Surprises all around

August 19th, 2014

Jean Moule last wrote for the Flight Training blog about flying with different instructors. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

glacierYou have spent months planning, days hiking. Your tents are pitched on a finger of land that sticks out into Bench Lake in the wilderness on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. Suddenly a floatplane lands on the water and comes to a stop in the middle of the small lake you had thought your own. The plane taxis to the end of the lake to again face into the wind and takes off. You stand with others in your group wondering, as you always will, why did that plane land here? What was that all about?

Watching the airplane fly off into the distance, you see it even more mysteriously take a turn in the air. Is it wildlife? Unknown to you, the airplane circled around a snowmobile abandoned in this wilderness.

This introduction to floatplane flying by a new, young CFI certainly had its moments for both me and life on the ground. The bear we circled was as surprised as the people. My sense is that a more experienced CFI would not have caught such attention from both the wild and people life. And while he never scared me exactly, flying close to the mountains to catch the updrafts for flight caused me to not take the controls as much as I might. In the end, I controlled the flaps and the water rudder because, in the Super Cub, he could not reach them anyway. The bottom line: Did I have fun? he asked after we returned to the dock. Oh yes.

tailnumberThe views were awesome. Could I say anything but “Wow!” asked the pilot in the other airplane that held most of my family. We took off and landed together on Trail Lake; I circled Paradise Valley while my family flew over the Harding Ice Field in a bigger, faster airplane.

Alaska will never be the same for me now that I have seen the backcountry, which makes up most of Alaska anyway, from the air. So many lakes, almost always a place to land—or maybe “land” is not the correct word, when you finish up on water.

My family and I have a lively conversation the night before about how a floatplane pilot gets to the dock. Carefully, and with experience, I find out. My CFI is embarrassed when our airplane goes quiet and still several feet from the dock. Only the presence of someone who could throw him a rope saves us from other ways to make that dock.

His mentor, the 75-year-old pilot who took my family up, stands just a tad mortified as the airplane is pulled into place.

bench lake with tentsI don’t mind. I was along for the ride and scenery anyway. And I did learn a bit about floatplanes. My first pleasure was the water taxiing (no yellow line to nail) and the views, especially the images of the other airplane carrying my family were incredible. Our hour in the sky was well worth our weeks of planning, days of travelling, and getting seven people up and out on schedule for our flights. The Alaska weather cooperated. No rain and the clouds rested at about 5,000 feet. The group on the Cessna 206 sometimes seemed a tad squeezed between the Harding Icefield and the clouds. Our smaller airplane played in the hidden valleys and did a practice land and takeoff for those surprised hikers. They wonder why we landed. I wonder if I will ever get in a floatplane again. Mysteries.—Jean Moule

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Why be normal?

August 15th, 2014

Why indeed? We often preach the gospel of consistent, frequent flight lessons because research says that’s what works best.

But for some of us, it just isn’t possible. Take Bill Adams, whose travel for work conflicts with a regular flying schedule. But he hasn’t let that stop him. Here’s what Bill says has worked for him:

Bill Adams soloed this Aeronca Champ, and says flying six different airplanes hasn't hampered his flight training experience.

Bill Adams soloed this Aeronca Champ, and says flying six different airplanes hasn’t hampered his flight training experience.

 

Why be normal? My job takes me all over the country for short periods of time. So, my instruction cannot be normal. I have to take what I can get. In my case it turned out to be better than normal.

By the time I soloed, I had flown six different airplanes and had about half my time in tri-gear and half my time in tailwheel. I have flown high wing and low wing, tandem and side-by-side, a glass panel and a plane with no electrical system that had to be hand-propped (my personal favorite). I just completed my first solo in a taildragger at a tower-controlled airport—a 1940s-era Aeronca Champ at Livermore Municipal in Livermore, California. My instructor was Pete Eltgroth, with Red Sky Aviation. I had just as much fun (or more) as the person soloing in a tri-gear at an uncontrolled airport.

While all these differences did extend the length of my training a little, so far, they have also provided a more comprehensive (and more fun) learning experience. And, I am much farther along than if I had waited for more ideal circumstances.

To which we say, “Congratulations!” Because, at the end of the day, whatever works to get you into the sky.—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 resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.


 

The cover letter

August 13th, 2014

As you start looking for your first job—or even if it isn’t your first one—you might be working on your resume and cover letter. What goes on a resume is pretty straightforward: It’s a quantitative and qualitative summary of your experience and the skills you bring to the job.

What about the cover letter? What do you put in the cover letter? What do you not put in the cover letter?

Some of the greatest advice I got about cover letters came from someone who makes a living reading them: A cover letter should not just be a regurgitation of your resume. If that’s all it is, then it is a waste of your time and the time of the person reading it.

Instead, your cover letter should be used to talk about what is not in your resume. Use it as a chance to talk about other experiences or skill sets you offer that may not necessarily be a part of the job, but will help contribute to your performance. For instance, if you coach a sports team or volunteer in a local school, you are demonstrating leadership. In fact, any kind of volunteer work should be highlighted, because companies—not just airlines or flight departments—like to see candidates who do something to give back to the community. It might be that you volunteer in a church, at an animal shelter, or a zoo; it doesn’t matter. You are demonstrating a desire to make a difference and a willingness to give your own time.

Mention other achievements or skills that you might be able to offer within the work place. If you are a certified trainer in something (besides flying), it demonstrates a desire to continue learning and pass on what you know. That, too, is impressive and important.

A cover letter is also a great place to briefly (as in two to three sentences) describe why you want to work for that particular company. That’s hard to do on a resume. Maybe you want to work there because your parents did, or because you grew up in the shadow of its headquarters (or, in the case of an airline, in the shadow of one of its hubs). This is your chance to show your loyalty to a company before you ever set foot in the door. It won’t always work, but you have nothing to lose by trying.

If you are still shy of the minimums for a particular company, use the cover letter to explain what you are doing to close the gap, and give an estimate of how long it will take you to get there. Sometimes, just the enthusiasm and work ethic that you demonstrate can be enough to get your foot in the door.

The cover letter is a bit of a lost art, so if you do it well, it will help you stand above the rest. Use it to your advantage, and keep it to a page or less. And whatever you do, don’t just repeat what is on your resume!—Chip Wright

Teaching your problems

August 7th, 2014

Cessna 172 LandingThink back to the subject or subjects that gave you the most trouble in school. There was, I’m sure, something that you just could not seem to understand, no matter how hard you tried. It happens to the best of us.

Now, think of where you are in your training. If you’re lucky, things are going well. If not, you may be in one of the inevitable training slumps that we all endure.

Landings are one example. Certain ground reference maneuvers are another, especially some of the commercial maneuvers. The same thing happens in instrument training.

One of the best tools to learn whether or not you fully grasp something is to try to teach it. Sit down with your instructor, or with another pilot, and try to teach the subject that you are struggling to comprehend. This will force you to go through all of the steps, and use the tried-and-true building-block process.

Take Eights on Pylons, which is a ground reference maneuver. With the Eights On, you have to compute your pivotal altitude, which is based on groundspeed. To know what the groundspeed is, you need to have an idea of what the winds are, which might require a check of the weather. Once the pivotal altitude is computed, you need to explain how to set up the maneuver, followed by what is going to happen based on the winds.

When NDB approaches were common, the failure rate on NDB approaches on checkrides was relatively high, because it isn’t the easiest maneuver to fly or understand. But, if you can discuss it and teach it, the NDB approach suddenly becomes much easier, and that kind of confidence is something you want to have when you are flying one in low IFR conditions for the first time—especially if it is the first low IFR approach you are flying by yourself, as it was for me.

It doesn’t matter if the subject is practical or academic. The reality is that somewhere along the way, you will likely have a bump in the road. By trying to teach the topic, you are forced to study it in a different way, and further, you are forced to try to fill in the gaps you have versus just trying to gloss over them.

I’ve used this approach for myself as well as for students with great success, and a good instructor will also let you use it as an opportunity to get the most that you can out of your learning experience.—Chip Wright

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Coming to AirVenture? Come see us!

July 24th, 2014
The AOPA tent in 2006. This year's campus will have a main tent and an activities tent.

The AOPA tent in 2006. This year’s campus will have a main tent and an activities tent.

Will you be hanging out with 500,000 of your closest friends next week?

Of course I’m talking about EAA AirVenture, which takes place July 28 through Aug. 3 in Oshkosh, Wis. I’ve written before about why you need to come to Oshkosh (assuming you haven’t made it in the past). And I’ve shared my own tips for first-timers, which you can read here.

For this post, I’ll concentrate on letting you know that AOPA will be there and we sure hope you’ll fit us into your Oshkosh plans. We have a new, expanded exhibit area in a brand-new location—across from the Brown Arch.

At our main tent, you can duck into some air-conditioned shade, renew or check the status of your membership, or bring your questions to any of our knowledgeable staff.

In addition to our main tent, we have a new activities tent, where you can meet airshow champion Patty Wagstaff, talk about current issues with AOPA President Mark Baker, and your kids can play with a Disney’s Planes: Fire and Rescue interactive display. The activities tent is where we’ll be holding educational seminars, including a Rusty Pilots seminar at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 30. (We’ll have coffee and a light breakfast for those who want to know more about how to get back into flying. RSVPs appreciated!)

Don’t miss the chance to take a good look at our Sweepstakes Beech Debonair, which will be on display. This is one special airplane!

Click here for a full schedule of seminars, guest speakers, and more.

Flight Training Editor Ian Twombly and I will be on the grounds. Please say hi; we’d love to meet you, and we want to hear all your flight training stories. Follow me on Twitter (@jtallman1959) and let me know where you are!—Jill W. Tallman

Letters of recommendation

July 21st, 2014

One of the tasks involved in getting a flying job—and many other jobs as well—is that of getting a reference or a letter of recommendation (LOR). Airlines are big on the LOR, because it’s one of the few avenues that they have to find out a little bit about you and whether or not you will fit in. If they choose, they can contact the writer and have a fairly candid conversation about you.

When it comes to asking for a letter, there are some points to consider. Keep a running list of people who know you personally as well as professionally. Some of those who know you professionally may not necessarily be people who have seen you fly. They could be your old boss, a secretary, a mechanic, et cetera.

Then there are those who have flown with you. Throughout your career, you should keep tabs on pilots with whom you have flown, because these pilots can vouch for your skills. The more you have flown with them, the better. If you were in an emergency situation with them, definitely keep in touch with them, as they might be willing to talk about how you handled a real-life pressure situation.

The best folks to have in your corner are those in positions of authority or responsibility: chief Pilots, check airman, sim evaluators/instructors, et cetera. As you move up the chain—especially at the regionals—these relationships become key, and you need to cultivate them. That means you need to make an honest effort to keep in touch. But, they need to be able to attest to your overall flying and decision-making skills.

When the time comes, asking politely is the proper form. Do not just say, “I need a letter…” The chances are that if you think enough of someone to ask them, others do as well. Check airmen and chief pilots are constantly being asked to write letters, and each one takes time.

Ask politely, by saying, “If you don’t mind, I am applying for a position with XXX, and a letter of recommendation from you would sure mean a lot to me.” Once that nicety is over, ask if the writer would mind taking a few minutes to recopy the letter into a generic one. That way, you won’t need to go back and ask for one for every job you are applying to. When I am asked to write LORs, I always provide several generic, non-specific signed copies for the individual to use at multiple organizations.

Recognize as well that the content of the letter is only part of the battle. The quality counts just as much. If you have a letter that simply says, “Billy is a good pilot and a nice guy,” it’s not the same as one that goes into some depth about specific flying examples, your character, your personality, and your work ethic. The deeper the letter, the more effective—and rest assured that HR departments everywhere know how to read between the lines.

It’s perfectly OK to ask someone if he or she would mind being a reference in the future, especially if you are still working toward making yourself competitive for the job you want. Being asked to write an LOR is flattering, so most folks are happy to do it. Just make sure that you allow that person ample time to do the job for you.

LORs can have a huge impact on your ability to get a job. Start early, get many, pick the best, and pay it forward.—Chip Wright

Lost logs, messy logs

July 14th, 2014

05465_LogbooksOne of the worst things that can happen to a pilot is to lose a logbook, especially  a logbook that is fat with hours and experience. It doesn’t matter how it happens, so you need to have a plan.

If you use an electronic logbook and don’t back it up somewhere, you can be in the same bad way. The advantages of electronic logs is that you can back them up more easily; you can save screen shots; and you can copy them to a spreadsheet.

There are a couple of options if you lose a logbook. If you have a copy of your most recent FAA form 8710, you are off to a good start. The FAA will allow you to use the 8710 in lieu of a logbook because you are required to fill in the various flight times for each certificate or rating evaluation. This alone makes it worth using the 8710 to record all of the times that it has blocks for, even if they don’t apply to your particular checkride. Make a copy of it and keep it in a safe place.

Another option to use Excel to produce a duplication of your logbook page. I use the program to do all of the math, and then transfer it to the paper log. I don’t have the desire for an electronic logbook, but this allows me to take away all of the math errors while keeping accurate times for the various airplanes I have flown.

Another logbook issue is that of the messy log. It’s generally frowned upon to have a log that has a lot of white-out, scratches, et cetera, but  most of us have a few pages somewhere with mistakes that needed fixing. If that happens, use a single line to mark out the error, initial, and neatly correct it.

If you have a page with a major snafu, mark the page with an asterisk, then move to the most recent page and use fresh lines to fix the mistake. It will help if you put page numbers on the pages so that you can reference the area where you need to fix a mistake. I ran into this a few years ago when I realized I had made a couple of major math mistakes. Once I sorted it out, I went to the first blank line, made the appropriate notations, and started over on a fresh page. That’s also what drove me to do the Excel plan. Sorry, no e-logs for me!

Logbook entries should be recorded neatly. If you are looking for a job, an interviewer should have no trouble deciphering your writing. Try to use the same color ink, and more important, keep it up to date. As for avoiding issues with losing it, take a picture every couple of pages, especially if something important happens, such as a new rating or certificate. If you use the summary pages in the back—and you should—then take a picture each time you update one of them as well.

Your logbook is much more than a personal diary. It’s a regulatory requirement, and trying to reconstruct it with receipts or memory is hard. Keep it up to date, so that if you do lose it, you can start up from scratch with as little lost as possible.—Chip Wright

Airline pay practices

July 7th, 2014

dollar signA post on a recent online thread about the airlines asked about the way pilots get paid—specifically, the fact that we don’t get paid for all of the time we spend not flying. It’s a good question, and one that is often not completely understood. Here is an abbreviated answer.

There actually is a history behind why are paid the way we are. When the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) first started, one of its goals was to have pilots treated—and paid—like professionals. There are generally three “professions” in the classic sense: doctors, lawyers, and accountants, all of whom are at some point paid by the hour (surgeons are paid by the procedure).

ALPA was aiming for the same level of recognition for pilots. Even if you accept that pilots are really more like a trade or a craft (which, in reality, is what we are), tradesmen and craftsmen also tend to get paid by the hour. Think of your local electrician, plumber, carpenter, et cetera. There may be a service fee involved, but almost all charge some sort of hourly rate.

That said, as professionals, we are getting paid only when we are practicing the “craft” of flying, which is generally defined as brake release to brake set.
Over time, the union contracts at the majors addressed the issue of unproductive trips with trip-and-duty rigs. With the trip rig, you are guaranteed to be paid one hour of pay for so many hours of time away from base (TAFB), which also determines per diem for most pilots.

A good trip rig is one hour of pay for every 3.5 hours away from base (1:3.5). The duty rig looks at each day of work on the trip, and it pays you a minimum of so many hours of pay per day (5.0 hours being considered a historically good number). At the end of the trip or the month, you look back and take the greater of the trip rig, the min day values, or the actual hours flown, and that’s what you get paid.

An extreme example is a trip I flew recently. It was a five-day trip that began with a deadhead. I flew three legs over the next four days that were worth 10 hours, but because of the minimum day credit, I got 25 hours of pay. Unfortunately, there is no other way to build the trip. Without the rig, it could only be flown by reserves, who wouldn’t be able to do anything else for those five days.

Other unions followed suit, and once one company jumped on the bandwagon, it made it easier for others to do the same.

Most regionals don’t get any kind of rig. When I was at Comair, we had rigs that were based on a look back at the end of the month (as opposed to using the rig to look forward, which would force more days off when your schedule is actually built). Even with a look-back rig, I had many months where the rig paid me extra money. Unfortunately, there has been relatively little success in getting rigs at the regionals. The companies tend to cry wolf, and claim that it will cost them too much money, and the pilots tend to accept a slightly higher pay rate in lieu of the rigs, especially since no pilot at a regional ever thinks s/he will be at that regional long enough to care.

Done correctly, trip-and-duty rigs incentivize both management and the pilots. For the company, there is a motive to make the trips as productive as possible (or, alternatively, where they have no choice, to minimize crappy trips). For the pilot, not only are there more days off, but you usually will lose some money on a sick call, because you often only get paid for the block time, not the lost “soft” time, thus minimizing the need for extra reserves. In theory, the rigs force the company to optimize trips as well as individual duty periods, which should lead to a decrease in fatigue. The concept of the rig precedes the jet age, so in that respect it’s a bit dated.

The fractionals often pay a monthly salary, which is then used to work backward to compute an hourly rate for various penalties that the company must pay. Pilots—especially (but not only) ALPA—have historically fought against salaries for fear that there will be fewer opportunities to make extra money, and the company will try extract more flying from the pilot, thus decreasing the cost per hour of the pilot, and decreasing the number of jobs at a given carrier.

Airline pay actually is pretty complicated, and it takes effort to keep up with it. But, once you understand it, you have an easier time of making sure you are getting what you are owed.—By Chip Wright

Catching up with…Amelia Rose Earhart

June 30th, 2014
Amelia Rose Earhart

Amelia Rose Earthart (left) has departed on an around-the-world flight. Photo courtesy Fly with Amelia Foundation.

When Flight Training magazine interviewed Amelia Rose Earhart in 2012, she was a traffic reporter in Denver and a private pilot training for an instrument rating in a Cirrus SR22 Turbo (see “Debrief: Amelia Rose Earhart,” March 2012 Flight Training). At that time, she hoped to fly around the world in 2015, recreating the trip her namesake, Amelia Earhart, did not finish.

Amelia Rose Earhart’s round-the-world journey came together sooner than that; in fact, she launched June 26 from Oakland, Calif., on the first leg. She’s flying a Pilatus PC-12 NG with a co-pilot, Shane Jordan. The trip will take about 17 days. If she completes the trip, she will become the youngest woman to fly around the world in a single-engine aircraft. She plans to award flight scholarships to young women through the nonprofit she founded, the Fly with Amelia Foundation. 

You can follow Earhart’s progress via social media (Twitter: @Amelia_Earhart, #flywithamelia; on Facebook: Amelia Rose Earhart); on Flight Aware (N58NG); and on the Fly With Amelia website. —Jill W. Tallman

 

Beat the heat

June 27th, 2014

Summer is here—boy, is summer here. After the winter we’ve had, it’s nice to welcome the sunshine. But relentless rays aren’t always a treat when you’re flying–ask any flight instructor.

How can you keep cool while flying? Here are some tips:

  • Water. Can’t say this enough—you need to keep hydrated. Drink water, carry water in the airplane, and drink it while you’re flying.* And when I say water, I mean water. Coffee is not water; it has caffeine, which is a diuretic that can cause you to become dehyrated. Soda is not water; it has sugar, which can make you thirsty. I’m not a fan of sports drinks, but if you are fond of those, by all means. Here’s more on the importance of keeping hydrated.
  • Wet towels. Wear one on your head or around your neck.
  • Loose, lightweight clothing that absorbs perspiration and allows it to evaporate quickly is best. Think cotton, not polyester or wool.
  • Sunblock. This won’t help you keep cool, but you do need to wear it in the cockpit.

*Drinking lots of water in the airplane can lead to the need for a bathroom break. I have a bladder with about a three-hour endurance, so I plan my flights accordingly. Here’s a blog from the male perspective on other ways to handle the problem.

What are your tips for keeping cool? Please share in the comments section and I’ll do a follow-up.—Jill W. Tallman