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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The Benefits of Becoming a Flight Instructor

Jennifer Roth

With each stage of working towards a career as a pilot, a rewarding feeling of accomplishment is acquired. Whether it is the very first solo flight or passing the ATP check ride, each step is important as well as celebrated. Where a pilot wants to go with their future in the sky depends on which path they take. Someone wanting to just fly for fun on the side may only obtain their private pilot certificate, while others wanting to fly for a major airline will continue on. Flight instructing is not mandatory in aviation. Many pilots have gone on to very successful careers without ever instructing from that right seat, however, there are many wonderful benefits to becoming a flight instructor that come with learning to teach students how to fly.

Flying is expensive and for most people, and building hours in an airplane is out of the question and out of their price range. Becoming a flight instructor allows for a pilot to build their flight hours while getting paid. This is a win-win. Many times, wherever the pilot completed their training will hire them on as an instructor because they know they have been trained accordingly and know the procedures for their particular training program. Becoming a flight instructor is encouraged for anyone needing to build those 1,500 hours that are required to even attempt the ATP rating.

Let’s be honest, the amount of hours required to receive a Commercial Pilot Certificate can feel daunting to the newest of pilots when thinking about going out into the real world. One of the greatest benefits that becoming a flight instructor offers is to continue to learn through teaching, and one of the best ways to learn more is to teach someone who does not know. Flight instructors do not know everything at the point they start flight instructing. When students have questions, they may not know the answer but they have a multitude of resources available to find out. Through this, the instructor has now learned something they did not know, and most likely will never forget. The best way to expand your knowledge bank is to continually make deposits and flight instructing will always require studying and learning.

We can always create scenarios of “what-if” but even the best-trained pilot cannot know or practice every situation that can occur. Flight instructing takes someone out of his or her comfort zone and requires him or her to stay on his or her game. If pilots get too complacent, that is when an accident can occur. Lucky for instructors, the things students will almost always keep complacency from occurring because students tend to do the craziest things. Flight training allows for practicing in real life scenarios. Situations such as unforecast weather, airplane trouble, air traffic, and other events all help instructors quickly react relying on their training. This helps make them not only a better instructor but also a better pilot in the long run.

F-16 jetfighter in flight

Photo by Mark Sontok

Being a flight instructor, here’s a situation a student and myself went through when practicing pattern work at Tulsa International, where F-16’s also spend daily time on pattern work. On this particular afternoon, they began their pattern work while we were on the smaller runway. When the military does their training, the public can only hear the controller talking to them, not their responses. Of course, with fighter jets, things happen way faster than they happen in a Cessna 150, so when we were about midfield downwind, we were waiting on our clearance to land. We continued to wait as we came in closer for landing. We could hear the controller repeatedly giving commands but had no ability to break in and request a landing clearance. As an instructor, I had never been in a situation where the controller forgot we were in the pattern and we had no way of breaking in. It took a go-around due to lack of landing clearance before the controller realized we had been forgotten. At that point, we terminated our pattern work and headed back to our home airport. It was a good experience for both me and my student to experience what happens when other priorities interfere, leaving us to fall back on our training. It gave us both an opportunity to walk through what we needed to do and we had a good ground lesson afterward.

Not all pilots will become instructors, but those who do will gain valuable and life-long experience that cannot be found any other place. There are even a few pilots who, after becoming a flight instructor, stay instructors for the remainder of their career, creating strong bonds with many future pilots and contributing to aviation through teaching. Flight instructing shows future employers that the pilot has commitment and the desire to do what is necessary to be the best pilot they can be.

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Falling Back On Pilotage After an Equipment Failure

Shawn Arena

Hello, and welcome back to another installment of one of my ‘lessons learned’ stories from personal flying experiences over the years. This story illustrates “always have a Plan ‘B’ when Plan ‘A’ fails,” and the usefulness of learning navigation techniques like pilotage and dead reckoning.

Another Breakfast Trip to Northern Arizona

Like a previous story about a breakfast flight to northern Arizona, this story has a similar theme, but with quite a different start. This flight experience takes place in May 1999. I had rented and was flying one of my favorite Cessna 172’s (N361ES) from the local flight school at Glendale Municipal Airport (GEU) to Earnest A. Love Field (PRC) in Prescott, Az. As I remember, takeoff was uneventful. However, less than five minutes following takeoff (and about the time I was switching radio frequencies from GEU Tower to Albuquerque Center (ABQ Center) for flight following), my navigational equipment failed. But as the late radio personality Paul Harvey used to say, “now for the rest of the story.”

Technology is Wonderful … When it Works

At the timeframe of my flight, avionics technology had jumped leaps and bounds from strict analog instrumentation to digital. Specifically, this flight school’s aircraft were transitioning to global positioning system (GPS) navigation with a ‘moving map’ feature. Now having been an aviation geek and assistant professor for an aviation college, I prided myself in keeping up with all the latest trends, especially those related to flight navigation. I had read up on the ‘moving map’ capability and was intrigued and excited to see it operate in person.

First, a trip down memory lane (for those old enough to remember). When television had matured enough in technology in the mid-1950’s for Joe and Jane Public to purchase, it was a thrill (so I was told…) to see electronic images on a relatively small black-and-white screen, of real live television. Fast forward to our flight, and I was just as thrilled to try out this new ‘gadget’ called a moving map.

Well, I got about 4.5 minutes of my new experience, when ‘Poof’ it disappeared! After the first initial “What just happened?” moment, reality set in and a little voice (maybe my first flight instructor, Lance) in my head said, “Shawn, they have been flying airplanes since the Wright Brothers, using easy to follow navigational methods called ‘pilotage’ (the art of flying using fixed visual references on the ground by means of sight to guide oneself to a destination, sometimes with the help of a map or nautical charts) and ‘dead reckoning,’ (calculating one’s current position by using a previously determined position), so I just switched mental gears and the flight continued uneventfully.

Lessons Learned From That Day That We Are Still Learning Today

As the saying goes, “If one does not learn the lessons from the past, it will repeat itself over and over again.” Such is the case with this small incident. To this day, I tell my aviation safety and human factors students that this was the best thing to happen to me in my venture into electronic avionics. To simply switch navigational processes to those like pilotage taught in ground school and basic flight training turned out to be a non-event for me since I was taught “the old fashioned way” of flight navigation.

Unfortunately in this ever increasing reliance-on-technology world that we live in, things are great until a failure occurs. In theory, to lessen the flight crew’s burdens of manually flying the aircraft by conducting repetitive manual inputs, automation was a great invention. However, therein lies the trap: over-reliance on one system and complacency. Two recent high-profile commercial aviation accidents attributed to technology failure of automated avionics during the last 7 years bring home the point – always have a backup plan.

June 1, 2009, Air France flight 447 was flying through the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) over the Atlantic Ocean in a severe thunderstorm, en route to South America. It crashed as the automated flight control system became unstable and overloaded due to task saturation. This accident is now deemed one of the classic technological failure events in aviation. (It must be noted, however, that a post-accident report indicated that the flight crew had not been trained to recognize automation failure that resulted in an aerodynamic stall).

Asiana Airlines Flight 214, on final approach to San Francisco International Airport on July 6, 2013, hit the seawall and crash landed on the airport. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report revealed that the flight crew did not have enough experience in the automated system of the Boeing 777, and when the autopilot disconnected, airspeed and altitude began dropping without anyone on the flight deck recognizing it until it was too late to conduct a missed approach.

A Boeing 777 in flight

Photo by: BriYYZ

The moral of these examples and of this story is to not only have an intimate knowledge of your avionics but be prepared to manually fly the aircraft if necessary. As these examples demonstrate, it’s important to maintain currency in manual flight, including techniques like pilotage. It doesn’t matter if you are flying a Cessna 172 or a Boeing 777, the principles remain the same: always stay ahead of the airplane OR the airplane will take you where you don’t want to go!

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 Aircraft Safety Articles:

Positive Exchange of Flight Controls and Language

How Crew Resource Management Makes Flying Safer

Competency vs Proficiency: A Look at Flying Aircraft Safely

Featured Image: Todd Lappin

What Are Airworthiness Directives?

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issues legally enforceable Airworthiness Directives or ADs for the purpose of correcting an unsafe condition in an aircraft, aircraft engine, propeller, or appliance under 14 CFR Part 39. The FAA Aircraft Certification Service maintains 12 Aircraft Certification Offices (ACOs) within four Directorates, and each one is responsible for the continued operational safety of the products over which it holds jurisdiction. This directorate responsibility is assigned by the type of product: transport category airplanes, small airplanes, rotorcraft, or engines and propellers. The Aviation Safety Engineers (ASEs) employed by the Directorate monitor the assigned products to identify unsafe conditions, and the necessity to generate airworthiness directives. These ASEs are also responsible for monitoring products that are manufactured in other countries but are approved for use in the United States as well as initiating airworthiness directives for those products as deemed necessary. The functions of the four Directorates can be details as follows: to draft, coordinate, and issue airworthiness directives based upon the information that is provided by an ACO or Directorate Standards Staff.

The responsibility of the owner of a Type Certificate that has been issued an AD involves:

  • Notifying the FAA when they are made aware of any failure malfunction, or defect in any product, part, process, or article manufactured by them.
  • Developing appropriate design changes to correct any unsafe condition.
  • Incorporating the correction (corrective action) in the future generation of the product that will ensure that the product remains in a safe operating condition.

Aircraft owners as well as operators are responsible for ensuring that they are in compliance with the requirements of all airworthiness directives that apply to their aircraft. Anyone who continues to operate a product that is not in compliance with an applicable AD is in violation of 14 CFR 39.7. In order to locate all applicable ADs, an online search must be conducted for the product, such as for the aircraft, engine(s), propeller, or any other installed appliance. If multiple series are discovered under the aircraft or engine model, it then becomes necessary to also search for ADs that are applicable to the model as well as to the specific series of that model. No person may operate a product to which an AD has been issued except in accordance with the requirements of the AD, and the owner or operator of an aircraft must continue to remain in compliance with all ADs within the compliance time that relates to the effective date of the AD which determines when the actions are required.

Airworthiness directives are constructed in two parts: the preamble and the rule, where the former section provides the basis and the purpose of the AD while the latter section provides the regulatory requirements for correcting the unsafe condition(s). Typically the ADs will include: the description of the unsafe condition; the product to which the AD applies; the required corrective action, operating limitations or both; the AD effective date; a compliance time; the source for additional information; and information regarding alternative methods of compliance with the requirements of the AD. ADs provide a three-part number designator which can be demystified as follows: the first part is the calendar year of issuance; the second part consists of the biweekly period of the year when the number is assigned; and the third part is issued sequentially within each biweekly period. It is important to note that not all ADs necessitate a corrective action; some ADs just include limitations, but each AD is intended to resolve an unsafe condition.

The Federal Register is the official daily publication of the United States government which generates the printed or hard copy method of providing information to the public regarding laws that have been enacted or will be enacted. Electronic versions of the airworthiness directives are available from the Federal Register and from the FAA Regulatory and Guidance Library (RGL). The RGL contains all of ADs which can be searched under the manufacturer, model or AD number itself. Electronic copies of the ADs can be downloaded from the RGL to the computer of the owner or operator, and subscription services are also available via email from the RGL home page. Once a subscription has been activated, any AD that pertains to aircraft and engine makes and models that have been selected, will be emailed as attachments within minutes of the document being posted. The FAA provides the public an opportunity to comment on the notices of proposed rulemaking as well as on final rule ADS that are published without prior notice. They are all published in the Federal Register and include information regarding how to submit comments. The FAA does not request comments regarding Emergency ADs at the time of their issuance although the FAA does request comments when they are published as a final rule AD in the Federal Register.

The standard airworthiness directive process for the three types of ADs (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking or NPRM, which is followed by a Final Rule, Final Rule, Request for Comments and Emergency ADs) adheres to the following procedure: once an unsafe condition is identified, a proposed solution is published as an NPRM, which then solicits public comment on the proposed action. After the comment period concludes, the final rule is generated while considering all substantive comments received, with the rule perhaps being changed as warranted by those comments. The preamble to the final rule AD provides response to the substantive comments or states that there were no comments received. In cases where the critical nature of an unsafe condition warrants the immediate adoption of a rule without prior notice and/or the solicitation of comments (typically in less than 60 days), a finding of impracticability becomes justified for the terminating action which allows it to be issued as an immediately adopted rule which is then published in the Federal Register with a request for comments. The Final Rule AD may be changed later if substantive comments are received. When an Emergency AD is issued, it requires immediate action by the owner or operator since its intent is to rapidly correct an urgent safety of flight situation. An AD is considered to be no longer in effect when it has been superseded by a new AD which states that the previous AD is no longer in effect and that there are no compliance requirements for an AD that has been superseded.

Different approaches or Alternative Methods of Compliance (AMOC) that are not specified in an original airworthiness directive can, with FAA approval, be used to correct an unsafe condition on an aircraft or aircraft product. Although the proposed alternative may not have been known at the time the AD was originally issued, it could be acceptable to accomplish the intent of the original AD. A compliance time that differs from the requirements of the original AD can also be approved if the revised time period provides an acceptable level of safety that equals or exceeds the requirements posted in the original AD. Provisions for an AMOC are desirable from the owner’s or operator’s point of view because it can eliminate the necessity of constant AD revisions when acceptable methods are developed for AD compliance. If an AD does not contain any provision(s) for approving an AMOC, the AD must undergo revisions before compliance can be accomplished by any method other than what is stated in the original AD. Each AD states which office within the FAA Aircraft Certification Service that is responsible for that particular AD. An AMOC can be approved by the manager of the office that is responsible for that specific AD including different compliance times for the requirements of a specific AD. One FAA Aircraft Certification Office will have responsibility for AMOC approvals for products manufactured within the United States while a product manufactured outside of the United States will be under the jurisdiction of a Standards Staff branch office of one of the four FAA Aircraft Certification Directorates.

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 Aircraft Safety Articles:

What Are the Aircraft Annual Inspection Requirements?

The Reasons Behind Male and Female Pilot Error

Positive Exchange of Flight Controls and Language

Do You Know How to Give PIREPs?

Different Ways of Checking Your VOR Receiver

John Peltier

When was the last time you checked your VOR receiver? As an IFR pilot, how often are you required to do this test? What about as a VFR pilot? Are you required to check your VOR receiver?

The answer for VFR pilots is, well, no you’re not required to check your VOR receiver. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a good idea.

And for IFR pilots, how often do the Federal Aviation Regulations say you must check your receiver when using it for instrument flying?

According to FAR 91.171, you may not conduct an IFR flight using VORs for navigation unless your VOR system has been checked within the preceding 30 days and found to be in limits. The check must also be logged in the aircraft records.

Fortunately, these are checks that pilots can accomplish on their own, and in many different ways.

The FAA allows pilots a handful of different methods for checking VOR receivers. There’s an easy acronym to remember about these tests, including tolerances – do you know it?

The acronym most taught to IFR students is VODGA. This stands for VOT, Ownship, Dual, Ground, Air. Let’s take a closer look at the steps to check your VOR receiver using this acronym.

VOT

The VOR Test Facility (VOT) is the most accurate and is the preference to check your VOR receiver. Not all airports have a VOT. You can discover which airports do have a test facility in Section 4 of the FAA Chart Supplement (formerly known as the Airport Facility Directory [AFD]). The supplement indicates which airports have the test equipment, which frequency to use, and any other notes specific to that location.

Steps to using the VOT:

  1. Ensure you are situated on the airport in an appropriate area – the parking apron, taxiway, or end of runway. The Supplement will make note of which areas on the airport will not work.
  2. Tune to the appropriate frequency annotated in the Supplement.
  3. Turn up the volume to identify the station, which is indicated by a series of dots or one continuous tone.
  4. Twist the OBS to center the needle. The TO/FROM flag should indicate TO with 180 degrees (+/- 4) selected. Remember: Cessna 182. One-eighty two, or 180-TO. It should show FROM with 360 selected.
  5. The tolerance must be within four degrees, i.e. the needle must be centered when the OBS is from 176 to 184 degrees or 356 to 004 degrees.

In the absence of a VOT, you may use other checkpoints designated in the Supplement. These are the ownship tests, and they may be conducted in the air or on the ground.

Ownship

Checking your VOR receiver may be done at either a designated location on certain airfields or over specific geographic locations while airborne. These locations, frequencies, and notations may also be found in Section 4 of the FAA Chart Supplement. The Supplement will provide the name of the VOR and/or airport facility, the frequency, and whether or not it is a ground or airborne checkpoint. If it’s an airborne checkpoint, minimum altitudes will also normally be listed. If it’s a ground checkpoint, the location on the airfield to perform the test will be listed.

Ground checks are preferred over air checks because it’s easier to position your aircraft to a more precise location on the ground.

Steps to doing an ownship location VOR receiver check:

  1. Tune to the appropriate frequency annotated in the supplement.
  2. Identify the station by turning up the volume and ensure the Morse code or voice identifier is correct.
  3. Twist the OBS knob to the azimuth listed in the Supplement.
  4. Position your aircraft at the appropriate location annotated in the Supplement, either on the ground or over a geographic location in the air, ensuring you’re at an appropriate altitude if airborne.
  5. If the needle is not centered, twist the OBS until it centers up.
  6. The tolerance must be within four degrees for ground checkpoints or six degrees for air checkpoints. So if an airborne checkpoint azimuth is listed as being 177 degrees, the OBS must be centered in a range from 171 to 183 degrees.

You may also make your own airborne check by looking at the charts and picking a significant geographic landmark under a VOR airway. Fly over the landmark and note the azimuth that your aircraft VOR receiver indicates. It should be within 6 degrees of the annotated airway azimuth.

The FAA allows for one more method of checking a VOR receiver, and you may do this if you have two separate receivers in your aircraft (they can share an antenna).

Dual Receiver Check

A dual receiver check is valid if you have two separate receiver units in your aircraft. They can have a common antenna but the actual receivers must be separate. These checks can be done on the ground or airborne.

Steps to conducting a dual receiver VOR check:

  1. Tune both receivers to a nearby VOR station.
  2. Identify the station in both receivers by turning up the volume and verifying the Morse code or voice identifier.
  3. Compare the OBS settings for both receivers with the needle centered. They must be within four degrees of each other.
Ground / Air

The final pieces of the VODGA acronym, GA, is to remind you that there are different tolerances for ground checks and air checks. It should make sense that ground checks are more accurate, and thus have a lower tolerance for error. All tolerances are 4 degrees, including a dual check in the air. The only exception is the ownship airborne check, which has a tolerance of 6 degrees.

Logging the VOR Receiver Check

This may be the most neglected part of the VOR checks, and if the check is not logged you are in violation of the FARs. Doing the actual checks is important! But so is logging them.

Logging the check is easy. It doesn’t even have to be in official aircraft maintenance logs, it just needs to be with the aircraft and available for inspection. A simple spreadsheet will suffice.

The log must contain the date, location, bearing error, and signature of the pilot conducting the check.

Summing Up the VOR Receiver Check

If you’re an IFR pilot using VORs for navigation, you must check your VOR receiver within 30 days preceding an IFR flight, and log the check.

You may check two receivers against each other if your aircraft has two separate units. This will be the easiest if you have two units. Tolerance is 4 degrees.

You can also check your receiver while on the ground at certain airports using a dedicated VOR test facility or a designated VOR ground checkpoint, both found in the FAA Chart Supplement. Tolerance is 4 degrees.

In the absence of any other way to check your VOR, you may conduct a check airborne. The tolerance is 6 degrees.

The checks must be logged with the date, location, bearing error, and signature.

These regulations are found in FAR 91.171. More information can be found in AIM 1-1-4. But most importantly, don’t forget to keep current with these checks, and log them.

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Featured Image: Ryan Blanding

When Is a Private Pilot Ready to Fly With Family and Friends?

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

Prior to making the decision to take family and friends flying, a new or recently licensed private pilot should carefully review the appropriate FAA Regulations under Sec. 61.113Private pilot privileges and limitations: Pilot in command as follows:

  • (a) Except as provided in paragraphs (b) through (h) of this section, no person who holds a private pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft that is carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire; nor may that person, for compensation or hire, act as pilot in command of an aircraft.
  • (b) A private pilot may, for compensation or hire, act as pilot in command of any aircraft in connection with any business or employment if:
    • (1) The flight is only incidental to that business or employment; and
    • (2) The aircraft does not carry passengers of property for compensation or hire.
  • (c) A private pilot may not pay less than the pro rata share of the operating expenses of a flight with passengers, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees.
  • (d) A private pilot may act as pilot in command of a charitable, nonprofit, or community event flight described in Part 91.146, if the sponsor and pilot comply with the requirements of Part 91.146.
  • (e) A private pilot may be reimbursed for aircraft operating expenses that are directly related to search and location operations, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental feeds, and the operation is sanctioned and under the direction and control of:
    • (1) A local, State, or Federal agency; or
    • (2) An organization that conducts search and location operations.
  • (f) A private pilot who is an aircraft salesman and who has at least 200 hours of logged flight time may demonstrate an aircraft in flight to a prospective buyer.
  • (g) A private pilot who meets the requirements of Part 61.69 may act as a pilot in command of an aircraft towing a glider or unpowered ultralight vehicle.
  • (h) A private pilot may act as pilot in command for the purpose of conducting a production flight test in a light-sport aircraft intended for certification in the light-sport category under Part 21.190 of this chapter provided that –
    • (1) The aircraft is a powered parachute or a weight-shift-control aircraft;
    • (2) The person has at least 100 hours of pilot-in-command time in the category and class of aircraft flown; and
    • (3) The person is familiar with the processes and procedures applicable to the conduct of production flight testing, to include operations conducted under a special flight permit and any associated operating limitations.

Once the new private pilot has determined that he or she is in compliance with the FAA regulations in Sec. 61.113, which prohibit remuneration for the services of the new PIC, his or her willingness to carry passengers is typically positively correlated with his or her level of self-confidence in his or her ability to fly the airplane. Although the acquisition of a private pilot’s certificate is often regarded as a prized possession, it is wise to remember that it is essentially a license to [continue to] learn, and as such, it is ranked as the most sought-after of the four levels of the more basic pilot certifications (private, student, recreational, and sport). Pilot certificates can be compared according to the following criteria: instruction flight time, solo flight time, total flight time, average total flight time, average costs, aircraft weight, aircraft seating, aircraft occupancy, aircraft max speed, aircraft range, aircraft engine type, aircraft max horsepower, aircraft number of engines, aircraft propeller types, aircraft landing gear configuration, aircraft max altitude, night flight experience, bad weather flight experience, international flight experience, sightseeing charity flight experience, and airport / airspace experience which reflect the skill level and practical experience of the pilot.

Private pilot and a Cessna aircraft on the runway

Photo by: Juraj Patekar

The private pilot certificate has the fewest limitations, and by earning additional training / endorsements it can be upgraded to include more advanced capabilities, such as flying in IFR weather conditions or flying complex aircraft with two or more engines, retractable landing gear, faster cruise speed, etc. The acquisition of more advanced endorsements through additional flight training can easily result in logging hundreds of hours of flight time which also serves to enhance flying skills and expand the awareness of safety practices. The FAA ensures that flying remains a very safe activity by certifying aircraft to a very high, rigid standard, and requiring that pilots undergo regular refresher training.

An excellent way for new private pilots to save money while they fly, enjoy access to great aircraft while spending time with friends and family is to join a flying club. Flying clubs are conveniently located across the country and open to all levels of piloting skills. A flying club can be described as an aviation co-op uniting a group of people who are interested in sharing the cost of aircraft ownership in an effort to make flying more affordable. Undoubtedly, dividing the acquisition cost of an airplane, the monthly recurring costs, such as hangar fees, annual maintenance, and insurance among several people makes great economic sense, but flying clubs offer a great deal more than just affordable flying. This includes quality flight training opportunities, the access to a variety of aircraft, and the opportunity to construct a sense of community among aviation-minded individuals whether they are just entering the field of aviation or reigniting their passion for flying.

The governance of flying clubs is guided by the FAA’s Minimum Standards 5190.6B which specifically grants them the rights of an individual rather than a commercial operator. This document allows flying clubs the right to form and operate at an airport in the same way that an individual has the right to base his/her airplane on the field. If an airport does not have a published Minimum Standards document, the airport manager is the final authority regarding the types of operations in which the flying club can engage. Generally, flying clubs are governed as follows:

  • Flight club members CAN receive flight training in the flight club aircraft from anyone who is authorized by the airport authority to provide flight instruction on the field.
  • Flight club members who are CFIs CAN provide instruction to other club members in the club aircraft.
  • Flying club members who are mechanics CAN perform maintenance on aircraft that belong to their club.
  • Compensation for member-performed maintenance and flight instruction depends upon approval from the airport manager.
  • Flight clubs CANNOT offer scenic flights, charter service, or any other commercial activity.
  • Flight clubs and their members CANNOT lease or sell any goods or services to anyone other than other members of the club (unless it is the sale or exchange of its capital equipment).
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What Makes Us Aviation Professionals?

A Summary of Qualifications, Ethics, and Responsibility

Amber R. Berlin

I catch the look exchanged between the pilot and his cargo as they board their commercial flight to Los Angeles. Can we trust you? This unspoken request hangs in the air, each gaze finally broken by the crowd pressing forward to find their seats. A few of the passengers here are flying for the first time. All of them trust the pilot and flight crew with their lives. What is it that makes the crew able to accept the responsibility for so many? Do they hold certain personality traits that make them better suited for this type of work, or have they simply adapted to the high demands of the job, and high expectations of the public? These are the questions we will answer as I take you on a journey with an in­ depth look at today’s aviation professionals, their responsibilities, and the characteristics that enable them to carry our most precious cargo, the passengers.

An airline cabin interior

Photo by Ian Abbott

The aviation industry is responsible for thousands of lives every day. Each aviation accident has the potential to cost millions of dollars in equipment, and even more tragically, extinguish precious life. In a field where trust is hard earned, and accidents happen, they must hold themselves to a higher standard of accountability.

The ability to think clearly in times of crisis, when most people freeze, is what defines us as aviation professionals. Many people can do their job well every day, but when disaster strikes they stand frozen, unable to react. “Fear is the most powerful emotion,” said University of California Los Angeles psychology professor Michael Fanselow. (Associated Press 2007). Professionals have the ability to separate their personal feelings from the task at hand, and since their thought process isn‘t hampered by emotion, they retain the ability to make sound decisions.

The public also holds aviation professionals to a certain standard of excellence. They are expected to know their job, and know it well. Thousands of hours are spent learning in classrooms, on­ the­ job, and later in the field, and training on updated techniques or upgraded equipment is never ending. Every airline passenger expects certain needs to be met, with safety, timeliness, and comfort ranking high on the list of importance. If you let them down, they go straight to customer service, or the news, with their complaints. American Airlines Executive Vice President of Marketing Dan Garton said, “There are huge costs when you have inconvenienced your customers.” (Associated Press 2009). Staying current in techniques, technology, and industry news is vital to being able to assist the customer and your crew to the maximum extent.

As aviation professionals, we must have the ability to follow the rules, pay close attention to detail, and get the job done as scheduled. Following the rules means being aware of the rules in the first place, so staying abreast of changing procedures and regulations is vital to success. Because of the steady evolution of the aviation industry, professionals must continue to expand their knowledge, with a willingness to learn new techniques being essential. It is important to follow the rules, even when no one is looking. This “ethical behavior is learned behavior, and managers can build organizational processes and strategies that contribute to this learning effort.” (Menzel 2006).

Individuals in the aviation industry have certain personality traits that enable them to hold positions that require a high level of accountability. According to the Keirsey Temperament Test, most of these individuals have a guardian­ type personality, with a strong desire to protect others. This desire is what drives them to step into aviation instead of some other field. It is spurred by the desire to gain knowledge, and the motivation to step into a position of command.

The Keirsey website further explains a guardian’s motivation in their 1 1⁄2 page description:
“They have such a clear vision of the way that things should be, that they naturally step into leadership roles…they are extremely talented at devising systems and plans for action, and at being able to see what steps need to be taken to complete a specific task.” (DeBruhl, 2002, p.67).

Guardians have a deep set vein of integrity and they hold their crew’s honesty, as well as their own, in high regard. They also tend to hold themselves to higher than average standards, and consistently strive for excellence in their work. This description of a Guardian is accurate according to a survey of aviation professionals and college students taken earlier this year, making them a perfect match for the high standards of aviation.

As a former air traffic controller, holding oneself to a higher standard was a way of life. With hundreds of lives depending on you each second and only moments to make each decision, professionalism was a requirement of the job. It was this high standard that kept us safe, and training was focused on the perfect execution of each task. There was no room to be sloppy as the traffic picked up and when you’re too busy to think, you fall back on the training you worked so hard to master.

An ATC tower at night

Photo by Loaded Aaron

One evening I was working approach at Sheppard Air Force Base, TX. I had only been certified to work alone for a few months. Storms had hit northern Texas hard that day and the visibility was poor. A flight of T­38’s joined my pattern and requested a flight split. I separated and identified each aircraft, and my gut instinct was to vector them with additional spacing. Instead of the required 3 miles, I was giving them nearly 7. My supervisor came to stand behind my chair and started criticizing my way of working traffic, saying it was a waste of resources to make them use so much fuel in a wide pattern. I maintained my professional attitude and continued to work the pattern, although the criticism wasn’t easy to listen to. I felt a sinking sensation in my stomach…Was I wrong? The thought echoed in my head as I pushed everything out and focused on the task at hand. After several minutes the aircraft landed and the supervisor walked away, obviously displeased. Within the hour, one of the pilots called the RAPCON and asked to thank me for providing the extra separation on final with such poor visibility. I was relieved to hear that my decision was the right one for the situation. But more than that, I’m glad
I didn’t let the criticism compromise safety or cause me to respond to the supervisor in a negative way.

Each individual in the industry has the ability to prevent an accident from happening, and it is each individual’s responsibility for costly mistakes. They are constantly striving for the unattainable goal of perfection, and consistently falling short. However, this quest is not without rewards. Saving just one life is reward enough, and whether you’re the maintenance man who turned the last screw, or the pilot in command during flight, each of the aviation professionals involved in this process ensures the safety of the skies.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

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References:

Associated Press, (2007). Frozen with fear? Science tells why. Retrieved from
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21547710/from/ET/

Associated Press, (2009). As fares and fees rise, passengers want service. Retrieved from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26791797/

DeBruhl, A.D., (2006). The ultimate truth: An objective commentary on just about everything. Boston: 1st World Publishing.

Menzel, D.C., (2006). Ethics management for public administrators: Building organizations of integrity. New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.

Featured Image: Jetstar Airways

Aviation Safety: Just Fly the Plane

Welcome back to the fourth installment of one of my ‘lessons learned’ stories from personal flying experiences over the years that highlight aviation safety. This story reinforces that age-old aviation adage: “Just Fly the Plane!”

Shawn Arena

A Breakfast Trip to Northern Arizona

This story occurs circa 1996-97. I was working as the Noise Abatement Officer at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) and one of my co-workers named Doug (an IT Specialist at PHX) wanted to take a trip to Prescott, AZ (PRC) for a Saturday breakfast at the airport café. At that time, I was renting aircraft from Chandler Municipal Airport (CHD) which is located about 30 miles southeast of PHX. On the appointed day, Doug met me at CHD and off we went in our Cessna 172 to enjoy our breakfast at PRC. Now Prescott Airport (officially named Ernest A. Love Field), was (and still is) a busy facility – not only because of fly-ins like us on the weekend but PRC is the western U.S. location for a popular school’s resident campus, so the pattern is filled with “Echo Romeo” call signs from students transitioning the local airspace. The airport café (which I recommend to any pilot looking for a great meal) is decorated with all sizes of historic and current aircraft hanging from the ceiling – what else can a hungry aviator ask for! Needless to say, we enjoyed the food and scenery, and then it was time to return to CHD.

“What’s That Noise?”

Similar to many airports throughout the country, PRC has noise abatement procedures that aircraft are to follow immediately after departure (as my job title denoted, that was my “day” job at PHX to monitor). At PRC, in order to avoid neighboring homes to the southwest, aircraft are to maintain runway heading (210 degrees) for 3 miles before turning. As we approached the 3 mile mark to begin our turn further south, I heard a terrific noise and immediately saw that Doug’s door had flown open – the noise is something similar to opening a window while a car is cruising down the highway, only amplified – and we were wearing noise canceling headsets!

Almost simultaneously as the door opened, I heard my former flight instructor Lance in my ear saying “Just fly the plane, stick to aviate, navigate, communicate.” I had heard stories about pilots meeting their demise when the passenger door would fly open and upon reaching to close it, they caused the plane to ultimately end up in a spin. Fortunately for me, Doug was riding in the right seat, and without hesitation, he reached over and slammed the door shut – end of crisis. At the time, we didn’t seem to be that concerned about our moment of terror, as we uneventfully completed our flight home to CHD.

My “Then It Hit Me” Moment

After Doug and I parted ways at CHD on our respective drives home, I started critiquing my airmanship skills (this is something that Lance taught me years before, always evaluate how you conducted your flight so as to learn for next time), it was then that the gravity of our door incident hit me. I was fortunate to not only have a passenger with me to assist but one that did not even blink an eye and immediately nipped the situation in the bud by slamming it shut. (Later that following week when he and I were collaborating on a work project, did he sheepishly admit that he had trouble closing the door upon leaving PRC, which he surmised caused the door to fling open). So in my best Chuck Yeager (ah-shucks) moment, I told him no harm no foul as we made it back in one piece.

What I did not tell him, though, was that one situation made an indelible mark on me, reminding me of the age-old aviation safety adage: “Just Fly the Plane.”

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 Aviation Safety Articles:

Halley’s Comet and the Go No-Go Decision

How Not To Impress a Friend With Carburetor Icing

Flight Safety: Breaking the Chain of Events

Feature Image: Simon Moores

What Are the Aircraft Annual Inspection Requirements?

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

The aircraft annual inspection that is required by the Federal Aviation Administration is a straightforward process that is not difficult to conduct. However, difficulties can arise when the mechanic that is hired to perform the aircraft annual inspection is neither familiar with the process nor capable of keeping track of the time and materials. So, it is the responsibility of the aircraft owner to research the experience of the mechanic with his or her particular airplane, since the annual inspection is certainly not the time for on-the-job-training on the part of the mechanic.

In addition to determining the mechanic’s proficiency with performing annual inspections, it is also the aircraft owner’s responsibility to locate a qualified shop that is equipped with all the special tools and equipment to conduct the annual inspection properly. For example, are the tools well organized, and are stickers readily apparent to validate that the shop’s equipment has been calibrated and will test according to current tech data? The employees working in a qualified shop have been trained much more than just the bare minimum to attain an A&P license, although lesser-experienced mechanics may be working under the guidance of a senior mechanic with advanced training and many years of experience. Well-qualified shops should demonstrate a high degree of organization with the use of a tracking system that not only tracks the job and what parts were required, but also which mechanic(s) worked on the job and for how long. This can be accomplished with a scanner to ensure that the customer is only charged for the work that was done and the actual time and materials that it took to do it. The treatment of the aircraft, including its parts, is also an important consideration with regard to where it / they will be stored before and after the aircraft annual inspection, as well as where it will be parked if it is awaiting new parts.

The inspection guidelines dictate that the aircraft owner should have a record or inventory that identifies just what was given to the shop, and copies made of the most important documentation, such as previous log entries for past years detailing major repairs, tach and total time as well as AD note compliance, modifications and alterations, and 337 forms. Disorganized record-keeping can result in significant delays and greater financial expense since the shop is required to list in the aircraft records any maintenance, all repairs, inspections, and the results and AD notes that were complied with. The shop can only return the aircraft and associated prop, engine, etc. to service if there are no outstanding AD notes due at the time they completed the inspection.

The pre-inspection phase of the aircraft annual inspection determines that the aircraft meets the type certificate design or original configuration and that it is in safe operating condition, which is governed by various approved data including aircraft maintenance manuals, AC-43 13-1b, AD notes, and service bulletins. However, the FARs specify exactly what must be done during the annual inspection via a checklist, and the items that are to be inspected are listed under FAR Part 43, Appendix D.

The preparation for inspection and the inspection itself is divided into separate parts since repairs are accomplished only after the inspection has been completed, all the AD notes have been researched and a determination made regarding what applies and ultimately what needs to be done. To avoid conflict between the aircraft owner and the shop conducting the inspection, the inspection should be treated as a separate entity without including servicing, lubrication, repairs or AD note compliance. The cost of the inspection including labor and materials should be clearly communicated to the aircraft owner so that he or she is aware that any repairs, AD note compliance, parts, alterations, fluids and hardware are additional charges.

Once the inspection has been completed, a list should be constructed identifying each deficiency that was found and whether the repair should be classified as “required” or “just a good idea.” It is important that the inspection be completed prior to discussing repairs, and a determination made that pertains to the airworthiness of the aircraft – did it pass inspection or not? If it did not pass, a discrepancy list must be provided to the owner, and the inspection categorized as “un-airworthy” in the aircraft records. If the owner disagrees with that inspection designation or wants another shop to conduct the repairs, he or she may choose another facility depending upon the required repairs. Once the required repairs are completed, the aircraft does not require re-inspection, and the annual inspection date remains in effect requiring another inspection 12 calendar months after the previous inspection.

Pre-Inspection Details

Rivet on the wing of an airplaneUsually, the first step in a pre-inspection is the walk-around, which is similar to the pre-flight, to identify any previous damage as well as to note of the general condition of the aircraft, such as strut inflation, flap, rudder and aileron position and condition as related to the cockpit indication. The fluids (oil and fuel) are also examined for leakage or puddling, and the engine is checked for oil level, missing parts, baffles, cowling damage, missing fasteners, etc. The aircraft is then operated with a taxi check to determine the proper function of the instruments including gyros, compass, autopilot, radios, brakes, etc., and a written record is constructed. At the time of the run-up, the readings of all instruments before, during and after the run-up are recorded including a static power check using a calibrated RPM instrument which is mandatory as part of the aircraft annual inspection. This detailed record should be kept with the aircraft inspection data for future comparison.

During the actual inspection phase, the inspection panels are removed by anyone including the airplane owner, and the inspection should begin with an oil drain, a portion of which should be collected for analysis, removing the suction screen (if removable), the oil filter and/or the pressure screen to properly check for contamination. While the engine is warm, the spark plugs, either upper or lower, are removed and a compression check computed, after which the results are written on paper rather than on the cylinder. If one or more cylinders indicate low compression or a significant amount of metal particles in the oil, sump screen or filter media there is no point in conducting an in-depth inspection of the engine. If the engine compression is fine, and there is a negligible amount of metal apparent, the inspection continues at which point the inspection panels, seats, carpeting, battery, etc. are removed. Mechanics should report their observations of stripped screws, broken wires, etc. as well as to hang a bright colored streamer from each area that needs attention prior to reassembly. Mechanics should remove the wheels and service the wheel bearings; mufflers are also removed and checked for leakage with a test unit, and any discrepancies are noted in writing.

When the airplane is ready for the actual inspection, the shop inspector is contacted so that he or she can review the AD notes and log books for compliance as well as to review the recent mechanic’s notes recorded in the current pre-inspection phase. The shop inspector then records all of his or her findings, and when this inspection has concluded, he or she will inform the mechanic, what, if any, part of the aircraft can be reassembled. Any areas that require repair will be left open or accessible, and a complete list will be compiled with a written estimate for the necessary repairs as well as for the repairs that can be deferred.

The aircraft owner is contacted and notified prior to any repairs being made, but it is important that all necessary repairs be disclosed by the mechanic whether or not that shop is capable of making the major repairs. Owners are often distressed when an inspection reveals unanticipated or more extensive damage than initially thought to exist, but it is not the inspector’s fault that further damage was identified suggesting a “don’t-shoot-the-messenger” scenario. When the aircraft annual inspection is signed off, it is stipulating that the entire airplane has been found to be airworthy and safe to fly, so there is no such thing as “good enough” to return to service if the inspector is willing to affix his or her signature to the inspection report.

Repairs are another phase that follows the completed aircraft annual inspection, but they are becoming more difficult as parts continue to increase in price and decrease in availability. Competent shops are always searching for ways in which repairs can be made more economically by checking for all options that may be available to complete the job correctly the first time, thereby guaranteeing the airworthiness of the airplane.

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:

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

Positive Exchange of Flight Controls and Language

Halley’s Comet and the Go No-Go Decision

5 General Aviation Aircraft Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

Anders Clark

There are a vast amount of different types and models of general aviation aircraft from a variety of manufacturers. And there are a lot of interesting facts and information about these different aircraft.  Here are five lesser known facts from the world of general aviation aircraft that you will hopefully find as interesting as I did.

The Longest Continual In-Production General Aviation Aircraft

So, you’ve probably heard before that the Cessna 172 Skyhawk is the most produced aircraft of all time. However, though this is true, it’s not the general aviation aircraft with the longest continual production run. Delivery of the first of 172s started in 1956, but in 1986, Cessna was forced to stop production of all single engine aircraft for a decade due to the increasing cost of lawsuits and insurance. So, who’s the winner?

The Beechcraft Bonanza, the longest continually produced general aviation aircraft, in flight

Photo by D. Miler

Buh bah duh buh bah duh buh bah duh buh, Bonanza! The Beechcraft Bonanza, that is. With the first Bonanza’s being delivered in 1947, the Bonanza has been in continual production for 69 years, making it the winner. During this time, more than 17,000 Bonanzas (including variants) have been produced, putting it a respectable 15th on the all-time production list. Even more amazing, during the aforementioned period of hard times in the 80s and 90s that hit all aircraft manufacturers and stopped production of most other single engine aircraft, Beechcraft was able to keep the Bonanza (and their twin-engine Baron) in production.

The next closest competitor was the Russian-made Antonov AN-2, a single engine Biplane. The AN-2 started production in the same year, 1947, as the Bonanza. However, production stopped in 2001, after 54 years. China started building variants of this aircraft around that time, which some think keeps the streak alive, but in the case of a tie, I figure the Bonanza gets the win with the clearer claim.

The First Airplane Manufacturer

Speaking of aircraft manufacturers, who was the world’s first to start making production aircraft? You may expect a name like Cessna, Boeing, or Piper to pop up, but it was actually some brothers. No, not those brothers (though they weren’t far behind), but rather the Irish Short brothers, Eustace, Oswald and Horace. The Short Brothers actually started their business in 1897, to manufacture baloons. However, in 1908, after hearing reports from the Royal Aero Club of the Wright Brothers demonstration of their aircraft in Le Mans, they shifted gears towards production of airplanes. By November of 1908, the three borthers had registered their partnership under the name Short Brothers and were ready to start taking airplane orders.

Their first two orders came from Charles Rolls (one of the co-founders of Rolls-Royce) and Francis McClean, a founding member of the Aero Club and repeat customer who would also act as a test pilot for the Short Brothers. So they set to work on a pair of designs, and exhibited McClean’s aircraft, the Short No. 1 Biplane, in March 1909 at the British Aero Show. They also were able to obtain the British rights to manufacture aircraft based on the design by the Wright Brothers.

Short Brothers is still around today though it was acquired in 1989 by Canadian aerospace giant Bombardier. In addition to making aircraft components, engine components and flight control systems for Bombardier, they also provide these services to Boeing, Rolls-Royce, General Electric and Pratt and Whitney. Not bad for a trio of brothers a little more than a century ago.

OK, So What Was the First Mass-Produced General Aviation Aircraft?

Well, there appear to be two candidates for this honor, the Wright Model B, and the Bleriot XI. After achieving sustained, powered flight with the Wright Flyer 1 in 1903, the Wright Brothers developed a series of additional models, including the Wright Flyer III which is considered their first practical model, and was their first to carry a passenger. By 1910 (a busy year in which they were also establishing the first flight school), they arrived at the Wright Model B. Built and sold by the newly formed Wright Company, this was their first mass produced general aviation aircraft. From 1910 – 1914, they built an estimated 100 of these aircraft, with four of them going out a month at the height of production. Despite the number built, only one original Wright Model B survives fully intact, and it’s currently displayed in the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There is a second Wright Model B on display at the United States Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, but it appears to have been manufactured after the original production run. Orville Wright is said to have inspected the airplane when it was displayed at the 1924 International Air Races, and called it a “mongrel.” Harsh, man.

Meanwhile, during this same time, Louis Bleriot was making waves over in Europe, after becoming the first person to successfully fly across the English Channel. He achieved this feat on July 25th, 1909, in his Bleriot XI. After the flight, demand for this aircraft took off (bah dum CHH) and by September 1909, Bleriot had received 103 orders for this aircraft. They started building, and production continued until the outbreak of World War I. Two of these aircraft have been restored to airworthy condition, one in the UK and one in the US, and they are thought to be the two oldest flyable aircraft in the world.

A Bleriot XI restored to flying condition

Owner Mikael Carlson flying a restored Bleriot XI, photo by J Klank

The Highest Fixed-Wing Landing Ever

So, there are some high altitude airports out there, with the recently opened Daocheng Yading Airport in China being the highest, at 14,472 feet (4,411 m). However, the highest landing by a fixed-wing aircraft ever is still thousands of feet above this. In April 1960, a prototype of the Pilatus PC-6 Porter, nicknamed “Yeti,” was landed on the Dhaulagiri Glacier at an altitude of 18,865 feet (5,750 m). The Porter, well know for it’s STOL capabilities, was described by Flying magazine as being “one of the most helicopter-like airplanes in terms of takeoff performance.”

And if that wasn’t enough street cred for one plane, the Porter also holds the record for the most take offs and landing in a 24 hour period, set while helping Skydiver Michael Zang achieve his goal of 500 skydives in a 24 hour period. Takeoff, reach 2,100 feet, Zang jumps, land, pick up Zang, and repeat. 500 times. The average length of each of these cycles was roughly 2 minutes and 45 seconds. Also, the Porter pilot Tom Bishop holds a record for the most consecutive takeoffs and landings with 424 over a 21 hour period.

Speaking of High Altitudes

The highest altitude obtained by a piston engine, propeller driven airplane is 60,866 feet. This was achieved in 1995 by a Grob Strato 2C, a twin-engine experimental aircraft specially designed for high altitude flight.

Italian Pilot Mario Prezzi, after setting the altitude record for single engine general aviation aircraft

Mario Prezzi

So, how about the single piston engine, propeller driven airplane altitude record? That would be 56,047 feet (17,083 m), a record set by Italian pilot Mario Pezzi. But here’s the truly incredible thing: Prezzi set this record on October 22nd, 1938, and the record still stands today. He set it in a Caproni Ca. 161 Biplane, with a pressurized, airtight cabin, and wearing a special pressure suit.

In Conclusion

These achievements and stories regarding general aviation aircraft reflect only a fraction of the ingenuity and achievements attained during the history of aviation. They represent a monumental push onward and upward, one that is joined and continued every day by scientists, engineers, pilots, and adventurers. I think the early pioneers of flight would be astounded by just how far we’ve come. Here’s to seeing how far we can go.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

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How Do You Fly a Helicopter?

John Peltier

Helicopter flight is fairly mysterious, isn’t it? How do all of those moving parts work in concert to make the helicopter move in just about any direction you can imagine? It reminds me of a diagram I saw as a helicopter student. It showed a helicopter, surrounded by four arrows going up, down, left, and right. Instead of the arrows labeled “lift”, “weight”, “thrust”, and “drag”, they were all labeled “magic”.

Actually, helicopter flying isn’t all that difficult. It just requires a lot of coordination, and that coordination comes with practice. Lots of it. So let’s go ahead and look at some of the basics of how you fly a helicopter.

How Do You Fly a Helicopter – Positioning

Left hand. The left hand always stays on what’s called the Collective. The collective earns its name from the fact that raising and lowering this lever will “collectively” change the pitch of the blades. Raise it and the pitch of all blades increases at the same time, increasing lift. Lower it and all blades decrease in pitch, decreasing lift.

The collective lever also has a handle that twists, controlling the throttle much like a motorcycle handle.

Right hand. The right hand always stays on what’s called the Cyclic. Like the collective, the cyclic gets its name from what it does. It changes the pitch of the blades “cyclically”, that is to say giving the blades different pitch angles depending on their position around the rotation. Move the cyclic to the left and pitch is increased on one side only, increasing lift generated on the right side so that the helicopter will go left.

Feet. The feet always stay on the pedals, and they control the amount of thrust generated by the tail rotor. The pitch of the tail rotor blades is always adjusted collectively. The reason for the tail rotor, and the importance of controlling it is to counter the torque produced by the engine and main rotor.

Helicopter Controls Diagram - How Do You Fly a Helicopter?

How Do You Fly a Helicopter – Control Diagram, courtesy of Fox 52

Imagine standing on a sheet of ice, facing your friend. You push your friend. What will happen? Both of you will actually slide backwards, away from each other. The same happens to a helicopter in the air. The rotors spin in a counter-clockwise direction on American-style helicopters. This makes the fuselage want to spin clockwise, in the opposite direction.

The tail rotor produces thrust to counteract this torque and keep the fuselage aligned. It will always produce some amount of thrust to the right. You need to fine-tune the amount of thrust that it generates in response to small changes in engine power output.

How Do You Fly a Helicopter – Putting It All Together

Your hands and feet need to be connected at all times. If one of them is doing something, the others better be doing something as well. Just about every maneuver, from the most simple to the complex, requires synchronous movement between both hands and feet. And unlike an airplane, you never take your hand off of the cyclic and only off of the collective for just a quick moment!

For example, picking up a helicopter from the ground to a hover at two feet above ground.

  • You need to raise your left hand to increase the collective pitch of all the blades.
  • If the helicopter is not equipped with a governor, you need to twist your left hand to add throttle as you’re raising the lever (increasing the pitch also increases the drag of the blades, which requires more power to overcome).
  • The increase in torque will make the helicopter want to spin to the right, so you need to increase pressure with your left foot (counter-clockwise blades).
  • The increase in collective pitch of the blades will also want to make the helicopter nose want to come up, so you need to move your right hand slightly forward to pitch back down.
  • All of these things happen more or less at the same time.

Another example. To decelerate in level flight, you need to do the following all at once:

  • Pull back slightly with your right hand to slow the helicopter down.
  • Pulling back will bring the nose up and climb, so you need to lower the collective pitch with your left hand to prevent the climb.
  • If the helicopter does not have a governor, you’ll need to twist your left hand to reduce the throttle as the collective pitch, thus drag, is reduced.
  • As the collective pitch is reduced, the torque will decrease and you’ll need to ease up on the amount of left pedal you’re using or else the helicopter will yaw to the left.

There’s a fun little maneuver called a “quick-stop”, where you practice stopping the helicopter from a high speed to nothing in a very short distance. You get really good at the simultaneous movement of “right hand back, left hand down, push right foot!”

How Do You Fly a Helicopter – Practice, Practice, Practice

These are all things that you can practice at home. You don’t even need a simulator! It’s called “chair-flying” and you can do it on the couch or at the dinner table – as long as you don’t mind weird looks from everyone else.

Just go through the maneuvers in your head. Say, “I’m going to pick the helicopter up off the ground and hover.” Then raise your left hand while pushing slightly forward with your right hand and pushing forward with your left foot. It’s that easy! Every maneuver in a helicopter has similar relationships.

And those are the basics of how you fly a helicopter! Don’t be intimidated by what other people say, or the perceived complexity of the machines. I’ve seen some students learn to hover during their first flight – this is the hardest thing to do in a helicopter! The analogy is that it’s like trying to balance a greasy ping-pong ball on the head of a pin.

But with an understanding of what the controls do, the maneuver, like all others in a helicopter, isn’t all that difficult.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

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The Reasons Behind Male and Female Pilot Error

Despite the different reasons for male and female pilot error, cockpit resource management can make single-pilot flying almost as safe as in a two-pilot environment.

Vern Weiss

In the 1970s there was a rash of airline accidents. This was particularly startling because the accidents did not involve inexperienced flight crews but, instead, professional and highly trained flight crews! It was revealed in subsequent accident investigations that the accidents were preventable and largely due to human errors and frailties as well as crew members not utilizing all the resources available to them, including each other.

What I am about to tell you may find disfavor with some and if this is so, it is not my intention to cause controversy, but instead discuss these findings and how they relate to safer flying. In 2001, Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health released a report of the findings from research done on behalf of the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating:

Male pilots crash due to inattention. Female pilots crash due to aircraft mishandling.1

Johns Hopkins professor Susan Baker pointed out that air crashes by males are most often due to flawed decision-making and inattention. Flying aircraft with known mechanical problems, running out of fuel and landing gear up, the study reported, are typically male problems. Whereas women tend to be more cautious, follow the rules but exhibit more errors such as incorrect rudder use, poor control response and recovery from stalls.

Citabria aircraft suffering from landing gear accident possibly caused by pilot error

Photo by: Jeremy Zawodny

So regardless of who you are there’s work to be done by everyone. Each of us may have weaknesses and though the weaknesses are in different areas we should put our emphasis on mitigating them so we can limit or avoid pilot error.

Crew Resource Management was originally centered around airline operations with 2 or 3 pilot crews (flight engineers on aircraft such as the Boeing 727 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10 were considered the third pilot). However, when cockpits become downsized to a flight staff of only one pilot, things change dramatically. 71-80% of all general aviation accidents are due to pilot error and a single pilot operation statistically is 1.6 times as probable of having an accident.2

Isn’t CRM What We Were Supposed To Be Doing All Along?

When I first heard about the concept of CRM, I didn’t quite understand it because I thought that its methodologies were what pilots did naturally. But apparently they weren’t. I thought the elements of single pilot CRM were pretty much covered by FAR 91.103 (Preflight action – “Pilots are required to familiarize themselves with all available information concerning the flight prior to every flight”) and 91.7 (Aircraft airworthiness – “The pilot in command is responsible for determining that the airplane is airworthy prior to every flight.”). However, NTSB accident reports indicate otherwise. Have pilots just become too lazy to do due-diligence properly when guiding a lethal craft at high rates of speed on invisible roadways without shoulders on which to pull off when things get hectic? Or does the seriousness of what we’re doing when flying get lost in distractions and minutia?

The choices and solutions to the challenges, decisions and tasks of flying seldom are limited to a single one. Single pilot CRM begins with recognizing your own limitations and acknowledging your own experience level, personal minimums and physical and mental health. Are you really cranked-up after a big fight with your boss? Don’t go flying. Think you’re coming down with the flu? Don’t go flying.

Cessna aircraft with glass cockpit

Photo by Dmitry Sumin

Limitations are not absolute. Some days your personal limitations may be different than others. Let’s say you’ve been renting a Cessna 182 a lot but today you arrived at the airport and the only 182 available is one with advanced avionics with which you’re not familiar. Good single pilot CRM might dictate that you should not attempt flying that airplane in deteriorating weather even though you’d be quite comfortable in one of the other airplanes with more familiar avionics. Some of the sloppiest flying I have observed by otherwise skilled pilots was when they were flying sick (and also when they are sick of flying). So single pilot CRM begins with you. Once you determine that you are fit for flight you can begin a running assessment of all the resources available inside and outside of the aircraft before and during the flight.

The FAA developed a simple memory gouge to help single pilots evaluate every component of the pilot’s job. They call it the “5 P Approach” and this mnemonic represents (in order) PLAN, PLANE, PILOT, PASSENGERS and PROGRAMMING.

For each “P” you collect all pertinent information available, analyze it and then make decisions. Most importantly, always be willing to change your plan should conditions indicate the need for a change. Head-strong pilots have got themselves into trouble by making a plan and sticking to it even when alternatives would have been more prudent.

Start by getting a good weather briefing and study your route, carefully working out the fuel requirements based on both. This includes potential deviations you see which might need to be made for weather. Use all the resources that may help. Pilots who have just landed are excellent resources to fill you in on weather conditions. If the FBO has a flight planning room, print out all the weather information you think might be useful so you can take it with you. What good does a METAR report do when it’s an hour or two old? I’ll tell you. You can spot trends in weather and determine if it is deteriorating, improving or staying the same.

Next analyze your plane. Assess its airframe, engine, systems and avionics. If you’re knowledge is a little weak about one of the systems like its avionics, bone up before the flight. Pilots who must use an instruction manual during flight are adding to their workload. It’s helpful to stop by for a brief visit with the mechanic who may have worked on the aircraft you’re flying to ask about recent squawks or maintenance that’s been done. Even if something was recently repaired it might justify extra vigilance as you fly.

The planning portion for a cross-country flight is as important as the planning portion to determine aircraft performance and limitations. If you’re going to have a big fat guy sitting in the back seat, taxiing out to the runway is not the time to be wondering what elevator setting you should set or worse…when rocketing down the runway and wondering why the airplane rotated so soon and controls feel so spongy. Go back to basics and do a careful weight and balance computation. FAR Part 121 and 135 commercial operators do it for every leg they fly.

You may have heard it said that flying is hours of boredom accentuated by moments of “sheer terror,” but it need not be so. If a pilot is paying attention…monitoring…cross-checking…watching the systems, you lessen the chances of pilot error and other surprises befalling your flight. There are usually warnings when things are about to go wrong. The dimming of lights, roughness of the engine, oil pressure fluctuations, they all portend possible problems in the making. Remember, as a single pilot, you are also in the flight engineer’s seat, and can often get a heads-up on potential system problems just by watching, listening, smelling, feeling and comparing.

The third of the “5-Ps” is “pilot.” Are you physically, mentally and emotionally fit to fly? Before you even think about flying you should take a personal inventory. This inventory includes illness. Are you sick or showing symptoms of illness? Are you taking any prescription or over-the-counter drugs? Are there aspects of your life causing stress (job, financial, marital, etc)? How ’bout alcohol? You been tippin’ any? Remember the regs say 8 hours “bottle to throttle” but only then if your blood-alcohol content is less than 0.04%. Are you fatigued? When you’re tired your reflexes, coordination and thinking are dulled. Are you emotionally wrapped-up tight? Sad? Angry? Ecstatic?3 The guy in charge at the FAA (Federal Acronym Administration) stitched together Illness-Medication-Stress-Alcohol-Fatigue-Emotion and came up with IM-SAFE. Get it?

Pilot and passenger in a small Cessna aircraft

Photo by Dan Darling

The number four “P” is passengers. Passengers can come in handy especially when there is go- fer jobs to do like, “hand me that pastrami on rye” or on the ground, “go back in the FBO and ask that receptionist’s phone number for me.” However they also can create distractions, especially when they’re a frightened scare-d-cat white-knucklers, airsick or just a blustering blow-hard that will
not shut up. Although you’re busy as a single pilot, you should provide whatever assistance is within your power to do so to alleviate passenger apprehensions. When busy you might just have to “tune them out” so that you can focus on your job as pilot. Commercial operators procedurally adhere to the cockpit rule of no talking except that which is required for conducting checklists or other duties below 10,000 feet. Although your flying may rarely take you above 10,000 feet it isn’t a bad practice to tell passengers there are certain periods that are “sterile” and no talking is allowed such as when it gets busy on the radio as you approach an airport. You can signify this to them by furrowing your forehead and hissing s-h-h-h-h-h loudly. If your passenger is also a pilot, it is important to establish who is flying the plane and who is not. Sometimes rated pilots will move in on a flying pilot’s turf and this can cause confusion and lead to big problems. Make sure the passengers who are pilots recognize they are to behave as passengers.

The final “P” stands for programming. Flying has been inundated with lots of automation and electronic gadgetry. While this gee-whiz technology can reduce the pilot’s workload it can also lure the pilot into pilot error and potentially catastrophic scenarios. An obvious bad one is ignoring control of the aircraft while making programming inputs. It is essential that pilots become functionally familiar with their navigation systems, tablets, flight management systems et cetera so that they’re not “trying to figure it out” during high workload times. Routes should be preprogrammed prior to take-off and then only minor adjustments will need to be made to accommodate any ATC changes. Double-check your work, too. You may plug-in a navigation fix incorrectly by “fat- fingering” the dinky little buttons or touch screen. Once you’re done go back over it to make sure you’re not headed for Norfolk, Virginia (ORF) instead of Chicago O’Hare (ORD).

Unforeseen things still happen while flying, and no matter how much planning and prep you’ve done, doggone it…the demons sometimes still can reach out and grab your plane. When those demons have got you in their clutches keep these rules in mind:

1. FLY THE AIRPLANE. Period. Don’t allow ANYTHING to take you away from doing that.

2. FLY THE AIRPLANE!

3. ISOLATE the problem. Consider probable causes and possible causes.

4. Use the appropriate CHECKLIST for your problem. It will likely lead you to resolution of the problem and probably suggest the best or the only alternative.

5. Calculate how much TIME and FUEL you have to remain aloft and work on the problem.

6. Evaluate all ALTERNATIVES and assign pros and cons to each.

7. You always have 3 choices: LAND NOW, LAND SOON or CONTINUE.

8. Utilize all RESOURCES both on the ground and in the air including ATC and other aircraft to relay your radio message if you’re too low in altitude. Don’t be afraid to confess your predicament.

9.Remember the most important FAR of all is 14 CFR § 91.3(b) “In an in-flight emergency
requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.”

10. FLY THE AIRPLANE!

Single pilot flying is busy flying but when you do your best to thoroughly prepare for a flight it greatly lessens chaos and the chance for pilot error. The philosophy of CRM is a good one. And although it is a fairly new term in aviation, it is really a very old concept that good pilots have been practicing for many years.

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 and Resources:

1 – “Gender Differences in General Aviation Crashes,” Prof. Susan Baker, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health news release, May 15, 2001

2 – https://www.nbaa.org/events/amc/2010/news/presentations/1018_mon/safety_stand/Halleran-SPRM.pdf

 3 – You think you’d be in any mental state to fly if you just won the $35 million Powerball?

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