Just ahead in the August issue

June 16th, 2015

 What does your flight instructor pound into your brain this time of year? (At least we hope your flight instructor is pounding this into your brain.) Density altitude.

We’re not going to stray from that path. Hot weather and airplanes have a long and complicated relationship, and you need only look on YouTube to see lots of evidence of what happens when you don’t calculate density altitude. (This clip, which shows in-cockpit footage from a 2012 crash, is particularly educational. The four occupants of the Stinson did walk away from the crash.)

That’s why our Technique and Weather articles this month are devoted to density altitude. You can’t learn too much about it, particularly if you are a flat-land pilot who may be tempted to assume—incorrectly—that density altitude is something you don’t have to think about.

Also in our August issue:

  • Energy management: Does throttle control altitude or airspeed? What role does the elevator play? We break down energy principles of motion control in four steps.
  • Keep yourself sharp: Now that you’re a certificated pilot, just how sharp are you? Here are some ways to keep yourself in the student mindset.
  • Buddy system: Why should you be a safety pilot? We tell you all the reasons.

Also: A marriage made in aviation heaven; an interview with Living in the Age of Airplanes and One-Six Right director Brian J. Terwilliger.

The August digital edition goes live on June 23. Learn more about how you can get the magazine delivered to your tablet, computer, or mobile device here.

In-home delivery begins July 2, and if you’re not yet a subscriber, you’ll find it on newsstands as of July 14.

We welcome your letters to the editor; email flighttraining@aopa.org.—Jill W. Tallman

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.

A (very) brief explanation of ticket prices

June 11th, 2015

I’m going to stray a little bit from my typical career advice, and I’m going to discuss a few of the airline business practices that tend to drive everyone crazy. One of those is the issue of ticket prices.

As most of you know, airline ticket prices can vary wildly even on the same flight. It’s very possible to have two passengers sitting next to each other who paid a difference of hundreds of dollars for their tickets. What gives?

512px-NWA_Airline_Ticket_JL2703First of all, it helps if you think of an airplane as a venue for a concert or a baseball game. When you buy tickets to a game, you expect to pay more for a better seat, such as one behind home plate or along one of the baselines. You expect to pay less to sit in the “nosebleed” section.

Flights are similar. First class, business class, and seats with extra legroom demand a higher fare because of the benefits or added comfort of sitting in those seats. That’s simple enough. But what drives the rest of the pricing differences?

American Airlines, under Robert Crandall, perfected the use of modern pricing algorithms (it’s actually a trick he learned working for, of all places, Hallmark). With today’s computerized reservations systems, airlines use sophisticated computer models to adjust the pricing of every seat as soon as a seat is sold. This is one reason why it costs less to buy a seat well in advance of the flight.

The airline already knows what the basic cost of a flight will be, and therefore how much it needs to sell each seat to make money on that flight, which allows it to set the basic fare.

Next, it needs to collect all of the various fees and taxes that might be required—landing fees, passenger facility charges, security fees, et cetera. These can easily add more than $100 to the price of a ticket.

As soon as seats begin to sell, prices begin to change. (In fact, if you use the same computer to check the prices of a flight several times, the website can [and often will] use the cookie it has placed on your computer to gauge your interest and raise the fare.) Prices also change as the date of the flight gets closer.

Because airlines get most of their revenue from business travelers, the prices go up quite dramatically within 14 to 21 days of a flight, since this is when business travelers buy most of their tickets. This is similar to the concert or ball game analogy: Supply has diminished, and demand often rises. The airline is, in effect, scalping its own seats, and it is doing so to its best customers, because roughly 5% of the passengers provide almost 95% of the revenue.

Something else is at play as well. The airline doesn’t collect nearly the revenue from leisure travelers as it does from business travelers on a per-seat basis. So, if the mix gets slightly out of whack, ticket prices will move, especially if the “out of whack” portion of the equation means that more leisure travelers are buying tickets than usual. In addition, if passengers are using frequent flyer miles to buy the seat, either prices will increase or the number of seats available for redeeming miles will decrease or even disappear (think of Hawaii).

Just like a concert or a ball game, there can be a last-minute deal, and it can be great one for the consumer. The Yankees may sell a few tickets in the second or even third inning, but an airline can never sell a seat on a given flight once that flight has left the gate, and even the Yankees won’t sell tickets after the fourth inning or so. Therefore, sometimes they will offer steep discounts just to fill the seat at the last minute.

Ticket prices are maddening at times, but there really is a method to the madness, and a madness to the method. Or something like that!—Chip Wright

Report your position, please and thank you

June 8th, 2015

fdk-towerFrederick Municipal Airport (FDK) became Class D airspace in May 2012. (Three years already? Where has the time gone?) Judging on feedback during a friendly get-together last week between control tower personnel and local pilots, we pilots need to brush up on our communications and directional skills.

Here are some of the issues our controllers raised. While these are specific to FDK, your local controllers may have these on their wish lists as well.

  • Taxi instructions: Make sure you read back your taxi instructions and runway assignment, “else we’re going to pester you until we get those.” Also, when calling for taxi instructions, be ready to actually start taxiing.
  • In the pattern: FDK controllers will invariably instruct us to report mid-field downwind at each pass. They would also like us to indicate how the approach will terminate—is it full stop? touch and go? full stop taxi back? Each of these has an impact on traffic flow. “You’d be surprised how many people get in the pattern and never express their intention.”
  • Position reports: Be as accurate as possible. FDK controllers don’t have radar and can’t easily spot aircraft until they’re three miles from the airport. If we tell them we’re northeast of the airport and we’re actually north (or—worse—northwest), that affects their ability to locate and sequence us. Along these lines, the controllers suggested giving an altitude report so that aircraft in our vicinity, who may not be communicating with the tower but are monitoring the frequency, will know where to look for us.
  • Position reports, part two: “If you’re in the west practice area heading back to the airport, and your compass reads 090, you are not east of the airport.” ‘Nuff said (though I sometimes have to remind myself to look at the bottom of the directional gyro when reporting my position).
  • Read airport notices to airmen. “You would not believe how many people do not.”

I’m glad we had a chance to hear from the folks on the other side of the microphone. If you fly out of a tower-controlled airport, what do you think is on your controllers’ minds? Controllers, we want to hear from you.—Jill W. Tallman

‘The aviation community truly cares’

June 3rd, 2015

Spencer Rice took his private pilot checkride at age 17. He credits a wonderfully supportive aviation community for a large part of his success.—Ed.

Spencer Rice (right) with designated pilot examiner Forest Lanning.

Spencer Rice (right) with designated pilot examiner Forest Lanning.

About six years ago, I saw a very small airport right next to my family’s beach house. Watching the airplanes fly the pattern right over our house fascinated me.

One day I just had to meet a pilot. I was 11 at the time so I asked if one of my parents would take me to the airport, and they agreed. I met the pilot, and I don’t remember the exact words he and I exchanged, but I do remember him telling me about EAA.
When I got home I looked for more info on EAA and learned about the Young Eagles program. I nagged my parents consistently till they agreed to let me contact the local coordinator.
I was set up with a flight in a small experimental called a Zenith Zodiac 601. I remember the takeoff very well, and I was hooked! The Young Eagles pilot told me after the flight that I could go with him again anytime, and of course I took up that offer! I kept flying with him and still do; we have become great friends.
I started my first flight lessons at 13. Flying in a J-5 Cub. I was able to afford 10 hours of flying before I ran out of money. The one thing I always told my parents was that if I was going to pursue my dream in aviation that it would be by my own funding. They would front money to me, but I would always pay it back. I mowed lawns to pay for my training, but that money did not come in fast enough to continue. I stopped lessons unfortunately.
I continued flying with my Young Eagle pilot and one day we were talking about Experimental aircraft. I said that I would like to build my own plane in the future. My Young Eagle pilot responded with “what if I told you, you could now?” This was the biggest opportunity of my life; he offered to help me through the process, teach, and mentor me. He understood my money issue and brought up the idea of scratch building so I could pay as I go.
Not more than three months later I bought my own pair of plans for a Zenith Zodiac 601—the same plane I took my first flight in. Thus began the building of my very own airplane.
Fast forward another two years and we flew to a small airport for breakfast. I there met the airport manager who was a very nice lady who was actually asking about this same story. I told her that I was looking for a flight school so she introduced me to the owner of a small one-plane-two instructor business on the airport.
I hit it off with this instructor and began my lessons there four months later. I was now working two part-time jobs plus my lawn business and of course going to school.
I flew once again as I could afford it, but my instructors were very helpful in this situation, allowing me to pay on a monthly basis. I soloed on my 16th birthday and as you now know got my license on my 17th.
Now this is the short version of the story really. I met many people along the way and networked with many individuals personally. I have pilots from around the country and even the world who I have never met but sacrificed their time to help me. Greg Brown, the author of the Flying Carpet, is one of those individuals. The connections I have made amaze me in that the aviation community truly cares and wants to see your success. I am happy to be a part of it.
Name: Spencer Rice
Age: 17
Event: Private pilot checkride
Where: Lenhardt Airpark (7S9), Hubbard, Oregon
Airplane: Cessna 172
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Flying like a professional: Talking on the radio

June 1st, 2015

Orlando Showalter MentoringThere are many marks of a professional that can be attributed to airline pilots—whether it’s the way they wear their uniforms, or brush their hair, or use the checklist. Another one is the way in which they talk on the radio.

The radio is essentially a party line, meaning that everyone on the frequency can hear you. How you conduct yourself says a lot about you.

I’ve been flying now for more than 25 years, and I’ve heard more than a few things that have made me cringe. That isn’t to say that I haven’t heard a few things that were funny, even if they weren’t always appropriate; I have, and I’ve laughed heartily. But I’ve also heard pilots (and even controllers) belch, swear, bloviate, lose their temper, and otherwise make a fool out of themselves.

For many new pilots, using the radio is intimidating and even a bit frightening.

But radio-speak is a skill that gets better with practice, as well as with listening. If you live near a busy airport, one of the best things you can do is turn on a handheld transceiver and listen to a local frequency—especially if it’s for a tower or approach control.

You can achieve the same thing using LiveATC.net, a popular website that has a link to hundreds of live ATC audio streams. You can also study the examples in the Aeronautical Information Manual and the Pilot/Controller Glossary, but it isn’t exactly exciting reading.

Pay attention to the airline pilots. The most professional-sounding ones will speak with an even cadence and tempo, and they will not allow a high level of activity affect the way they transmit. This is important, because a controller doesn’t want to spend a lot of time repeating transmissions—and often does not have that time.

It doesn’t take long to pick up how a few tidbits, such as how a transmission is to be structured; or what commands to expect at a certain time; or when it may be acceptable—even if it isn’t always right—to just respond with a call sign or some other verbal shorthand. You’ll also learn that the true professionals limit themselves to what needs to be said and do not add extraneous filler to their transmissions. It isn’t necessary, and it doesn’t help anyone.

Talking like a professional and sounding like one is not hard, but it does take practice. Listening to LiveATC or a handheld will help tremendously. Practice giving your responses in your car, where nobody can hear you. You’ll get the hang of it before you know it, and when you begin to tackle more complex airspace, you too will sound like a pro.—Chip Wright

‘Cleared short approach’

May 29th, 2015

Tommy Condon is a student at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana. He has been sharing his Success Stories with Flight Training’s Facebook page since his very first solo in 2013. We’re proud to bring you Tommy’s latest achievement.—Ed.

Tommy Condon after his commercial certificate checkride.

Tommy Condon after his commercial certificate checkride.

Ever since I first started my ever-expanding career in aviation, I never figured myself to be sitting in a special aerobatic Bonanza E33C on my commercial checkride only two years into my training.

With that comes the special phrase from air traffic control that will frighten many. For me, that was, “Rocky 79 short approach approved, cleared to land Runway 10L.”

At this point we had already completed the maneuvers and precision landings. I made it this far with no complaints and now all that is left is the dreaded, heart-pounding power-off 180.

This is when my examiner said, “Alright, let’s see the money maker.” (Pun intended.) As we came abeam the intended landing point, the power went to idle. Did I mention the Bonanza is no Cessna when it comes to gliding?

I pushed the nose over, watching the VSI near -1,000 fpm! As I turned onto my final approach, I noticed I was low. I thought, This is it, I’ll see if I can get in ground effect and burn this drag off.

We were in ground effect at the beginning of the runway. As I aimed for the 1,000′ footers, my back-pressure was gradually increasing almost nearing full aft! It was time, the airplane wanted to be on the ground.

Chirp, chirp! Right on the mark! That day, I truly realized how much of a pal ground effect is!

Every day I am thankful to be in this industry and the challenges it offers, which are well worth the effort to accomplish. It is important to remember that some may burn out of the industry, but those who stay will truly understand the emotion and fulfillment behind to see the sights we see, the satisfaction, and the connections we build among each other.

Name: Tommy Condon

Age: 20

Event: Commercial pilot checkride

Where: Rocky Mountain College, Billings Logan International (BIL), Billings, Montana

Airplane: Beechcraft E33C Bonanza
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Flying like a professional: Checklists

May 26th, 2015

DC10ChecklistIf you are in training with the intention of moving on to the airlines or corporate opportunities, have you thought of trying to train and fly as you would for the job you eventually want to have? Or even if you aren’t planning on flying the “heavy and fast” metal? It’s not as hard as you think.

One of the easiest things to do is to develop an almost sick obsession with checklists. Most people, including general aviation pilots, would be surprised at the level of checklist discipline that airline pilots use. It starts at the gate, usually with a checklist for “Accepting” or “Receiving” the airplane, and it doesn’t end until the airplane is shut down or handed off to either maintenance or another crew.

Some of the checklists are ridiculously long, and some are absurdly short. It doesn’t matter. They all have to be done, in full, every time. Moreover, many are required to be done verbally so that the cockpit voice recorder can be used to verify that the checklist was done in the event of an accident.

The rote process of doing checklists becomes ingrained, and it gets to the point of, quite literally, physical discomfort when one is not completed (not to be confused with what happens when one is simply forgotten).

When I was flying for a regional airline, we had a checklist on a turboprop that we had to complete when passing 18,000 feet. It consisted of changing the settings of the propellers (to reduce noise) and setting the altimeters to the standard of 29.92 inches.

Two items. That’s all. But it would create a lot of angst if someone didn’t get it done on time or was unable to complete it on time (usually because of radio chatter).

We had a couple of similar checklists on the CRJ. In addition, we had a few that were quite wordy, and they’re even worse for inducing a bit of anxiety, because they seemed to be so prone to interruption at the worst possible time—which often meant starting over.

Airline and military pilots don’t let the rush to get home or to the hotel distract them. The checklists are completed the way in which they are supposed to be completed, every single time. They have to be. As I said, the CVR records them, and if we make a mistake, our careers depend on them. I’ve been in situations in which we had very little time to get out of the gate and get to a runway before we would run the risk of not being able to complete the flight, but every checklist still had to be finished. It’s just the way it is. Sometimes the checklists get rushed a bit, but they do get done.

In your training, develop the same mindset. It doesn’t matter how “obvious” something is, or how “simple” an airplane is. Get in the habit early. Not only is it a good one, but it might save you from embarrassment later. It might be something as simple as turning on a transponder or as important as making sure the landing gear is extended. You’ll find that when you don’t complete the checklist, you’ll be squirming in your seat until you do, and when you finally complete it, you’ll suddenly relax.

And the gear will be down.—Chip Wright

Flying with someone you don’t like

May 18th, 2015

CFI DorkWhen you fly for a living—especially as a part of a crewed airplane—you will encounter all kinds of personalities. Some will strike you as weird or quirky, others as boring or fascinating or blasé. Some, unfortunately, you won’t like.

It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. At the regionals, where flying five or six legs a day is not uncommon, getting along is paramount. And most of the time, it’s easy. You already have one common interest, which is flying (even if one or both of you is not all that enamored with your carrier).

But what happens when you fly with someone whom you just can’t stand? The truth is, it can be a real problem. On a four-day trip, you might fly 20 or so legs, and you’ll be crammed into a room the size of a phone booth with only one other person. And you’ll be stuck.

If you don’t like each other—or if you just don’t like that person—there are a few things you can do. First of all, limit the conversation to flight-related duties such as checklists or approach briefings. Second, believe it or not, might just be to tell the other person that you think it’s best to limit the conversation. Often, this can lead to a discussion about what you don’t like about the other person, which can be an ice-breaker.

What you can’t do is allow your behavior or reactions to cross certain lines, and you can’t allow it to affect safety. While there are stories about pilots coming to blows in a cockpit, fortunately such events are incredibly rare. More likely will be a scenario similar to one that happened involving two pilots I knew. They spent several days flying together, and by the end of the trip they despised each other, simply because they had different personalities.

On one of the final legs, the captain had used the flight spoilers to help him in the descent. But he forgot about them, and the first officer waited until the last minute to say anything. When he did, the captain (angrily) stowed the spoilers and had to deal with an airplane that used up several thousand feet of runway trying to overcome the sudden excess power he had been using.

And that brings me to the third option for dealing with this type of issue. This crew realized at the gate that they had acted unprofessionally and with hostility toward each other for the majority of the trip. They also agreed that they should not fly together again, and they agreed that if they were paired together that one of them would call in sick. Some airlines have a mechanism in place for first officers to avoid flying with certain captains; this one did not. (It’s always the FO who gets to bail, because the captain is the authority figure.)

Another possibility is to go to the chief pilot and simply explain that you can’t work with another pilot. This is a bit of a last resort, but if you simply can’t stand to be in the airplane with someone, you may not have a choice. Chances are, you won’t get more than one of these “free passes,” so make it count.

Many airlines, especially the majors, administer a personality assessment to applicants just to avoid this situation. It’s not  fool-proof, but it does work to mitigate the problem.

Remember, there is a difference in dealing with someone with whom you have no common interests who might be difficult to talk to, and someone who is just so difficult to get along with that you can’t work together. The first thing you need to do is perform an honest assessment of yourself to make sure that you are not the problem. If you believe the problem is the other individual, then you need to start using other tools available to deal with the issue before it gets out of hand or unsafe.—Chip Wright

Just ahead in the July issue

May 13th, 2015

09wdr-004_1124The warm weather has (finally!) arrived, and the skies are waiting for you. As we put the finishing touches on the July issue, our theme this month is an invitation for you to celebrate your independence through flight. Here’s what’s on deck:

  • Seize the Sky. What kinds of adventures and opportunities are waiting for you, the brand-new pilot?
  • Mine, All Mine. Time to buy an airplane? Here’s how to make the process less complicated.
  • Technique: The Passenger Briefing. Ways to make it fun and informative for your airborne guests.

Plus: challenging yourself after getting a pilot certificate; an interview with the Breitling Jet Team’s lead pilot; and more.

The July digital edition goes live on May 26. Learn more about how you can get the magazine delivered to your tablet, computer, or mobile device here.

In-home delivery begins June 4, and if you’re not yet a subscriber, you’ll find it on newsstands as of June 16.

We welcome your letters to the editor; email flighttraining@aopa.org.—Jill W. Tallman

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.

Asking for help

May 11th, 2015

Pilots tend to have egos. We don’t like to admit that we need help, but the truth is that we need it more often that we want to admit. This is especially true when we’re learning something fairly new, or have not spent a lot of time in an aircraft. It might be something as simple as how to program a new fix in the avionics, and it might be something as complicated as…programming a new fix in the avionics.

I’m still learning the ins and outs of the 737, which I’ve been flying now for almost two years. I spend most of my time on reserve, as I am fairly junior in my base, so I don’t fly as much as I’d like. My flight time tends to occur in spurts where I’m flying a lot, and then sitting at home a lot. The result is that I often need to brush up on a few items before I go fly a trip. It’s also not uncommon for me to just forget a few things here and there.

The need for help was driven home recently while talking to a friend of mine who has made the transition from one career to another, having left behind a field she spent 30 years in (finance) for one that is brand new to her (flight attendant). For as much time as I’ve been in the airlines, I must confess that I knew precious little about the training that the cabin crews go through. That’s changed, because my friend, who was hired by a major airline, spent five pretty intense weeks tackling an enormous amount of material, all of which was new to her.

One of the things that quickly became apparent was that she wasn’t going to make it through training on her own. I had forewarned her about that before she left, but I’m not sure that she fully appreciated it until she got into class and got hit with the full brunt of all the information she needed to master. This carried over to the airplane as well, and it was a bit of a surprise to me to hear just how much she relied on her crew mates as she got her feet wet.

It reminded me of my own experiences in the cockpit. Pilots tend to think that flying is flying, and it doesn’t matter what airplane it is. That’s true…to a point. But each airplane is different, and each one has its own challenges. Throw in learning the way a new company does things, and it’s even more complex.

I spent 16 years with my first airline, and moving to the second one involved a lot of “unlearning,” and it’s not easy. I had to ask for help, not only on the basic information about how new equipment worked, but on how to simply fit in. I’m on my third airline now, and I’m still asking for help. Sometimes, it seems like I am asking for help on something that is so simple I should be embarrassed, but I learned a long time ago—usually the hard way—that these are the times when I absolutely must ask for help. Life experience is a great teacher in that respect.

As my friend the FA has said, she asks for help for two reasons. One, she might genuinely need it. Two, it’s often just a way to reinforce what she knows or even just thinks she knows. It’s a confidence- builder. And that alone is enough.—Chip Wright