarily from paved runways, and that it has decent compressions and relatively low blow-by past the rings. Engines that have only an oil screen (no filter) should have the oil changed every 25 hours. Engines that operate in dirty or dusty conditions and ones that have high oil consumption due to high blow-by should have more frequent oil changes.

My friend Ed Kollin—lubrication engineering wizard who used to head Exxon’s lubrication lab and who developed ASL CamGuard—is even more conservative. He preaches that oil should be changed no less frequently than every 30 hours, and frowns when I suggest that it’s okay to go to 50 if you fly a lot.


InsolublesAnother important indication of oil condition can be found in standard oil analysis report provided by some labs—notably the one I prefer, Blackstone Laboratories in Ft. Wayne, Indiana—is the “insolubles” test. This test is performed by placing the oil sample in a centrifuge to separate out all solids and liquids in the sample that are not oil-soluble.

Virgin oil normally contains no insolubles. The insolubles found in drained engine oil come from three sources: (1) oxidized oil that breaks down due to excessive heat; (2) contaminants from blow-by of combustion byproducts; and (3) particulate contamination caused by poor oil filtration. If your oil analysis report reveals above-normal insolubles, it might be indicative of an engine problem—high oil temperature, excessive blow-by, inadequate filtration—and almost certainly means you should be changing your oil more frequently.

By the way, did I mention that I’m a huge fan of laboratory oil analysis? I use it religiously, recommend it strongly to all piston aircraft owners, and believe that it’s one of the most important tools we have—along with oil filter inspection and borescope inspection—for monitoring the condition of our engines and determining when maintenance is necessary.

Alaska weather reporting survey

Weather is a constant and important topic in Alaska aviation discussions.  Our network of aviation weather reporting stations is sparse in comparison to the rest of the nation.  Today, there are twenty one airports across the state that have instrument approaches, but don’t have weather reporting.

Currently, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is doing a survey, inviting the aviation community to express our opinions regarding the priorities to provide automated weather stations (AWOS) for those airports.  Please take a moment to look at the list, and use this opportunity to help establish the needs for weather at these locations, or to nominate other locations that would benefit from additional weather reporting.

Please act today, as the survey runs through March 6th.  Access the survey at:

When tech fails

Every major airline has been hit by a tech fiasco or two in the last several years, leading to severe delays, cancellations, and upset passengers. In the modern age, all of the systems at an airline need to talk to each other, and it’s not as simple as saying one is more important than another.

Passengers are quick to assume that the reservation system is the most important one, and it may well be the largest. But, there are other cogs in the wheel. While Southwest, Alaska, Virgin America, and Spirit fly one fleet of airplanes, they fly variations with different seating configurations. That means that if a Southwest 737-800 has to come out of service, it may not be possible to re-accommodate everyone on a smaller 737-700. Needless to say, at a company like United or Delta, it can be much more complex.

The reservation system also needs to communicate with the other systems in the network. While the airline can plan for a certain flight to be on a certain piece of equipment, there has to be some connection between, say, reservations and maintenance. When it comes to scheduling which airplane will be used on each flight, the maintenance schedule ultimately drives that decision.

Scheduled maintenance (certain inspections or periodically scheduled tasks) is the first consideration, followed by short-term unscheduled maintenance. For example, let’s say a 737 is scheduled to go in for a normal inspection at the end of the week. However, today the main cabin door has become difficult to open. The airline will try to rework the schedule to get the airplane to an airport (usually for an overnight stay) to get that door fixed—which may force the scheduled inspection back a few days because of modifications to the schedule.

Another wrinkle is a merger. Union contracts usually are specific about how a merger will work, including which pilots, flight attendants, and mechanics can touch which airplanes. All of this has to be programmed into the system. Further, airlines in a merger may fly the same airplane, but with vastly different seating and galley configurations.

From a pilot perspective, there is also the calculation of takeoff and landing performance data. The airlines use ACARS (Aircraft Crew and Reporting System), which is a communication network that connects the headquarters to the airplanes. ACARS has become a backbone upon which much of the day-to-day operation depends, and when it fails, it can bring things to a grinding halt. ACARS is the system by which performance data is transmitted to the airplane, and rarely is there a backup in place. It’s that reliable—until it isn’t.

These are just a few examples of the connectivity that takes place, but the gist is simple: It’s all tied together.

As a pilot, it’s critical that you understand all of the tools at your disposal, and just as important, you need to know what the back-up systems are and how to use them as efficiently as possible. Sometimes it’s as simple as a phone call, but sometimes it isn’t. Take notes and pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. And believe me when I say that the time will come when you find yourself wishing for the days of a simple POH and a couple of charts or graphs to determine if and when you can take off.—Chip Wright

Learning the Garmin 650 will be easier

Whoever wins the AOPA Sweepstakes 172 will have to get to know the airplane’s Garmin 650 nav/com. And that just got a little easier.

Flight Training Apps has just released Flying the Garmin GTN650/750. Flight Training Apps owner/operator Dave Simpson is giving the winner of the Sweepstakes 172 a free copy of the app, retail value $39.99.

I’ve been going through the app in the last week, and I can tell you that, even if you have some familiarity with Garmin products, it’s a nice training tool. Concise video segments take you through the basics, and there’s a really useful tutorial on planning and executing a VFR flight from Gillespie Field (SEE) in San Diego to Catalina Airport (AVX). (And now I really want to land at Catalina.)

Thank you to Flight Training Apps and Dave Simpson for this fun and useful addition to our Sweepstakes 172.

Learn more about how you could win a Cessna 172 in the AOPA 172 Sweepstakes.



January has turned into February, which in some places is the worst part of winter. The air is cold, the ground is hovering around freezing, and precipitation this time of year often consists of ice, snow, or sleet.

Looking back to my days as a full-time general aviation pilot, the lesson that was constantly pushed on me regarding icing conditions was pretty simple: Avoid them at all costs. That usually meant not flying, which meant that a lot of winter days were spent on the ground.

The airlines operate under a different mantra: While there are some forms of weather that are unsafe, that definition is of a much smaller scope and bandwidth. If there is any way to get an airplane safely airborne, then you’re going flying. The running joke is that it doesn’t matter what’s on the radar or The Weather Channel; we’re going. There’s some truth to that.

In the Part 121 world, snowy weather is countered with deicing operations. The deicing fluids are numbered Type 1 to Type 4, with Type 4 being the strongest. The others can be a mix of fluid and water—and in some cases, you can deice with hot water—whereas Type 4 is a 100 percent mixture of stuff you do not want to drink. It’s thick, it’s sticky, and it’s expensive, so it’s only used when necessary.

Every year there are subtle changes to the various deicing protocols as new information is gleaned from research and real-world operations. From an operational point of view, two things are paramount. The first is the holdover time (HOT), which is the amount of time the crew has to get airborne after being deiced before the fluid loses its effectiveness, and the precipitation type. Mixed precip is the hardest to work with, because you need to use the most conservative HOT. For a long time, ice pellets were a challenge, and it’s only in the last few years that HOTs have been developed for pellets. At the extreme end is freezing rain. Simply put, you’re not going with freezing rain. It affects the wings, brakes, and runway surface.

If you’ve never been exposed to flying in icy weather and you’re looking to fly for an airline or a corporate flight department, take the time to do some research on deicing ops. Don’t worry about the gritty details, because every carrier’s program has individual requirements and nuances. Two carriers operating the same airplane may deice differently—for example, one will deice with the flaps up while the other will do so with the flaps down. But you should have a basic understanding of the different fluids, when they’re used, and what the limitations are. And you should take the time to fully understand your operation when you get on line.

And last, but not least, try to get trips that have you pointing the nose south after the deicing is complete.—Chip Wright

Alaska GA Survey time—help us help you

Quantifying the nature of General Aviation in Alaska is a big challenge, when it comes to advocating for our needs in the state.  Whether arguing against losing weather reporting stations or evaluating proposed rule changes, the data collected each year by the General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey (GA Survey) helps establish our case.

Alaska IS different!
Any of us who have flown in the lower-48 know that Alaska is indeed different, in many ways.  Ownership of our airports (most are operated by the State of Alaska), the density of weather reporting stations (low), towered airports (few), make up of our fleet (think tail-wheeled aircraft), our reliance on aviation (high), and many other things make us different.  The GA Survey designers recognize that, which is why they do a 100% sample of aircraft owners in the state.  That means YOU should by now have found a flyer in your mail box, which is a personal invitation to participate in the survey.


Look for this flyer in your mail box. It is your invitation to participate in the GA Survey.

How hard is it?
Not difficult to do, but takes a little bit of preparation. Sit down with your pilot log book, and add up last years flight hours. They would like a breakdown of your uses, in percentage, including categories like business, pleasure, instruction, proficiency, etc.  Other questions ask about the kind of equipment installed in your airplane, including types of GPS, and whether you have equipped with ADS-B.  Total time on your aircraft is another question, along with your average fuel burn.  It took me about 15 minutes to complete the survey online, using the website provided on the notice.  If you are not comfortable with that, give a call or fire off an email and they will send you a hard-copy form, along with a post-paid mailer.

Who gets the data?
The survey is conducted by Tetra Tech, an independent research firm, on behalf of the FAA. No personal information that relates back to your aircraft is released, just summary information that allows both the government, and organizations like AOPA to quantify GA. Things like how many active aircraft are operating in Alaska, how many hours they flew, and how they are equipped.  This helps AOPA and other aviation organizations when it comes to advocating for you.  If you would like to look at the results from previous years’ surveys, check it out at:

Even if you didn’t fly last year, or sold your aircraft, please respond to help round out the picture.  If you have questions or need more information, please call Tetra Tech toll free at 1-800-826-1797, or email [email protected]

If you already completed the survey, thank you.  If not, please do so today!

(Photo) mission accomplished

As you can see from the beautiful photo, the stars aligned this week and we were able to complete our planned air-to-air photo mission of the Sweepstakes 172.

One of the challenges of shooting air-to-air photography in the winter…in Maryland…is to find a background that isn’t gray-green-brown landscape. Maryland hasn’t had any snow this year, so we didn’t even have a winter wonderland to photograph. The ground shots we took last week positioned the airplane against a turbulent-looking gray sky.

But Senior Photographer Chris Rose is used to dealing with these kinds of issues. We headed northeast to Prettyboy Reservoir, which sits in a forested watershed in Baltimore County. It’s outside the Class B airspace that surrounds Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and it’s also outside the Special Flight Rules Area. The reservoir provided the lovely setting for the Sweepstakes 172.

PIC in the 172 for this trip was Mike Filucci, vice president of flight operations and the Pilot Information Center. Mike is a highly skilled formation pilot who owns a Van’s RV4.

Piloting the photo ship was Editor at Large Dave Hirschman. He owns an RV3, and I think he speaks formation flying as a second language.

Ferdi Mack, senior manager of the PIC, joined us on this mission as safety pilot. His job was to watch for traffic and transmit Chris’s position requests over the air-to-air frequency to Mike.

Though I’ll admit my heart still sometimes jumps up in my throat during photo shoots, Mike and Dave put safety at the front of every mission. Chris finds the best in every airplane he shoots. Look for more photos in an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot. 

Learn more about how you could win a Cessna 172 in the AOPA 172 Sweepstakes.




Playing in the Snow

There is a certain irony that the ability to physically taxi, takeoff, and land in sufficiently deep snow with the Cub is something I can only do in places where it snows very little. Locations that regularly receive snowfall tend to have an analogous condition that runways are plowed and cleared; hence, testing soft field skills really doesn’t get to happen. Here in Spain, I finally had the chance to do it, as we got a hefty amount of snow in La Cerdanya.

This idea of flying in the snow originated at my grandfather’s private field in upstate New York, outside of Buffalo, in prime lake effect snow regions. He would disappear to Florida for the winter, entombing aircraft in his hangar, only to return the next spring, when things started turning green. Meanwhile, I was stuck staring at an unused and snow covered runway for months at a time, driven to the point of insanity as a kid knowing there were multiple aircraft in perfectly good order sitting in a barn 300 feet away. A pilot that lived five miles away flying his Super Cub with skis all winter only made it worse.

Thus, when I obtained my student pilot permit at age 16, I would alleviate the insanity by taxiing the PA-11 around in the middle of winter, anytime the snow was shallow enough to allow it to move in the first place. First, I had to get my father’s permission, as he owned the airplane. He didn’t fly (an odd juxtaposition of concepts, I know) and had reached his prime years of middle-aged malaise, so his perpetual boredom with life had to choose between an overly-enthused miscreant teenager being in the house, or tranquility knowing that same said miscreant teenager was playing in the snow with his freshly-restored airplane. I usually got the green light after citing maintenance directives not to leave an O-200 idle for more than a month at a time, lest rust develop on the rings.

I learned very quickly how much snow the Cub can handle, and how much it cannot. Fluffy snow has no reasonable limit, if the moisture content is extremely low. Wet snow can be quite favorable, up to eight inches of the stuff, if it’s wet enough to allow the tires to roll on top of it. While the Cub doesn’t have bush tires, my grandfather did put oversized tires on the airplane, for which I am grateful. Snow drifts are pretty much a non-starter, as they are relatively compact due to wind breaking up snow crystals. By all means, if in the thick stuff, do not stop. The moment the airplane stops moving in thick snow, it is not going to resume, no matter how much power is applied. It will become necessary to pull it in reverse and ram through the blockage with some momentum.

I also had the chance to learn about carb ice the hard way, having the engine literally quit on me while taxiing around in snowy, foggy weather, having to hand prop it and get it started again.

All of these teenage boredom-driven shenanigans have come in handy in a number of places. We received over 10 inches of snow in one storm here in Spain, and another 5 inches a few days later. I was out of town, and came back to fly as soon as the weather cleared. As the flying club does not plow the runway, nor are there taxi lights due to extensive glider operations, I was greeted with a massive sea of white, as I was flying on a snowy, overcast day. To get to the takeoff point, I had to triangulate between trees, the windsock, and a chair left sitting in the field for glider operations, remembering where the runway is supposed to be.

Spain….in the snow.

Runway and taxiways below. La Cerdanya, Spain.

Many have expressed concerned that snow would flip an airplane on landing. My rationale, which has worked for many years, is that if the airplane cannot taxi, it isn’t going to takeoff, so flipping on landing is an unnecessary concern. If the airplane can taxi without excessive resistance, much less takeoff without flipping over, landing will more than likely be ok, presuming that tire conditions remain the same. I am sure wet snow freezing on the ground during the course of the flight, landing angle, change in speeds, and the effect of idle power versus takeoff power could have some definite impacts. So far, conservative decisions have saved me any trouble.

My larger concern at the time was the incredibly flat and diffuse light. Making out the ground was quite difficult (even while taxiing on it), and I was aware of warnings given to pilots after installing skis, that flat light can be dangerous. I decided that my landing would consist of methods used at night with a defective landing light: configured to land, making note of features on both sides to judge vertical descent. Thankfully, the tires made imprints into the snow during takeoff, providing for a short three-dimensional feature to use when landing. A video of the entire flight is below.

Aside from this particular flight frolicking in the snow, there is much about winter in the Pyrenees that is new and different. Unlike North America, weather here is bizarrely consistent. We went 3 weeks in December with full sunshine, uninterrupted, and 4 solid weeks where peaks approaching 10,000 feet did not receive a shred of additional snowfall in the middle of winter. However, when snow events do come, whether a northerly flow from France (which affects only one side of the valley), or a Levante event from the Mediterranean out of the south, it lasts for days on end,  angry rain, snow, wind, or whatever atmospheric mechanism is in place. Temperatures are extremely consistent, with a daily variation that is typical of high altitude, yet relative lack of reasonable change between high and low pressure systems. I can best liken our weather to what is experienced in high altitude coastal mountains of California (which are coincidentally largely protected and therefore no one lives there).

From an aviation standpoint, air is incredibly stable vertically from late October onward, with scarcely a bump at all. Occasionally, I run into orographically-induced turbulence (rotors), though it is quite rare that it is bumpy. Even downdrafts are pleasant and tranquil, albeit still a strong warning to change course. From the lowlands of Catalonia to ridges at 9,000 feet, the air is extremely placid, similar to what I experienced when I was based in Leadville, Colorado and flew on pleasant, sunny winter days in oxygen-starved high altitude terrain.

All images below: not a single bump during these flights.

Sunset, Andorra-Spain border.

Pedraforca (8,223′, 2.506m)

La Masella (8,488′, 2.587m)

Coll de Pal, with Montserrat on the horizon.

Overcast layer on south side of Cadí ridge, clear in La Cerdanya. Its VFR on top…..

To revisit an old subject, I still haven’t landed anywhere else. Part of the problem is a record-breaking inversion present in the Catalonian lowlands (above image as an example), where Lleida saw one hour of sunshine in the month of December. That region, the easiest as far as terrain is concerned (flat like the Midwest), happens to now be the most unexplored, where the highest and craziest areas are getting greater coverage due to better weather and conditions for photography. I have thought about landing somewhere for the sake of the blog, and opted to avoid letting the tail wag the dog for the time being, as there is plenty to see in a three-hour tank of avgas. Stay tuned; I am planning a few ambitious adventures.

See if you can pick out the traffic. I didn’t see the aircraft or hear it on the radio until I sat in front of my computer for post processing.

Snowshoes are part of my standard emergency gear in the event of an emergency over terrain with deep snow (along with a tent and three days of food stored in the baggage area). See next image for an example. 

Terrain roughly 20 minutes northeast of the airport.


Follow your Lead, and then perhaps later you will lead.

Planning, Precision, Performance: how formation training can help us all be more proficient pilots.

I used to think that formation flight was dangerous for the average pilot. When asked by Mooney Caravan formation pilots why I didn’t partake I would say something like, “I don’t want to fly so close to someone I don’t know.” In July of 2016, I attended my first formation clinic held in Chino California. Later that month I flew right seat in the Mooney Caravan arrival into Oshkosh/AirVenture. Before those experiences, I suppose I had a certain amount of naïveté that allowed me to hold the belief that non-military G.A pilots would not be safe to fly formation. Boy was I wrong, on so many levels.

I have just returned from the sixth annual Gunfighters Formation Clinic at Yuma International Airport/MCAS. The three-day multifaceted event had something for everyone and gave us an opportunity to improve formation skills, demonstrate proficiency for mass arrivals to AirVenture/Oshkosh and socialize with the other, now hopelessly addicted, formation pilots.

For the second year, the Gunfighters Formation Clinic included training opportunities with the Red Star Pilots Association.  The Red Star Pilots Association is a federal 501(c) (3) non-profit whose mission is to promote and preserve the safe operation, display and enjoyment of all aircraft — jet to prop, aerobatic, sport, war bird and utility — especially those originating in the current and former communist block nations. They are a signatory with national Formation and Safety Team [F.A.S.T.] This allows them to train, qualify, and manage civilian formation pilots in the United States and Canada for the safe conduct of formation flight displays in the US and Canadian air show industry. Several of our attendees were awarded their wingman or lead cards at the training.

Our FBO Host was Million Air FBO.  James “Curly” Combs the General Manager of Million Air gave us an incredible experience.  The facilities and staff were top notch. The food from their Jet-a-Way Café was down-home and delicious. Yuma International Airport is a large airport facility that shares runways with the Marine Corps Air Station. I assumed that perhaps the FBO might reflect a larger more corporate feeling. My assumption couldn’t have been further from the actuality. Once arriving I immediately felt like part of the family.

Any aviation volunteer knows that there is a lot that goes into the planning and execution of a formation clinic, or for that matter, any  flying event.  The behind the scenes work that starts several months prior to the event is extensive.  Safely and effectively mixing a full range of formation pilots, IP’s and safety pilots is a daunting task that requires a dedicated Air Boss with a substantial  background.  Airspace planning, ingress/egress routes, altitudes, sector frequencies, and publications take a great deal of thought and effort.  Not to mention training materials, and standardization of instruction/mentoring. Kudos to organizer Chuck Crinnian, Air Boss Larry Brennan and all the others.

Just over forty airplanes came in for the weekend. The Thursday night ground school covered numerous topics including:

  • Ground Operations
  • Element Takeoff
  • Interval Takeoff
  • 2 Ship Formation Procedures
  • Fingertip Position
  • Fingertip Maneuvering
  • Route Position
  • Turns in Route
  • Cross Under
  • Echelon
  • Close Trail
  • Formation Recoveries
  • Element Approach and Landing
  • VFR Traffic Pattern Recoveries
  • Overhead Pattern
  • Taxi and Shutdown
  • Formation Maneuver and Rejoins
  • Four Ship Formation Procedures

Then our challenge was to actually fly those procedures on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We began each exercise with an extensive brief. For me, this led to an increase sense of security knowing there was a procedure in place. I was paired with a seasoned CFI or Mentor pilot both days. The weather and landscape were beautiful in Yuma. Unfortunately, while flying formation I had my eyes glued to Lead and couldn’t see the majesty. The second day I got to fly Lead in a two-ship formation. I got a better look at the scenery that day.

All missions ended with detailed debrief covering negative and positive elements of the flight. Psychologically, the flying is challenging not only because of the proximity of other aircraft, but of the new nomenclature to be learned and maneuvers. I always find it interesting to be a “learner.” As a professional psychotherapist, aviation writer, and presenter, I am most comfortable leading and being an expert. Being a newbie was an exercise in patience with myself as I learned and grace when I made a mistake.

As is often typical with training of any sort, my abilities the second day were better than the first. The formation flying itself was very mentally and physically challenging. Taking off and landing in elements is a thrilling experience. I pushed myself to fly as precisely as possible and to increase my comfort level flying close to Lead. My level of focus was so intense that I found myself fatigued at the end of the day. Both nights we had a chance to share dinner as a group and to establish bonds of camaraderie.

Overall, the training experience was excellent. With focus, perseverance and encouragement the skills were all within my reach. I feel strongly that my formation training has made me a safer and more precise pilot. I would encourage all pilots to investigate formation training in their regions. I also left Yuma feeling like I had made some life-long friendships. I look forward to attending at least one more clinic before Oshkosh, then on to the mass arrival. We also learned the two most important rules in formation flight. #1 Don’t hit Lead, and #2 Refer to #1.

For more information on formation training and arrivals to OSH17:

Mooney Caravan:

Bonanzas to Oshkosh:

Cessnas to Oshkosh:

Cherokees to Oshkosh

Formation Flying Inc.:



Conducting yourself in public

Pilots are often held to a very high standard. Even the average private pilot is often viewed with a mixture of admiration and respect, and it’s easy to understand why: Flying is not something we do naturally, and many feel that it’s beyond the average person’s ability.

Move into the professional ranks, and those standards go even higher. While the non-aviators of the world may not know the full extent of the training we undergo, they know it’s intensive and often difficult. Add in the acquisition of experience, and it’s not hard to understand why pilots get an awful lot of questions at a neighborhood party.

Now, throw into the mix the fact that there are only a handful of airlines in the United States, and chances are that nearly everyone will be at least familiar with your place of employment. They know that you are expected to meet certain standards of decorum and behavior at work.They may expect those standards to carry over beyond work.

I was recently on a trip when I saw some of the unfortunate side effects of this come out. In certain cities, it’s common for crews from a number of different airlines to use the same hotel, and those hotels are often very high quality. It’s also common for those hotels to be the same ones that many of the passengers utilize. I was in a hotel restaurant chatting with crew members from several airlines, mine included, when one of the pilots of another carrier began to severely disparage his own company. Now, we all have legitimate gripes about where we work—it’s only natural—and within any particular industry, many of those complaints are universal and are often a point of jokes and humor laced with a bit of sarcasm.

But complaining about something doesn’t mean you want to get into a rant or even a rage. In this case, the pilot was getting more and more vocal and more and more upset. The issue at hand was fairly insignificant, and to his coworkers, it was getting to be embarrassing. A few of us quietly slipped away to avoid the association, but his peers wanted to get him calmed down before he further embarrassed himself or their company. Another diner in the restaurant had apparently been on the pilots’ flight that day, and said something to the rest of us about not wanting to fly on that carrier again. He made it clear that he would be contacting the company and registering his dismay.

I’ve written on this blog before about the need to control the amount of alcohol consumed on a trip. But that’s not the only behavior that needs to be kept in check. Much of what we might get upset about is not easily understood by nonpilots. The perception is that we all make tons of money and don’t work very hard, the truth be darned. Belly-aching about work in public is almost never going to end well.

I have no doubt that the pilot in question was confronted by his coworkers or his chief pilot about his behavior, and he was probably made to feel ashamed about his histrionics. It’s important to remember that no matter who you work for, when you work for a public company such as an airline, you are always representing your employer—even if you don’t want to be. It’s too easy for someone to lodge a complaint about your personal conduct.

Don’t give them an opportunity. It isn’t worth it.—Chip Wright

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