Archive for the ‘Training advice’ Category

Which comes first: flying or ground school?

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

It’s a classic aviation topic of discussion: Do you start with ground school or flying lessons?

The answer, of course, is yes.

Back in the day, pilots-to-be overwhelmingly sat in a classroom and learned the academic side of flying the same way they learned algebra, English, and history. Courses would run several weeks depending on how many days a week it met, and most students were flying concurrently. Nowadays, so many pilots engage in the self-paced home-study courses that it’s probably difficult to find a traditional ground school.

The advantage of starting with flying right away is that you have a much easier time keeping up your enthusiasm, and besides, flying is fun, so why not do it? The truth is that you can do both at the same time, but you need to learn how to do it efficiently and effectively.

The home-study courses available today are a far cry from what was available even 10 years ago, and they are light years ahead of where they were 20 years ago. Jeppesen used to charge a king’s ransom for a series of video tapes that accompanied the private pilot curriculum. Now, online classes and DVDs have replaced VHS, which means you can go right where you want to study, and better yet, it’s all interactive, which keeps you more engaged. The video quality is better as well. And Jepp being Jepp, they still charge a king’s ransom, but the Kings are still doing their thing as well.

There are some areas of study you should start with right away. Aerodynamics, the FARs, and weather are topics that you can’t get a jump on fast enough. Most people are more weather savvy today, thanks to the Weather Channel and the Internet, but aviation weather is still information intensive, so getting a leg up on it early is always a good idea.

But a few areas of study call for caution when it comes to getting too far ahead of where your training is. You should spend a lot of time reading, watching, and studying all of the maneuvers. However, don’t jump into trying to understand all of navigation until you are ready to do your cross-country flying. In more modern aircraft, you may already have a bit of proficiency with the GPS since you use it all the time. In older airplanes, it may just be you and your VOR indicators. I am a firm believer that you will be a better pilot—you’ll certainly be more knowledgeable—if you can do everything the old-fashioned way, and that includes using a manual E6B. After all, it doesn’t ever need to have batteries replaced. As for the panel-mount GPS, a good instructor will take the time to show you all the ins and outs you need to know as you need to know them.

When getting ready for your knowledge test, don’t do it by just memorizing all of the answers. Make sure that you understand the theory and the concepts discussed in each question. Be able to answer them using what you know, especially weight and balance and navigation questions. Some of them are indeed rote memorization (the FARs), but make sure you really know the material and know where to find it!

Learning all that you need to know can seem daunting, but if you break it down into chunks, it is much more manageable. Yes, you can fly before you open a book, but if you combine the two, you will have more effective learning and have a more enjoyable training experience.—By Chip Wright

The December “Since You Asked” poll: Looking for the traffic

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

When air traffic control notifies you that there’s traffic in your vicinity, what do you do first? That’s the question posed to digital subscribers in the December 2012 Flight Training’s “Since You Asked.”

A reader asked Rod Machado whether he is expected to look first and then reply to such a call, or immediately key the mic and indicate that he’s looking. Rod’s response:

When air traffic control calls out traffic for you, the first thing you should do is direct your attention in the direction of the traffic. So look for the traffic first. There’s no need to clog the airwaves by telling the controller that you’re “Looking,” either. The controller knows you’re looking, assuming you received the message.

I’ve automatically hit that mic key and said “Looking” while straining my eyeballs, so, ATC folks, I’ll back off on that one. Rod continues:

It typically takes only a few seconds to identify traffic if it’s close, at which point you’ll identify yourself to the controller and say either “Contact” if you see what was called, or if the traffic is converging on you and you don’t see it you can say “No contact.” If the traffic is close and you don’t see it, then request an avoidance vector. [Editor's note: Since this column was published, a reader pointed out that the correct phrases are "negative contact" and "traffic in sight."]

So, how did readers respond? Oddly, it was almost split right down the middle. Forty-nine percent of respondents said their first response is “Looking for traffic.” And 49 percent said they look for the traffic and then respond. Just one person said their first response is “Tally ho,” so congrats to the rest of you who didn’t pick that. To the one person who did pick it: You get a pass if you happen to be a fox hunter. Remember, if it’s not in the FAA’s Pilot-Controller Glossary, you probably shouldn’t use it.

January’s digital poll is on one of your favorite topics: landing. Don’t forget to cast your vote on p. 14!—Jill W. Tallman

“Since You Asked” polls appear monthly in the digital edition of Flight Training. If you’d like to switch your magazine from paper to digital at no additional charge, go here or call Member Services 800-USA-AOPA weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern.

Photo of the Day: Pattern or practice area?

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

So, what’ll it be today? A trip or two (or 10) around the pattern, or a jaunt to the practice area to practice maneuvers? Maybe a little of both? If you’re flying solo, make sure you have a plan for your valuable Hobbs time. Don’t just fire up the airplane and start taxiing. Sure, all flight time is good time, but it’s also somewhat expensive time. So figure out what you’re going to do before you do it, and make your solo time count. Photo by Mike Fizer.—Jill W. Tallman

Don’t be left out

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

I took this photo last night en route to my home base of Frederick Municipal Airport. Believe it or not, it was my first night flight in years.

As nice as night flight is, it’s not my favorite. The prospect of losing an engine at night is a little intimidating. My night vision isn’t great. And I had never flown my 1964 Piper Cherokee 140 at night. (Now, you and I know the airplane can’t tell the difference and performs exactly the same. However, the old girl’s panel lights were not very strong, which meant that a flashlight had to be positioned so that it could illuminate the panel from below.)

But a flight instructor in the right seat can do wonders for your self-confidence, and I’ve known that for years. The resulting flight was so enjoyable that I’ve decided to get night current. Our daylight flying window in winter is so constrained; it just seems wasteful to let perfectly good flying time slip through my hands just  because the sun has gone down.

If you’re experiencing internal unease with any other aspect of your flying–whether that is stall recovery, short-field landings, or instrument proficiency–a flight instructor is your best friend. Don’t let fears and worries prevent you from enjoying your flying privileges. Train, prepare, get help, and go flying.—Jill W. Tallman

Got a checkride this weekend?

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Whenever we ask our Facebook friends what their flying plans are for the weekend, invariably they report they’ve got a checkride scheduled. (Makes sense; we are, after all, a community for student pilots.) So here are some tips for doing your best and nailing that ride.

  • The night before: Get plenty of rest. Review for your oral exam and prep if you need to, but don’t burn the midnight oil with late-night cramming. This isn’t college. You’ll need to be fresh and your mind clear.
  • The morning of: Eat a good breakfast. See the above part about feeding your brain and your body. Watch the caffeine intake; you don’t want to be jittery (or worse).

If your checkride is a few days off, take a moment to read this excellent piece by Ron Levy, an ATP and veteran of 11 certificate or rating checkrides, including four with FAA inspectors. It first appeared (to the best of my knowledge) on the Pilots of America web board. Click here or cut and paste this link (  http://www.pilotsofamerica.com/forum/showthread.php?t=15706 ). And good luck!—Jill W. Tallman

Airplane, SUV don’t meet cute

Friday, November 9th, 2012


Another week, another YouTube video to pass along to the Flight Training blog readers. This one involves what looks like a Cessna 172 that struck an SUV while on short-short final to a nontowered airport in Texas. Sorry about the ad at the beginning of this clip (and if the video window does not work in your browser, you can click here), but I chose this version for a reason.

I’m not passing judgment on either the pilot or the driver of the SUV. But it’s a good object lesson for flying in and out of a nontowered airport where ground vehicles or pedestrians (or, for that matter, animals) may have pretty unrestricted access. It’s interesting to note that in this version of the video, the local news reported that the driver was traveling on a private road near the airport. A stop sign she was supposed to have seen was painted on the ground.—Jill W. Tallman

CFIs: Are these students talking about you?

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

This week I have the happy task of writing profiles on the three CFIs who were named Outstanding Flight Instructors in our Flight Training Excellence Awards. I can’t divulge their names just yet–you’ll find out when we make the official announcement at AOPA Summit 2012.

But I can share with you some of the glowing recommendations that their students wrote. And I challenge all flight instructors who might read this: Could these students be talking about you? If so, congratulations–you’re a winning flight instructor in my book. If not, well…maybe you have some homework to do?—Jill W. Tallman

“An exceptional instructor, who always delivers professional training, exceptional feedback, and extraordinary knowledge transfer.”

“Has exciting new ideas for teaching and brings laughter to difficult learning.”

“Is a natural flight instructor that is imaginative in finding ways to help struggling students.”

“Is very positive and there isn’t a flight that I leave not inspired … for the next lesson. [Instructor] loves to teach!”

“Dedication to students’ success and safety, knowledge in aviation, great pilot…great communication skillls, patience, always available for questions. [E]mbodies the best in flight training, [is] an example for other flight instructors.”

Don’t forget the logbooks! And other useful checkride tips

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

This was our Photo of the Day on Friday, August 31, and while it’s not a very exciting image all by itself, it depicts an important aspect of a pilot’s checkride: the aircraft logbooks! If you wait until the morning of your checkride to review them, Murphy’s Law says you will find something that the examiner will not like: a missed 100-hour inspection, a pitot-static inspection that isn’t logged. Until you get that straightened out, no flying for you.

I asked the Facebook audience to share useful tips for taking checkrides, and here’s what they said:

I got a friend who was an examiner to give me a pre-checkride for my private. We ironed out some last-minute areas that I was weak on and my instructor hadn’t fixed. Just another set of eyes… and yes, I did pass my checkride the first time!–Christian Roberts

Maybe it seems like common sense to some, but I really appreciated my instructor walking the plane with me at the end of my training, making sure I actually knew what all of the antennas on the airplane did, and then he quizzed me the next lesson.–Brittney Miculka

Don’t be afraid to delay the flight. For my commercial checkride it was windy, gusting, and a line of dark clouds was rolling in. Decided to wait on the flight after passing the oral.–Mike Borkhuis

Double-check the weights. I was 15 pounds off on my empty weight during my checkride. I used the previous weight rather than the new one.–Neil Bradon

Tab or paper clip each page in your log book upon which you meet an individual requirement of a particular certification. IE; Tab the page where your 50th X-country hour is logged for your IFR ride. Tab where your 5 solo hours of night are completed for your Commercial etc etc. Doing so will make it easy for the DPE to locate each specific requirement thus not making him have to thumb through the entire log looking for one requisite. Treat that DPE like a king and spoon feed him everything so it’s as easy as you can make it for him to pass you.
CLEAR THE AREAS WHEN DOING MANEUVERS AND TELL HIM YOU ARE DOING SO. It’s amazing how many PPL, IFR and even commercial candidates don’t do this simple thing.
Additionally, paper clip your written test results, government issued ID and medical and or pilot certificate all together along with his payment and stick it in folder so its easy for him.
Finally…do your IACRA ahead of time so he does not have to wait for you to pour over your log computing Solo from PIC time etc etc.
There are more tips I can offer but these will go miles for you and are easy to do.
Finally (I mean it this time)- Come PREPARED. Study and know the material! –Cm Thrasher

Presentation and preparation is key. Highlight your sectional for a quick glance at information. Be confident.--Mario Merendon

Sectional, AF/D, FAR/AIM….and a proper flight plan is a must….–Cap Sandeepan Das (I think Cap means make sure you bring all these to your oral…)

Talk to someone else who has taken a checkride with your examiner. Examiners usually do very similar checkrides with small variations.–Nicholas Anhold

[A]nswer your questions with confidence. Stay calm. They are examining whether it not you can fly safely and have good ADM. And have fun, after all you are flying.—Jason Taken

Relax, enjoy meeting a professional pilot who would like nothing more than to sign your certificate. Also, your instructor didn’t sign you off without knowing you have what it takes.—Jack Britton

Don’t panic if you think, or even know, that you messed something up. No one will ever fly the perfect checkride! You just need to do well enough to pass–so put errors out of your mind and just focus on the next thing the examiner asks you to do. Good luck–you WILL pass!--Jeff Stephenson

Just remember the DPE is more scared of you than you are of him/her.–Matt Everett (I think Matt meant this tongue in cheek, but I know for a fact that my examiner was not more scared of me than I was of her.)

As always, if you missed out on this conversation you are invited to share your checkride tips in the Comments section below. Future checkride-dreading pilots will thank you.—Jill W. Tallman

 

The Idaho crash video: This is density altitude

Monday, August 13th, 2012

If you live in the flat lands like I do (303 feet above sea level), you’ve heard about the effects of high density altitude–but maybe it’s still a tough concept to grasp. The air’s less dense so there isn’t as much lift? Huh? AOPA’s aviation subject report puts it like this: “On a hot and humid day, the aircraft will accelerate more slowly down the runway, will need to move faster to attain the same lift, and will climb more slowly.” (There’s a lot more information in the subject report. It’s worth your time to review it, and your CFI will give you a gold star.)

A pilot and three passengers in Idaho have provided us with probably the most compelling, graphic display of high density altitude’s effect on aircraft performance that you could ever hope to see. Please be advised that while all four in the aircraft survived the crash, disturbing footage of the pilot’s injuries appears at 5:20. Click here for the video. Student pilots: You’ll note that the aircraft takes a long, long, long time to lift off from the runway, which was near the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.  

The preliminary NTSB findings for the accident are here.–Jill W. Tallman

The July “Since You Asked” poll: How many hours to solo?

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

For some, it’s a badge of honor. For most of us, it is what it is. We’re talking about the number of hours it took you to solo.

We asked that question of digital subscribers in the July issue of Flight Training magazine, and here’s what you said.

The majority of respondents–39 percent–said it took from 11 to 20 hours to solo.

More interesting–or troubling, depending on your viewpoint–37 percent said it took more than 20 hours to solo.

Just 10 percent had soloed in 10 or fewer hours, and 14 percent said they hadn’t soloed yet.

Our poll is admittedly very unscientific since we don’t draw from a very large sample. Still, it raises some interesting questions. Are we taking longer to solo? If so, why?  Is it the aircraft? Are instructors trying to make sure that students know more before they sign them off for solo? Are we just slower? (I offer that last one in jest, sort of.)

It’s expected that people who aren’t teenagers might take a little longer to solo. A student who has logged well into 20 or more hours, however, runs the risk of becoming frustrated, and we all know where that road leads.

Your thoughts?—Jill W. Tallman

“Since You Asked” polls appear monthly in the digital edition of Flight Training. If you’d like to switch your magazine from paper to digital at no additional charge, go here or call Member Services 800-USA-AOPA weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern.