Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Record foul-ups

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

A friend of mine was recently terminated while in training with a regional airline. In the regional sector, it’s not unusual for an airline to terminate a new-hire without giving a specific reason. That was the case here, and the only explanation he received was that “there was something in [your] application.”

That’s vague, and he was convinced that it was bogus. One of the reasons he was so sure is that he had been employed by another airline for over a decade with no problems. He had disclosed his lone Part 121 checkride failure. But, just to be sure, he began a dialogue with the FAA. He was shocked at what he found.

To make a long story short, he had started an oral exam for a checkride, but he had been sick. The event was going well, but he had to bail out because of his illness. The next day, he finished the oral (and passed), and took the checkride (and not only passed, but got high praise from the examiner). However, that event was almost 20 years ago, and he had forgotten that he had signed a second 8710 for the oral. The first one was recorded as a failed event. Right or wrong, agree or disagree—that’s what went into his file.

Fast forward to now. The records that he had in his possession prior to starting this job did not include the 8710s and did not indicate that he had a failure of a checkride (remember, it was the oral, not the ride), and it cost him.

The lesson from this for any pilot is two-fold: Never lie on an application, because it will be found. He didn’t lie; he simply didn’t realize the full ramification of what was going on when it happened. But, the point is the same. If you try to hide something, it’s going to get uncovered. Second, when you start the process of applying to airlines, whether it’s a regional, a major, a foreign carrier, or anything in between, get in touch with the FAA in Oklahoma City, and get copies of everything that might be in your file. Ask questions.

You should keep your own detailed records with regard to ratings, certificates, et cetera. Whenever you take a checkride, make a note of the date, time, place, and examiner. If there is a mistake found later, you will know where to start. In this case, the school was long gone, and the examiner had passed away.

Contrary to popular opinion, it is not impossible to get a job with checkride failures, even after the Colgan accident. The thing to remember is that you need to fully disclose your past, and you need to own up to your mistakes. If you aren’t sure of something, get it taken care of.

In a case like this, if it happens to you, your best recourse is to write a detailed description of everything that happened. As you apply to airlines, you can attach this to your application or take a copy to the interview.—Chip Wright

The best and worst of 2013

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Hard to believe an entire year has rolled by since I last posted a Best and Worst of Flight Training blog (you can read the 2012 one here). This is my fourth annual Best Of/Worst Of list, and while I fully expected to see some of the same names on the roster (Hello, City of Santa Monica!), this year’s tally brings some brand-new players to our flight training game.

On an uplifting note, it took some digging for me to find five “worst” candidates for 2013.  In previous years, it seems there was more bad than good.

Worst:

  • Federal budget cutbacks prompted the U.S. Air Force to reduce flying time071014-N-5476H-721 for pilots, meaning fewer training hours. A Wall Street Journal article maintains they’re flying fewer hours than military pilots in some European allies, India, and China.
  • The same budget cutbacks kept the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds from making appearances at airshows across the nation. What does this have to do with flight training? Well, I may be grasping here, but we know military aircraft are a huge draw at airshows, and it’s likely that reduced attendance means fewer people (children in particular) got to forge bonds with aviation that could pay off down the road with the creation of new pilots.
  • Another “self-taught pilot” a la the Barefoot Bandit was accused of flying a stolen airplane that belonged to a soldier on deployment in Afghanistan. What makes this story doubly sad is that the 18-year-old who allegedly took the Cessna 150 was studying to be an airframe and powerplant mechanic. The teen has pleaded guilty, and sentencing is set for Jan. 6.
  • Santa Monica Airport makes the list for the third year in a row. A fatal accident in which an airplane crashed into a hangar (but did not cause any fatalities among people on the ground) has added fuel to the City of Santa Monica’s ongoing campaign to close the airport, which is home to at least six active flight schools. The city is now involved in a lawsuit to gain control of the airport.
  • The FAA has decided that overweight pilots are a cause for concern, even though there apparently aren’t any safety statistics to back this up, and has issued a proposed rule that would require pilots with a neck size of greater than 17 inches or a body mass index greater than 40 to be screened for and possibly treated for sleep apnea. [UPDATE! The FAA announced it is putting the rule on hold---but that doesn't mean the issue is going away.]

Best:

  • Thousands of student pilots told us the good, the bad, and the ugly aboutDisneys planes their flight training experiences, and helped us to find the Best Flight School and Best Flight Instructor in the Flight Training Initiative Awards. The winners—San Carlos Flight Center and Conor Dancy of Aviation Adventures—are profiled in the upcoming February issue. We’ll be doing it all again in 2014, so make sure you vote!
  • After the FAA stonewalled repeated requests from AOPA and EAA to consider a movement toward a driver’s license medical for private pilots, two members of Congress introduced a bill that would allow pilots of noncommercial VFR flights to use the driver’s license medical standard to fly aircraft of up to 6,000 pounds and no more than six seats.
  • The airlines are hiring. This means regional pilots will have an opportunity to move to the majors, and flight instructors will be moving on to the regionals, leaving flight instructor openings for new CFIs.
  • Disney’s Planes landed in theaters in August (and a real-life Dusty Crophopper visited EAA AirVenture). We’ll take any opportunity we can get to introduce children to aviation. A sequel is planned for release in 2014.
  • Shell Aviation has been working on a lead-free “performance drop-in” replacement for 100LL that could power any aircraft in the piston fleet. The new formula has passed preiminary tests on Lycoming engines on the ground.

Now it’s your turn. What would you add? How was your 2013, flying-wise? Please let me know in the Comments section. Thanks for reading the Flight Training blog, and I wish you blue skies and lots of flying in 2014.—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.

 

 

 

Marketing as a CFI

Monday, December 30th, 2013

The FAA provides CFI candidates no help in the way of marketing tips for folks looking to make a living providing flight instruction. If you are simply relying on your local flight school to do the work for you, you are making a mistake: Flight schools on the whole are some of the worst businesses that exist when it comes to properly marketing their offerings. Too many rely on walk-ins, web site hits, or word of mouth.

Further, your local flight school probably wants you to work as an independent contractor, not a full-time employee. However, even if you are an employee, the chances are you will only get paid based on billable hours. This is where you have a direct say in generating some of your own income.

Marketing can be as simple or as sophisticated as you want it to be:

  • At a minimum, have some business cards printed up, and give each new client six or seven cards to distribute to people who may be genuinely interested in learning to fly (or getting back into flying or earning a new rating).
  • Add a signature to your email that lists your credentials.
  • Utilize Facebook and Twitter to advertise not only your services, but also the accomplishments of your clientele. To minimize the risk of inappropriate material being posted, create a business page/Twitter handle that is separate from your personal one.
  • Even if you are working for a flight school, create a simple website that gets to the heart of what you do and offer. Minimize the number of links people need to hit. Advertise what you offer (more on this in a bit). Use your website to brag about what your clientele have accomplished, complete with photos or videos of recent first solo flights, checkride completions, et cetera.
  • Direct mail is old-fashioned, but it still works. You can talk to your local post office about how to target certain ZIP codes (those with higher incomes) and send out a professional-looking flyer or brochure advertising yourself and your flight school. In fact, you should confirm that the flight school is OK with this, and if it is, ask the school to share in the expense. If it won’t, use your contact number on the brochure, not the school’s.
  • Coupons. People are suckers for coupons. Work with local businesses—hotels, grocery stores, barber shops—to place and distribute coupons for intro/sight-seeing flights. Include them in your mailers and on your Facebook page and website. Make sure you include an expiration date that is 4-6 months out. This motivates the buyer/user to come in and use it, and also protects you from spikes in fuel prices.
  • Local events. During the holiday season, set up a booth in the local mall that has a running DVD about flying and has a few ground-school kits and flyers. You will have to coordinate this to keep it staffed, and it might be expensive up front, but people love to give and receive sightseeing flights for gifts. Do the same thing at local fairs, school events, et cetera. See the note above about expiration dates (for Christmas sales, extend the expiration date to Labor Day). Keep notes on the trickle-down business you create from this.
  • What do you offer? Besides being a CFI, talk up what you can add to that. Are you an instrument instructor? Multiengine? Can you offer seaplane training or a tailwheel endorsement? Come up with a package or a series to offer for your sightseeing rides. It should include a photo of some sort or a video if you can do it safely. If you can mount a camera on the strut of a Cessna, you can offer a fantastic memory to your customer. If you can get a great aerial shot of a local landmark that you fly over routinely, you can sell the same one over and over, but personalize it with each customer’s name, date, et cetera.. They may never come back to take lessons, but they may refer people to you for training or just for more rides. Remember, you want to fly to get paid, so it doesn’t matter what you are doing to produce billable hours.

What do you want to specialize in? Are you into night cross-country flights? Some instructors don’t like missing family time at night, so maybe you can become the go-to night CFI. Or do you want to do IFR training? How about IFR training on long cross-country trips? I got several vacations from my clients when I was a full-time CFI for which I actually got paid.

There is much that you can do to market what you do and what you offer. It isn’t hard, and I have not even scratched the surface of it here. Whatever you do, keep detailed records on what works and what does not so that you don’t throw good money after bad. If you do this correctly, you will probably make more money than a regional airline first officer can dream of, and maybe as much as regional captain. If you leave to pursue a flying career elsewhere, you may find that your former employers will make a strong pitch to keep you or will offer to pay you for some of your contacts, et cetera.

Heck, you might even be able to market marketing!—Chip Wright

Flight training when the weather is bad

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Social Media Editor and student pilot Benét Wilson last blogged about five holiday gift suggestions for student pilots.—Ed.06-492  Learn to Fly

As I sit at home and watch the snow falling, I can’t help but think how much I’d rather be out taking a flight lesson in my Cessna 172 Skyhawk. But when the weather is bad, we student pilots are grounded. Just because the weather is bad, it doesn’t mean that you can’t continue your lessons. So here are some suggestions to move ahead in the flight training process.

If you’re like me and studying for the knowledge test, the pause you get in cold weather is an ideal time to get some cramming in. I’m using Sporty’s Study Buddy app, and I find the flash cards to be especially helpful. Speaking of flash cards, check out these great ones from the Air Safety Institute to help you learn your airspace types and runway signage and markings.

My original flight instructor recommended that I use Microsoft Flight Simulator to practice the basics.

For those of you who are still nervous, like me, when talking to air traffic control, then there are plenty of tools you can use to help break up the nerves, including: LiveATC; a free King Schools course on Non-Towered Airport Communications; and this free Air Safety Institute course, Say It Right: Mastering Radio Communication.

I hope these help in the study process. Please feel free to pass your recommendations on to me (benet.wilson@aopa.org) for a future blog post.—Benét J. Wilson

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.

Cascade mountain high

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

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

Flying over the Hoodoo Moutain Resort, Oregon

From left to right: Hoodoo ski area, Big Lake, Mount Washington

During my years of ski instructing and ski patrolling I have “gone over the pass” many, many times. And I have spent hours on patrol handling dispatch at the top of Hoodoo Mountain Resort. From there you can see what we call Sand Mountains, and the multiple snowmobile tracks that climb up their smooth, snow-covered banks as high as possible.

 Weather in Oregon can be overcast and cloudy most of the fall and winter. I have a shirt that says, “Oregon State Rain Festival: January 1 to December 31.” Rain and overcast had set in, yet there was a week of clear, sunny weather, and my hopes of flying over the Cascades to the Sisters airport and back reawakened.

Flying over the Three Sisters and Sand Mountains, Oregon

Three Sisters top middle; Sand Mountains, bottom left

I had not flown above 5,000 feet yet. With the pass at 4,800, the surrounding peaks at 10, 000, we would go first to 5,500, then 7,500, and then 9,500 as needed to help ensure distance from other airplanes. I was excited. Sounded like more fun than practicing stalls. My CFI was willing. My husband-photographer would go along.

 Ground school before the flight had Steve explaining the angle needed as we came up on the elevation of the ridge as the high and low pressure might make the turbulence more than we (I) could handle. As we took off and headed east, first over our four acres and then over the towns in Santiam Canyon that I knew so well, we noted the smoke from home chimneys rising straight up in the cloudless calm skies.

 As we climbed higher and talked about potential landing spots in the seemingly endless forests in these mountains, the tops of the Three Sisters came into view. We noticed the snow on the top of North Sister being blown strongly south and west by the winds coming up from Eastern Oregon.

Flying over the Sand Mountains, Sisters, Oregon

“Sand Mountains” are really part of a string of craters.

Sure enough, as we came to the summit of Santiam Pass, seeing the road under us winding its way over, the winds began to shake us up quite a bit. “I don’t like this!” I said. And, angled as we should be, I slowly turned us away and back into smoother air. But not before Rob took a photo of the ski area we have enjoyed for years. We saw the backside of Hoodoo Butte and the runs coming down in parallel rows. And, to our amazement, we discovered that the Sand Mountains were actually part of a row of small craters. The view from the air opened our minds to this incredible new understanding of the earth terrain we had travelled and viewed for years.

 And I had a new respect and understanding of winds.—Jean Moule

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.

 

5 gifts to buy for your favorite flight training student

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Social Media Editor and student pilot Benét Wilson last wrote about lessons learned from her aviation friends.—Ed.

5 gifts for the student pilot on your list

Beaded airplane ornament photo from CreativityinPieces.com

Now that we’ve all managed to survive Gray Thursday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday, it’s time to get serious about how to show the holiday love to student pilots. My husband asked me for my Christmas list (but this is also good for Hanukkah, Kwanza, and Festivus), and everything on it was to help me with my flight training.  So below, please enjoy my picks for student pilot gifts. 

 

  1. Flight bag. For my first year of training, I carried m gear in an AOPA tote bag. It just looked bad. So at this year’s AOPA Summit, I bought the AOPA flight bag, which looks remarkably like this one offered by Sporty’s for $59.95.
  2. Headphones. I used an old pair from the AOPA Pilot magazine review cabinet. They were big, bulky, and uncomfortable. So when I had the chance to buy a slightly used Bose Aviation Headset X, I leapt at the chance. There are headsets out there with different features and prices, so use this handy headset finder created by MyPilotStore.com to find the best ones for your student pilot.
  3. Kneeboard. I originally inherited a kneeboard that curved to my letg, But it was raised, so it was hard to use in that tight Cessna 172 Skyhawk cockpit I use. So I went over to Aircraft Spruce and bought this ASA IFR and VFR kneeboard for a bargain $14.95.
  4. Sporty’s Study Buddy iPad app. If your student pilot is studying for the FAA knowledge test, spend the $9.99 for this app. it fatures three modes— learning, simulated tests, and flashcards—and covers everything on the exam. You can even take practice tests in preparation for the real thing.
  5. Leatherman Wingman Multitool. I used to have trouble taking the oil cap off during my aircraft check. So now I have this handy tool, available for $39.95 in the AOPA Store, in my flight bag and I’m ready for any task.

So—what did I miss?—Benét Wilson

Living and flying overseas

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s one thing to read about the number of American pilots who have embraced the expat opportunities overseas, especially in Asia, but it’s something else to hear it on the radio. I recently flew a trip to Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Saigon, and along the way, I heard a large number of pilots flying for Korean Air, Emirates, Dragonair, Cathay Pacfic, Singapore Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air (a Philippine carrier), and Vietnam Airlines that were clearly from the United States (as well as Canada, Great Britain, and Australia). Korean, Emirates, and Cathay are very popular for American pilots because of the pay and the better living conditions in Seoul, Dubai, and Hong Kong, respectively (especially the pay).

I know many pilots who have pursued these opportunities, and many are having the time of their lives.

Americans are needed here because flight training in Asia is virtually nonexistent. There is no infrastructure (almost no general aviation airports, no GA airplanes , no 100LL fuel, no instructors), and the airspace system was not designed to accommodate flight training. The military owns the airspace and is not willing to share.

Most of the Asians learn to fly in the United States (including on Guam, U.S. territory in the Pacific) and Australia, then come home. However, they enter the work force very inexperienced and with a nearly pathological fear of hand-flying a big airplane. Americans are desired because of their experience. We’ve spent years learning how to fly, and we’ve flown in the most demanding airspace in the world. Further, Americans love to turn everything off and just fly. The Asian pilots have yet to embrace that concept, and they know they need to.

This is not to say that Americans are always welcomed. Sometimes they are viewed as a necessary evil. But many pilots go on to long, happy, productive careers living as ex-pats, taking advantage of the ability to move around to different countries every couple of years while seeing parts of the world they’d never get to see otherwise. Once you have this experience, it’s also easy to parlay it into a job as an instructor teaching the locals in the simulators.

There are also those who go abroad for a few years and then come home. In years past, pilots with international experience could just about pick out the airline they wanted to come home and work for. It remains to be seen if that holds with the new round of hiring. Also remaining to be seen, for that matter, is just how many pilots will even bother to come home. Foreign compensation packages have gotten so good that many will find such a move hard to justify.

Moving overseas to fly is a huge commitment, but if you are open-minded and can get past what you think “oughta be,” it can be an extremely rewarding, fun lifestyle—even if only on a temporary basis. After all, what better way to see the world than to get someone else to pay the bill?—Chip Wright

My aviation bucket list: soaring, helicopters, finishing that RV

Monday, November 25th, 2013

glider, soaringIt’s good to have an aviation bucket list. Mine has stayed pretty consistent over the years. Much of it I have accomplished, but there are some items of unfinished business on it. When I first started flying, I wanted to fly airplanes with retractable gear and more than one engine. My first multiengine experience was in a Piper Aztec, and on that first leg, it might as well have been a 747. It just felt huge! I got my multiengine rating in 1994.

Seaplanes were always a favorite, and I bummed rides in them whenever I could. I finally got to the point where I couldn’t stand the wait anymore, and with my wife’s blessing, took a five-day trip to Florida, two of which were spent splashing around in the lakes getting a seaplane rating. It’s some of the most fun flying one can do, and it’s more challenging than it appears.

Seaplanes are right up there for me with ultralights. Some think that the UL world is filled with lunatics, given that many of the airplanes have little or no structure surrounding the pilot. That’s true, but the open air, the slow speed, the grass landing…they all add magnitudes to the fun. If you haven’t done it, you don’t know what you’re missing.

IRV-8, experimental aircraft, homebuilt’ve always wanted to build my own airplane, and I have at least begun that. Several years ago I finished the empennage of an RV-8. I don’t know if or when I will be able to start on the next sub-kit (the wings), but it was a very rewarding process at the time, and it convinced me that I can do it. For me, it wasn’t the time that was the issue, but the money. I may have to wait until my kids are out of the house, but it’s a dream that is only dormant—not gone.

helicopters, learn to flyAlso on my list of “gotta do” is to learn to fly helicopters. It’s such a different kind of flying, with totally different skills. Whirly-birds just look like so much fun (to match the danger!). Again, this one will have to wait a while (also because of the cost), but I have long vowed that I will achieve this particular dream. Not for any particular reason, but just because. That’s good enough for me.

I taught my dad how to fly, and something we both long wanted to do was to learn to fly gliders. Glider flying is pure flying, since the duration of the flight is up to your skill in finding the thermals. My dad has since passed away, but I’ve never forgotten how much he wanted to learn to fly gliders. One day, I will take the time to go somewhere where I can devote the time necessary to master this particular art.

I’ve been lucky to also get a few other items on my list knocked out. Flying jets, including one of my favorites—the 737—has been a blast. The high-speed, high- altitude regime is totally different from the low and slow of an ultralight or a Piper Cub, but both are rewarding for different reasons. Fast airplanes are much more complex, but the personal satisfaction can be just as rewarding.

My list still has a few items on it, and hopefully for each one I knock off, I can find another one to add to it. After all, with nothing to strive for, what’s the point in getting out of bed every morning?—Chip Wright

Is learning to fly on your aviation bucket list? Get 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.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high…

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

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

learn to fly, student pilot, flying in Hawaii

Rather than go snorkeling, student pilot Jean Moule (right) arranged a flight lesson during her visit to the islands.

Spiraling up on thermals in a glider, circling Kauai dodging clouds: what a way to spend time and funds for vacation fun.

I expected to take to the air between islands and headed home. Yet…something called…

Normally time in the tropics leads to sunset and/or snorkeling cruises. Fancy meals overlooking the beach. And, for more active adventure: zip lines, parasailing, scuba diving, SUP (stand up paddling), horseback riding. There are hikes and special coves for swimming. So, what did I unexpectedly do?

Oahu

This time…it was different. Even as we landed from the mainland onto Oahu, I knew I wanted to see more from the air. On some of the islands 80 percent of the scenery is only visible from a boat or from the sky. A bit of research and a few calls and I was scheduled to take a mini-glider lesson.

What was it like without an engine? Everything seemed different. Until Yuki had us up in the air after our release from our tow plane and we turned slowly upward and she let go of the controls. Somehow it began to feel familiar. She had told me earlier, “A student pilot learns a lot about flying from the engineless experience.” Now, if only I could take my eyes off the scenery long enough to solidify my growing skills.

She let me take the glider wherever I wished, while maintaining her watch on the altitude, the other gliders, and parachuters in the air not far from us. I FLEW. As we got ready to return to the airport she took over the controls and did a few steep g-force turns that had me laughing and joyful. Then she landed. My mini lesson helped me understand the power of rising air and the feel of an airplane, as all of them are, designed to fly on its own.

Kauai

Quite a day. This is an adaptation of what I wrote to my Salem, Oregon, flight instructor:

Remember the time you took over the controls after we were landing to quickly clear the runway for a corporate jet flight coming in? As we landed in Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii, my flight instructor took over the controls to get out of the way of an American Airlines flight about to take off. Oh my…amazing to be intertwined with the big guys. And, like, holding them up!? We also had to wait in line for the takeoff earlier. Almost cartoonish: Big planes and little us. A first for me.

As I took off Bruce said, “You’ve done this before.” He also appreciated that I was gentle on the controls. Certainly learned a bit about flying in the mountains, near the rainy clouds and in some turbulence. Now I know to say 492 Echo Romeo unfailingly (OK, confession: Since my regular N number is 75765, I had never asked for a briefing with a tail number with letters. The briefer let me know my error when I said E R, even added “November” for the N part of the number! I have studied, my husband has tested me: At this point I think you can wake me up in the middle of the night, give me a letter of the alphabet, and I can tell you the standard word…I am even dreaming of them).

As a CFI, Bruce, a former college prof, freely shared that he could not get a student to pilot certificate level as I believe the island situation has limitations. He certainly knew his island. I was surprised that we carefully avoided flying over populated areas to reduce the noise to those communities. And I learned to skirt clouds. Raindrops on the window did not freak me out this time either.

The scenery was awesome and the cost—that had both Robbie and me up in the air—was all of $2 more than if we had both taken the regular scenic flight with the same time and route!

Worked for me. And Robbie took 100 photos.

I think I enjoyed it most when Bruce and Robbie were talking and I just flew over the coastline with some turns and altitude adjustments as I felt like it. 1.1 Hobbs and I have an entry to paste into my logbook.

Thought you might like to know…

And, one last surprise: having now flown a different Cessna 172, my heart races every time I see one…and I want to fly it.—Jean Moule

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 back side of the clock

Monday, November 11th, 2013

alarm clock.svgIn my old job, it was unusual for me to fly late at night, with “late” being defined as anything past 10 p.m. With time, I got the seniority to make sure that I didn’t fly at night, as I am a morning person and prefer to just get up, get started, and get the day done. Sometimes, I miss those days…

In my new gig, there is a lot of night flying, including all-night flying. These flights aren’t the classic red-eye, per se, but the effect is the same: You spend a lot of time on the “back side of the clock,” flying between midnight and daybreak. For most of my life, I have not been a real good napper. Getting older helps, but more importantly, I’ve learned to do it out of necessity. On days when I know I’m going to be flying at night, or if I know that there’s even a possibility of flying late, I will force myself to lie down and catch some Zs. It’s a bit easier when I already have an assignment. I will generally lie down in the early afternoon and allocate at least 90 minutes to sleep, and if I can get two hours, I’m ecstatic.

The key is to figure out what works best for you. I’ve asked a lot of people how they do it, and everyone seems have a slightly different methodology (except for those who have no methodology). For me, if I can go to bed shortly after my normal lunch time, I don’t feel “rushed” to get some sleep. Sometimes I don’t really sleep, but I can just lie there and rest, and that’s enough. Fortunately, my new home has shutters that allow me to make the room as dark as a dungeon, so it looks and feels like it does when I go to bed at night. I’ve also found that for napping, I sleep better without an alarm. Instead, I have someone in my family wake me up.

By napping early, I can still get up and be somewhat engaged in the goings-on of my household, and it also gives me a chance to come to my senses slowly, take a shower, and maybe even eat something before I go to work. In fact, I try to push lunch back until after I nap, since I know I will get a meal when I’m on the airplane.

Flying at night is against the natural programming of the body, but it can be done. But, to be safe, as the pilot you must make sure that you are properly rested before you go to work. You also need to make sure you don’t aggravate your sleep debt by not sleeping the next day. I always crash the next morning for a few hours, and because I don’t drink caffeine on a regular basis (I don’t drink coffee at all), I can fall asleep more easily than most people, and if I need a soda to keep me awake, I can count on it working.

Staying engaged during the trip also helps. Nothing is as stimulating as a good conversation with the person I am flying with, and that goes a long ways toward passing the time. Sometimes the weather becomes the “stimulant,” but most of the time I just count on having a good rapport with my fellow workers. Good communication is also key in another respect: If you are flying tired, or have not slept well prior to a night flight, you need to convey that so that your fellow pilots can keep an eye on your performance.

Night flying can be fantastic, but it comes with a new set of challenges. Make sure that you are “up” for them!—Chip Wright