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Upper Limit and AOPA are Teaming Up to Help Rusty Pilots

If you’re a rusty pilot, Upper Limit and AOPA can help get you safely back in the air!

If you’re ready to get back in the air, but it’s been a while since you’ve been behind the controls, AOPA and ULA are here to help! On Saturday, August 10, we’ll be hosting a rusty pilot seminar aimed at helping you get current, and back in the skies.

You might be like more than 500,000 other pilots (that’s right, half a million), who have taken a little breather from flying. The good news is that getting back to flying is easier than you think. So, what does it take to get back in the air?

  • No FAA check ride or test.
  • You might not even need a medical!

As a seminar participant, you’ll get:

  • 3 hours of ground instruction toward completing your flight review
  • Valuable take-home materials
  • Handouts so you can review what you’ve learned.

WHEN: Saturday, August 10, from 9:00am – 12:00pm

WHERE: Upper Limit Aviation, Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) 619 N. 2360 W. Salt Lake City, UT 84116

Register for the event today by clicking this link on the AOPA website.

In addition, AOPA and ULA are proud to offer WINGS credit for attendees at this event! In order to receive credit, be sure to register with the email address that is associated with your FAASafety.gov account.

We’re thrilled to host this event with AOPA, and we hope to see you there!

And for anyone who would like to save or share this information with others, here’s a downloadable flyer with all the details as well:

Get Started with Your Flight Training Today!

For our Salt Lake City, UT location, call 801-596-7722 or email [email protected]

For our Temecula/Murrieta, CA location, call 951-696-7722 or email [email protected]

And click here to fill out our online application!

Understanding and Practicing Basic Flight Maneuvers

It’s important to understand the purpose behind teach and learning certain basic flight maneuvers.

Jennifer Roth

With technology continually changing in the aviation world, flying airplanes has become more automated. With glass panel navigation to autopilot controls, the pilot can at times seem ALMOST not necessary. However, we all know that is not true and technology is well known for malfunctioning, especially at the worst times. With all that said, many of the basic flight maneuvers that are taught in flight school may seem very outdated to pilots. It is important to not only know how to do the maneuvers but why they are still being taught to student pilots.

Any flight student, current or past, will tell you there was never a shortage of training maneuvers. From basically day 1, students begin learning stalls, slow flight, steep turns and of course emergency procedures. Each of these has their own set of skills that safely teaches a new pilot how to handle the airplane in specific configurations. It creates a useful training environment to teach the student how the aircraft handles, what to watch for and how to adjust accordingly depending on what is happening or required.

Basic Flight Maneuvers – Stalls

One of the first maneuvers introduced are stalls. Many times, people do not have a clear understanding of what a stall is. Anyone uneducated in aviation tends to say or think it is an engine stall. In reality, is the loss of lift. Stalls can occur at high airspeeds as well as low. Stalls are taught utilizing flaps up, flaps down, throttle out as well as full throttle. The student will set the stall up in the specific configuration and if they are working for their Private pilot certificate, they have to bring the aircraft to a full stall. The purpose of this training maneuver is to teach a student to recognize a stall before it occurs as well as being able to safely recover with minimal loss of altitude and heading change. When a pilot goes on to the airlines, the airplanes will be bigger and faster, but they can still stall, and it becomes way more dramatic, dangerous and scary for passengers. So, pilots are taught how to deal with stalls and prevent them early on. Stalls are practiced at higher altitudes so a student can make mistakes in order to learn, but it’s important that they understand a stall can occur at any altitude, especially takeoff and landing when they are low to the ground. When they are low to the ground, they do not have the luxury of altitude for recovery and many low-level stalls have taken the lives of many pilots on takeoffs and landings.

Basic Flight Maneuvers – Slow Flight

Another flight maneuver that is introduced is slow flight. The purpose of this maneuver is to put the aircraft in a nose high, slow speed, unstable situation. There are two configurations required, with full flaps and with takeoff flap setting (depending on the aircraft). The student will set the aircraft up to the airspeed and pitch just below the stalling point. The stall warning horn will be going off. They are then required to make two 90-degree turns, one to the left and one to the right. Depending on where in their training they are at, private or commercial, they have specific standards to maintain such as how much bank angle they can exceed or how much altitude they can gain or lose. If the turn is too steep and become uncoordinated, the plane can easily go into a stall and if too uncoordinated could become a spin. A student may think this situation won’t happen on a “normal day, normal flight” but this situation can happen very easily especially coming in for a landing. They begin to sink too quickly and the student will then pull back causing a nose high, low air speed and because landing is a busy stressful time, they may not even realize what is happening. And as previously discussed, stalls at a low altitude are many times, not successfully recovered.

Basic Flight Maneuvers – Steep Turns

Steep turns tend to be considered a more “fun” maneuver. They are steep turns, usually 45 to 50-degrees of bank while at normal cruising speed such as 100 knots in a Cessna-152. The point of this maneuver is to teach the student to do 2 360-degree turns in both directions while maintaining their airspeed and altitude and rolling out on their starting heading after each turn. The purpose of this maneuver is for a pilot to know how to do a high-speed steep turn safely without placing themselves in an unusual and unsafe attitude. As discussed previously, it is easy for a pilot to become overwhelmed, like on landing and be asked to make a sharp left or right turn, and then they panic or get behind the aircraft and then they can lose their bearings, pitch the nose up and place themselves into a high-speed stall, or even a spin. Making student pilots practice steep turns teaches them to have a proper scan of all the instruments as well as the horizon and to pay attention to all cues they are being given.

Basic Flight Maneuvers – Emergency Procedures

The training and practice of emergency procedures is a given with any situation that can result in a crash and possible death. In aviation the procedure that is practiced almost every single flight is engine-out procedures. A flight instructor will pull the throttle to idle when the student is not expecting it, on takeoff, landing, practicing maneuvers or just basic flying. The student has to immediately set the aircraft up for landing. They follow their emergency checklist and begin setting up for full shut down and landing wherever the best field, or location is. They have to remember where the winds are coming from, take account of power lines, fences, homes etc and never stray too far away from the location they choose. Depending on what altitude they are at, it will affect how much time they have and how much altitude they have as a buffer. Unless over an airport, instructors will usually decide if the student would have made their field and tell them to go-around. The unplanned procedure allows for the student to learn to adapt and operate under pressure, as much pressure as a fake emergency can allow.

Just like with anything else, practice makes perfect, and continually practicing emergency procedures allows a student to rely on that in an actual emergency. They will tend to revert back to training, and it becomes almost automatic for them. Instructors will also ask students to recite what they would do in other situations such as loss of communications with air traffic control, or an engine fire, or bird strike. Anything that can occur, flight instructors try to teach students to prepare for. Of course, the reality is that no matter the preparation, you can never be prepared for everything. However, until that point, continual training and practice will lay a foundation for a student to rely on as much as possible.

In Conclusion

Even with today’s technology and ever-expanding intelligence of airplanes, pilots are still the ultimate authority and decision maker in the aircraft. If all resources failed, it then falls on the pilot. So even though autopilot is wonderful, it may not be there one day so it is important that a pilot never stop learning, practicing and keeping a lookout for danger when flying. Too many times complacency gets the best of people and that’s when mistakes are made. Pilots should always revert back to their training, and remember why they were taught what they were taught, such as basic flight maneuvers, even if in the moment it seemed tedious and monotonous.

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.

Rules of Thumb That Make Flying Planes Easier

You can make flying planes a little easier by applying a few different rules of thumb provided below.

Vern Weiss

There’s a lot of minutia and head work involved in flying planes and sometimes a pilot can get bogged down with the calculations and mental gymnastics required. “East is least and West is best” and “Accelerate – North, Decelerate – South” come to mind. Thank goodness they came up with those to aid in flying planes, or I would still be studying for my private pilot written exam.

My particular annoyance is the Metric system’s ornery method of measuring temperature. Fortunately, some angel from Heaven was sent to give us, “Double it and add thirty.” So if I need to convert 30 degrees Centigrade to Fahrenheit it becomes 30 x 2 plus 30 equals 90. It actually comes to 86 degrees Fahrenheit so I must offer this caveat about all pilot rules of thumb: A rule of thumb is a “broad application that is not intended to be accurate or reliable for every situation. It is an easily learned and easily applied procedure for approximately calculating or recalling some value, or for making some determination.1

Hydroplaning

Say, let’s go hydroplaning today! The runway is wet and we are bored so let’s inject a little excitement into a hum-drum afternoon.

Hydroplaning occurs when a boundary layer of water prevents a tire from making direct contact with a hard surface and the result can be the loss of steering control and braking. The formula for computing the minimum speed at which a tire hydroplanes would fill two pages of lined filler paper. However Professor Tom Thumb created his Rule of Thumb and shrunk the arduous calculations down to simply “the square root of the tire pressure times 9.” Thank you, Professor Thumb. (Actually, it is known as Horne’s equation.) This means that if your tire has 45 PSI in the nose and 38 PSI in the main tires, the nose will start hydroplaning at 60 knots and the mains will start hydroplaning at 55 knots. Yes, you are seeing that correctly; your mains will be hydroplaning before your nose as you accelerate and they will continue to hydroplane after your nose has stopped as you decelerate. This rule of thumb works no matter if you have air or nitrogen in your tires. It can also be applied to your automobile tires and give you an edge when the highway is wet enabling you to keep your speed below the threshold of where you’ll start hydroplaning. (i.e. tires inflated to 35 PSI even though they may be 44 PSI-rated tires will begin hydroplaning at 65 knots (74.8 MPH). This is a rule of thumb only. There are all kinds of tires, type H, radial-belted and bias-ply. Bias-ply tires used on aircraft have the highest speeds before they’ll hydroplane. Type H and radial-belted tires hydroplane at lower speeds (the formula “square root of the tire pressure times 6” should be used).

Rolling Out of a Turn

A well-known rule of thumb for flying planes you may have learned in the simulator is when to begin rolling out of a turn to straight-and-level and when to level out from a descent. A cozy, comfy roll-out from a turn is simply half your angle of bank. If your bank is 15 degrees, start your roll-out 7 1/2 degrees before your desired heading. If your bank is 45 degrees, start your roll-out 22 1/2 degrees before your heading. Make sure it is twenty-two AND A HALF degrees! Not 22-1/4 or 22- 3/8, but 22 and a half! Heh heh…I’m having a little fun with you.

As for descending, if you prefer not to undershoot…then overshoot…then dive back down like a porpoise at Sea World, start your level-out at your rate of descent divided by 10. If you’re descending at 1,000 feet per minute, start leveling out 100 feet before your altitude. Pretty simple, eh?

Crossing Restriction Clearance

When flying planes, pilots are frequently called upon to participate in The Dreaded Crossing Restriction clearance from ATC. “Pterodactyl Two-Eight-X Ray, Descend to 7,000 feet and cross 10 miles south of Earwax VOR at 2,000 feet.” H-m-m-m. So you hustle down to 7,000 because that’s where he wants you to be. Now you have to figure out when to start your descent from 7,000 to 2,000. This “rule of thumb” is predicated on ATC’s expectation that you will descend at an angle of 3 degrees which is comfortable for any aircraft. (By virtue of their speed, jet aircraft attain this rate at approximately 2,000 FPM). It’s simple. Drop the last 3 zeros of the altitude change required. Multiply this number by 3. This figure represents the number in miles prior to the crossing fix necessary to safely arrive at the new assigned altitude. In our example, you are going from 7,000 to 2,000 feet which is an altitude change of 4,000 feet. Drop the 3 zeroes to get “4.” Multiple “4” by the constant “3” to get 12. To make this crossing restriction you will start your descent NO LESS than 12 miles from the VOR. Actually, I add an extra buffer of 5 and would start my descent when I was 17 miles from the VOR. I don’t like filling out NASA reports nor do I wish to get any letters from the FAA.

Here’s a thought to ponder: Contemporary airplanes are now equipped with super-colossal computers that can figure this out for you. In fact, these FMS systems will alert you when to start down and even provide you with a virtual “glide slope” to ensure arriving at the desired point at the correct altitude. This is handy when all the data is already plugged into your FMS but what happens when it isn’t? When you’re given an unexpected crossing altitude you have the additional task of key-punching in all the data. That takes time and I have seen so many pilots in the simulator miss their crossing restrictions because they were fat-fingering buttons and trying to get their FMS programmed. Make it easy on yourself. You know your “X” miles from the VOR and the controller wants you at such-and-such altitude when you’re “Y” miles…do it in your head and it will take you less than ten seconds to compute instead of a minute or more of pirouetting your fingers around the FMS keyboard. Even when I already have the crossing restriction programmed into an FMS I still do it in my head as a double check that all the data-based algorithms are correct (and I have seen them not so).

Amount of Fuel

So you land and you gotta buy fuel so the petroleum barons can afford to own nine luxury homes throughout the world. There are two ways to go about this. You can dig your calculator out of your bag and make work for yourself…or you can take the easy way out and call on ol’ Professor Thumb.

It’s simple when your airplane registers in gallons. If you land and your 50 gallon tank is half- full and you want it three-quarters full you tell them you need 12 or 13 gallons. But what happens when you’re flyin’ with the Big Dogs and you no longer deal in gallons? Large recips and turbine aircraft generally have their fuel metering in pounds. But yet, FBOs deal in selling gallons.

There are two ways to do this: You can divide what you want by 6.79 pounds which will derive the number of gallons you need (ugh) or…you can use Professor Thumb’s Handy Dandy Instant Solution.

  • A. You subtract the fuel you have in the tank from the total fuel you want to have.
  • B. Divide that number in half.
  • C. Then add the half (B) to the number you started out with (A).
  • D. Drop the last zero.

The answer is the number of gallons to buy.

Say you landed with 1,000 pounds of fuel and you want to leave with 3,000 pounds of fuel. A= 2,000 B= 1,000 C= 3,000 D= 300 gallons

Don’t believe me? Try it in your head. You landed with 1,600 pounds of fuel and want to leave with 2,600 pounds. How much fuel do you order?

Did you say the amount in the footnote below?2  Well done.

In countries such as Canada they believe in liters and the rule of thumb for that is simply multiplying the number of gallons times 4 and that’s close enough. Fuel is quite variable and its density changes with temperature. But you’re an earnest and thorough pilot and after fueling you always check the fuel gauge before the fueler disconnects. If it doesn’t show you what you need, you add more. Duh.

If you have fuel tanks in each wing you obviously further divide your total by two and, instead of “150 gallons” it becomes “75 gallons per side” (except if the FBO has a promotion giving away something cool with a fuel purchase of 200 gallons or more then the minimum fuel order HAS to be 200 gallons).

These are just a few of the “cheats” pilots have devised to make the job of flying planes simpler. Ball-parking is acceptable so long as, when doing it, you cross check your answers with other available cues.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

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References and Footnotes:

1 – Thank you, Wikipedia.

2 – 150 gallons.

Featured Image: Kent Wien

Why a Pre-Flight Discussion With Passengers Is Important

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

Shawn Arena

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

All In the Name of Charity

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

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

Well at Least the Flight to Sedona Was Uneventful

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

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

You Should Have Said Something To Me Earlier

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

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

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

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

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

Another Lesson Learned, This Time About Pre-Flight

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

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

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.

Featured Image: Simon Moores

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!)

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

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Related:

Quiz: How Much Do You Know About Aircraft Icing?

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).

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

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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

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

Margie O’Connor

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

What Causes Hypoxia?

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

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

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

Oxygen masks being deployed in an airliner

Photo by Miikka H

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

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

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

Stages and Symptoms of Hypoxia

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

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

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

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

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

Types of Hypoxia

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

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

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

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

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

Your Susceptibility to Hypoxia is Unique to YOU

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

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

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

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

Gaining an Appreciation for Hypoxia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Flying!

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:

National Transportation Safety Board. (2001). 2001 GA Accident Aircraft Data Used in Annual Review. Retrieved from http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/data/Pages/aviation_stats.aspx

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

Sport Pilot Training: Everything You Need to Know

John Peltier

Want to fly around for simple travel and sightseeing but don’t have the resources to obtain a private pilot’s license? Or perhaps you can’t get the medical certificate for your private pilot but can still safely operate an aircraft. Go through sport pilot training instead!

What Can You Do as a Sport Pilot

The sport pilot rating can be very confusing to many people, even current pilots and flight instructors. It’s that “in-between” area between flying ultralights and being a full-blown private pilot.

A sport pilot can fly any aircraft categorized as a “light sport” aircraft. These aircraft weigh less than 1,320 pounds, cannot cruise faster than 120 knots, and only have seating for one passenger in addition to the pilot. There are a few other technical requirements, but these are the basics to be considered a light-sport aircraft. Examples of light-sport aircraft include the popular & timeless J-2 Cub, Aeronca Champ, the newer Cessna Skycatcher, certain gyroplanes, balloons, and gliders.

As a sport pilot, you can use your driver’s license to fly you and a friend around uncontrolled airspace during the day, under 10,000’, and in visibility greater than three miles.

Additional endorsements are available for sport pilots to be allowed to fly in certain controlled airspace and in varying light-sport aircraft.

Eligibility Requirements for Sport Pilot Training

In order to start your sport pilot training, you must have at least a valid U.S. driver’s license. Except if you’re training to fly gliders or balloons – no driver’s license is required. If you’re using a driver’s license, you’ll need to comply with any restrictions issued under this license, such as the requirement to wear corrective lenses.

You may most certainly use an FAA medical certificate instead of a driver’s license, but be careful if you don’t yet have a medical certificate and try to get one. If you apply for a medical certificate but are found ineligible for one, this will disqualify you from getting your sport pilot license. If there is any doubt about your ability to pass an FAA Third Class medical, you may just want to use your driver’s license, so long as you can safely operate an aircraft.

You need to be able to read, write, and understand English.

You’ll need to have reached your 17th birthday when you test for your sport pilot license in anything other than a glider, in which case you only need to be 16 years old. You can start training when you’re 14 for gliders, and 16 for all other aircraft.

Before you can take your practical test you’ll need to take a written knowledge test.

After a certain amount of flight training (20 hours in airplanes & gyroplanes, 10 hours in gliders) you’ll be eligible to take the final practical test with an FAA examiner.

What to Expect in Sport Pilot Training

Sport pilots still need to know the basic “rules of the road” in order to safely operate an aircraft in American skies. Your sport pilot training will start with ground instruction on some of these subjects. Some of the sport pilot ground training subjects include:

  • The FAA regulations applicable to sport pilot privileges and operations
  • Visual navigation using aeronautical charts
  • Basic weather theory as it applies to aviation
  • Understanding of aircraft systems
  • Aeronautical decision making

With the right attitude, you’ll be able to hang out in the pilot’s lounge in airports across the country and participate in discussions about these subjects! Not to mention being able to safely and effectively operate your aircraft.

You’ll also be getting up in the air for some flight instruction concurrent with most of your ground training. Depending on which aircraft category you want to get certified in, and how fast you pick things up, this could be anywhere from ten to twenty lessons.

In airplanes, for example, you’ll need a total of 20 hours flight time (half of what is required to be a private pilot). This is broken down into 15 hours of flight lessons with a flight instructor and 5 hours of solo flight.

Your first few lessons will be all about familiarizing yourself with the airplane – preflight, controls, and postflight. Once you have a foundation of these things, then your instructor will take you through basic maneuvers during your next few lessons. These topics will include takeoff, maneuvering with reference to objects on the ground, and landing. You may even get surprised with an emergency procedure or two.

At that point, you should be ready to solo! Your first solo will be limited to flying around the airport, but after that you’ll be on your own “cross-country”! This solo cross-country flight must be a minimum of 75 miles. During these 75 miles, you’ll be making a landing at a second airport other than your home base, and have one segment of the cross-country longer than 25 miles. It’s an awesome feeling!

Other airplane requirements are a total of ten takeoffs and landings to a full stop and two hours of cross-country flight training with an instructor (you’ll do this before your cross-country solo).

Once you’ve completed all of the above sport pilot training you’ll be ready for your practical test, so long as you’ve already taken your knowledge test. The knowledge test is a written test at an FAA testing center with questions related to what you learned during your ground training.

The practical test, also known as the “checkride”, is with an FAA examiner. He or she will quiz you orally before your flight on those subjects you learned in ground training, then you’ll go on out for your flight! Just imagine that it’s just another flight with your instructor. The examiner will want to see you preflight the aircraft, crank it up, takeoff, perform some basic flight maneuvers, stalls, an emergency procedure, then come back and land. That’s all there is to it! You’re now a certified sport pilot!

Restrictions on Sport Pilots You Need to Know

Some of the basic restrictions have already been outlined, like airspeed limits and altitude limits.

You also cannot operate in any controlled airspace as a basic sport pilot. That is to say, around small airports with control towers or in airspace around larger airports like Los Angeles. However – there is a provision to allow sport pilots to fly in this airspace. All it takes is some extra training and an endorsement from an instructor. You’ll learn more about using the radios, navigation, controlled airport operations, and the FAA regulations as they relate to controlled airspace.

This endorsement is really not difficult to obtain and it really opens up your options for flying!

There are many other restrictions outlined in the Federal Aviation Regulations (Part 61.315 if you’re interested). Here are some highlights from the long list:

  • You can only fly one passenger, and you may split operating costs evenly among the two of you (your passenger cannot pay more than an equal share)
  • You cannot fly to further your own business
  • You cannot fly at night
  • You cannot fly greater than 2,000 feet above the ground
Should You Pursue Sport Pilot Training?

If you want to experience the freedom of flight but can’t make the commitment for private pilot training, then absolutely go for it! Just realize that while it’s a fast-track to being a pilot, flying is a very serious business with risks. Treat is as such and you’ll be glad you did!

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.

Featured Image by Chris Happel

What to Expect When Earning Your Airplane Instrument Rating

John Peltier

Congratulations, you just got your private pilot airplane license. You want to use this newfound freedom to fly to the family cabin in the next state, but there won’t be any VFR weather between here and there for the next week. Grounded. But what if you had your airplane instrument rating?

Reasons for Getting Your Airplane Instrument Rating

Of course, being able to legally fly in IFR conditions isn’t the only reason for getting your airplane instrument rating. It shouldn’t even really be “the reason” for you to get your instrument rating. You always want to better yourself as a pilot, right? This is a great way of doing it.

There may come a day when you find yourself facing inevitable flight into IMC – the clouds close in around you and there’s nowhere else to go. Having your instrument rating will prepare you for inadvertent flight into IMC and give you the tools you need to safely recover from that dangerous situation.

Even if you don’t accidentally find yourself in IMC, your instrument rating will teach you an effective instrument scan, leading to better control of the airplane. You’ll be better able to hold altitude, airspeed, and heading. And guess what – these are things that potential employers will want out of you as well.

And speaking of employment. If you ever have any desire to fly commercially, most employers won’t even give you the time of day if you don’t have your airplane instrument rating along with your commercial license.

Airplane Instrument Rating Requirements

Getting your airplane instrument rating isn’t as hard as you might think. You may look at the regulations and say to yourself, “wow, that’s a lot, I’ll never get it.” Sure you will! It just looks like a lot on paper.

Summary of Federal Aviation Regulations Part 61, Subpart B, 61.65:

  • At least a private pilot certificate in airplanes, or are currently in the process of getting it.
  • Take a written test (knowledge test) and an oral & flight test with an examiner in either an airplane or FAA-approved simulator (practical test). Your logbook will need endorsements from an instructor stating that you’re ready for both of these.
  • The flight experience you’ll need for the airplane instrument rating is:
    • Forty hours of simulated or actual instrument flying, 15 of which must be with an authorized instrument-airplane instructor.
    • Fifty hours of cross-country flight as pilot-in-command. Ten of these hours must be in airplanes (you can credit helicopter time if you have it).
    • A 250-mile cross-country flight in an airplane, with an instructor, flown under instrument flight rules. You must complete at least three different kinds of instrument approaches and fly an instrument approach at each airport along your routing.
    • Three hours of flight training in an airplane within 2 calendar months from the date of your practical test.
  • The FAA now allows pilots to get their instrument ratings concurrently with the private pilot license. This will speed things up though you won’t have the 50 hours of pilot-in-command cross-country time. The FAA will allow you to credit up to 45 hours of you performing the duties of pilot-in-command (as you do when you’re a student pilot) in lieu of this.
  • If you’re using a simulator, as you most likely will, you can only credit up to 20 hours of instrument time towards your rating – you’ll have to fly the other 20 in an actual aircraft. If you’re getting your simulator time in a structured Part 142 school, you can credit up to 30 hours.
What to Expect

Ground Training: You’ll need a good understanding of academia for your knowledge and practical tests. The amount you spend in academics will vary but it typically runs around twenty hours in the classroom. You’ll learn even more about the national airspace system, regulations, instrumentation, and bringing it all together to fly under instrument flight rules. You’ll also become a near expert at reading the weather and planning cross-country flights. Paying attention in ground school will set you up to do very well during the practical test, which is taken at designated FAA testing centers around the country.

Simulator Training: You don’t have to use the simulator – you can complete your entire instrument rating in an actual airplane, but this will significantly drive the costs up. The other advantage to using the simulator is efficiency of training. Your instructor can replicate conditions in the simulator that you wouldn’t be able to call for in the air. It allows you more room to make mistakes and learn from them, and “start from scratch” if needed. The simulator is where you’ll learn a good scan, preflight instrument checks, communications, and instrument procedures. Exposure to these in the simulator will make them easier once you get to the airplane.

Flight Training: And this is where the real fun begins! You’ll sit in the right seat with a view-limiting device, affectionately known as “foggles”, restricting what you can see to only the instrument panel. You’ll put these on after takeoff and remove them prior to landing. But you’ll wear them for everything in between. Your instructor will have you do some very basic maneuvers like changing altitude, and some more complex ones like recovering from unusual attitudes. You’ll get exposure to different local airports, flying all of the possible instrument procedures that are compatible with your aircraft navigation equipment.

The Practical Test: This is where it all comes together! You and your instructor will go over your logbook to make sure all of your requirements are met and set up an appointment with the dedicated pilot examiner (DPE). The DPE will have you plan a cross-country flight under instrument flight rules, and it may or may not be what you actually fly. But the DPE will want to make sure that you can complete one of these without error. The day will start with an oral exam, and everything you’ve learned up to this point is fair game. The oral exam will vary in length depending on the examiner, but once they’re satisfied you’ll head on out to the airplane! The actual flight itself will be a lot like your instrument training flights. You’ll take off, put on the foggles, and fly under instrument flight rules. You’ll have to recover from an unusual attitude and have another emergency procedure thrown in the mix. After flying a few instrument approaches, you’ll take off the foggles and the exam is over!

Costs of Getting an Airplane Instrument Rating

It’s hard to nail down an actual cost of receiving your airplane instrument rating. There are many different variables to take into consideration – the equipment used, flight time needed, location, fuel prices, extra training required, etc.

A “standard” instrument rating, using a C172 with twenty hours of simulator time will run somewhere in the ballpark of $8,000. If you need extra cross-country time as pilot-in-command, expect these costs to go up.

A good way of reducing overall costs of getting to your goal of being a commercial pilot would be to combine your instrument rating with other requirements of commercial employment. You can satisfy the cross-country time required for your commercial license by taking an instructor or safety observer and flying with the foggles on these cross-country flights, logging this time for both instrument and commercial. You may also want to consider doing some of these flights in a complex aircraft, turbine, or multi-engine.

After Getting Your Airplane Instrument Rating

You can consider your airplane instrument rating as something that dies unless it’s used! You’ll need to stay current in order to legally fly under instrument flight rules. Staying current involves completing six instrument approaches, holding procedures, and instrument navigation within a six-month period. You can complete this in either an airplane or simulator, but you cannot fly under IFR unless these requirements are met.

But these are the minimum requirements to keep your rating current. In order to be a proficient IFR pilot, you actually need to fly in IMC. You need to use your instruments every time you fly, even in VMC. If you’re coming back to the airport on a perfect VFR day, dial in the localizer and shoot the instrument approach back home. It may save your life some day!

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

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VORs: Avoiding Confusion with the TO / FROM Flag

John Peltier

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

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

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

Makeup of the VOR Instrument

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reverse Sensing

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

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

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

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

Determining Your Position

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the example:

Example of Quadrants for VORs

In summary, always remember these things:

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

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

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

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

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Pilot Shortage: What Should the Aviation Industry Do?

With a thirty-five percent increase in global travelers, there are more than half a million aviation positions currently available for qualified pilots. The aviation industry is working hard to meet that demand, but experts are saying there may be a serious pilot shortage. Both fixed wing and helicopter pilots are required and, in addition, many pilots just completing their required flight times are now being hired before they can even apply for a position.

In recent years, a large majority of qualified helicopter pilots were ex-military or war pilots. These elder statesmen pilots who are now retiring from the industry and leaving many helicopter and fixed wing companies with questions and concerns as to how these open positions are going to be filled by the next generation of pilots, and how they’ll deal with a potential pilot shortage.

Another source of the world pilot shortage is that many of the airlines around the world have been increasing the amount of planes in their fleets. In Asia alone, Airbus has tripled the size of its shipments to meet the expected growth. Many of these airlines now face the hurdle of where to attain the funding to train pilots to keeps these planes safe and in the air.

Where Are the New Pilots Going to Come From?

Many large commercial airlines are looking to foreign nations to employ pilots to fill the empty aviation positions due to the significant increase in airline utilization.  Aviation industry salaries start at $60,000 for helicopter pilots as reported for 2014. Commercial pilots are starting year average salary range from $65,000 to $120,000 with the potential to $200,000 for those pilot’s who have accumulated over 1000 flight hours. It is rare for a five-year experienced pilot to expect less than $100,000 per year.

Where will the new pilots come from and how will they get the financial support for schooling? Historically, funding for fixed wing, private and airline pilot training has been financially prohibitive for many men and women due to limited monies available, or being required to take huge personal loans to cover the cost of training. But subsequently, the aviation industry and private lenders have made funds more available to those pursing a career in the aviation or air travel industry, which may lead to more pilots and help solve the issue of the pilot shortage.

Airline Pilots Get ALL the Peanuts They Can Eat!

The job perks for helicopter and fixed-wing pilots are nearly endless. While it is true that the responsibilities that pilot’s carry are quite staggering in terms of human life if one sits and thinks deeply about it, these duties become second nature with experience (flight hours). It can become easier to hold the safety and well to be of other individuals when you’re own well-being is on the line as well.

One of the most popular and well known of pilot benefits has been money.  Traditionally, the earning potential has been equivalent to that of a doctor (general practitioner) or a government lawyer, with much less time (in years) spent in school and as flight hours accumulate, pilots can surpass these status career’s salaries as well.  But many people say that is no longer the case, and pilot salaries have been in a continual slide. With this in mind, will the perks and current salaries be able to attract enough new pilots to stem the pilot shortage?

For more, here is an interesting short interview segment with aviation education book author Rod Machado:

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