How Not To Impress a Friend With Carburetor Icing

Shawn Arena

Welcome back for another installment of one of my ‘lessons learned’ stories from my personal flying experiences over the years. This particular story, about carburetor icing, could have just as well been sub-titled: “How do you un-declare an emergency?”

A Beautiful Flying Day with a Beautiful Friend

Our story this time takes place in the summer of 1986. I was living in a one-bedroom airport in Costa Mesa, California, about one and one-half miles from John Wayne/Orange County Airport (SNA) in southern California. By that time I had my private pilot license about two years and enjoying every venture I took to the air – but today’s venture was more than what I was expecting.

A very beautiful young woman Abby had moved in to the same apartment complex and we became good friends – not dating or anything, but more than ‘Hi, how are you?’

She would come over to my place, or I would visit hers and we would talk about the day’s events or just chit-chat. One day I got up enough nerve and asked if she would be interested in going flying with me the next weekend to do some sightseeing at Catalina Island (AVX).

Catalina was one of those island locations you hear about in the movies or read in travel magazines. It is part of the Channel Islands chain off the coast of southern California, crystal clear lagoons and flora, and Avalon (the only city) was a tourist’s paradise. Oh, and by the way, their claim to fame (among other things) were the buffalo burgers they served at the airport café. So the time and date were set to meet at SNA to begin our journey.

Some Unexpected Carburetor Icing

The day had come and it was spectacular. In a pilot’s vernacular it was CAVU (i.e. clear and visibility unlimited). I rented a Cessna 152 from the flight school where I learned to fly and off we went. Geographically, the statute distance is 26 miles and about 2 hours by ferry (Readers note: in 1958, the group the Four Preps released a hit song in California whose opening lyrics were- ’26 miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is waiting for me…”) , but even in a two-seat underpowered Cessna 152, it took only about 20 minutes.

About mid-channel, the ‘fun’ began (let me preface this ‘fun’ by saying air temperature at sea level was 95 degrees, but at 5,500’ MSL it was about 70-75 degrees or so – keep that in mind, as it plays a very important part in our story). I suddenly noticed the propeller beginning to feather and the RPMs were dropping. Up to that time in my brief flying career, I had not experienced anything abnormal, like carburetor icing, in any flights. All at once I had my flight instructor Lance in my ear, “Start a descent and push in the carb heat.” Well I started my descent (but did not instinctively push in the carb heat for some reason) – I guess some first time “Oh, Oh’s” took over.

KAVX Catalina Airport from the air

KAVX, Photo by Ravi Komatireddy

By that time we were close to the airport and I radioed the Unicom operator I wanted to declare an emergency. They immediately waved off any / all aircraft in the vicinity of the airport and I was cleared to land Runway 26. Since Catalina is an island airport, it is surrounded by cliffs on both sides of the runway. And as I was concentrating on putting this puppy on the ground, I realized I needed to listen to Lance’s second half of his imaginary message to push in the carb heat. I did, and the engine started back up and RPMs returned to normal. BUT, I was too high and was not wanting to make a bad situation worse.

Aviate, Navigate, Communicate – and Aftermath

I passed over the airport about 2,000 feet above pattern altitude and as I was about to start my ‘stairway to heaven’ climb I heard myself thinking: “How do you un-declare an emergency?” and Lance’s voice came back and said two things: ’aviate, navigate, and communicate’ and ‘there is no substitute for altitude.’ ‘Fly the plane, Shawn,’ I told myself and kept on climbing.

By the time I was assured of a landing by gliding if I had to, I was at a comfortable 8,000’ MSL and headed back to SNA. Poor Abby, all through this she did not say a word, but I noticed that her fingernails had made an indelible impression in the passenger armrests. We landed safely and (figuratively) kissed the ground. And though we remained friends, Abbey never flew with me again, nor did I mention that three-letter word again to her.

In the weeks that followed, I did my best private investigator impression and asked as many mechanics and flight instructors as I could about my experience and all said the same: “Son, it looks like a prime case of carburetor icing.” So it was, a BIG lesson learned for a still-green-behind-the-ears pilot but a valuable one at that, and one I’m glad it happened. So, in closing, be careful out there and remember to ‘aviate, navigate, and communicate’ (and hopefully the girl will want to go on another flight with you!)

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Related:

Quiz: How Much Do You Know About Aircraft Icing?

Protecting Your Health Is Key To a Career In Aviation

Wilson Gilliam Jr.

I stood in front of a Marine Corps recruiting office in 1988. I wanted to take the aviator’s aptitude test and join the Marines as a helicopter pilot. But, after a few minutes with the Sergeant, I realized that wouldn’t happen.

Between thirteen years old and eighteen, my visual acuity had decreased to 20/400. Even though it was still correctable to 20/20, the heavy eyelid morning routine of prying a way in for the contacts and the saline solution was getting rough. I wanted a permanent solution to the problem of seeing only the single, large E on the eye chart. I wanted to read the “made in USA” line without any help!

I had recently read a news article about the Russian military providing a corrective surgery called radial keratotomy (RK) for their soldiers that were nearsighted. Some further investigation revealed that a laser version of RK, called PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) was already being performed by a doctor in Windsor, Canada. Although the procedure was not yet legal within the United States, I could travel to Canada and get my eyesight corrected. That’s exactly what I did.

Armed with my new, crystal clear vision, I dived headlong into a career in aviation. I began teaching students in an Aeronca Champ and then in a Schweizer 300CBi helicopter, after I earned my helicopter flight instructor certificate. Our company went on to accomplish various things like flying an R-44 in the Florida keys for tours, repairing live power lines from a work platform, sling loading, side pulling in rope for new transmission conductors and many other things.

The improvement to my eyesight was a catalyst for the release of business fuel into my career in aviation. This was a motivation that lasted fifteen years, ending in 2014 when I sold my company.

During my final year at work, I noticed a high-pitched ringing noise in both ears as I would head back into the office after a flight. The episodes would increase in frequency each week and finally after a couple of months, the ringing in my ears was permanent. I went to see an audiologist and after an afternoon of tests, I learned that I had lost most of my hearing within a certain frequency range. The loss of hearing was creating a condition called tinnitus, which I live with today.

Shortly after the diagnosis of tinnitus, I noticed that a corner of the vision in my right eye had turned dark. A trip to the eye doctor revealed my worst fear – I had aggressive glaucoma.

When most people think about flying, they concentrate on protecting their eyes. But don’t forget about maintaining health in other areas. Protect your hearing. Even though I always wore headsets (or a flight helmet) it’s not enough. Put earplugs in as well. This should eliminate any long term hearing damage.

The most important lesson I learned from this experience should be that a routine, thorough medical exam (not just through your friendly FAA medical doctor) is super important in catching additional vision and hearing problems before they develop into serious issues. If I was able to travel back in time to the beginning of my career in aviation, I would go see eye and ear specialists every five years as a pilot. Ask your doctors to compare the condition of your eyes and ears to your last visit(s). There are stresses on those parts of the body that need to be closely tracked. If you can catch a starting and / or worsening condition quickly, it may not become debilitating.

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How Do Helicopters Fly?

Margie O’Connor

During my fixed-wing flight training, I witnessed what I thought to be a miracle – a Blackhawk helicopter landing at the same airport I was learning about the theory of airplane flight. Captivated by the powerful sound of the rotor blade, I instantly began to wonder. How did the rotor blades work to produce the lift necessary to keep the aircraft afloat? And were helicopter rotor systems susceptible to any of the same by-products of flight as the airplane?

I would soon discover the significance of words like flapping and feathering; that hunting was more than traipsing through the woods towards the nearest tree stand, and that coning and twist weren’t always referring to ice cream.
Helicopter flying has often been equated to rubbing your belly while patting your head and walking, all at the same time. There’s no doubt rotary wing flying involves a bit of manipulation unfamiliar to the fixed-wing crowd but proper manipulation of the wild yet fascinating components of the helicopter lead to the successful creation of lift, just like flying an airplane.

So how do helicopters fly? First, let’s decipher some helicopter vocabulary. Maybe in doing so, you will gain an appreciation (or at least a sense of awe, like I did) for helicopter flight.

Helicopter Rotor System Characteristics

Helicopters really come with two rotor blade systems – the main rotor system mounted above the cockpit and connected to the engine and the tail rotor, affixed to, well, the tail section (more on that in a future article). These two rotate simultaneously to produce and counteract lift, among other talents.

Like airplanes, helicopters must create enough lift to overcome weight to fly…it’s really all about balancing the forces. This vertical vector combined with centrifugal force produces a resultant force that’s not completely opposite the downward component of weight. So while your helicopter’s main rotor system is still creating lift, centrifugal force is stealing the thunder. If the goal is to take off vertically, the resultant vector needs some adjustment.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 1 - The resultant force of centrifugal force and lift.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 1 – The resultant force of centrifugal force and lift.

Coning

To make the resultant force more effective, the blades cone! Coning occurs to counteract our sneaky friend, centrifugal force. Ask and you shall receive…more lift that is. The blades flex upwards to more effectively concentrate the lift vertically. But beware – coning only augments lift to a certain point, after which it can actually degrade the amount of lift. Excessive coning can creep in at low RPMs, high gross weights, or high G maneuvers.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 2 - Blades coning.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 2 – Blades coning.

Blade Twist

Helicopter rotor blades move fast! And they create a great deal of lift but the lift is not consistent along the blade so engineers design a twist into the blade. Twisting the blade distributes this lift more evenly along the length of the rotor blade.

Dissymmetry of Lift

A look at dissymmetry of lift is necessary to lay the groundwork before moving forward. Dissymmetry of lift is essentially the difference in the lift between the advancing half of the rotor disk and the retreating half. When the speed of the blade combines with the airspeed of the helicopter (wind affects both here), The advancing blade pulls ahead in the race as it moves much faster and acquires greater lift. Conversely, the retreating blade slows down and loses lift. And the closer you get to the tip of the blade, the faster the blade moves!

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 3 - Dissymmetry of lift as viewed from above.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 3 – Dissymmetry of lift as viewed from above.

Although lift is a good thing, if half the helicopter has more than the other half, the aircraft may end up in a rolling situation (literally rolling over). To prevent the advancing blade from overpowering the retreating blade, we have to equalize lift. Several mechanisms exist to counteract this undesirable condition.

Flapping

As the main rotor blades travel, they want to fight off the dissymmetry of lift while having some fun. So they climb (flap up) as they advance around the right half of the rotor’s path and dive (flap down) as they round out the left side. This is flapping. They can do this because they teeter on a hinge. You can see this when the helicopter is sitting on the ground, not running. The blades actually droop (and no, not because they’re sad).

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 4 - As viewed from the back of the helicopter – advancing blade flaps up while retreating blade flaps down.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 4 – As viewed from the back of the helicopter – advancing blade flaps up while retreating blade flaps down.

The advancing blade flaps up, eventually decreasing its angle of attack. Conversely, the retreating blade flaps down, eventually creating an increase in the blade’s angle of attack and winning the battle against dissymmetry of lift.

Feathering

Feathering, like blade flapping, has a role in countering dissymmetry of lift. Feathering is the rotation of the blade about its span wise axis, by collective or cyclic inputs, which causes a change in blade pitch angle.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 5 - Feathering rotates the blade around the span wise axis.

How Do Helicopters Fly, Figure 5 – Feathering rotates the blade around the span wise axis.

Primary feathering occurs when you manipulate the cyclic, which in turn moves the thrust vector in the direction of movement (left, right, forward).

Leading and Lagging (also known as Hunting)

While the blade flaps up, the CG moves closer to the rotor mast. Why does this happen, you ask? Well, it’s all about Coriolis force. If you’ve ever watched ice skaters, you are familiar with Coriolis force (which simply states that as a mass moves closer to the center of rotation, it gains speed). So when the ice skater moves her arms closer to her body as she spins, her speed increases. The same thing occurs on a spinning rotor blade.

The faster blade also experiences a change in pitch and an increase in drag. If these stresses continue too long, the rotor blades risk excessive bending. Leading and lagging can give the blades some room to relax and unwind from their overstressed condition.

During leading and lagging, the rotor blade moves fore and aft (or hunts) in the plane of rotation. But this feature only frequents fully articulated rotor systems, so you may not encounter this when first learning to fly a helicopter.

In Conclusion

If the thought of learning to tackle a new, yet challenging mode of flight involving rotor blades seems intriguing, then maybe the time is ripe for you to leap into the world of helicopter flying.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

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References:

Dole, C. E. (1994). Flight Theory for Pilots. Redlands: Jeppesen Sanderson.

Headquarters, Department of the Army (2007). Fundamentals of Flight. Washington, D.C: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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:

LATTO

  • 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!

Location

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.

Observation

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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Flight Safety: Breaking the Chain of Events

Shawn Arena

Throughout my years in aviation, I’ve encountered a variety of situations in which by making the right decision, I avoided potential and real danger. And in the name of flight safety, I’d like to share another one of those stores here. This is a story that involves a chain of events that literally caused the hair on my arms tingle with trepidation, for I was witnessing in real life what Human Factors experts have called the “Swiss Cheese Effect.”

Dr. James Reason’s “Swiss Cheese” Model

For those readers who may not be familiar with Dr. James Reason’s “Swiss Cheese Model”, here is a brief primer. Dr. James T. Reason, from the University of Manchester, is considered the preeminent pioneer in the study of risk management and safety culture. In the mid-1990’s Dr. Reason published a document highlighting what he referred to as the “Swiss Cheese Model.” See the following graphic:

Graphic of the Swiss Cheese Model of Causation

As one can see, there are several segments that represent layers or ‘links in a chain” of events that if aligned just right, can cause an incident or accident (i.e. the “Swiss Cheese Effect”). If however, the sequence of events is recognized, it re-aligns or breaks the chain and an accident is avoided. This is the background of this flight experience.

The Chain of Events in Real Life

In early 2002, I was managing a general aviation airport, owned by the City of Phoenix, AZ, named Phoenix-Goodyear Airport (GYR). During that time, local airport managers held a quarterly airport manager’s meeting at a selected Arizona airport to share day-to-day airport administration and issues of the time, so as to learn from each other. On the day of the meeting, I decided to rent a Cessna 172 from Glendale Municipal Airport (GEU), about 15 minutes driving time from my airport in Goodyear. Mark, Glendale’s airport manager at the time, agreed to come along rather than make the 122 mile, 2 hour drive to Show Low Regional Airport (SOW) where the meeting was being held. By flying, we could make the meeting at SOW, in northeast AZ, in less than an hour.

This is when the ‘chain of events’ and potential flight safety risks began. Event #1: The aircraft I had reserved was inadvertently rented out to someone else, so I had to take another that I had not flown before. “No big deal,” I thought to myself, I’d flown several 172’s from this flight school before with no problem. As I was conducting the interior preflight inspection, I noted that the engine would not start after a few efforts. “Oh, well,” I thought. Maybe it was just cold and hadn’t flown in a while.

Event #2: After I finally got the engine running to my satisfaction, I noted that the Number 1 COMM radio reception was very intermittent, but I continued to the run-up area to conduct the pre-takeoff checklist. As I started to listen to the Automatic Terminal Information System (ATIS) broadcast at GEU (i.e. a pre-recorded message telling pilots cloud heights, visibility, active runway and time), I recalled the weather report for SOW (Event #3) was a 30 knot crosswind upon landing, with gusts up to 45 knots. And this was at a 2200 foot runway located in mountainous terrain. Immediately after hearing the local ATIS, the radio knob literally broke off and fell to the floor.

Fortunately for me, it only took these three events to stop the chain. I radioed GEU ground control for taxi back to the ramp. I felt that not only had the “Swiss cheese holes” begin to align, but a slight but very apparent case of “get-there-itis” also began to creep in. Mark was, to say the least, very unhappy that we had to scrub the flight. I apologized but told him: “ I don’t care, I’d rather be in a position on the ground wishing we were airborne, versus being airborne and wishing we were on the ground.”

Yes, at first I was bummed too, BUT a strong dose of reality came across me saying enough is enough. I called Dennis, the Airport Manager at SOW, apologized for not making the meeting and we would catch up at the next meeting.

Flight Safety Lessons Learned

By no means am I postulating that no one would have continued a similar flight, but what I want to convey to my fellow airmen is that I reached my personal limits and was not willing to risk further events. As the saying goes: “Learn to fly another day.” The gravity of the chain of events really sunk in when I called Dennis the next day, and learned the winds actually increased about the time we would have arrived. Thank goodness I had chosen to remain on terra firma. Here is hoping others will pay similar attention to flight safety and avoid the “Swiss Cheese” from aligning for them!

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Featured Image by Marshall Segal

Why IFR Flight Training Should Come After Your License

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

Any pilot who has been flying for a while has experienced flights delays due to weather conditions, and without having an instrument rating, those delays can stretch into hours or even into days. These delays can cause many pilots to make go no-go decisions that are not so good. So the benefit of a pilot having an instrument rating is that it increases the number of good choices available to him or her. Although most pilots eventually earn an instrument rating, a smaller number of them maintain instrument currency, so when a student is contemplating IFR flight training, it is best to know in advance what kind of instrument pilot he or she intends to be. If the goal is to be an instrument pilot in name only, then all the IFR flight training needs is to accomplish is passing the check ride. However, if the student wants to be an active instrument pilot rather than a victim of the risks, it is necessary to progress well beyond the basic IFR flight training requirements. Instrument flying is demanding and it requires active thinking, because when a pilot earns an instrument rating he or she is authorized to evaluate weather, dispatch the flight, and then fly the airplane within the same air traffic control system and weather systems that the two-crew turbine aircraft are using.

In essence, weather and VFR flying is a relatively simple and straight-forward [black and white] process which involves flying visually while avoiding the clouds and areas of poor visibility. However, weather for IFR flying enters into a more gray area which involves actually flying in the weather rather than flying to avoid the weather. This makes knowledge about the weather that much more significant. It is critical that students learn as much about the weather as they do about the elements or mechanics of instrument flying. Those pilots who believe that they can be fed weather data for IFR flights by an FSS are the pilots who typically find themselves in trouble due to unanticipated or deteriorating weather conditions. Passing the FAA’s knowledge test does not provide a pilot with sufficient [theoretical] knowledge on weather, which is why it is imperative that students find a flight instructor who is willing to fly in actual conditions on training flights. This will help to acquire the practical experience that will allow student pilots to understand the correlation between the information provided by a weather briefing and the actual weather conditions.

One means of examining the potential value of an instrument rating is to fly hypothetical flights by checking the weather to see if a trip could be flown in VFR conditions. If the answer is “no,” then examine the weather for a hypothetical IRF flight between the two points. There are several elements of weather than impact IFR flights: clouds, ice, turbulence, precipitation, convection, fog, low ceilings, low visibilities, and winds aloft so that only through study and actual practical experience can students learn to weigh each of these elements that could affect their flying. The FAA allows pilots to earn an instrument rating with 125 hours of flight time, which might be sufficient for full-time students who are pursuing positions as airline first officers. But for pilots who want to be able to fly single-pilot IFR in light airplanes, those FAA requirements tend to be inadequate.

Summary of the FAA requirements for an IFR Rating

Pre-Flight Review: Review all information and goals associated with the upcoming flight as well as how to achieve them whether in actual or simulated IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions), such as WFKART: weather, fuel requirements, know ATC delays, alternates, runway lengths, and takeoff and landing distances. If the flight planning includes shooting some approaches, it becomes necessary to brief those approaches and the missed approaches several times before the flight.

Ground School: This is the most cost-effective environment in which to ask questions of the flight instructor which can assume multiple formats, such as one-on-one dialogues, group classes, videos, or interactive DVDs or a combination thereof. To maximize learning within the shortest period of time, it is important to combine the ground school [theoretical] concurrently with the [practical] flight training.

Hood Work: Provides practical experience when no clouds are available. Hoods assume many shapes and sizes, and they are a regular part of the instrument training to block the students’ view of the horizon which only allows them to see the instruments on the flight deck. The purpose of the hood is to expose students to the forces of flight which can lead to various types of disorientation so that the experience teaches students to deny their body sensations and only trust the instruments on the flight deck.

Instrument Cross-Country: Most of the IFR flight training will typically occur near the students’ home airport, but the cross-country phase of the training will take the students out of the familiar which is when flight planning really begins to pay off. The pre-flight review allows the students to remain ahead of the airplane and enjoy the arrival at the pre-determined destination without having looked out the window. Attempting this in a vehicle is not recommended….

Check Ride Preparation: Once all of the ground school and flight time requirements have been met, the flight instructor will provide the students with a ground review which is when the students have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of the instruments and how they function as well as how they fail. The students must also demonstrate a familiarity with the FAA IFR regulations and how the system functions which is followed by a simulated check ride with the instructor. During this lesson, the students must adequately perform all flight procedures, maneuvers, and a number of instrument approaches to progress onto the next step of the process.

Instrument Rating Practical Test: This exam encompasses all the aeronautical information that the students have learned up to this point, and the students have the option to ride with a Designated Pilot Examiner or an FAA Inspector.

Once the students have passed the check ride, they are issued an instrument rating and are now allowed to file and fly in IMC. This allows the pilot to have a greater degree of freedom and feeling of self-confidence.

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Featured Image by Ryan Blanding

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

How Crew Resource Management Makes Flying Safer

Vern Weiss

On December 29, 1972, an Eastern Airlines Lockheed L-1011 with 176 people aboard crashed in Florida’s Everglades only 3 minutes from touching down at Miami International Airport. Three flight crew members, the Captain, First Officer and Flight Engineer became focused on a landing gear indicator light bulb that was not illuminated. As the airplane descended rapidly the three pilots continued to fuss with the indicator lamp. This marked the beginning of a series of horrible aviation accidents in the 1970s involving highly trained, professional flight crews.

The Beginning of Crew Resource Management

Something had to be done and that same year a British aviation psychiatrist and professor, Elwyn Edwards, developed the beginnings of, what originally was called, “Cockpit Resource Management” that since has been expanded. CRM now includes crew members including flight attendants, on or off duty aboard an aircraft as well as others on the ground and today is known as Crew Resource Management. Little by little, Dr. Edwards’ concepts have been built-upon and enhanced culminating in a comprehensive study and proposal by NASA in 1979. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has been instrumental in mandating CRM training and vigilance in aviation and has encouraged worldwide government aviation agencies like the FAA to comply with their CRM standards and protocols.

The NASA studies resulted in the belief that the primary cause of aircraft accidents was human errors created from interpersonal communication, leadership and decision-making problems. As defined, Crew Resource Management is a methodology in which the resources of equipment, procedures and people are collectively utilized as needed to safely complete every flying task. The individual components of CRM resources are communications, situational awareness, problem solving, decision making, and teamwork.

How Crew Resource Management Works

You are driving on a busy expressway. The sun is in your eyes. As you attempt to put them on you drop your sunglasses and they slide to the passenger side floor of the car. You should:

  • A. Forget about retrieving your sunglasses and continue driving even though the sun occasionally blinds your vision so your passenger doesn’t think you’re a wimp.
  • B. Pull over on the shoulder to safely retrieve the sunglasses before pulling back onto the busy highway.
  • C. To demonstrate your prowess as a driver, you reach down to the passengers’ side and grab your
    sunglasses.
  • D. You ask your passenger to hand you your sunglasses.

Obviously, answer “D” is best because it allows you to remain focused on control of the vehicle while using someone who is not otherwise busy to complete the task. This example is the essence of what Crew Resource Management is all about.

CRM is not about technical knowledge and the skill of flying an aircraft. It is he interpersonal and cognitive processes of situational awareness, communication, problem solving, decision making and working as a team.

Situational awareness is knowing what is going on around you and recognizing your place in the “big picture.” Walk through any Walmart and you’ll see any number of examples of people who lack situational awareness. As you walk down one aisle suddenly some guy who had stooped down to look at canned prunes stands up and immediately backs into you without looking up first. He had no idea that there could possibly have been anyone behind him even though your grocery cart wheels can be heard for miles around as you approached him. We don’t know where his head was but maybe that’s why he’s buying the prunes.

A flight attendant in the cabin of an airliner with passengersDon’t get me started on those myopic customers walking around glued to their iPhones, although they are great fun to watch when they walk into a clothing rack or knock over a display of ketchup bottles.
Crew Resource Management applies all the resourceful assistance each crew member requires to safely and efficiently perform flight operations. It includes all direct and peripheral personnel. Besides the immediate flight crew, it can include other pilots who are riding as passengers, jump- seaters, flight attendants, mechanics that may be on board; via radio, utilizing air traffic controllers, company dispatchers and pilots of other aircraft. For instance, you hear an aircraft ahead of you report that it flew through a large flock of birds. Use this information for your own benefit. “Old thinking” was that a pilot must be a “super pilot” and be able to do it all without asking for help. Not so. But pilots who are act autonomously and are unwilling to accept outside help tend to make big mistakes.

Crew Resource Management starts with receiving information, analyzing then making it meaningful. From this, analysis of all the choices enables the best decision out of possible alternatives. The consideration of various alternatives should include any available information, knowledge, prior experience, expectation, context, goals and greatest possibility of a successful outcome. There are times when decisions have to be made quickly, such as when an evasive maneuver is necessary to avoid a mid-air collision. In these instances you must fall back on training and procedures. In the example just cited…traffic at 12 o’clock and closing in on you fast, you veer to the right as per the Aeronautical Information Manual. But what if the bonehead closing on you veers the wrong direction and turns left? You must be willing to amend your response now. This is one of those extreme situations that fortunately does not arise very often. Most situations afford enough time to consult the non-flying pilot. There may be considerations that occur to that pilot that you omitted in your decision and the other pilot’s input will make the final decision a better one. Brittle methods practiced for years and unwillingness to consider others’ suggestions and unwillingness to do nothing have been diminished thanks to CRM, which is a giant leap forward in enhanced safety.

What Would You Do?

You’re headed straight for a black cloud. To its left is a blacker one. To your right the clouds are even blacker than the one on your left. Ah! No sweat…do a one-eighty, right? But the front is moving rapidly and has closed off everything behind you. Probably doing nothing and staying on course is one of the choices. Of course, there’s other things that can be tried like changing altitudes (the middle third of a cumulonimbus is usually where the most violent weather is found), slow up so you don’t hit the “potholes” so hard once you’re in the cloud. Ask your non-flying pilot to check on ride reports ahead of you. Maybe the blackest cloud wasn’t all that bad as reported by an aircraft immediately in front of you. What’s the radar show? Turn on your ADF receiver and watch the needle swing. It points to the area of strongest static caused by lightning discharges. Cinch up your seat belt and tell your passengers to do the same. If you have auto-ignition, turn it on. Follow the procedures in the checklist for turbulence and heavy precipitation penetration. And ask you non-flying pilot what he or she thinks. Maybe the non-flying pilot is more skilled at use of the radar than you and can “see” where the passage ahead would be better. Crew Resource Management uses everything at your disposal.

An important component of CRM is use of standardized checklists for normal, abnormal and emergency operations. When pilots start creating impromptu procedures things can turn ugly real fast. Checklists are developed, tested, re-tested, evaluated and authorized from manufacturers and the FAA have worked out the kinks. Obviously, if one pilot starts extemporaneously throwing switches, the other pilot won’t have a clue as to what his partner is attempting to achieve. Checklists. Checklists. Checklists.

A United Airlines airliner taking offLong overdue, awareness of fatigue and workload have fortunately become important considerations the last few years. There are times when the cockpit gets very busy and at those times both pilots should be sharply attentive. Even though one pilot may be listening to, say, the ATIS frequency and not monitoring the active ARTCC frequency, that pilot should continue to monitor that frequency in case something transpires that require urgency in getting back “into the loop.” Even ATC has changed their policies on issuing clearances, recognizing that pilot workload and information retention has its limits. ATC will not issue a clearance with more than 2 numbers at a time. If they want you to turn left to a heading of 160, descend to 4,000 feet and slow to 230 knots, they’ say, “Ercoupe 38 X-ray, turn left heading 1-6-0, descend to 4,000.” You respond with the read back. Then they call you and say, “Ercoupe 28-X-ray slow to 230 knots.”1

As aviation has developed, automation has increasingly become more integrated into the pilot’s world. Flight management systems (FMS) and a myriad of aircraft-specific enhancements like auto-throttles, thrust management systems and FADEC-controlled engines, to name a few, have placed more importance on staying on top of what’s going on. While the civilian perceives automation on an airplane as something that makes less work for pilots, it’s actually the opposite. In fact, automation requires more vigilance than non-automation, so pilots must now be more in a systems management role than switch-and-control manipulation role. This makes it imperative that Crew Resource Management be applied to inputs, outputs, programming and cross-checking of all automatic systems.

Simply stated, Crew Resource Management is two or more people performing as one. Pilots utilizing CRM help each other by filling in any voids when tasks mount up and one person can’t do the job without sacrificing attention to the airplane. As mentioned earlier, CRM involves people other than the pilots as well. An example is approaching an airport with deteriorating weather. One of the pilots could direct his or her attention to switching radio frequencies to get a weather update, however both pilots may be very busy. The ATC controller has access to the same weather information that pilots can get from the ATIS, so why not just key the microphone and say, “Approach (control)…you got the latest weather for Booger International?”

Done.

Personal Experience with Crew Resource Management

Some years ago I was flying with another pilot who consistently demonstrated acute and superb skills. One Monday morning, we took off to start a trip and he seemed uncharacteristically “behind” the airplane. I thought his unusual sloppy and lethargic performance was maybe just that this was a very early morning departure and he “wasn’t awake yet.” Second leg of the trip, he was flying the approach and the profile for an ILS was at glide slope intercept to call for landing gear down and full flaps. Glide slope intercept came and he started to descend which, of course built up speed rapidly. He then started reducing the power to counteract the speed. Something was wrong. I said, “Gary, you ready for the gear and flaps?” Breaking his reverie he responded, “OH! Oh yeah…uh…gear down…uh full flaps…uh… and the before landing checklist.” We completed the approach and landing without further incident. After shutting down the aircraft and putting our other duties behind us I asked him if everything is alright. He said, “Well, no. On Friday my mom passed away and yesterday my dad had a heart attack and died.” Whoa! What was this man doing flying an airplane? We were not in a position where I could initiate a crew change but I did convince him to blow off the rest of the trip when we got back to our domicile and replace him with another crew member. I wish I had known before we had even started that morning so I could have intervened. Knowing the stress he was experiencing, at the very least my CRM observations would have been heightened to watch for mistakes and omissions earlier. The goal of CRM is for two people to act as one well-tuned machine.

My first exposure to CRM was my first job as a whipping-boy/corporate co-pilot in a two-pilot turboprop. The guy I worked for was a jerk. But I sucked-it up because I needed to build flight time if I was going to make a career in aviation. One night he ordered me to get him a cup of coffee. The galley was toward the rear of the passenger cabin so I responded dutifully. Just as I returned with his %&*# cup of coffee we flew into an area of turbulence. I am standing there holding his cup of coffee and he turns to me and barks, “NOT NOW! Do something…GET RID OF IT!” I was not a coffee drinker but the only thing I could think to do as we were getting the you-know-what kicked out of us was to drink the coffee quickly. I wanted to puke. In retrospect perhaps my choice to alleviate the problem created by the captain’s cup filled with coffee in some abstract way was a bit of CRM. I also know that that first cup of coffee I drank lead me to try it again and that now I am a die-hard coffee drinker.

So the moral of the story is Crew Resource Management is beneficial to pilots because it enhances safety and allows us to discover coffee.

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.

Footnote:

1 – Ercoupe? 230 knots? I’m joking, right?

Sources:

Advisory Circular for Air Operators, “Training Programme for Crew Resource Management,” International Civil Aviation Organization, 2013.

Internet Website: http://www.crewresourcemanagement.net/information-processing/decision-making

Featured Image: Kent Wien

Planning Your Helicopter Pilot Career

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

Whether contemplating a helicopter pilot career or seeking a private rotorcraft pilot’s license, flying helicopters is like nothing most students have ever done or will ever do during their lifetimes. Prospective pilots of both genders are entering the field every single day from their late teens into their 50s and older. Earning a helicopter pilot’s license may be an exciting and challenging endeavor, but just like any other worthwhile endeavor, the achievement of earning that rotorcraft pilot’s license(s) requires a great deal of commitment, dedication, hard work, and a financial investment. On more than one occasion, it has been suggested that a rotorcraft pilot does not actually fly his or her helicopter, but rather they think their helicopter since this skill requires a major amount of eye-hand coordination but with minimal physiological movements.

In general, there are two paths to seeking a helicopter pilot career, and they are the civilian flight path or a military career. If you are contemplating the latter option, check for additional information which may be available through a university that offers flight training. For the purposes of this article, the focus will remain on the civilian flight path.

For the purpose of licensing, all professional helicopter pilots must hold a Commercial Rotorcraft License. However, almost all of these pilots have also obtained their Certificated Flight Instructor’s (CFI) credentials and many also have obtained their instrument rating. The typical licensing progression for professional helicopter pilots moves through Student, Private, Commercial, and CFI but many of these pilots will earn their instrument rating between the Private and Commercial certifications. The instrument rating may not be mandatory, but it is increasingly becoming a major benefit or requirement to access better jobs while creating a safer pilot overall. For all levels of licensure, flight training includes ground school and a demonstration of the practical application of these skills, and helicopter flight training is substantially more expensive than fixed wing or airplane training. This is due to the high cost of acquiring or purchasing, operating, maintaining, and insuring helicopters.

Although these costs had been historically significantly higher than fixed-wing flight training, they have risen more steeply since 9/11/2001. All pilots, from student on, are required by the FAA to pass a structured medical exam that is administered by an FAA approved physician which includes measuring healthy body function in addition to a hearing and vision testing. Although vision does not to be perfect, it must be correctable with lenses to a relatively high level, and color perception is also important. Certain red flag areas, such as a history of drug abuse, psychological disorders, heart problems or conditions that would cause a lapse in consciousness also raise cause for concern during FAA medical exams.

For each level of helicopter pilot license, there are minimum FAA flight time requirements. For example, the Private Pilot License requires a minimum of 20 hours of dual instruction and 10 hours of solo time; however, 30-50 hours of dual time is much more realistic to ensure pilot competency. In general, flight time with an instructor costs in the range of $200/hour, and $150-$175/hour solo time with ground time costing approximately $30-$40/hour. These calculations suggest that it will cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to earn a private pilot’s license for rotorcraft. In comparison, a commercial rotorcraft license requires that the pilot has a minimum of 150 total hours, and 100 hours of (PIC) Pilot In Command time. This can be earned by flying solo in pursuit of the Private License and any time thereafter when acting as PIC even when receiving flight instruction. Calculating these figures indicates that the cost of obtaining a commercial rotorcraft license costs an additional $18,000 to $20,000. Fixed wing pilots have an advantage here because a portion of their time can be applied to their on-add rotorcraft license which saves them time and money.

The benefits of making such a large investment in pursuing a dream of flying helicopters for a living are substantial. One big benefit is the diverse range of career opportunities for qualified rotorcraft pilots depending on geographical locations: aerial photography and filming, aerial stock mustering, scenic “joyflights” or discovery flights for the tourism industry, bushfire fighting, powerline surveys, marine pilot transfers, search and rescue (SAR), police air work, emergency medical service (HEMS), corporate flights and general charter service, agricultural crop spraying and livestock herding, media news and traffic reporting, and offshore (oil industry) services. Helicopter pilots are also in demand globally, so employment options exist virtually anywhere on the planet with a variety of salary ranges and an optimistic projection for employment in the future. However, keep in mind that accessing a current monetary exchange rate is usually a wise idea when considering employment in a foreign country. Also, verify the requirements for helicopter pilots’ licensing since they may be different in foreign countries from the FAA requirements in the United States.

Typically the work activities dictated by a helicopter pilot career in business, leisure or emergency response jobs would include: checking weather conditions, airspace restrictions and route planning; filing flight plans with authorities; calculating fuel requirements, weight and balance; conducting a flight check on the helicopter’s equipment and instruments; performing safety checks; and gaining clearance from ATC (air traffic control) for takeoff. During the flight, pilots are required to communicate, navigate and aviate or fly the helicopter, and post-flight they are required to complete all paperwork prior to preparing for the next flight including the duty hours log. There are strict guidelines governing the maximum number of flying hours, but the flight duties may include flying days, nights, weekends or a combination thereof since corporate or business flying often demands “standby” status. Some jobs requiring longer distances may involve overnight stays away from home that may or may not include paid allowances for these overnight stays or visits to more inhospitable areas. Although those that choose a helicopter pilot career enjoy the challenge, they soon realize that much of their flight time is spent in a cockpit where the conditions tend to be cramped and noisy, and when working as an offshore pilot or as a pilot in a similar environment, they are expected to don a survival suit. So, it is wise to consider not only the work activities that are a good fit for a helicopter pilot career but also the working hours and conditions before submitting that employment application.

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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.

References:

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

Introducing Non-Aviators to the Flying Experience

Shawn Arena

Experiencing the world of flight by actually sitting in the cockpit of an aircraft manipulating the flight controls is one of the most exhilarating, inspiring and surreal events an individual can encounter. And being able to share that experience with friends, family and significant others is an amazing opportunity. But sometimes, it can be difficult to convince them to go up with you, and share the experience. Not everyone is ready to jump into the cockpit right away. However, without being in an actual airplane, there are many ‘ground based’ and alternative flying options that will let them take a peek into the flying experience, and help ease them towards giving the real thing a try.

It’s Almost Like the Real Thing

Aviation, similar to other industries, has benefited from the explosive growth of technological advances. Advances such as the ‘glass cockpit’ and ‘fly-by-by-wire ‘automated systems, have become industry mainstays in commercial aircraft. However, you may have also noticed technological advances have evolved that can make one feel ‘as good as the real thing’ without having to pay ‘real thing’ prices. Flight simulation alternatives have filtered down to the most cost-conscious general aviation pilot.

Ranging from full-motion simulators used at flight schools at nominal costs, to computer-based-flight simulation programs you can easily install and use on your personal computer at home, the options to peek into the exciting world of flight are growing. These high-definition, real-world graphic presentations, allow outstanding platforms that opens a door for one to start looking into the exciting world of flight.

Hangar Flying

Bring them along to spend some time hanging around fellow pilots and aviation entusiasts down at the hangar. They’ll very quickly find out the meaning and importance of ‘hangar flying’. Just as the name implies, one of the most talked about, yet informal activities in aviation is when two or more pilots sit around in a hangar and talk aircraft and aviation.

While these sessions can turn into the ‘fish stories’ of flying, they can also serve a very important purpose of fostering and promoting a passion for flying. This activity can also be incredibly helpful when veteran pilots talk to student or newly minted private pilots. I guarantee you that you will walk away with more firsthand, real-world information than you can find in any flying magazine or even a ground school class. If you are like I was, you become a sponge taking in all they can offer – at no charge! This also helps to set them more at ease with the idea of flying as they hear others talk about it openly and candidly.

While you’re there, you might also take the opportunity to introduce them to the idea of a discovery flight. As I mentioned in a previous article, taking a discovery flight will also allow them the opportunity to get a real taste of the flying experience by taking a quick hop around the pattern in an actual training aircraft.

Also, if there’s an airshow in town, don’t miss it! This is a great opportunity to spend time with a crowd of pilots and aviation enthusiasts, see a variety of vintage and new aircraft and see some great flying firsthand.

Flying Scenarios

Another really fun yet educational experience is to go to a concessionaire which has World War II and current aircraft simulators configured to accomplish a specific mission. My son and I went to one such concession at the Mall of America in Minneapolis…what a blast!

Even though I had been actually flying for several years at that point, this real-world simulation was very worthwhile. I chose the U.S. Navy / USMC FA-18 Hornet and my son chose the P-51 Mustang. There were two scenarios programmed into our session: a dogfight and a night carrier landing. Needless to say, my son ‘waxed my tail’ in the dogfight session, but I greased a perfect ‘trap on the number 3 wire’ on the carrier, one that Maverick and Goose would have been proud of!

Westward Ho

Regardless of the avenue you choose, there remain a variety of opportunities that you can use to help introduce your friends and loved ones to the flying experience. And these is just the tip of the iceberg – in order to keep things brief, I left out (not intentionally) options like hot air balloons, glider flights, ultralights and more. So without getting into the actual cockpit, one can experience the world of flight from as many angles as there are fair-weather cumulus clouds on a spring day!

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.

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