Show shopping

April 14th, 2014

Follow Me carts await Sun n Fun arrivals_2899Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to spend a few days at the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In and Expo.  I love attending airshows for the obvious reasons– the flying displays, the aircraft static displays, the aviation celebrities, and meeting AOPA members.

But my biggest thrill, as a student pilot, is the shopping. I decided to spend no more than $200 at the show. First, I found myself in the Aircraft Spruce & Specialty Co. hangar in its headset demonstration area. It’s a great one-stop-shopping place to try out many of the major headset manufacturers, including Bose, Clarity Aloft, David Clark, Lightspeed, Pilot USA, and Sennheiser. After testing out the different brands, I decided to stick with my Bose headset–for now.

I’m in the part of my flight training when I need E6B calculator. I went to the PilotMall.com shop at Sun ‘n Fun and looked at a variety of whiz wheels and electronic devices. I decided to spend the $63.95 for an electronic ASA E6B calculator.

One of the benefits of working in publishing is folks are always sending things in for us to review, so we have a lot of equipment lying around. It was how I got my first aviation headset.  I have been using a curved kneeboard that has been driving me crazy, because it was tight around my leg and interfered with the operation of the yoke. And it had nowhere to hold a pencil!

I paid $14.95 at PilotMall.com for a new kneeboard that has a spot for a pencil and has common aviation terms printed on the front and back. And while I was there, I bought an autographed copy of an oral history of the Tuskegee Airmen ($18.95) and a pair of luggage tags ($10.95) that read Girl Pilot (Get Over It). Finally, I went over to the Sun ‘n Fun merchandise tent and bought a 40th anniversary T-shirt for $19.95. That left me with $71.25, but I could have easily spent more.

So the next time you’re at an airshow, a fly-in, or some other aviation event with vendors, I highly suggest you go to the booths and try out all the available merchandise, even if you don’t buy anything. You can see what tools are out there and see what you might want to buy in the future.–Benet Wilson

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Upgrading to turbine/turboprop aircraft

April 10th, 2014

John Mahany last wrote for the Flight Training blog on upgrading to bigger, faster aircraft. He has been flying for more than 30 years. He is a CFI and has corporate, airline, and charter experience, and also spent four and one-half years flying in Alaska. He is a King Air instructor at FlightSafety International in Long Beach, Calif.—Ed.

TBM 300Are you considering taking the big step and moving up to a turbine aircraft? If you decide to step up to a turboprop or VLJ, you will find that your aircraft insurance broker will want a more professional level of training, like that offered by providers of simulator-based training facilities, using flight training devices (FTD). These include SimCom, SimuFlite, and FlightSafety International. There are a few others, as well.

What is the difference between a turbocharged engine and a turboprop? “Turbocharged” refers to piston engines only, whereas a turboprop is a jet engine that turns a propeller. Sometimes it is also called a prop-jet. It’s the same thing.

In a turboprop engine, a turbine (jet) engine shaft is connected to a reduction gear box and propeller governor, which in turn governs propeller speed and operation. A turboprop engine can be normally aspirated or flat-rated, which is the equivalent of turbocharging for a turboprop engine. Turbine engines also are normally aspirated.

Yes, this will cost considerably more, but the airplane also will cost more. It is all relative. Don’t go cheap on the training, and rush through it. It’s your life! Invest in quality training and take the time to learn the airplane. I have met many experienced pilots who are still learning more about the airplane they fly, even at the jet and turboprop level, after many years and thousands of hours experience in type. It really is a never-ending process. A good pilot is always learning.

You might find an instructor who is “insurance approved” to provide training in specific makes/models of aircraft in the airplane. Typically, the type-specific owner groups, such as Cirrus, TBM, and Pilatus, will have this information. But most of the training at this level is done in a simulator/FTD. Mistakes made in turbine powered aircraft can be costly (a hot start on a turbine engine could cost $250,000). It is far better to make mistakes in turbine aircraft in the simulator than in the airplane! You can walk away from the simulator and use it again.

Before considering any of this, it would be wise to take stock of your piloting skills, and consider hiring an instructor to fly with you to evaluate your skill level. Your piloting skills, both VFR and IFR, should be at the Practical Test Standards level for the grade of pilot certificate that you hold. If you are not proficient, that should be addressed first.

You need to be proficient, and it helps to have some recent experience before upgrading. Otherwise you will find yourself “behind” as you go through the training, and it will become much more challenging, as well as frustrating. Ask yourself, when was the last time you read through the Aeronautical Information Manual? You need to have pertinent operational information for IFR procedures at your fingertips!

Good instrument skills are a must, as flying high(er) performance aircraft demands a greater degree of precision. You simply have to be a proficient instrument pilot, and high performance aircraft are flown by the book, also known as the numbers.

The training itself will depend on your experience level. A low-time private pilot upgrading for the first time may find the process more challenging. A bigger, heavier airplane with more horses under the cowl will take some getting used to. As you step up to more complex aircraft, expect the level of difficulty to increase accordingly. As the speed increases, you will learn to think in terms of time rather than distance, and cruising at 120, 150, or 180 knots equates to two to three miles a minute respectively, while 300 knots is five nautical miles per minute. You learn to plan climbs and descents accordingly, and staying ahead of the airplane takes on a new meaning.

When you step up to the world of retractable landing gear, you will learn the procedures for when to raise and lower the landing gear. You do not want to get distracted and forget, which does happen occasionally. There is a saying among those who fly retractable gear airplanes: “There are those who have, and those who will” land gear up. Even professional pilots, especially when flying single pilot, have been known to forget the gear on occasion. You don’t want to join this club.

Information in ground school may seem to come at you in firehose fashion. And, just to add to the complexity, in larger aircraft, typically there is more automation. If you have avoided automation and glass cockpits, they will be hard to avoid when you upgrade. It would be good to learn any advanced avionics such as Garmin G1000 or Avidyne well in advance if possible.

When you upgrade to complex and high-performance aircraft, it will take more time to learn the aircraft systems, aircraft performance, and weight and balance, as well as the procedures and checklists. You will find that the manuals and the AFM/POH for aircraft will vary from one manufacturer to another. Cessna performance charts will look different than Beechcraft performance charts, for example.

When you step up to this level of training, it will be referred to as either initial or recurrent training. Initial training is for a pilot who has not flown a particular airplane (jet/turboprop) before. On the other hand, after you have successfully completed initial training, and you come back for training a year later, this is called recurrent training. This course will be shorter in duration.  To maintain your aircraft insurance, you will have to complete recurrent training annually.

The typical initial ground school and simulator training for a turboprop aircraft will take at least five and possibly 10 days. For turbine/jet training, expect 14 days or longer.  It depends on where you train, and the training program that has been approved for that school or that operator to use. The requirements will vary slightly.

Expect the turboprop ground school to be about 20 hours over a period of three to five days. For smaller turbine/jets (Citation/VLJ), it will depend on the specific jet, but ground school will typically run five to seven days. Bigger transport category jets (Boeing/Gulfstream) will take longer to learn, with ground schools typically taking two to three weeks. Try to arrange to get the manuals/course materials in advance, so you can begin to familiarize yourself with the material.

For most turboprops, initial training typically consists of five simulator sessions. For jets, it could be more. Each simulator session is typically two hours long. This can be a very intense two hours, especially when you are dealing with abnormal and emergency situations. You will probably forget that you are in a simulator, which by its nature is more challenging to fly than the airplane. This is intentional. Simulators are not designed to be a stable platform. If you look away from the panel to reference a checklist or chart, you might look back and find yourself in a climbing or descending turn. This will encourage you to become familiar with and learn to use the autopilot/automation/flight guidance system, as appropriate. When flying single-pilot, the autopilot is your co-pilot.

Once the training is completed, if this is your first time in turbine equipment, jet or turboprop, expect to have an instructor pilot fly with you for some time before you fly solo. You will need to demonstrate single-pilot proficiency. In the VLJ and the Citation I and II, it is possible to earn a single-pilot waiver.

Let’s briefly compare this level of turbine/turboprop training (FAR 61) with charter and airline operations (FAR 121/135), for airline and charter pilots who are upgrading to captain. They are not turned loose as pilot in command at the completion of their simulator training and checkrides. They are then required to complete additional training, called initial operating Experience, or IOE.

This initial operating experience consists of flying with a qualified instructor pilot, or line check airman, for up to 50 hours, and successfully completing what is known as a line check before they are released to fly the line as captain in revenue operations. This is where they finally get a chance to fly the airplane and see how it feels and handle, under the supervision of an experienced captain. Thus, you should expect a similar process yourself.

Whatever you have upgraded to, after the training is completed, no doubt you will be anxious to go fly! I would caution you to start with day VFR first, if possible, before plunging into hard IFR. It is always better to get a feel for the real airplane in day VMC first, and away from other traffic. Have fun and fly safely.—John Mahany

Deliver on your word

April 8th, 2014

It’s typical of men (or so the experts say) to try and solve problems, to fix things, to make it right. My wife complains about that trait in me all the time. I try to offer suggestions on how else to channel her frustration, without success.

I did learn years ago, though, that there are some problems that I just can’t fix. As a flight instructor, I had a few students who had issues that simply were not going to go away. We either learned to work around the issues, or they switched instructors. One had to quit entirely, but that’s a different story.

At the airlines, a pilot quickly learns that there so many things beyond his baggage handlercontrol that to try to fix everything is futile. If there is anything worse than a failed attempt to fix something, it is a promise unkept. As examples, pilots learn early not to promise that certain bags will make the flight, or connections will be held. Logic doesn’t play here, and often there is a big picture that we don’t see. It might make sense that, since your passengers are connecting to the last flight to Des Moines, the flight is going to be held so that they make the flight. You may not realize that the crew operating that flight is running out of duty time. Or there is weather in Des Moines that they need to race. Or the airplane is scheduled for maintenance in Des Moines that needs every bit of the time allocated. There are a thousand things that can go wrong, and you simply cannot promise the moon.

Nowadays, I don’t pass on information that hasn’t been confirmed by others. Connecting flights are the easy one. Getting that information confirmed is black and white. But when bags are pulled off for weight-and-balance purposes, I don’t pretend to know which ones will stay and which ones will go. I did that—once—and it was the one time that agents on the ground totally screwed up, the wrong bags got pulled, and the passengers went berserk. They had every right to, but now they were mad at the wrong person (me), which means that they channeled some of their complaints to the wrong department (the chief pilots and flight ops), which only slowed down the ultimate creation of a resolution to their satisfaction.

The lesson? Choose your words carefully, and don’t promise what you can’t deliver. It sounds simple, but think of the companies that have built their name on a simple premise. UPS, FedEx, Coca-Cola, Amazon, and others have a simple end-product that they offer, and when it does not materialize, they are blistered. People get angry or even irrational, even if the failure is beyond their control.

If you can really fix something, great. If you can’t, don’t say you can. If you say you’ll try, then do so. It’s true in many aspects of your life, but it’s most assuredly true in aviation, where not only are the expectations high, but so are the costs of failure.—Chip Wright

Upgrading to bigger and faster airplanes

April 4th, 2014

John Mahany has been flying for more than 30 years. He is a CFI and has corporate, airline, and charter experience, and also spent four and one-half years flying in Alaska. He currently is a King Air instructor at FlightSafety International in Long Beach, Calif.—Ed.

06-493 Baron G58Nearly every pilot aspires to move up, or upgrade to bigger, faster airplanes at some point. After all, isn’t that one of the main reasons why we fly? To get there faster, and carry more payload, right?

Upgrading to “bigger and faster” is relative. It depends on what you are flying now, and what you have in mind. If you are a new private pilot who has been flying a Cessna 150/152 or similar for primary training, you might simply want to move up to a 172 or Piper Warrior/Archer to carry more passengers and bags, as well as the ability to go farther, faster.

On the other hand, you might already be an aircraft owner and are using your airplane for business or personal transportation; it may be time for you to step up to a bigger airplane. It all depends on your mission. This could mean stepping up to turbocharging, multiengine, or even a turboprop or entry level jet (very light jet, aka VLJ). Simply stated, the bigger the step, the more there is. What kind of flying do you need to do? What are your requirements for speed, range, and payload? That will define what you need to consider.

Moving up from a typical two-place trainer to a Cessna 172 or Piper Warrior/Archer is a relatively simple process. There are no endorsements required. You would need to pick up the airplane flight manual (AFM), or information manual, as it might also be called, and spend time reviewing it.

Read it cover to cover. It’s not exciting, but it includes important information about the airplane and its systems. And then schedule time with an instructor, on the ground, first to review the systems and performance as appropriate. Work out a sample weight and balance for a typical flight, as well as for your favorite destination. How much fuel can you take with all the seats filled? You may find that you can’t fill the seats with full fuel, especially on a hot summer day. How much more runway will it take for takeoff and landing on a summer day with a high density altitude?  Every airplane has its limits. Every summer some pilots seem to forget this and have a density altitude related crash on takeoff.

Keep in mind that the performance numbers as given in the POH/AFM are optimistic, generated by the marketing department, designed to sell airplanes. They do not accurately reflect the likely performance of an older, high-time piston engine and the average pilot whose skills are not at the top of his game. They are numbers that a test pilot would get in a new airplane with a new engine. So, conservatively, add at least 10 percent or more to the performance numbers to be more realistic.

Then, with your CFI, go fly for at least an hour and get a feel for it, going through maneuvers, takeoffs, and landings. Especially, work through stalls and slow flight. See how it feels and handles on the back side of the power curve. How does it handle on the stall break? Is it gentle or abrupt? Find out at a safe altitude (at least 3,000 feet agl) with an experienced CFI. You don’t want surprises in the traffic pattern.

Check with your aircraft insurance broker early in the process to find out what training your insurance will require, based on your experience (flight time), before you can fly this airplane. This is important. The FAA stipulates under FAR 61 which certificates and ratings are required to fly a given airplane as the pilot in command. But the insurance company will tell you what you will need before it will insure you to fly this airplane as PIC.

Why? The insurance company writes the checks following an accident or incident. For example, if you are a low-time pilot who wants to step up to a high-performance single (Bonanza or Cirrus) or light twin-engine airplane, insurance may require, after you have completed the formal training, that an experienced mentor pilot or CFI fly or ride with you for 10 to 50 hours or more before “approving” you to fly your airplane alone.

More airplane usually means more engine(s), more horsepower, and more fuel. Translation: more money to operate on an hourly basis. Depending on how high you step up, this will determine the level of training required. I should point out that there are separate endorsements for complex (FAR 61.31 (e)); high-performance, (more than 200 HP) (FAR 61.31 (f)), and high altitude, above FL 250 (FAR 61.31(g)).

If you are moving up to a turbocharged aircraft, you will likely need the high-performance endorsement. You will need to learn how the turbocharging system operates, along with the power settings and operational techniques for that particular engine. When a piston engine is turbocharged, some of the exhaust gases are redirected to a “turbocharger.” In simple terms, a turbocharger consists of an exhaust turbine and an intake compressor (impeller). Hot exhaust gases drive the exhaust turbine, which drives the intake compressor at the same very high rpm. Thus, the density of the intake air and manifold pressure are increased, allowing the engine to deliver more power than it could without a turbocharger.

If you are considering stepping up to multiengine flying, welcome to the world of twin engine operations. Multiengine training typically takes between 10 and 20 hours, depending on your proficiency and where you train. You will be limited to VFR flying unless you also include instrument flying as part of your training and checkride.

Please also understand that a typical light twin has two engines because it needs both engines. If an engine fails, especially on takeoff, you will lose 85 percent of the performance! Unless you are proficient in multiengine, engine-out procedures, the loss of the second engine will only take you to the scene of the accident. Regular, ongoing proficiency training is a must in any light twin. Your insurance will require this.

Upgrading to bigger, faster airplanes is something that nearly every pilot will experience at some point. Find a competent instructor with experience in make and model, and take it a step at a time. Spend the necessary time to become properly acquainted with it, especially learning about any quirks. This will also depend on your experience and what else you have flown. You will be a better, safer pilot for it. We will all benefit from that!—John Mahany

This blog was edited on May 7 to reword the definition of a turbocharger.–Ed.

What is your airplane saying to you?

March 31st, 2014

Cessna 172 SkyhawkFlying is a sensual experience. Sight, of course, rules the senses, whether in IFR or VFR conditions. Touch and feel play a role as well, but less of one once in cruise and everything is in equilibrium. That’s not to say that they don’t play an important role—I was once alerted that a major hydraulic failure was about to occur by what I felt in the way of vibration through my feet. But behind sight, I believe that sound is critical when it comes to flying. Specifically, the ability to identify certain sounds.

Reference the above hydraulic situation. It started with a vibration we could feel in the floor, but it soon escalated to a sound similar to that of an idling chainsaw. Within a few minutes, we had been alerted via an engine indicating and crew alerting system (EICAS) message what was going on, and the idling sound turned into a high-pitched whine. It was the pump tearing itself apart.

Every airplane has a certain “sound footprint” in each phase of flight. I’ve always been partial to the way an airplane sounds during the takeoff roll. It’s a good time. After all, you’re getting ready to go fly! The engine or engines are at full power, the wheels are spinning up, and the airflow is generating wind noise. There is a certain comfort level that you feel when you know it all sounds the way it should.

When I was a full-time flight instructor, I spent the majority of time in a fleet of Cessna 172s. The Skyhawk has a definite sound that it makes in all phases of flight: takeoff, cruise, descent, slow flight, landing. It makes a certain sound when you allow it to get away from you in a descent. The sound, with practice, will often alert you to a change in your condition—a disturbance in your equilibrium—before your eyes register what the panel says.

To this day, I think I can fly a 172 without even looking at the panel, because the sound talks to you and tells you what you need to know. Given that I have yet to fly a glass-panel Skyhawk, I’m going to need all the help I can get!

In so many ways, your airplane is talking to you. Often, that voice is the sound or sounds you hear. Learn them. Associate each phase of flight with the change in the pitch of that voice. Spend more time looking outside (which is why you probably wanted to learn to fly in the first place).
Take that information, and use it. If all else fails, it may be all you have.—Chip Wright

 

Lifestyles: The majors

March 25th, 2014

800px-Southwest_Airlines_Boeing_737-7H4_N231WNMuch of the lifestyle of the regionals carries over to the majors, but there are some differences. The majors tend to utilize airplanes that can fly longer legs, especially newer 737s and larger Airbuses. While the MD-80 still makes its living as a workhorse that flies seven or eight legs a day, the typical crew might only do two or three, maybe four. The 737, on the other hand, can do it all. It can fly short legs and long. Transcons—transcontinental flights—are common.

One of the major differences in flying for a major is the dramatic increase you will see in flying at night. Red-eyes, reverse red-eyes (east to west), or all-night flights to the Caribbean or Latin America are more common. The airlines don’t make money when the airplanes are parked at the gate, and where they can squeeze more revenue by flying at night, they will. Certain flights will not have as many passengers as you might think, but the bellies will be loaded with cargo.

In many ways, the job is easier. There is more automation in the system, so the flight planning and the load planning is more in sync. You don’t put out as many fires related to flight plans and passenger loads not working. There are fewer weight-related issues (this is a huge problem with regional aircraft). More stations have mechanics, so if something needs attention, it doesn’t take as long to get it fixed.

Generally, you will be treated better. It is a sad truth that regional pilots are often treated far worse than they should be—by their managers especially, but also by the passengers, the gate agents, or just about anyone at some point in time who finds you an easy target for their personal issue, whatever it is. It isn’t a universal happening, and it doesn’t happen every day, but it does happen. At the majors, there is much more respect and professionalism shown toward the crews. If you need something, it’s not that hard to get, and that includes the occasional time favor from the chief pilot or even scheduling.

As a regional pilot I was lucky in one respect because the hotels we stayed in were usually top of the line. This isn’t always the case. At the majors, you will stay in better hotels, and you will see more of the downtown areas, which means there is more to see and do.

You will enjoy flying for a company that is in charge of its own product, and not beholden to one that controls your fate.

Commuting is generally easier and the schedules are better, but that need to quickly change your sleep patterns likely will still be there. And, of course, you will be paid more. You might earn in a month what you earned your first year as a regional pilot.

And at some point, you will pass one of your old airplanes on a taxiway, and you will look at it and say, “I remember this one time….” And you will share a story about how much fun it was (or wasn’t) or how much work it was (or wasn’t). You might even miss that old bird. And you will realize that that old bird is what put you here.

You still need to learn to live out of a suitcase and get used to Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 instead of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You will work your share of holidays. But the reward is making it to the top of the mountain. The view is great, the work is fun, and the country, you will realize, is much bigger than you thought.—Chip Wright

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The old guy on a windy day

March 24th, 2014

Jean Moule last wrote for the Flight Training blog about a flight lesson in which she invited along her college professor. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published
writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

When and where will I fly? What kind of airplane and with whom? I have not found a regular airplane, CFI, flight school, or field since my one-year favorite shop closed. But it is March, and I am determined to fly at least once a month. I schedule with Lee in Independence. Great instructor and cool airplane.

In the cold wind coming cross-wise onto the airfield, we sit in the cockpit

flight training blog grumman

The Grumman

going over the instrument panel of a Grumman Tiger AA5B owned by Jeanne’s Flight School. We look at the checklist and Lee answers questions, even before we go into the building to grab headsets and begin to check the checklist. Ah, I see. One removes one’s hearing aids before putting on the headsets. Got it.

Except for a glider, this is my first time in a low-wing airplane with a sliding canopy.  Feels sort of like a luxury convertible car, tufted fabric seats and all. I told my CFI—my OLD CFI, ’cause that is what his car license plate says—that it reminded me of the time I drove my father’s Maserati. Fits and feels a bit like a glove.

After I made my first radio call at a field without a tower, we were soon

flight training blog jean moule

Jean and Lee

airborne. I enjoyed the handling of the Grumman very much. I hadn’t done any maneuvers in the air in a while. Mostly I just wanted to fly at the controls over the landscape. Lee encouraged me. Play with it, he said. I did a few steep turns and practiced power-off and power-on stalls. A nice review of some basics and I learned much because the airplane was new to me. Just a smooth little airplane with a great view.

We tootled over the Willamette River between Amity to the north and Camp Adair to the south. We stayed between the West Salem hills and the beginnings of the coast range. The cumulus clouds at about 5,000 feet and the late afternoon light toward 5 p.m. gave wonderful definition to the sky and the patterned fields, trees, and standing water. OK, got that needed dose of airtime.

It was a high-wind day, so I turned the ailerons into the wind for taxiing and did a crab on final before landing sideslip to align to the runway.

I smiled as Lee backed the airplane into the hangar of a house on the large Grumman at duskairpark residential grid of runways and roads. I remember laughing the first time I saw homes with hangars. Here there are 200. What a community.

My only frown for the day was noting that Lee, like some, charged for ground school, while many instructors base their fee on the Hobbs time on the airplane. My lesson here: It is good to ask before you begin. Then the ending conversation is serious fun too.

I happily headed home, an hour drive away. I had just finished one story on CD and popped a new one into the player. The story opens with a man preflighting a Cessna. Cool, I think. I just flew and now I get a story about flying! Only, in the story, the airplane crashes. It is more ironic than a downer for me. I know it is a story, and I also remember the wise advice of my first flight instructor: Rather than get rattled by news of any crash or airplane incident, try to dig and find out what happened. This has led me to understand that most accidents in small airplanes are caused by pilot error. And two of them are at the top of my list to simply avoid.

First check, and if necessary, double-check that fuel. I remember checking the fuel with a CFI in California. There was plenty for the flight, however the company wanted the airplane full and sent the truck over to fill it. After the top-off, at the CFI’s instruction, we checked the fuel again for water and actual amount. I appreciated the reminder that the pilot in command is ultimately responsible. I will also remember to check that fuel cap and think carefully about the distance and wind direction I plan to fly.

The other caution I have firmly in my mind is to stay away from sketchy weather—which is what did in the pilot in the story I listened to. He was in just too much of a hurry and flew into weather, instrument rating aside, that his airplane could not handle.

While I have much to learn, that advice to check out incident details keeps me ready to take to the air, air sorrows for others in story or for real, not keeping me away.

And of course, having really old CFIs who are solid pilots still in one piece, helps.—Jean Moule

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Pilot taxes

March 18th, 2014

I got my annual CD from Turbotax the other day, and it got me thinking about, well, taxes. When you are pilot who flies for hire, there are a number of things to consider. If you are flying as an independent contractor, it’s up to you to make estimated payments. If you are an employee, your employer will deduct your taxes from your paycheck.

As a pilot, you are entitled to deduct certain expenses from your income taxes. While this is not intended to be a tax-advice article, it can point you in the general direction.

The most important point is to document everything. If you have any reason at all to believe that a purchase you are making—be it an item or a service—might be deductible, you should keep your receipt and document what you have bought, when, and where. The IRS provides a fair amount of latitude, and some if it is common sense. As an instructor, the obvious items are things like new headsets, a new kneeboard, and similar items of the sort. The more complicated items are those that also can be used for personal reasons, such as cell phones. For the best advice, talk to a CPA or the local IRS office.

As with many jobs, you will learn that doing your taxes is not going to change much from year to year as far as business expenses and deductions are concerned. If you do your own taxes, you can save some money. In my opinion, it only pays to hire an expert if you are dealing with some complicated items; if you are married to someone who has a fairly high income; or if you have other income that needs to be addressed and accounted for, such as a rental property. It might also pay to have someone talk you through dealing with depreciation if you decide to purchase an aircraft for teaching.

As a general rule, if the item you buy is required for your work, you can likely deduct it. Certain professional organization memberships or periodicals might also apply. If it isn’t required for work, think twice. Again, ask a professional for expert guidance.

Taxes are a hassle we must all deal with, but there are provisions in the tax code that professional pilots can take advantage of. Whether you are self-employed or work for Big Flying School Inc., you can reduce your tax bill legally and smartly, but it all starts with proper documentation and a paper trail….sort of like dealing with the FAA. Be diligent, be smart, and be thorough….just like dealing with the FAA!—Chip Wright

Back to basics with Nancy Narco

March 12th, 2014

Nancy Narco.No matter how many advances we make in aviation, many things remain the same. The avionics we used today could be utterly foreign to someone who flew in the 1950s—but the troubleshooting tips still apply.

I was paging through a bound volume of back issues of AOPA Pilot, looking for a specific article, when I came across Nancy Narco. Quick history lesson: Narco Avionics used to be one of the names in aviation communications and navigation equipment, much as Bendix/King and Garmin are today. Your trainer might sport a Narco radio. You’ll likely see advertisements for Narco units on eBay and Barnstormers. The company went out of business in 2011.

Nancy Narco seems as though she might have been the Betty Crocker of avionics. She appeared in Narco advertisements in the 1950s and 1960s, running a sort of advice column (“Nancy Narco says”) alongside the main ad copy enticing readers to purchase transmitters, receivers, automatic direction finders, and whatever else was then state of the art.

My eye fell on this one from February 1959, titled “FAT.” Nancy wasn’t giving out weight management advice–she was sharing a memory tip on how to troubleshoot radio issues.

  • F for frequency: Check proper channel and transmitter selector switch. (Nancy notes that “more and more aircraft” are equipped with two or more transmitters, so then—as now—it was a good idea to make sure you weren’t transmitting on Comm 2 instead of Comm 1.)
  • A for audio. Check receiver volume and audio function switch to be sure you can hear OK.
  • T for tuning. Be sure you’ve tuned the proper frequency—I think we’ve all done that at least once or twice.

Nancy is no more, but I like her common-sense approach. I’ll share some of her other words of wisdom in upcoming blogs.—-Jill W. Tallman

P.S. Here’s a really good breakdown of whether avionics have risen in cost as dramatically as aircraft, presented by Bruce Williams on his blog Bruceair.com.

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Cross-marketing flying

March 10th, 2014

scuba divingI recently touched on the topic of marketing yourself as a CFI. I say “touched” because a 900- word blog simply cannot do the topic justice. Books have been written about it—books geared toward the CFI, no less, and they had far more than 900 words.

But I do want to touch on the concept of cross-marketing. As I mentioned previously, general aviation has not historically done well with marketing efforts, especially flight schools. They tend to rely on walk-ins, word-of-mouth, and website hits. Not many take advantage of cross-marketing with other activities that attract the same demographic as pilots.

The most obvious market is scuba diving. Diving tends to attract relatively well-to-do individuals looking to fulfill “bucket list” goals, or those who are interested in living life from a different perspective. Flying and diving have much in common: Both are three-dimensional activities; both require analysis and planning; both require some specialized equipment; both require a disciplined approach toward safety; and both are best when shared with others. In fact, diving is a highly social activity, much more so than flying is.

Research has shown that as many as 70 percent of pilots are also scuba divers. Note that I did not say that 70 percent of divers are pilots. However, the immediate use of that information is obvious: Divers are a market just waiting to be exploited by you, the instructor-to-be of a bunch of future pilots.

Unlike flying, diving is an industry that is unregulated by the government. It’s largely self-regulated, and there are numerous dive training agencies. The heavy hitter, though, is the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI). Chances are that your local shop is a PADI facility, and if it isn’t, it probably has at least one PADI-certified instructor. PADI is a marketing machine.

As a CFI, you can—and should—try to establish a relationship with your local dive shop. Talk about forming a partnership that might consist of promoting each other’s businesses via brochures or sharing links on each other’s websites. Establish a referral system that provides an incentive for old customers to bring in new customers to either business. If you are not a certified diver, consider becoming one. Even if you are not interested, learn what is required to become a diver, and learn the basics of the training system in use at your local dive shop, be it PADI, NAUI, SSI, et cetera. Understanding the lingo and the training platforms will help you when it comes to talking to potential diving pilots.

Flying and diving are both travel activities. One way to promote both at the same time would be to establish a “flying diving vacation,” such as a trip to a beach that is also a diving hot-spot. Locations like the Gulf Shores, the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, Catalina Island, or even Mexico offer much for divers, non-divers, and pilots. A GA pilot can’t fly for pay, but the divers in the airplane can contribute to the cost of the flight by paying for some of the fuel. For divers who have not been exposed to general aviation, it may be a great way to introduce them to the fun and flexibility offered by general aviation airplanes. You and your new dive-shop partner can heavily promote a trip like this. The dive shop can also promote various diving events that will take place once you actually hit the water (with your scuba gear, that is).

This is just one avenue of cross-promotional marketing. There are others, and some will be local to where you live. So, “dive right in,” and start tapping into revenue “pools” that already exist.—Chip Wright