Archive for November, 2012

Got a checkride this weekend?

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Whenever we ask our Facebook friends what their flying plans are for the weekend, invariably they report they’ve got a checkride scheduled. (Makes sense; we are, after all, a community for student pilots.) So here are some tips for doing your best and nailing that ride.

  • The night before: Get plenty of rest. Review for your oral exam and prep if you need to, but don’t burn the midnight oil with late-night cramming. This isn’t college. You’ll need to be fresh and your mind clear.
  • The morning of: Eat a good breakfast. See the above part about feeding your brain and your body. Watch the caffeine intake; you don’t want to be jittery (or worse).

If your checkride is a few days off, take a moment to read this excellent piece by Ron Levy, an ATP and veteran of 11 certificate or rating checkrides, including four with FAA inspectors. It first appeared (to the best of my knowledge) on the Pilots of America web board. Click here or cut and paste this link (  http://www.pilotsofamerica.com/forum/showthread.php?t=15706 ). And good luck!—Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: A sea of Swifts

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

The group photo of Swift pilots you see here was taken on November 4 to commemorate “World Domination: The Day of the Swift.” This friendly Facebook event was started by a Fort Myers, Fla.-based Swift owner who got to wondering one day how many Swifts were flying at the same time. He decided to see if he could get international interest among Swift owners to fly on the same day; thus the name “World Domination.” Perry Sisson asked participating pilots to email photos and updates; he estimates that 100 Swifts were flown on that one day in the United States, Canada, Brazil, and France.—Jill W. Tallman

Holding

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

When I was working on my instrument rating, one of the first skills I learned was how to enter and fly a holding pattern. I sometimes had a devil of a time figuring out the proper entry—and at that time, there really was a requirement to get the proper entry and enter the hold properly—and sometimes I had bit of (or a lot of) trouble figuring out the best time or wind correction angle for the outbound leg. It didn’t take long to master, but I do remember thinking that I would so rarely hold that the whole thing was kind of a stupid exercise.

Little did I know.

Airline flying, especially in the Northeast, consists of more holds than one would imagine. Most of them are for weather—either weather moving through in the way of a summer thunderstorm, or as a result of weather totally muddying up the works earlier in the day. Snow plows created holding as well. Low vis will produce holds because airplanes are slow to clear the runway, and if the airport doesn’t have ground-based radar, everything takes twice as long.

Airport volume drives holding more than weather, though, and it is that kind of holding that is more unpredictable. Clear skies, low winds and…expect further clearance (EFC) times that are an hour or more away will drive you batty. They will also force a lot of diversions unless the dispatcher was able to load you up with a lot of extra fuel.

But some holds just crack you up or are “plane” unusual. More than once I had to hold (both on the ground and in flight) so that Air Force One (or One-and-a-Half [First or Second Lady] or Two) could take off or land. I once had to hold so that the Air Force Thunderbirds (or Blue Angels, I can’t remember which [and for the record, the Blue Angels are a far better show]) could finish their performance. On my last trip with Comair, I was trying to get into Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and we held for 30 minutes because the airport had to clean up some dead birds.

Apparently, there were a lot of them, small ones, that had been hit by a previous arrival and departure. I’ve also held so that airplanes dealing with an emergency could land in front of me. Perfectly understandable.

Back in the day, flying a hold could be a bit of work, and when I was learning to do it, my instructor would occasionally make me do the entry and the hold on a single radio just to keep me on my toes. When I was flying the Brasilia, we had an autopilot, but we still had to fly the turns with the heading bug. The CRJ had a flight management system, and we had an entire module of training that focused on holds. The point of that was to get the crews proficient enough to get a hold built and executed in the shortest time possible.

Once the hold was “in the box” and the pictured verified on the multifunction displays, the flight plan could be executed and the aurplane would do its magic; it would even figure out the entry, which was ironic, because nowadays the entry doesn’t really matter so long as you get established quickly. If for whatever reason the crew doesn’t like the entry, it can be over-ridden by flying the entry in a heading mode, and then joining the hold. I did that once or twice just to stick it to the aviation deities. It’s the small battles…

The flip side to getting into a hold is talking your way out of one, or better yet, out of even starting one. When I was based in New York, I became quite adept at avoiding holds altogether. Thanks to high gas prices, tankering extra fuel was frowned upon if it wasn’t deemed absolutely essential.

Diversions create work and headaches for ATC, so I learned how to be perfectly honest about our situation and tell them we simply couldn’t hold. Most of the time, they could find a way to fit us in. Sometimes they couldn’t, and we did indeed divert.

Once that happened, my dispatcher would invariably want to talk. I always smiled, and told them they would have to stand by and hold…—Chip Wright

November “Since You Asked” poll: Would you have canceled the flight?

Friday, November 16th, 2012

The November “Since You Asked” poll was prompted by this question from “No Name, Please”:

I just started taking flying lessons to become a commercial pilot and currently I have about 15 hours logged. Recently on one of my dual circuit flights, I called off the flight based on the weather briefing from the FSS, and my instructor didn’t like that idea. Now he is refusing to fly with me.

We asked digital respondents what they would do if the weather looks threatening for an upcoming dual flight. Eleven percent said they would cancel the flight on their own initiative, much as Rod’s reader did.

Thirty-seven percent said they’d head to the airport anyway to consult with the flight instructor. (Who knows, maybe he or she would have a back-up plan in mind. Flight instructors are resourceful that way.)

Twenty-nine percent said they’d call the flight instructor in advance. And 1 percent chose “Other.”

We don’t know what type of weather prompted the student to cancel the flight, or whether he talked it over with the instructor first, but clearly there was a breakdown in communications on both sides of the fence. If I were that instructor, I’d want to know why the student canceled the flight. And if I were that student, I’d want the instructor to know exactly why I canceled it.—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 pilot shortage is gaining attention

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story this week about the impending lack of qualified pilots. The story cited three major causes:  the Age 65 mandatory retirement age, which goes into full effect this year; the change in rest requirements that will require pilots to get more rest on overnights, and will thus lead to a need for more pilots to staff the airline; and the new certification requirements that will require pilots to have 1,500 hours before getting an airline job.

Let’s be clear about one thing. This shortage was going to happen anyway because of the Age 65 rule. It used to be age 60, but five years ago, a deal was made to allow the older pilots to continue flying as a concession for terminating their pension plans (there was no provision that allowed pilots to collect full Social Security at age 60).

Make no mistake that the airlines knew that this shortage of pilots was coming had the retirement age not been raised. The retirement age was not raised  because people suddenly had an epiphany about the overall health of the pilot population being good enough to allow pilots to fly to 60. It was a quid pro quo that simultaneously brought the United States in line with what other nations do and kicked a staffing problem down the road.

Jump ahead to where we are today, which, like the fiscal cliff, is “down the road.” There are fewer students aspiring to be professional pilots in the pipeline thanks to the staggering cost of acquiring all of the ratings and requirements to become an airline pilot. The military is no longer the source of pilots it was, and as the story pointed out, many Americans have gone overseas to fly. The salaries that can be earned overseas are phenomenal, and considering the tax advantages combined with some companies providing globally accepted health insurance, it’s a tempting move for many. More overseas jobs are not requiring pilots to move, and those that do often provide subsidized housing and education for children.

The shortage we have here is indeed aggravated by the changes in the rest rules and the experience requirements for airline new hires, but as I said, it would have happened anyway. Hiring is picking up for more than just attrition. The regionals have always been able to plan on attrition to the majors, but now they must beef up staffing for the rest rules. The good news in this is that the airlines that have historically overworked their employees will no longer be able to get away with such practices. Quality of life will dramatically improve.

For those who are planning to fly professionally, going from 250 hours to 1,500 will take about two years of full-time flight instructing, give or take. As happened in the last major wave of continuous hiring that ended about four years ago, those pilots ready to take the next step will find that their timing will probably never be better. Folks who are considering flying as a career still need to do their own risk-benefit analysis based on their age and where they are in their flight training, but for pilots who are under 25, single, with no criminal record, and (especially) a college degree the sky may literally be the limit.

Some may disagree with me, but I also believe that pay and benefits will get better out of necessity at the regional level. Even with the shrinking RJ fleet, airlines still need pilots. A comment in the Journal story said that it would take six months to develop a solution to the problem, but four years to execute it. Part of that solution will have to be making ALL flying financially attractive. The question for potential pilots is this: Where in that solution do you fit?—By Chip Wright

Photo of the Day: Get Your Glass Piper Archer

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

AOPA’s 2008 sweepstakes airplane was notable for several reasons. We had previous refurbished Pipers, but this was the first time we had awarded an airplane with a brand-new “glass” panel–an Avidyne multifunction display and Aspen Avionics’ first-ever certified primary display. Another notable first for this aircraft was that its winner is a lady. And, unlike many previous winners of AOPA sweepstakes airplanes, she has kept N208GG. Karoline Gorman is an air traffic controller for New York Center and a passionate advocate for animal rescue, and she enjoys flying N208GG on rescue missions.—Jill W. Tallman

Airplane, SUV don’t meet cute

Friday, November 9th, 2012


Another week, another YouTube video to pass along to the Flight Training blog readers. This one involves what looks like a Cessna 172 that struck an SUV while on short-short final to a nontowered airport in Texas. Sorry about the ad at the beginning of this clip (and if the video window does not work in your browser, you can click here), but I chose this version for a reason.

I’m not passing judgment on either the pilot or the driver of the SUV. But it’s a good object lesson for flying in and out of a nontowered airport where ground vehicles or pedestrians (or, for that matter, animals) may have pretty unrestricted access. It’s interesting to note that in this version of the video, the local news reported that the driver was traveling on a private road near the airport. A stop sign she was supposed to have seen was painted on the ground.—Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: Fall foliage flight

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Flying is fun no matter what the season, but there’s something especially satisfying about getting a bird’s-eye view of autumn colors in their fleeting glory. Some years are better than others for spotting fall leaves–our dry summer in the Northeast did not produce the kind of spectacular colors you see here. Nonetheless, fall is a great time for flying.—Jill W. Tallman

A GIFT in Texas

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

The women you see here all have one thing in common: They want to learn to fly. (And the state trooper in the background? He’s a student pilot.) As I write this, the ladies who are attending Mary Latimer’s Girls in Flight Training Academy at Wilbarger County Airport in Vernon, Texas, are hard at work, drilling through ground school, poring over sectional charts, and of course getting up in the air.

But there’s a lot more going on. There are friendships forming; the students are dealing with their concerns and fears about some aspects of flight training (stalls = yuck), and some of them are scaling mental hurdles that have prevented them from achieving their goals.

Latimer came up with the idea of an all-woman’s flight “camp” in 2011. For her first attempt (in which attendees aren’t charged for flight training, or housing, or food–only for the avgas they used), she had about 15 women. For this year’s event, which received some advance press in AOPA’s ePilot Flight Training newsletter and in Flight Training magazine, she had 40 or so sign up. That meant a scramble for enough housing, not to mention airplanes and flight instructors (who also donated their time), but if you have ever met Mary Latimer, you’d know that such minor details as not enough airplanes or instructors doesn’t phase her. She simply finds out a way to make everything work.

I spent some time with the GIFT attendees this past weekend, and I was struck by the fact that the women were so excited and so happy to be there. The perfect weather was another plus—I’m told Texas weather can be capricious this time of year, but blue skies and fairly light winds were forecast for the entire week. There was a lot of flying going on, and as soon as I get an update from Mary I’ll pass along the success stories. In the meantime, look for an article about women and flight training featuring the GIFT experience sometime in 2013.—Jill W. Tallman

Practice your crashes

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

I was recently watching a Discovery Channel special about a group of scientists and pilots who decided to crash a Boeing 727 in the Mexican desert in order to better understand what affects survivability versus fatalities in a real-world crash. (Click here for video clips from “Curiosity: Inside a Plane Crash.”—Ed.)

If you get an opportunity to see the show, you should. It made me think of a couple things. First, you can get a 727 for a relatively paltry sum (they paid $425,000 for theirs). Second, it makes me wonder how many people are familiar with the crash landing procedures in their airplanes–specifically jets.

During the experiment, cameras were installed in the cockpit in order to film the crash from that point of view. During the last part of the descent, a female voice can be heard saying, “Falling….falling.” It’s clearly a voice that is tied into either a radar altimeter or a ground proximity warning system (GPWS, pronounced “JIP-WIZ”), and it is this voice that got me pondering thought number two.

Modern aircraft have all kinds of bells and whistles that start making noises under specific circumstances. In this case, it was because the 727 was forced, via remote control, into a descent that was nearly three times the norm, like what might happen if a crew fell asleep. On the CRJ that I flew for Comair, there were a number of warnings that came on at low altitude if certain conditions were not met. They included general terrain or obstacle warnings, gear problems, flap settings, descent rate warnings, and wind-shear warnings.

All of these could be cancelled if the crew—especially the first officer (FO)—knew how. The overrides were primarily intended to help a crew cancel a nuisance message that shouldn’t otherwise be on. The volume level of the warnings is not adjustable. They have one setting: rock-concert-loud. (You know, that whole sleeping-pilot thing.) Unfortunately, any other communication is virtually impossible, so there are switch-lights that can be pushed to cancel the audible warnings. Unfortunately again, the switch is nuclear: It kills everything.

But in an impending crash, that’s good. Most airlines don’t practice full-blown crashes in the sim. However, because I have a morbid sense of humor and a never-ending curiosity, I did it several times. Scenarios that might drive the use of such a checklist could include a total failure of the gear system, loss of fuel, loss of engine power and/or total electric power (think: lightning strike), even an inflight collision with another plane or some of the geese that Sullenburger missed. The crash-landing checklist is several pages long, and I wanted to be familiar enough with it that I could get to the nuts-and-bolts of it quickly if I needed it.

Getting rid of extraneous noise is a major part of minimizing workload when trying to crash-land with a minimal rate of damage and a maximum chance of survival.
If you ever get a chance to do a total crash scenario in a sim, you should, especially with the gear up and in various flap configurations. The airplane does not fly the same, and the speed and control response will vary from what you are used to. Besides, in a worse-case scenario, you want to at least be able to say, “I’ve done this before.” In a safe environment, of course!—Chip Wright