Flight Training Archive

Update: Brush up on safety skills, help the Air Safety Institute

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

On Feb. 7, I did a blog post and story on AOPA member Shannon Osborne, a member of the North Jersey chapter of The Ninety-Nines, who had come up with a unique idea to help keep pilot skills sharp when bad weather limits winter flying.  She pledged to donate $5 to the AOPA Foundation’s Air Safety Institute for every course the 16 members of her Ninety-Nines chapter took in the month of February.

Eight of Osborne’s chapter’s 16 members participated in her challenge, taking five ASI safety courses.  So she flew to Frederick last week with her former flight instructor, Tim O’Neil, and presented ASI with a check for $40. “I’d like to see 100 percent chapter participation next year and make this challenge an annual thing,” she said.

Osborne would also like to see more Ninety-Nines chapters take up the challenge, or even donate to ASI. “If we can get more people talking about ASI products, more will be invested in safety,” she said.  “It’s a focus on air safety and that’s a win-win for everyone.”

I’m a student pilot, so I decided to take up Osborne’s challenge, completing four courses: “Say It Right,” “Runway Safety,” “Airspace for Everyone,” and “Do the Right Thing: Decision Making for Pilots.” And I was happy to write a $50 check to the foundation.  For a complete list of ASI offerings, click here.

The return of Microsoft Flight Sim?

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Microsoft reentered the flight sim market Wednesday with the launch of Microsoft Flight. The new product features the still-in-development Icon A5 Light Sport amphibian…and the game itself is free. Of course, add-ons are available; a North American P-51 Mustang is $7.99, a Maule M-7-260C is $14.99, and a Hawaiian adventure pack–with a Vans RV-6A–is $19.99. The website promises that more aircraft and terrain will be coming.

Fans of the previous Microsoft Flight Simulator product line, which ended almost a decade ago with the release of Flight Simulator X, should keep in mind that this new product is being marketed more as a game–it is a new product, not an evolution of what existed before. Initial user comments emphasize the entertainment focus of Flight.

Some enterprising student pilots–and instructors–used the previous Flight Simulator to enhance and accelerate flight training. Will Microsoft Flight be able to do the same? I don’t know; I haven’t had a chance to try it yet. Have you?

How realistic should impossible turn practice be?

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Last month, I practiced Barry Schiff’s maneuver for the impossible turn at altitude and recorded it on AOPA Live. As expected, many pilots wrote in offering their own advice.

The most common suggestion was to make the practice maneuver more realistic. Schiff recommended turning 270 degrees and noting the altitude loss. That’s because in a real emergency, a pilot is going to turn 180 degrees, then 45 more to end up over the runway, and back another 45 degrees to line up on the runway. It totals 270 degrees of turn. Others suggested practicing at altitude over a straight road to simulate a runway.

So I went up with my instructor, Sandy Geer, again and tried both scenarios in a Cessna 172, same model as before. I also applied some of what I had learned from practicing Schiff’s maneuver the first time.

First, I made sure that I added pitch-up trim during the maneuver (yes, I’m a weakling). I’ve been trained to do this in other practice emergency scenarios (pitch for best glide and trim), but I had forgotten to do this for the impossible turn maneuver. By using trim to relieve some of the control pressures, it was easier for me to maintain the 45-degree bank and airspeed while looking outside. Last month, each time I did the maneuver, I looked only at the instruments.

Setting up on a westerly heading, I climbed to 3,000 feet msl, pulled the throttle to idle, held the pitch-up attitude for five seconds, and then started the turn to the left. After turning 225 degrees, I immediately rolled out and into a 45-degree-bank turn in the opposite direction for another 45 degrees. After stopping my sink rate, I noted my altitude loss: 400 feet. That’s 100 feet more of altitude loss than when I practiced the maneuver with a constant 270-degree turn. But, Schiff also said that after doing the turn he described, add a 50-percent margin. After losing 300 feet with a constant 270-degree turn, that safety padding would put the minimum altitude to turn back in an emergency at 450 feet. With the more realistic 225-degree left turn and 45-degree right turn back to the imaginary runway, my altitude loss was still within the limits set by following his checklist.

Next, I decided to make the scenario a little more realistic by setting up the maneuver above a straight road simulating a runway. The first time, not so good: I lost 600 feet. But, I had let my airspeed slip from best glide (65 knots) to 80 knots. So, I tried again, focusing my attention outside, and lost about 400 feet. Now, I still did all of this at altitude, so I didn’t have the rush of the ground coming up.

I think Schiff’s recommended 50-percent cushion to altitude loss is wise and encompasses a number of factors that can crop up. However, I know my personal comfort level, and I still wouldn’t feel confident making 450 feet my turn-back altitude. However, I would keep the 750-foot mark that I established as my personal minimum after practicing Schiff’s maneuver the first time. Perhaps I will lower that altitude as I gain more practice, but I will probably never lower to it 450 or 500 feet agl.

One reader commented that he had practiced the emergency maneuver earlier in the year at an airport and learned a lot of useful information. That’s not something I’m comfortable with, so I will draw the line at practicing over a road at altitude.

Other readers pointed out the effect that wind could have on the maneuver, which Schiff addressed in his article, and that altitude loss will be greater with a dead engine than one at idle power. Readers also discussed the difference in aircraft loading, whether you have passengers or not. If you haven’t read Schiff’s article, I recommend it—he addresses many factors as he describes the maneuver.

They key is to set your own personal minimum. Practicing Schiff’s maneuver, or one of the others described above can help you establish that minimum, which may be never to turn back to the airport.

Hopefully an engine out after takeoff isn’t something I ever experience. But if it is, I am glad that I am practicing for such an emergency—whether I land straight ahead or turn back. None of my other emergency training had included that, and I would have been horribly unprepared.

So how realistically have you practiced turning back to the airport? Do you prefer Schiff’s 270-degree turn, do you use a road or other straight reference, or something else?

Going to the birds

Friday, March 18th, 2011

It’s that time of year again. No, not tax time (although that will be coming soon).

Drinking my morning coffee, I noticed a bird on my back deck with a large twig in its mouth. A few minutes later when it clicked (I was on my first cup), I went out and looked inside the grill, where I found a nest construction project that was well under way. They’ll be doing the same thing at the airport, in your engine cowlings (and any other openings into the fuselage that they can find). It was a great reminder to check carefully for avian urban renewal efforts before our spring flights.

Now to see if the impromptu cowl plugs I put in the grill vents were effective….

Black Friday: Is that an airplane in my mall?

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

It’s been a bad year for aviation, and I’ve seen more news items about flight schools going under than I’d care to share. But I’m also seeing some that are digging in and going out for customers.

One school, in Maryland, is negotiating with a mall to position an aircraft outside a large department store during the holiday shopping rush. They’ll staff the airplane in the hopes of attracting potential pilots among the throngs. Another FBO is doing the same thing at an upscale mall in Texas, and just today a news release crossed my inbox in which Air Orlando said it’s going to position a Remos GX inside the Florida Mall Wednesday night so that it’ll be sitting pretty in time for Black Friday shoppers. (With its folding wings, the Remos makes this kind of display setup pretty smooth.)

And a brand-new flight school owner is using a pricing scheme for flight instruction and aircraft rental that he says gives customers a “round number” so that they can more adequately budget their training expenses, just as they would for a fitness membership or a car payment. Tim Poole, who recently opened GT Aviation at Potomac Airfield in the Washington, D.C., Flight Restricted Zone, calls it a kind of a “club” format. A monthly fee purchases five hours per month, or one lesson per week; a higher fee bumps that up to 10 hours, or two lessons per week.

What do you think of these ideas? What else could flight schools be doing to attract customers?

Happy birthday, Mama Bird!

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

i’ll be in Florida all this week, scurrying around AOPA Summit, but I can’t let Nov. 4 slip by without wishing many happy returns to Evelyn “Mama Bird” Johnson, who turns 100. Johnson’s incredible career as a flight instructor and designated pilot examiner are detailed in Mike Collins’ article; he also profiled her for the November 1999 AOPA Pilot. Then and now, Mama Bird retains one of the fattest logbooks you’re likely to come across. Her 57,635.4 flight hours make her the highest-time female pilot and the highest-time living pilot in the Guiness Book of World Records.

I have just one “Mama Bird” story: Johnson was a featured speaker at a Women in Aviation conference several years ago. In a soft Southern accent–she was born in Kentucky and lives in Tennessee–she recalled just how she came to be a pilot. Her husband was serving in the military during World War II. Left on her own, she was looking for an activity to fill her quiet days. Should she try tennis? Golf? She saw an advertisement that read, “Learn to Fly” and said, “I believe I’ll do that.” What began as a whim became a career that influenced thousands of pilots. Happy birthday, Mama Bird!

Happy news from Wasilla

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

I first learned about Wasilla, Alaska, a city of about 10,000, while researching an article about mentors and student pilots. That article profiled a student pilot named Chad Speer from Wasilla, and it appeared in the May 2008 AOPA Flight Training.  In September 2008, Wasilla became extremely well known for another of its inhabitants–then-Gov. Sarah Palin, who was the Republican vice presidential nominee in the presidential election. Palin had been Wasilla’s mayor before she was elected governor. While all that was going on, Chad Speer and his dad, Rob, were plugging away at Chad’s training, flying Rob’s Super Cub in some of the most beautiful country imaginable, if the photos sent by his mom, Pamela, are any indication. (That’s Chad flying up the Knik Glacier.) On August 4, 17-year-old Chad passed his private pilot checkride. Congratulations to Chad!

Controlling your training costs

Monday, July 6th, 2009

How do you control the cost of your flight training? Do you try to fly frequently, to maximize retention and minimize repetition? Do you use a simulator–and if so, do you fly one at your flight school or a PC-based flight sim at home?

Please respond below, and let us know what’s worked for you (and what hasn’t). We’ll share the best ideas in a future issue of AOPA Flight Training magazine.

An LSA experiment to watch

Friday, May 1st, 2009

The light sport aircraft community, admittedly off to a slow start these past four years, ought to watch an experiment by the flight department at the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) in Melbourne, Fla. Director of Flight Training Nick Frisch has purchased two Remos light sport aircraft to join his fleet of 41 trainers. He is challenging a “significant unknown,” in his words, and that unknown is the public’s general acceptance of light sport aircraft.

Frisch is betting that among the school’s 7,000 non-aeronautical students there are a number of pilot candidates who will jump at the chance for a $5,000 sport pilot certificate. To improve chances for success, he will offer the Remos aircraft to the Melbourne community as well in a flying club. Some of the 41 trainers are ready for retirement. Will serious FIT pilot candidates accept the Remos because of its lower rental cost?

He is starting with two aircraft, but additional Remos aircraft will be purchased if the experiment works. So watch FIT’s flight department at the end of this year. That is when Frisch’s “significant unknown” will be known, and when a new order is, or is not, made.

Are student pilots declining?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Student pilot numbers are down, and will continue to be if the FAA is correct. The agency released its annual aviation forecast recently, where it said that student pilot numbers peaked this century at 94,420 in 2001. As you might expect, they’ve been in decline ever since, with an estimated 80,989 this year.

That in and of itself is news, but the forecast was created to, well…forecast. The good folks at the FAA expect student pilot numbers to hit a low of 72,050 in 2010 before rebounding to a high of 86,600 in 2025. That’s some sobering, bad news. But there’s a silver lining, actually two silver linings. The first is that the forecast is notoriously wrong so we shouldn’t believe it. Although, now that I say that I remember that it’s usually overly optomistic. Ugh. The second silver lining is that sport pilots are expected to multiply like wildfire, from only 2,623 last year to more than 20,000 by 2025. Will it happen? Refer to the statement above.

So what does the future hold for GA? Will those of us who are left be flying more, thereby negating the negative economic and political impacts? Or will all the baby boomers give up their medicals and fly an LSA at four gallons an hour on the weekend?

Personally, I’m taking the head-in-the-sand approach and will continue on as if GA is doing great. Kids will always love airplanes, adults will always need a safe, expeditious way to get from point A to point B, and weekend warriors will always need a break from life for a few hours. But that’s not to say we shouldn’t be proactive. I cringe when I think of all the students who have fallen off the FAA roll, driven away by a lousy flight school or selfish CFI. Hopefully they (we) will wake up one day and realize we can’t take this great thing we have for granted.