Category: Educational

Do You Know How To Give PIREPs?

John Peltier

Pilot reports (PIREPs) are an integral part of the aviation meteorological network. They’re used to assess the accuracy of weather reported by automated stations and instrumentation. Other pilots use them to make important decisions on the ground and in the air. FSS uses them to brief pilots. ATC uses PIREPs to sequence traffic around unfavorable weather. And they’re also the only way of knowing what’s going on in areas that have gaps in automated coverage.

ATC is actually required to solicit reports from pilots in the following conditions:

  • When requested by another pilot
  • When the ceiling is at or less than 5,000’
  • When visibility is at or less than 5 miles
  • Thunderstorms are present
  • Moderate or greater turbulence is present
  • Light or greater icing present
  • Wind shear present
  • Volcanic ash present

Unfortunately, not many pilots participate voluntarily. Hardly any pilots give routine reports to ATC when they’re flying. They either don’t think of reporting one, it’s too much work, or they don’t know what to say. And when ATC does solicit a PIREP, pilots don’t know what to do. Nonsense!

The Format for Giving PIREPs

Maybe it’s the written form of PIREPs that intimidates pilots. We all remember seeing the PIREP format on our test: KCMH UA /OV APE 230010/TM 1516/FL085/TP BE20/SK BKN065/WX FV03SM HZ FU/TA 20/TB LGT.

How am I going to do this while I’m flying?!?!

Plain English is your answer!

View of a High Wing airplane from the cockpit

Photo by Erik Brouwer

PIREPs only need to contain the following five elements: Location, altitude, time, type of aircraft, and an observation.

Remember the following acronym or write it down on your kneeboard:


  • Location
  • Altitude
  • Time
  • Type of Aircraft
  • Observation

Where were you when you saw this weather, what time was it, and what’d you see. It’s that easy!


You can report location any number of ways. Bearing & distance from a navigational aid is the easiest for you to give and the easiest for ATC to copy down, so if you’re dialed into a navaid you should use this. Otherwise something as simple as “five miles south of Folsom Lake” works just as well. GPS coordinates should only be given as a last resort because of the radio time required and greater possibility of transcription errors.

Altitude, Time, Type of Aircraft

Altitude is just what it sounds like – your altitude.

Time should be the time of your observation, not the time of your report. If you experienced some light icing but couldn’t get anyone on the radio for thirty minutes, you should give the time of your encounter. You can even just say “thirty minutes ago” and the person on the other end will do the math.

Type of aircraft is another item you can report without requiring much thought.


You don’t need to report all elements of the written PIREP (wind, sky condition, visibility, precipitation, turbulence, etc). You really only need to report what you think is significant.

Was there something that affected your routing or made you uncomfortable? Was there an element of the forecast that is completely off from reality? Then that’s all you really need to report. And you can use plain English for this.

You should also make a report when you go missed approach due to weather or if you encounter wind shear on takeoff or landing.

The different degrees of icing and turbulence are some things you should know how to report.

Icing should also be reported with your indicated airspeed and outside air temperature if you can remember to do so. If you don’t, that’s okay, ATC may ask for that information. Degrees of icing:

  • Trace. You just start to notice the formation of ice on the airframe. This is “trace”.
  • Light. Ice is accumulating at a rate that might become hazardous in an hour. Intermittent use of deice equipment removes it. This is “light”.
  • Moderate. Ice has formed and accumulating, and is now presenting a hazard to flight. Continual use of deice equipment necessary. This is “moderate”.
  • Severe. Immediate diversion is necessary because deice equipment can’t keep up. This is “severe”.

Turbulence is reported with both an intensity and duration. Intensity is reported as follows:

  • Light. You experience slight & erratic changes in altitude or attitude, or some bumpiness but without noticeable changes in altitude or attitude. This is “light”.
  • Moderate. You’re experiencing larger changes in altitude and/or attitude, but you remain in control of the aircraft. You see your indicated airspeed changing. Or maybe you’re getting quickly bounced around but altitude and attitude seems to be holding. This is “moderate”.
  • Severe. You experience large and abrupt changes in altitude and attitude with large changes in airspeed. You may momentarily lose control. This is “severe”.
  • Extreme. The aircraft is impossible to control and structural damage may occur. This is “extreme”.

The duration of turbulence is reported as follows:

  • Occasional: happening less than 1/3 of the time.
  • Intermittent: happens from 1/3 to 2/3 of the time.
  • Continuous: happening greater than 2/3 of the time.
PIREP Scenarios

Now for some scenarios so you can try out your skill with PIREPs.

Scenario 1

A small airplane in flight at sunset

Photo by William Krapp

You’re approaching Reno International at 6,500’ and your GPS says you’re 4 miles to the south, flying your Cessna 182, callsign Cessna 1234. You can barely make out the outline of the airfield through the haze. What would that sound like?

“Reno tower, Cessna 1234 with a PIREP”

“Cessna 1234, Reno tower, go ahead”

“Cessna 1234, four miles south of the airport, six thousand five hundred feet, Cessna 182, currently reporting only four miles visibility in haze”

When you’re reporting current conditions, it’s fine to say “currently reporting” instead of the actual time.

Scenario 2

You’re tuned in to the Fayetteville VOR/DME and showing you’re on the FAY 230 radial at 9 miles. You’re in a Piper PA-34 Seneca, callsign Seneca 78, at 8,500’. You’re getting bumped pretty good and your airspeed is changing plus or minus 8 knots from your cruise speed, but you remain in control at all times. This is happening half the time. Fifteen minutes later you get a hold of Raleigh FSS, now on the FAY 230 radial at 35 miles, still experiencing the turbulence. What’s your call?

“Raleigh Radio, Seneca 78 with a PIREP”

“Seneca 78, Raleigh Radio, go ahead with your PIREP”

“Seneca 78, from the Foxtrot Alpha Yankee two-three-zero at nine miles to the two-three-zero at thirty-five miles, eight thousand five hundred feet, fifteen minutes ago to present, Piper PA34, intermittent moderate turbulence.”

If your observation covers a geographic area, try to bound it like in the example.

Scenario 3

The forecasted weather in the vicinity of Auburn Municipal was for scattered clouds at 9,000 feet, over ten miles of visibility, and winds out of the southwest at 10 knots. You’re transiting the area overhead in a Robinson R22, callsign Helicopter 30Y, and are forced to stay at 4,500’ MSL due to a broken ceiling at 5,000’. Visibility is ten miles and winds are out of the southwest at 5-10 knots. You’re seven miles to the east and in contact with Rancho Murieta FSS. What would you report?

“Rancho Murieta radio, Helicopter 30Y with a PIREP”
“Helicopter 30Y, Rancho Murieta radio, go ahead”

“Helicopter 30Y, seven miles east of Auburn Muni, four thousand five hundred feet, Robinson R22, reporting a broken ceiling at five thousand feet”

Because visibility and winds are more or less observed to be as forecast, you only need to report the drastic difference in the cloud layer.

Who to Report PIREPs To

You can make your reports to whichever ATC facility you’re currently talking to. They’ll disseminate the information appropriately.

There are also a number of EFAS stations around the country (En Route Flight Advisory Service), callsign “Flight Watch”. They serve as a central collection point for PIREPs and you can report directly to them if radio coverage allows it.

If you can’t make a PIREP by radio, you can make an electronic submission on landing. The FAA has simplified this process in order to encourage more participation.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Next time you’re out flying, go ahead and make some voluntary reports when radio traffic allows it – it’ll be good practice for when it really counts!

In the meantime, you can find out more information in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) Chapter 7 Sections 1-16 to 1-28 (reporting weather).

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Halley’s Comet and the Go No-Go Decision

Shawn Arena

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of memorable flying experiences. And hopefully, by sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned, it will help other aviators in the future be able to make the decisions that will help them fly more safely. I hope you enjoy reading these stories!

Making The Go No-Go Decision

I don’t profess to be an astronomer or cosmic expert, but when the appearance of a celestial event like Halley’s Comet comes around, it does capture my interest. March 2, 1986 was right in the middle of the observation window to see Halley’s Comet, its last recorded appearance. Since I most likely won’t be around to see the next appearance in 2062, the 1986 event captured my attention.

Halleys Comet

Some quick backstory to set the scene: I earned my private pilot certificate in April 1984, so by the time March 1986 rolled around, I began to feel like a ‘real’ aviator. The flight school I earned my certificate at was based at John Wayne / Orange County Airport (SNA) in southern California.

During the last week of February, they hosted an aviation safety seminar (i.e. FAA Wings credit, type program). At the end of the session, a young (and eager I must add) flight instructor approached me and asked if I was interested in joining him and another student on an ‘observation’ flight of Halley’s Comet. They were to be flying a Piper Archer (N81918). Well, I was biased at that time to Cessna aircraft, because that is the aircraft type I was most comfortable flying. And besides, I make a terrible passenger in a small aircraft if I am not flying. Finally, add to that the fact that I didn’t know either of them really well. So, I kindly turned down his offer – a decision I would treasure for the rest of my life!

Grace, Fate, Not My Time – The Result of My Go No-Go Decision

Since March 2nd was a Sunday, the following day was a typical work day. About 10:00 AM I received a call at work from a friend of mine who also flew with the flight school and his first comment to me was “Good, it wasn’t you…one of our planes went down last night!” I didn’t quite put two and two together yet, and went about the rest of my day. For those of you who are reading this and were born after 1995, you probably find this next comment a little stone age, but there was no Internet, texting, or Twitter. We had to rely on the news broadcast at 5 PM, 6 PM, or 10 PM. So out of curiosity, when I got home to my apartment that evening, I turned on the local news. A shiver went down my spine (yeah you guessed it) as soon as the news anchor said, “There was a small plane accident over Newport Beach last night, and witnesses reported the plane doing a cartwheel into the ocean just past the Newport Beach Pier…”

At that moment, I just knew it was the plane I had been asked to be a passenger on. In the coming weeks and months, the mood around the flight school was somber and very sad. Even sadder was hearing that the student aboard that plane was the husband of the flight school administrative assistant. About 6 months later (being the aviation/flying geek that I was /am), I was able to locate a copy of the NTSB accident report (LAX86FA131). To my utter amazement, I read that the student’s wife reported that her husband and instructor had been seen drinking beer before they left for the airport, and that the toxicology tests conducted by the Orange County Medical Examiner revealed 0.32 micrograms of cocaine in the student’s body. So, call it what you want, I learned a valuable lesson from that sad event – never fly with anyone you do not know well and trust, because your life could be at stake. Flying an airplane is serious business, and needs to be properly respected. Trust me, when faced with this Go No-Go decision, I’m certainly glad I made the right one!

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Featured Image by D. Miller

Competency vs Proficiency: A Look at Flying Aircraft Safely

When Flying Aircraft, Exceeding Flight Minimums = Maximum Safety in the Skies!

Margie O’Connor

Competency versus Proficiency. Flying aircraft competently means you have met the standards. Flying aircraft proficiently means you’ve taken that extra step to gain a certain comfort level in the cockpit – you’ve refined and built your competence to a point where you are confident (but not arrogant). As pilots, we must maintain certain minimums to fly legally. But sometimes the minimums only make us competent…not proficient.

Take for instance the fatal aircraft crash of a Piper Arrow on approach to an airport under a moonless night sky with Visual Flight Rule (VFR) conditions. The pilot held a commercial license, instrument and multi-engine ratings and more than 2,000 flight hours.

How did this happen to a seemingly competent pilot? Despite his impressive history of qualifications, he had only logged 2 night take-offs and landings the previous month; prior to that, it had been 7 years since he had flown at night! And yet, he still chose to fly.

Good judgment so often goes hand-in-hand with practice and training. And everyone is different. The challenge is recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and admitting to when you may need a little extra to gain the edge necessary to become safe. To exercise your piloting skills safely and proficiently, you must avoid getting wrapped around the word “minimum” and strive to hone your skills.

Many General Aviation (GA) pilots are part-timers so flying on a regular basis isn’t always possible because of competing demands. So determining your level of proficiency is sometimes difficult. Looking at where you’re at in your flight training often provides a good gauge. For instance, if you just got your instrument ticket (congratulations) you’re undoubtedly more proficient than the general aviation instrument rated pilot who only flies the minimum 6 approaches within the preceding 6 months, to keep “current”.

Most are aware of the flight minimums but just in case you’ve forgotten, fly with me as we go through a refresher. Who knows, you may just discover a thing or two about your competency level and just maybe, how to achieve that level of expertise that will make you a much safer pilot.

Regulatory Minimums for Flying Aircraft

Recent Flight Experience (FAR 61.57 (a) and (b))

Simply put, if you plan to take your significant other up flying because you think it would be insanely romantic to propose to her during the flight (or if you’re just heading somewhere warm with all your newly acquired friends) then you must have made 3 takeoffs and landings within the preceding 90 days.
And if you plan to fly at night, those takeoffs and landings must be to a full stop and performed during the period from 1 hour after the sun goes down to 1 hour before the sun rises (now that’s early morning).

Flight Review (FAR 61.56) – previously known as the Biennial Flight Review (BFR)

Once you achieve the coveted ability to pilot an aircraft as the sole manipulator of the controls (very cool), you must maintain your privileges by undergoing a flight review roughly every 2 years, consisting of 1 hour of ground and 1 hour of flight. If you recently passed a test for an advanced rating or license (think Commercial or Instrument), you are exempt. Passing a phase of the FAA’s pilot proficiency program also qualifies.

Instrument Experience (FAR 61.57 (c))

To fly in weather less than VFR minimums or straight-up IFR weather, you must have your instrument rating (duh). And to comply with the regs, you must have performed 6 instrument approaches, holding and tracking, and intercepting and tracking using navigational systems within the 6 months preceding the month you are flying in either in an aircraft or a flight simulator (could this get any more confusing?).

If you have access to an aviation training device, then 3 hours of instrument experience within the 2 calendar months preceding your flight will suffice. You still must perform 6 instrument approaches, holding procedures, intercepting and tracking and 4 unusual attitude recoveries (from various configurations).

And it gets better. You can combine aircraft, simulator and training device to fulfill the requirements- yay! If you choose to accept this route, you must still log the 6 instrument approaches within the preceding 6 calendar months (plus the intercepting, tracking, and holding) but you can combine your flight experiences using the different modes.

Instrument Proficiency Check (FAR 61.57 (d))

Bummer. You failed to meet the minimum instrument experience requirements within the preceding 6 months or maybe you’ve been away from flying longer than 6 months – if you fall into either category, then to regain competency, you must undergo an Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC) with a designated examiner, an authorized instructor or other qualified pilot.

Working to exceed the minimums and gain expertise not only makes you a better pilot but also makes you safer in the air. And I, for one, would much prefer to be a contributing member of the friendly skies rather than a dangerous blob, flying “fat, dumb, and happy”.

When you go beyond your personal flying limits (or you purposefully break the rules…think little devil on your shoulder), you tend to get uncomfortable which can land you in some less-than-desirable situations.

Regaining Competency Flying Aircraft and Beyond!

Cessna 182 on the runwayPlentiful options exist to help you in your quest for competency and beyond. More flight time, conducted with a great fight instructor, is always a good place to start. But if cost is an issue, many less expensive (often free) alternatives exist to help get you back into the cockpit, brush up on your current capabilities or gain the experience and knowledge to dominate the skies!

A Rusty Pilots Seminar (provided by AOPA) may sound like an event planned for a retirement community but in reality, it’s an excellent way to get back into flying if the only thing you’ve “piloted” for the past (fill-in-the-blank) years has been your automobile.

A Rusty Pilots Seminar is free (which is always good) and offered at many locations (check the Rusty Pilots Seminar link for a list of seminars near you). I chose one close to my sister-in-law so I was able to combine a visit with the event. The seminar consisted of a few hours of ground lecture (with ample coffee and food provided), which fulfilled the 1-hour ground requirement for the annual flight review. Aircraft and instructors were available afterward (yes a fee but nominal) to complete the flight requirement per FAR 61.56.

The WINGS program (provided by the FAA’s Safety Team or FAASTeam) is another great way to get closer to proficiency. You learn through seminars, online classes or actual flight training. Sign-up is-you guessed it-FREE and many of the classes are free, too.

Remember, gaining expertise in flying aircraft takes consistent practice over time…10,000 hours, to be precise…yep, according to Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, research shows that’s the magic number.

So open a book…or a browser and get studying. And the next time you embark on a flight into the wild blue, remember to do a self-check. Are you just flying the minimums or are you doing what you can to become an expert aviator in the sky?

Happy flying…safely and proficiently!

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.


Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). (2001). (Identification: IAD01FA038).

Quiz: How Do You Handle Aircraft Radio Communication Problems?

John Peltier

You’re ten miles away from your home airport, inbound for landing, and you switch over to the AWOS for a weather check. Nothing. Must not be working. You get closer to the airport and dial up the control tower to inform them of your intentions. No response. After some troubleshooting, you determine that your radio is dead. What do you do? When was the last time you really walked yourself through different aircraft radio communication problems, or “chair-flew” it, as they say?

Aircraft Radio Communication Problem – Uncontrolled Airport

The Scenario:

You just took your parents for their first flight since you got your license. You’re ten miles north of the airport, day VFR, setting yourself up for a straight-in to runway 18 at an uncontrolled airport. You haven’t heard anyone on CTAF even though you can see planes in the pattern, and after checking other frequencies you’ve come to the conclusion that your radio is inoperative. What are you going to do?

Walk yourself through the procedures now.

The Answer:

  • It’s a good habit to set your transponder to 7600 whenever you realize you have a radio malfunction, even if you’re not in controlled airspace. Build those habit patterns!
  • Stay clear of all traffic until you determine which runway everyone is landing on, and which direction traffic is in. If you fly at this airport routinely, it probably hasn’t changed. If you were setting yourself up for the straight-in, stay clear by holding your altitude (at least 500’ higher than the traffic pattern) and offset the runway laterally so that you can make a big circle around and figure out which aircraft are where.
  • When you determine that it’s safe to enter the traffic pattern, do so and stay predictable. Fly the same direction and speed as you normally do so, and don’t forget your landing checks.
  • Continue to key the microphone and announce your position just in case it starts working again.
  • After landing, clear the runway immediately. Survey the taxiways between you and your destination and taxi when it’s clear.
Aircraft Radio Communication Problem – Class D Airspace

The Scenario:

You’re returning home from a weekend at a cabin in the mountains. The time is 2030 local time and the skies are clear. Your home airport is in Class D airspace; the control tower stays open until 2200. You’re ten miles east of the airport, just wrote down the ATIS information, and switched over to tower frequency. ATIS says winds are out of the north and landing traffic is using runway 34. The tower isn’t answering any of your radio calls but they’re talking with other traffic; when you transmit, you can’t hear sidetones (clicks) in your headset like you normally do. No one is answering your radio checks and you realize your transmitter is broken.

What are you going to do?

The Answer:

  • As in the previous example, set your transponder to 7600.
  • You must stay clear of the Class D airspace boundaries until you determine the flow of traffic. This can be done horizontally or vertically, and at night, it may be easier to get a picture of the traffic by looking down on it from above.
  • Enter the traffic pattern when safe to do so – entering on the upwind gives you maximum time to prepare yourself.
  • From here, just fly your normal night traffic pattern and continue to key the microphone with your position just in case your radio starts working again.
  • Tower won’t know you have an operable receiver so they’ll give you light gun signals (they may also transmit your clearances in the blind, but they don’t on this night).
    • Which color are you looking for?
    • What if tower gives you a steady red light, what do you do?
    • How do you acknowledge these signals at night?
  • A solid green light means you’re cleared to land, and you may only land after receiving this signal. Acknowledge this signal at night by flashing your landing light. A steady red light means you must give way to other aircraft in the pattern. Continue to circle and wait for a steady green light.
  • After landing, continue to look for light signals – you’re looking for either a flashing red (taxi clear of runway) and or flashing green (cleared to taxi). The tower will most likely freeze ground traffic until they determine where you’re headed.
Aircraft Radio Communication Problem – Class B Airspace

The Scenario:

It’s a beautiful day and you’re returning to land at a Class D airport underneath San Francisco’s Class B shelf. You notice smoke coming from your radio so you immediately turn it off; the smoke goes away and you elect to keep your master battery and alternator on for the meantime. You’re 15 miles away at 3,000’ AGL, and it’s your closest runway.

What are you going to do?

The Answer:

  • Change your transponder. Here, you could set either 7600 or 7700. This is an age-old debate amongst instructors. Some say that in this case you can just set 7600 to indicate you’re NORDO. Other instructors will say that if you did any emergency checklist actions (like turning off a smoking radio), then you set 7700. In this case, that might be a good idea, in case the fire is smoldering at least fire trucks will be waiting for you on the ground. And this could always develop into something worse. No one will fault you for setting 7700.
  • Remain clear of the Class B airspace if you can (by going underneath). This is how most VFR pilots will operate anyways. If you can’t, ATC will see your transponder and keep other traffic clear of you – that’s their job in Class B airspace.
  • From here, it’s the same basic procedures as the previous Class D example. Stay clear until you determine traffic flow, enter the pattern, and look for light gun signals from the control tower. The fact that you might be in Class B is irrelevant at this point. How do you acknowledge a light gun signal during the daytime?
    • Acknowledge by rocking your wings.
Troubleshooting Aircraft Radios

Any number of things can cause a transmitter failure, a receiver failure, or both.

Indicators that your radio may be malfunctioning:

  • Lack of sidetones (clicks/feedback) in your headset when you transmit (at least a transmitter failure).
  • Not hearing any transmissions on automated frequencies like AWOS & ATIS (at least a receiver failure).
  • No answers to “radio checks” you transmit (could be a transmitter or receiver failure).
  • And, of course, the thing won’t turn on.

Steps to troubleshoot a radio in the air:

  • Start with the most basic things first, and that’s usually cycling the power on the radio unit itself.
  • Check the volume knob – did it somehow get turned all the way down? Do you hear any static when you turn it up? If not, you probably have at least a receiver failure.
  • Toggle the squelch settings – again, are you hearing any static when you do this?
  • Check your headset cord – is it still plugged in? Does your headset have a volume knob as well?
  • If your circuit breakers are accessible (and most are) check that it’s still in. If it’s popped, reset it. If it pops again, there’s probably a really good reason it’s popping and you should leave it off.
  • Don’t become so engrossed in troubleshooting your radio that you forget to fly your aircraft!

Remember at all times that you must maintain basic VFR weather minimums and visual contact with the control tower, if there is one. Further references can be found in the FARs parts 91.125-131, and in the AIM Chapters 4-2-13 & 4-3-13.

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 Quizzes:

Do You Know These Five Aviation Acronyms?

How Much Do You Know About Aircraft Icing?

Additional Resources:

Understanding How Airspace Works – AOPA

FAR Part 91 – FAA

Aeronautical Information Manual – FAA

How to Get the Most From Online Flight Training

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

Online flight training and aviation courses are designed to help pilots get off the ground (pun intended), and accredited online programs provide job skills training to high school graduates and college students who have an interest in pilot training. Distance learning aviation courses prepare pilots for the rigors of flying and/or employment in an aviation-related business by including prep work for air traffic controllers, test pilots, and private, commercial and corporate pilots. Online courses for high school students often transfer into high school credits so they are able to apply distance learning credits toward a university degree or advanced studies. Even job skills training that are acquired through online courses in aviation can lead to well-paying jobs in the aviation industry, such as air traffic controllers who assist in keeping rush hour commuters updated on traffic as well as the weather which are incorporated into radio and television station news. Corporate and commercial pilots are hired by companies who need pilots to ferry employees, clients, customers, and/or vendors back and forth to meetings, events, etc.

Pros and Cons to Online Flight Training

While there are multiple advantages for enrolling in online flight training courses, students exhibit varying degrees of success depending upon their learning styles and their ability to function independently. Typically the pros associated with taking online aviation courses include flexibility as being one of the major attractions for distance learning students who are employed, have families, are housebound, reside in a rural area, and/or travel frequently. Students are able to study on their own time and replay recorded lectures and classes; course study materials including lectures and texts are consistently accessible so that students are able to study at their own pace day or night, seven days a week. Another positive aspect of online education is the classes are structured on a variety of semester or course blocks, such as a trimester system (12 weeks) or four to six week course blocks. In addition, advancing technologies have allowed innovative instructional protocols to evolve where the virtual community can engage through tools that encourage interaction, such as message boards, chat rooms, work or focus groups, and virtual synchronous classrooms.

Online courses also have the added advantage of being less expensive than attending courses on campus. This allows students who might not otherwise be able to afford to pursue a degree to attend a college or university, due to no travel costs and not having to purchase hard copies of textbooks and other course materials.

However, with these benefits must come a significant level of self-discipline and organization to enable students to accomplish their coursework. You will need excellent time management skills and well-constructed self-made schedules. Enrolling in virtual classes requires a higher commitment by students to earning their degree by completing their assignments, reading the required materials, interacting with peers and professors, and taking exams and tests. Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral-level degrees have all now become available through distance learning universities. Accredited schools may also offer certificates that indicate the completion of courses for programs that are non-degree.

Things to Keep in Mind When Looking Into Online Flight Training

In most cases, taking online aviation courses only requires basic technology to keep up with the classes, such as a desktop or a laptop computer loaded with a recent version of an Internet browser (Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome), and a personal email account which is often assigned by the online college or university to each student.

When choosing online aviation courses, students do well to determine whether the course is a good “fit” for them by examining the course syllabus. This details the learning objectives, the topics covered, the course materials that are provided including the textbook(s), and the class schedule which includes the assignments, and the associated deadlines for submission. Investigating the class size is also advantageous to ensure that the instructor will be able to easily handle the needs of each student. Typically each class will post the biography of the instructor to inform students of his or her academic credentials and practical experience as well as the office hours during which he or she can be contacted or whether scheduling an appointment will be necessary. Professors tend to have preferred methods of communication which can be through email, telephone conferencing or via Skype so it is advantageous to make a note of said preference early in the course.

Reviewing the Details of an Online Flight Training Program

Upon initial review, the aviation course syllabus that contains multiple pages can appear quite daunting but most syllabi follow a specific format that serves as the contract between the instructor and the student who agrees to that contract by enrolling in the course. The introductory page provides the course title, instructor’s name, credentials and email point of contact which are followed by the course description and the course objectives. Attention should be paid to the required course materials versus the suggested course materials which are recommended but not mandatory for the student. Occasionally a university will allow a discount when the course materials are ordered through the university bookstore which sometimes offers to rent as opposed to buying the textbooks, software, exam guides, E6B flight computer, and navigation plotter.

The general outline for a virtual aviation class suggests the unit of study which is usually divided into weeks, and accompanied by the in-text readings for each week. A general outline for a virtual aviation class is likely to cover the following topics on a week-by-week basis: aircraft and aerodynamics / aerodynamic principles during week one; aircraft instruments, engines, and systems during week two; airports, airspace, air traffic control, the flight environment, communication, and flight information during week three; the Federal Aviation Regulations found in the FAR/AIM or the Airmen’s Information Manual during week four; aircraft performance, weight, and balance during week five; aeromedical factors, aeronautical decision making, and the application of those human factors principles during week six; aviation weather and meteorology for pilots during week seven; aviation weather services and the interpretation of weather data during week eight; navigation, aeronautical charts and publications during week nine; navigation systems and aviation navigation in general during week ten; cross country flight planning and flying cross country during week eleven; and a review and preparation for the course final exam during week twelve.

Although online aviation courses usually require the completion of a quiz or test on a weekly basis to ascertain the progress of a student, the final exam may hold a particular significance whereby the student is signed off by an FAA Certified Flight Instructor designating that he or she has acquired sufficient competency in aviation theory to be able to take the FAA Private Pilot’s Exam. At this point, the student will take the signed authorization that he or she has printed out from his or her computer to a computer testing center within the following 30 days to be allowed to complete the FAA knowledge test. Congratulations! This is a major accomplishment for every aviation student.

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Quiz: How Much Do You Know About Aircraft Icing?

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

How much do you know about aircraft icing and the conditions that cause it?  Take this quiz, and see how well you do.

Aircraft Icing Quiz Questions
  1.  _____ ice is lighter than _____ ice, has an irregular shape and a surface roughness that reduces aerodynamic efficiency.
  2. The three negative outcomes of aircraft icing on the airplane are: _____, ______, and _____ .
  3. The three types of structural icing are _____, ______, and _____ .
  4. The two ingredients for structural icing are ______ and _____ .
  5. The most important effect of ice on the wings and tail is _____ .
  6. The three types of icing intensities are _____, _____, and _____ .
  7. When this type of icing intensity occurs so that deicing or anti-icing cannot reduce or control the accumulation, the pilot’s only option is to _____ .
  8. The type of cloud that produces the most severe icing is a _____ cloud.
  9. If a pilot encounters ice in cumuliform clouds during the winter, he or she should _____, or ______ immediately
  10. The first places that a pilot should look for the formation of ice on the aircraft are _____, or ______.
Aircraft Icing Quiz Answers
  1. Answer: rime, clear
  2. Answer: decrease in thrust, reduction in lift, and an increase in drag
  3. Answer: rime, clear, mixed
  4. Answer: presence of visible moisture, temperatures at or below freezing
  5. Answer: reduction of lift
  6. Answer: trace, moderate, severe
  7. Answer: get out of the icing [conditions]
  8. Answer: cumulous
  9. Answer: divert, descent into warmer air
  10. Answer: leading edges of the airfoils, any objects that protrude into the air flow, such as antennas, OAT probe, etc.
Discussion: Aircraft Icing Conditions

The motivations underlying why rational pilots who avail themselves of all available weather information and data during their flight planning process, yet ultimately decide to deliberately fly into icing conditions are varied. But one key element may be the fact that these PICs lacked sufficient knowledge about icing conditions, and they found themselves navigating into dangerous weather conditions. Aircraft icing has long been classified as one of the greatest weather hazards to aviation. This is because icing is likely to be both cumulative and invisible which can cause the aircraft to slow down, force it downward, and/or make it go out of control. In addition, engine performance can diminish, contribute to false indications on the instruments, and result in a loss of radio communication. It can also freeze the landing gear to a point where it cannot fully extend or retract, and it can prevent the brakes from functioning properly. During the winter months, structural icing is more of a concern for pilots during a flight than induction icing, which is why it’s the focus of this quiz and subsequent discussion.

Only two ingredients are required for structural icing: visible moisture and temperatures at or below freezing. Cooling occurs when lift is produced which can reduce the aircraft surface or skin temperatures to below freezing despite the ambient air temperature being above freezing. Supercooled water is defined as water that remains in a liquid state although its temperature has dipped below freezing. When a supercooled drop of water comes into contact with a cold aircraft, a portion of that drop freezes instantly and adheres to the aircraft’s surface while the remaining portion of that drop is warmed by friction. Aerodynamic cooling can cause that drop to refreeze, however, and it is the manner in which that remaining liquid freezes that determines whether the forming ice is clear, rime, or mixed. If the supercooled large drops flow out and freeze into a smooth sheet of ice, it creates clear or translucent ice that is hard, glossy, heavy, and tenacious. As its accumulation continues, it may build up into a single or double horn-like shape on leading edges of the aircraft which increase drag and a correspondingly inverse decrease in lift.

In contrast, rime ice is created from supercooled small drops where the liquid freezes more quickly before it has had time to spread out over the aircraft’s surface which traps air between the droplets giving rime ice a rough, milky, opaque appearance. Although rime ice is lighter than clear ice, its irregular shape and surface roughness reduces aerodynamic efficiency by reducing lift, increasing drag; and it is more easily removed with aircraft deicing equipment than is clear ice which is heavier and results in a solid sheet configuration. When the supercooled water droplets vary in size or mix with snow or ice particles, a combination of clear and rime ice can form very rapidly into highly irregular shapes that build up on airfoil leading edges. Regardless of which form icing assumes, the amount of the ice accumulation is directly proportional to the amount of liquid water in the clouds with the worst case scenario being a combination of large water droplets, temperatures close to freezing, and clouds having significant water content.

The effects of icing include a reduction in lift, an increase in drag, and a decrease in thrust where the effects of these three factors become cumulative which may require a full power setting and a high angle of attack to maintain altitude. However, this attitude may result in a new problem where ice can begin forming on the underside of the wing which adds more weight and drag so the need to get out of the icing conditions then becomes the prime directive. Depending on the PIC’s experience with flying in icing conditions, any ice may be too much ice but the FAA has categorized icing into three intensities: trace, moderate, and severe. Trace ice is barely visible and is typically not a hazard unless the aircraft is exposed for one hour or more. Trace ice can usually be handled by inflight deicing/anti-icing equipment for durations of one hour or less. Moderate ice accumulates at a rate where even short encounters with it are potentially hazardous, and the use of deicing/anti-icing equipment is definitely required. Severe icing is defined as an accumulation of so much ice that deicing/anti-icing equipment cannot reduce or control its accumulation so the only option for the PIC is to get out of the icing conditions as quickly as possible.

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Duncan, P.A. (2016). Rime and Clear and Mixed. Retrieved on March 10, 2016, from

Additional Quiz:

Do You Know These 5 Aviation Acronyms?

Additional Resources:

Aircraft Icing Safety Advisory – AOPA

Aircraft De-Icing and Anti-Icing Equipment – AOPA

Aircraft Icing Advisory Circular – FAA

The Madness of Icing – Flying Magazine

Flight Training Videos: How Relevant Are They?

Mary Ann O’Grady

The term andragogy, which is defined as “the art and science of helping adults learn,” was used as early as 1833 but it was popularized in the United States by Malcolm Knowles in the 1970s (Whitmyer, 1999, p. 1). Originally, andragogy was contrasted with the term pedagogy, which focused on helping children to learn but over time. However, the term pedagogy became so entwined with educational or instructional design that the two terms have become synonymous. According to Knowles, as cited in Whitmyer (1999), andragogy is based upon four primary assumptions regarding adult learners and how they differ from child learners. First, their self-concept shifts from dependence to self-direction. Second, their expanding reservoir of experience serves as a resource for learning. Third, their focus on learning becomes oriented toward the developmental requirements of their social roles. Fourth, they immediately want to apply what they have learned to the challenges of real life. Accordingly, their academic orientation shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem-centeredness as illustrated by the following assumptions:

Topic Pedagogy Andragogy
Learners Dependent Independent
Subject matter Only one right way Many ways
Motivation to learn, change or improve External and dictated by others Internal response to personal or career needs
Role of experience Unimportant, discounted Resource that serves as a basis for learning, change or improvement

Must be integrated

Learner Requires outside direction Ability to self-direct
Learning orientation Subject-centered, Logic-oriented Life/career-centered

Process centered

Objective Minimum requirements Self-improvement/betterment

(Whitmyer, 1999)

When entering flight school training, which includes ground school (theoretical), flight school (practical application), and testing (written and practical/flight test with an FAA examiner), the mastery of the course material as well as the practical application is often supplemented by flight training videos. These flight training videos are available through various sources including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and not-for-profit aviation associations. The format of the FAA broadcasts provides one-way videos and two-way audio satellite broadcasts that conduct short training and briefing sessions. All broadcasts that are classified as actual training courses are videotaped and close-captioned and made available as Video Self Study Courses. For example, two FAA videos specifically addressing aircraft certification service/air worthiness directives are available through Keybridge Technologies, Inc., and additional information pertaining to the ATN may be found on the FAA’s website.

Since the 1930s, not-for-profit associations have purported their mission statements to include the education of pilots, non-pilots, and policy makers alike, and remain dedicated to protecting pilots’ freedom to fly while keeping general aviation safe, enjoyable and affordable. Such associations continue to meet their education goals by providing flight training videos addressing a number of topics:

  • Weather and go/no-go decisions
  • Collision avoidance
  • Weather and pilot error
  • Weather and IFR flight planning
  • Weather and VFR flight planning
  • Avoiding power-on stalls
  • NOAA’s Aviation Weather Center (ADDS)
  • Gathering information about weather
  • Angle of attack indicators
  • Forced landings

The Internet also offers access to information relating to IFR risk management, instrument flying, GPS strategies, practical airmanship, and the strategies for becoming an adequately prepared pilot.

In recent years, the more typical list of instructional videos has been expanded to address more advanced aviation contexts, such as crew tracking, flight simulation, virtual chart plotter, aviation charts, business aviation navigation solutions and business training solutions; fatigue data collection, and mobile TC for the Samsung Galaxy Android Tablet. Updated training products, such as computer software, electronic books, and optional subscriptions that allow access to all the terminal charts and airport diagrams via tablets have begun to replace the traditional hard copy format. Instructional flight training videos appeal not only to novice pilots but also to pilots who are in the process of returning to flying as evidenced by the videos that address the issues of pilot currency requirements, TSA security awareness, the ever-challenging crosswind landings, and non-tower airport communications.

Videos are in a unique position to illustrate both of the two broad categories of practical examples posited by the academic research conducted by the teaching assistant fellows at the University of Wisconsin (1995). First, videos that aid in the explanation of theory and new concepts, and second, videos that illustrate the practical application of basic principles. These practical examples can also be sub-divided into different types based upon the format in which they are being used: analogies, observations, demonstrations that are experimental or mathematical, sensing phenomena, and observing secondary effects. When combined with one or more of the effective teaching strategies (practical examples, show and tell, case studies, guided design projects, open-ended labs, the flowchart technique, open-ended quizzes, brainstorming, question-and-answer method, and software) videos effectively serve to reinforce or anchor the course content for the student.

The guidelines underlying andragogy echo the need for the simultaneous development and presentation of a theoretical and practical foundation since neither one is useful without the other. However, andragogy also reflects adult students’ ability to self-direct as well as their ability to employ multiple means of assimilating the aviation course content. Since the construction of a culture of continuous improvement is a collaborative effort between aviation students and their flight instructors, the access to flight training videos aids in the successful acquisition of the flight school’s learning objectives. Access to advanced technology and the Internet provides aviation students and flight instructors with the capability to conveniently download instructional videos to their computers, tablets, and smartphones. Video programs also allow the production of short videos by flight instructors and their students that can be posted within an online course room or on social media for mutual viewing.

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Strategies for Effective Teaching, A Handbook for Teaching Assistants. (1995). University of Wisconsin – Madison College of Engineering. Retrieved on February 26, 2016, from Whitmyer, C., (1999). Andragogy versus Pedagogy. San Francisco, CA: FutureU Press.

Quiz: Do You Know These Five Aviation Acronyms?

Albert Antosca

To those outside of aviation, pilots seem to have their own language, filled with acronyms, jargon, and incomprehensible terms. The more time you spend in the aviation industry, the more accustomed you become to this terminology. Do you recognize these aviation acronyms, and can you pass this quiz from memory?

Questions – Aviation Acronyms

  • 1) UTC
    • a. Coordinated Universal Time
    • b. Upper Tail Cowling
    • c. Unmanned Traffic Control
    • d. Universal Temperature Conversion


  • 2) TRACON (pronounced “tray-con”)
    • a. Trans-continental
    • b. Terminal Radar Approach Control
    • c. Transfer of Control
    • d. Tracking of Navigation


  • 3) EGPWS (pronounced “e-jip-wiz)
    • a. Exhaust Gas Pressure Warning System
    • b. Environmental Gas Pollution and Water Sterilization
    • c. Endurance Glide Path Window Speed
    • d. Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System


  • 4) RAIM (pronounced “raim”)
    • a. Rain and Ice Mitigation
    • b. Receiver Autonomous Integrity Monitoring
    • c. Relay Aircraft Interception Maneuver
    • d. Risk Avoidance Integration Management


  • 5) EDCT (pronounced “e-dict”)
    • a. Emergency Ditching Contact Transmission
    • b. Exhaust Distribution Combustibility Threshold
    • c. Expect Departure Clearance Time
    • d. Estimated Differential Coefficient of Thrust


All right.  Put your pencils down, and let’s take a look at how you did.

Answers – Aviation Acronyms

Question 1: “Coordinated Universal Time”

UTC is the standard time used in aviation. Everything from ATC clearances to weather reports are reported in Coordinated Universal Time. This standardization is vital to eliminating the need to convert between time zones or daylight savings time. But wait, why isn’t it abbreviated “CUT”, you may ask. Well, in keeping with the standard abbreviations of other versions of universal time, such as UT1 & UT2, etc., the international community decided to keep the “UT” format.

Question 2: “Terminal Radar Approach Control”

TRACONs are ATC facilities that control airspace in and out of airports. TRACONs control areas at lower altitudes and in smaller areas than “Center” controllers, officially known as Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCCs), which handle vast sections of en-route airspace. “Boston Center” is an example of an ARTCC, while “Boston Approach” is an example of a TRACON.

Question 3: “Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System”

Have you ever heard that automated voice inside a commercial aircraft cockpit that yells things like “terrain, terrain — pull up?” Well, that voice is part of the plane’s EGPWS. In the 1960s, a series of aircraft accidents prompted the development of automated systems that would help warn pilots of impending collisions with terrain. These systems have made a large impact on commercial aircraft safety.

Question 4: “Receiver Autonomous Integrity Monitoring”

RAIM is a system used to check the integrity of signals received from satellites by your GPS navigation system. This becomes especially important when conducting GPS approaches where accuracy is critical.

Question 5: “Expect Departure Clearance Time”

An EDCT, also simply called a “wheels up time”, is a delay given by Air Traffic Control that is meant to regulate when a particular flight can depart. EDCTs are often part of an ATC Ground Delay Program (GDP) and can be issued due to hazardous weather, airspace congestion, or other factors impacting air traffic management.

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Know the Signs and Symptoms of Hypoxia and Avoid Becoming a Victim

Margie O’Connor

Whether just learning to fly or a seasoned aviator, hypoxia does NOT discriminate. It doesn’t care if you have 15 hours of flight time and you’re still aspiring to get your Private Pilot’s License or if you’re a seasoned aviator with 12,000+ hours flying for a major airline.  Hypoxia lurks just around the corner, threatening to end your flight (and life) should you fail to recognize the symptoms and respond accordingly.

What Causes Hypoxia?

When the atmosphere we fly in restricts or prevents the efficient transfer of oxygen to our lungs, we are susceptible to hypoxia. Often potentially fatal, the symptoms of hypoxia can slowly creep in so subtlely, even the most discerning pilot may not recognize the onset.

Oxygen (O2) fills roughly 21% of the atmosphere and this percentage doesn’t really change with altitude (the number of O2 molecules decreases with altitude). What does change significantly as you fly higher is the partial pressure of that O2. At Sea Level (SL), your body operates comfortably with a partial pressure of 760mm Hg or 29.92 in Hg. But as begin your ascent, this decreases rapidly with the greatest pressure differential occurring from SL to 5,000 feet. As the partial pressure decreases, the oxygen molecules lose their ability to attach to your hemoglobin (the responsible party for moving O2 through your body). Do you see where this is going? If you guessed an inability to breathe, you are correct. And of course, when we can’t breathe, we eventually lose consciousness and well, you know the end of that flight.

But doesn’t hypoxia always occur at high altitudes? Unfortunately, no. The different types of hypoxia are not only dependent on circumstances (high altitudes being one of them) but also the condition of the pilot. Yes, that’s right, once again, hypoxia does not care if you are a VIP (Very Important Pilot). You may be more susceptible solely because of your particular body chemistry!

Oxygen masks being deployed in an airliner

Photo by Miikka H

You may also think hypoxia only happens in the world of commercial flight. After all, they routinely fly at high altitudes whereas your General Aviation (GA) counterpart tends to stay closer to the terra firma. This too is a potentially dangerous assumption. General aviation has had its share of accidents directly attributable to hypoxia. An accident from 2001 involving a pilot, who climbed to 21,600’ in his non-pressurized airplane without supplemental oxygen, is just one tragic example of a hypoxia-induced crash.

And of course, most are familiar with the loss of pressurization and subsequent crash of the aircraft carrying famous golfer Payne Stewart in 1999. Hypoxia led to the unconsciousness of all on board and their tragic ending. Hypoxia was alive and well in the fatal crash of Helios Flight 522 in 2005 when the crew failed to recognize the lack of pressurization. All 121 persons on board perished as the B737 succumbed to fuel starvation and crashed into the side of a hill.

How do you avoid falling prey to hypoxia? Awareness and recognition of the symptoms of hypoxia are key to avoiding, or, at least being able to respond correctly to the situation.

Stages and Symptoms of Hypoxia

ICDC (which is like ACDC, the band from the 80s) is the acronym I use to remember the stages of hypoxia. The main takeaway here is to be cognizant of your altitude (take a peek at your altimeter) and try to monitor how you feel as you fly. Symptoms indicated below in italics are by no means all-inclusive.

The Indifferent stage starts at the surface and goes to an altitude of 10,000 feet. Degraded night vision is the first indicator of hypoxia, occurring at this level. Why is this, you ask? Well for starters, the eye demands more oxygen than any other organ in the body (yes, really!). And this combined with the lack of color visual acuity because your cones have gone to bed, can create somewhat of a blind situation.

As oxygen saturation continues to decrease between 10,000 and 15,000 feet, you enter the Compensatory stage of hypoxia. Impaired judgment and coordination may occur along with drowsiness, not attributable to boredom. Prolonged exposure at this level may go unnoticed if the crew is busy with other tasks.

Once you pass 15,000 feet and up to 20,000 feet, coordination, speech and flight skills rapidly deteriorate. This is the Disturbance stage. Fatigue, dizziness, and headache surface as your body can no longer compensate for the reduction in oxygen. You may feel a sense of euphoria. Although this sounds like a pleasurable state of being, if you feel euphoric (i.e., like you have suddenly become the happiest and best pilot around and nothing can stop you), you may want to check your pulse oximeter (if you have one) and immediately descend to a lower altitude (if available) because you’re approaching the point of no return.

If you continue ascending without recognizing your symptoms and donning an oxygen mask, you will undoubtedly enter the Critical stage, roughly 3-5 minutes at Flight Level (FL) 200 and above. Your central nervous system begins to die, circulation fails and your heart spools down. Convulsions and unconsciousness are preceded closely by death.

Types of Hypoxia

Hypoxic hypoxia is probably more of a concern to you as a pilot than the other types but all can produce the same debilitating or fatal results. Hypobaric hypoxia (also called Altitude hypoxia) occurs when the partial pressure decreases so much your body can no longer diffuse oxygen and in a nutshell, your body loses the capacity to breathe. So why didn’t you experience symptoms of hypoxia on your recent commercial flight to Florida or some other sunshine-laden state? Because the aircraft was pressurized, which compensates for the lack of partial pressure.

Stagnant hypoxia occurs when circulation of the blood is somehow restricted. Heart conditions, excessive G forces or extremely cold temperatures, all may impede blood flow and decrease it to the point it can no longer deliver O2 to your cells and tissues.

Smoke? Step right up – you may be the perfect candidate for hypemic hypoxia (also called anemic hypoxia), a condition caused by the hemoglobin’s inability to grab onto oxygen molecules. Certain anemic conditions, such as blood loss or non-functioning red blood cells, reduce the hemoglobin’s ability to latch on to oxygen. Or if you do happen to partake in smoking, then you’ve increased your odds dramatically for hypemic hypoxia. Why? Because given the choice between an oxygen molecule and a carbon monoxide molecule, hemoglobin will pick the latter every time.

Suppose you decided to partake in some alcoholic beverages the night prior to flying (of course, you would have quit drinking at least 8 hours prior to comply with the FAR 91.17). After leveling off at an altitude of 4,500 feet, you begin to notice a change in your vision and possibly some discrepancies with your flying abilities. You may have just entered the world of histotoxic hypoxia. This form occurs when your cells fail to process oxygen because of a toxin in the receiving cells (in this case, the toxin being alcohol). Other substances, like narcotics, can also hinder your cells’ ability to absorb oxygen but if you fall into this category, you shouldn’t be flying in the first place.

So how long do you have before incapacitation? Well that all depends on your Time of Useful Consciousness (TUC), which essentially equates to how long you have before you enter the land of the unknown. In a nutshell, your body has a certain amount of time (TUC) to recognize the symptoms of hypoxia and react before your good judgment takes a dive.

Your Susceptibility to Hypoxia is Unique to YOU

The symptoms of hypoxia present themselves differently in each person. A Captain flying for a major airline may experience a reduction in night vision while her First Officer is turning blue. But even though the severity of the symptoms may differ, both pilots are operating with less than a full tank (of oxygen, that is), predisposing them to a continued degradation in piloting skills.

Mental and physical fatigue, alcohol consumption, smoking and being physically out of shape increase your susceptibility to hypoxia.

Your tolerance to hypoxia also depends on external factors. Are you already acclimated to higher altitudes because you routinely fly from an airport with an elevation of 5,000 feet? If so, you may be better able to combat the effects of hypoxia.

Rapid rates of ascent, cold ambient temperatures and the time you spend at the altitude can all decrease your tolerance.

Gaining an Appreciation for Hypoxia

Many will never experience flight at high altitudes in unpressurized conditions. But the geographic location of some flight training facilities, like Upper Limit Aviation, can actually help you acclimate to higher altitudes. If you’re lucky enough to actually fly in the mountains or experience actual hypoxia in a high-altitude chamber, then you’re probably one step closer to recognizing the symptoms, which may just save your life someday.

Awareness is key. Just as knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a pilot help you focus on mastering new skills, so will learning how you react to hypoxia and limiting the factors that exacerbate the condition.

If you find yourself suspecting hypoxia and you are able, descend immediately and declare an emergency. Breathing supplemental oxygen at the required altitudes may also mitigate your chances of developing hypoxia.

Take the plunge (or rather the ascent) in an actual altitude chamber!

For free (yes, that’s right), you can visit and “fly” in an altitude chamber to gain a better understanding of hypoxia, the symptoms of hypoxia, rapid decompression and high altitude flying. The FAA has a chamber in Oklahoma City at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center.

Flying a pressurized aircraft and monitoring your O2 level may also help. Or if you were planning to buy an airplane anyway, consider one (like the Piper PA-46 M350) with a built in system that not only measures your level of oxygen saturation (yes, a pulse oximeter and carbon monoxide detectors are built into the panel) but also initiates a descent when a lack of pressurization occurs and pilots fail to respond.

Whatever option you choose, avoiding conditions favorable for hypoxia may lead to many more flights. And after all, isn’t that the ultimate goal?

Happy Flying!

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National Transportation Safety Board. (2001). 2001 GA Accident Aircraft Data Used in Annual Review. Retrieved from

Reinhart, R.O. (2008). Basic Flight Physiology. New York, New York: McGraw Hill.

When Was the First Helicopter Invented?

Anders Clark

Flying has long been a dream of humankind. And surprisingly, for as long as we’ve dreamed of wings, and airplane style flight, we’ve also dreamed of rotor-based, or vertical flight. Centuries of study were poured into the subject of flight, but it wasn’t until a little over a century ago that the first helicopter lifted off from the Earth, and spun its way into history. Since that time, helicopter design has become incredibly refined, and helicopters now serve a variety of important purposes. But where did it all start? When was the first helicopter invented, and where, and by who? Well, turns out that’s kind of a tricky question.

A Brief History of Vertical Flight
The first helicopter toy, a simple bamboo one developed by the Chinese.

Image by: Haragayato

The very earliest references we can find for vertical flight come from China, around 400 BC. Around that time, there are records of Chinese children playing with a bamboo helicopter-like toy. It worked by rolling a stick attached to a rotor and then releasing it. The spinning would generate lift, and when released, the toy sprung into the air. This toy, eventually introduced into Europe, became profoundly influential and early Western scientists based much of their research and attempts to design flying machines on this simple toy.

A drawing of Leonardo da Vinci's first helicopter design, or aerial screw.

Then, in the early 1480s, Leonardo da Vinci created the design for what was described as an “aerial screw.” This is considered the next big step forward for vertical flight. Then in 1754, Russian Mikhail Lomonosov developed a model based off the Chinese toy but powered by a wound-up spring. For the next hundred years, other scientists and researchers began developing new and different models, including Frenchman Christian de Launoy and British inventor Sir George Cayley. In particular, Cayley’s experiments and models were very influential on future pioneers.

Then, in 1861, French inventor Gustave de Ponton d’Amecourt demonstrated a small steam-powered model. It failed to lift off, but was important for two reasons: Gustave coined the term “helicopter” in describing his model, and it marked the first use of aluminum, a then rather new and exciting metal. Then, in 1878, an exciting first. Italian Enrico Forlanni built an unmanned, steam powered model that was able to take off vertically, rise to a height of nearly 40 feet (12 meters) and hover for almost 20 seconds. Model, unmanned and brief, but it was the first helicopter to achieve flight.

Around the world, the different countries forged ahead, trying a variety of methods to power their craft. In 1887, Frenchman Gustave Trouve built and flew a tethered electrical model. In 1885, Thomas Edison began working on a helicopter powered by an internal combustion engine, which ultimately resulted in an explosion and failure. Slovak inventor Jan Bahyl was able to make an internal combustion engine work in his model, and in 1901, it was able to hover at a height of almost 2 feet. Four years later, a more refined version of his helicopter model reached 13 feet (4 meters) and was able to cover 4,900 feet (1,500 meters) of distance.

The First Manned Helicopter Flights

Then, French brothers Jacques and Louis Breguet entered the scene. They had developed Gyroplane No. 1, which may be the first known quadcopter. The exact date is unclear, but sometime between August 14th and September 29th of 1907, Gyroplane No. 1 lifted its pilot about 2 feet (.6 meters) into the air, hovering for roughly a minute. It was, however, an extremely unsteady aircraft, and required a man to hold it steady at each corner of the airframe. For this reason, the flights of Gyroplane No. 1 are considered to be the first manned helicopter flight, but not the first free or untethered flight.

Cornu's first helicopter design to achieve manned flight

That would happen very soon after that same year, on the 13th of November. French inventor Paul Cornu had built a helicopter that used two 20 foot (6 meters) counter rotating rotors driven by 24 hp engine. The Cornu helicopter lifted the inventor 1 foot (.3 meters) off the ground for almost 20 seconds. Though this was not as high or long as Gyroplane No. 1, it did not require assistance to remain steady, and so is considered the first truly free, manned helicopter flight.

Helicopter Designs Abound

The Wrights had achieved manned flight with the first fixed wing aircraft in December 1903, and in 1907, the Breguet brothers and Cornu had achieved the same with helicopter flight. The doors to the world of aviation were thrown wide open, and inventors, scientists, and enthusiasts poured in.

By the 1920s, Argentine Raul Pateras-Pescara de Castelluccio had successfully demonstrated cyclic pitch, or the ability to tilt the rotor hub forward a few degrees and allow the helicopter to move forward without the need for a separate propeller for pushing or pulling. He also was the first to successfully demonstrate the principle of autorotation, which was key to the safe landing of damaged helicopters.

Rare footage of a test flight of Pescara’s helicopter in 1922

In 1924, Frenchman Etienne Oehmichen set the first helicopter world record for distance recognized by the Federation Aeoronautique Internationale (FAI). He flew 1,181 feet (360 meters). This record was beaten a mere four days later by Pescara, who flew 2,415 feet (736 meters) in 4 minutes and 11 seconds, at a height of roughly 6 feet (1.8 meters).

In the US, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, and Russia, countless models were tested, flown, abandoned or improved on at an incredible rate. Then, in 1936, another first.

The Birth of the Helicopter Industry

In 1933, German Heinrich Focke was brought into the world of helicopter research. Inspired by autogyro designs, he set to work. He designed the world’s first practical, stable transverse twin rotor helicopter, and on June 26, 1936, it flew for the first time. The Focke-Wulf Fw 61 then broke all the previously established helicopter world records in 1937 and pushed the flight envelope for helicopters to new heights.

The world was paying attention. In the United States, Russian-born Igor Sikorsky competed fiercely with W. Lawrence LePage to produce the first helicopter for use in the US military. LePage was successful in acquiring the patent rights to design a helicopter in the same style of the Fw 61, so Sikorsky went with a more simple, single rotor design. LePage was also awarded a contract from the military after winning a military sponsored contest in early 1940, which also included designs by Sikorsky, and others.

The contract specified that delivery of a flying prototype must be accomplished by January 1941, and by July of 1940, the airframe for LePage’s model, the XR-1, was complete. However, they were unable to meet the prototype deadline, and due to this delay, Sikorsky was also able to receive funding for his model.

The XR-1 helicopter designed by LePage, during a flight test.

Finally, three months late, the XR-1 arrived. It resembled the Fw 61, with its two, three-bladed rotors, and was powered by a 450 hp Pratt and Whitney engine. It first flew on May 12th, 1941, though it was flown tethered in its early flights, and wasn’t flown flee until late June. Even then, it was flown within a few feet of the ground. This was because the XR-1 showed a variety of design and stability problems. Over the next four years, additional money and time were spent refining the design, and though it improved, it was never quite good enough. Finally, in April of 1945, the military canceled all their contracted with LePage and his company, after a US Air Force report concluded that the company was “inept” and employed a “hit and miss method” with their research and development.

The World’s First Helicopter to be Mass Produced
Igor Sikorsky test flying the VS-300 with floats

Sikorsky test flying the VS-300.

Meanwhile, Sikorsky and his team had been hard at work, and the result was the VS-300. It had a single, three bladed rotor powered by a 75 hp engine, and a single vertical tail rotor for anti-torque. It could also have floats attached to it for water use. The first tethered flight was conducted by Sikorsky on the 14th of September, 1939, followed on May 13th, 1940 by the first free flight. This made the VS-300 the first single lifting rotor helicopter in the US, the first successful helicopter to use single tail rotor configuration and the first practical amphibious helicopter. It was a monumental achievement.

Igor Sikorsky in the XR-4, the first helicopter to be mass produced on a large scale

Sikorsky in the XR-4.

The military contracted with Sikorsky, and using the VS-300 as a basis for the design, Sikorsky produced a new, refined model, the VS-316. Designated the XR-4 by the military, it made its first flight on January 13th, 1942, and was accepted into use by the military in May. The XR-4 broke all previous helicopter endurance, altitude and airspeed records, completing a 761 mile (1,225 km) cross-country flight; setting a service ceiling of 12,000 feet (3,700 meters), and with an airspeed of nearly 90 mph (140km/h).

The military ordered 100 XR-4s, making it the world’s first helicopter that was mass produced on a large scale. All told, 131 XR-4s were produced before newer models replaced it.

One Final First Helicopter

While Sikorsky and LePage were working with the military on helicopters, Bell Aircraft was working on a civilian solution. They hired Arthur Young and were interested in building a helicopter based on a design by Young’s that promised simplicity and ease of use. The result was the Model 30 prototype, which was eventually refined into the Bell 47. On March 8th, 1946, it became the first helicopter certified for civilian use. For the next 30 years, it was considered the most popular helicopter model and more than 5,600 of these helicopters were produced.


So, which helicopter was first? Well, as you can see, depending on what you’re asking, there are a lot of firsts. The first helicopter model to fly, the first unmanned helicopter flight, the first manned helicopter flight, and so on. And these firsts, though they may be credited to a single person or machine, represent centuries of research, testing, and determination from scientists, inventors, and enthusiasts across the globe.

Since the arrival of these first helicopters, the designs have continued to be refined and adapted for use in a variety of industries and for a variety of purposes. Learning to fly these incredible machines requires training, skill and dedication, but it opens up a wide world of opportunity for those who dream about flying helicopters for a living. It is an exciting time to join the world of aviation, and as many pilots and aviators have expressed before, the best work view is the one from the cockpit.

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VORs: Avoiding Confusion with the TO / FROM Flag

John Peltier

If there’s one area of the Instrument Flying Course where most students struggle, it’s usually on the subject of VORs. For some reason, VORs are very mysterious, and for some reason many students have no motivation to learn them thanks to the capabilities of GPS!

VORs are still important to learn – not just because they’re on the FAA test – but also because there will be one time where you’re in Instrument Meteorological Conditions and your GPS receiver fails for whatever reason, and you’ll be left to navigate with your VOR. Don’t think it’ll happen? It’s happened to me!

One of the more difficult concepts to understand is that confusing TO/FROM indicator. Many of the modern Horizontal Situation Indicators (HSIs) remove this somewhat ambiguous indication, but the older indicators can leave many pilots confused.

Makeup of the VOR Instrument

To understand that pesky TO/FROM indicator, it’s important to first understand how a VOR ground station works and how it interacts with your cockpit instrument.

For those curious how the ground stations work, let’s take this simplified but maybe not so simple explanation. The ground station looks like a large antenna and has two emitters. The first emits a reference signal, and the second emitter spins while transmitting a modulated radio signal. Your antenna picks up the reference signal and the modulated signal. The difference between the reference signal and the phase of the modulated signal during its rotation is calculated to tell you where you are in relation to the ground station.

Your location around a VOR station is referred to as a radial. If you look at a bicycle wheel, the center of the wheel is the ground station and the spokes are the radials emitting from the ground station. They’re labeled like the numbers on a compass. The radial pointing north is the 360 radial, the one pointing east is the 090 radial, and so on, all the way around for 360 radials.

The instrument that displays all of this information is most commonly called the Course Deviation Indicator, or CDI. The Omni-Bearing Selector (OBS) knob lets you select one of these spokes (radials), and the CDI will tell you where you are in relation to your selected radial.

But the way this information is displayed is where the confusion comes in.

As you rotate the OBS knob, the needle in the instrument will move. You can think of the center of the instrument as your aircraft, and the needle is the selected radial. So it’ll show you if you’re left or right of the radial you have selected…sometimes.

Then the TO/FROM flag will show you if the course you have selected will take you towards or from the station.

Reverse Sensing

Even the FAA Instrument Flying Handbook mentions “reverse sensing”. I disagree with this term – I don’t think there is such a thing as “reverse sensing”. Just a reversed pilot!

In “reverse sensing,” the instrument is displaying exactly what you’re telling it to display. It takes some effort from the pilot to not become “reversed.”

Where pilots get confused and think that the instrument is reversed is when the OBS is set to the reciprocal of the course they want to fly. If the needle is left of center, turning left will actually push the needle away from you rather than centering it – because you’re already left of course, not right. This can sometimes make already confusing situations worse when pilots are multitasking.

To avoid this situation, always have the OBS set to the course you want to fly, not necessarily the radial you want to be on. The TO/FROM flag will tell you if this course is taking you TO or FROM the VOR. For example, if you want to fly south on the 360 radial (you’re north of the station), set the OBS to 180 and the flag will show TO – because you’re going to the station on a course of 180. Now the deflection of the needle left or right will spatially make sense to you.

Determining Your Position

We’ve seen that the CDI can tell you two things: if you’re left or right of the selected radial, and if you’re going to or from the station.

To determine which radial you’re on, once you’ve tuned the proper VOR, center the CDI with a FROM flag. Because remember, these radials emit from the station! Now read the number at the top of the compass rose, under the arrow. This is the radial you are on.

If you were to fly that heading, it will take you further from the station. Flying the reciprocal would take you to the station.

If you were to center the CDI with a TO flag, the selected course would tell you which course to fly to go towards the station, but not which radial you’re on.

Some instructors will discuss how to determine your position relative to VORs just by looking at the CDI and not rotating the knob. This works on the ground at zero knots, and you’ll need to do it for the test, but it’s much simpler in flight to just center that needle with a FROM flag and read the radial you’re on.

To do this for the test, draw the compass rose with four quadrants. Look at the course selected on the OBS and draw a little airplane in each quadrant flying that heading (aircraft heading has nothing to do with the CDI indication, but this helps visualize the aircraft’s course). If the TO/FROM flag is showing TO, “X” out the two airplanes pointing away from the VOR, and vice versa. Now look at the needle – is it left or right? That’s the side of your aircraft that the VOR is on.

See the example:

Example of Quadrants for VORs

In summary, always remember these things:

-Aircraft heading has nothing to do with what is displayed on the CDI. You can fly circles over a point on the ground all day and the display won’t change.

-Set the course you want to fly, not necessarily the radial you want to track, to avoid reverse sensing.

-Center the CDI with a FROM flag to determine the radial you are on.

There are many simulators available to practice this. I like the app Radionav Sim. It allows you to rotate the OBS, move the VOR station around, move the airplane around, and animate the flight path to show how the display would change as you move around the VOR. Use this app occasionally to refresh yourself on the operation of VORs.

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What Do the Best Aviation Colleges Offer?

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

Typically, prospective students who are considering careers in the aviation industry tend to contemplate becoming pilots through aviation colleges which offer five essential pilot ratings as follows: private single engine, instrument rating, private multi-engine, commercial single and multi-engine, and certified flight instructor (CFI). In addition, the best aviation colleges usually offer courses in both fixed wing and rotary (helicopter) endorsements. This provides their students with a greater range of career opportunities.

Since prospective aviation students can anticipate a considerable investment in time and money, it is wise to investigate what financial assistance or funding is available when embarking on a lucrative flying career. Student loans, PELL grant funding, and scholarships are just a few of the types of financial assistance that are offered to qualified students by federal sources, public and private entities that can be found on the college websites and/or on individual scholarship websites.

When conducting a review of the best aviation colleges in the US, there are several criteria to take into consideration before making the commitment to enter their aviation program:

  • The location of the college.
  • The dynamics of the learning environment.
  • The learning objectives and practical application of the degree program(s).
  • The state of the training facility.
  • The job opportunities offered or guaranteed before or after successful graduation from the program.

In addition, here are some questions to consider when entertaining prospective aviation colleges:

  • Do you want to attend an aviation college that is local to your permanent home residence to avoid living on or off campus, away from home, which will incur additional room and board expenses?
  • What is the instructor to student ratio? Is it relatively small to avoid becoming lost in a cavernous lecture hall with little or no interaction with your instructor?
  • Specifically, what are the learning objectives of the degree program that is of interest to you? And what can you do with it (practical application) once you have graduated?
  • Are the training facilities state-of-the-art with access to the most updated flight simulators, aircraft, and avionics for example?
  • Does the college-of-interest guarantee job placement either during enrollment in their degree program and/or following graduation?

Each college publishes their general policies applying to all degrees as well as the minimum requirements for each degree program, such as a minimum of 120-semester credit hours numbered from 1000 to 4999 for all bachelor degrees; the minimum GPA requirements for all coursework for the major as well as for all work taken at the college; and whether a major, composite major or dual major are required with a completion of the specific requirements for one of the bachelor degrees offered by the college. Many universities have extended their programs beyond the traditional on-campus classes to include online courses and/or hybrid courses. Generally, however, there are limitations for the number of courses that can be completed online as well as which courses (major versus non-major/elective) as well as the number of the level (lower division, 1000 to 2999 versus upper division 3000 to 4999) of the courses that must be completed. Coursework and degree program questions, as well as financial aid, can be directed to the academic advising office, the registrar’s office, and/or the financial aid office via telephone, email, or website link.

Researching the anticipated investment in time and money required to enter and to remain in an aviation degree program and the financial assistance that is available to qualified students is important. Investigating the salaries and career potential to recoup that payout is also of vital importance. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for commercial pilots is expected to increase by approximately nine percent through 2022. The median/average salary for commercial pilots is estimated to be $75,000.00. In some cases, this may be only part-time in nature which leaves other income opportunities, such as serving as flight instructors, military pilots, corporate pilots, aerial photography, news or traffic reporting, fire-fighting, and tourism. Another career consideration is to create a niche for yourself if such a niche does not yet exist, like opening and operating an aviation-related business such as a flight school or your own service ferrying aircraft for clients. This allows you to utilize the skills learned when completing a multiple-disciplinary bachelor’s degree.

The Internet provides access to a myriad of aviation-oriented websites. These sites give a significant amount of data and information regarding the business projections for aircraft manufacturers, aviation careers, commercial and private pilots, and so forth. And the FAA website offers information pertaining to certificates, licenses, regulations, policies, aircraft, pilots, and unmanned aircraft systems. Although the Internet allows prospective students a tremendous amount of latitude regarding a virtual tour of aviation colleges, at times it is more advantageous to schedule an in-person tour of the college(s) that have been “short-listed.” This can help you gain a better sense of the learning environment and facilities to ensure the most successful student experience.

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