Archive for January, 2013

Got a medical coming up?

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Is it time to put in your medical application? Whether you’re a first-timer getting ready to solo or a long-timer who’s been around the pattern a few times, take some time to familiarize yourself with the form, the information you’ll need to provide to the FAA, and what you can expect throughout the process. I’ll provide links to AOPA resources throughout this blog that hopefully will help grease the skids a bit.

  • Need an aviation medical examiner? We’ve got a searchable database of AMEs. If none is in your area, ask other pilots or flight instructors whom they visit. A good, knowledgeable AME is like owning a bar of gold. Some are better than others; a bad one (that is, somebody who doesn’t really understand how the FAA works) can trip up the proceedings and delay the issuance of your medical. And in general, your family physician should not be your AME.
  • Is that medicine OK? Some prescription and over-the-counter medications are fine. Some are not fine, and you won’t fly if you’re taking them. Some are permissible once you provide documentation to the FAA that you can function safely while taking the medication in question. Our comprehensive database of medications can be accessed here.
  • It’s all electronic. Did you know that once upon a time, you filled out a paper form and took that to the AME’s office? As of Oct. 1, 2012, it’s all done via the FAA’s MedXPress website. AOPA Director of Medical Services Gary Crump explains how you get online in this article.

Everybody’s health situation is different, and it’s impossible for me to address all the possible permutations of health scenarios in this blog. But a single piece of advice holds true for all pilots: Know before you go. If you have a health issue, find out how to address it to the FAA’s satisfaction before you make that appointment with the AME. If you have questions, call AOPA at 800-USA-AOPA. AOPA Pilot Protection Services can be especially helpful for complicated issues; find out more on the website.—Jill W. Tallman

The January “Since You Asked” poll: What element of landing an airplane is/was problematic for you?

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

No matter what we accomplish in flight training, nothing (it seems) quite eclipses the ability to nail a landing. Is it any wonder? Landing the airplane is probably the toughest part of flying it. (If you disagree, feel free to do so in the Comments section.)

So it was that our January digital poll asked the question in the title of this blog. The idea for the poll was sparked by the student pilot who wrote Rod Machado to ask for guidance on how to control the airplane during rollout. Rod was puzzled, and so he contacted the student to ask for some additional details. It turns out the guy had a shoe size  13-1/2. Aha! Rod theorized that the student was having difficulty properly placing his feet on the cockpit floorboard so as not to accidentally touch a brake pedal.

Mystery solved, I wondered what other types of problems with landing plague us. I could’ve guessed the outcome,  but here are the unofficial poll results to bear it out: It’s the flare.

  • 71 percent of respondents chose the flare as their problem area.
  • 14 percent of respondents said it was the sight picture.
  • 7 percent said the rollout.
  • 7 percent said other. (I’m curious to know what that might be–perhaps gauging your airplane’s height above ground?)

“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.

Student or teacher: Which is harder?

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

So which is harder: learning to fly, or teaching people how to fly? I’ve been on both ends of that spectrum, and looking back, it’s hard to say.

There are a lot of things in life we have to learn, some which we don’t see the immediate value in or have an interest in, such as learning rote math facts or the difference between verbs, adverbs, and dangling participles. Other things that we learn are the result of optional endeavors, such as learning to play an instrument, painting, and flying. Those optional endeavors are not necessarily easy to learn, but because we choose to do them, they are either fun to learn, or “easier” to learn, because we are motivated to learn them.

Let’s face it. Some parts of learning to fly are easy, and some parts are downright hard. Learning the FARs is rote memorization, and much of it is common-sense stuff: Don’t fly too low over houses and highways; stay out of clouds; and get a good weather briefing. All of these are pretty simple.

Other stuff is much more work-intensive and more difficult to learn, landings being the most obvious one that comes to mind. Everyone has more trouble learning to land than anything else because you simply can’t replicate the same approach (or even the same control inputs and hand-eye reactions) on each attempt. That’s also one of many variables that make teaching landings so challenging.

Every student has certain maneuvers they struggle with more than others. I recall one who was absolutely terrified of steep turns, but had no trouble with stalls and slow flight. Another—a teenager, no less—had so much trouble learning to taxi that we spent an hour one day just following yellow lines and working on using his feet to turn. Talking on the radio comes naturally for some, but creates stage fright for others.

As a student, it’s possible that you will complete your certificate and possibly never take another organized lesson again outside of a flight review.

The CFI, on the other hand, must master not only the private syllabus, but also those of the commercial certificate and the instrument rating. Further, the CFI must also be able to fly and teach these maneuvers all from the right seat, which can be a challenge.

Learning the various maneuvers is one thing, but being able to break down all the material into bite-sized chunks that students can digest is something else. We’ve all had instructors who were better than others, whether it was because of patience or the ability to convey the subject in terms that student can understand. Having had it both ways, I think that learning to fly is more difficult, only because you are getting your initial exposure to so much. You need to learn the terminology, the acronyms, the skills, and so much more. Teaching flying forces you to slow everything down, but at least you already have (or should have) a basic grasp of the material.

Of course, it would be more accurate to say that one of the bigger challenges is learning how to teach people how to fly. Unfortunately, the first several students become the guinea pigs, and the airplane becomes the lab.

What are your thoughts?—Chip Wright

Flying over the holidays

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

As I write this, we are a week away from Christmas Day, with New Year’s right behind. I can’t help but think of all of the employees within the airline industry who will be working, especially the pilots and the flight attendants. For the most part, all of the other employees will be going home after their shift. Flight crews may not be.

There is much that is very cool about being an airline pilot, but there is one thing that is decidedly not, and that is working on the holidays, with Thanksgiving and Christmas being two of the worst. Most folks can get past most of the other big days on the calendar (the reality is that the Fourth of July fireworks from an airplane are pretty cool), but Thanksgiving is a truly American holiday, and since more families go out of the their way to get together for Turkey than Santa, it’s a tough one to miss. Christmas is also hard, especially if you have young kids who are still enraptured with Santa.

While the winter holidays can be celebrated pretty much any time you want them to be, being gone is hard. Even if you would not normally have done anything special, a hotel can be a pretty lonely place. Restaurants are closed or open only for limited hours; room service often is cancelled for the day; and when you turn on the TV, you are reminded even more so that you just are not where you want to be. Hotels will do what they can, but their staff will be limited as well. If there is anything worse than being stuck in a hotel for a holiday, it’s being stuck in a hotel when you and your crew are the only guests.

Working holidays is a fact of life in many occupations, and the airlines are no different in that regard. But, when you work a job where you can go home after your shift, it’s much easier to swallow, especially if you get premium pay. A little-known fact is that more airlines do not pay a premium for holiday pay than those that do, and that just adds insult to injury. Those that do often have no problem finding volunteers.

If there is a benefit to working holidays, it may be a reduced schedule. Flights are usually reduced on certain days, and that may create fewer trips. If the overall schedule is large enough, it may be possible for the company to build a lot of shorter (one -and two-day) trips, or a lot of trips with a split a.m./p.m. schedule that allow at least part of the day to be spent at home.

If you are a commuter, one of the first things you will do when looking at trips for November and December is to try to find one that overnights in your home town or the town of family. In fact, if you’re really lucky, you might score a layover that gives you a full day off at home for a holiday, for which you might be getting paid.

Fly for the airlines long enough, and you will undoubtedly meet someone who clearly has the seniority to be off for a holiday but chooses to work it. I can’t remember if I was a first officer or a captain at the time, but I had to work Thanksgiving early in my career, and one of our most senior captains (one of the top three) was working. He had no kids at home anymore, and had decided to work so that a junior captain who probably had a family could be home. There have also been folks who have bid the holiday off, and then gone into work and picked up a trip from a fellow pilot as a surprise so that they could be home with their families. It’s a favor I’d like to pass on someday myself.

As with any career, the airlines have their downsides, and working holidays can be depressing, especially when you’ve done it several years in a row. Some have pretty stringent policies in place to prevent abuse of sick time, but the reality is that at some point you will most likely have to do it, and most of the time, your fellow employees will be in a good mood that becomes contagious. The passengers may not show as much appreciation as you’d like, but rest assured that they have a tremendous amount of gratitude for your work. I’ve been on both sides of the cockpit door, and while I’d prefer being on the one taken where I want to go, it’s not always so bad to be the taker either.—Chip Wright

Which comes first: flying or ground school?

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

It’s a classic aviation topic of discussion: Do you start with ground school or flying lessons?

The answer, of course, is yes.

Back in the day, pilots-to-be overwhelmingly sat in a classroom and learned the academic side of flying the same way they learned algebra, English, and history. Courses would run several weeks depending on how many days a week it met, and most students were flying concurrently. Nowadays, so many pilots engage in the self-paced home-study courses that it’s probably difficult to find a traditional ground school.

The advantage of starting with flying right away is that you have a much easier time keeping up your enthusiasm, and besides, flying is fun, so why not do it? The truth is that you can do both at the same time, but you need to learn how to do it efficiently and effectively.

The home-study courses available today are a far cry from what was available even 10 years ago, and they are light years ahead of where they were 20 years ago. Jeppesen used to charge a king’s ransom for a series of video tapes that accompanied the private pilot curriculum. Now, online classes and DVDs have replaced VHS, which means you can go right where you want to study, and better yet, it’s all interactive, which keeps you more engaged. The video quality is better as well. And Jepp being Jepp, they still charge a king’s ransom, but the Kings are still doing their thing as well.

There are some areas of study you should start with right away. Aerodynamics, the FARs, and weather are topics that you can’t get a jump on fast enough. Most people are more weather savvy today, thanks to the Weather Channel and the Internet, but aviation weather is still information intensive, so getting a leg up on it early is always a good idea.

But a few areas of study call for caution when it comes to getting too far ahead of where your training is. You should spend a lot of time reading, watching, and studying all of the maneuvers. However, don’t jump into trying to understand all of navigation until you are ready to do your cross-country flying. In more modern aircraft, you may already have a bit of proficiency with the GPS since you use it all the time. In older airplanes, it may just be you and your VOR indicators. I am a firm believer that you will be a better pilot—you’ll certainly be more knowledgeable—if you can do everything the old-fashioned way, and that includes using a manual E6B. After all, it doesn’t ever need to have batteries replaced. As for the panel-mount GPS, a good instructor will take the time to show you all the ins and outs you need to know as you need to know them.

When getting ready for your knowledge test, don’t do it by just memorizing all of the answers. Make sure that you understand the theory and the concepts discussed in each question. Be able to answer them using what you know, especially weight and balance and navigation questions. Some of them are indeed rote memorization (the FARs), but make sure you really know the material and know where to find it!

Learning all that you need to know can seem daunting, but if you break it down into chunks, it is much more manageable. Yes, you can fly before you open a book, but if you combine the two, you will have more effective learning and have a more enjoyable training experience.—By Chip Wright

A holiday flight

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Back in December, we asked chat participants what was on their Christmas wish lists. There was a prize at stake—a free eBook.

Chatters wished for more money to fly with, more time to fly with, a handheld nav/comm, and just plain more flight time (40 hours, to be exact, so that the chatter could complete an instrument rating). The wish that got us was David Kincade’s. He asked for 10 hours’ block time at his FBO. To finish up a rating? No. Turns out he wanted to fly his wife to her parents’ home for the Christmas holiday.

David won the eBook—and what’s more, he actually made the trip. He posted a photo on our Facebook page with a note:

“Hey Ian and Jill; thanks again for the book I won in December’s chat. I did get some flight time for Christmas, and did indeed use it to take me wife from St. Louis (KSET) to Branson West (KFWB) to visit with her parents. I even got to take her mother for a sightseeing flight around Table Rock Lake. We had a blast, discovered some fun airports, and met some great people along the way.
Just Southeast of Springfield, MO, there are some giant TV towers, 2000agl, photo enclosed.
This flying thing is kinda fun.”

Thanks for checking in and letting us know, David! And yeah, no argument there—this flying thing is kinda fun.—Jill W. Tallman

Our next Flight Training Facebook chat will be at 3 p.m. Tuesday, January 8. The topic is paying for flight training with guest chatter Brittney Miculka. Go here to set up an email reminder, or just join us at the chat!