Archive for the ‘Learn to Fly’ Category

What does a falling tree look like from the air?

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

Jean Moule last wrote for the Flight Training blog about flying in Hawaii. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

tree cutting 1Every day away from the air means more hours in it to reach my goal. At 25 hours with the last 10 spread out over months, I am making little progress toward my solo.

A big, big milestone birthday approaches. My two-year goal to solo on or near it was dashed by family medical problems that led me to be a caregiver instead of a flight-taker. (My practical daughter suggested that perhaps I should not fly because her father needed me, and what if something happened? I suggested that, well, I could just take him up with me. “That works,” she said.) My husband came in the airplane with me a few times, but he would rather stay at home, as riding in small airplanes makes him airsick.

Weeks passed. Months passed. I have forgotten half of what I learned.

Got…to…get…up in the air…in a small airplane.

My most recent flight instructor agreed to take me up a couple of weeks ago. It was a constant speed propeller plane, one that had extra items to attend to. It had been eight months since I had flown, and it showed. He did most of the work that day. We did do go-arounds to practice landings at a nearby airfield.

Now, a week later, my birthday loomed, and I had to take to the air. Jerry agreed to take me up again.

With the review the week before, some basics had began to come back to me. I certainly feel more comfortable in the left seat of any airplane with a trusty CFI by my side.
My birthday is near Halloween, so scary stuff comes out all the time anyway. Scary it was to have to review so much when I was getting so close to solo nearly two years ago.

Taking a deep breath on a clear, blue morning at our house, I head to the airfield. Only as I get close do I see fog hanging about. Jerry calls. Farther west the fog is so thick he is sure that it is not a flyable day. He wants to know how long I am willing to wait it out for the top of the nearby butte to be visible for the needed ceiling.

It is my birthday; not only do I have all day, but I have arranged for a very special gift from my husband.

You see, we live in a clearing in a forest on a ridge. Eighteen months ago we had 17 100-foot Douglas fir trees cut down. In the winter we now have sun in some windows. Yet there was one tree at the end of a row near our pond that I thought needed to be removed to enhance our view.

“Honey, how about if you cut down that fir tree for my birthday gift while I fly over it?” He rolls his eyes. He agrees.

Earlier in the morning that I am headed to the Lebanon airport for my flight, he had already finished the undercut and started the backside cut. This tree had to come down this day on purpose before the wind came up and it came down on its own. Yes, I would wait until too dark for that fog to clear for my flight over our house.

We wait out the fog. It lifts, and no one was scheduled for that Cessna 172 anyway. We take off and head over to my property. Since it was my special day, I asked Jerry to do as little as possible and just tell me what to do. And we were flying the older, simpler (and cheaper) airplane.

As the airplane approaches our property, my husband cuts the last bit of trunk and sure enough, I see the tree fall while in the air. Certainly a unique event for a seventieth birthday.

I breathe a sigh of relief. I can see that the fallen tree missed the greenhouse and the llama. As we fly away from the property and over the fields, my smartphone lens is now put away and my hands again on the yoke. We take a look at a private grass airstrip and contemplate the steps necessary to land there. Thoughts only, but a future goal, as I already have permission to use that field. Then off through the skies toward the pattern and onto the airfield, keeping that little airplane a foot off the runway as long as possible for my training. Lesson and fun event in the same hour.—Jean Moule

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Your CFI’s voice in your head

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

Fly the airplaneDo you hear your flight instructor’s voice in your head when you fly? I still hear my CFI John telling me to “look for traffic on the 45,” even though it has been 14 years since John and I flew together, and three years since my airport got a control tower.

It turns out most of us still hear our CFI’s voice when we fly, and our CFIs say a lot. I’ve collected some of the best from the Flight Training Facebook page. Don’t forget to share your CFI’s sayings in the comments.

Takeoffs and landings:

“Watch the runway, your airspeed, the runway, your airspeed, the runway, your airspeed…”—Sergio Rodriguez

“Keep your hand on the throttle during takeoff! And more left (or right) rudder.”—Jeremy Mendoza

“On final, ‘keep the nose down, keep it down, hold it, hold it, don’t flare too early.'”—Daniel Thompson

“Don’t let it touch, don’t let it touch, don’t let it touch”—Janis Horn

“Hold it, hold it”—Nancy Rice

“‘Hold it off, hold it off!’ when landing. And of course, ‘More right rudder!'”—Regina Coker

“More right rudder”—William Fence

“Watch your airspeed, watch your airspeed, watch your airspeed!”—Hicks Dunlap

“Watch your airspeed”—David E. Rowland

“He’s hollering, ‘MORE LEFT RUDDER!’ in a big crosswind landing. Me: IT’S ALL THE WAY TO THE FLOOR! Him: ‘OK THEN THAT’S ENOUGH.'”—Brian McDaniel

“I still hear ‘WATCH YOUR SPEEDS’ every landing.”—Gary Veduccio

“Fly the aircraft to the ground. Keep flying ’til the wheels touch.”—M. James O’Connor

“Hold it off, hold it off, hold it off! (While rounding out over the runway)”—Donnie Beene

“Don’t get flat! Don’t get flat!”—JP Wing

“The right airspeed determines where you land; the wrong airspeed determines where you crash.”—Doug Heun

“Flare!”—Gustavo E. Navarrete

“Don’t let it touch, keep it off, keep it off”—Johnny Ramm

“More back-pressure on the controls during landing”—Nichole Jesse Dyer

“Dance on those rudder pedals!”—Nichole Stacey

“Breathe, please! Did you know you stop breathing between calling finals and landing?”—Anne Hughes

“‘On final, numbers one-third up the windshield and on speed.’ Hasn’t let me down yet.”—Lindsay Petre

“‘Bad horsey, bad horsey’ on final approach and a reminder to keep my feet on the rudder pedals fighting crosswinds.”—Joshua Carroll

“Go arounds are free”—Lisa Osantowski

“Fly every approach expecting to go around. Actually landing should be an unexpected bonus.”—Jay Beckman



“No gorilla grip.”—Nichole Stacey

“Keep a light touch on the yoke, not a death grip!”—Wayne Stiles

“Keep your feet on the pedals, or I’ll start calling you a Piper driver!”—Michael Owens

“Heading, attitude, airspeed, ball in the middle! I teach my students that as well.”—Ron Johnson II


“Pretend you don’t have GPS and find your way home.”—Liam Wilson

“Clear right, clear left.”—Jay Phillip

“See that tower? DON’T HIT IT”—Steve Kittel

“Your mind needs to be five minutes ahead of your aircraft; whatever is behind you has already passed.”—Terry Barton

“Keep your head on a swivel.”—Jay Scheick

“When practicing stalls on my own he told me to “just rip that Band-Aid off,” and now I do stalls simply for the thrill of it.”—Tommy Cheman

“Practicing power-on stalls while hanging on the prop with the stall warning horn screaming, ‘Don’t you stall this airplane.'”—Darren Nishimura

“Aviate, navigate, communicate (in that order).”—Scott Jeanes

“Scan for traffic. Then, scan for traffic, and finally, scan for traffic.”—Victor Huerta

“Stay coordinated.”—Karen Atkins

“Keep the ball in the middle.”—Duncan Malloch

“Pull back, houses get smaller.”-–Chad Obenski

“Cram, climb, clean (just a little at a time), communicate.”—Pamela M. Swanson

“Trim it to stay there” and “See, nothing to it!”—Scott Woodland

“Airspeed and attitude are your friends.”—David A. Brown



“When the defecation hits the rotation, fly the plane, fly the plane, fly the plane!”—Ace Adair

“My instructor used to cut power at 6,000 feet and say, ‘Where are you going to land now?'”—Lloyd Stowe

“Multiengine instruction: ‘If you mess it up in an emergency, turn it into a glider.’ Maintain positive control.”—Windtee Aviation Art

“You fly the aircraft; the aircraft doesn’t fly you.”—Norbert Saemann

“It doesn’t fly you, you fly it.”—Nick Reed

“Always be aware of possible emergency landing places in a single engine plane at low altitudes.”—Jarkko Harju

“If you damage my airplane I’m coming after you.”—Frank Mierau, who said he left that instructor shortly thereafter, and we don’t blame him


Instrument work:

“Small corrections”—Chris Olin

“Small, soft, constant corrections.”—Guillaume Cholette

“I can still hear [his] voice. ‘Oye mi Yason, what are you doing?’ I say it to myself every ILS. Twice on a CAT II.”—Jason Bullard

“Turn, time, twist, throttle, talk.”—Mike Merill


The philosophers:

“There are two types of pilots: one that gets to 400 feet and wonders why the engine stopped; the other pilot gets to 400 feet and wonders why the engine didn’t stop.”—Bradley Lange

“It is better being on the ground wishing you were in the air than being in the air wishing you were on the ground.”—Adrian Pilot

“Airspeed is life, attitude is life insurance.”—Brady Patrick Nicholson

“Never give up.”—Marina Zompanaki

“From my father, who flew in World War II: ‘Always give yourself an out.'”—Tom Harnish

“Little chickens grow up to be old buzzards”—Rob Wahmann

“The three most useless things in aviation: the runway behind you; the altitude above you; the fuel not in the tanks.”—LRod Peterson

“The airplane is the body; the pilot is its soul.”—Ammar Aljabali

“Any landing you can walk away from is a good one. A great one is one in which you can use the airplane again afterwards.”—Doug Heun; Ben-Thomas Cairns;

“Never run out of airspeed, attitude, or ideas”—Bryn Fowd

“It is better being on the ground wishing you were in the air than being in the air wishing you were on the ground.”—Adrian Pilot

“The only time you can have too much fuel is when you’re on fire or overweight.”—Rodney Tuggle

“I actually asked my instructor for some deep, meaningful advice, to which he replied, ‘Uh…don’t die?'”—Ryan Nelson

Thanks to all flight instructors for drilling good practices into your students.—Jill W. Tallman

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training plus lots of training tools and resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.

The Ercoupe: a must-try for a student pilot

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015
The very thin pilot's operating handbook for a 1946 Ercoupe. Photo by Chris Rose

The very thin pilot’s operating handbook for a 1946 Ercoupe. Photo by Chris Rose

Student pilot Matthew Orloff is an intern for AOPA Communications.—Ed.

At first glance, the Erco Ercoupe may appear to belong in either a vintage aircraft museum or Evel Knievel’s garage, but surprisingly, it’s a very compatible match for a student pilot, especially if you’re just starting out. As a student pilot with a mere 10 hours of flight time, I can say when I started taking flight lessons in a Cessna 172, I was overwhelmed. I wished flying an airplane was as simple as driving a car, where you just start it up, look out the window and go, as the great learning curve certainly intimidated me.

After seeing the Ercoupe for the first time, the last thing I would’ve ever expected was to praise it for how wonderful it is as a training aircraft. It may be easy to judge a book by its cover and conclude that than an airplane from 1946 is unsafe and ineffective to learn how to fly in. After all, it’s an old airplane, with old technology.

In fact, the airplane flies by the same aerodynamic principles, along with being just as smooth and responsive as a 172 minus all the more confusing bells and whistles.

Not to mention, flying with the canopy down is more fun than just about anything. I would compare it to learning how to drive in a classic convertible as opposed to your mother’s SUV. Speaking of which, the Ercoupe was originally intended to introduce people to flying, so when taxiing, instead of steering with the rudder pedals (which may throw you off if you’re very used to using the rudder pedals for taxiing), you actually steer with the yoke as if you are driving a car.

Since the airplane is so small, it is easier to visualize the aerodynamic principles that you learn about. For example, just by sticking your arm out the side of the airplane, you will see that you begin to turn to that same side. It’s the perfect lesson on how the deflection of air affects all the movements of your aircraft, and it’s also just flat-out cool.

If there is one thing I want to stress to other student pilots out there about this airplane, it is that it’s just so easy to fly. Since the cockpit of the Ercoupe is minimal, the likelihood of “cockpit juggling” is lessened. The checklist (another great source of intimidation) is easily accomplished because there are no fancy gadgets. The flight controls are simple, and daunting tasks such as landing are way easier. Landing an Ercoupe will certainly boost your confidence as a pilot, because chances are, you’ll nail it. Right now, I’m absolutely terrible at landing, but thanks to how small, simple, and visually unobstructed your view is in the Ercoupe, I had made my best landing to date.

If you are ever lucky enough to come across the opportunity to fly in an Ercoupe, by all means take it. Your flying skills are sure to improve and therefore your confidence will strengthen. Look at it as a steppingstone before pursuing more complex aircraft. With the student pilot completion rate being relatively low, the simplicity and sheer excitement of flying the Ercoupe is sure to keep your eyes on the prize. It is also worth mentioning you will probably save a bit of money since it’s such a small airplane, and of course, you will have an absolute blast!—Matthew Orloff

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training plus lots of training tools and resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.




‘The aviation community truly cares’

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

Spencer Rice took his private pilot checkride at age 17. He credits a wonderfully supportive aviation community for a large part of his success.—Ed.

Spencer Rice (right) with designated pilot examiner Forest Lanning.

Spencer Rice (right) with designated pilot examiner Forest Lanning.

About six years ago, I saw a very small airport right next to my family’s beach house. Watching the airplanes fly the pattern right over our house fascinated me.

One day I just had to meet a pilot. I was 11 at the time so I asked if one of my parents would take me to the airport, and they agreed. I met the pilot, and I don’t remember the exact words he and I exchanged, but I do remember him telling me about EAA.
When I got home I looked for more info on EAA and learned about the Young Eagles program. I nagged my parents consistently till they agreed to let me contact the local coordinator.
I was set up with a flight in a small experimental called a Zenith Zodiac 601. I remember the takeoff very well, and I was hooked! The Young Eagles pilot told me after the flight that I could go with him again anytime, and of course I took up that offer! I kept flying with him and still do; we have become great friends.
I started my first flight lessons at 13. Flying in a J-5 Cub. I was able to afford 10 hours of flying before I ran out of money. The one thing I always told my parents was that if I was going to pursue my dream in aviation that it would be by my own funding. They would front money to me, but I would always pay it back. I mowed lawns to pay for my training, but that money did not come in fast enough to continue. I stopped lessons unfortunately.
I continued flying with my Young Eagle pilot and one day we were talking about Experimental aircraft. I said that I would like to build my own plane in the future. My Young Eagle pilot responded with “what if I told you, you could now?” This was the biggest opportunity of my life; he offered to help me through the process, teach, and mentor me. He understood my money issue and brought up the idea of scratch building so I could pay as I go.
Not more than three months later I bought my own pair of plans for a Zenith Zodiac 601—the same plane I took my first flight in. Thus began the building of my very own airplane.
Fast forward another two years and we flew to a small airport for breakfast. I there met the airport manager who was a very nice lady who was actually asking about this same story. I told her that I was looking for a flight school so she introduced me to the owner of a small one-plane-two instructor business on the airport.
I hit it off with this instructor and began my lessons there four months later. I was now working two part-time jobs plus my lawn business and of course going to school.
I flew once again as I could afford it, but my instructors were very helpful in this situation, allowing me to pay on a monthly basis. I soloed on my 16th birthday and as you now know got my license on my 17th.
Now this is the short version of the story really. I met many people along the way and networked with many individuals personally. I have pilots from around the country and even the world who I have never met but sacrificed their time to help me. Greg Brown, the author of the Flying Carpet, is one of those individuals. The connections I have made amaze me in that the aviation community truly cares and wants to see your success. I am happy to be a part of it.
Name: Spencer Rice
Age: 17
Event: Private pilot checkride
Where: Lenhardt Airpark (7S9), Hubbard, Oregon
Airplane: Cessna 172
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 resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.

‘Cleared short approach’

Friday, May 29th, 2015

Tommy Condon is a student at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana. He has been sharing his Success Stories with Flight Training’s Facebook page since his very first solo in 2013. We’re proud to bring you Tommy’s latest achievement.—Ed.

Tommy Condon after his commercial certificate checkride.

Tommy Condon after his commercial certificate checkride.

Ever since I first started my ever-expanding career in aviation, I never figured myself to be sitting in a special aerobatic Bonanza E33C on my commercial checkride only two years into my training.

With that comes the special phrase from air traffic control that will frighten many. For me, that was, “Rocky 79 short approach approved, cleared to land Runway 10L.”

At this point we had already completed the maneuvers and precision landings. I made it this far with no complaints and now all that is left is the dreaded, heart-pounding power-off 180.

This is when my examiner said, “Alright, let’s see the money maker.” (Pun intended.) As we came abeam the intended landing point, the power went to idle. Did I mention the Bonanza is no Cessna when it comes to gliding?

I pushed the nose over, watching the VSI near -1,000 fpm! As I turned onto my final approach, I noticed I was low. I thought, This is it, I’ll see if I can get in ground effect and burn this drag off.

We were in ground effect at the beginning of the runway. As I aimed for the 1,000′ footers, my back-pressure was gradually increasing almost nearing full aft! It was time, the airplane wanted to be on the ground.

Chirp, chirp! Right on the mark! That day, I truly realized how much of a pal ground effect is!

Every day I am thankful to be in this industry and the challenges it offers, which are well worth the effort to accomplish. It is important to remember that some may burn out of the industry, but those who stay will truly understand the emotion and fulfillment behind to see the sights we see, the satisfaction, and the connections we build among each other.

Name: Tommy Condon

Age: 20

Event: Commercial pilot checkride

Where: Rocky Mountain College, Billings Logan International (BIL), Billings, Montana

Airplane: Beechcraft E33C Bonanza
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 resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.

What kind of training does your CFI get?

Monday, April 27th, 2015

Senior StudentAs a student pilot—as a student anything, really—you may not think much of what goes into becoming a teacher of a particular…well, anything. How often as a child did you think about the training it takes to become the teacher that was standing at the front of the classroom? Chances are, not much. I’m married to a teacher, and in the last 18 years I’ve gained new respect for what a school teacher has to know and do.

Your CFI is no different. Becoming a flight instructor is a lot of work. Of all the checkrides I’ve taken over the years—including 10 or so different ratings or certificates—the CFI ride was by far the most stressful, and for many people, it’s the hardest. Aside from the private pilot checkride, it’s the one ride where you are not just responsible for everything you know about flying, but you may get asked about anything you’ve ever learned. Worse, you have to be able to explain everything with equal confidence and mastery, from the workings of a wet compass to the nuances of a lazy eight.

Like most instructors who are certified by any kind of agency, be it government or private industry, CFIs are required to go through regular recurrent training. In the case of CFIs, that training is required every 24 calendar months. In order to remain an active CFI, the FAA has several avenues that can be used, but the most common one is for the CFI to enroll in a Flight Instructor Refresher Clinic (FIRC).

Back in the day (the older I get, the more I say that), FIRCs required in-person attendance and took up a whole weekend, as the requirement is 16 hours of training. An alternative was to use home study with VHS video tapes as part of a package supplied by companies such as the former Jeppesen-Sanderson, now known as Jeppesen. Today, the FIRCs can be done online, including through the AOPA Air Safety Institute.

Actual flight time is not required in the refresher training, because the purpose is to use the time to emphasize overall training, including new material that has become prevalent (such as happened with GPS), new regulations, policies, and concepts.

In addition, there is some review on topics based on trends that the FAA sees. Some of these are areas in which the pilot population as a whole has had trouble, and others are general review. For example, several years ago, there was a realization that pilots were involved in far more runway incursions than they should have been. In this case, while general aviation pilots were the worst offenders, airlines were having issues as well. As a result, everyone—and I do mean everyone—had to go through some training to prevent runway incursions. CFIs were at the head of the pack, because of their ability to spread the message to a large number of pilots.

The post-September 11 world also brought some changes. CFIs now have to take special security training that is mandated by the Transportation Security Administration, and all pilots are more aware than ever before of temporary flight restrictions. Those on the East Coast also have to be especially knowledgeable of the Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) around Washington, D.C.

Other training emphasizes the actual act of teaching. There are various laws of learning that we are all subjected to, and the training often includes a review of those laws. With all of the new avionics that have flooded the market in the last 10 years, it’s important to emphasize that we can’t teach the way we used to, and we certainly can’t be effective—let alone safe—teachers in a cramped airplane on a hot day.

I don’t mind the biennial training that CFIs are required to get. I don’t get to fly GA as much as I would like, let alone teach it, so the review is good for me. One of the things that I like about both GA training and my refresher training that I receive as an airline pilot is that neither wastes a lot of time on stuff we do every day. It instead hits the areas we might be weak on, and it covers a broad array of things we may have forgotten or don’t use often. In my case, both training events make me a better pilot.

Don’t take what your CFI does for granted. It’s a lot of hard work to get that certificate, and it takes a certain dedication to keep the certificate active. And the learning never stops.—Chip Wright

Videos of traffic patterns? Yes, please

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Flying to a new airport is great fun, but it poses its own set of challenges. You can study the sectional chart, the airport diagram, and the Airport/Facility Directory for an hour, but when you’re up in the air 10 miles out, searching for that strip of asphalt, sometimes it’s tough to put those pieces together and pick out your destination. (Ask any student pilot in the Northeast who’s had to spy an airport in an urban area, seemingly buried in a maze of buildings and highways.)

Short final to Metropolitan Oakland International Airport.

Short final to Metropolitan Oakland International Airport.

A new website aims to help you. was created by California pilot Tony Arbini, who says he was assigned an airport he had never flown to for his long solo cross-country. He went online to try to look up the airport and learn as much as he could about its airspace, but he didn’t find much. He created in a quest to “find a better way to communicate” airspace and traffic patterns for a given airport, according to the website.

The airspace around OAK is depicted graphically.

The airspace around OAK is depicted graphically.

Arbini and his team visit airports and videotape the flight, but the site’s collection of videos is much more polished than what you’ll typically find on YouTube. Each video introduces the airport by showing you its location on a sectional chart, with traffic patterns, airspace, and nearby navigation aids highlighted. Static photos display pertinent landmarks to help you spy the runway before you’re directly over top of it. There’s also info on traffic pattern altitudes, noise abatement procedures, terrain obstacles, and other good-to-know stuff.

Traffic patterns at OAK are highlighted. (

Traffic patterns at OAK are highlighted. (

All of this can be found in traditional sources, of course, but I like the way presents it in a neat and graphically attractive package. Note that the use of the website should enhance—not replace—your due diligence when digging up “all available information” about your destination.

Right now the website covers airports in California (plus one lone airport in Alaska). But that’s where you come in. The website urges you to “fly it—film it—share it.” You can upload your own footage to the site. Arbini provides tips on how best to present it, and he even includes a tutorial on how to use his preferred action cam—a Garmin Virb—to get that great footage.—Jill W. Tallman

‘It was worth it’

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

Branden Blackford recently shared his solo photo from September 2013 on our Facebook page. He’s looking forward to finishing up very soon. Here’s his story.—Ed.

Branden Blackford soloed in September 2013. He's coming to the end of a six-year flight training journey.

Branden Blackford soloed in September 2013. He’s coming to the end of a six-year flight training journey.

It all started before I was even 1 year old. My family use to take me to airshows every year growing up in Indiana before I could walk or talk. My dad was a crew chief mechanic on KC-135 Stratotankers so he was the one who introduced me to aviation and taught me a lot about airplanes and their control surfaces and how they worked.

By the age of 5 I could point to almost every military airplane at an airshow and identify it. As I grew older my interest for airplanes grew, and I would read books to educate myself about airplanes and all the different types of planes while I was in school. I knew before I entered the third grade I wanted to be a pilot.

It wasn’t until the age of 10 I took my first flight with the EAA Young Eagles program. I was nervous and worried I’d get airsick since I’d never flown before, but I did it. A 20-minute flight and I was hooked! I knew I’d do whatever it takes to be a pilot from then on.

For the next seven years my dad and I were chasing Young Eagles events all over the state just so I could go flying and learn more about airplanes each time I went up. At the age of 17 I took my first flight lesson when I got my first job working at a fast food restaurant.

From 2009 to 2013 it was a struggle financially to get to my first solo as I would literally take my minimum wage check of two weeks and spend it all on one hour of flight instruction and wait about another three weeks to get enough money for another hour of flight instruction. But it was worth it to me.

In the the meantime I overcame a spontaneous collapsed lung, passed the FAA medical and on September 26, 2013, I soloed. I got a better-paying job working as an aircraft cleaner just to be around airplanes and could better afford my flight lessons.

I’ve completed my solo cross-country requirements in March 2015, got my 40 hours, and now I’m preparing for the practical and my final hours of being a student pilot. As of June 2015, it will mark exactly six years of flight training. I’m not happy it took me so long, but it’s now 2015 and this year I’m finally going to get my wings!

And this summer I plan on going to a fly-in with my father to celebrate my success. The point is never give up on your dreams no matter how long it may take to succeed. I did this mostly off of minimum wage checks but my passion and love to fly got me through the tough times. Don’t give up! And keep on flying. And remember… your hours in your logbook never expire.

Name: Branden Blackford
Age 23
Event: Solo (September 2013); private pilot certificate forthcoming
Where: Hendricks County Airport Gordon Graham Field, Danville, Indiana
Airplane: Cessna 172

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.

Applying flying skills to life, and vice versa

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Learning to fly is a complicated pursuit. For many, it is the first real foray into the three-dimensional world. It requires learning a complex series of skills in a machine that never stops moving. There is no pulling over at a gas station to ask for directions or use a restroom. Every flight involves at least a rudimentary level of planning.

One of the neat things about learning to fly is that many of the skills are transferable to other endeavors. Likewise, there are skill sets from other hobbies that can be transferred to flying. Take flight planning, for example.

At its most basic, flight planning requires at least a look at the weather and the fuel gauge even if you are only planning a flight in the local area. But longer flights or flights over more challenging terrain, require more attention. There is a close correlation to two common activities here: scuba diving and traveling by car. Divers often use mnemonics or even checklists to make sure that they are prepared for diving. Pilots do the same thing. Divers have to plan their air supply so that they return to the surface with a minimum amount of air in the tank. Pilots are taught to always keep fuel in reserve. Flights, like the traditional family vacation, are often broken up into legs in order to minimize fatigue or plan fuel and/or food stops.

A good percentage of flying involves preparing for emergencies or “non-normal” situations. This is pretty intuitive, considering that we are not in our natural environment. Where pilots learn to plan for engine failures and electrical malfunctions, divers learn to cope with flooded masks or leaky regulators. Teenage drivers learn early on how to change tires and use jumper cables (or they should, anyway).

When I was an active flight instructor, I always tried to correlate what I was teaching with something from everyday life or from the students’ personal background that would help them grasp and retain the essence of what I was teaching. Many hated using the checklist because it was so foreign to them. Some of them learned to look at it as a step-by-step recipe, as if they were cooking, and a few looked at it as the only way to avoid trouble with the FAA (the lawyers). People whose career consisted of working with numbers would approach flight planning from a numerical perspective: We have X amount of gas, which we’ll burn at Y gallons an hour, so we should be able to fly for Z amount of time (math teachers and accountants).

Flight planning can be a consuming task, as I mentioned. I’ve known pilots who have traveled in general aviation aircraft around the globe. Planning such a trip can take a year or more, and it involves a tremendous effort to coordinate because of the various laws of flying over certain countries. These folks tend to carry over much of the mindset to their non-aviation lives: They carry extra oil in their car; they always seem to dress for worse weather than they expect; there are several maps or GPS units available, et cetera. As one of them told me, planning for an emergency in the middle of an emergency is no place to plan for an emergency. Everything he did followed that mantra.

Use flying to broaden your thought process for other arenas in life, and use your own personal experiences elsewhere to enhance your decision-making skills in the airplane. And, plan ahead for the emergencies!—Chip Wright

Follow your gut

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Check Out ChecklistOne of the common problems in aviation is that of routine and repetition. It’s easy to assume that because we do certain tasks every time we fly, with no change, that perhaps those tasks don’t need to be completed every time we fly. Two examples come to mind: the preflight check and the flight control check.

When you rent an airplane from a flight school, it’s tempting to avoid the preflight or walk-around, because you know the airplane flies every day (or close to it). It’s even more tempting to skip it when you watch the airplane land (or even do a few touch and goes) and then taxi to the tie-down spot. I mean really, it just landed! What could you possibly miss?

A lot, actually. The other pilot might have missed cord showing on the tire because that cord may have not been showing when the flight started, or it was on the bottom of the tire, out of sight, when he conducted his own walk-around.

It’s also possible that there might be damage to the airplane from an unseen bird strike, such as a missing antenna, which the previous pilot might not have noticed if he wasn’t using that particular radio. Fluid leaks also are possible.

Flight control checks are another area in which it’s easy to get complacent. As a student, you’re told that you are checking for flight control functionality and proper rigging (making sure the controls deflect in the proper direction). This is especially true if the airplane has been in maintenance. But there is also something else to test for, which is a general feel for the controls. If you fly the same airplane enough, you will know when it just doesn’t “feel” right, and you should learn to trust that little devil on your shoulder.

I’ve experienced two examples of this. The first was about five years ago on the CRJ. The flight controls were the first officer’s responsibility. One day, my FO immediately said something as he was checking the elevator. What happened next is a long story, but the gist of is that the airplane was broken. It stayed in Richmond for four days, and the tail was basically rebuilt. It took the mechanics 10 pages in the logbook to record all of the work.

Recently, an airplane I was flying had a funny feel to the rudder pedals when the captain checked them. The mechanics were never able to quite duplicate the sensation, but they kept digging and eventually found a failure of a part in the back of the airplane. The flight was cancelled and the airplane was sent to the hangar for repairs.

We do walk-arounds and control checks so frequently that either can become a mindless task. It’s important not to let that happen. Take each of these tasks seriously, and something just doesn’t feel right, remember: It may not be.—Chip Wright