Archive for the ‘Training advice’ Category

Teaching your problems

Thursday, 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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Beat the heat

Friday, 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

 

The power of the written word

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Orlando Showalter MentoringThey say that the pen is mightier than the sword. Having been stabbed by a pen and poked by a knife, I have learned that taking the phrase literally is at your own risk. But, taken metaphorically, we can apply the wisdom imparted by these words to aviation.

In the early days of flying, a brief walk-around was followed by  starting up the engine, adding some power, and away we go. That still happens to a lesser degree with aircraft like the Piper J-3 Cub, but for the most part we’ve gotten away from such a cavalier approach to making approaches.

Starting with the Boeing B-17, pilots have been conditioned to use a written checklist for nearly every phase of flight. And why not? If we make a grocery list, we don’t have to worry about forgetting the one thing that sent us to the store in the first place. Using a checkbook register keeps our finances organized. I’ve used checklists that had only two items, but they were important items. Quickly done, too.

It’s easy to get complacent in an aircraft with which you are intimately familiar. I have enough hours flying in a pre-GPS, pre-fancy-schmancy 172 that I could undoubtedly walk up to it, get in, start it up, fly it from A to B and back, shut it down, and walk away looking at the checklist. And I used to do that.

Until the day I got a phone call from the flight school informing me that I had left the master switch on and drained the battery.

We are supposed to use the checklists that the manufacturer gives us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t tweak them or add to them. Many do. As you fly bigger, faster, more advanced airplanes, there are more checklists. Quick Reference Handbooks (QRHs) are go-to books filled with all manner of checklists for nearly every conceivable scenario. Airlines and flight departments routinely add to them. Mine has included some supplemental information on various approaches (setting up the avionics), de-icing procedures, and other rarely used procedures.

The key here is the initials: QR—Quick Reference. It’s just that. It’s an easy-to-find, easy-to-use cheat sheet to make sure that an expensive airplane doesn’t get damaged by doing something wrong, even if at first glance the pilot believes it is “obvious” what needs to be done.

There are other examples of the written word. Placards are a great example. You are being given free information, right in front of you! Jets and turboprops are loaded with placards. Use them!

Airline pilots typically fly 80 hours a month, and if they skip a checklist, they feel…uncomfortable. They know something isn’t right. They will not feel OK until they know it has been done. So, they do it, even if they’ve done it thousands of times. If a pilot who makes a living flying more hours in a month than most pilots fly in a year is dedicated to the use of the written word to fly safely, shouldn’t we all be the same way?

Even if you have “memorized” the checklist, you need to use it. In fact, when you memorize it, you need it more than ever, because your complacency will eventually catch up to you.

The written word is a powerful tool. Don’t be afraid to use it.—Chip Wright

Checklists and flows

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Driving and flying have some similarities. In both cases, you are responsible for the operation of a heavy piece of machinery that has the potential to hurt you as the operator, as well as others that get in your way. In both cases, poor operating practices can lead to unnecessary outcomes that can create a combination of inconvenience and high out-of-pocket costs. A case in point: Running down a battery. It’s easy to do in a car (leave the door cracked open with the key in the ignition and the dome light on) and in an airplane (leave the master switch on).

When we learn to drive a car, though, we don’t learn to use checklists. We just…do stuff. But think about what you learn fairly early as a driver. You learn to work in a pattern to start up and to shut down the car. Some of us put the seatbelt on before closing the door, some after. Some of us set the parking brake before the car is shut down, some after, and some not at all.

The reality is that we learn to do things in a predictable pattern, or flow, when we drive. We don’t use checklists. Airplanes are different. The environment is three-dimensional versus two-dimensional. Cars do not have retractable landing gear or adjustable propellers. We don’t need to memorize speeds in our cars that affect the operation of certain items like the flaps or the aforementioned retractable gear. Plus, we don’t fly airplanes nearly as often as we drive our cars.

But the idea of a flow is transferable. If you watch pilots in more sophisticated airplanes—especially those with crews of two or more—you will see that they often follow a predictable pattern for each checklist. While companies and manufacturers differ in their philosophies, the flow is a commonly accepted practice.

At its simplest level, a flow is a series of visual and tactile checks that a pilot can use to verify proper switch/lever/button/dial/control position. For example, prior to applying electrical power to a airplane, a pilot might physically touch each switch in the cockpit, or only certain designated switches, to make sure that everything is set just so. This is done primarily to avoid a problem as a result of mechanics doing work on the aircraft and forgetting to return systems to their normal condition. Likewise, after electrical power has been applied to an airplane, the pilot will usually follow a pattern of testing the functionality or set-up of each system.

In each case, the flow is followed by the checklist. It can be done as either a Challenge-and-Response (C/R), in which one pilot reads the checklist line by line and the other responds accordingly, or it can be done as a Read-and-Response (R/R), in which case the pilot who performed the flow reads the checklist aloud and verbalizes that each item is complete. What is very rare is one pilot reading each item, and then doing it. This actually slows things down and increases the risk of an error because of a radio call or other distraction.

Flows transfer well to most general aviation aircraft. In fact, some never really had a checklist (Piper Cub), so a flow is the only option. Flows are not always appropriate, but they can expedite pre-departure checks (runups) and after-landing and shut-down duties.

Work with your CFI to set one up (assuming s/he is game), or carefully practice one yourself using a poster or photo of the cockpit. A flow is not a replacement for the checklist, but merely a tool to use the checklist more efficiently.—Chip Wright

Don’t forget

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Cash DrainWhen going flying, don’t forget…

…your headset. Even in a non-radio environment, the noise of the engine will give you a headache.
…your sunglasses, especially if flying into the sun or in instrument meteorological conditions.
…something to write with and to write on. Writing clearances on your arm uses a lot of space. I knew a pilot who used a grease pencil to write on the window, but an FBO may not appreciate this. This fellow owned the airplane.
…something to eat and drink, but make sure you use the restroom first.
…a credit card for fuel.
…your cell phone and a charger in case you get stuck somewhere. Put a flashlight app and an E6B app on your phone.
…to cancel your flight plan on arrival.
…charts. Electronic is great, but paper doesn’t rely on batteries. Either way, have them—and ensure currency.
…your medical, your certificate, the pilot’s operating handbook, and a photo ID.
…to check the weather. Twice. At least.
…a back-up plan, in case the weather forces itself upon thee.
…to take as much fuel as you can.
…a handheld radio with fresh batteries.
…clothes appropriate for the terrain, especially if you are flying over rugged or mountainous terrain.
…at least one flashlight. Even during the day, a flashlight can be handy. See the tip about apps above.
…to check for TFRs, notices to airmen, and pilot reports.
…to untie the airplane from the tie-down. Don’t laugh. It’s happened. Damage can occur to more than your pride. But your pride will be damaged if you do this, because it’s funny to watch.
…to call ahead for overnight parking information, crew car info, et cetera.
…cash for vending machines and to tip the fellow putting fuel in your airplane.
…and most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. Flying is fun, and we are privileged and lucky to be able to do it. If it isn’t fun, you need to recapture that feeling—or take a car.—Chip Wright

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Show shopping

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Follow Me carts await Sun n Fun arrivals_2899Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to spend a few days at the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In and Expo.  I love attending airshows for the obvious reasons– the flying displays, the aircraft static displays, the aviation celebrities, and meeting AOPA members.

But my biggest thrill, as a student pilot, is the shopping. I decided to spend no more than $200 at the show. First, I found myself in the Aircraft Spruce & Specialty Co. hangar in its headset demonstration area. It’s a great one-stop-shopping place to try out many of the major headset manufacturers, including Bose, Clarity Aloft, David Clark, Lightspeed, Pilot USA, and Sennheiser. After testing out the different brands, I decided to stick with my Bose headset–for now.

I’m in the part of my flight training when I need E6B calculator. I went to the PilotMall.com shop at Sun ‘n Fun and looked at a variety of whiz wheels and electronic devices. I decided to spend the $63.95 for an electronic ASA E6B calculator.

One of the benefits of working in publishing is folks are always sending things in for us to review, so we have a lot of equipment lying around. It was how I got my first aviation headset.  I have been using a curved kneeboard that has been driving me crazy, because it was tight around my leg and interfered with the operation of the yoke. And it had nowhere to hold a pencil!

I paid $14.95 at PilotMall.com for a new kneeboard that has a spot for a pencil and has common aviation terms printed on the front and back. And while I was there, I bought an autographed copy of an oral history of the Tuskegee Airmen ($18.95) and a pair of luggage tags ($10.95) that read Girl Pilot (Get Over It). Finally, I went over to the Sun ‘n Fun merchandise tent and bought a 40th anniversary T-shirt for $19.95. That left me with $71.25, but I could have easily spent more.

So the next time you’re at an airshow, a fly-in, or some other aviation event with vendors, I highly suggest you go to the booths and try out all the available merchandise, even if you don’t buy anything. You can see what tools are out there and see what you might want to buy in the future.–Benet 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 resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.

Upgrading to turbine/turboprop aircraft

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

John Mahany last wrote for the Flight Training blog on upgrading to bigger, faster aircraft. He has been flying for more than 30 years. He is a CFI and has corporate, airline, and charter experience, and also spent four and one-half years flying in Alaska. He is a King Air instructor at FlightSafety International in Long Beach, Calif.—Ed.

TBM 300Are you considering taking the big step and moving up to a turbine aircraft? If you decide to step up to a turboprop or VLJ, you will find that your aircraft insurance broker will want a more professional level of training, like that offered by providers of simulator-based training facilities, using flight training devices (FTD). These include SimCom, SimuFlite, and FlightSafety International. There are a few others, as well.

What is the difference between a turbocharged engine and a turboprop? “Turbocharged” refers to piston engines only, whereas a turboprop is a jet engine that turns a propeller. Sometimes it is also called a prop-jet. It’s the same thing.

In a turboprop engine, a turbine (jet) engine shaft is connected to a reduction gear box and propeller governor, which in turn governs propeller speed and operation. A turboprop engine can be normally aspirated or flat-rated, which is the equivalent of turbocharging for a turboprop engine. Turbine engines also are normally aspirated.

Yes, this will cost considerably more, but the airplane also will cost more. It is all relative. Don’t go cheap on the training, and rush through it. It’s your life! Invest in quality training and take the time to learn the airplane. I have met many experienced pilots who are still learning more about the airplane they fly, even at the jet and turboprop level, after many years and thousands of hours experience in type. It really is a never-ending process. A good pilot is always learning.

You might find an instructor who is “insurance approved” to provide training in specific makes/models of aircraft in the airplane. Typically, the type-specific owner groups, such as Cirrus, TBM, and Pilatus, will have this information. But most of the training at this level is done in a simulator/FTD. Mistakes made in turbine powered aircraft can be costly (a hot start on a turbine engine could cost $250,000). It is far better to make mistakes in turbine aircraft in the simulator than in the airplane! You can walk away from the simulator and use it again.

Before considering any of this, it would be wise to take stock of your piloting skills, and consider hiring an instructor to fly with you to evaluate your skill level. Your piloting skills, both VFR and IFR, should be at the Practical Test Standards level for the grade of pilot certificate that you hold. If you are not proficient, that should be addressed first.

You need to be proficient, and it helps to have some recent experience before upgrading. Otherwise you will find yourself “behind” as you go through the training, and it will become much more challenging, as well as frustrating. Ask yourself, when was the last time you read through the Aeronautical Information Manual? You need to have pertinent operational information for IFR procedures at your fingertips!

Good instrument skills are a must, as flying high(er) performance aircraft demands a greater degree of precision. You simply have to be a proficient instrument pilot, and high performance aircraft are flown by the book, also known as the numbers.

The training itself will depend on your experience level. A low-time private pilot upgrading for the first time may find the process more challenging. A bigger, heavier airplane with more horses under the cowl will take some getting used to. As you step up to more complex aircraft, expect the level of difficulty to increase accordingly. As the speed increases, you will learn to think in terms of time rather than distance, and cruising at 120, 150, or 180 knots equates to two to three miles a minute respectively, while 300 knots is five nautical miles per minute. You learn to plan climbs and descents accordingly, and staying ahead of the airplane takes on a new meaning.

When you step up to the world of retractable landing gear, you will learn the procedures for when to raise and lower the landing gear. You do not want to get distracted and forget, which does happen occasionally. There is a saying among those who fly retractable gear airplanes: “There are those who have, and those who will” land gear up. Even professional pilots, especially when flying single pilot, have been known to forget the gear on occasion. You don’t want to join this club.

Information in ground school may seem to come at you in firehose fashion. And, just to add to the complexity, in larger aircraft, typically there is more automation. If you have avoided automation and glass cockpits, they will be hard to avoid when you upgrade. It would be good to learn any advanced avionics such as Garmin G1000 or Avidyne well in advance if possible.

When you upgrade to complex and high-performance aircraft, it will take more time to learn the aircraft systems, aircraft performance, and weight and balance, as well as the procedures and checklists. You will find that the manuals and the AFM/POH for aircraft will vary from one manufacturer to another. Cessna performance charts will look different than Beechcraft performance charts, for example.

When you step up to this level of training, it will be referred to as either initial or recurrent training. Initial training is for a pilot who has not flown a particular airplane (jet/turboprop) before. On the other hand, after you have successfully completed initial training, and you come back for training a year later, this is called recurrent training. This course will be shorter in duration.  To maintain your aircraft insurance, you will have to complete recurrent training annually.

The typical initial ground school and simulator training for a turboprop aircraft will take at least five and possibly 10 days. For turbine/jet training, expect 14 days or longer.  It depends on where you train, and the training program that has been approved for that school or that operator to use. The requirements will vary slightly.

Expect the turboprop ground school to be about 20 hours over a period of three to five days. For smaller turbine/jets (Citation/VLJ), it will depend on the specific jet, but ground school will typically run five to seven days. Bigger transport category jets (Boeing/Gulfstream) will take longer to learn, with ground schools typically taking two to three weeks. Try to arrange to get the manuals/course materials in advance, so you can begin to familiarize yourself with the material.

For most turboprops, initial training typically consists of five simulator sessions. For jets, it could be more. Each simulator session is typically two hours long. This can be a very intense two hours, especially when you are dealing with abnormal and emergency situations. You will probably forget that you are in a simulator, which by its nature is more challenging to fly than the airplane. This is intentional. Simulators are not designed to be a stable platform. If you look away from the panel to reference a checklist or chart, you might look back and find yourself in a climbing or descending turn. This will encourage you to become familiar with and learn to use the autopilot/automation/flight guidance system, as appropriate. When flying single-pilot, the autopilot is your co-pilot.

Once the training is completed, if this is your first time in turbine equipment, jet or turboprop, expect to have an instructor pilot fly with you for some time before you fly solo. You will need to demonstrate single-pilot proficiency. In the VLJ and the Citation I and II, it is possible to earn a single-pilot waiver.

Let’s briefly compare this level of turbine/turboprop training (FAR 61) with charter and airline operations (FAR 121/135), for airline and charter pilots who are upgrading to captain. They are not turned loose as pilot in command at the completion of their simulator training and checkrides. They are then required to complete additional training, called initial operating Experience, or IOE.

This initial operating experience consists of flying with a qualified instructor pilot, or line check airman, for up to 50 hours, and successfully completing what is known as a line check before they are released to fly the line as captain in revenue operations. This is where they finally get a chance to fly the airplane and see how it feels and handle, under the supervision of an experienced captain. Thus, you should expect a similar process yourself.

Whatever you have upgraded to, after the training is completed, no doubt you will be anxious to go fly! I would caution you to start with day VFR first, if possible, before plunging into hard IFR. It is always better to get a feel for the real airplane in day VMC first, and away from other traffic. Have fun and fly safely.—John Mahany

Upgrading to bigger and faster airplanes

Friday, April 4th, 2014

John Mahany has been flying for more than 30 years. He is a CFI and has corporate, airline, and charter experience, and also spent four and one-half years flying in Alaska. He currently is a King Air instructor at FlightSafety International in Long Beach, Calif.—Ed.

06-493 Baron G58Nearly every pilot aspires to move up, or upgrade to bigger, faster airplanes at some point. After all, isn’t that one of the main reasons why we fly? To get there faster, and carry more payload, right?

Upgrading to “bigger and faster” is relative. It depends on what you are flying now, and what you have in mind. If you are a new private pilot who has been flying a Cessna 150/152 or similar for primary training, you might simply want to move up to a 172 or Piper Warrior/Archer to carry more passengers and bags, as well as the ability to go farther, faster.

On the other hand, you might already be an aircraft owner and are using your airplane for business or personal transportation; it may be time for you to step up to a bigger airplane. It all depends on your mission. This could mean stepping up to turbocharging, multiengine, or even a turboprop or entry level jet (very light jet, aka VLJ). Simply stated, the bigger the step, the more there is. What kind of flying do you need to do? What are your requirements for speed, range, and payload? That will define what you need to consider.

Moving up from a typical two-place trainer to a Cessna 172 or Piper Warrior/Archer is a relatively simple process. There are no endorsements required. You would need to pick up the airplane flight manual (AFM), or information manual, as it might also be called, and spend time reviewing it.

Read it cover to cover. It’s not exciting, but it includes important information about the airplane and its systems. And then schedule time with an instructor, on the ground, first to review the systems and performance as appropriate. Work out a sample weight and balance for a typical flight, as well as for your favorite destination. How much fuel can you take with all the seats filled? You may find that you can’t fill the seats with full fuel, especially on a hot summer day. How much more runway will it take for takeoff and landing on a summer day with a high density altitude?  Every airplane has its limits. Every summer some pilots seem to forget this and have a density altitude related crash on takeoff.

Keep in mind that the performance numbers as given in the POH/AFM are optimistic, generated by the marketing department, designed to sell airplanes. They do not accurately reflect the likely performance of an older, high-time piston engine and the average pilot whose skills are not at the top of his game. They are numbers that a test pilot would get in a new airplane with a new engine. So, conservatively, add at least 10 percent or more to the performance numbers to be more realistic.

Then, with your CFI, go fly for at least an hour and get a feel for it, going through maneuvers, takeoffs, and landings. Especially, work through stalls and slow flight. See how it feels and handles on the back side of the power curve. How does it handle on the stall break? Is it gentle or abrupt? Find out at a safe altitude (at least 3,000 feet agl) with an experienced CFI. You don’t want surprises in the traffic pattern.

Check with your aircraft insurance broker early in the process to find out what training your insurance will require, based on your experience (flight time), before you can fly this airplane. This is important. The FAA stipulates under FAR 61 which certificates and ratings are required to fly a given airplane as the pilot in command. But the insurance company will tell you what you will need before it will insure you to fly this airplane as PIC.

Why? The insurance company writes the checks following an accident or incident. For example, if you are a low-time pilot who wants to step up to a high-performance single (Bonanza or Cirrus) or light twin-engine airplane, insurance may require, after you have completed the formal training, that an experienced mentor pilot or CFI fly or ride with you for 10 to 50 hours or more before “approving” you to fly your airplane alone.

More airplane usually means more engine(s), more horsepower, and more fuel. Translation: more money to operate on an hourly basis. Depending on how high you step up, this will determine the level of training required. I should point out that there are separate endorsements for complex (FAR 61.31 (e)); high-performance, (more than 200 HP) (FAR 61.31 (f)), and high altitude, above FL 250 (FAR 61.31(g)).

If you are moving up to a turbocharged aircraft, you will likely need the high-performance endorsement. You will need to learn how the turbocharging system operates, along with the power settings and operational techniques for that particular engine. When a piston engine is turbocharged, some of the exhaust gases are redirected to a “turbocharger.” In simple terms, a turbocharger consists of an exhaust turbine and an intake compressor (impeller). Hot exhaust gases drive the exhaust turbine, which drives the intake compressor at the same very high rpm. Thus, the density of the intake air and manifold pressure are increased, allowing the engine to deliver more power than it could without a turbocharger.

If you are considering stepping up to multiengine flying, welcome to the world of twin engine operations. Multiengine training typically takes between 10 and 20 hours, depending on your proficiency and where you train. You will be limited to VFR flying unless you also include instrument flying as part of your training and checkride.

Please also understand that a typical light twin has two engines because it needs both engines. If an engine fails, especially on takeoff, you will lose 85 percent of the performance! Unless you are proficient in multiengine, engine-out procedures, the loss of the second engine will only take you to the scene of the accident. Regular, ongoing proficiency training is a must in any light twin. Your insurance will require this.

Upgrading to bigger, faster airplanes is something that nearly every pilot will experience at some point. Find a competent instructor with experience in make and model, and take it a step at a time. Spend the necessary time to become properly acquainted with it, especially learning about any quirks. This will also depend on your experience and what else you have flown. You will be a better, safer pilot for it. We will all benefit from that!—John Mahany

This blog was edited on May 7 to reword the definition of a turbocharger.–Ed.

What is your airplane saying to you?

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Cessna 172 SkyhawkFlying is a sensual experience. Sight, of course, rules the senses, whether in IFR or VFR conditions. Touch and feel play a role as well, but less of one once in cruise and everything is in equilibrium. That’s not to say that they don’t play an important role—I was once alerted that a major hydraulic failure was about to occur by what I felt in the way of vibration through my feet. But behind sight, I believe that sound is critical when it comes to flying. Specifically, the ability to identify certain sounds.

Reference the above hydraulic situation. It started with a vibration we could feel in the floor, but it soon escalated to a sound similar to that of an idling chainsaw. Within a few minutes, we had been alerted via an engine indicating and crew alerting system (EICAS) message what was going on, and the idling sound turned into a high-pitched whine. It was the pump tearing itself apart.

Every airplane has a certain “sound footprint” in each phase of flight. I’ve always been partial to the way an airplane sounds during the takeoff roll. It’s a good time. After all, you’re getting ready to go fly! The engine or engines are at full power, the wheels are spinning up, and the airflow is generating wind noise. There is a certain comfort level that you feel when you know it all sounds the way it should.

When I was a full-time flight instructor, I spent the majority of time in a fleet of Cessna 172s. The Skyhawk has a definite sound that it makes in all phases of flight: takeoff, cruise, descent, slow flight, landing. It makes a certain sound when you allow it to get away from you in a descent. The sound, with practice, will often alert you to a change in your condition—a disturbance in your equilibrium—before your eyes register what the panel says.

To this day, I think I can fly a 172 without even looking at the panel, because the sound talks to you and tells you what you need to know. Given that I have yet to fly a glass-panel Skyhawk, I’m going to need all the help I can get!

In so many ways, your airplane is talking to you. Often, that voice is the sound or sounds you hear. Learn them. Associate each phase of flight with the change in the pitch of that voice. Spend more time looking outside (which is why you probably wanted to learn to fly in the first place).
Take that information, and use it. If all else fails, it may be all you have.—Chip Wright

 

Little-used skills

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

At every stage of training in aviation, we are inundated with information. That which is most useful usually stands out pretty clearly, and is often common sense: Stay out of the clouds when flying VFR; maintain your altitude, especially when on an IFR flight; use your checklists. But along the way we learn—or try to—a lot of what appears to be either minutiae or skills and information that just don’t appear to have a lot of modern-day application.

It’s long been a complaint among pilots learning to fly IFR that we should not have to learn anything about microwave landing systems because they really has no practical application in the modern world. The same could be said about a lot of the weather products we struggle to memorize.

But there are few nuggets here and there that are worth keeping in the back of your mind, especially if you are interested in doing any flying that will require flying over large quantities of open water. Airline flying and top-of-the-line corporate flying fall into these categories:

  • Position reports. It’s one thing to read about a position report, but it’s something else to really put it into use. I currently fly over the Pacific a lot, and position reports are an essential way of life. The format is standard, but it needs practice to be perfected. There are certain rules that need to be met. Remember the one about being off by more than three minutes? If not, go look it up! It’s very unlikely that you will need to use this skill in the United States, but in the event of a radar outage, you will need it. This is an easy skill to practice on any flight. You can verbalize the report to yourself without transmitting it.
  • Lost communication procedures. When was the last time you really reviewed what to do? How well would you handle this? Considering that modern equipment is becoming more and more “single unit,” how well would you do if that all-in-one box in your airplane just went kaput?
  • Good guesstimation. How well can you estimate the amount of fuel your airplane will use on a given flight? If the gauges were to fail, could you be within 5 percent of the total burn if you had to make a guess? Could you be within 3 percent? Again, this is an easy skill to practice on any flight just by making notes on a separate sheet of paper. If it’s an airplane you fly regularly, you should also keep track of your burn records at various altitudes, engine settings, et cetera. The charts and data in the book are based on new equipment. The added benefit to doing this in your airplane is that if the performance begins to deteriorate, you will have something to point your mechanic in the right direction.
  • Old-fashioned navigation. If you want to find out just how good your skills are, go flying with a safety pilot buddy. Revert to needle, ball, and airspeed, and fly a short cross-country using just your wet compass and your watch. This can be very humbling in the modern world.

Flying has become so technologically driven that it is easy to forget the basics and the simplicity that can be used. Take the time to knock some rust off your mental and physical skills, and boost your confidence at the same time. Remember, the best pilots are always training!—Chip Wright