Videos of traffic patterns? Yes, please

April 20th, 2015

Flying to a new airport is great fun, but it poses its own set of challenges. You can study the sectional chart, the airport diagram, and the Airport/Facility Directory for an hour, but when you’re up in the air 10 miles out, searching for that strip of asphalt, sometimes it’s tough to put those pieces together and pick out your destination. (Ask any student pilot in the Northeast who’s had to spy an airport in an urban area, seemingly buried in a maze of buildings and highways.)

Short final to Metropolitan Oakland International Airport.

Short final to Metropolitan Oakland International Airport.

A new website aims to help you. LandingPatterns.com was created by California pilot Tony Arbini, who says he was assigned an airport he had never flown to for his long solo cross-country. He went online to try to look up the airport and learn as much as he could about its airspace, but he didn’t find much. He created LandingPatterns.com in a quest to “find a better way to communicate” airspace and traffic patterns for a given airport, according to the website.

The airspace around OAK is depicted graphically.

The airspace around OAK is depicted graphically.

Arbini and his team visit airports and videotape the flight, but the site’s collection of videos is much more polished than what you’ll typically find on YouTube. Each video introduces the airport by showing you its location on a sectional chart, with traffic patterns, airspace, and nearby navigation aids highlighted. Static photos display pertinent landmarks to help you spy the runway before you’re directly over top of it. There’s also info on traffic pattern altitudes, noise abatement procedures, terrain obstacles, and other good-to-know stuff.

Traffic patterns at OAK are highlighted. (Landingpatterns.com)

Traffic patterns at OAK are highlighted. (Landingpatterns.com)

All of this can be found in traditional sources, of course, but I like the way LandingPatterns.com presents it in a neat and graphically attractive package. Note that the use of the website should enhance—not replace—your due diligence when digging up “all available information” about your destination.

Right now the website covers airports in California (plus one lone airport in Alaska). But that’s where you come in. The website urges you to “fly it—film it—share it.” You can upload your own footage to the site. Arbini provides tips on how best to present it, and he even includes a tutorial on how to use his preferred action cam—a Garmin Virb—to get that great footage.—Jill W. Tallman

‘It was worth it’

April 16th, 2015

Branden Blackford recently shared his solo photo from September 2013 on our Facebook page. He’s looking forward to finishing up very soon. Here’s his story.—Ed.

Branden Blackford soloed in September 2013. He's coming to the end of a six-year flight training journey.

Branden Blackford soloed in September 2013. He’s coming to the end of a six-year flight training journey.

It all started before I was even 1 year old. My family use to take me to airshows every year growing up in Indiana before I could walk or talk. My dad was a crew chief mechanic on KC-135 Stratotankers so he was the one who introduced me to aviation and taught me a lot about airplanes and their control surfaces and how they worked.

By the age of 5 I could point to almost every military airplane at an airshow and identify it. As I grew older my interest for airplanes grew, and I would read books to educate myself about airplanes and all the different types of planes while I was in school. I knew before I entered the third grade I wanted to be a pilot.

It wasn’t until the age of 10 I took my first flight with the EAA Young Eagles program. I was nervous and worried I’d get airsick since I’d never flown before, but I did it. A 20-minute flight and I was hooked! I knew I’d do whatever it takes to be a pilot from then on.

For the next seven years my dad and I were chasing Young Eagles events all over the state just so I could go flying and learn more about airplanes each time I went up. At the age of 17 I took my first flight lesson when I got my first job working at a fast food restaurant.

From 2009 to 2013 it was a struggle financially to get to my first solo as I would literally take my minimum wage check of two weeks and spend it all on one hour of flight instruction and wait about another three weeks to get enough money for another hour of flight instruction. But it was worth it to me.

In the the meantime I overcame a spontaneous collapsed lung, passed the FAA medical and on September 26, 2013, I soloed. I got a better-paying job working as an aircraft cleaner just to be around airplanes and could better afford my flight lessons.

I’ve completed my solo cross-country requirements in March 2015, got my 40 hours, and now I’m preparing for the practical and my final hours of being a student pilot. As of June 2015, it will mark exactly six years of flight training. I’m not happy it took me so long, but it’s now 2015 and this year I’m finally going to get my wings!

And this summer I plan on going to a fly-in with my father to celebrate my success. The point is never give up on your dreams no matter how long it may take to succeed. I did this mostly off of minimum wage checks but my passion and love to fly got me through the tough times. Don’t give up! And keep on flying. And remember… your hours in your logbook never expire.

Name: Branden Blackford
Age 23
Event: Solo (September 2013); private pilot certificate forthcoming
Where: Hendricks County Airport Gordon Graham Field, Danville, Indiana
Airplane: Cessna 172

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Learn the local weather, wherever you are

April 13th, 2015

weatherOne of the most important variables in the day-to-day life of a pilot—if not the most important—is weather.

It’s easy to fixate on learning weather patterns in your hometown. After all, it’s where you live, so it just makes sense. But as you expand your horizons, you will learn that weather is called a “variable” for a reason: No two places are the same.

I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay, and there’s a definite annual pattern to the weather. The summers are either hazy, hot, and humid or absolutely gorgeous. There isn’t a lot of in-between, unless you count the torrential rain storms. Lines of thunderstorms can be hit or miss as well, because the Appalachians will affect the extent of continued development before they hit my front door. Falls are brisk; winters are damp and miserable; and spring is the season in which Mother Nature can’t make a decision. Fog is rare, but we had it.

Move forward to my move to Florida, both in college and at my first airline job. There are two seasons in Central Florida, and thus two weather forecasts: pop-up thunderstorms in the summer—as opposed to the fast-moving lines of fury that I’d grown up with—and morning fog in the spring and fall. This was as predictable as Charlie Brown missing the football. And the fog was often so thick you could cut it with a spoon. Carrying extra fuel for holding patterns on morning arrivals was a necessity, as the fog could burn off as quickly as it formed.

In the Midwest, I learned to deal with the same lines of summer storms I’d grown up with, only this time I had to deal with them when they were at maximum strength and fury as they would move across the flat central portion of the country with tremendous speed, unimpeded by terrain, with tops that often exceeded the service ceiling of nearly all jets. I learned firsthand what severe and extreme turbulence feels like, and I don’t need to experience either ever again.

The Midwest also gave me my first exposure to deicing operations, especially with hoar frost, which is extremely common as temperatures begin to fall, even if the precipitation doesn’t. The winters can produce pretty thick fog. This is a major issue in some mountain valleys, especially in the evenings and early mornings. Our late-night flights to Tri-Cities, Tennessee, frequently had to race time to beat the fog that would roll in. Ashville, North Carolina, had similar issues.

Nowadays, my flying takes me around the Pacific. In the winters, the weather is virtually non-existent, and what little there is lends itself to easy visual deviations. In the summers, the storms are much more extensive, but the convective energy is much less concentrated than that in the storms over land. They simply don’t have the heating source. That said, they are to be taken seriously, yet at the same time we are much quicker to pull the trigger on diverting because airports—the islands—are so far apart, and we can only carry so much extra fuel. It’s not unheard of for the weather over or near one of the islands to be just sketchy enough that a crew won’t even attempt an approach. The fuel wasted is better saved for a possible missed approach at the alternate.

Weather and its patterns are unique, and while I don’t profess to have the most intimate understanding that others do, I have stored enough information away in my memory bank that I can put together a plan in fairly short order. Understanding what to expect based on local geography and terrain is a key component to that. In my case, more learning shall occur. I will eventually transfer back to domestic flying, and I have relatively little flying experience west of the Rockies. I’ll be relying on what I’ve read to get by, but not as much as the wisdom of those I’m flying with along with my own eyes.

Wherever your experience takes you, pay attention. It’s information you’ll need later.—Chip Wright

Applying flying skills to life, and vice versa

April 6th, 2015

Learning to fly is a complicated pursuit. For many, it is the first real foray into the three-dimensional world. It requires learning a complex series of skills in a machine that never stops moving. There is no pulling over at a gas station to ask for directions or use a restroom. Every flight involves at least a rudimentary level of planning.

One of the neat things about learning to fly is that many of the skills are transferable to other endeavors. Likewise, there are skill sets from other hobbies that can be transferred to flying. Take flight planning, for example.

At its most basic, flight planning requires at least a look at the weather and the fuel gauge even if you are only planning a flight in the local area. But longer flights or flights over more challenging terrain, require more attention. There is a close correlation to two common activities here: scuba diving and traveling by car. Divers often use mnemonics or even checklists to make sure that they are prepared for diving. Pilots do the same thing. Divers have to plan their air supply so that they return to the surface with a minimum amount of air in the tank. Pilots are taught to always keep fuel in reserve. Flights, like the traditional family vacation, are often broken up into legs in order to minimize fatigue or plan fuel and/or food stops.

A good percentage of flying involves preparing for emergencies or “non-normal” situations. This is pretty intuitive, considering that we are not in our natural environment. Where pilots learn to plan for engine failures and electrical malfunctions, divers learn to cope with flooded masks or leaky regulators. Teenage drivers learn early on how to change tires and use jumper cables (or they should, anyway).

When I was an active flight instructor, I always tried to correlate what I was teaching with something from everyday life or from the students’ personal background that would help them grasp and retain the essence of what I was teaching. Many hated using the checklist because it was so foreign to them. Some of them learned to look at it as a step-by-step recipe, as if they were cooking, and a few looked at it as the only way to avoid trouble with the FAA (the lawyers). People whose career consisted of working with numbers would approach flight planning from a numerical perspective: We have X amount of gas, which we’ll burn at Y gallons an hour, so we should be able to fly for Z amount of time (math teachers and accountants).

Flight planning can be a consuming task, as I mentioned. I’ve known pilots who have traveled in general aviation aircraft around the globe. Planning such a trip can take a year or more, and it involves a tremendous effort to coordinate because of the various laws of flying over certain countries. These folks tend to carry over much of the mindset to their non-aviation lives: They carry extra oil in their car; they always seem to dress for worse weather than they expect; there are several maps or GPS units available, et cetera. As one of them told me, planning for an emergency in the middle of an emergency is no place to plan for an emergency. Everything he did followed that mantra.

Use flying to broaden your thought process for other arenas in life, and use your own personal experiences elsewhere to enhance your decision-making skills in the airplane. And, plan ahead for the emergencies!—Chip Wright

Follow your gut

March 24th, 2015

Check Out ChecklistOne of the common problems in aviation is that of routine and repetition. It’s easy to assume that because we do certain tasks every time we fly, with no change, that perhaps those tasks don’t need to be completed every time we fly. Two examples come to mind: the preflight check and the flight control check.

When you rent an airplane from a flight school, it’s tempting to avoid the preflight or walk-around, because you know the airplane flies every day (or close to it). It’s even more tempting to skip it when you watch the airplane land (or even do a few touch and goes) and then taxi to the tie-down spot. I mean really, it just landed! What could you possibly miss?

A lot, actually. The other pilot might have missed cord showing on the tire because that cord may have not been showing when the flight started, or it was on the bottom of the tire, out of sight, when he conducted his own walk-around.

It’s also possible that there might be damage to the airplane from an unseen bird strike, such as a missing antenna, which the previous pilot might not have noticed if he wasn’t using that particular radio. Fluid leaks also are possible.

Flight control checks are another area in which it’s easy to get complacent. As a student, you’re told that you are checking for flight control functionality and proper rigging (making sure the controls deflect in the proper direction). This is especially true if the airplane has been in maintenance. But there is also something else to test for, which is a general feel for the controls. If you fly the same airplane enough, you will know when it just doesn’t “feel” right, and you should learn to trust that little devil on your shoulder.

I’ve experienced two examples of this. The first was about five years ago on the CRJ. The flight controls were the first officer’s responsibility. One day, my FO immediately said something as he was checking the elevator. What happened next is a long story, but the gist of is that the airplane was broken. It stayed in Richmond for four days, and the tail was basically rebuilt. It took the mechanics 10 pages in the logbook to record all of the work.

Recently, an airplane I was flying had a funny feel to the rudder pedals when the captain checked them. The mechanics were never able to quite duplicate the sensation, but they kept digging and eventually found a failure of a part in the back of the airplane. The flight was cancelled and the airplane was sent to the hangar for repairs.

We do walk-arounds and control checks so frequently that either can become a mindless task. It’s important not to let that happen. Take each of these tasks seriously, and something just doesn’t feel right, remember: It may not be.—Chip Wright

Gian gets an angel

March 17th, 2015
Gian takes his introductory flight in a Cessna 150 in Miami.

Gian takes his introductory flight in a Cessna 150 in Miami.

For many of you, Greg Brown’s monthly colum “Flying Carpet” is appointment reading when you receive your new issue of Flight Training. If so, likely you recall April’s edition, “Tomorrow’s Pilot,” in which Greg introduced you to a 13-year-old named named Gian who loves aviation.

Greg bought Gian an introductory flight lesson. Long story short, he wanted to do something nice for Gian, and he could tell that the young man would appreciate the gift.

The column ends with an ecstatic Gian telling Greg, “I was surprised with myself! It was like I had previous flying experience.”

But Gian’s story doesn’t end there. A reader (who will remain anonymous) has offered to contribute $500 to Gian’s flying future. He and Greg are conferring on how best to do that, given that Gian is more than two years from being able to solo.

The good news doesn’t stop there. A reader in Long Island, New York, reached out to Greg as well. “I own a Cessna 172H [that I] keep at Brookhaven Airport (HWV) and my son is a CFII and multi CFII. If you hear of anyone who is interested in aviation and is in this area we’d love to give them the chance to really see how exciting it is to fly.”

It seems like we have a small movement afoot here. We’ll keep you posted.—Jill W. Tallman

 

Follow the evidence

March 13th, 2015

It’s happened again. There’s been another accident, this one involving Air Asia. The airplane was en route from Indonesia to Singapore on Dec. 28, 2014, when it crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 162 people on board.

And, as usual, speculation about the potential cause(s) was immediate and rampant. Some of it was the picture of basic ignorance about aviation. One newscaster was audacious enough to ask if the use of the metric system (for setting the altimeter) might have played a role in the accident. Where do they find these people?

In this case, the immediate culprit of suspicion was the weather, because people could access the satellite images that were taken at the time of the airplane’s disappearance.

The crew in this accident was very experienced, especially the captain. If this was indeed a weather- related accident, it makes you wonder right away how the crew could have allowed themselves to get into that situation. This is a great reminder of what we try to drive home to student and private pilots, not to mention instrument students and pilots, every day: You’re only as good as your last good decision. Penetrating bad weather of any form is a bad idea. Thunderstorms are violent, and they can destroy the best airplanes with surprising efficiency. Flying in precip in freezing temperatures can easily overwhelm a plane with ice, which can not only destroy lift, but add a crippling amount of weight.

It’s important in this accident, as in all others, to allow the experts the latitude to do their jobs and go wherever the evidence leads them. That’s especially true if or when the evidence starts to paint a picture that sullies the reputation of the crew of the plane or the engines or whatever component is involved. When it comes to safety, facts and information are far more important than reputation.
That isn’t to say that anybody should just pile on to the pilots and blame them. Far from it. But all other evidence needs to be excluded.

I have my own theories about what might have happened, but I’m keeping them to myself. One of the difficult facts to reconcile is that I can think of a number of scenarios that might have developed, but they are all very remote, with highly improbable odds. But that’s the case in any accident: Invariably, something happens that shouldn’t have, or the accident would not have occurred in the first place.

My only wish is that the NTSB were involved. They are the best in the world at what they do, and they do a very good job at maintaining impartiality until they have a true bead on the cause. Politics will likely rear its ugly head, and various entities will do whatever they can to shift the blame. To think otherwise would be naïve.

But until the final report is release, remember: none of us “knows what happened.” The ones who do…are dead.—Chip Wright

Red eyes

February 26th, 2015

 

Being an airline pilot is great. The job is fun; no two days are the same; the benefits are terrific. You get good health insurance—you’re a pilot, after all, and your health is your career—along with the travel benefits—which aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be—but the discounted tickets alone can make it worth it, even if you can’t fly for free on a given trip. On top of that, you get to travel for a living, and when you get where you’re going, you’re done, while your passengers are just getting to work.

But there are downsides to the schedule. Airlines have become 24/7/365 operations. Red-eye flights now run in both directions. West to east always made sense, because as a passenger you could take off late, sleep en route (in theory), land in the morning, and still make a full day (again, in theory). However, east to west is relatively new, and it is harder for me to wrap my mind around. North-south trips are frequently run at night as well, because the passengers can (again, theoretically) work a normal day, then get some sleep on an all-nighter from New York to Rio.

Working a schedule where you are on nights one day and days the next night is hard, even with the protections of the new FAR 117 rest rules in effect. But, in an industry in which the most expensive commodity (the airplane) only produces money when it’s airborne, this has forced the airlines to find ways to maximize productivity and utilization. My company added almost 60 red eyes across the system just for Thanksgiving. I couldn’t help but wonder how many people fell asleep while eating their turkey thanks to the combination of jet lag and tryptophan.

Some people are afternoon/evening types, and some are morning types. Airline scheduling computers seem to have figured out how to put each of those groups on the opposite schedule just to see what happens. Morning reports can mean wake-up calls as early as 3 a.m., if not worse.

The advantage of these schedules is that you’re done early, but that’s often little consolation to the person who doesn’t begin to function before noon. On the other hand, I tend to like the early reports and dislike the afternoon reports. This was especially true when I was flying RJs under the old work rules when you could work 16 hours no matter what time you finished the day before and no matter what time you started. Knowing that I might start at 2 p.m. but might not finish before 6 a.m.the following morning never did sit well with me. That didn’t happen often, but it did happen—and when it did, it was brutal.

If there is one advantage that working for the regionals offers with regard to the schedules, it’s the opportunity for more one-day trips for those that want them. The shorter range of the planes makes it possible to do a pair 2 or 3 hour legs and be home for dinner. At the majors, however, the planes have greater range, and it’s cheaper to fly longer distances, so one-day trips tend to be less common.

There ups and downs to every job, including this one. However, I find that the ups far outweigh the downs, even on those rare days that turn out to be anything other than what the brochure might have promised.—Chip Wright

Just ahead in the April issue

February 18th, 2015

2009 Senior Soaring ChampionshipsThis winter can’t last much longer…can it? We’re trying to think ahead to spring as we send the April issue to the printer. At least we’re not talking about snow and ice in the “Weather” column this month.

  • Climbing into Gliders. Soaring has a lot to offer, including the fact that it is less expensive than learning to fly a powered airplane, doesn’t require a medical, and teaches you mad stick-and-rudder skills.
  • Please Hold.” How are you going to enter that holding pattern?
  • Seeing is Believing. Why you need to get your eyeballs off the instrument panel when in VFR conditions.

Plus: Turns around a point; pilots who helped to rescue sea turtles; and more.

The April digital edition goes live on Feb. 24. Learn more about how you can get the magazine delivered to your tablet, computer, or mobile device here.

In-home delivery begins March 5, and if you’re not yet a subscriber, you’ll find it on newsstands as of March 17.

We welcome your letters to the editor; email flighttraining@aopa.org.—Jill W. Tallman

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.

The first officer, the teacher

February 10th, 2015

 

A recent trip reminded me of something I had not seen in a long time. When I was a first officer for Comair (back when I was a young warthog), we had a lot of pilots bouncing among fleets. We had jet first officers upgrading to captains on the EMB-120 Brasilia (a turboprop), and Brasilia captains moving over to the jet. Some of these guys had never flown their new fleet type; others hadn’t flown it in years. In time, we became an all-jet company and it didn’t matter.

In my current job, I’m a junior FO who occasionally flies with people who are new to the fleet type. Some of these pilots flew the “newer” model of the 737, and some flew the “classics,” but did so years if not decades ago.

I find history repeating itself: I am often helping, in many ways, to train these folks. Let me explain.

When I was in the right seat of the RJ, I’d often fly with captains whom I knew were low-time (airlines are required to track pilots with fewer than 75 hours in both seat and type). I quickly learned to ask them if they were new to the airplane, or just new to the seat.

The ones who had flown the airplane didn’t need much help, other than asking me to go slow while they learned their new routine. The ones who were new to the airplane, however, asked a lot of questions, and expected—and needed—a lot more help. Some were better than others, and in the case of movement from a turboprop to a jet, the speed difference at times was overwhelming.

The fellow I was recently flying with had gone through several transitions in the previous few years. This one, he hoped, would be the last one. To compound the issue, he was also new to the Pacific region, and there are stark differences between trans-oceanic flying and anything else. What’s more, there are some cultural differences between our base and the “domestic” way of doing things.

I found myself offering all kinds of advice and help, and the captain was constantly asking for more, soaking up what I had to offer—which had me offering even more. At one point, he made the comment after I pointed out something that didn’t quite work the way the book said it should: “That’s what I need. Tell me what’s reality and what isn’t.”

It’s healthy to ask for help when needed. I’m relatively new myself to the company and the airplane, but I’ve accumulated a bit of know-how in a short time, and my captain was smart enough to ask questions for areas where he knew he needed help. It was a good reminder that FOs too can be effective teachers, and we really do work best when we work together.—Chip Wright