Archive for March, 2013

Memory aids

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Pilots love to fly new equipment, and I’m no different. Back when I was able fly GA all the time, I was the first one on the ramp asking for a ride in whatever new piece of metal or plastic would show up. It didn’t matter if it was a homebuilt or factory-made, because I just wanted to fly it. I would beg and plead—usually to no avail, but I occasionally got lucky and got try out a new—to me, anyway—kind of airplane.

When I went to the airlines, I had no idea just how different learning a new airplane really was when it came to the heavier iron. “Here’s the key, there’s the fuel selector, and don’t forget to turn of the master switch” was the philosophy of the past. Airliners and corporate aircraft are a whole different breed when it comes to learning the airplane.

A typical jet has up to 18 different systems. Some are very elaborate and complex (electrics), and others are very simple (lights). In between is the gamut of hydraulics, flight controls, the autopilot and pressurization, and a dozen more. Buried within those systems are details and numbers and pressures and volumes and degrees and more details. Nobody can just remember it all, and some pilots have certain systems in which they excel.

I learned a long-time ago that every memory aide I can use will come in handy. In addition to the standard flash cards and notes from class, it’s easy to come up with memory joggers and acronyms to help you out. Multiengine pilots are familiar with the “dead foot, dead engine,” or “working foot, working engine” to recognize which engine has failed. On the CRJ, I struggle at first to differentiate between the number of leak detectors on the 10th and 14th stage bleeds. One bleed system had two, and the other had one…and then it hit me: a Cessna “2-10” and a Commander “1-14.” The 10th stage had 2 and the 14th had 1. Piece of cake!

Some airplanes have odd numbers on the left and even numbers on the right. An easy way to remember is that “the captains are odd.” The ERJ has a rudder over-boost protection system. One hydraulic system is supposed to stop contributing to rudder control over 135 knots, and that system happens to be the number one system. To help me remember it, I just say that the number one would be the captain, and after 135 knots, he takes a nap.

Electrics can be a challenge as well, especially if you have to remember which busses power what equipment. Often there is a central bus, and it isn’t so much that the central bus powers much of anything as it is between two different sides of an electrical system. It helps me think of it as a train station: It controls the flow of electricity based on the demands of the system.

It doesn’t much matter how you finally imprint certain things in your head, so long as you do it. I’ve used baseball and football analogies, dirty jokes, you name it. Whatever works, works. And when a good one comes along, it usually catches on. My 2-10/1-14 aide was one a number of pilots thanked me for many times over the years.

Learning new equipment is a challenge, and you need to use all the resources at your disposal. Just hope that you can remember them all!—Chip Wright

Alaska calling

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

The June issue of Flight Training, going to press this week, Juneauis full of great content about the great state of Alaska. Pilots can’t get enough about Alaska (and can’t stop dreaming about going there, flying there, living there, or working there). Maybe it’s because general aviation is so entrenched in the state because there’s almost no other means of transportation for many communities. Maybe it’s the allure of the bush-pilot lifestyle, whatever that may be. Maybe it’s the endless possibilities of where you can land: water, snow, a glacier, gravel. I don’t know; you tell me what it is in the Comments section.

But anyway, as I was saying—Alaska! The photo you see is one I took from the left seat of a modified Cessna 150 in June 2008, somewhere near Juneau. I was midway through a weeklong cruise from Seattle, and I knew that the 12 hours our cruise ship was docked at Juneau was the only window I’d have to do some affordable flying. (Much as I wanted to do a glacier flight, that wasn’t in the budget. But if you can afford one, do it and tell me how it went.)  So I went on the Internet, found a flight instructor, called him from Maryland, and scheduled some dual. Two weeks later, he picked me up in downtown Juneau, drove me to the airport, and I had the most memorable 1.3 hours of flying of my life at that point.

The scenery was spectacular. The flight instructor pointed out several little sand bars and gravel strips. We overflew a 1,900-foot gravel strip that from 200 feet looked like a dirt path made by a couple of four-wheelers. For $168, I considered my flight a bargain.

Editor Ian J. Twombly has fond memories of Alaska, too. It’s where he got his seaplane rating–an experience he describes in this 2005 article (see the sidebar, but read all of Katie Writer’s discussion of what’s involved in becoming a bush pilot).

Do you have Alaska dreams? Better yet, do you have Alaska memories? If so, share them in the Comments section. The June issue of Flight Training starts shipping to homes on April 4; digital subscribers will see it a on March 28.—Jill W. Tallman


Climb segments

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

In the airline world, there are a number of new rules, limits, and terms a pilot needs to learn. One area in which a new understanding needs to be had is in the takeoff.

Gone are the days when, as a general aviation pilot, you can just eyeball the runway, the load, the airplane, measure the wind with your thumb, and go for it. When you are flying passengers and cargo for hire, you need to be able to comply with the segmented climb. Specifically—-and this is key—-you need to be able to meet the climb requirements on a single engine (assuming you are flying a twin-engine jet) as a result of an engine failure at V1 [takeoff decision speed, but a beyond the scope of this post]. It is assumed that you will meet all the requirements if every engine is running.

The first segment is short—it ends when the airplane is airborne and the gear is retracted. Not partially retracted, but fully up-and-locked retracted. The airspeed must be up to V2, commonly known as “takeoff safety speed,” but in technical terms, the speed for best climb gradient.

The second segment requirement is often the most difficult one to meet. Segment two begins when the gear is up and locked and the speed is V2. This segment has the steepest climb gradient: 2.4 percent. This equates to a ballpark figure of around 300 feet per minute, and for a heavy airplane on a hot day with a failed engine, this can be a challenge. Often, when the airlines announce that a flight is weight-limited on hot summer days, this is the reason (the gate agent doesn’t know this kind of detail, and nor does she care; she just knows some people aren’t going).

The magic computers we use for computing performance data figure all this out, saving us the trouble of using charts and graphs. All we know is that we can either carry the planned load or we can’t.

Second segment climb ends at 400 feet, so it could take up to a minute or more to fly this segment. Think of all the obstacles that might be in the departure path in the course of 60 seconds or more.

Third segment climb begins at 400 feet, and here the rules can vary. The climb gradient is now half of what it was before: 1.2 percent. However, we are also required to accelerate to a speed called VFS (final segment climb speed). In graphs and publications, the third segment of the climb is often depicted as being a flat line for the acceleration. In many turboprops, that’s exactly the way it’s flown. The airplane is leveled off (and the pilot is using a very tired leg to overcome the increasing yaw tendency via the rudder) and accelerated before the final climb begins.

In jets, however, there is generally enough power in the remaining engine to avoid a level-off. If the airplane can continue to accelerate during the third segment, it may continue to climb, so long as it can do so without a decrease in speed or performance. In fact, during the climb it must continue to meet the climb gradient while accelerating to VFS.

Third segment climb ends upon reaching VFS.

The fourth and “final segment” begins upon reaching VFS and completing the climb configuration process. It is now permissible (and maybe necessary) to reduce thrust to a Maximum Continuous setting. The climb gradient is again 1.2 percent, and VFS must be maintained to 1,500 feet above field elevation.

V1 cuts and single-engine climbs are a staple of turboprop and jet training. It is critical that a pilot of such equipment understand what the objective is when it comes to performing the maneuver, and why the requirements are what they are. This material is taught in much greater detail in ground school than I presented here. In fact, there may be a few deviations and exceptions to the above, as this is a general introduction (there are, like many things in aviation, always caveats, so bear that in mind).

Some pilots dread V1 cuts, but the best way to approach them is to take them as a challenge and constantly push yourself to master them and excel in your performance.

Climb safely!—Chip Wright

The February “Since You Asked” poll: 55 hours, no solo

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Whenever I hear about people who log 30 or more hours just to get to solo, it hurts my heart a little. Flying isn’t cheap, and the more time that Hobbs meter racks up, the more a student must be looking at his or her bank balance and starting to wonder, Why am I doing this again?

Rod Machado has noted a trend in which student solos seem to be taking longer, and it’s not always attributable to the usual reasons. In his February 2013 “Since You Asked” (“Forever to Solo”), a student pilot whose frustration practically leaks out onto the page asked for advice.

 He had 55 hours (the previous 30 to 40 had been spent in the traffic pattern). He said his landings were “pretty much always the same.” He said he tended to flare a bit low, but had never had any landings that were dangerous. “Whenever I mention the fact that I have an excessive amount of presolo hours and I am running out of money to any of the CFIs, my concerns are immediately dismissed. I’ve been told that counting hours is bad and that everyone learns at their own pace. If I press the issue, the CFIs usually get mad.” He walked away from the flight school and wondered if he’d done the right thing.

We asked digital subscribers to put themselves in this student’s shoes. What would you have done?

  • 51 percent would talk to the chief flight instructor.
  • 31 percent would ask another CFI to fly with them and get his or her opinion on their landings.
  • 13 percent would do as the student eventually did—walk away and find another flight school.
  • 4 percent would have done something else entirely.

Of course, we’re only hearing the student’s side, and Rod knows that. In his response, he proposed several possible explanations for why this student has spent such a long time in the pattern, and number one was “[Y]ou might be the problem.”

Assuming there was nothing wrong with the student’s ability to learn at a normal pace, Rod also threw out some other possiblities: The CFI didn’t know how to teach him how to land; or the CFI didn’t know it’s possible to solo someone with normal landing skills in a simple airplane in under 20 hours of flight time; or the CFI doesn’t understand the purpose of the solo.

What would you have done? If this was your experience in private pilot or sport pilot training, what did you do?—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: Beech Sierra 200

Friday, March 1st, 2013


 This isn’t just any Beech Sierra 200—it happens to be the very first one off the production line. At the time Mike Fizer shot this photo, the Sierra 200 was owned by Hamilton Rial III of Austin, Texas.

Senior Editor Al Marsh gave the Sierra a once-over for his July 2005 AOPA Pilot article, “Budget Buy: Cargo Sierra,” which you can read online. In it, he notes some of the airplane’s attributes—it has six seats (or four seats and a huge cargo area); a large cabin with twin front doors (for 1971 and later models )—and some of its lesser qualities: Parts are scarce and expensive; cabin noise is high; and the airplane isn’t known to be a speed demon.—Jill W. Tallman