Archive for the ‘Training advice’ Category

The long way down

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Earlier this week, news broke of a pilot who had fallen out of his airplane last Friday in Tennessee while on a training flight. Unfortunately, the pilot was a few thousand feet in the air at the time, and the fall resulted in his death.

The facts go like this. The pilot was being checked out in his Zenith Zodiac 601, when the instructor on board said the student had trouble controlling the airplane, the canopy opened, and out he went. They found his body the next day. Critically, it appears he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.

The idea of falling from such a great height is downright scary. There’s a reason our stomachs sink when we peer over a tall bridge or stand on the edge of a big drop. Falling happens in nightmares, and it’s not something that we signed up for when we began learning to fly.

I remember vividly the uneasiness I felt when I was learning to fly in a Cessna 152, my thigh pressed against the door. I was sure that if the door opened, there would be nothing holding me back from certain death other than a thin strip of nylon. Over time that feeling has faded—thankfully. I’ve since flown open-cockpit biplanes, Trikes, and even an AirCam, all without feeling like I was about to make international headlines.

Actually, the fact this particular story made international headlines is significant. It speaks to the rarity of it. That’s not to say it never happens. On a surprisingly regular basis, someone will willfully throw themselves out of an airplane to commit suicide. And no, I’m not talking about skydiving. But the accident variety, which this seems to have been, is so rare it could be probably be considered an anomaly. It happens, at most, once every few years.

The lesson to take away from this tragic accident is that seatbelts should be worn at all times. I’ve never flown with someone who didn’t wear a seatbelt, nor have I had to remind a student to do so, as this instructor should have done. Knowing that a seatbelt would have likely produced a different outcome in this flight–and the fact that this is rare to begin with–should help quiet any nightmares of the same randomly happening to you.—Ian J. Twombly

What did you ask at the February Facebook chat?

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

The topic was adventure flying and acquiring additional certificates and ratings, but as usual, the Flight Training Facebook chatters tossed us a wide variety of questions. Here’s an except from the Feb. 5 chat:

Jill: Ian, what was your most adventurous flight?

Ian: Good question. Probably landing a Cessna 185 on the Pica Glacier on Denali. That was a thrill.

Ian: So who is thinking of going beyond the private? Anyone have interest in gliders, seaplanes, etc.?

Comment from Your Name: I just finished my instrument rating. I am building time for the commercial, then I will get commercial ASEL, seaplane as well as gliders.

Comment from Bob: I started my private several years ago, but had to stop due to life issues. Looking to get back into flying and would love to get my seaplane rating after that…

Comment from Your Name: Jill, you own a Cherokee 140, right? How is flying different as an owner vs. a renter?

Jill: Hi there, Your Name! : ) Yes, that’s correct. Flying is different in that, as an owner, I am more mindful of things like how I am on the brakes, whether I remember to turn off the switches—stuff that can affect my pocketbook. Plus, while I was careful not to misuse rentals, I am careful about how I stow my aircraft—always put in cowl plugs, wipe off bugs ,and such.

Comment from Andrew: I have a commercial ASEL and instrument, but have been thinking about doing both a commercial AMEL and/or a commercial ASEL add-on and possibly tailwheel training as well. Not sure which of them would be most beneficial.
 
 
To read the entire transcript of the chat, go to the Flight Training Facebook chat page and click “replay.” The next Flight Training Facebook chat will be held on Tuesday, March 5, at 3 p.m. Eastern. Our guest chatter will be Adam Smith, vice president of AOPA’s Center to Advance the Pilot Community (CAPComm). He’ll discuss AOPA’s Flying Club initiative and much more. Go to the chat page for more details or to set an email reminder.

Got a medical coming up?

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Is it time to put in your medical application? Whether you’re a first-timer getting ready to solo or a long-timer who’s been around the pattern a few times, take some time to familiarize yourself with the form, the information you’ll need to provide to the FAA, and what you can expect throughout the process. I’ll provide links to AOPA resources throughout this blog that hopefully will help grease the skids a bit.

  • Need an aviation medical examiner? We’ve got a searchable database of AMEs. If none is in your area, ask other pilots or flight instructors whom they visit. A good, knowledgeable AME is like owning a bar of gold. Some are better than others; a bad one (that is, somebody who doesn’t really understand how the FAA works) can trip up the proceedings and delay the issuance of your medical. And in general, your family physician should not be your AME.
  • Is that medicine OK? Some prescription and over-the-counter medications are fine. Some are not fine, and you won’t fly if you’re taking them. Some are permissible once you provide documentation to the FAA that you can function safely while taking the medication in question. Our comprehensive database of medications can be accessed here.
  • It’s all electronic. Did you know that once upon a time, you filled out a paper form and took that to the AME’s office? As of Oct. 1, 2012, it’s all done via the FAA’s MedXPress website. AOPA Director of Medical Services Gary Crump explains how you get online in this article.

Everybody’s health situation is different, and it’s impossible for me to address all the possible permutations of health scenarios in this blog. But a single piece of advice holds true for all pilots: Know before you go. If you have a health issue, find out how to address it to the FAA’s satisfaction before you make that appointment with the AME. If you have questions, call AOPA at 800-USA-AOPA. AOPA Pilot Protection Services can be especially helpful for complicated issues; find out more on the website.—Jill W. Tallman

The January “Since You Asked” poll: What element of landing an airplane is/was problematic for you?

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

No matter what we accomplish in flight training, nothing (it seems) quite eclipses the ability to nail a landing. Is it any wonder? Landing the airplane is probably the toughest part of flying it. (If you disagree, feel free to do so in the Comments section.)

So it was that our January digital poll asked the question in the title of this blog. The idea for the poll was sparked by the student pilot who wrote Rod Machado to ask for guidance on how to control the airplane during rollout. Rod was puzzled, and so he contacted the student to ask for some additional details. It turns out the guy had a shoe size  13-1/2. Aha! Rod theorized that the student was having difficulty properly placing his feet on the cockpit floorboard so as not to accidentally touch a brake pedal.

Mystery solved, I wondered what other types of problems with landing plague us. I could’ve guessed the outcome,  but here are the unofficial poll results to bear it out: It’s the flare.

  • 71 percent of respondents chose the flare as their problem area.
  • 14 percent of respondents said it was the sight picture.
  • 7 percent said the rollout.
  • 7 percent said other. (I’m curious to know what that might be–perhaps gauging your airplane’s height above ground?)

“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.

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