Tag: autopilot

Stay sharp

Learning how to fly is a challenge, and it can be mentally and physically taxing. Flying is one of the few three-dimensional activities that humans engage in, and it’s not our natural state of being. As we progress up the ladder of competence and proficiency, it becomes easier, and we develop a sort of stamina for flying longer and longer periods of time, especially if we limit ourselves to cruise flight and take out the work of practicing takeoffs and landings.

As we move into bigger airplanes, we begin to have more tools at our disposal to make our task of flying easier. GPS, Nexrad, and other goodies become more prevalent. At some point (we hope), a functioning autopilot finds its way into our lives. If so, life becomes much easier indeed. A good autopilot is much more than just cruise control, since it should control both pitch and roll. Once you have experience with an autopilot you’ll realize just how fatiguing the art of flight can be, especially if you’re trying to avoid weather or multi-task.

When you reach the corporate/135/121 world, autopilots are often not just a luxury, but mandatory—especially for RVSM airspace and for some approaches. It becomes very easy to take off, reach the minimum engagement altitude, and turn on the autopilot. On the other end, you might turn it off right before landing. After all, autopilots are smoother than we are, and they can often increase the efficiency of the flight, which in turn saves money because of fuel savings.

The NTSB has found, and the FAA agrees, that it’s very easy to become overly reliant on automation. As you progress in your career, it’s important to keep up the practice of hand flying, and stay proficient without a flight director to guide you along. But even if you use a flight director, practice flying with the autopilot off. Do it in all phases of flight. Throughout my airline career, I’ve tried to do a fair amount of manual flying. I don’t do a lot in the terminal area of a busy airport, especially a hub, because I believe it’s safer to use “George” and keep my eyes outside for traffic. That said, I’ll often climb most of the way to cruise, and I try to turn the gizmos off well before landing. This keeps me proficient on the way the airplane handles, and it keeps my basic flying skills sharp.

If you need proof, look no further than the 2009 Air France flight over the Atlantic that crashed, as well as the 2013 Asiana flight into San Francisco International Airport (SFO) that hit the seawall. Obviously, in both cases, more was involved. But basic piloting skills had been eroded, which was totally preventable.—Chip Wright

Sweepstakes 172: Last stop before Oshkosh

Sailing along at 8,500 feet on Sunday, I had the benefit of not one but two Garmin G5s in the panel of the Sweepstakes 172.

The second G5, installed just last month, is configured as a horizontal situation indicator. Since both G5s run off the electrical system and include a back-up battery, Smart Avionics was able to remove the 172’s vacuum system. (The Sweepstakes 172 gained three pounds in its useful load!)

That hole in the instrument panel won’t remain empty for long. On Sunday I flew the Sweepstakes 172 from Frederick, Maryland, to Jackson, Tennessee’s McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport (MKL).

Here, at Tennessee Aircraft Services, the 172 is getting its final fantastic upgrade. Jeff Ley of The STC Group has flown in from California and is installing a Trio autopilot.

The STC Group announced at Sun ‘n Fun that it had obtained an STC for the kit to install theTrio Pro Pilot autopilot in Cessna 172s and 182s. The company hopes to announce at AirVenture complete STC and Parts Manufacturer Approval (PMA) to build and sell the entire system. The Pro Pilot was developed for the Experimental market.

The Sweepstakes 172 will be at AirVenture all week, so please stop by and see this wonderful airplane for yourself. From its humble beginnings as a trainer, trusted family aircraft, and hangar queen to its spinner-to-tail transformation at Yingling Aviation to its eye-catching paint schemes, the 172 is a special bird.

What I miss about GA

I recently did a flight from DTW to Kalamazoo (AZO). We had some time on the ground to kill, and our gate’s location gave us a great view of the approach end of Runway 17. Several airplanes were doing pattern work, including a Cessna 172 (with a horribly ugly paint scheme, I might add), a Piper Cherokee, and one or two others. A couple were flown by students, as evidenced by the hesitant radio transmissions and the near-misses of nosewheel-first landings. Others were likely someone out just practicing, taking advantage of the clear sky and summer-like March weather.

My first officer and I began chatting about how nice it would be to trade places for a day with these pilots.

The truth is, I can’t tell you how much I miss general aviation flying. I don’t get to do it nearly as much as I would like because of the cost, and when it comes to travel, you can’t beat the free flight benefits of the airline.

But I miss everything about GA—getting dirty on a preflight, being able to turn the radio off, tracing my flight on a sectional (not easy at 400 knots true while in the flight levels), or just taking the airplane around the patch one more time because I didn’t like my landing. If I tried that at my day job, I’d have more than a little explaining to do. They might even deduct the cost of the extra fuel from my paycheck. And I especially miss doing primary flight instruction. I’ve long maintained that if I could make the same income as an instructor as I do now, I’d trade my uniform for shorts in a heartbeat.

On occasion, we will see a 172 or a Cherokee on our TCAS that is flying at or below 1,000 feet just sightseeing or slowly going from place to place, or maybe even nowhere in particular. Once in a while we see those airplanes doing ground reference maneuvers or lazy 8s. It’s hard not to think about how far my own career has come watching somebody else go through those maneuvers that I too had to master.

If you are pursuing a professional career, take the time to enjoy the steps along the way, and if you can pull it off, stay involved in your GA roots. You will miss it more than you ever will imagine. I fly whenever I can, and I keep my CFI certificate active; I worked way too hard to ever let it expire.

There may be a thing or two about GA that I don’t miss—the broken orange juice cans in the Cessnas, not having a weather radar, bouncy fuel gauges, and I’d like to have an autopilot—but the benefits way outweigh the cons. I think I’d like more than anything to be able to fly a cross-country and substitute my iPod for ATC…just once.—By Chip Wright