Posts Tagged ‘learn to fly’

Pilots and diving

Monday, November 24th, 2014

scuba diverAs a private pilot-in-training, you discover that the FAA wants you to learn a modicum of information about the physiology of flight. This need-to-know training continues in instrument and commercial training, and gets more specific if you pursue training in high-altitude flight. Most of modern physiology training centers on hypoxia, night vision, and fatigue, for good reason. Early on, the FAA also talks about some basic knowledge for combining flying and scuba diving. In the interest of simplicity, the feds simply want you to say no flying after diving, and if you say no flying for 24 hours after diving during the oral portion of your checkride, the designated pilot examiner will nod in approval and move on to the next topic.

But what is the real answer? And why?

These are valid questions. Scuba diving is a popular recreational activity, and depending on which source you want to cite, anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of pilots also are certified divers. That should not be a surprise. The two activities have much in common: Each requires specific training; safety is paramount; there are some rules in each that are flexible, and some that are inviolate; pilots have flight plans and divers have dive plans; an attention to detail is key. Most important, each operates in a three-dimensional setting, so that divers often describe the sensation of being “like flying.”

In flying, we concern ourselves with effects of too little oxygen at high altitudes, where atmospheric pressure is low, thus making it difficult to consume as much oxygen as we need in each breath. Divers concern themselves with consuming air while under an increased amount of pressure. The air in the tank is under pressure, and the diver underwater is experiencing greater pressure from the surrounding water. The concern under water is not oxygen, but nitrogen.

The common answer to “Why can’t you fly after scuba diving?” is that you will get “the bends.” But what really happens, and what are the real rules?

When a diver goes underwater, the water exerts pressure on the body, as well as on the scuba tank and the air it contains. At 33 feet of sea water, the body is under twice as much pressure as it is on the surface. At 66 feet, the pressure is three times as much. At 99 feet, it’s four times as much. Divers, like pilots, feel the change in pressure in their ears. They body itself doesn’t feel any different.

As a diver inhales air from his tank, the pressure from the water causes the tissues to absorb more of the gas than is normally absorbed on land. As long as the diver stays within the acceptable limits of recreational diving, this is generally not a big deal with the oxygen. However, the body also absorbs the nitrogen that is in the tank (air is primarily a mix of oxygen and nitrogen, with about 1 percent being other inert gases). Our body needs oxygen, and so metabolizing it is no big deal. However, the body doesn’t need the nitrogen in a gaseous form. In fact, the body wants to get rid of it. But, under the increased pressure experienced underwater, the nitrogen is absorbed.

If this sounds familiar, it should: This is the exact same process that goes into making a carbonated drink. In a soda, the gas is added to the liquid under pressure, so that the saturation level of the liquid is increased. Under water, a diver’s body has an increased saturation point because of the pressure, and so the tissues absorb more of the gas that is inhaled.

As a diver ascends toward the surface, the pressure on the body decreases, and some of the gas that was absorbed into the tissues begins to come out. This is similar to slowly cracking a soda bottle to release some of the pressure before opening it all the way. Divers slow this process by ascending to the surface in a slow, controlled manner, and then perform a safety stop. That is, they ascend to 15 feet, then stay there for three minutes to “off-gas” some of the nitrogen before surfacing.

If the diver ascends too quickly, the nitrogen does not leave the tissues in a controlled fashion, and a very painful injury or even death can occur as the nitrogen bubbles—comes out of solution—in the blood stream. This is commonly called “the bends,” and is more accurately referred to as “decompression illness.”
Even after surfacing, a diver still has nitrogen in the tissues. If a diver was to go flying, the ambient pressure around the diver would continue to decrease as the airplane climbs. That would allow the nitrogen to be released from the body even faster, thus increasing the risk of injury.

So, what is the proper protocol when it comes to diving and flying? If you are flying first, you can safely dive immediately. If you are diving first, PADI (the Professional Association of Scuba Diver Instructors) and DSAT (Diving Science and Technology, Inc) recommend that a diver who has not exceeded decompression limits wait a minimum of 12 hours after a single dive before flying, and 18 hours if the diver has engaged in repetitive or multi-day dives. If the diver has participated in decompression diving (whether intentionally or unintentionally), then a preflight interval of more than 18 hours is suggested.

The blanket rule that some airlines or flight departments have about waiting 24 hours after diving before flying is more of a catch-all designed to eliminate as much risk as possible. But the guidance listed above can safely be followed, as it will allow the diver to safely expel the excess nitrogen before flying. It is very possible that a diver who does a single-tank dive in the morning can take a sightseeing flight at sunset.—Chip Wright

Just ahead in the January issue

Friday, November 14th, 2014

takeoffIf it seems like these posts about upcoming issues are coming closer together, well, they are. Our production schedule is compressed somewhat so that we can publish issues while enjoying the holidays. After January 1, 2015, things will settle down a bit.

With the January issue, we go “back to basics.” We are, first and foremost, a training magazine for aspiring pilots. Longtime readers may recognize that we hit certain subjects—landing, weather, maneuvers—over and over again. That’s the nature of our readership; we cycle through topics for primary flight students, because we expect that they will earn their pilot certificates and perhaps move on to our sister publication, AOPA Pilot.

But we also know that we have a group of faithful readers who stay with Flight Training, because “a good pilot is always learning.” That’s why we try to hit on instrument flying and other advanced pilot topics when we can.

What you can look forward to in the January issue:

  • Trading ground for sky. Few things are more basic in aviation than the takeoff. We perform one on our very first flight lesson. But there are ways to take off, and ways to take off that recognize the aerodynamics and make you look better doing it.
  • Work smarter, not longer. If it’s taking you three-quarters of your lesson to get from startup to takeoff, we have some ideas for you.
  • Wise words: a pilot’s guide to the flying life. There are a lot of sayings in aviation, but we’ve distilled some very basic truisms that can be applied to your daily flying and make you a better pilot.

There’s much more, of course.

Our January issue hits digital devices on Nov. 26 (you can read while you digest your turkey!) and starts in-home delivery Dec. 9. As always, we welcome your letters to the editor (flighttraining@aopa.org).—Jill W. Tallman

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

Just ahead in the November issue

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

ian helicopterIt seems ridiculous to be thinking about ice, snow, and frigid temperatures when the rest of the region is still experiencing summerlike weather, but those are the vagaries of our publishing schedule: Our November issue goes to the printer this week. And so we bring you at least one winter-centric article (“Weather: Just Say No—A zero-tolerance policy for snow, ice, and frost,” by Jack Williams).

The rest of our issue concerns topics that could affect your flying no matter what the temperature is.

  • Go Vertical: No more excuses not to fly helicopters. Watch out! Editor Ian Twombly has gone over to the fling-wing side, and in this highly entertaining article he’s determined to take you with him.
  • Escape Plan: Keep a go-around ready whenever you need it. Jamie Beckett wants you to understand not just how to execute a go-around, but when you’ll need them, and why it’s so important.
  • Practical Weather: Five tips for putting your weather knowledge to good use. It’s one thing to memorize weather theory for the checkride, but pilots need to know how to put that theory into practice when it’s time to go on a trip–lest you remain forever in the traffic pattern.

Our November issue hits digital devices on Sept. 24 and starts in-home delivery Sept. 30. Happy reading! As always, we welcome your letters to the editor (flighttraining@aopa.org).—Jill W. Tallman

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

 

Surprises all around

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

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

glacierYou have spent months planning, days hiking. Your tents are pitched on a finger of land that sticks out into Bench Lake in the wilderness on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. Suddenly a floatplane lands on the water and comes to a stop in the middle of the small lake you had thought your own. The plane taxis to the end of the lake to again face into the wind and takes off. You stand with others in your group wondering, as you always will, why did that plane land here? What was that all about?

Watching the airplane fly off into the distance, you see it even more mysteriously take a turn in the air. Is it wildlife? Unknown to you, the airplane circled around a snowmobile abandoned in this wilderness.

This introduction to floatplane flying by a new, young CFI certainly had its moments for both me and life on the ground. The bear we circled was as surprised as the people. My sense is that a more experienced CFI would not have caught such attention from both the wild and people life. And while he never scared me exactly, flying close to the mountains to catch the updrafts for flight caused me to not take the controls as much as I might. In the end, I controlled the flaps and the water rudder because, in the Super Cub, he could not reach them anyway. The bottom line: Did I have fun? he asked after we returned to the dock. Oh yes.

tailnumberThe views were awesome. Could I say anything but “Wow!” asked the pilot in the other airplane that held most of my family. We took off and landed together on Trail Lake; I circled Paradise Valley while my family flew over the Harding Ice Field in a bigger, faster airplane.

Alaska will never be the same for me now that I have seen the backcountry, which makes up most of Alaska anyway, from the air. So many lakes, almost always a place to land—or maybe “land” is not the correct word, when you finish up on water.

My family and I have a lively conversation the night before about how a floatplane pilot gets to the dock. Carefully, and with experience, I find out. My CFI is embarrassed when our airplane goes quiet and still several feet from the dock. Only the presence of someone who could throw him a rope saves us from other ways to make that dock.

His mentor, the 75-year-old pilot who took my family up, stands just a tad mortified as the airplane is pulled into place.

bench lake with tentsI don’t mind. I was along for the ride and scenery anyway. And I did learn a bit about floatplanes. My first pleasure was the water taxiing (no yellow line to nail) and the views, especially the images of the other airplane carrying my family were incredible. Our hour in the sky was well worth our weeks of planning, days of travelling, and getting seven people up and out on schedule for our flights. The Alaska weather cooperated. No rain and the clouds rested at about 5,000 feet. The group on the Cessna 206 sometimes seemed a tad squeezed between the Harding Icefield and the clouds. Our smaller airplane played in the hidden valleys and did a practice land and takeoff for those surprised hikers. They wonder why we landed. I wonder if I will ever get in a floatplane again. Mysteries.—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.

 

 

Why be normal?

Friday, August 15th, 2014

Why indeed? We often preach the gospel of consistent, frequent flight lessons because research says that’s what works best.

But for some of us, it just isn’t possible. Take Bill Adams, whose travel for work conflicts with a regular flying schedule. But he hasn’t let that stop him. Here’s what Bill says has worked for him:

Bill Adams soloed this Aeronca Champ, and says flying six different airplanes hasn't hampered his flight training experience.

Bill Adams soloed this Aeronca Champ, and says flying six different airplanes hasn’t hampered his flight training experience.

 

Why be normal? My job takes me all over the country for short periods of time. So, my instruction cannot be normal. I have to take what I can get. In my case it turned out to be better than normal.

By the time I soloed, I had flown six different airplanes and had about half my time in tri-gear and half my time in tailwheel. I have flown high wing and low wing, tandem and side-by-side, a glass panel and a plane with no electrical system that had to be hand-propped (my personal favorite). I just completed my first solo in a taildragger at a tower-controlled airport—a 1940s-era Aeronca Champ at Livermore Municipal in Livermore, California. My instructor was Pete Eltgroth, with Red Sky Aviation. I had just as much fun (or more) as the person soloing in a tri-gear at an uncontrolled airport.

While all these differences did extend the length of my training a little, so far, they have also provided a more comprehensive (and more fun) learning experience. And, I am much farther along than if I had waited for more ideal circumstances.

To which we say, “Congratulations!” Because, at the end of the day, whatever works to get you into the sky.—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 resources 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.

Beat the heat

Friday, June 27th, 2014

Summer is here—boy, is summer here. After the winter we’ve had, it’s nice to welcome the sunshine. But relentless rays aren’t always a treat when you’re flying–ask any flight instructor.

How can you keep cool while flying? Here are some tips:

  • Water. Can’t say this enough—you need to keep hydrated. Drink water, carry water in the airplane, and drink it while you’re flying.* And when I say water, I mean water. Coffee is not water; it has caffeine, which is a diuretic that can cause you to become dehyrated. Soda is not water; it has sugar, which can make you thirsty. I’m not a fan of sports drinks, but if you are fond of those, by all means. Here’s more on the importance of keeping hydrated.
  • Wet towels. Wear one on your head or around your neck.
  • Loose, lightweight clothing that absorbs perspiration and allows it to evaporate quickly is best. Think cotton, not polyester or wool.
  • Sunblock. This won’t help you keep cool, but you do need to wear it in the cockpit.

*Drinking lots of water in the airplane can lead to the need for a bathroom break. I have a bladder with about a three-hour endurance, so I plan my flights accordingly. Here’s a blog from the male perspective on other ways to handle the problem.

What are your tips for keeping cool? Please share in the comments section and I’ll do a follow-up.—Jill W. Tallman

 

The power of the written word

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Orlando Showalter MentoringThey say that the pen is mightier than the sword. Having been stabbed by a pen and poked by a knife, I have learned that taking the phrase literally is at your own risk. But, taken metaphorically, we can apply the wisdom imparted by these words to aviation.

In the early days of flying, a brief walk-around was followed by  starting up the engine, adding some power, and away we go. That still happens to a lesser degree with aircraft like the Piper J-3 Cub, but for the most part we’ve gotten away from such a cavalier approach to making approaches.

Starting with the Boeing B-17, pilots have been conditioned to use a written checklist for nearly every phase of flight. And why not? If we make a grocery list, we don’t have to worry about forgetting the one thing that sent us to the store in the first place. Using a checkbook register keeps our finances organized. I’ve used checklists that had only two items, but they were important items. Quickly done, too.

It’s easy to get complacent in an aircraft with which you are intimately familiar. I have enough hours flying in a pre-GPS, pre-fancy-schmancy 172 that I could undoubtedly walk up to it, get in, start it up, fly it from A to B and back, shut it down, and walk away looking at the checklist. And I used to do that.

Until the day I got a phone call from the flight school informing me that I had left the master switch on and drained the battery.

We are supposed to use the checklists that the manufacturer gives us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t tweak them or add to them. Many do. As you fly bigger, faster, more advanced airplanes, there are more checklists. Quick Reference Handbooks (QRHs) are go-to books filled with all manner of checklists for nearly every conceivable scenario. Airlines and flight departments routinely add to them. Mine has included some supplemental information on various approaches (setting up the avionics), de-icing procedures, and other rarely used procedures.

The key here is the initials: QR—Quick Reference. It’s just that. It’s an easy-to-find, easy-to-use cheat sheet to make sure that an expensive airplane doesn’t get damaged by doing something wrong, even if at first glance the pilot believes it is “obvious” what needs to be done.

There are other examples of the written word. Placards are a great example. You are being given free information, right in front of you! Jets and turboprops are loaded with placards. Use them!

Airline pilots typically fly 80 hours a month, and if they skip a checklist, they feel…uncomfortable. They know something isn’t right. They will not feel OK until they know it has been done. So, they do it, even if they’ve done it thousands of times. If a pilot who makes a living flying more hours in a month than most pilots fly in a year is dedicated to the use of the written word to fly safely, shouldn’t we all be the same way?

Even if you have “memorized” the checklist, you need to use it. In fact, when you memorize it, you need it more than ever, because your complacency will eventually catch up to you.

The written word is a powerful tool. Don’t be afraid to use it.—Chip Wright

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

Don’t forget

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Cash DrainWhen going flying, don’t forget…

…your headset. Even in a non-radio environment, the noise of the engine will give you a headache.
…your sunglasses, especially if flying into the sun or in instrument meteorological conditions.
…something to write with and to write on. Writing clearances on your arm uses a lot of space. I knew a pilot who used a grease pencil to write on the window, but an FBO may not appreciate this. This fellow owned the airplane.
…something to eat and drink, but make sure you use the restroom first.
…a credit card for fuel.
…your cell phone and a charger in case you get stuck somewhere. Put a flashlight app and an E6B app on your phone.
…to cancel your flight plan on arrival.
…charts. Electronic is great, but paper doesn’t rely on batteries. Either way, have them—and ensure currency.
…your medical, your certificate, the pilot’s operating handbook, and a photo ID.
…to check the weather. Twice. At least.
…a back-up plan, in case the weather forces itself upon thee.
…to take as much fuel as you can.
…a handheld radio with fresh batteries.
…clothes appropriate for the terrain, especially if you are flying over rugged or mountainous terrain.
…at least one flashlight. Even during the day, a flashlight can be handy. See the tip about apps above.
…to check for TFRs, notices to airmen, and pilot reports.
…to untie the airplane from the tie-down. Don’t laugh. It’s happened. Damage can occur to more than your pride. But your pride will be damaged if you do this, because it’s funny to watch.
…to call ahead for overnight parking information, crew car info, et cetera.
…cash for vending machines and to tip the fellow putting fuel in your airplane.
…and most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. Flying is fun, and we are privileged and lucky to be able to do it. If it isn’t fun, you need to recapture that feeling—or take a car.—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.