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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

The perfect CFI

March 6th, 2014

what makes a good flight instructor?We asked the Flight Training Facebook friends to tell us one thing they love about their flight instructors. Judging from their comments, we think we could cook up the perfect CFI using these ingredients. Flight instructors, do you see yourself in these comments?

Two parts great teacher:

“Dana Holliday, because he LOVES his job and flies for the fun of it. Not because he needs to stay current or earn more hours.”—Phillip J. Maschke

“Scott McManus at Wings of Eagles Everything Aviation at Huntsville International Airpor; he inspires confidence, cheerfully adapts his teaching style to my learning style…”—Andrea Atwood

“Harold Price @GGP he loves to teach and talk aviation.”—John Peters

 Two parts experience

“His skills, both as pilot and instructor and obvious love of flying make him a joy to work with!”–Andrea Atwood, talking about Scott McManus

“Thessa at Universal Flight Training, professional and very patient. Demands precision and provides the student the tools to be precise.”—Mark Gatz

“David Hersman at Eagles’ Wings Flight Training, been there for years with 8,000+ hours in his C150. Really knows his stuff!”—Joel Thomas

A side of safety

“Capt Bundock, plants the discipline of flying from scratch. ‘Never change your attitude with the trimmer’”—Martin Asare

The patience of Job

“Terry Anderson at Flyboys, 6A2……he’s an awesome teacher and is very patient with his students…really glad I found him!”—Scott Beard

“Stuart Cook at Skyward Aviation, Santa Monica, CA. Smart, patient, great at explaining and teaching, calm and a great person!”—Renee Engel

“My instructor was an older woman named Rose. She flew for the Army Air Corps and taught her son who became a commercial pilot. Great gal and patient with a then young woman with more bravery than brains. :)—Suzanne Day
 
 “Ben Chapman and Kendall Young! I’m taking more time than usual to get my private pilot’s license and they have been very patient with me!”—Chris Nolen
“Allan C. Burke a great Christian man with patience and a great friend.”—Nick Reed

A bit of fun, just for good measure

“Jonathan Bishop from Cal Airways flight school Hayward, CA. Very passionate about aviation I’ve learned so much plus he makes ground school and flying fun.”—Anthony Hayes

“Paul Jacob, patient , smart. And fun to fly with him.”—Michael McShane

“Tristan Wright @ Skywings Okotoks, flexible schedule and doesn’t mind repeating briefs or flights to ensure I got it. We even did a ‘let’s just fly for fun’ day instead of a lesson.”—Robert Manahan

If you missed the original Facebook post and would like to salute your flight instructor, please do so in the Comments. Or, add your own thoughts about what makes the perfect flight instructor!—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.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Lifestyles: The regionals

March 3rd, 2014

Regional jetYou spend every free moment thinking about flying, or actually flying, or studying flying, or actually thinking about studying flying—maybe even while flying. Your hours slowly build, your certificates and ratings begin to pile up. First is the private, then the instrument, then your commercial, and your CFI. You live sparsely and spend the same, minimizing your expenditures while trying to maximize your income. You provide the best service and instruction you can, being fair to your customers and yourself, and in time collect your multiengine credentials. You make mistakes, scare yourself (and others), and learn more about flying while working as a CFI than you will for the rest of your career. Always focused, you can sense that your opportunity as an airline pilot or a charter pilot is within reach.

What will it be like?

The routine at the regionals is, in many ways, different than it is at the majors. Because the regionals feed to the hubs of their partners, they often provide a frequency of service to the smaller cities that the majors cannot match. Towns like Des Moines, Iowa; Richmond, Virginia; Albany, New York; and Tulsa, Oklahoma, are the bread and butter of the regionals. The majors may bring in the occasional 737 or MD-80, but the RJ (in some variant) is king here, sometimes for as few as two flights a day, and often for as many as seven.

As a regional pilot, you will spend your days bouncing in and out of one or more hubs, connecting people to larger aircraft bound elsewhere or bringing them to a meeting or home. There are some point-to-point city pairs, but not as many as there used to be. Some cities, like Raleigh, are mini-focus cities for multiple carriers. You will typically fly trips that range from one to four days (usually three days or four), though a few are five days. You may start early in the morning or sometime after lunch. Frequently you will stick with an “AM” or a “PM” schedule, but not always. On reserve, the one day, two-leg out-and-back may turn into a six-day trip. As a line holder, you will generally fly for three to four days and be off for three to four days. Usually there is a long block of seven or as many as 10 days off somewhere in the month.

On the same day you may fly from the warm beaches of Miami to the frigid winters of Green Bay, stopping to deice, or even being forced to re-deice somewhere along the way. You will learn to deal with broken airplanes, rushed passengers and gate agents, and tired flight attendants. You will learn to eat faster than a Marine in battle, and to time your walk-around so you don’t have to stand on a ramp in the rain. You will average at least four flights a day, and  at times you will do as many as eight, and you will feel exhausted when you do.

You will learn that the names of the days no longer matter. You are on Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

You will sleep in a different hotel each night, and you will learn to pack your bags efficiently and only unpack what you must. You will need a few months to figure out how to pack for yourself: winter clothes versus summer, workout attire, your iPod, and whatever personal items you deem to be critical to making life on the road just a bit easier. You will learn to pack your suitcase so that you can fit it into an overhead compartment on any airplane.

Some nights you will go to bed late and wake up all too early. On others, you will be done flying by noon and start again the next evening. You will learn by necessity how to constantly juggle your sleep patterns. There will be some nights when you sleep like a newborn baby and others where, for no explainable reason, you will not be able to sleep a wink no matter how exhausted you are. Soon, you will know where the best hidden jewels for restaurants are, and you will try to bid your schedule accordingly. At times you will forget where you are.

You will learn to maximize your time off to get as much done as possible. Laundry, dry cleaning, and errands all need to be completed ASAP on your return home. You will pay the bills, get used to your own bed again, get used to sleeping with your spouse or partner again, and finally get the lawn mowed just as your neighbors are organizing a homeowner’s intervention. Soon, you realize you are wise to have a set of clothes ready to go at home so you can swap clean and dirty in a pinch if you don’t have the time or energy to do laundry. If you commute—and odds are good that at some point you will have to—you will check the flights to get you back to work. You may need to book your hotel room for the night before or after your trip.

It is a rhythm. It isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t always fun. But most of the time, it is. When you are home, you are home. There is no work, and your time is your own. And soon, you are watching your logbook fill up, and you are anticipating two more milestones: captain, and an offer from a major.—Chip Wright

Take me flying

February 26th, 2014

Sammy in Miss JDogs that enjoy riding in cars generally enjoy flying in airplanes. That’s the conventional wisdom, and it holds up for the most part (although dogs that ride in cars without an issue can become airsick, so many pilots don’t feed dogs before taking them up).

My dog Sammy enjoyed riding in cars. She would sit up in the back and look out (or stick her nose out the open window, weather permitting) with a serenity that our other dogs lacked. No crying or barking, no bouncing back and forth between windows. She would simply take in all that there was to see.

I wanted to take her flying, so I finally did. She was 13 years old and 56 pounds, so it wasn’t easy to load her into the back of my Cherokee. She didn’t understand that she was to head into the open door, and she tried to walk out onto the right wing. Once in the backseat, however, she realized that she had simply been helped into another kind of vehicle, and she sat up just as she had always done in our cars, ready to take in the view. She didn’t lie down or move around; she simply gazed out the rear window and watched the Earth below, much as she’d watched cars and people and landscapes while traveling on the ground.

When we were finished with our flight, I went to the nearest drive-through and bought her a $100 hamburger.

That was our one flight. For me, it was enough. For Sammy, who knows? Dogs just like to be with their people, and while she enjoyed her hamburger, she probably wouldn’t have cared whether we went for a walk, or a drive, or a flight. Still, I’m glad I took her flying. This picture is from November 2012, before arthritis and the tumor that eventually took their toll.

Take your dog flying. You’ll both have a great time.—Jill W. Tallman

How the captain earns the money

February 25th, 2014

It is well-known that the captain makes the big bucks. Another joke is that when thegold coin first officer looks to the left, he sees the captain. When the captain looks to the left, he sees a window with a reflection of…himself.

So what is it that the captain does that the FO doesn’t that earns the captain those big bucks?

Airlines use seniority for everything, so the captain’s rank and pay really don’t mean anything other than that he or she was hired first. Even this isn’t absolute. Some FOs decide to stay in the right seat because of personal reasons, and they may actually be senior to their captain.

The pay differential is there because the captain is being paid for generally having more experience (the above example notwithstanding), and for having more responsibility. The captain and flight dispatcher are jointly responsible for the flight—but once the airplane leaves the ground, the captain becomes the final authority.

The captain makes his money not during normal operations, but during abnormal operations, when difficult decisions need to be made. The two examples that most stand out are in-flight emergencies or developments that might require a diversion, and in making a decision that could result in a cancellation.

Diversions usually result from weather, and where there is one diverting aircraft, there are usually several. This is not a big deal by itself. The diversions that become issues are the ones that arise from in-flight mechanical problems. Some of these are cut and dried. Others are not.

If the checklist calls for a diversion, then you shrug your shoulders and divert. It’s the ones that are done more on personal comfort or intuition that get tricky. The dispatcher or even the chief mechanic in charge may believe that the flight can continue, but a captain with thousands of hours in the airplane knows exactly how the airplane is supposed to sound, feel, smell and fly. If the captain—or an experienced FO for that matter—says that something isn’t right, then chances are something isn’t right.

I’ve been in similar situations during which the folks on the ground both supported me and also began to question what I was saying. Diversions are not taken lightly, because they are so expensive. This is less of an issue with weather-related diversions than the odd mechanical diversion in which the airplane may be grounded for days.

The captain also is tasked with other decision-making responsibilities that affect other groups and people. Getting extra passengers on or having to remove them because of weight issues is not an enjoyable experience, especially when you have to see the despair on their faces. I had a group of passengers who were trying to get to a wedding out of Islip, New York. Islip has short runways, and the winds on this day were heavily favoring the shortest of the short. We were over our max takeoff weight, and we had to remove some people. These folks were the unlucky chosen ones (the airline determines that order, not us), and there was a heated discussion between the agent and myself. All the pleading in the world couldn’t change the fact that we were over our weight limit. While it wasn’t by much, we were over, and we couldn’t go with everyone on board.

Someone ultimately has to make the hard choice. The worst possibility is a person who is wishy-washy or incapable of making a decision. Fortunately, that’s rare. Being the captain means being the one with the mindset of “the buck stops here.” As the old saying goes, it’s better to be alive to talk about than to be dead and unable to defend yourself.—Chip Wright

Images in the air

February 24th, 2014

Jean Moule last wrote for the Flight Training blog about making the best of a change in her flight training plans. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

Piper Clipper

Bob Hartmann flying his Piper PA-16 Clipper.

In 1970 my art instructor bought a Piper PA-16 Clipper. His art changed from many other media to photographs taken from the airplane. To get a clear view of the ground directly under the airplane, as he wished, he had to turn it pretty much on its side (someone more knowledgeable feel free to tell me a better name for that maneuver and tell us more about that airplane). Earlier, when I had Robert Hartmann as a professor at Berkeley in the mid 1960s, his work was mostly two-dimensional images of airplanes in or under clouds.

In the last year, as you may know from my earlier blogs, I have been taking flying lessons. My flight school closed and my quest for a solo has been on hold. I have not shared here that in the last three years I have reentered a world of art—mostly watercolors, mostly clouds. It was Bob Hartmann who inspired me to change my undergraduate major at Berkeley to art.

One of Bob Hartmann's aerial images.

One of Bob Hartmann’s aerial images.

Last year I wondered if Bob was still alive and where he was located. A bit of searching, as he does not own a computer, turned up a number. With hesitation I called him. We exchanged a few letters, and this week I was honored and touched to meet with him in his home of 50 years in the Oakland, Calif., hills. It was there that I learned of his flying history and spent  time looking at his incredible earthscapes taken from his airplane.

Two days later, I had an extra day in the Bay Area. None of my other connections worked out, no phone messages returned, no beckoning activities. But, wait. There must be a flight school near here. With my recent decision to get up in the air in as many places with as many CFIs as possible before settling down and training for that solo, I decided to fly. I begged my way into a flight lesson for the afternoon. Giddy, I think of the joy of flying over my old campus, seeing the bell tower from the air, and circling Mount Diablo.

 An hour before my flight I think. Would Bob, now 87, be available to go up? As we all know you can put another person in that airplane when you take a lesson. [So long as weight and balance work.---Ed.]

 I call. He comes. A circle is complete.

Jean and BobIt was a pleasure to preflight and go up in a Cessna 172 so similar to the one I flew for a year. Details escaped me and I left the radio work to Joe, the flight instructor. Often I asked him to take the yoke so I could take the photos. I timed our one-hour flight perfectly and learned a few new pieces of information to connect to my knowledge base. Beautiful blue sky, San Francisco in the distance, and Mount Diablo up close. Best of all, we flew over the land that Bob had photographed as art over the years.

 As I pay and get a log of the flight, Bob talks with Joe about his years of flying from Buchanan Field in Concord in his Piper Clipper.

aviation art, aviation photographyAfter our flight we go to lunch and, at his home, I marvel at more of his images. I spend too much time and miss my commercial flight home, but I don’t care. I will treasure his gallery book that he signs and gives me. It is called Solo Flights.—Jean Moule

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.

Little-used skills

February 19th, 2014

At every stage of training in aviation, we are inundated with information. That which is most useful usually stands out pretty clearly, and is often common sense: Stay out of the clouds when flying VFR; maintain your altitude, especially when on an IFR flight; use your checklists. But along the way we learn—or try to—a lot of what appears to be either minutiae or skills and information that just don’t appear to have a lot of modern-day application.

It’s long been a complaint among pilots learning to fly IFR that we should not have to learn anything about microwave landing systems because they really has no practical application in the modern world. The same could be said about a lot of the weather products we struggle to memorize.

But there are few nuggets here and there that are worth keeping in the back of your mind, especially if you are interested in doing any flying that will require flying over large quantities of open water. Airline flying and top-of-the-line corporate flying fall into these categories:

  • Position reports. It’s one thing to read about a position report, but it’s something else to really put it into use. I currently fly over the Pacific a lot, and position reports are an essential way of life. The format is standard, but it needs practice to be perfected. There are certain rules that need to be met. Remember the one about being off by more than three minutes? If not, go look it up! It’s very unlikely that you will need to use this skill in the United States, but in the event of a radar outage, you will need it. This is an easy skill to practice on any flight. You can verbalize the report to yourself without transmitting it.
  • Lost communication procedures. When was the last time you really reviewed what to do? How well would you handle this? Considering that modern equipment is becoming more and more “single unit,” how well would you do if that all-in-one box in your airplane just went kaput?
  • Good guesstimation. How well can you estimate the amount of fuel your airplane will use on a given flight? If the gauges were to fail, could you be within 5 percent of the total burn if you had to make a guess? Could you be within 3 percent? Again, this is an easy skill to practice on any flight just by making notes on a separate sheet of paper. If it’s an airplane you fly regularly, you should also keep track of your burn records at various altitudes, engine settings, et cetera. The charts and data in the book are based on new equipment. The added benefit to doing this in your airplane is that if the performance begins to deteriorate, you will have something to point your mechanic in the right direction.
  • Old-fashioned navigation. If you want to find out just how good your skills are, go flying with a safety pilot buddy. Revert to needle, ball, and airspeed, and fly a short cross-country using just your wet compass and your watch. This can be very humbling in the modern world.

Flying has become so technologically driven that it is easy to forget the basics and the simplicity that can be used. Take the time to knock some rust off your mental and physical skills, and boost your confidence at the same time. Remember, the best pilots are always training!—Chip Wright