Category: Tip of the week

Back to basics with Nancy Narco

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

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Flight training when the weather is bad

Social Media Editor and student pilot Benét Wilson last blogged about five holiday gift suggestions for student pilots.—Ed.06-492  Learn to Fly

As I sit at home and watch the snow falling, I can’t help but think how much I’d rather be out taking a flight lesson in my Cessna 172 Skyhawk. But when the weather is bad, we student pilots are grounded. Just because the weather is bad, it doesn’t mean that you can’t continue your lessons. So here are some suggestions to move ahead in the flight training process.

If you’re like me and studying for the knowledge test, the pause you get in cold weather is an ideal time to get some cramming in. I’m using Sporty’s Study Buddy app, and I find the flash cards to be especially helpful. Speaking of flash cards, check out these great ones from the Air Safety Institute to help you learn your airspace types and runway signage and markings.

My original flight instructor recommended that I use Microsoft Flight Simulator to practice the basics.

For those of you who are still nervous, like me, when talking to air traffic control, then there are plenty of tools you can use to help break up the nerves, including: LiveATC; a free King Schools course on Non-Towered Airport Communications; and this free Air Safety Institute course, Say It Right: Mastering Radio Communication.

I hope these help in the study process. Please feel free to pass your recommendations on to me ([email protected]) for a future blog post.—Benét J. 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.

Did you know? Opening your flight plan

Opening a flight plan should be the easiest part of your cross-country. Tune in the nearest Flight Service Station on your radio, call ’em up, request that the plan be opened, give your departure time, and on you go.

Except it isn’t, sometimes. You forget to call up flight service. Or you call them up and nobody’s home because you copied down the wrong frequency. Or you call them up and they hear you, but for some mysterious reason the flight plan you filed is not actually on file, so you have to give them all the details while trying to keep the airplane upright.

Last week, pending a VFR flight from Maryland to Tennessee, I called Lockheed Martin to get a standard weather briefing. (I don’t usually file by computer.) After the briefer and I had gone over all the weather and notams, he offered to have the flight plan opened at the specified time without my having to contact flight service. I was pleasantly surprised–I hadn’t known this option was available. And it worked! How do I know? Because I was a few minutes late closing the flight plan, and flight service called me to check up on my whereabouts.

When I called for a briefing on the return trip, no such offer was made. So if you want to take advantage of this service, you might have to ask. And make sure you make a realistic prediction of when you’ll be wheels up–because when you say you’re in the air, the clock is ticking.–Jill W. Tallman

Tip of the week #4

Use simulators

Although the FAA only allows 2.5 hours of simulator time to count toward the total required for the private pilot certificate, you are selling yourself and your training short if you don’t utilize one for this reason. Various studies have found that in almost every required pilot knowledge and flight task, time spent in the simulator before getting in the airplane equaled less time in the air. And in the world of flight training, time is literally money.

What can you do in a simulator? Anything. From preflight inspection to navigation, a simulator is a great resource. And just because your instructor isn’t sitting beside you doesn’t mean the time isn’t valuable. Take navigation as an example. Intercepting and tracking VOR radials can be an abstract skill to learn. But in any simulator, even those considered games such as Microsoft Flight Simulator, the transfer of knowledge comes quick and easy. You can easily reposition the airplane, look at your ground track from a bird’s-eye view, and pause the simulation as much as you want to work things out in your head.

Remember, flying is more of a mental exercise than a physical one. You don’t need to feel like you’re inside an airplane to advance your learning.

If your school doesn’t have a simulator, make the minor investment for a piece of home software. And forget about the logbook. Because if you learn how to do many of these things in a simulator first, your logbook will be much closer to 40 hours when you take your practical test.

–Ian J. Twombly

Tip of the week #3

Have fun.

I don’t care if you are learning to fly for pleasure or business, this is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be exciting to go to the airport and get in an airplane. Even if you are one of those students who is learning to fly because you are afraid of it, have fun.

Why the need to post something so obvious as this? Because it’s easy to forget. We’re a serious industry. Safety is serious. Airplanes are complex machines. We have regulations. And ramp checks (although seemingly not anymore). And nasty weather. But on those beautiful days when the sun is shining and the air is smooth, it simply doesn’t get better.

So, yes, training is hard sometimes. But there is an end. A wonderful, fulfilling end. Don’t forget that during stall practice number 851. After a couple of more mundane flights recently I got to fly a restored Super Cub on a beautiful day over fall foliage on a photo shoot for our January cover story. The fun doesn’t end.

Happy Friday.

–Ian J. Twombly

Tip of the week #2

Always have an out.

Advice like this seems obvious, but it’s only obvious because we don’t properly teach how to actually accomplish it. Having an out means that regardless of the situation, you have options. Here are two very different scenarios that detail how and why to start thinking this way.

Scenario 1

You’re a student pilot who is on her first long cross-country. Your logbook says you are allowed to go from airport A to airport B to airport C and back to airport A. But when you tune in the weather for airport C it seems like the wind could be beyond your capability. What do you do now? The weather is otherwise clear, so that’s not a concern. And you don’t have to worry about fuel. The first thing you realize is that you have multiple answers, a common issue with aviation. Often it’s a good thing, but choosing the right one is part of being a good pilot in command.T

The first thing is that you should have had a plan B for each airport. Ideally, your alternate would have long runways that have a different alignment to your planned destination. If you have a plan, and it looks like it will work, by all means execute it. It’s irionic to me that it often takes a more advancaed pilot to throw in the towel and activate an alternate plan. But all of us should be doing this from day one of training.

Assuming you don’t have an alternate already mapped out, you can either try to land, go to another airport, or turn around and go home. See, multiple options. In this case the only wrong answer seems to be to land at the original airport. There’s no prize awarded for not cracking up an airplane in strong wind. In other words, situations like this offer little reward but come with big risk. So what would you do?

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Tip of the week #1

Let’s try something new this week. A recent flight had me thinking about all the little tidbits and tricks that spring up during our various training and travel sorties. What better way to catalog those than a weekly tip here on the blog?

Tip of the week #1

Always check notams at your alternate. This seems obvious, but with easy access to computer weather and briefings, it’s easy to overlook the notams at both your destination and your alternate. VFR pilots typically don’t pick an alternate as IFR pilots do, but they should. Always keep a Plan B in your mind, and take the time to check the notams at your Plan B stop prior to launch. Runways close, navaids go down, and TFRs do pop up.