Why a Pre-Flight Discussion With Passengers Is Important

Don’t forget to take the Dramamine before you fly… not after.

Shawn Arena

This article highlights the importance of a dialogue with your first time and even seasoned passengers before flying, a sort of pre-flight discussion. You should be prepared to inform them of all aspects of the upcoming flight, and don’t forget to ask them about any concerns or comments they may have prior to the flight as well, if not an unexpected surprise may pop up…as I found out during this experience!

All In the Name of Charity

In April 2000, my wife organized, coordinated, and supervised a charitable silent auction held at our special-needs eldest son Matthew’s school in the northwest Phoenix area. Titled “Miles of Smiles” this event was in its second year after a successful inaugural launch in 1999. Among all the neat and exciting things donated by local Phoenix businesses and sports teams (the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns), my wife had arranged with me to fly one lucky parent and their special needs child to Sedona Airport (SEZ) in northern Arizona for breakfast.

The lucky father Pete and his son Max were the winners for this adventure. After some coordination during the following week, Pete and I decided that May 6th would be the appropriate day. Now I must caution (or more likely advise) anyone who wishes to conduct a charity flight such as this to contact your local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) for proper authorization to conduct such flights. After proper coordination with the PRC FSDO, we were good to go. Additionally, when a pilot wishes to venture into the world of special needs individuals, focused attention on the individual (and caregiver) must be heeded because this more than likely will be something so foreign to them, you do not want any unintended consequences to occur that would endanger all occupants in the plane

Well at Least the Flight to Sedona Was Uneventful

Springtime in Arizona is a wonderful time to fly. It is the ‘hot’ time of year and has not yet reached the ‘hotter’ time, and weather conditions are very favorable. However, it must be noted, that it can be warm enough even in the morning hours, to prompt an early departure ahead of the warm-up of the day.

Departure from Glendale Airport (GEU), was uneventful, and our Cessna 172S (N234SP) purred like a kitten as we climbed and comfortably cruised at altitude. SEZ sits on a mountain mesa at 4,817 ft. MSL among one of the most picturesque areas in the world – Red Rock country. Max thoroughly enjoyed the flight, Pete while a bit apprehensive, also seemed to settle in nicely. My youngest son Andrew also came along for the ride. We landed on runway 03, taxied to the transient tiedown area, and were looking forward to a delicious breakfast.

You Should Have Said Something To Me Earlier

After breakfast, it was back into the plane and ‘literally downhill’ back to the Phoenix metro area. Just a few minutes into the flight, I thought I heard a noise from the back seat area and asked Andrew to look back to see what it could be… ”Max’s dad is throwing up Dad” was Andrew’s reply. Uh, oh I thought to myself, we better go to hyper speed to get home ASAP. “It’s OK dad, he’s upchucking in the diaper bag,” Andrew so eloquently informed me.

Now I am about to share something personal, and I don’t introduce myself as this, but I am a sympathetic puker! I thought “Oh, boy Shawn, just focus on listening to ATC and concentrate on flying the plane and getting back to GEU.” I instinctively told Andrew to turn all the air vents on his face and take deep breaths into them, as I did the same. The remaining hour of flight was tolerable, though I was concerned about how much of the backseat I had to clean up when we got home.

We touched down back at GEU and taxied (in my best Southwest Airlines brisk style) as I could and opened the doors and windows to help the air quality. To my amazement, there was not a drop in the back seat, for Pete (smartly) tied up the diaper bag to prevent any ‘air leakage.’

Walking back to the FBO office to turn in the keys I asked Pete if he was OK. Sheepishly and embarrassed, he said yes and then this pearl of wisdom came from his mouth…” I guess I should have taken the Dramamine before we left, instead of after breakfast.”

“What?“ I thought to myself as I figuratively wanted to choke the guy (but held back just in case any ‘residuals’ might come out). So calmly I told him, “Yes you should have AND you should have informed me you needed to take it before we left.”

Another Lesson Learned, This Time About Pre-Flight

So while “Pete’s adventure” was the lowlight of the flight, I too learned a valuable lesson. Remember that important pre-flight discussion I mentioned at the beginning of this article?

As part of my pre-flight routine, I now ask all passengers if they are prone to motion sickness BEFORE we get to the airport, so we can stop for counter-acting medication on the way. When I earned my Private Pilot Certificate, the FAA Examiner flippantly told me…” Now you have your license to learn.” Boy, how true that statement remains. Happy Flying!

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Featured Image: Simon Moores

Dealing With Lost Communications on an IFR Flight Plan

John Peltier

A communications failure can be a scary thing – even on a beautiful VFR day. But throw in some clouds, limited visibility, and mountainous terrain, and suddenly this can be absolutely terrifying! As a pilot, maintaining a cool head and knowing your procedures will ensure this situation doesn’t get any worse.

Scenario

ATC has cleared you to RYANN via radar vectors as filed on your flight plan. Your last assigned altitude was 8,000 feet. On the way to RYANN, you determine that your radio will neither transmit nor receive. You are in visual meteorological conditions (VMC). Panicked? What do you do?

If you’re VMC, it’s actually not that complicated. Set your transponder to 7600 and proceed VFR, landing as soon as practicable. But what if you have your instrument rating, and you’re in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC)? You can’t just descend down through the clouds on your own, so what do you do now?

IFR chart for creating an IFR flight plan

There are three major things to take into consideration after setting your transponder to 7600. The three things you need to determine are you routing, altitude, and clearance limit.

Routing

Take a stroll down Avenue F. This is your mnemonic device – AVE F. Your routing priorities are, in order:

Assigned – your last assigned clearance by ATC

Vectored – your last assigned vector by ATC

Expected – your last expected clearance given by ATC

Filed – your IFR flight plan as filed with ATC

So, if you received radar vectors to a fix where you would then pick up the rest of your IFR flight plan, you proceed on that vector to that point and then pick up your routing as filed. In the case of this scenario, you would continue to RYANN and then to your next point as filed.

Altitude

What’s that important altitude between fixes on IFR charts? The minimum enroute altitude, or MEA? This is your next mnemonic device – MEA. Your minimum altitude to maintain is the highest of:

Minimum enroute altitude – the MEA listed on the chart

Expected altitude – the altitude ATC said for you to expect in a further clearance

Assigned – the altitude last assigned by ATC in your last clearance

So in our scenario, ATC last assigned an altitude of 8,000 feet. But looking at our IFR chart we see that the MEA for our routing (if we were flying northwest) is actually 10,000 feet. We must fly the higher of these, so we’d have to initiate a climb to 10,000 feet.

Clearance Limit

You’re going to have to continue the flight and eventually land. So where and when are you going to do this? We need to figure out our clearance limit. Fortunately, our IFR flight plan has a final fix and an ETA to help us with this.

First, we need to know if ATC gave us an expected further clearance. This is something we receive if we’re holding due to ATC or other delays. If we’re holding at an Initial Approach Fix (IAF) then we commence our approach once we get to the time ATC gave us in the EFC. If we’re not at an IAF, then we leave our holding fix at the EFC, proceed to the IAF, and hold as necessary to commence the approach as close to our ETA as possible.

If we don’t have an EFC, proceed to an IAF if not there already and start the approach as close as possible to our ETA.

  • We have an EFC
    • Fix is an IAF: Commence approach at EFC
    • Fix is NOT an IAF: Proceed to an IAF at EFC and commence the approach at ETA
  • We don’t have an EFC
    • Fix is an IAF: Commence approach at ETA
    • Fix is NOT an IAF: Proceed to an IAF and commence the approach at ETA
In Conclusion

Enroute communications failures on an IFR flight plan isn’t as scary as it may seem as long as we know what to do. Just remember the three major ingredients we need to safely carry out our flight plan.

Routing

Altitude

Clearance Limit

We go down AVE F for our routing, fly the MEA for our altitude, and go to an IAF for the approach at either our EFC or ETA. It’s really as simple as that.

You can check out FAR Part 91.185 for the actual regulations concerning communications failures on an IFR flight plan.

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How My Student Taught Me A Density Altitude Lesson

Shawn Arena

Welcome back! This is another installment of my personal flying experiences that hopefully others can learn from as well. The twist to this true tale, however, originates from a former student of mine who reminded me of the pitfalls and potential dangers of density altitude operations.

The Prelude

September 20, 2000, was a typical end of summer day throughout Arizona. The annual monsoon season was coming to a close, so the temperatures throughout most of the state were starting to ‘dip’ below 110 degrees. On that Wednesday afternoon, I flew three Arizona airport manager colleagues to a quarterly manager’s meeting to Flagstaff (FLG) from my rented aircraft’s home in Glendale, AZ (GEU).

While I was the airport manager at Phoenix-Goodyear Airport (GYR), I also was an adjunct assistant professor at a nearby college flight program. At the time of the flight, I was instructing an undergraduate Airport Management course, and one of my students (Herman) was also a pilot. One day after class, while he and I were chatting about the course, I mentioned to him that I had scheduled an upcoming flight with three other airport managers to Flagstaff (which for me was to be my first flight to FLG). It was then (as I thoroughly understood after the fact), that I was to learn my first lesson in Density Altitude operations.

A Good Lesson Plan

About two weeks prior to that flight, I was checked out in the flight school’s Beechcraft Sierra (Be-24), because I dreamed of (and still do) getting checked out in a Beechcraft Bonanza (what is referred to as the Cadillac of single-engine aircraft) one day. Since the school did not have a Bonanza, I thought the Sierra would be a good stepping stone towards it. This upcoming flight was to be only my third flight in the aircraft. In our impromptu meeting, Herman reminded me several times “don’t top off the fuel tanks at FLG because density altitude may bite you.” For those unfamiliar with density altitude and its dangers, let me conduct a quick Weather Flying tutorial for you.

A Beech Sierra taking off

Photo by: FlugKerl2

Density altitude is pressure altitude corrected for nonstandard temperature. As temperature and altitude increase, the air density decreases. For a pilot that can be a recipe for trouble if he or she is not aware of the conditions. Since the air at higher altitude is less dense, it takes a longer takeoff roll on the runway, and the climb to altitude is slower.

Flagstaff-Pulliam Airport (FLG) sits at the 7,000-foot elevation level in northern Arizona and runway 3-21 is 8,800 feet long. On the day of the flight, the outside temperature was a ‘cooler’ 85 degrees. There you have it: high altitude, high temperature, and lower aircraft performance.

OK Baby, Just Keep on Climbing

The incoming flight was uneventful (oh, I must add, at GEU the departure airport, at 0900 local time it was 95 degrees), so the coolness of FLG would be welcoming. Our departure was at 1:00 PM local time immediately following a delicious catered lunch. Unaware to me until I started my takeoff roll, the entire group of managers watched our departure from the balcony of the airport terminal (oh great, no pressure here Shawn).

I vividly remember lifting off at the 3000-foot remaining point and then it hit me – Herman was right, our aircraft sluggishly lifted off and barely started a climb at the rate of 100 feet/minute. Lesson learned, density altitude is nothing to mess with! Interstate 17 runs adjacent to the airport and heads due south. I made a slight course correction to fly IFR (I Follow Roads) and wanted to stay within landing distant of I-17 ‘just in case.’ Oh, and did I mention the forested areas around the Flagstaff area? So combine poor climb performance, high altitude and high temperatures and trees, you have an almost immediate ‘pucker factor’ of exponential levels. Just climb baby, just keep on climbing I kept telling the airplane!

After about 15-20 minutes we reached our cruising altitude and I uttered a sigh of relief. From that point on the remaining flight back was uneventful- if you consider the temperature rise as we descended into the metropolitan Phoenix area uneventful.

Thank You Herman

A few days after the flight I held my next class meeting and Herman (eager to find out about my excursion), came up to me and asked how things went. Well, I gratefully acknowledged if it weren’t for his advice, it may have turned out different. I couldn’t thank him enough and with that, I knew I had learned a valuable lesson that day. A good pilot should always be very aware of EVERYTHING around him or her and keep in mind all weather conditions that can impact a flight. Too many pilots have learned that lesson the hard way. Herman’s sage advice remains in my brain every time the same scenario occurs. Stay safe out there!

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Fatigue in Aviation: Countermeasures That Are Ignored

Unsolved Issues: Part 2, Amber Berlin

To read Part 1, click here.

According to Wells and Rodriguez, the majority of fatalities in aviation are due to commercial flights on final approach-and-landing, which experience hull loss (2004). In approximately 70 percent of commercial jet hull loss accidents, the main cause has been attributed to flight crew error. People are involved in every aspect of the aviation industry, creating a widespread problem with few sound solutions. Air Safety Week, a top newsletter devoted to news and the analysis of aviation safety, reported, “Among the leading cause of fatal accidents for U.S. air carriers from 1989 to 1996 were loss of control and CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain). Human error was identified as a major contributing cause in a large percentage of these accidents.”(2009).

Aircraft cost millions, and sometimes billions of dollars, so why do aviation professionals make these costly mistakes? In short, they’re exhausted. Long hours in a high-stress environment for an extended period of time leads to fatigue in aviation. We have seen the effects of fatigue in aviation, and with the extreme growth in this industry, the problem will only get worse if not addressed. Air traffic controllers and pilots alike are being asked to push the limits of their ability as management tries to make up for the manning shortage. As we make leaps in technology, many safety program elements are focused on this new technology in the cockpit, to help the pilot make fewer mistakes. However, it should be noted that the misuse of new technology has been the contributing factor in some aviation accidents, and it does not address the underlying deep-rooted problem of human error due to fatigue.

According to the publication, Plain Language About Shiftwork, approximately 15.5 million people work shifts (1997). Working shifts disrupts the body’s natural Circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle in the biochemical, physiological or behavioral processes of living beings. Irregular hours, split shifts, and frequent rotations between day and night are common to members of the aviation industry, in addition to extended work hours and high levels of physical and/or mental stress. These Circadian disruptions are often accompanied by sleep loss, with the lack of sleep creating an environment where the individual is too tired to concentrate effectively, resulting in an increased possibility of error or injury.
Fatigue in aviation is also a contributing factor to human error. Fatigue has many causes, including shift-work, lack of personnel or manning issues, circadian disruptions, loss of sleep, long work hours, long periods of physical or mental activity, and fatigue is also a symptom of stress. As stated by Deputy Secretary of Transportation Mortimer Downey, at a fatigue management conference, “Fatigue, due to reduced sleep and irregular hours, has been identified as major factors in a number of crashes and costly incidents.” (2000).

A Boeing jetliner on a airport runway at sunrise

Photo by: Bill

The Body’s Normal Response to Stress

Dr. Peter Panzarino provides an excellent description of the process of the body’s normal response to stress.

A healthy human response to stress involves three components:

  1. The brain handles (mediates) the immediate response. This response signals the adrenal medulla to release epinephrine and norepinephrine.
  2. The hypothalamus (a central area in the brain) and the pituitary gland initiate (trigger) the slower maintenance response by signaling the adrenal cortex to release cortisol and other hormones.
  3. Many neural (nerve) circuits are involved in the behavior response. This response increases arousal (alertness, heightened awareness), focuses attention, inhibits feeding and reproductive behavior, reduces pain perception, and redirects behavior. (2008).

Dr. Panzarino further explains how stress triggers the body’s fight or flight response:

  • The combined results of these three components of the stress response maintain the internal balance (homeostasis), increase energy production and utilization, alter electrolyte (chemical elements) and fluid balance in the body. The also gear up the organism for a quick reaction through the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The SNS operates by increasing the heart rate, increasing blood pressure, redirecting blood flow to the heart, muscles and brain and away from the gastrointestinal tract, and releasing fuel (glucose and fatty acids) to help fight or flee the danger. (2008).

The problem arises when there is no fighting or fleeing to help work those chemicals out of the body. In a natural environment, we would have to fight or flee, and the body would gear up and use those chemicals appropriately. However, in a stressful work environment, with no fighting or fleeing necessary, those chemicals remain in your system, effectively reducing your body’s ability to function properly. Under stress, the body produces cortisol to help meet the challenges of fight or flight. If your body is under high levels of stress consistently, the cortisol builds up in your system, causing damage.

How can we reduce cortisol levels, get a better night’s sleep and enhance our cognitive ability? Get a massage. Since the 1890’s, J.H. Kellog’s research on the effects of massage has opened the door for this luxury item to be realized as a necessary part of health maintenance (1897). However, despite the many documented effects of massage on the biological system, including improving sleep and increasing the ability to do both physical and mental work, it has not been applied to the aviation industry as a legitimate countermeasure to fatigue in aviation. A massage program has the potential to reduce the number of fatigue-related accidents by directly reducing stress and improving sleep. Also, because of the general reconstructive effects of massage on the body, overall healthcare costs for pilots will also be reduced. Understand the science behind massage and its application as a fatigue countermeasure, as well as other ways to fight fatigue will be explored in the upcoming Unsolved Issues: Part III – Working to Address The Problem of Fatigue in Pilots.

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References:

FAA Seeks to Improve Flight Crew Training. Air Safety Week. 23 Apr, 2009.

Kellogg, J.H. (1897). The Art of Massage.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (1997). Plain Language About Shiftwork. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Panzarino, Peter. (2008). Stress.

U.S. Department of Transportation. (2000). Partnering for Transportation Safety Human-Centered Systems Operator Fatigue Management Conference. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Wells, A.T. & Rodrigues, C.C. (2004) Commercial Aviation Safety. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc

Feature Image: Kent Wien

How Aircraft Deicing Equipment Works

John Peltier

Aircraft have sure come a long way when it comes to all-weather capability! One of the biggest advances is how we can deal with ice that can potentially form, or has formed, on the aircraft with aircraft deicing equipment.

There are two types of systems with drastically different purposes to keep you safe. Anti-ice is used before flying into icing conditions, to keep ice from forming. Deice is designed to remove ice after it has already formed. The systems, in general, have many similarities but not all of them are actually approved for flight into known icing conditions.

Anti-icing Systems

Anti-icing systems (preventive aircraft deicing equipment) usually involve some sort of heat. Heating these surfaces keeps water from freezing, and thus, ice from forming. Critical areas that are heated in some aircraft include at least the pitot tube, and sometimes the propellers, windshield, wings, and engine inlets.

Heat for these systems comes from two sources. The first is from the engine, known as bleed air. Turbine aircraft commonly employ bleed air to heat up engine components like compressor blades and inlets. Ducting to engine components is less complex, though sometimes this bleed air is also routed to leading edges of wings and windshields. Carburetor heat on piston aircraft is another form of bleed air anti-icing / deicing systems. In general, however, larger bleed air heating systems are not commonly found on general aviation aircraft. Just about all of these systems introduce excessive noise and rob the engine of some power.

Propeller with electric deice detail. Photo by: YSSYGuy

Propeller with electric deice detail. Photo by: YSSYGuy

The other method of heating critical surfaces is with electricity, much like your toaster uses. This method of heating is usually applied to pitot-static systems, propellers, and drains. It is important to activate these systems before ice buildup starts, as they may not get hot enough to melt thick ice. It operates by simply applying electricity to a closed circuit. The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner uses electro-thermal systems for deicing rather than bleed air like its predecessors.

Deicing Systems

Additionally, some aircraft are equipped with dispensers to apply deicing fluid to the wings. Deicing fluid has a very low freezing point and delays ice formation. Some of these fluids not only prevent ice from forming but they also inhibit the formation of new ice except in the most extreme circumstances. These systems are known as “weeping wings” and their drawback is the limited supply of fluid that they can carry. Many a pilot has left these systems activated for too long and run out of fluid!

Pneumatic Deicing boot on leading edge of wing, Photo by: YSSYGuy

Pneumatic Deicing boot on leading edge of wing. Photo by: YSSYGuy

The only other reactive form of aircraft deicing equipment commonly used is slightly more complex. Removing thick ice can be tricky especially given the uneven surfaces. Knocking the ice off of leading edges of control surfaces is the only other way if it’s not done with heat or fluid. This isn’t done by making your passenger get out of the aircraft with a long pole. No, strips of rubber are used instead. These rubber boots inflate, slightly changing the shape of the wing and breaking the ice free from the aircraft. The rubber then returns to its original aerodynamic shape. These too have their drawbacks, adding extra weight and power requirements to the aircraft.

Heat tape is the next great thing to happen in regards to aircraft deicing equipment; this lightweight graphite foil can melt ice that forms on the leading edges of wings and tail surfaces without adding much extra weight at all, without altering the shape of the airfoil, and without requiring a lot of extra power. NASA has been extensively testing these systems.

Regulations Regarding Aircraft Deicing Equipment

So, with all of this fancy aircraft deicing equipment, do you think you’re safe if your aircraft is equipped with deicing systems? You better check your Pilot’s Operating Handbook for the answer. Many general aviation aircraft that have these systems installed are not legally allowed to fly into known icing conditions. This goes for both factory-installed equipment and for retrofitted equipment.

Anti-icing and deicing equipment need to go through a rigorous testing process in order to be certified for flight into known icing conditions. These tests are twofold: first, the airframe is tested to determine which flight regimes will put it at the greatest risk for ice formation. Then the aircraft is tested in this flight regime and all systems are subjected to the worst-case scenarios. The autopilot, engine intakes, ice detection systems – all of them are subjected to harsh conditions to ensure operability. These tests have to show that these systems provide some degree of preventing ice formation or shedding ice. This does not mean that continued flight into icing conditions would be smart, or even safe.

But these tests only occurred after 1977. For aircraft certificated before 1977, these systems were only checked to see if they had any kind negative impact on aircraft performance. There was no guarantee that these systems could handle ice at all.

Even after 1977, not all aircraft go through these tests. The tests are expensive! So manufacturers (mostly general aviation) have these systems installed as “emergency” equipment, much like a parachute. They’re only tested to make sure that they won’t affect aircraft performance so that they can get certified for installation. Flight into severe icing is never legal under any circumstances.

Photo by: Anton Dit

Photo by: Anton Dit

Unfortunately, many pilots see that their aircraft has deicing equipment and believe that means that they can fly into icing conditions. But this equipment usually isn’t certified for that, at least in general aviation! Just remember next time you try to fly into icing conditions that these systems most likely weren’t tested with real ice!

Flying with anti-ice and deice systems, even if they’re certified for flight into icing conditions, does not make you invincible. Especially during freezing rain – this can accumulate ice rapidly, without many visual cues to the pilot, and spread beyond regions that are protected by this equipment.

As with every other system, it is critical to preflight and test operation on the ground. It can be as simple as turning on the switch and making sure circuit breakers don’t pop and turning on the ice detection light and guaranteeing that it illuminates. Check the manuals for the proper procedures.

Next time you hop into an aircraft that has deicing equipment, check the POH, AFM, or the cockpit for placards indicating whether or not flight into ice is legal!

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Featured Image: Mazaletel

When Is an Airplane Pilot a Passenger?

Tori B. Mensching

Regulations can be tricky and sometimes downright confusing. Test your knowledge to see if you would make the same decisions this airplane pilot made in the example below. Would you make the same mistake?

The Scenario

Mark is an instrument rated private pilot who hasn’t flown at night in a while. He wants to fly his wife and two kids to the beach this weekend. They will need to fly at night because he doesn’t get off work until late on Friday. Mark hasn’t flown at night in a while so he isn’t legally current to carry passengers at night.

In order to regain the experience he needs to do the flight this weekend, Mark needs to go to the airport and take his Mooney up for three takeoffs and landings at night (per FAR 61.57).

As Mark walks to his hangar at the airport, he catches up with his friend Joe in the hangar next to his. Joe is also a pilot. He tells Joe he needs to go fly and do three quick landings so he can be legal to fly his family this weekend to the beach in the Mooney. Joe says, “Well it’s a nice night, would you like me to come along and be a second pair of eyes?” Mark isn’t sure if he can have Joe come along. Mark knows he isn’t legal to carry passengers yet, but Joe is also an airplane pilot. Surely two pilots are safer than one pilot. Can Mark and Joe legally fly together?

The Choice

Mark decides it would be helpful and invites Joe along on the flight. Mark completes the landings then heads home for dinner. When the weekend comes, Mark and his family have a fantastic family trip.

Was the flight legal? Would you make the same decision in that situation?

The Answer

You might be surprised to find, the answer is no. Technically, the first night flight was not a legal flight. Joe, although he is a pilot, is still considered a passenger if Mark is the pilot in command on the flight. A Mooney doesn’t need two pilots to operate. Mark needs to be the pilot in command so he can complete his three takeoffs and landings at night, and that makes Joe a passenger.

The FAA has determined that the relationship between a CFI and a student need not be considered a pilot and passenger relationship. But all other combinations are considered a pilot and a passenger. Mark made the wrong decision and flew at night with Joe, a passenger, while he wasn’t yet current to carry passengers. It doesn’t matter that Joe is also an airplane pilot.

In Conclusion

This is just one confusing scenario of many which you will face as a pilot. You must be sure you get the best training possible from an FAA approved flight school that covers all the bases with you. Test your instructor’s knowledge with this question. See if your instructor is as proficient with regulations as you need them to be.

Did you make the right choice or did you mistakenly agree with Mark?

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How My Aviation Knowledge Helped Air Force One

Honor, Duty, Country … and Flying?

Shawn Arena

Hello again! Hopefully, my prior adventures have been interesting and informational for all readers; this one, however, while not describing any daring or skillful airmanship on my part (ok, my opinion), it does provide one of the most unique experiences I have ever been part of … and flying (or rather, my aviation knowledge) came in handy as I helped out Col. Mark Tillman, one of the pilots of Air Force One.

It All Started With a Wildfire

On June 18, 2002, the beginning of one of the worst wildfires in the history of Arizona was started by an arsonist in east-central Arizona. To those who may not be familiar with the geography of Arizona, outside of the larger cities and towns within the state (i.e. Phoenix metropolitan area, Flagstaff, Tucson, and Prescott), many parts of Arizona (believe it or not) are covered by dense, forested areas. East-central Arizona is no different. And as we learned from Science Class 101, once you combine heat, oxygen, and fuel, you have conditions ripe for fire. While wildfires are (unfortunately) common that time of the year, this particular one was very devastating (when it was extinguished on July 7 it had consumed 436,000 acres).

At the time of this event, I was working at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) as the Airside Operations Superintendent. Collectively, all airport operations staff were closely monitoring what was happening in the fire affected areas and were prepared to offer any assistance to not only first responder fire crews providing air support, but any airports in the region. Needless to say, it was a very fluid and unsettling time. To put things in perspective, when an event of that magnitude are headline news on the national scene, you KNOW it is big.

Air Force One Gets Involved and My Aviation Knowledge Comes Into Play

Air Force One official visit photoAs Airside Operations Superintendent, it became very common (and I don’t mean to be flippant, nor arrogant in this statement) to have frequent interactions with Air Force One’s comings and goings within the metropolitan Phoenix area. For the first few times, it is exciting, exhilarating, and hectic. Prior to any presidential visit, the Air Force One Lead team (AF-1) and Secret Service agents, swoop in and (almost) take over the place! These lead visits are typically 1-2 weeks ahead of the event itself, so you have some time to digest what is happening…..(Ah yes, our taxpayer’s money at work!). However after a few times, it becomes almost typical and (depending on your airport) frustrating because they literally can close down your airport for their entire operation.

As I stated, MOST of the time you get a 1-2 week notice. Because of the enormity of the situation and national headlines it created, we were given a 1 DAY notice. The AF-1 Team and Secret Service prepped where everything is to be in place for the next day. As the Lead AF-1 agent was leaving for the day, he asked me if I could promptly show up the next day at 0700.

I arrive for my ‘ShowTime’ at 0700, and while the entire AF-1 Team was buttoning up loose ends (i.e. the B747 would be followed by a Gulfstream to whisk the president to east central Arizona), the Lead agent turned to me with a piece of paper and simply asked: “Can you take care of this for me?” THAT was when my aviation knowledge / flying / skill kicked in (after my initial OMG moment), it was the Flight Plan for Air Force One and he wanted me to file it with the Prescott Flight Service Station!

Air Force One flight planNot having gone through this before, I was curious why the agent calmly waited by my side until I was finished (he knew what was coming). I took out my cell phone and called Prescott FSS and upon initial contact with the Briefer, I stated: “This is PHX Operations and I want to file the Flight Plan for Air Force One.” And then I realized why the agent was nearby, because after the briefer’s (almost comedic answer) “Yeah, right” the agent took the phone and said, ”That is correct sir, listen to the man and let him file the plan.” I dutifully went through the entire filing process with the briefer. When completed, and to my utter astonishment, the agent started walking away and said to me “Oh, just keep the paper, we don’t need it anymore.

Proud to be an American (Aviator)

I held that sheet of paper as if I was handed the original Declaration of Independence. I could not believe it…I immediately thought to myself…”do you realize you have American/presidential/aviation history in your hands, and I bet not too many civilians get this opportunity” I cherished that flight plan not only for the aviation significance BUT for the magnitude of the events themselves.

Fast forward 13 years to July 2015. I finally got up enough courage to personally write a letter to (now) former President George W. Bush at his Library outside of Dallas and explained the situation (not that I’d expect him to remember), and asked if he would kindly sign it for me. As aviators, we are taught to always have a contingency plan, so I made a copy just in case the original never returned. To my excitement it DID return and he DID sign it. I plan to proudly display it along with pictures taken that day and the business card of the Air Force One agent who let me file the plan.

Signed Air Force One photo

In closing, (as I stated in the beginning) this wasn’t an airmanship focused story, but one of national pride tied into the thought…” if I was NOT a pilot and knew what to do with it, it would have been just following orders and I would have ignored the significance.” Take your learning and flight training seriously, because you never know when your aviation knowledge could serve you, and your country.

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Featured Image: US Air Force

How To Handle a Plane Crash as Pilot-in-Command

A plane crash involving mountains, ground or other airplanes make for a lousy end to a flight.

Vern Weiss

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be Pilot-in-Command of a plane crash? Just because we don’t like to talk about them doesn’t mean they don’t happen and accidents come in all sizes. Some are surprises such as controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) or running off the end of a runway. Some are intentional like landing when your gear won’t come down or a water-ditching when low on fuel. Then again, sometimes they reach out and grab us unexpectedly like getting entangled in wind-shear. It’s obvious that they’re never a good thing. Even so, unfortunately, there are times when it is inevitable you are going to crash. When such misfortune comes your way the more planning you are able to do, the more you improve the outcome.

When impact with the Earth is a certainty, pilot preparation for it is different than when one is a passenger on a large aircraft airline flight. The most important thing you can do is keep your wits about you. There is an ancient cliché thought to be originally written for helicopters but the sentiment is pertinent for airplanes as well: “Fly it till the last part stops moving.” In other words, keeping aircraft control is paramount.

Pilots in the cockpit of an airliner

Photo by: The Zipper

On a commercial airliner, the safety briefing by the flight attendants covers only the most rudimentary of preparation and this is so because the actual aircraft response to impact is unknown. Federal law requires that persons seated near an emergency exit be asked if they feel they can open the exit door. They usually and nonchalantly grunt, “yeah” and go back to reading their newspaper. I’ve watched experienced airline crews train on opening the emergency exits on a new airplane and it typically takes 2 or 3 tries until they get it right. So imagine the reality when Joe Sixpack is doing it amid screams, a crush of people, cabin smoke et cetera. Although my bringing this up is not really within the context of this article, throughout your flying career you are going to find yourself as a passenger riding in the back of an airplane and I implore you to pay attention, read the placards and take sitting in that vital emergency exit seat seriously.

Most serious injuries and fatalities occur due to impact forces, fire, and smoke. It is not the initial impact but, instead, the second or third impact that injures most people. According to Transport Canada, 22% of smaller aircraft crashes would have been otherwise survivable but post impact fatalities were due to smoke and fire.1

In the frenzied bedlam that occurs in a plane crash, without flight attendants, it is important for pilots to do what they can to assist other passengers. Early in my career, I had just been type rated on a corporate jet and got a job flying one immediately. Since my training and even the check-ride occurred in a Level D simulator, I had never actually been in the airplane. On my first day with the new employer, I was sent on a trip with another captain whose job it was to more or less “keep an eye on the greenie (me).” The first leg of the trip, he climbed in the left seat while I was to administer the passenger briefing and close the door. Imagine my embarrassment when it came time for me to close the aircraft entry door and I had no idea whatsoever how to operate the mechanism! Now consider how bewildering egress from a smoke-filled airplane, possibly upside down in water would be to a passenger! Any fatal plane crash is sad but the crash of singer Rick Nelson’s DC-3 is particularly horrible because the pilots climbed out of the burning plane through the cockpit windows while the doomed and unassisted passengers remained inside.2

It is incumbent on every pilot able to do so to assist any and all occupants in a plane crash.

There are preparations to be made prior to an inevitable plane crash and these things are applicable for any non-standard landing such as when the gear won’t come down. Safety experts counsel airline passengers to wear non-flammable clothing, remove sandals and high heels and put on a coat if it’s cold outside. But in small planes, you likely will have such preparations stashed away and inaccessible by the time you will need them. So what CAN you do?

  • Advise all passengers of what is happening so they too can prepare.
  • Passengers, as well as pilots, should remove all sharp objects (pens, pencils, glasses, etc) from pockets and jewelry.
  • Cinch up the seat belts and shoulder harnesses.
  • Secure (as much as possible) any loose objects. Upon impact(s), anything loose will fly forward.
  • Radio your intentions. If not on an ARTCC frequency transmit in the blind on 121.5. All FAA towers, FSS and ARTCC facilities monitor this frequency.
  • If fuel dumping is possible, do so. The less there is to burn the less that might burn. (It may also improve handling characteristics of the aircraft.)
  • Isolate the fuel systems if possible. If there is a cross-feed, close it.
  • If possible, remove flammable cargo by tossing it out of the aircraft.
  • Review any pertinent emergency checklists such as those for gear up landings or ditching.

If landing off airport and out in the middle of nowhere you can sometimes get an idea of the wind from cows and horses. Cows, deer, and horses tend to stand north-south but in strong winds, they face into the wind whereas sheep face away from the wind.3 Pay attention to trees, flags or smoke on land and in water land between the swells or if that’s not possible, land on the backside of a swell. See the Aeronautical Information Manual Chapter 6 Section 2 for more information.

Once the aircraft as come to rest it obviously is essential to get everyone out as quickly as possible. To minimize the potential for injury during the evacuation, pilots should take all necessary actions to shut down the engines by using respective fire handles, condition levers, or fire push button to isolate the aircraft engines. This may not be possible due to the extent of aircraft damage.

In the event that the aircraft has come to rest and does not appear to be threatening smoke, fire or explosion, if possible, remove items that will assist in survivability in the event that help isn’t immediately available. Unless you have good reason to believe that search and rescue aid is not forthcoming, it is a better idea to remain with the aircraft. Collecting materials to start a fire and acquiring a mirror (or shiny piece of metal that can be used as a mirror as well as a women’s make-up compact) might be helpful for signaling SAR aircraft.

Although water seems to be more forgiving than the gritty hardness of terra firma, impact in water is not too different than with land. Typically there is a bounce and the structural damage may be just as bad. “Fly it till the last part stops moving” is good advice. Touch down as slowly and as softly as possible and keep flying until the aircraft has stopped. This means to continue to increase back pressure on the elevator control as the aircraft decelerates until the nose can no longer be held off the ground. Landing in plowed fields or on rough terrain often results in the aircraft flipping over on its back at the very end. Be prepared for this with tightly cinched seat belts and shoulder harnesses and securing any loose objects.

When a plane crash is inevitable, maintain slow, soft, control and let the aircraft absorb the impact forces instead of its occupants. Wings can be as effective as a bumper on a car.

You often hear it said that any landing you walk away from is a good landing but this is nonsense. Good landings infer a certain degree of finesse and precision. However in matters of crash landings, there is no such thing as a “good landing.” The best that one can hope for is a survivable landing. Plan for it accordingly because you’ll not have another chance to go around and try it again.

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Sources:

1 – http://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/Post_Crash_Fires and http://www.tsb.gc.ca/eng/rapports-reports/aviation/etudes-studies/siia0501/siia0501_sec2.asp

2 – Teenage Idol, Travelin’ Man, Philip Bashe, Hyperion Publishing 1992.

3 – http://www.livescience.com/5083-cows-strange-sixth-sense.html and http://www.pnas.org/content/105/36/13451.full

Feature Image: Enrique

How To Fly In Special Use Airspace

John Peltier

Does Special Use Airspace (SUAS) scare you? If you see a Restricted Area on the chart, will you always just avoid the restricted airspace because you don’t even want to think about dealing with getting a clearance through there?

Avoiding all types of Special Use Airspace because you don’t want to deal with the “hassle”, or don’t know how to deal with it, or you can’t even correctly identify them, can actually cause you more of a hassle in added flight time, fuel, and cost.

Knowing how to correctly identifying the different types of Special Use Airspace, their controlling agencies, and their restrictions will take a lot of intimidation out of flying.

The Different Types of Special Use Airspace

If you were to go to your commercial pilot check ride right now, would you be able to name all of the different types of SUAS and their restrictions?

Here’s a good mnemonic to remember them by: MCPRAWN – MOA, CFA, Prohibited, Restricted, Alert, Warning, NSA. Let’s take a look at each of these types of Special Use Airspace and figure out what you need to do to fly in them.

Military Operation Area (MOA)

An MOA is specifically set up to separate IFR traffic from military training traffic. However, this doesn’t mean that as a VFR pilot you’re exempt from acknowledging it. Activities in MOAs can include air-to-air intercepts, “dogfights”, and low altitude training. You don’t want to get in the middle of a dogfight! ATC clearance is not required for you to fly through an MOA.

MOAs have defined vertical and lateral limits – the lateral limits are depicted on the VFR Sectional and the vertical limits can be found in the margin of the sectional. In the same margin, you’ll find the ATC facility and frequency you can talk to before entering the MOA. Just ask them if it’s active. They’ll let you know if there’s any military traffic in there, and where, and then you can make your own judgment call about flying through it. FSS will know as well.

Here’s an example of the information found on the sectional.

Special Use Airspace MOA info on a sectional

Controlled Firing Area (CFA). What does a CFA look like on a VFR Sectional? Trick question – they’re not on there! You really shouldn’t have to worry about these areas while you’re flying. CFAs are generally used for small arms target practice or mortar practice. There are always spotters and/or radar that will detect you approaching the area. When they see you coming, they’ll stop all firing even though you’re most likely higher than any of their shells will reach.

Prohibited Area. A Prohibited Area is established for reasons of national security and you may never fly through one except for in emergencies where overflight cannot be safely avoided. With some prohibited areas, the dimensions start at the surface and as far as you’re concerned, they go up to infinity! However, the Special Use Airspace information in the margins of the Sectional charts contain the precise information for lateral and vertical limits, which vary depending on their location.

Prohibited Areas are identified on charts by numbers, such as “P-40”, which is the Prohibited Area over Washington, D.C.

Restricted. Flight through a Restricted Area is not completely prohibited, but doing so could be extremely hazardous to you! There may be dangerous military activities in restricted areas, like aerial gunnery or live bomb drops. You certainly don’t want to fly through that!

Fortunately, a Restricted Area is only “hot” when the users have it scheduled, which will only be during certain times of the day. You can find the status of Restricted Areas by referencing the margin of your VFR Sectional. Hours will be listed, as well as the ATC agency and frequency to contact for more details. Here’s an example:

Special Use Airspace Restricted Areas info on a sectional

Alert. An Alert Area is just as it sounds – when you fly through these areas, be on alert! You’ll usually find these areas where there’s a large concentration of military pilot training, parachuting, or glider activity. Alert areas are depicted on charts by either a hatched box or a Glider or Parachute icon. Alert areas are not regulated and therefore not under any ATC jurisdiction. Be extra vigilant when you fly through them – all parties are equally responsible for avoidance!

Here’s an example, with the “UA” indicating Unmanned Aerial activity near Fort Sumner.

Special Use Airspace Unmanned Aerial Activity on a sectional

Warning. A Warning Area, or sometimes called a “whiskey”, is only found offshore. They start three miles from the coast and extend outwards as depicted on the sectional. A Warning Area serves to warn pilots that there’s activity going on in there that may be hazardous to them if they’re not a part of it. Examples include air-to-air intercepts and naval exercises. An ATC clearance is not required but it’s advisable to make contact with ATC first and get the scoop on what’s going.

National Security Area (NSA). An NSA may sound like a Prohibited Area, but it’s not. It’s just a place where, for security and safety, pilots are requested to avoid overflight as depicted on the chart. For example, Livermore Labs has an NSA requesting pilots don’t overfly below 800’. Further restrictions can always be put in place by NOTAM, so make sure you check them.

Other Flight Restriction To Be Aware Of

Don’t forget the TFRs! A Temporary Flight Restriction is a “roving” restricted area, temporary in nature. They’re not on the sectionals and are issued by NOTAM. TFRs have different restrictions specific to why the TFR was setup. You’ll need to avoid them by a certain distance, a certain altitude, and/or just not go anywhere near them at all.

Examples for TFRs include rocket launches, wildfires, the Super Bowl, and movements of the President. Details for each TFR can be found in the NOTAMS or by contacting your Flight Service Station.

In Conclusion

It’s prudent to always check NOTAMs and study the charts before you go fly – this should go without saying, but yet many pilots still accidentally fly through active Restricted Areas, Prohibited Areas, and TFRs. Flying through a TFR can cost you your certificate! Don’t let that happen to you.

For more information on Special Use Airspace, see the Aeronautical Information Manual, Chapter 3, Section 4.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

Additional Flight Safety Articles:

The Different Ways of Checking Your VOR Receiver

Do You Know How To Give the PIREPs?

How Crew Resource Management Makes Flying Safer

Understanding How to Fly a Commercial Plane

A vastly different world exists when transitioning from flying small planes to understanding how to fly a commercial plane.

Vern Weiss

You’ve been grinding away making yourself marketable to large jet companies. Until now, your sphere has been light planes weighing only a few thousand pounds. The phone rings. You’ve been selected for an upcoming class of new-hire pilots flying “heavy iron.” “Flying is flying, right? How different can it be, right?” This new world is not dissimilar from that of someone who has driven only automobiles then transitions to 18-wheelers. Welcome to “The Big Time.”

By “heavy iron” we are talking about aircraft substantially larger than small corporate jets and turboprops. In the simplest of terms, the kinds of aircraft I am referring to are those in which you don’t have to bend to enter or walk through the passenger cabin or into the flight deck. Notice I said, “flight deck?” On larger airplanes, the cockpit is customarily called the flight deck. Behind the flight deck is the “cabin.” The place where the coffee pot and food preparation equipment is called the galley and the john/potty is commonly called, “the lav” (shortened form of “lavatory”). The men and women who supervise passengers in the cabin are called “flight attendants.” The “head” flight attendant is either called the purser, lead or in some cases “A” attendant. Obviously, the big cheese in the front end is called the captain and the second-cheese, first officer. “Co-pilot?”- nuh…not used so much.

How to Fly a Commercial Plane –  The Flight Deck

As a first officer, what’s the first thing you’ll probably think about when entering the flight deck? Preflight? Computations? No. Garbage! In light plane flying, the most garbage you probably accumulated on flights was the wrapper from a Snickers bar. On large aircraft, you’ll likely fly multiple legs that are longer and the garbage mounts up. You and the captain will toss out the equivalent of a kitchen-sized garbage bag full of used coffee cups, scrap paper, TOLD cards1, weather/release packages, wadded-up Kleenex, pop cans etc. As such, your first order of “housekeeping” will be to obtain a small garbage bag and hang it on one of the pilot seat levers.
Depending on the company’s policies, as first officer, you might start the auxiliary power unit (APU) if it’s a “dark” airplane. This gets electricity flowing in the aircraft and provides heat if it’s cold or air conditioning if it’s hot.

How to Fly a Commercial Plane –  Preflight

Your company may consider the first officer the designated preflight-doer. This means you do a cockpit preflight by checking switch and control settings and doing a walk-around inspection outside. There are some items on these checklists that will be only accomplished on the first flight of the day and not redone on subsequent legs. FAA Part 121 and 125 companies require an external pre-flight and post-flight “walk-around,” regardless of how hard it’s raining outside.
When both crew members are present on the flight deck, the entire checklist is verbalized. Some items only the captain responds to and other items are reserved only for the first officer’s response. Depending on the aircraft, this verbal checklist recitation is recorded on the cockpit voice recorder (CVR). Ordinarily the CVR begins recording as soon as power is applied to the aircraft either via APU, ground power unit or the battery switch selected ON. While older CVRs only record the last 30 minutes of radio and pilot conversation, newer Flight Data Recorders (FDRs) typically store the last 2 hours of ambient noise and conversation.

Pilots waiting to start taxiing Boeing 757

Photo by: Kent Wien

Once the flight crew receives its load manifest (passenger count, baggage) and has obtained the final “numbers” on fuel load (either through dispatch release or from crew member computations), the engine power settings, V-speeds and minimum needed runway lengths are figured out. This task is usually the first officers. Both pilots electronically or mechanically move little colored markers around on their airspeed indicators to denote important speeds. These are called “bugs.” Glass cockpit screens will “bug” the speeds graphically. It is different from light planes where take-off power amounts to just pushing the throttle(s) all the way to their limits. Because you are dealing with a variety of critical engine limitations, you need to factor in variables like weight, air temperature, and wind speed. Maximum power settings may be required due to available runway length. Use of anti-icing equipment needed for take-off also reduces the available take-off power. Crew computations are necessary to protect against over-torque and over-temp on engines. Noise abatement climbs and “flex” power settings will also require consideration. A “flex” power setting is used at the captain’s discretion when the runways are long enough to use reduced power for takeoff. This reduces noise, engine wear, and maintenance cost. After the “housekeeping” duties are done and you’re within 30 minutes of the flight plan’s proposed departure time, you can radio Clearance Delivery for the instrument clearance.

How to Fly a Commercial Plane –  Taxiing and Takeoff

The flight actually starts with the captain setting the parking brake and calling for the engine start checklist. It is common for the first officer to start the engines. Once the after engine start checklist is complete it’s time to taxi. In large commercial aircraft operations, taxiing is permitted only when all passengers are seated. (There’s always some clod that feels he must stand up to get a roll of Certs out of his carry-on luggage so he can hit on the girl seated next to him.) In Part 121 operations, the flight attendants are required to notify the captain and the aircraft has to stop moving. Obviously, this boogers things up for ground controllers and all aircraft waiting behind you.

In the taxi check list, you set the flaps and trim and the flying pilot will verbalize a takeoff briefing. This briefing is vitally important and delineates who’s flying the leg, confirmation of power settings, climb profile and standard departure procedures to be used. Additionally, planned action in the event of an emergency is included. (“In the event we lose an engine after V1 we’ll continue the takeoff but since we’ll be above maximum landing weight we’ll advise ATC we need to burn off fuel or dump fuel prior to returning to this airport,” or whatever is prudent.)

A Boeing 767 taking off at sunet

Photo by: Paul Nelhams

Let’s say this is going to be your leg to fly. Even so, typically the captain generally taxis the aircraft and lines up the aircraft on the runway prior to takeoff, after which you’re advised to hold the brakes, then, “it’s your airplane.” Once cleared for takeoff, you will increase thrust, attentive to ensure both engines are accelerating equally until you’re close to the target power setting. You may hold full forward pressure on the yoke to place as much weight as possible on the wheels for traction. As you begin to move you will find the rudder/brake peddles are sluggish and won’t become effective until you’re beyond 40 or 50 knots. Meanwhile, believing that you’ve got the power set close to what it should be, you say something like, “SET POWER” and the non-flying pilot (the captain) refines the power settings as you concentrate on the takeoff.

Several call-outs are pretty standard on large aircraft: One is “80 knots” and you respond with “Cross checked.” You’re just confirming that your and the captain’s airspeed indicators agree. Next, the non-flying pilot calls out, “V1.” This is the point of no return: you’re goin’ flying regardless of what happens! High-speed aborts are often disastrous. Even if you blow an engine after V1, you’ll continue the takeoff roll. Shortly afterward, you hear, “Rotate.” You’ll pitch the nose up to the desired attitude and hold it while you wait for the wheels to clear the pavement. Once airborne the non-flying pilot says, “positive rate” (meaning you’ve got a positive rate of climb and not sinking back to the ground) and you’ll respond, “Gear Up.” The captain reaches over and retracts the landing gear. The first time you do this it may surprise you how noisy the hydraulic pumps are and how loud the “ker-thunk” is when the nose gear slams against its uplocks. Depending on aircraft profile, around 400′ AGL you’ll call for the flaps up. Some aircraft momentarily level out around 1,000′ AGL to accelerate at what’s called the acceleration altitude; then resume the climb.

How to Fly a Commercial Plane –  In Flight
Two Pilots in the flight deck of a commercial plane

Photo by: Condor

Use of the autopilot is encouraged after the configuration changes but especially passing through 10,000 feet. Reduced separation requirements mandate that autopilot use is required between FL290 to FL410 (29,000 to 41,000 feet).

You’ll climb to the cruise altitude using your familiar airspeed indicator but at a point called the cross-over altitude2 will transition to flying by Mach number. The reason for this is that, at altitude, the Mach number is limiting whereas your indicated airspeed will be lower than you’re used to seeing and be of little value.

Control responses are slower and take more muscle. The payoff is more stability. Standard rate turns (on which instrument flying is predicated) are no longer are used. Because you’re moving faster you’ll only use half standard rate in turns. In light planes, standard rate requires 15 to 20 degrees of bank angle. In large planes, producing a 3° per second standard rate turn would require a bank angle of 50°. The Aeronautical Information Manual states that turns in a holding pattern should be at 3° per second to a maximum of 30 degrees of bank, whichever results in the lesser bank angle. “Standard rate” in large aircraft typically is no more than 1.5° per second.

How to Fly a Commercial Plane –  Approach and Landing
A boeing commercial airliner landing

Photo by: Roy

As you approach your destination a new TOLD card is needed containing runway length at your weight, speeds and go-around power settings. Landing speeds are “bugged” and ATIS information, approach procedures, and techniques for special conditions such as wet/slick runways and LAHSO3 are reviewed and briefed. The approach may seem to move pretty fast at first. The difference is flying approaches in light planes at 100 knots compared to 120 to 160 knots is conspicuous. But after you get accustomed to it, light plane approaches will seem to take forever.

“Grease job landings do not a pilot make.” In large aircraft, you’re interested only in stabilized approaches and touching down at the desired touchdown zone. It may seem awkward how high you are when landing. Depending on aircraft you’ll actually be sitting anywhere from 20 to 100 feet above the ground when touching down. Good positive runway wheel contact and minimal “wing-wagging” trumps a grease job. Yep, in large airplanes, you pretty much wanna “fly ’em on.”

Thrust reversers are maybe new to you.4 Before using them, it is important to ensure both reversers are equally deployed otherwise you’ll spin around faster than that guy with the Certs does when checking out good looking women after arriving in Ft. Lauderdale.

On landing roll-out, the non-flying pilot may call out “80 knots” which is your cue to begin stowing the thrust reverser levers. At 40-50 knots the captain will say something like, “I got it” or “my airplane” and take over control, taxiing to parking. You’re done with all flying pilot’s duties at that point and resume radio work and the “clean-up,” retracting the flaps, re-setting the trim and performing the after landing checklist.

One thing that is sometimes hard for first officers to understand is that the airplane is the captain’s airplane. It is the captain who is responsible for that airplane and you are there only to
assist. Although it is customary to alternate flying legs, it is at the captain’s discretion only. Privilege in a multi-crew setting is not a 50/50 proposition.

In Conclusion

The difference between small and large plane flying is “bigness.” Its numbers and speeds are higher. Pilots sit two or more feet apart. Its weight is computed with index numbers such as 100.3 instead of 100,300 pounds. There’s at least one extra fold out seat on the flight deck for jump seaters. Center of gravity is a location measured in percent within the wing’s aerodynamic chord instead of inches after of a datum line. But there is one thing that makes learning how to fly a commercial plane worth it over smaller planes, besides the freedom to stretch your legs and walk around, and that is the salary is usually much better and who can find fault with that?

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

Footnotes:

1 – “TOLD” cards are take-off and landing distance data cards and prepared for each leg and generally include ATIS information for the airport from which you’re leaving and approaching. Once the leg is complete the TOLD card gets discarded. Sophisticated multi-function displays are also being used that present this information.

2 – Crossover Altitude is the altitude at which a specified CAS (Calibrated airspeed) and Mach value represent the same TAS (True airspeed) value. Above this altitude, the Mach number is used to reference speeds.

3 – LAHSO – Land and Hold Short Operations is landing on one of two intersecting runways requiring precise planning. Pilots are not required to accept a LAHSO clearance to land but it can expedite your landing at busy airports.

4 – In turboprops, deceleration is handled with a propeller reversal called “beta” which also slows the aircraft by reversing thrust.

Featured Image: Wilco737

The Pilot’s Ability to Self-Assess Pilot Fatigue

Unsolved Issues: Part 1, Amber Berlin

The FAA’s final rule on pilot fatigue places more responsibility on the pilot by making fatigue a joint responsibility between pilots and certificate holders (i.e. the employers). This stated responsibility is designed to curb the pilot’s desire to stay out too late and become overly fatigued. However, pilot fatigue is not only a product of off-duty pilot behavior but also a result of the scheduling practices of the certificate holder and circumstances beyond the pilot’s control. Some additional factors which contribute to fatigue include both positive and negative stressors, the suboptimal use of caffeine and alcohol, and improper diet and lack of exercise. These factors work together to reduce the quality and quantity of sleep and the level of recovery attained during sleep. With each of these factors even mildly contributing to the fatigue level, a pilot may become fatigued through no direct fault of his own, but simply because of normal human behavior.

Once fatigued, the pilot’s cognitive ability is reduced to a point where they are unable to determine, using their own fatigued brain, the level of fatigue they are experiencing. The conscientiousness that makes a good pilot, which “reflects facets of order, dutifulness, achievement striving, self-discipline, and deliberation” also causes the pilot to underestimate subjective fatigue (Calderwood & Ackerman, 2011, p.441). This attitude causes an erroneous perception of being able to discipline their body into compliance; the false idea they can try harder and achieve a state of wakefulness even though they are under the effects of fatigue. The pilot has a duty to the certificate holder to fly the schedule, and the pilot also wants to be able to fulfill this duty without repercussions. Because fatigue affects perception, the pilot may end up with the illusion of being fit for duty, when he is actually operating under a dangerous level of fatigue.

According to Neri, Dinges and Rosekind (1997), “when attempting to judge how sleepy an individual is, the worst person to ask is that individual” (p.11). When applying this statement to the FAA’s rule, individual reports of fitness for duty cannot include a pilot fatigue assessment because it is impossible for the pilot to make an accurate assessment of his fatigue level. Considering the magnitude of the problem of fatigue, a fatigue assessment is the main factor the FAA is seeking with this report.

While the FAA does realize the pilot is unable to make an accurate self-assessment of fatigue, they assume fatigue education and training will mitigate the problem and have mandated a Fatigue Risk Management Plan (FRMP). However, the solution they have provided is dependent upon a properly functioning brain, which a pilot under the effects of fatigue will not have. Therefore, the solution will not be effective for those who need it most, the pilots who are too fatigued to fly. Whereas a normal, rested brain will be able to assess the situation and make a determination of risk, and also recall from memory the information needed to do so, a tired brain operating at a fraction of its normal ability will not be able to provide an accurate assessment or recall the information necessary to perform this task. Is there a viable solution? This is what we’ll be taking a look at next time, in Unsolved Issues: Part II Countermeasures For Fatigue in Aviation That Are Ignored

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References:

Calderwood, C., Ackerman, P. (2011). The relative impact of trait and temporal determinants of subjective fatigue. Personality and Individual Differences, 50 , 441445.

D. F., Dinges, D. F. & Rosekind, M.R. (1997). Sustained Carrier Operations: Sleep Loss, Performance, and Fatigue Countermeasures. Fatigue Countermeasures Program. NASA Ames Research Center.

Additional Resources:

FAA Brochure on Pilot Fatigue

Additional Flight Safety Articles:

Halley’s Comet and the Go No-Go Decision

Positive Exchange of Flight Controls and Language

How Crew Resource Management Makes Flying Safer

Featured Image: Morgan Schmorgan

Guidelines for Buying an Airplane

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

So what comes first: the pilot’s license or buying an airplane? At first glance, this question seems to elicit a fairly straightforward response that an individual would not be buying an airplane if he or she was not planning on flying it personally. However, business entities, organizations, associations, and even individuals often purchase aircraft with the intent that they will be hiring a corporate pilot to transport them in their own airplane. There is one other category of individuals who makes the decision to purchase an aircraft prior to completing their private pilot’s license, because it provides him or her with the incentive to finish his or her pilot’s training by removing the option of quitting due to the financial investment that is now sitting on the tarmac or in the hanger as a constant reminder of that individual’s commitment.

What to Look For When Buying an Airplane

Whichever option comes first, there are specific guidelines that should be followed to ensure that buying an airplane runs as smoothly as possible. Financing is at the top of the list as many individuals and/or companies do not enjoy the luxury of paying cash for their aircraft. It is often wise to remember that the aircraft purchase is the least expensive part of owning an airplane, due to the costs of items like insurance, periodic inspections, and required maintenance, so investigating the operating costs and loan information then becomes a priority. Another financial consideration is the valuation or online Vref of the aircraft under consideration, which allows the prospective buyer to see if it is reasonably priced. In addition, conducting a pre-purchase inspection helps to eliminate any unanticipated [and typically unhappy] surprises. It is important to verify that parts are still available for the aircraft and that the local mechanics are able to work on it. Taking the airplane for a test flight prior to purchase is the best way to determine if it is a good fit for the skill level of the buyer. A thorough examination of the aircraft logs is a must and non-negotiable. Any evidence of an unusual entry should immediately raise suspicion, such as “replaced sections of fuselage skin,” which could be an indication of a gear-up landing. While still compiling the financial obligations of buying an airplane, it also becomes necessary to research the cost and availability of aircraft insurance.

Probably one of the most common errors in purchasing an aircraft is making an impulsive buying decision without fully considering the effects of that choice, rather than analyzing the requirements realistically and carefully [want versus need scenario]. To avoid purchasing more aircraft than is needed or can be used, it is wise to reflect upon whether all those fancy bells and whistles are really warranted. Renting the type of aircraft of interest is an excellent and less-expensive way of seeing how well it suits the frequency and duration of anticipated flights. Since the amount of the loan, as well as the interest rate, has a substantial impact on the total cost of the purchase, it pays [no pun intended] to invest considerable effort into finding the best source of financing.

A Cessna 182 on the runway

Photo by: Jeremy Zawodny

The major factors that affect the resale value (valuation) of the aircraft are the following:

  • Engine hours where the closer an engine is to its recommended between overhaul (TBO), the less its value but equally important is a record of its consistent use combined with a good maintenance program.
  • Installed equipment which includes avionics, air conditioning, deicing gear, and interior equipment where the avionics constitutes the biggest ticket item increases the value of the aircraft; however, older equipment is typically far more expensive to maintain.
  • Airworthiness Directives or ADs are issued by the FAA for safety reasons, and once issued, the owners of the aircraft are required to comply with the AD within the designated time period. The AD history should be reviewed for the nature of the ADs as well as whether they are recurring or a one-time compliance. The log books should indicate compliance with all applicable ADs which can be found through an online Internet search.
  • Damage history that indicates major repairs can significantly affect the value of an airplane depending upon the type of accident, nature of the damage, and the degree to which major components of the aircraft were involved. Any aircraft indicating a damage history must be closely examined to ensure that it was correctly repaired in accordance with the applicable FAA regulations and recommended practices.
  • Paint/interior is used occasionally to give older aircraft a quick facelift so new or recent paint jobs must be carefully checked for any evidence of corrosion under the surface, and interior items must be checked for a correct fit and condition. If done properly, both items enhance the value of the airplane.
  • Exercise caution when reviewing the terminology used to describe the engine condition. A top overhaul translates into a repair of the engine components outside of the crankcase while a major overhaul involves the complete disassembly, inspection, repair, and reassembly of the engine to its specified limits. If an engine has received a top or a major overhaul, the logbooks must show the total time on the engine if it is known, as well as its prior maintenance history. A “zero-time” engine is one that has been overhauled according to factory new limits by the original manufacturer and is issued a new logbook without the previous operating history which usually has a higher value than the same aircraft with just an overhauled engine.
  • Aircraft records should include the following documents that have been maintained in proper order for examination: airworthiness certificate, engine and airframe logbooks, aircraft equipment list, weight and balance data, placards, and FAA-approved aircraft flight manual or owner’s handbook. Any missing documents, pages or entries from the aircraft logbooks can cause significant issues for the buyer as well as reduce the value of the aircraft. Prior to purchase, hire a trusted mechanic to thoroughly inspect the aircraft, and provide a detailed written report of its condition; the pre-purchase inspection should include at the very least, a differential compression check on each cylinder of the engine and any other inspections that may be necessary to accurately determine the aircraft’s condition. In addition to the mechanical inspection, the aircraft logbooks and all other records should be carefully reviewed for such things as the FAA Form 337 which is a Report of Major Repair or Alteration, AD compliance, the status of service bulletins and letters, and aircraft/component serial numbers. The ideal choice of mechanic to perform the inspection would be experienced and familiar with the issues that may be encountered on that type of aircraft, with the goal of making buying an airplane and ownership of the aircraft under consideration as rewarding as possible.
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You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

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