Archive for December, 2012

The best and worst of 2012

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

It’s that time of year again! Welcome to my third annual Best and Worst list for the flight training industry. I spent a few moments reviewing the 2011 roundup (which you can read here), and boy, did we have some interesting developments. Still, 2012 is shaping up to be notable, too.

In 2012, criminals continued to use airplanes for all the wrong reasons. We lost a beloved designated pilot examiner. Santa Monica Airport’s neighbors are using increasingly inventive and unlawful ways to show  how much they don’t want this airport—and its student pilots—in their backyards.

On the up side, I’m pleased to note some things that should affect the flight training industry for years to come. Some of these come out of AOPA. You may call me self-serving for including those in this list, but at least I’ve lumped them into one item.

So here are the worst and best, in no particular order. Tell me what you think I left out in the Comments section.—Jill W. Tallman

Worst

1. Santa Monica Airport makes it to the list again, this year because people are so intent on shutting down this airport–with its six flight schools–that one of them took it upon himself to scatter nails in the flight schools’ driveways to make his point (sorry). What’s next, flaming bags of dog poop on the flight school steps? (Maybe I shouldn’t give them any ideas.) The Santa Monica City Council gets special recognition for considering a noise reduction plan that would have paid flight schools each time a student pilot and flight instructor took their landing practice to another airport.

2. Border patrol agents seized a flight school’s Cessna 172 after a renter pilot was arrested on suspicion of using it to smuggle illegal immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border. The owner said he wasn’t optimistic he’d ever see the airplane again, and its seizure could spell the end of his business.

3. St. Cloud University, St. Cloud, Minn., shutters its aviation program in a cost-cutting measure.

4. The U.S. Air Force told its oldest GA flying club–located on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio–to hit the road. That the USAF would evict its own is a tad ironic, as is the fact that Dayton is widely considered the Birthplace of Aviation. This one’s not all bad, though; the club, 300 members strong, moved operations to a nearby GA airport and has vowed to remain active.

5. “Mama Bird” took her final flight. Evelyn Bryan Johnston, a widely loved designated pilot examiner and the grande dame of Tennessee aviation, died May 10 at the age of 102. She had logged more than 57,000 flight hours and administered more than 9,000 practical tests.

Best

1. Persons with disabilities are learning to fly. A fantastic organization called Able Flight is helping persons with disabilities to earn their wings. The organization really took off in 2012, when it helped six men to become sport pilots through a joint program with Purdue University.

2. Women are finding out that flying is fun. There are some very determined people trying to bring more women into aviation. Last year’s list mentioned International Women of Aviation Worldwide; this year my pick is designated pilot examiner Mary Latimer of Vernon, Texas, who hosted about 40 women at a weeklong camp at her home airport (Vernon-Wilbarger County, near Wichita Falls). The Girls in Flight Training Academy participants got free housing, food, and ground school, and they paid just $50 per hour dry plus the cost of fuel to fly in a Cessna 150. The result? Five took the knowledge test, four soloed, and two got through the private pilot checkride. You’ll read more about GIFT in an upcoming issue of Flight Training magazine.

3. Apps, apps, apps! From weight and balance to flight planning to weather to making a 3D image of your 10 trips around the pattern so you can see if you’re squaring off that base leg, cool, easy-to-use, and mostly inexpensive apps for the iPad and other tablet devices exploded in 2012. Student pilots will benefit from all that technology, so long as they remember to keep their eyes outside.

4. King Schools makes its private and instrument syllabus available free to independent flight instructors. Cheers and a tip of the hat to John and Martha King, who inspired my very first best-and-worst list back in 2010. I’m glad to bring them back for a happier reason. Honorable mention: Sporty’s Flight Academy in Clermont County, Ohio, whose modular flight training program that focuses on getting student pilots to solo is showing some impressive results–how about four solos in one week?

5. AOPA’s Flight Training Retention Initiative and the newly created Center to Advance the Pilot Community have been hard at work to tackle the problem of the shrinking pilot population. Some accomplishments to date:

  • Successful training programs were recognized during the first Flight Training Excellence Awards; you can read more about the people and flight schools that got special recognition here.
  • The Flight Training Field Guides for instructors, flight schools, and students are now available to download in .pdf format. Click here to get yours–scroll down the page to see where the field guides can be downloaded.
  • Have you noticed the series of articles on AOPA Online about successful flying clubs? Look for much more on flying clubs, including a Flying Club network that will strengthen the bonds among pilots and clubs nationwide.
  • Recognizing that we shouldn’t wait until a kid turns 16 to nurture his or her interest in learning to fly, AOPA also launched AV8TRS–a completely free membership program for youths aged 13 to 18. Go here to find out more, or sign up a youngster.

Photo of the Day: Iditarod Air Force

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Since 1973, Alaska’s annual sled dog race from Anchorange to Nome has depended on a corps of volunteer bush pilots to move people and supplies along the trail. They’ve ferried dog food, bales of straw for dog bedding, wooden stakes to mark the trail, cooking fuel, and lumber to build temperary shelters at checkpoints. They carry veterinarians, race officials, volunteers, and checkpoint staff—and of course, dogs. The Idatarod would not be possible without general aviation. Read much more, and view a slideshow of the event, in Tom LeCompte’s article from the April 2008 issue of AOPA Pilot ( http://www.aopa.org/members/files/pilot/2008/dog0804.html ).—Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: The Wrights’ historic flight

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

We know a lot about what happened in the days leading up to Dec. 17, 1903—the day that two brothers named Orville and Wilbur Wright accomplished their first successful flight of a powered aircraft. The brothers were meticulous about taking notes and photos of their progress, and so we have photographic evidence of that day. The Wright Flyer was constructed of spruce and ash covered in muslin. Look for an explanation of how the Wrights controlled the airplane in the February issue of Flight Training magazine.—Jill W. Tallman

When to speak up

Monday, December 17th, 2012

I recently read a story in a nonflying publication about a group of people on a resort boat going scuba diving. The tale is related that at one point the captain had to leave his post at the wheel to go below to find his sunglasses. While he was doing so, the boat began to drift off-course enough that it was clear it would crash.

The employee sitting next to the captain began to display obvious knowledge of the impending situation, but did nothing to react, even though all he had to do was put his hand on the wheel to keep the boat going straight. The author explains that it was clear that such action by an employee in the past had led to a pretty severe dressing-down, if not outright embarrassment in front of a boatload of customers. Further, when the captain finally resumed his post, there was no discussion about the danger the boat had been in.

In a crewed environment of any sort—airplanes, in our case—the most important asset is trust. Each pilot must not only trust that the other knows how to fly, and that he or she knows what the job is, but the first officer especially needs to trust that the captain will welcome input that could be necessary but a bit embarrassing.

Now, there is speaking up and there is speaking up. In the simple version, the FO might point out something mundane and obvious. For example, the controller issued a descent clearance and the altitude was set, but the captain forgets to actually start the descent. The FO then pipes up, the captain realizes what he didn’t do, starts to descend, and all is well. That’s easy.

What’s harder is when a judgment call is required. Maybe the controller named Victor gave some bad vectors, and the approach is going to be steeper and faster than it should be. Or, maybe there is some questionable weather ahead. Or, maybe the captain is missing every radio call because he has something on his mind or doesn’t feel well. Calling for a go-around during an unstable approach sounds like it should be easy, but you’d be shocked at how hard it is for an FO to bring himself to call for the go-around.

A captain who is error-prone is a difficult scenario, especially if you don’t the person well. If he or she has a reputation for it, you can at least be prepared. If not, you have to determine if the captain usually operates this way or is just having a bad day.

I’ve always told my FOs that not only should they speak up, but that I need them to. The last thing I want them to do is wonder if it’s OK or if it will offend me. The truth is that it will offend me more if they don’t. After all, it always seems that certificate action follows the dumbest mistakes that are left uncorrected. I hope everyone I flew with will agree that speaking up with me was never an issue.

It’s a harder skill—and it is a skill—to develop than you think. When I first upgraded, many of my captains were my age or older, and they had less reservation about pointing something out, even if it was not a big deal. But as time passed, and my FOs became much younger than me, I noticed that I had to really emphasize that my feelings would not be hurt if they said I was being dumb, or if they wanted a go-around because they didn’t like what they saw. It always seemed to me that being able to talk about it after the fact was better than the NTSB and FAA talking to my family about instead.

But there are some pilots who are just “plane” jerks, and take on a very dictatorial attitude. In my personal experience, these are actually easier to deal with in some respects. Get them alone, and tell them flat out how they are coming across and that they are not being conducive to a safe environment, and (this is important) give them examples of negative behavior that they have displayed. Being called out often makes people realize that they have crossed a line or two, and often brings about the sort of behavior modification you need.

Don’t be the guy sitting next to an empty chair as the ship (or plane) heads for trouble. Be assertive but respectful, and fix the problem now. You can deal with the other person’s attitude later. If things are bad enough, you can always find another job.—Chip Wright

Photo of the Day: P-51 Mustang

Friday, December 14th, 2012

 

When AOPA unveiled its “March Madness”-style airplane face-off this year, some of our members were cynical. “Why bother?” one said. “It’s going to be the P-51 Mustang.” Turns out he was right—the Mustang walked away with the contest, beating out the Douglas DC-3. Mike Fizer shot this photo in Columbus, Ohio, for the Gathering of P-51s and Legends. A very few airplanes command the power to stop you in your tracks whenever you see one, and the P-51 is preeminent among them.—Jill W. Tallman

Crew transition

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

When I first began my career as an airline pilot, I really didn’t have any idea what to expect. I knew I would be flying—a lot—and I knew that I would be traveling—a lot. But beyond that, I really didn’t know what the job would be like. I knew there would be an autopilot, and I was pretty stoked about that. I knew I’d be wearing a uniform, and while many pilots can’t stand wearing the hat, it never bothered me.

But the one thing that I was relatively unprepared for was the crew concept. I’d had a bit of experience with it thanks to my previous job, which included using an airplane to photo-map the state’s farmland. We also did some atmospheric sampling work, but the “crew” on those flights were nonpilots. The photo-mapping projects, on the other hand, were a true team effort, and while it could be done with two pilots, it was really a three-person job. But, it wasn’t the same kind of crew that you’d find in an airline cockpit.

The transition to a crew environment wasn’t all that hard. What was hard was realizing how much help I really had, and how little I had to do for myself. For instance, in my previous job, the pilot flying did everything flying-related except talk on the radio. That was handled by the yahoo sitting in the other seat (usually one of my bosses, who were among the finest yahoos I ever knew, except for when they were flying together).

In the crew world, the pilot flying flies…and that’s pretty much all he or she does. The gear, flaps, radio, checklists, and almost anything else you can think of are done by what we used to call the nonflying pilot, but whom we now refer to as the “pilot monitoring.” I still call them “the yahoo sitting next to me.” After all these years, why worry now about political correctness?

It took me a while to get used to not working the gear or flaps, especially since, in the Brasilia, the gear handle was in front of my left knee, and the flap handle was right next to the same knee. I also had to learn just how much I was allowed to ask for. If I wanted the radar on, all I had to do was ask. If I wanted the power set at a certain setting, all I had to do was ask. I did have to work my own HSI, and I got to control my nav radio if I was quick enough to beat the captain to it…which wasn’t often.

There were, of course, other duties that came with the territory, such as calling the company on the radio prior to every arrival and after every departure. Talking to a dispatcher was new as well, but it was a Part 135 operation at the time, so we pilots were still more involved in flight planning, though nowhere near to the degree that I had been. I knew more about the route of my first dual cross-country than I have about any airline trip I’ve flown, and I wish it wasn’t so, but short turn times force you to rely on a dispatcher more than you ever would have thought. Besides, trying to follow a sectional from the flight levels or at high speeds would be a challenge.

But it was that transition to a total crew environment that really opened my eyes. I was the low man on the totem pole, and I had to learn how to work with (and sometimes get along with) a captain and a flight attendant. Neither was hard, but it was a period of adaptation that is now effortless, and, I now realize, much better and safer than much of what I’d done before.

There are always going to be stories of cockpit dictators, and occasionally even a story about a fist-fight or some kind of ugly confrontation between two people who simply can’t get along. But those are rare. Airlines do a great job of training crews to work together, and while you won’t walk away from every trip with a new BFF, you won’t always have a new mortal enemy either.

Unless, of course, you insist on doing everything yourself, which will not only aggravate the person next to you, but will also make you extremely busy. Plus, you will be branded as the next yahoo.—Chip Wright

The December “Since You Asked” poll: Looking for the traffic

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

When air traffic control notifies you that there’s traffic in your vicinity, what do you do first? That’s the question posed to digital subscribers in the December 2012 Flight Training’s “Since You Asked.”

A reader asked Rod Machado whether he is expected to look first and then reply to such a call, or immediately key the mic and indicate that he’s looking. Rod’s response:

When air traffic control calls out traffic for you, the first thing you should do is direct your attention in the direction of the traffic. So look for the traffic first. There’s no need to clog the airwaves by telling the controller that you’re “Looking,” either. The controller knows you’re looking, assuming you received the message.

I’ve automatically hit that mic key and said “Looking” while straining my eyeballs, so, ATC folks, I’ll back off on that one. Rod continues:

It typically takes only a few seconds to identify traffic if it’s close, at which point you’ll identify yourself to the controller and say either “Contact” if you see what was called, or if the traffic is converging on you and you don’t see it you can say “No contact.” If the traffic is close and you don’t see it, then request an avoidance vector. [Editor's note: Since this column was published, a reader pointed out that the correct phrases are "negative contact" and "traffic in sight."]

So, how did readers respond? Oddly, it was almost split right down the middle. Forty-nine percent of respondents said their first response is “Looking for traffic.” And 49 percent said they look for the traffic and then respond. Just one person said their first response is “Tally ho,” so congrats to the rest of you who didn’t pick that. To the one person who did pick it: You get a pass if you happen to be a fox hunter. Remember, if it’s not in the FAA’s Pilot-Controller Glossary, you probably shouldn’t use it.

January’s digital poll is on one of your favorite topics: landing. Don’t forget to cast your vote on p. 14!—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.

Photo of the Day: Maule M-4

Monday, December 10th, 2012

There are taildraggers, and then there’s the Maule. The Maule family has been building sturdy tailwheel airplanes known for their short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability from the factory in Moultree, Georgia, since the 1950s. This one provides side-by-side seating, somewhat unusual for a taildragger but a definite selling point. Alton Marsh, who’s flown more than a few Maules in his career, describes the characteristics of the Maule M-4 shown here in the article, “Back to the Future,” which originally appeared in the March 2005 AOPA Pilot magazine. (  http://www.aopa.org/pilot/features/2005/feat0503.html ) —-Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: Anchorage nose art

Friday, December 7th, 2012

On May 19, 2007, AOPA Pilot editors were literally all over the map–all of us were stationed at airports around the United States to capture images and words for what would become “A Day in the Life of America’s Airports.” Then-Senior Editor Machteld Smith got a plumb assignment: She went to Lake Hood Seaplane Base in Anchorage. The nose art you see here is one of numerous photos taken that day. You can see a slideshow and a video on the website, http://www.aopa.org/pilot/dayinthelife/ ), as well as check out the other locations where we turned up.—Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: Pattern or practice area?

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

So, what’ll it be today? A trip or two (or 10) around the pattern, or a jaunt to the practice area to practice maneuvers? Maybe a little of both? If you’re flying solo, make sure you have a plan for your valuable Hobbs time. Don’t just fire up the airplane and start taxiing. Sure, all flight time is good time, but it’s also somewhat expensive time. So figure out what you’re going to do before you do it, and make your solo time count. Photo by Mike Fizer.—Jill W. Tallman