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

Spring and summer plans

February 13th, 2014

As we look forward to spring and summer flying, it’s never too early to start thinking of ways to take advantage of it. Whether it’s a new rating, or a just to build confidence, there are plenty of ways to get some bang for the buck as the weather changes.

Crosswind proficiency. This is one of the skills that pilots have the most difficulty conquering, so it is also one of the skills in which most pilots have the least amount of confidence. If you fall into this category, or have a student who is struggling, make a plan to fix it. Spring is a great time to go find some gusty winds, and the safest way to do this is to find an airport with a long runway so that you can take your time getting a feel for crabbing and slipping. If you happen to be the only one in the pattern, try landing in each direction. Don’t just get comfortable doing crosswind landings when the wind is from your “favorite” direction.

As you master the skill on a long runway, start challenging yourself to touch down on a certain spot, and then start assuming a tall tree at the end of the runway. Force yourself to use not just a 50-foot tree assumption, but even a 100-foot tree. As you get more comfortable, start looking for shorter, narrower runways.

This can be a bit of a drawn-out process, but few things do more to boost your confidence than mastering crosswinds. Once you have them figured out in one airplane, transferring the skills to another is just a matter of aircraft familiarization.

 

Looking for a new challenge when the weather warms up? How about a taildragger endorsement?

Looking for a new challenge when the weather warms up? How about a taildragger endorsement?

A new airplane. Speaking of aircraft familiarization, consider learning to fly something different. It doesn’t have to be a faster airplane. It can be something slow, like a Piper Cub. Learning a new airplane is both challenging and fun. If you can get a taildragger endorsement, all the better!

A new rating or certificate. If you are in a position to get a new rating, great! It used to be that a multiengine rating was a relatively inexpensive add-on. That’s no longer the case. But a seaplane rating is usually fairly affordable, and seaplane flying is some of the most fun you will ever have. Seaplane schools are not always easy to find, but if you can combine it with a trip or a vacation, it’s an opportunity not to be missed. [Check the Seaplane Pilots Association directory for a list of schools.---Ed.]

The commercial certificate was probably my favorite one to get, since it’s all VFR and the maneuvers are fun. Even if you aren’t planning to use it, it might help on your insurance. But even if you have no nterest in pursuing it, get a CFI to teach you the maneuvers. They will greatly enhance your handling of the airplane and boost your confidence. Plus, they’re just “plane” fun!

Soft fields. If there is a grass field in your neck of the woods, go forth and prosper. Take an instructor with you if you haven’t been to one in a while, and if you need to call for permission or to give a heads-up, then do so. This is a skill you may never use or need, but it’s fun, and it’s a good excuse to fly. More practically, if you ever need to ditch in a field, you’re better off having some actual experience landing on grass instead of just simulating it on asphalt. [Students: Your flight school may or may not permit grass-field operations in rental aircraft. Check before you go.---Ed.]

I’m sure you can think of some other items to add to this list. Cross-country flights to places you haven’t been, for example, might be the highlight of your summer. The point is just to have a game plan, and to go into the warmer months with some goals in mind. After all, what fun is being a pilot if you don’t use it or continue to improve?—By Chip Wright

Sad to glad

February 10th, 2014

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

Fog Clearing at Home“Jean, we sure have had fog this year. Forecast today is fog all day. In two months we have flown 765 no more than two hours. Not good for the airplane to sit. If the forecast is wrong I am available to fly.“

 While the fog makes for good photos and painting, my flying needs were not being met. Occasionally we even had sun at our house at 800 feet and could see the fog bank below us, and I enjoyed it. A friend asked, “Can’t you just fly through the fog and above it?” “Yes,” I replied, “but one must be able to see the ground to get back down on a visual flight!” And the fog can close in very quickly.

While I had had eight recent commercial flights, it had been six weeks since I had flown an airplane myself. This is the longest break since I began lessons a year ago. Fog I could deal with, as I could look forward to sunnier days to come…after all, this is Oregon. What I could not deal with was the next email from my instructor.

 “Jean, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the 172 is being sold and we are closing the office…In aviation there will always be changes and change is good, even though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.”

 My afternoon flight now canceled, I struggled to get some balance, beginning to realize how much flying had become part of my life, even if it takes me my projected 57 hours to solo! The fog settling in my brain from no flying was worse than the real fog we had been living with for weeks. While my instructor had suggested future lesson options at other airports, I wanted to fly now. I went so far as to ask a flying neighbor if he was going up that day (he was not), as I know sunny Oregon days are limited in the winter. I felt so sad. What to do? I finished my preparations for a conference at OSU in Corvallis the next day that included a chart that illustrated my changing use of time. I had added flying for 2013 and had it projected for 2014. Would it happen?

 The day after my yearlong instructor and airplane vanished from my future, I wrote this to my former instructor.

 “Hi Steve, After looking into the bright blue skies for a day and wanting to be in it, and after a conference in Corvallis I stopped by the airport in Lebanon on my way home. Whew, what a scene!…I flew (in a really, really old 172). In my conference-going clothes. Had my logbook with me only because it was an artifact in my presentation at the conference. Sold some copies of my book to other pilots/student pilots/Lebanair Aviation owner. Change can be interesting… Jean”

New friends JeanPaul (left) and John at Lebanon State Airport.

New friends JeanPaul (left) and John at Lebanon State Airport.

Wow, I felt like I had stepped into some kind of movie set at Lebanon State Airport that certainly lived up to its motto, “The friendliest little Airport in Oregon.” Because of the sunny day, small airplanes were in and out, and I met many people. I visited, stayed, and eventually took a short flight. The flight was paid for by the sales of my book, Ask Nana Jean, because the owner of LebanAir kept asking anyone who came in if they had $10! One went to a fellow who had happened to read my Flight Training blogs! Small world—or maybe not in general aviation.

 What an unexpected find. What unexpected support and new acquaintances. And I got to fly as the sun was setting on a clear sky day!—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.

Flight school flyouts: We’re outta here

January 31st, 2014

If your flight school could shake up your training routine by offering you a chance to join other pilots on an organized fly-out, would you go? Most of us would love it. Getting out of the pattern, going places? Getting a taste of what it will be like when we can be pilots in command and go where we want? Where do we sign up?

Many flight schools try to organize these types of events—but they’re not easy to pull off. There’s the weather, availability of airplanes, flight instructors, and a host of other details to consider above and beyond the normal flight scheduling routine. So if your flight school offers you the chance to join a fly-out—whether it’s to the next airport for a pancake breakfast, or to Niagara Falls—don’t wait. Reserve an airplane, get a CFI if you need one, and go. I guarantee you’ll learn a lot and have a great time.

In 2002, as a low-time private pilot, I flew from Maryland to Maine, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and back during a four-day fly-out organized by Frederick Flight Center. There were several student pilots in our group, and everybody gained a great deal of confidence (see “Destination: Experience,” March 2003 Flight Training).

When you read this I’ll be on my way to Florida with a group of airplanes and pilots out of Virginia. The 12 aircraft are leaving this wretched Mid-Atlantic winter behind, temporarily. But we’re not staying in Florida. We’re headed to the Bahamas, accompanied by Bob Hepp, owner of Aviation Adventures. (Aviation Adventures’ Conor Dancy is our 2013 Flight Instructor of the Year, and the school itself has won recognition for high-quality training at its Manassas, Leesburg, and Winchester locations. Some of the airplanes going on this fly-out are on the flight line at Aviation Adventures.)

This will be Aviation Adventures’ third fly-out to the Bahamas. The school also organizes trips to Oshkosh, Wis., for EAA AirVenture, and most recently shepherded a group on a frigid December morning to tour the Hudson River corridor in New York.

A student pilot can’t fly solo outside the United States, of course. He or she can fly accompanied by a certificated pilot who is qualified to act as PIC. But crossing the border in a small airplane is a great adventure and a personal goal for many pilots. And if you have any qualms about Customs procedures, the paperwork, the navigation, and/or the safety equipment needed, a group fly-out is a great way to give it a try. (If you want to get going on the research, see AOPA’s Bahamas resources page. We’ve got info for Alaska, Canada, and Mexico, too.)

I’ll share some of these considerations on the Flight Training blog as we travel, and you’ll see a complete write-up in a future issue of Flight Training magazine. In the meantime, you folks where it’s cold, try to stay warm, and I’ll do the same.—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 flight training inspiration

January 30th, 2014

Social Media Editor and student pilot Benét Wilson last blogged about moving ahead with training even when the weather is bad.—Ed.

One of the best parts of my job as the editor of the eFlightTraining newsletter and AOPA’s social media editor is that I get to read and report on great stories of how AOPA members got their private pilot certificates.

I learned about Brenda Nelson’s unique story via our Facebook fan page, when I was soliciting photos for #ThrowbackThursday. Here’s what she posted:

“Three years ago, my boyfriend was diagnosed with multiple myeloma bone cancer. I had always wanted to achieve getting a pilot’s license. He lives six hours away in Chicago. He was so sick he couldn’t make the trip to Southwest Iowa [where Nelson lives] anymore. So I drove there every three weeks. I [also] started lessons and studied late into the evenings. I kept my full-time job and worked my 3 1/2 acres and achieved my dream. My boyfriend is now in remission and I took him flying. It was because of his illness and willingness to live that gave me the inspiration to fly!!!!”Brenda Nelson

Who wouldn’t be inspired by that story? Nelson said she’s wanted to learn to fly since she was in eighth grade. Her oldest brother went to the Spartan School of Aviation and was a few hours away from getting his pilot certificate. “He got married and never pursued it. My parents were farmers and there was never extra money to do anything like this, which can be cost prohibitive if you don’t have the financial backing,” said Nelson.

Nelson said that after her boyfriend was diagnosed with cancer, she decided if he could make it through the treatments, she could get her private pilot certificate. “So I called my local FBO, Atlantic, and told the owner I wanted to get my certificate. He gave me a book and I started in October 2011,” she said. “I took a few lessons and I was hooked. I knew I had time at home and at the hospital to study for ground school.”

For the next year when the time and money allowed, Nelson “picked away” at her flight lessons. “I put aside $285 every two weeks to pay for my training,” she said.

“I soloed in the spring of 2012 and got my certificate in October 2013.  After that, my boyfriend got better and he’s now in remission,” said Nelson. “I took him for a flight in November, and he couldn’t believe it. It was really cool.”

Nelson credits help from family and friends in helping achieve her dream of becoming a pilot. “My parents, who are in their late seventies, came and helped by watching my house and dog when I was making the regular six-hour drive to Chicago. There were also three people in my office who helped out so I could be gone,” she said. 

The biggest challenges are time and money, said Nelson. “I see people who don’t have anything to push them to get their certificate,” she said.  “If you don’t have that, it’s tough. I’d get AOPA magazines and seeing those articles inspired me.”—Benét Wilson

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.

How many different airplanes have you flown?

January 29th, 2014

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

CA Into cockpitAs we walked down the aisle to our seats on our last of eight commercial flights in three weeks, I did a little gig when I saw our exit door seat row with four feet of space for a 3,000-mile trip. These weeks in New York City, Massachusetts, and the Cayman Islands had given me time with family, ski patrollers, professional connections, and lots of gawking in NYC. And on flights, I kept my eyes open for flight attendants or pilots who could continue to open my eyes and mind to the behind-the-scenes culture of flying that I have entered in the last year.

While I have not kept track, I know I have flown, as a passenger, in most types of large jets during my hundreds of commercial flights over the years. But I know a new small airplane when I meet it. And a deHavilland Twin Otter flight from Cayman Brac to Grand Cayman gave me another small aircraft experience. The most incredible part of that flight for me was the open cockpit door that allowed me to watch the instruments from my seat in the third row. Instruments also watched by a male pilot of African descent and a female co-pilot. During our 40-minute island hop I was entranced and delighted to know I knew something about some of those gauges!

 CaymanEven before that long flight with the excellent legroom from NYC to Portland took off, I was just plain bored. Too tired to work or write, nothing good to read. No movies I wanted to watch. I noticed a pilot in transit heading to the restroom. He graciously answered a question, and I soon was delighted to know that we knew some of the same people and he lives a mere 20 air miles from me. Very quickly, he and his iPad were sitting next to me, and he opened a world I did not know existed.

He began to fly as a 3-year-old on his mother’s lap, as his mother ran a flight school with 40 airplanes. My head became full of stories of his flying and images of the airplanes he flew from the gallery on his iPad. While a commercial pilot, he also test flies everything from new designs to ancient planes a museum or collector wants to check out for its ability to take to the air. He seems to have a connection to each.

“How many types of planes have you flown?”

“Over 300,” he says.

“And which is your favorite?” I ask.

“Whichever one I am in.”—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.

 

 

Where are they now?

January 24th, 2014

I used to fly for Comair, the Delta Connection carrier that was headquartered in Cincinnati. Delta shut Comair down in 2012, and the pilots, like the other employees, scattered about like a colony of ants looking for work. Some had seen the writing on the wall and began their search in earnest months before it happened.

I’ve written on this blog before about the importance of networking, and keeping in touch with your network. Watching some of the pilots I used to work with is proof of the validity of that concept. Watching others is proof that some of them didn’t, and should have.

A friend of mine had been a captain for a while, but only logged about 600 hours of PIC time. He knew he wasn’t going to get where he really wanted to go without logging an additional 400 or so. So, before Comair closed down, he began reaching out to folks he had met throughout the course of his career, and began doing some part-time flying on the side. His travels took him to some fascinating places—he flew into North Korea and spent three days there—and gave him a wealth of experience he would never have gotten otherwise. One thing led to another, and he was doing a lot of contract CRJ flying in Europe and Asia. Back stateside, he’s flown Bon Jovi and Beyonce on their recent tours and been privileged to meet some Fortune 500 executives. Talk about a network!

A few other folks I knew reached out to some foreign airlines via friends they had, and got some enviable positions. One is a 787 captain overseas—he was hired as a captain “off the street,” and has been privileged to participate in new aircraft deliveries. Others are flying heavies—Boeing 777s, Airbus A-340s—for foreign carriers, and they are in a position to virtually pick which carrier they will fly for back in the United States when their contracts are up.

A few have caught on with contract cargo carriers like Kalitta and Atlas and have fallen in love with the idea of circumnavigating the globe twice in a 14-day stretch of work followed by a two-week period at home. Further, they can live anywhere they want because they are flown positive space to work. The cargo they carry varies—food, Christmas packages, animals, and human remains—as much as the destinations.

Others have become simulator instructors for FlightSafety International, jetBlue, or SimCom, while others have landed at the majors in the United States. The one thing we’ve all had in common is that we had contacts and a network to tap into, and we weren’t afraid to use them.

But I know too many pilots who allowed themselves to get complacent, and they thought that a logbook full of hours would be enough to get them the job they want. They’ve been surprised to find out that such is not the case. Knowing people; having a varied resume; bringing other skills to the table; and showing ambition and desire are all key to finding work. Some have decided to leave the industry altogether for their own reasons.

Having been there, I am convinced that a pilot who is unemployed for any period of time has only him- or herself to blame. The work—good work—is available. But it isn’t going to land on your doorstep unless you go get it. And you never know where it will take you.—Chip Wright

Aaron Tippin gets his CFI

January 16th, 2014
aaron tippin performs at sun 'n fun 2009

Aaron Tippin performs at Sun ‘n Fun 2009. He recently earned a CFI.

How cool is this? Aaron Tippin—country music star, passionate pilot, and all-around nice guy—earned his CFI late in 2013 at Murfreesboro Airport in Tennessee.

AOPA members know that when it comes to airplanes, Tippin is one of us—literally and figuratively. He loves to fly. He’s a longtime member, and in 2002 he showed up at AOPA’s doorstep for a headquarters tour. He had come to Frederick, Md., to perform at the Great Frederick Fair that year.

I recall Tippin spied a copy of Flight Training that had recently come from the press. “I don’t have that one,” he said. I tried to give it to him, but he thought I was asking for an autograph, and he promptly obliged.

I interviewed Tippin in 2011 for a Debrief, which you can read here. It’s interesting that, unlike many folks in the entertainment industry who learn to fly as a hobby, Tippin planned to be an airline pilot. When the energy crunch of the 1970s made that dream fade, he decided that the second-best thing he liked was to pick up a guitar and sing.

Tippin flies his Stearman in the video for “Ready to Rock (In a Country Kind of Way).”—Jill W. Tallman

So, what goes on up there?

January 14th, 2014

I am frequently asked a lot of questions about life as a pilot. One of the most common is, “What do you actually do up there for most of the flight?” Most people understand that the autopilot is flying the airplane for most of the trip, and the crew is in more of a monitoring role, so the question is understandable.

The answer depends on the kind of flying. On short legs, we’re pretty busy on the radio, and we set up early for the approach, check our weights and speeds for landings, and make any special requests for the station to address (lav services, wheelchairs, et cetera). On longer legs with a lot of time spent in cruise, there is more freedom to do various things.

Back up to the first flight together as a crew. Especially at larger airlines, it isn’t uncommon for a pair of pilots to fly together only once. This means that the first time they meet for the trip may be the first time they’ve ever met, and they will spend some time getting to know one another. Pilots being pilots, it isn’t unusual to meet someone and hit it off like you’ve been BFFs since grade school. At other times one of the crew may be more reserved, but there is still a getting-to-know-you period. In no particular order, you can count on certain questions coming up: Where are you from? How long have you been here? How do you like it? Did you bid this trip? What’s your flying background? And so on.

The first leg or two usually consists of a lot of banter about company goings-on, rumors, new developments, or big announcements made or expected. There is a lot of chatter about family life, common interests, etc. Most pilots will try to avoid certain subjects, such as politics or religion, but some can’t resist the temptation. There are a lot of “Have you flown with…?” stories, and usually a few laughs get shared about someone doing something funny or dumb.

But very personal information gets shared as well. If you spend three or four days or longer in a room the size of a phone booth with someone else who has a tendency to dress like you do, it’s inevitable that you get to know—and share—more than you ever thought you would. Personal fears, secret desires, or just plain secrets get shared. I’ve heard stories of affairs, unplanned pregnancies, crazy tax schemes, you name it. The unwritten rule is that what is said behind that door stays there (except for anything criminal), and most of the time it does. There is a certain sanctity within the cockpit.

And, as you might expect, locker-room style talk and behavior takes place as well.

On longer legs or trips, it isn’t all chatter. There are certain record-keeping requirements for fuel or certain minimum equipment list (MEL) procedures. On long international legs, it isn’t unusual for pilots to read or do crossword puzzles just to keep themselves alert.

But, like the proverbial light switch, when the situation calls for professionalism, that’s what you see. Whether it is a mechanical problem that becomes apparent, or a regular checklist or a weather deviation, pilots never forget who they are and where they are, and when the situation calls for it, the shenanigans are discarded and attention is focused on the job at hand.

It isn’t always work and it isn’t always play…but most of the time, if nothing else, it’s fun!—Chip Wright

Time flies when you’re landing an Airbus on the Hudson

January 10th, 2014

Hard to believe that January 15, 2014, marks the five-year anniverary of the day that will always be known as “Miracle on the Hudson.”

As most of us recall, US Airways Flight 1549, piloted by Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, landed in the Hudson River in New York after striking a flock of Canada geese. Both engines failed on climbout from LaGuardia Airport in New York City en route to Charlotte, North Carolina. Sullenberger decided they didn’t have enough altitude to turn back or make an emergency landing at Teterboro, New Jersey. He told New York Tracon, “We’re gonna be in the Hudson,” and that was the last transmission from the airplane before it touched down in the river.

Just writing that last sentence gave me goosebumps.

Thankfully, all turned out well. All passengers and crew were evacuated safely.

Now retired from US Airways, Sullenberg remains an active and vocal figure in the aviation industry. Jeppesen created an approach plate commemorating the “Miracle” landing.

Skiles took a leave of absence from the airline and is working for the Experimental Aircraft Association. He eventually got a seaplane rating, too [insert your own joke here].

One of the passengers on that fateful flight went on to earn a private pilot certificate. I interviewed Clay Presley shortly after his solo for this Flight Training magazine article, and you can hear him tell the story of the Miracle on the Hudson from the point of view of someone who was sitting in the cabin section on this AOPA Live video.  —Jill W. Tallman

This entry was edited to correct the date to Jan. 15—Ed.