Archive for April, 2011

One plus one must equal two

Friday, April 29th, 2011

The FAA loves numbers. Forty hours of total flight time required. Ten night takeoffs and landings. Three takeoffs and landings every 90 days. Runway numbers. ATIS transmission times. Weight and balance, center of gravity and moments.

Although some of these numbers may seem pointless, or at the very least confusing, your responsibility is to ensure your numbers add up. They can’t be close, or in the ball park. One plus one must equal two. There are three places where pilots really need to pay attention to their numbers. The first, and most obvious, is the logbook, which we blogged about here. From the time you first put pen to green paper, you need to check and double check your math. More than one pilot has been tripped up by not having enough fingers to add, and showing up for a checkride with insufficient training or solo times in his logbooks. Day time plus night time should equal total time. Single engine plus multiengine time should equal total time, as should land plus sea. How you decide to do your tenths rounding is up to you, but use a calculator for actual tabulations. I had one student whose first CFI didn’t use tenths, and we pulled our hair out re-doing the math and the conversions to make sure his times were accurate. It was unnecessarily time-consuming. The regs are very clear on the various hourly requirements, and the process should be elegantly simple.

The second place where pilots need to ensure accuracy is on their Form 8710, the FAA form that you must fill out prior to any FAA-required checkride. The grid at the bottom of the sheet is designed to capture the requirements of a number of certificates and ratings, and as such is not the most logical, nor is it the easiest to use. Many of the blocks you may only use once, and few you may never need at all. But, when the examiner looks at it, what he sees on the form should jive with what’s in your logbook. The 8710 is an official federal form—it must be if it is known by the numbers alone, and not the title (it’s an Application, which means it can be rejected)—and as such you have to sign it. Bad things happen to people who fudge federal documents, so it has the potential to come back and bite you, but it is also a useable means to start over if something happens to your logs. If you are planning on doing a lot of training or taking a lot of checkrides, make copies of the 8710s as you fill them out, and use them as a crosscheck against your logs. If in doubt about what really needs to be filled in, ask the examiner. Do this before the actual checkride.

Last, but by no means least, is your medical application form. Although you don’t actually fill in the numbers for pulse, blood-pressure, weight, and other criteria, you do have control over those numbers. Others, like recent flight experience, you fill in yourself. Either make a point of using your previous applications as a reference when you go for your medical, or write down the appropriate data from your logbook. AOPA has a nice reference document called TurboMedical that allows you to complete the medical application before visiting the doctor. It flags potential issues, which can save you lots of trouble. I wish that had been available the day I went to get my medical, and inadvertently transposed two digits. The doctor then asked me how my total flight time had gone down almost 100 hours in the last six months.

What could I say? That just didn’t add up.

–Chip Wright

Trade ya!

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Thanks and a tip o’ the headset to Greg Brown for this little interlude. Greg’s July Flight Training column, coming to you in magazine format sometime in late May/early June, focuses on a new private pilot who bought his own Cessna 150 to complete his training. At the end of the column, the pilot tells Greg that he traded a pickup truck to his flight instructor in exchange for instrument training.

When I read that, I thought of all the crap, er, stuff, in my home. If I could convert those goods to flight instruction I could probably get all the way to ATP, if not CFI. The comic books alone might get me a multiengine rating. (They’re my husband’s, lovingly packed in Mylar, and once upon a time he told me with a straight face that these would be like a pension. We were so young and dumb.)

I put out the question to my Twitter followers: “Pilots, have you ever bartered or exchanged goods/services for flight instruction? CFIs?” and got a few responses. Casey (@casey_a1) said he has given flight instruction in exchange for guitar lessons. Len (@ThePilotReport) said he trades flight instruction for use of owners’ aircraft and other cool toys, like boats and jet skis.

For a flight instructor tied to a Part 61 or 141 school, trade/barter likely isn’t an option. But with an independent CFI, it might very well be. What about you? Have you ever traded goods/services for flight instruction? Tell me in the comments section.—Jill Tallman

Bring on summer

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

The winter of 2010-2011 will go down as one of the harshest, coldest and snowiest winters on record. It was, in a word, brutal. And that was on a good day. Much of general aviation was severely hindered or just shut down. At the airlines, the mantra is that if it is at all possible to go, you go. So we went, but I think I set a personal record for trips to the deice pad and for winter related delays and cancellations. I have never been a fan of cold weather, which I define as anything less than 80 degrees. You won’t find anyone more anxious than me for summer.

So, what does the spring and summer mean in terms of flying? In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been able to see large areas of flooding as the snow melts and the ground becomes saturated with water from all of the rain we’ve seen this spring. If you are keeping an eye out for emergency landing sites, you should keep in mind that the ground may be much softer than you can determine, which could lead to a nose-over event in what would normally be a perfect farmer’s field (well, perfect, that is, if you are not the farmer on whose field you are landing).

I am not necessarily suggesting that you change all of your flight planning based on the potential for soggy fields, but pilots and instructors should pay more attention to other off-airport landing alternatives, especially long stretches of road. This, of course, means paying heed to the possibility of hard-to-see wires, but such is life. As long as the rain, especially in the eastern half of the country, continues to fall, soft ground is going to be an issue.

Summer also means humidity and haze. The kind of haze that settles in for days or weeks at a time is not usually a problem except for trying to navigate VFR. It’s less of an issue for thunderstorms, but it can make it difficult to see any storms along your route of flight. Bone up on your basic instrument skills, or better yet, work toward the actual rating. Humidity, on the other hand, can not only make you miserable, but it can and will negatively affect the performance of both you and your airplane. It affects you by being a distraction and causing fatigue, and your airplane by causing hits on maximum payload and useable runway lengths.

But, summer flying also means your airplane can take you places that you really want to go, like the beach or to visit family. Plan carefully, fly smartly, and enjoy the warm weather while you can.

–Chip Wright

Be flexible; bring a credit card

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Nearly 10 years after earning my pilot certificate, each trip teaches me new lessons. Which is as it should be, because, as you know, “A good pilot…”

A trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina this past weekend reinforced a lesson I learned early on: The weather is always changing, and the only thing you can count on is that you can’t count on the weather.

The forecast five days out had been shaping up beautifully for a Saturday morning departure and a Monday morning return. As we got closer to the weekend, Saturday in Frederick, Maryland, began to include rain in the forecast. No problem. My watchword when it comes to flying is always “Be flexible.” This means being open to the possibility that you will change your departure date. So I launched on Friday afternoon. Aside from a couple of bumps over the Alleghenies, the trip was smooth and uneventful and the arrival into Dare County Regional at Manteo positively beautiful (and breezy!).

On Saturday, I checked the weather again. (I check the weather constantly when I fly somewhere. It helps me to keep tabs on developments.) Thunderstorms were forecast for that evening and the report mentioned the possibility of hail and tornadoes. Yikes! Back to the airport I went. Fortunately, Barrier Island Aviation had hangar space and were happy to rent me some square footage for the night. (Hence the need for a credit card. Of course I needed one anyway to buy fuel, but you get the general idea.)

Sunday dawned clear and breezy, but Monday wasn’t looking so promising back in Maryland. So I opted to cut the weekend short and come back on Sunday afternoon. The headwinds were annoying and the ride home bumpier than the ride out. But, to use yet another cliche, better the devil you know. Bumps and headwinds are infinitely preferable to low ceilings and thunderstorms. — Jill Tallman

Lots of fun, little sun at SNF 2011

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Rain, powerful thunderstorms, a tornado, and upwards of 60 damaged or destroyed airplanes. Those were the headlines from this year’s Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-In and Expo that concluded this past Sunday in Lakeland, Florida. And while the tornado was certainly exciting, it overshadowed the rest of what turned out to be a highly successful event.

Often at these events, most things related to flight training are completely shoved aside by the products and gadgets on exhibit. This year was a major exception. I thought the flight schools, flight training-related businesses, and flight training events were a huge player.

At the top of this list is what I think will be a major force in the training industry in the coming years. It’s called GIFT, or Guided Independent Flight Training. GIFT is a joint venture between Redbird Flight Simulations, Cessna, and King Schools. It takes any Redbird simulator, including the full motion version, and incorporates self-study material from King. Students get a personal card that’s slotted into the sim. They can then choose which lesson they want to work on. A King Schools video comes up, the maneuver is demonstrated, and then the student gets to try the maneuver in the exact same spot as it was just shown. After the maneuver the software grades the student in relation to the practical test standards.

Start to dream a little and the possibilities for this type of technology are endless. Simulators have always represented a cost-effective and useful learning tool, but how to integrate them into a school’s curcillum has been a stumbling block. Using GIFT takes that guesswork away, and allows for schools to standardize the initial stages of pilot training. I can imagine a student not touching an airplane until they were able to make it all the way through the GIFT sessions with passing standards. Sound crazy? Airline pilots don’t touch an airplane until they have 150 people behind them. And the military uses simulators extensively. Why not with initial pilot training?


Essential reading

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Giving recommendations for the best aviation books is sometimes difficult because of the many choices and styles out there. I’d like to offer some unsolicited advice (my wife says that comes more naturally to me than breathing) on my favorites. There are thousands of books that one can read to learn about flying. I know because I’ve read most of them. But of all the books I’ve read, two stand out. And as a warning and recommendation, both are full of technical stuff that you won’t be reading for fun at the beach. Incidentally, both are also great aviation interview prep.

The first is Mental Math for Pilots by Ronald D. McElroy. It’s only 116 pages, but it is filled with great short-cuts to figure out such need-to-know things like groundspeed, time/speed/distance, crosswind components, and more. Even for the seasoned pilot, it’s a great review in this day and age of glass cockpits. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when most pilots knew most of the formulas in this book as they flew steam-gauge airplanes from VOR to VOR. Nowadays, most of us need some help, or at least a reminder. McElroy also wrote Ace the Technical Pilot Interview.

The second book, Everything Explained for the Professional Pilot by Richie Lengel, is much more extensive. It runs more than 400 pages, and costs $50 or more depending on where you get it. But the price is well worth it. It is a collection of all kinds of meat-and-potatoes information, plus arcane trivia you likely don’t know, or knew that you wanted to know. It covers FAR 121 and 135 regs; aircraft systems; weather; and mental math formulas that are not all included in McElroy’s book. It’s also loaded with a lot of great cartoons and humor that help drive the points home. This book will save you loads of time and money in research, and you will wish that you had gotten it a long time ago. Don’t let the title fool you—you don’t need to be a professional to appreciate this tome.

Every pilot has his or her favorite set of resources. These two will save you a lot of Google searches, as well as teach and entertain you. Career pilots and weekend barnstormers alike will both gain much from each of these.

Have you read other books you can’t put down, or maybe you’ve read these and you have another opinion. What do you think?

–Chip Wright