Archive for May, 2010

Flying right seat

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Soon after earning your pilot certificate, you’ll fly with another pilot. If you’re like me, you’ll split the rental cost or the fuel, and each fly one leg as you go in search of the perfect airport hamburger. It’s like weekend nirvana, right? Maybe not.

Flying with another pilot in a single-pilot airplane is something not taught during the private pilot training. It’s mentioned briefly in the realm of aeronautical decision making and situational awareness, but other than that, it’s ignored. The process seems simple enough. One person flies from the left seat, and the other person sits in the right seat. The problem is that pilots can’t keep opinions to themselves. Try it sometime. It’s harder than you think. So inevitably the person in the right seat ends up flipping switches, messing with the radio, critiquing technique, or in the worst case, grabbing the yoke or depressing a rudder pedal.

Here’s some advice to maintain your flying friendship:

1. If you are the person in the right seat, do nothing but enjoy the ride. This means no critiquing, no touching, and no grunts, sighs, or other disparaging noises.

2. If, as a right seater, you just can’t sit still for the ride, ask before you do something. For example, if I’m in the right seat of another person’s airplane, I’ll ask permission even before scaling the map on the GPS, or helping with the transponder.

3. Never, unless you feel your life is in imminent danger, grab the yoke. And please use a high standard for imminent danger. Most hard landings are harmless.

4. As the pilot flying in the left seat, be courteous to your airplane-loving passenger and offer to have him operate the radios and navigate.

Flying in sync as a crew takes hours upon hours of practice and a lot of specialized training. But when done well, it’s a thing of beauty. I recently flew with a friend who’s bulk of experience is with the airlines. He knew what to do and when to do it. I didn’t have to ask him not to touch anything, and he knew from his training that radios and navigation were appropriate tasks for him. I learned a lot from him that I’ll apply the next time I’m in the right seat.

It may seem trivial, but proper recognition of who’s doing what in the cockpit is a safety issue as well as a major annoyance. So be sure to establish it all before starting the engine, and everyone will be happier.

–Ian Twombly

The Brainbag

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

I get a lot of questions from passengers and passersby alike, running the gamut of lazy (“Where is baggage claim?” often comes from someone that is standing right next to a sign that points them in the direction they need to go) to the inquisitive (“Why did Southwest start putting the curved wingtips on their planes?” To which I couldn’t resist the urge to tell them that it was a place for the airline to advertise its website while waiting for other companies to bid the highest price). But every once in a while, I get a question that I just don’t expect.

Believe it or not, it took almost ten years for someone to ask me what it is that pilots lug around in the briefcases that we all carry. This bag goes by a number of other monikers, such as flight kit, flight case, and brainbag. The truth is that, until I got my own bag, I didn’t know the answer myself. While the answer varies for each airline and each individual pilot, the generalities are the same. First and foremost are Jeppesen approach chart binders. I carry two three-inch binders that contain all of the approach charts, DPs, STARS and airport diagrams for every destination that we serve, plus about a half dozen that we don’t serve, but that the company uses for emergency diversions, seasonal service or off-line maintenance work. Those binders, side by side, take up one whole side of my bag.  As an aside, the charts for off-line alternate airports are kept in the airplane.

I also carry a one inch Jepp binder that has all of my enroute charts, covering the US and parts of Canada, Mexico, Cuba and the Bahamas. When they expire I take them home to use as wrapping paper.

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Go for a spin

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Let’s review what you think you know about spins. They occur when we stall the wing and add in uncoordinated flight in the form of yaw, right? OK, I agree.

What about recovery? Almost all texts say it the same. It’s:

1. Power to idle.

2. Neutralize the ailerons.

3. Full opposite rudder.

4. Forward on the yoke.

5. Hold until rotation stops, then pull out of the dive.

I was always under the assumption that the sequence of rudder and elevator wasn’t terribly important. In fact, I figured the only reason you don’t come forward on the elevator too soon was because you didn’t want to break the stall and turn the maneuver into a steep spiral prior to taking out the yaw. Because after all, we’re spinning because the wings are stalled, and bringing forward elevator will break the stall, right?

Well, it turns out that’s a big myth. In fact, most competent aerobatic pilots already know this, but you can add full forward elevator in a spin, and so long as you’re still holding full rudder in the direction of the spin, the airplane won’t recover. Far from it. Depending on the type of aircraft, it may even transition to an inverted spin if you add opposite rudder after the full forward elevator. And if you’ve never done an inverted spin, let’s just say they are more than a little disorienting. But in all airplanes, it will increase the rate of rotation and actually make the corkscrew tighter and faster–a situation obviously not desired if you’re in an inadvertant spin.

Senior Editor Dave Hirschman performing an inverted flat spin

This and many other realizations came courtesy of Bill Finagin, an aerobatic instructor from Annapolis, Maryland. Bill flies a Pitts S-2C, a beast of an airplane that’s well suited to this type of training. Senior Editor Dave Hirschman also few with Bill, and said he learned a few things about spins too. That’s saying something considering that Dave has thousands of hours of aerobatic time.

The larger point is that every pilot needs instruction, and not just for initial flight training. Flying with Bill was very humbling for me. I experienced vertigo, seriously overcontrolled while trying to recover, and probably would have kept doing that had he not been in the back. Far from being a scary though,  I’ve been in enough training situations to really value a session that pushes me hard. Every student should. The military does it best. Push beyond your comfort zone sometimes and you’ll find that it’s well worth the trepidation you had before the flight. That goes for something as simple as a long cross-country to something as advanced as formation training, serious aerobatic training, and anything else that’s new and different. You’ll feel more confident, and if you’re like me, perhaps a bit more queasy too.

–Ian Twombly

Chip Wright bio

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

My name is Chip Wright. Let me give you a little back ground about myself. I am a captain on the CRJ for Comair, a Delta Connection carrier, for whom I have flown for nearly 14 years. I have been flying since 1990, when I started taking flying lessons at Lee Airport in Annapolis, Maryland. I finished my private certificate the following summer at Bay Bridge airport (W29), on Maryland’s Kent Island, and it was there that I began accumulating the rest of my ratings: instrument, commercial (single and multiengine) and my CFI tickets. I also have a seaplane rating that I earned in Florida, and type ratings for the CRJ (technically known as the CL-65, the check ride for which is also the one that earned me my ATP) and the Boeing 737.

After teaching at W29 for two and a half years, I was hired on at Comair in 1996, where I flew the Embraer EMB-120 Brasilia as a first officer in Orlando, Florida. In 1998 I made the move to the CRJ, flying out of Cincinnati. In 2000 I upgraded to captain; I became a line check airman in 2007.

I wrote my first article for AOPA Pilot in 1998, and I have been fortunate enough to have been published many times since then in both Pilot and Flight Training. This blog is a new and interesting experience for me, as I will be writing more frequently and on a variety of topics, but the primary focus is to be aviation as a career, especially the regional airline industry, since that is where many of the current CFI’s will be going on the next leg of their journeys. While the career topic will be focus number one, it won’t be the only thing I discuss, as many aspects of safety and training cut a broad swath that we can all benefit from, from the sport pilot to the grizzled and veteran ATP.

I hope the comment section will require steady reading as you read my posts and offer comments, suggestions, questions, and even rebuttals to what I might (or might not) have to say. I would like this to be as much yours as it is mine, and so it will be an evolution in progress. If you have questions, topic suggestions, concerns, etc., please drop it in the comments section.

Here’s to safe flying, to blue skies, and to tailwinds!

Welcome to the Flight Training blog

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Welcome everyone. Before we begin posting regular updates, I thought I would give you some insight into the blog and what we hope to accomplish and cover.

First and foremost, I think this blog will help to roundout AOPA’s large offerings of blogs. We already offer Reporting Points, which offers general aviation industry insight and opinion, as well as a blog from Craig Fuller, AOPA’s president. You can see the full list here. But we never comment on flight training topics on these blogs, so I felt it was time to get that perspective out there.

We’ll cover everything from flight training industry news and events, to advice for students, and even some aviation career content. To that end, airline captain Chip Wright will be contributing his advice and insight, which I think will interest anyone who’s ever considered an aviation career. Check out his bio in a later post.

Like all blogs, the intent is to have a conversation, which means we need input from readers. We encourage you to provide your own opinions, questions, and observations. The more we get, the more interesting it will be to read. So please be an active participant.

Thanks for reading, and we hope you enjoy the new Flight Training blog.

Ian Twombly

Deputy Editor