Archive for March, 2011

Logbook love

Friday, March 25th, 2011

A few years ago in Pilot magazine I wrote an article in which I waxed nostalgic about logbooks from both a personal and a historical perspective. The gist of that story was the handwritten logs are much more personal and have far more meaning than a bunch of entries on a computer spreadsheet. While I was willing then, and still am today, to acknowledge the convenience and accuracy of electronic logbooks, I still prefer the handwritten ones. And I still caution against anything that is produced using flowing electrons.

I recently got a call from a friend of mine who was looking for some help in recovering flight records from our airline computer. Our old system kept records for three years; our new one only keeps them for six months. This fellow had been using a PDA-style device that had a popular logbook program on it. He was able to update it leg-by-leg in real time, and do so quickly without having to worry about forgetting details such as IMC time, approach used, etc. Further, he did not have to worry about making math errors that he might miss for months or even years.

But he also got caught be a reliance on the computer. Twice, the unit crashed, and a total of five months of his records were lost. He is now in the unenviable position of having to figure out a way to fill in as many of the blanks as possible while also figuring out the best way to explain his predicament when it comes time to interview for a job. It’s easy to blame him (I did!) for not making back-up copies and printing out the critical information he might need. But it’s also worth learning a lesson from him, even for those that use a paper log like myself.


Start finding passengers… now!

Monday, March 21st, 2011

What’s the first thing you want to do when you get your ticket? In all likelihood, you want to go somewhere…and you want to take a passenger with you.

Sharing the joy of flying is one of the very best parts of learning to fly. It’s why we often ask brand-new pilots, “Who’s your first passenger?” Who gets to share that astounding experience of climbing into an airplane and taking off on an adventure?

Sadly, some folks don’t have anyone to share flying with. In 10 years with AOPA, I’ve read many letters and forum posts, and heard many personal stories from sad pilots who can’t get the important people in their lives to fly with them. I wrote an article several years back suggesting strategies to coax your spouse or significant other into at least climbing into the cockpit with you for one trip around the pattern.

But I often wonder if we’re not missing an opportunity while we’re in training. If we do some advance planning and consult with our flight instructor, we can bring along someone on an instructional flight. Now obviously I’m not talking about subjecting your spouse to stall recovery or a session of engine-out practice. But why shouldn’t he or she ride along in the backseat for a dual cross-country? Or better yet, when it’s time for night flight? (Night time flying is generally smooth, which makes it a nicer experience for the passenger.)

Ad added bonus is that your special someone gets to see you operating the airplane with the added security of a flight instructor on board for his or her first time flying with you. This is a probably more of a psychological plus than anything else, but if it helps to soothe the jangled nerves of a nonpilot, why not?

Passengers can create unnecessary distractions, of course, so plan for that. (Don’t, for example, try to do a preflight with your spouse hanging off your elbow.) And do talk to your flight instructor about whether this is feasible for you. He or she will likely have some good suggestions on flights where this would be a good idea versus flights where this would decidedly not be a good idea (see: my stall recovery reference, above), and he’ll want to check your weight-and-balance calculations.

–Jill Tallman

Behind closed doors

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

It’s a question a lot of people probably have thought about on occasion: What do airline pilots actually do upfront during a flight? And the related, Isn’t the autopilot doing all of the work? Well, not really. All flights can be broken down into phases, but the big ones are taxi, takeoff and initial climb, cruise climb, cruise, initial descent, final approach, and the taxi to the gate.

During the taxi, it seems to be a world of feast or famine. At small Class D airports the taxi to the runway is pretty uneventful. The captain always “drives” the plane, and the FO will do a lot of pre-departure checks. Some will be done in conjunction with the captain, others will be done on his own. Depending on the circumstances, the crew may start with a single-engine taxi, and the other engine will need to be started.

If the flight is departing a major hub, this can be one of the most stressful times of the flight as the crew must balance their duties in the plane with monitoring and/or talking to ground control.  At some airports, there may be a number of ground frequencies in use, and others may only have one or two, but they will be so busy it is hard to get a word in edgewise. And some, like O’Hare, are just very confusing to navigate, and a runway incursion is just a missed turn away.