Posts Tagged ‘flight training’

‘It was worth it’

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

Branden Blackford recently shared his solo photo from September 2013 on our Facebook page. He’s looking forward to finishing up very soon. Here’s his story.—Ed.

Branden Blackford soloed in September 2013. He's coming to the end of a six-year flight training journey.

Branden Blackford soloed in September 2013. He’s coming to the end of a six-year flight training journey.

It all started before I was even 1 year old. My family use to take me to airshows every year growing up in Indiana before I could walk or talk. My dad was a crew chief mechanic on KC-135 Stratotankers so he was the one who introduced me to aviation and taught me a lot about airplanes and their control surfaces and how they worked.

By the age of 5 I could point to almost every military airplane at an airshow and identify it. As I grew older my interest for airplanes grew, and I would read books to educate myself about airplanes and all the different types of planes while I was in school. I knew before I entered the third grade I wanted to be a pilot.

It wasn’t until the age of 10 I took my first flight with the EAA Young Eagles program. I was nervous and worried I’d get airsick since I’d never flown before, but I did it. A 20-minute flight and I was hooked! I knew I’d do whatever it takes to be a pilot from then on.

For the next seven years my dad and I were chasing Young Eagles events all over the state just so I could go flying and learn more about airplanes each time I went up. At the age of 17 I took my first flight lesson when I got my first job working at a fast food restaurant.

From 2009 to 2013 it was a struggle financially to get to my first solo as I would literally take my minimum wage check of two weeks and spend it all on one hour of flight instruction and wait about another three weeks to get enough money for another hour of flight instruction. But it was worth it to me.

In the the meantime I overcame a spontaneous collapsed lung, passed the FAA medical and on September 26, 2013, I soloed. I got a better-paying job working as an aircraft cleaner just to be around airplanes and could better afford my flight lessons.

I’ve completed my solo cross-country requirements in March 2015, got my 40 hours, and now I’m preparing for the practical and my final hours of being a student pilot. As of June 2015, it will mark exactly six years of flight training. I’m not happy it took me so long, but it’s now 2015 and this year I’m finally going to get my wings!

And this summer I plan on going to a fly-in with my father to celebrate my success. The point is never give up on your dreams no matter how long it may take to succeed. I did this mostly off of minimum wage checks but my passion and love to fly got me through the tough times. Don’t give up! And keep on flying. And remember… your hours in your logbook never expire.

Name: Branden Blackford
Age 23
Event: Solo (September 2013); private pilot certificate forthcoming
Where: Hendricks County Airport Gordon Graham Field, Danville, Indiana
Airplane: Cessna 172

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Just ahead in the February issue

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

FrederickIf you routinely touch down in the first third of the runway and give yourself a pat on the back, Budd Davisson throws down in the gauntlet in our February 2015 issue. “Flying should be a never-ending quest for improvement,” he says. In “On the Numbers,” he tells you how to do just that—land on the numbers.

Also in the issue:

  • Be A Ground Instructor. Talk about flying and get paid for it? Sign us up!
  • Flying the Alphabet. We sent one of our editors on a quest to fly to as many classes of airspace as he could in a single day. Here’s how it turned out.
  • Technique: Anatomy of an Approach. Making the transition from cruise to landing in instrument conditions.
  • Debrief: Chris Meloni. If you’ve ever watched “Law and Order: SVU,” you’ve seen this late-blooming pilot pursue his other passion.

February’s digital edition went live on Dec. 24. In-home delivery concluded Jan. 6, and if you’re not yet a subscriber, you’ll find it on newsstands as of Jan. 13. We welcome your letters to the editor; email—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.

Teaching your problems

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Cessna 172 LandingThink back to the subject or subjects that gave you the most trouble in school. There was, I’m sure, something that you just could not seem to understand, no matter how hard you tried. It happens to the best of us.

Now, think of where you are in your training. If you’re lucky, things are going well. If not, you may be in one of the inevitable training slumps that we all endure.

Landings are one example. Certain ground reference maneuvers are another, especially some of the commercial maneuvers. The same thing happens in instrument training.

One of the best tools to learn whether or not you fully grasp something is to try to teach it. Sit down with your instructor, or with another pilot, and try to teach the subject that you are struggling to comprehend. This will force you to go through all of the steps, and use the tried-and-true building-block process.

Take Eights on Pylons, which is a ground reference maneuver. With the Eights On, you have to compute your pivotal altitude, which is based on groundspeed. To know what the groundspeed is, you need to have an idea of what the winds are, which might require a check of the weather. Once the pivotal altitude is computed, you need to explain how to set up the maneuver, followed by what is going to happen based on the winds.

When NDB approaches were common, the failure rate on NDB approaches on checkrides was relatively high, because it isn’t the easiest maneuver to fly or understand. But, if you can discuss it and teach it, the NDB approach suddenly becomes much easier, and that kind of confidence is something you want to have when you are flying one in low IFR conditions for the first time—especially if it is the first low IFR approach you are flying by yourself, as it was for me.

It doesn’t matter if the subject is practical or academic. The reality is that somewhere along the way, you will likely have a bump in the road. By trying to teach the topic, you are forced to study it in a different way, and further, you are forced to try to fill in the gaps you have versus just trying to gloss over them.

I’ve used this approach for myself as well as for students with great success, and a good instructor will also let you use it as an opportunity to get the most that you can out of your learning experience.—Chip Wright

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 resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.

Checklists and flows

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Driving and flying have some similarities. In both cases, you are responsible for the operation of a heavy piece of machinery that has the potential to hurt you as the operator, as well as others that get in your way. In both cases, poor operating practices can lead to unnecessary outcomes that can create a combination of inconvenience and high out-of-pocket costs. A case in point: Running down a battery. It’s easy to do in a car (leave the door cracked open with the key in the ignition and the dome light on) and in an airplane (leave the master switch on).

When we learn to drive a car, though, we don’t learn to use checklists. We just…do stuff. But think about what you learn fairly early as a driver. You learn to work in a pattern to start up and to shut down the car. Some of us put the seatbelt on before closing the door, some after. Some of us set the parking brake before the car is shut down, some after, and some not at all.

The reality is that we learn to do things in a predictable pattern, or flow, when we drive. We don’t use checklists. Airplanes are different. The environment is three-dimensional versus two-dimensional. Cars do not have retractable landing gear or adjustable propellers. We don’t need to memorize speeds in our cars that affect the operation of certain items like the flaps or the aforementioned retractable gear. Plus, we don’t fly airplanes nearly as often as we drive our cars.

But the idea of a flow is transferable. If you watch pilots in more sophisticated airplanes—especially those with crews of two or more—you will see that they often follow a predictable pattern for each checklist. While companies and manufacturers differ in their philosophies, the flow is a commonly accepted practice.

At its simplest level, a flow is a series of visual and tactile checks that a pilot can use to verify proper switch/lever/button/dial/control position. For example, prior to applying electrical power to a airplane, a pilot might physically touch each switch in the cockpit, or only certain designated switches, to make sure that everything is set just so. This is done primarily to avoid a problem as a result of mechanics doing work on the aircraft and forgetting to return systems to their normal condition. Likewise, after electrical power has been applied to an airplane, the pilot will usually follow a pattern of testing the functionality or set-up of each system.

In each case, the flow is followed by the checklist. It can be done as either a Challenge-and-Response (C/R), in which one pilot reads the checklist line by line and the other responds accordingly, or it can be done as a Read-and-Response (R/R), in which case the pilot who performed the flow reads the checklist aloud and verbalizes that each item is complete. What is very rare is one pilot reading each item, and then doing it. This actually slows things down and increases the risk of an error because of a radio call or other distraction.

Flows transfer well to most general aviation aircraft. In fact, some never really had a checklist (Piper Cub), so a flow is the only option. Flows are not always appropriate, but they can expedite pre-departure checks (runups) and after-landing and shut-down duties.

Work with your CFI to set one up (assuming s/he is game), or carefully practice one yourself using a poster or photo of the cockpit. A flow is not a replacement for the checklist, but merely a tool to use the checklist more efficiently.—Chip Wright

FAQ: How to join our Facebook chats

Monday, May 5th, 2014

Long-time Facebook friends of Flight Training magazine know that on the first Tuesday of each month at 3 p.m. Eastern, we host a live chat through our Facebook page. This lets us chat in real time with you. We use CoverItLive as the chat interface. It’s lots of fun, and we always have a great discussion.

This year we got an exciting new sponsor, Aircraft Spruce & Specialty, which is providing a $50 gift card for each chat. That means one of you can win a $50 gift card just for showing up and participating! You’ll find a lot of great pilot gear on their website. (And if you should want to “like” their Facebook page, that’d be nice, too.)

Our chat sponsor

Our chat sponsor

This FAQ should help you find us and get chatting to increase your chances of being the lucky recipient.

Q. When is the chat?

A. It’s always the first Tuesday of the month, and always at 3 p.m. Eastern.

Q. How will I know it’s coming?

A. If you’re like me, you have to make yourself a note on Outlook. But CoverItLive has a function where you can send yourself an email reminder. You can set it for a day, an hour, a half-hour, or 15 minutes before the chat. Click here. 

Q. How do I get to the chat?

A. There are two ways—and here’s where it gets a little confusing interesting.

  1. Click this icon if using a computer.

    Click this icon if using a computer.

    If viewing the chat on a computer, we recommend you just click the chat icon in the timeline on our Facebook page. That takes you directly to the CoverItLive window. You won’t see anything except the chat topic until the chat actually starts. Once it starts, you’ll see a window that lets you type your comments and hit “send.”

  2. If using a smartphone, we recommend you to go this URL. This is a direct URL for our CoverItLive window.
  3. If you can’t get to us through the chat icon, try using the direct URL.
  4. If using an iPad, either way should work.

Q. OK. I got to the chat, but I don’t see a window. What do I do now?

A. Check your screen resolution. It should be set to the highest resolution. Alternatively, use another browser. Safari, Google Chrome, and Firefox work well; Internet Explorer and AOL, not so much.

Q. Do I have to be logged in?

A. No.

Q. I got to the chat and it has started, but it still says it is waiting. What do I do?

A. Refresh the screen; if a box pops up asking if you’re sure you want to leave the page, say “yes.”

Q. OK, I’m in the chat! I can see questions and answers from other people, but you haven’t posted my question. Why is that?

A. It takes us a certain amount of time to respond to each question. And, depending on the number of comments and the complexity of the topic, we may not be able to post each and every question or comment. We’ll do our best, though.

Q. I have a question, but it’s not about what the topic of the chat is. Can I post it anyway?

A. Of course, as long as it’s related to flight training or flying.

Q. I’m in the chat, but it seems to be frozen. What do I do?

A. Try refreshing your screen.

We look forward to chatting with you! If you have any other issues with the chat that weren’t addressed here, please email me (—Jill W. Tallman



Show shopping

Monday, 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 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 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

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 resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.

The perfect CFI

Thursday, 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.




Little-used skills

Wednesday, 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

Flight school flyouts: We’re outta here

Friday, 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

Thursday, 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.