Archive for the ‘Training advice’ Category

Photo of the Day: Night flight

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Many pilots enjoy flying at night. The air is usually calmer and smoother, and radio frequencies are quieter. Are you ready for the additional requirements of nighttime VFR flight? See the Air Safety Institute’s Safety Spotlight on night VFR flight for additional resources.

The June “Since You Asked” poll: How many instructors?

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

June’s “Since You Asked” digital poll dealt with a subject that’s been of particular interest to those of us who monitor the flight training industry. We asked, “How many flight instructors have you had/did you have in primary training?”

For years we’ve heard horror stories of people dealing with multiple instructors. I wrote about how to cope when you have to change CFIs in the September 2008 Flight Training article, “Same Dance, Different Partner.” When the airlines are hiring, flight instructors leave flight schools—sometimes very abruptly—because they’ve racked up enough time to become attractive hires. Sometimes people wind up with multiple flight instructors because of personality issues. Sometimes it’s a run of bad luck—nobody’s fault, really. But the end result can be disruptive to your training progress. Just ask Brook Heyel, who told me that it took her a whopping 23 flight instructors to finish her private pilot certificate. (Her story is its own sidebar in “Same Dance, Different Partner.” She shocked the normally unflappable Rod Machado at an aviation event when she told him the number.)

Accelerated flight schools like Tailwheels Etc. in Florida see a lot of frustrated students who can’t handle yet another change in instructors and they just want to push ahead and cross the finish line without having to start all over. American Flyers (which has several locations in the United States) has a private pilot “finish-up” program.

I was gratified–and a little surprised–that our small and unscientific sample turned out as well as it did. Forty-two percent of those who responded said they had just one flight instructor. Just over half–53 percent–said they’d had two to five CFIs. And just 5 percent reported learning to fly with more than five flight instructors. (Those respondents deserve a medal, in my book.) If I’m drawing conclusions, I’d say that the relatively stagnant state of airline hiring had something to do with this. Flight instructors tend to stay put when the airlines aren’t hiring; hence you’re more likely to start and finish with the same person. That could change, given that we’re starting to see hiring ramp up again.

I was lucky to have just two flight instructors over the course of 18 months (this was back in 2000-2001, to give you an idea). My first CFI left for the airlines, but she was thoughtful enough to hand me off to an instructor she believed would be a good match for me. Turns out, she was right. And even though he also left full-time instructing at the flight school to go to another aviation job, he stayed on as an independent instructor so that he could see me to the checkride. For that, I’m eternally grateful to John Sherman.

How many flight instructors did you have? Please let us know in the Comments section.—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.

Did you know? Opening your flight plan

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Opening a flight plan should be the easiest part of your cross-country. Tune in the nearest Flight Service Station on your radio, call ‘em up, request that the plan be opened, give your departure time, and on you go.

Except it isn’t, sometimes. You forget to call up flight service. Or you call them up and nobody’s home because you copied down the wrong frequency. Or you call them up and they hear you, but for some mysterious reason the flight plan you filed is not actually on file, so you have to give them all the details while trying to keep the airplane upright.

Last week, pending a VFR flight from Maryland to Tennessee, I called Lockheed Martin to get a standard weather briefing. (I don’t usually file by computer.) After the briefer and I had gone over all the weather and notams, he offered to have the flight plan opened at the specified time without my having to contact flight service. I was pleasantly surprised–I hadn’t known this option was available. And it worked! How do I know? Because I was a few minutes late closing the flight plan, and flight service called me to check up on my whereabouts.

When I called for a briefing on the return trip, no such offer was made. So if you want to take advantage of this service, you might have to ask. And make sure you make a realistic prediction of when you’ll be wheels up–because when you say you’re in the air, the clock is ticking.–Jill W. Tallman

A flat start

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

A good pilot is always learning.  Here’s what I learned a few weeks ago: If you don’t  fly for two weeks, and you don’t visit your airplane within that two weeks, you could find this the next time you want to go flying:

Flatter than the proverbial pancake, the tire’s sidewall most likely had been compromised, and so the folks at Landmark Aviation removed the tire, installed a spare (a spare tire for airplanes! Who knew?) and a brace for the wing, and prepped a new tire and tube. They had it installed and ready go to within about 90 minutes of my discovery.

On the grand scale of airplane maintenance, this is minor. It went flat at my homedrome, and it didn’t blow on a takeoff or landing roll. The repair was quick because Landmark had the tire in stock. I was able to go flying in a couple hours. The winds had picked up by then, which was a minor annoyance, but not a compelling reason to cancel the flight.

But you can bet your next tire change that I will not let two weeks–or even one week–go by without checking on my airplane and giving it a once-over. After all, it’s tough enough to get the stars aligned so that your schedule, the weather, and airplane availability work in your favor. Why stack the odds against yourself? —Jill W. Tallman

The May “Since You Asked” poll: Preflighting

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

In the May issue of Flight Training, we asked digital subscribers a very particular question: “If you preflight an airplane the night before a planned flight, do you:

a. Conduct a thorough preflight the next morning as well. You never know what could have happened over night.

b. Conduct a streamlined version of the preflight, focusing on only certain things.

c. Kick the tires and light the fires; I’m good to go.”

The question was pretty directed because it was inspired by a particular set of circumstances put to Rod Machado in the May “Since You Asked” column. Specifically, K.L. wanted to know what Rod thought of this situation:

“I met someone who was preflighting his airplane the night before he was to take a trip. He was the sole owner, and the airplane was hangared. He indicated he would do a quick walkaround in the morning, but he felt taking his time the night before would result in a more thorough preflight and nothing significant would happen overnight. So the question must be asked: Do preflights have an expiration date (time)? How long is a preflight good for?”

First, let’s look at our responses to the digital poll. A whopping 87 percent of respondents said they’d conduct a thorough preflight the next morning. Just 13 percent said they’d conduct a streamlined version of the preflight, and no one–not one person–confessed to the notion of kicking the tires and lighting the fires.

When you consider that our readership is aimed at primary student pilots, many of whom rent aircraft that sits outside and unattended, it stands to reason that they would prefer to do a preflight both the night before and the morning of the planned flight. This is your last chance to check everything before you go hurtling into the air, so why waste the opportunity?

Then again, 13 percent said they’d be comfortable with conducting a streamlined version of the preflight on the morning of the flight. This could represent our readers who own aircraft and are reasonably confident that nothing will have happened to their aircraft over the eight, 10, or 12 hours preceding the flight.

And here’s what Rod told K.L.: Preflights do have an unofficial expiration time that’s based more on common sense than a timepiece. “If the airplane is secured in a hangar,  then it’s entirely reasonable to do a thorough and detailed preflight the night before departure and a less-detailed inspection the morning of the flight. This is based on the assumption that the hangar is completely secure.

“On the other hand, if the airplane is out in the open, it is unreasonable to assume that something or someone can’t adversely affeected the airplane’s airworthiness overnight. Therefore, the next morning’s flight should be preflighted by an equally thorough preflight.”

In the year I had access to a hangar for my 1964 Piper Cherokee 140, I never preflighted the airplane the night before a flight with the intention of saving time and doing a quickie the next morning. It never even occurred to me to do something like that. I know myself too well. Any tasks that take place after 6 p.m. aren’t going to be ones that involve operating an aircraft or checking its airworthiness. I prefer to leave enough time in the morning to do a thorough, unhurried preflight, when my brain is sharpest.–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.

The April “Since You Asked” poll: Talking on the radio

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Rod Machado’s discussion of listening to ATC and ATIS reminded us that we get many, many questions from student pilots about talking on the radio. So that’s why we posed the following question in the April Flight Training: How comfortable are you when communicating with ATC?

If our poll results can be extrapolated, many of us are comfortable in the ATC environment–but only because we train or fly in the system regularly. A good many of us are still struggling to sound like Joe Cool, and some of us won’t talk to ATC at all. Here’s how things stacked up:

  • 50 percent of respondents to the poll said they train at a towered field, so they’re OK.
  • 25 percent said they stumble on the radio.
  • 19 percent said they fly out of a nontowered field, but their communication skills are OK.
  • And 6 percent said they don’t talk to ATC.
It bears repeating, so we’ll pass along several tips we’ve collected over the years.
  • Listen to the pros. Use LiveATC to listen in to any number of airports big and small. (A feed for our own homedrome, KFDK, was just added!) Alternatively, a sunny afternoon and a bench at the airport with a handheld transceiver can be a great way to spend your afternoon and pick up communications tips. If you can, ride along with a pilot friend. Don’t do anything in the right seat except focus on how he or she talks on the radio.
  • Understand what you’re trying to communicate, and why. Bob Gardner’s Say Again, Please, is one of the best books available to help you with this. It’s available at many aviation retailers. ASA also sells a companion tutorial that can be played on a computer or MP3 player. The Air Safety Institute’s Say It Right: Mastering Radio Communication is a FREE interactive online course. (It does use Flash.)
  • Practice, practice, practice. You can go whole-hog with something like Comm1′s VFR Radio Simulator, which lets you practice dialogue using a headset and your computer (and is a very neat program that’s been on the market quite a few years). Or you can keep it simple by practicing your radio calls in the car or in the shower. I’m told that you might accidentally tell your spouse that you’re turning base when you crank the steering wheel in the car toward the driveway.

What did we leave out? Share your best tips for improving your radio technique in the Comments section.

“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.—Jill W. Tallman

 

 

The March “Since You Asked” poll: That problem student

Friday, March 16th, 2012

“Dear Rod,

“I have a really difficult student problem. This student has been through two other flight schools for an instrument rating, failing the practical exam at both. I am his third instructor and his check airman for his third stage check. It took him four attempts before I passed him (with reservations). I am trying to prepare him for his final stage check and practical.

“I have found many faults that I have pointed out to him, and given him tools and techniques to help him fly better. Under benign conditions he is relaxed and can fly a decent approach. But if there is a wind aloft, he gets rattled and is all over the sky. When I point out his mistakes, he always has a ready excuse. He is a poster boy for defense mechanisms.

“I have told him he will only succeed with a lot of practice, which he feels he doesn’t need (or want). I’ve also tried to convey the seriousness of what we’re doing, that this training is vital because flying in IMC is for keeps. I haven’t gotten to the point of telling him to give up. However, I don’t know what else I can do for him. Any suggestions?”

Wow. That’s a tough spot for a flight instructor to be in, especially when you consider, as he did, that “flying in IMC is for keeps.” We asked our digital subscribers to play the role of the CFII and tell us what they’d do in this instance. Here’s how the 43 responses stacked up.

  • 2 percent said they’d pass the student off to someone else. (Maybe four times is the charm for this student?)
  • 30 percent said they’d hang in there, and keep trying. (A few votes for optimism here.)
  • 60 percent said they’d tell the student straight out, “I can’t sign you off for the checkride,” and they’d spell out the reasons why. (We’d like to be a fly on the wall during that conversation.)
  • 7 percent said “Other,” which we left unspecified.

What would you have done in this instructor’s shoes? If none of our answers is to your liking, what would you suggest? We’ll leave off Rod’s response so as not to influence your opinion.

“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.—Jill W. Tallman

Spring is just around the corner…and so are birds

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Editor’s note: Thanks to Ron Klutts, who snapped this photo just for this blog. Follow Ron on Twitter (@Captain_Ron).

If you see a bird hanging out on the empennage of an airplane, I have news for you: She’s not admiring the scenery. She is looking for a nesting place. She may have already found one–inside the airplane she’s perched on.

This fake owl is parked on top of an airplane that sits outside in the hopes that it will scare away actual birds from building nests.

It’s getting to be that time of year when birds go from being a lesson in ground school to a practical, hands-on exercise in good preflighting. Birds can and do nest in airplanes. They nest in airplanes that are sitting outside; they nest in airplanes inside hangars. They will nest in the tailcone and the engine compartment and probably would slip inside an open window and make themselves at home in the cockpit if given the opportunity. And all it takes is an opening the size of a quarter or so. As these Bird hazard photos from the Air Safety Institute show, even cowl plugs can prove ineffective.

And they are super-fast at what they do. As Steve Ells reported in AOPA’s Reporting Points blog, he parked his airplane in his hangar and came back 10 days later to find a complete nest and four eggs on top of the engine’s number 1 and number 3 cylinders. (Click the link to see a photo.)

I see barn swallows every year. If I have a decorative wreath on my front door, they will nest in it. Mind you, this is a door that sees a lot of activity–we go in and out of it several times a day.

Another article from the Air Safety Institute explains why some birds build their nests in what you’d think would be dangerous locations. “Birds don’t associate nest removal with predation,” an expert says. “Nesting materials will naturally drop, so they’re used to seeing some disappear.” When a nest with eggs or baby birds is removed, it finally sinks in that this could be a bad neighborhood.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to assume that a bird has built a nest in your trainer every single time you head out to the ramp or hangar. Then prove otherwise.—Jill W. Tallman

What are your most common emergencies?

Friday, January 13th, 2012

It’s an unusual question, but it isn’t. And I’m sure that somewhere, someone actually keeps track of this sort of stuff. It just doesn’t happen to be me. I’ve been asked this several times, and the question came to mind the other day when I had to declare an emergency.

First of all, one has to define what an emergency is. My company manual says that a flight emergency is “any situation, such as a malfunction of the aircraft, that requires immediate decision and action for the safety of flight…[and] requires special procedures to be taken beyond those normally utilized in flight operations.” Note that none of this includes various other emergencies, such as medical emergencies. Basically, what it says, is that…well, it’s so clearly written that it’s pretty obvious what it says.

Still, there is room for interpretation. For instance, we would all probably agree that an issue with a failed elevator would constitute an emergency, which would justify declaring the same. What about a flap failure—specifically, one in which the flaps simply failed to deploy? This was a not-uncommon issue on the CRJ for several years. If flaps fail to move, is that really an emergency? It depends on your definition. Some operations will dictate that if a flight control of any form is involved, then it is an emergency, no matter how minor or severe the situation. The no-flap landing speed on the CRJ is 172 knots indicated. The max groundspeed for the tires is 182 knots. If this scenario were to occur at a high- elevation landing, those two numbers could wind up eyeball-to-eyeball with each other. Besides, 172 knots on final is fast–real fast. Almost 200-miles-an-hour fast. That’s approaching space-shuttle-on-final fast.

But when it comes to “common” emergencies, I’m not sure that there really is a one-sized-fits-all approach. At least, there doesn’t appear to be one for me. I’ve had the flap failure. I’ve had gear issues (this, to me, is the ideal emergency if there is one). I once had a hydraulic failure that forced a diversion. One flight required an engine to be shut down because of improper maintenance done on the airplane after a bird strike the day before. My most recent one was a spoiler that did an uncommanded deployment in flight. An uncontrollable fuel transfer system once caused two emergencies in one day. I used to joke that the tower would just declare an emergency on my behalf every time I took off.

As you can see, there really isn’t a pattern, and that is a testament to how well airplanes are designed and built these days. The redundancy alone is a lifesaver. In fact, sometimes, a redundant system can save the day automatically, and the crew doesn’t even know there was a problem until the airplane says, “Hey, I had this issue, but chill, because I already fixed it.” If I had to pin down the most common issue, it wouldn’t be the airplane. It would the carbon-based units being transported on said airplane. Medical emergencies take place every day. In fact, at least three times a week, I hear a crew calling either ATC or the company about a passenger having a problem.

Of those, my own unscientific analysis seems to indicate that losing consciousness or having what appears to be a heart attack or a stroke top the list. I don’t know this, of course, but I hear an awful lot of discussion about those symptoms (it’s pretty hard to misdiagnose someone as passed out when they are out cold). Some of these get interesting too. Seizures can be dangerous not just for the victim, but also for those around them. They can be messy as well (use your imagination). Ladies going into labor get everyone’s attention. Guess how I know that?

Some emergencies you can practice for, and some you can’t. Some you shouldn’t just because it isn’t very safe to do so. But in your own mind, you should have a definition that suits your equipment and your experience. Should you find yourself within the bounds of that definition, then declare an emergency. As for the rumored “mountains” of paperwork? There is no such thing. ATC may ask for your contact info, but nobody is going to fault you, and nobody is going to be having you filling out piles of forms in triplicate or even in double-icate. Honestly, it’s no big deal. As a matter of fact, if an emergency situation clears itself (say your landing gear had a gremlin, but then acted normally and went to the commanded position), you can “undeclare” your emergency. If you want to, you can fill out a NASA ASRS form, but you are not required to fill anything out, so long as the airplane is not damaged.

Just don’t do what one crew did, and declare an emergency because the FMS/GPS quit and they didn’t think about navigating from VOR to VOR. I won’t say which airline it was for, but yes, it did happen. Once.—Chip Wright

My best flight

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

The waning days of December are a great time to reflect on the events of the past year. Jill Tallman blogged about her best and worst aviation events of 2011 last week, but I like to think about personal trips and adventures throughout the year. Maybe it’s just because I was recently updating my logbook, but this time of year has me thinking about my favorite flight of 2011.

“Climbs, turns, intro to FMS nav, Collins Proline Vnav intro, a/c systems.” That’s the endorsement from an entry in April, simple words that mark an extraordinary experience. It was also a dual flight, which makes the instructor in me happy. Since I started flying more than 10 years ago my time in the air, like most pilots, has come at the hands of piston-powered airplanes. In April I was given the opportunity to fly right seat in a Cessna CJ3. It was a wonderful 1.5 hours, mainly because I felt like a student pilot again. From takeoff to leveling off in cruise, I was completely overwhlemed at everything that was happening. And that’s a good thing. It made it fresh, fun, and exciting.

The flight was to bring a load of AOPA employees back from the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-in in Lakeland, Florida. I was lucky enough to draw the front seat on departure. Sitting there helping the pilot run through checklists, the thought went through my mind that takeoff would likely happen faster than in even the most powerful pistons I’ve flown. What an understatement. The CJ’s thrust slammed us back in the seat and the runway lights went by so fast I felt completely out of control. Thankfully I was sitting with my hands in my lap at this point as nothing more than a passenger. But at a few thousand feet, he handed it over to me and I flew it up into the flight levels, eventually switching the autopilot on so it could take us beyond 40,000 feet.

To say the view that high is special is like saying that shooting a hole in one in golf is a good shot. You’re up above the airline traffic, looking down on clouds that in most airplanes I fly would be harbingers of bumps. The colors are different, the perspective unusual, and the horizon beautiful. You can understand why jet pilots brag about their office being so high. It’s better than any corner office in the world.

Too soon it was time to head in the back so someone else could enjoy the view. I sat in my seat thinking silly poetic things about the awesomeness that is flight. For excitment, new adventure, and bringing back the feeling of being a student, the flight was a winner hands down. It makes me wonder what 2012 will bring.

What about your best flight?

Happy New Year.

–Ian J. Twombly