Archive for the ‘Training advice’ Category

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

Spring and summer plans

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

As we look forward to spring and summer flying, it’s never too early to start thinking of ways to take advantage of it. Whether it’s a new rating, or a just to build confidence, there are plenty of ways to get some bang for the buck as the weather changes.

Crosswind proficiency. This is one of the skills that pilots have the most difficulty conquering, so it is also one of the skills in which most pilots have the least amount of confidence. If you fall into this category, or have a student who is struggling, make a plan to fix it. Spring is a great time to go find some gusty winds, and the safest way to do this is to find an airport with a long runway so that you can take your time getting a feel for crabbing and slipping. If you happen to be the only one in the pattern, try landing in each direction. Don’t just get comfortable doing crosswind landings when the wind is from your “favorite” direction.

As you master the skill on a long runway, start challenging yourself to touch down on a certain spot, and then start assuming a tall tree at the end of the runway. Force yourself to use not just a 50-foot tree assumption, but even a 100-foot tree. As you get more comfortable, start looking for shorter, narrower runways.

This can be a bit of a drawn-out process, but few things do more to boost your confidence than mastering crosswinds. Once you have them figured out in one airplane, transferring the skills to another is just a matter of aircraft familiarization.

 

Looking for a new challenge when the weather warms up? How about a taildragger endorsement?

Looking for a new challenge when the weather warms up? How about a taildragger endorsement?

A new airplane. Speaking of aircraft familiarization, consider learning to fly something different. It doesn’t have to be a faster airplane. It can be something slow, like a Piper Cub. Learning a new airplane is both challenging and fun. If you can get a taildragger endorsement, all the better!

A new rating or certificate. If you are in a position to get a new rating, great! It used to be that a multiengine rating was a relatively inexpensive add-on. That’s no longer the case. But a seaplane rating is usually fairly affordable, and seaplane flying is some of the most fun you will ever have. Seaplane schools are not always easy to find, but if you can combine it with a trip or a vacation, it’s an opportunity not to be missed. [Check the Seaplane Pilots Association directory for a list of schools.---Ed.]

The commercial certificate was probably my favorite one to get, since it’s all VFR and the maneuvers are fun. Even if you aren’t planning to use it, it might help on your insurance. But even if you have no nterest in pursuing it, get a CFI to teach you the maneuvers. They will greatly enhance your handling of the airplane and boost your confidence. Plus, they’re just “plane” fun!

Soft fields. If there is a grass field in your neck of the woods, go forth and prosper. Take an instructor with you if you haven’t been to one in a while, and if you need to call for permission or to give a heads-up, then do so. This is a skill you may never use or need, but it’s fun, and it’s a good excuse to fly. More practically, if you ever need to ditch in a field, you’re better off having some actual experience landing on grass instead of just simulating it on asphalt. [Students: Your flight school may or may not permit grass-field operations in rental aircraft. Check before you go.---Ed.]

I’m sure you can think of some other items to add to this list. Cross-country flights to places you haven’t been, for example, might be the highlight of your summer. The point is just to have a game plan, and to go into the warmer months with some goals in mind. After all, what fun is being a pilot if you don’t use it or continue to improve?—By 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

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I get by with a little help from my (aviation) friends

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

I’ m delighted to be the newest blogger for Flight Training. I’m Benét Wilson, and I’m the editor of the ePilot Flight Training eNewsletter and social media editor for AOPA. I’ve been an aviation journalist for more than 20 years, and—most imporantly—I am a student pilot.

Having been in the business for as long as I have, I’ve met some great people along the way, many of them pilots.  And as I continue to slog away at earning my certificate, I’ve used social media to ask my pilot friends for their tips and tricks of getting through the process. Their advice has been great, so I thought I’d share some of their pearls of wisdom with you.

Rob Mark is based in Evanston, Ill., and is an ATP, CFI-A, CFII and CFIM. He loves to talk about the time he flew an Airbus A380 in the captain’s seat (making us all jealous of him). He is publisher of the Jetwhine blog, co-host of the Airplane Geeks podcast, and a longtime friend. The one piece of advice he shares with everyone he meest who begins flight training is to suggest that they treat flight training like any other high-level classroom experience.

“The best way to receive the most value—as well as to feel like you really know how to handle the airplane—for your training dollar is to schedule training as often as possible. I expect students to commit to two lessons each week, knowing full well that most can’t make every lesson, of course,” he said. “But if students truly commit to arriving at the airport on time and prepared for the lesson—and that includes the homework I assign—I guarantee them they’ll see real progress in just the first month alone. That progression usually keeps them coming back.”

Mike Miller and I went to the same university, worked on the school newspaper together, and had many mutual friends. But we never actually met until 1997, when we were working at the same aviation publication. His approach to earning his ticket was that he saw it as an extra degree.  “So, if this was easy, everyone would do it.  I was paying for it, and it gave me new job skills I never had. And it was a marketable skill. But it wasn’t easy,” he recalled.

One instructor told him that pilot skills erode the instant you don’t use them.  “So if you don’t fly for a while, your landings will be rough, your checks will be slower, your training won’t be as sharp. That was true,” he said. “So I tried to fly every week, and in the end (before the checkride), I flew twice a week when the instructor told me I should. I had two main instructors, and both told me to keep asking questions and keep asking where I needed extra work. I leaned on them.”

One aspect of learning to fly that became important to Miller was being ultra-safe. “So my best advice: Be 100 percent safe, and never cut a corner ever. Never say `it’s good enough.’ Say ‘Did I do everything I possibly could to check this situation?’” he asked. “And be inquisitive at each step and don’t complain when you’re told you have to work on stalls or slow flight, because they’re telling you for a reason.”

Finally, said Miller, just go up once in a while to fly. “Not to practice. Just say, I’m going to Luray Caverns to see the Caverns. And fly there,” he said. “Even when you’re training, you should find a way to enjoy just being in the air.”

I have traveled the world with Gideon Ewers, an aviation consultant based in the United Kingdom, when we both covered the regional aviation industry. He kept his advice short and sweet.  “The best advice is relax and enjoy the journey from your postings in specific,” he said. “Accept that not every landing will be perfect. Strive to make it so, but be accepting when it is not quite as perfect as you’d like.”

Understand that this is a journey without end, which is probably the greatest of flight’s gifts, said Ewers. “I have been around flying for way more years than I care to think about and if I’m honest, my most recent lesson was the last time I flew and the next lesson will be the next time,” he stated.—Benét Wilson

Lessons from my most recent cross-country

Monday, August 5th, 2013

TripFor some people, flying a cross-country trip is no big deal. Check the weather, file a flight plan, and off they go. Sometimes I envy those people.

For me it’s usually a huge production involving much gathering of gear, checking and re-checking the weather, and making sure I have contingency plans in place for every aspect of the flight.

And still things don’t always go as planned, and I come away with valuable lessons learned. Here are a few, gleaned from my most recent trip in my Cherokee 140 from Maryland to Wisconsin and back:

  • iPads don’t like heat. I knew enough not to put my iPad on the glareshield, but just having it sit in the right seat in a hot cockpit was enough to make the thing crap out.
  • Flight planning programs suck up a lot of battery on an iPad. A three-hour leg used up all the juice in my fully charged iPad, putting it out of commission for the second three-hour leg of the day. (I had paper charts for back-up.)
  • Noise fatigue is a real thing. Try flying two three-hour legs with a passive noise reduction headset, then come back and tell me it’s not.
  • Crosswind landing proficiency comes in handy when you least expect it. A planned fuel stop in Ohio presented a 15-knot direct crosswind. I coached myself through it and landed, but kept an alternate airport in mind just in case the winds proved too much of a challenge.
  • Watch the weather, always. At that same ground stop in Ohio, I spent an hour on the ground, just trying to rest and recharge a bit before launching on my second leg. A bit of bad weather was off to the north, but I didn’t think it would be a problem—until it reached the vicinity of the airport before I was ready to leave.
  • There’s nothing quite as satisfying as traveling the country by GA. All of these minor glitches aside, the planning and (eventual) successful execution of my flights was a fun and fulfilling experience, something that certainly can’t be matched in Seat 34A, Aisle 12 of a Boeing 737 or riding in the relative comfort of a car.—Jill W. Tallman

GIFT keeps on giving

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

A-145-0274I was in Vernon, Texas, in November 2012, watching a remarkable crew help women from all around the United States put aside their worries and fears and press forward to obtain pilot certificates. The program is called GIFT (Girls in Flight Training).

As I wrote in “Women with Wings” (click the link to read the article), during that week Mary Latimer and her crew fed and housed more than 30 women, taught ground school and took them flying for 12 hours a day. At the end of the week, there were two new private pilots, eight solos, and five knowledge tests passed.

Is that the end of the story? Of course not. Mary keeps in touch and is happy to report that four more private pilots and a new instrument pilot have graduated from the 2012 GIFT. Several others are still plugging along; some are returning to Vernon to train with Mary, who works with her husband, Lawrence; her daughter, Tamara; and her granddaughter, Amanda—all flight instructors.

The 2013 GIFT is filled with a waiting list. Mary loves what she does, but also would love to see other flight schools put together this type of program to fill the need for this type of supportive, immersive training.

Mary says the 2012 FAA airman statistics reveal that the percentage of women pilots now stands at 5.29 percent (down from 5.35 percent in 2011). “Not a big change, but certainly in the wrong direction,” she says. “I think it says a lot about the industry. Any flight school that wants to increase their business needs to figure out how to get more women in the door and then get them through the training.”

Flight school owners and operators, Mary will be at AOPA Summit in Fort Worth, Texas, scheduled for October 10-12. Want to find out more about GIFT? She’s happy to talk to you. Contact me at jill.tallman@aopa.org and I will put you in touch with Mary Latimer.—Jill W. Tallman

Just ahead in the September issue

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Listening WellWe’re in final production this week on the September issue, but most of my thoughts are still stuck on the month of July—and Airventure! Be that as it may, here’s a glimpse of some of what you can expect to find when the magazine reaches your mailbox or electronic device:

  • Upside Down, Inside Out: What’s the first thing most people ask about aerobatic training? Hint: It has to do with your stomach.
  • No More Monkey Business: If you stumble, miss radio calls, or just don’t like chatting on the radio–we have suggestions for all those ills.
  • Stop, Look, Listen: Ways you can avoid a runway incursion.

There’s more, but I don’t want to give it all away. Look for the September issue to land in your mailbox beginning August 1. The digital edition goes live July 25.—Jill W. Tallman

To get a free six-month membership to AOPA and receive six free issues of Flight Training magazine, call 800-USA-AOPA or visit our website. To switch your paper subscription to digital, visit our website.

Your favorite armchair aviation activities

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Cessna in fogChip Wright’s recent blog on LiveATC.net got me wondering what other kinds of armchair aviation activities pilots like to do. We always tell our readers to “keep your head in the game” when you can’t fly. But how, exactly, do you do that? I posed the question to our Facebook friends, and they came up with a list of great suggestions. Here are some:

  • “[Sit] on the flight line and watch the other planes. … You can learn a lot by watching the landings.”—Stephen Bristow
  • “I love studying sectionals.”—Chris Hatcher
  • “Hang out at the airport if it’s nice or watching videos if it’s not nice. Most of all I like sitting around with other pilots and talking about our past or future flights.”—Ken Ludwick
  • “[Study] for the private checkride. And practice the maneuvers in my head.”—Regina Coker
  • “[Read] the good ole’ [private pilot] textbook! I’ve been a pilot for almost two years and I read it all the time!”—Angelo Zullo
  • “[Watch] Sporty’s videos.”—Bill Boczany
  • “[Read] back issues of training magazines.”—A.K. Hassan
  • “My flight sim.”—Jack Weston
  • “[Look] at my logbook and corresponding photos from favorite flights, like an SNJ over Pearl Harbor and a 172 over volcano on Big Island.”—Rich Dusek

Great suggestions all! And the best part is, most of these are easy to do right from home.

If you would like to review past issues of Flight Training, you can do that right here. Search training topics in the archives of AOPA Pilot—your Flight Training membership gives you access to all of the members-only content on our website.

And don’t forget that the Air Safety Institute has a stellar lineup of free online courses, quizzes, and mini-courses on a variety of topics for all levels of airmanship. The full-length online courses are eligible for FAA WINGS credit. Happy armchair flying!—Jill W. Tallman

Using LiveATC as a learning tool

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Listening WellLearning to fly encompasses trying to master a broad range of new skills and tasks. While some pilots want nothing more than to be able to fly solo on a weekend afternoon or fly from one small airport to another, others want to reap the full benefit of what flying can bring.

A big part of maximizing that benefit is learning how to utilize air traffic control (ATC). Recall that if you are working toward your private certificate, you are required to have at least a minimal interaction with the controllers on the other end of the radio.

There are a number of good sources that you can use to learn the proper phraseology and techniques for radio communication. The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) is probably the most convenient place to start, but it isn’t necessarily the best learning tool. Other books have been written, and over the years, radio communication software for computers has sprung up. While I haven’t used one of these personally, I have no doubt that they are quite good given the advances in computing power these days.

But there is another source that exists. It isn’t structured and it doesn’t allow you to respond to commands per se, but it will help you. The source is the website LiveATC.net.  LiveATC is just that: It’s a live feed from facilities all over the country, and you select which frequency at which airport you want to monitor.

If you are still new to the ATC world, remember the order in which you talk to controllers: clearance delivery, ground control, the tower proper, departure control, center, approach, the tower again, and then ground again. In slow periods, the same controller may function in multiple roles (ground and tower or approach and departure), so you may recognize the same voice answering to different requests.

At major airports, you will do well to focus on one frequency for a while, the busiest being approach and departure. If you start with something on the ground, you might be able to follow a specific flight for a while.

While you cannot actually participate in Live ATC, you can learn how the cadence and process works. You’ll also realize that even the best pilots and controllers make mistakes, and even the most harried controllers have a sense of humor (try a YouTube search for a bad day at JFK). LiveATC can be a great learning tool, especially from the comfort of your living room, for understanding the processes and language of busy airspace. In spite of the machine-gun chatter, you’ll find that there really is order in the chaos and it isn’t as difficult as it seems.

Another feature that is very cool about LiveATC is that you can download clips to your computer. That means that after you fly (there is a time limit) you can pull down all of your own transmissions and save them.

Check it out at varying times of the day, and choose a few airports when you know the weather is good and when you know the weather is bad. You will get a good feel for the on-the-go adaptations that need to be made as conditions constantly change. Then, after you have flown, download your own transmissions and see how you stack up!—Chip Wright

Just ahead in the June issue

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

13_Stall Spin_We’re in the home stretch on production of the June 2013 issue. All the pages go to the printer on Friday, April 19, and your copy begins making its way to you as of May 9. Digital subscribers get theirs May 2, so if you’re one of our readers who can’t wait for the next issue, keep that in mind!

Here’s a quick look at what’s headed your way:

The Not-So-Obvious Cause of Stall/Spin Accidents: You know how your instructor is always trying to get you to make a really nice turn from base to final? Here’s why.

Little Fish in a Big Pond: Have you landed at a primary airport in Class B airspace? No? We’ll show you how to plan and execute such a trip.

Calling Dr. Landing: Common-sense solutions for the same problems that hamper your ability to pull off a greaser.

OK, that’s enough teasers for now. Happy reading—and happy flying!—Jill W. Tallman

To get a free six-month membership to AOPA and receive six free issues of Flight Training magazine, call 800-USA-AOPA or visit our website. To switch your paper subscription to digital, visit our website.