Category: How to Become a Pilot


Video: Backpack Helicopter Is Amazing… And Terrifying!

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The video from Down Under is riveting. In it, the developer—there’s much mystery behind this project and the company, called CopterPack—but the video sure looks real, though the technology itself is as problematic as it is impressive.

The company doesn’t discuss the machine in any great depth, except to say that it’s made of carbon fiber for strength and light weight, and that it’s got auto-leveling tech built in to help the pilot keep things under control. The twin rotors, one on each side, spin inside their own carbon fiber ducts, and can pivot individually to provide lateral, forward and backward control. It’s simple and it appears to work really well.

The craft is electrically powered, though just how long one could fly it on a single charge isn’t yet known, though we can’t imagine it would be very long.

But the primary concern that we have is for the safety of the pilot, whose pretty helmeted head is sitting inches away from the blades whirring away at speeds that must surely be cause for concern. Then again, it might be moot, as the backup system for the failure of the backpack copter is by all appearance none at all. 

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

California Drought Exposes A Missing Plane Thought To Have Crashed In 1965

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With California suffering a severe drought, the levels of lakes in the state have receded to record lows. This includes Folsom Lake, a large reservoir near Sacramento, where technicians testing underwater sonar equipment came upon the unmistakable outline of a small plane on the lake’s bottom. The definition of the scan is very good, thanks to the unfortunate circumstance of the record low water levels in Folsom Lake caused by the drought. Unprecedented numbers of large wildfires in the western part of the country last year were also associated with these same dry conditions. But it wasn’t good enough, it turned out, to make a positive ID on the aircraft resting on the lake bed.

The plane that the sonar team discovered, or so thought Placer County Sheriffs, was initially thought to be a Comanche 250 that was involved in a midair collision in 1965. The crash, according to local news reports, resulted in the deaths of all four aboard the Comanche, though the plane and three of the victims were never found, until earlier this month, even though searches were conducted regularly, as recently, in fact, as seven years ago.

But just a few days ago, the story took an unexpected twist, when a second, more detailed scan revealed that the plane was not the missing Comanche but, rather, a different one that went down in 1986 with no fatalities.  

There are no plans at present to recover the plane.

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

Communicate Like a Pro Pilot

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In addition to being first through the sound barrier, Chuck Yeager was the originator of that low-key distinctive West Virginia drawl that generations of military pilots mimicked if they wanted to be guilty of having the “right stuff.”

No matter how serious the emergency, pilots have taken his lead and sounded cool, calm and in control. But more than that, General Yeager had the gift of transmitting the most information in the fewest words. With his recent passing, we owe it to him to follow his lead to be excellent pilots and accurate communicators.

Flash forward to today. Airline pilots and air traffic controllers handle some of the busiest airspace in the world, with considerable skill, brevity and poise. However, spend a little time monitoring the local airport frequencies, and you may be less impressed by the professionalism. While most pilots are good communicators, there are still too many long, rambling and unprofessional transmissions eating up the airtime available to controllers and other pilots. Eventually, runway incursions, which skyrocketed in the early 2000s, brought some of these communications issues to a head. So, what to do?

Good Listening And Situational Awareness

Listen more and talk less. One of the time-honored lessons in Air Force flight training is the proper use of the dreaded “brain disconnect switch,” aka the microphone button. Every pilot has, at one time or another, depressed the microphone switch and wondered what they are going to say next. Others deliver a long and rambling soliloquy that would make old Will Shakespeare proud.

Psychologists tell us that extroverts generally compose while they are speaking, and introverts think first and speak second. Both work, but for aviation, let’s channel our inner introvert. All pilots should remind themselves that airtime, for the air traffic controller, is an extremely limited commodity. The more we can communicate in the shortest amount of time, the more ATC has time to work its magic, and the more time there is for other pilots to get a word in edgewise.

Young military student pilots are coached to keep their transmissions short, compose their thoughts prior to depressing the microphone button, and anticipate the variety of responses they may receive. This last item, anticipation of what might come next, is a byproduct of good situational awareness. Much of what we know about the “air picture” as we enter a busy airport is derived by what we hear on the radio. Thus, good situational awareness depends on good listening skills and benefits us all. So, listen first, think next, then transmit!

Sterile Cockpit

One of the major enemies of good listening is internal cockpit chatter. Following several accidents occurring after inattention due to non-aviation-related conversations, the FAA established the sterile cockpit concept. Since 1981, airline crews have been required by the FAA to conduct only flight-related conversations during specific phases of flight. Airline crews adopt sterile cockpit procedures when climbing up and descending back down again through 10,000 feet. This airspace, which is more densely populated with our little aluminum and carbon fiber machines, is also the busiest section of the flight for airline crews.

Clearances come hot and heavy, traffic calls and radar vectors are acknowledged, and multiple checklists completed. Nonessential conversation is simply verboten within and without the cockpit.


While the majority of midair collisions occur in day VFR conditions within 5 miles of the airport, sterile cockpit procedures are not required for general aviation pilots. In any event, the 10,000-foot altitude trigger is impractical for most GA aircraft. However, setting some pre-agreed lateral sterile cockpit limitations with your passengers and other pilots on board may suffice. For example, the first radio call before you enter Class B, C or D airspace, or the first call on the CTA frequency, is an excellent time to eliminate nonessential chatter. Enlisting your passengers to listen carefully to the controller’s instructions and call out traffic can avoid missed radio calls and increase flight safety.

If you have a chance to visit your local tower or radar facility, take the opportunity to see things from their point of view.

If all else fails, many audio panels have a setting to isolate the pilot from the cabin interphone, allowing the passengers to chatter on about the scenery and vacation plans, while the pilot attends to the business of flying. In any event, these modified sterile cockpit procedures can eliminate missed radio calls, ATC clearance failures, and that pesky call from the controller asking if the pilot is ready to copy a phone number to call after landing.

Proper Terminology

Most pilots grew up on great movies like “Top Gun” and “Battle of Britain,” and along with them, a cornucopia of nonstandard but truly entertaining communications like “tally-ho on that traffic,” “climbing to angels 21” and” bandits at 12 o’clock high” began appearing in the vernacular of Cessna 172 and Piper Cherokee wannabe aces. However, a quick review of the pilot controller glossary fails to yield any of these colorful terms. Today, the requirement for complete understanding between pilot and controller has continued to increase as the airspace becomes busier. Simply put, pilots and controllers need to speak in a simple, clear and standardized manner, where appropriate. The pilot controller glossary is a bit of a dry read, but its use can simplify many situations.


For example, the controller needs to hear the aircraft’s full call sign each time a new clearance is sent and received. No ifs, ands or buts; it is a requirement. So, we can all save time and frustration by responding with the full call sign and new clearance. This is especially true with taxi clearances at complex airports or landing sequencing at busy general aviation training airports. In the same spirit, the pilot has a requirement to read back the entire clearance accurately.

Recently, at the home drome, the tower controller asked a visiting Cessna 182 to “extend the downwind for traffic.” The pilot responded with, “uhh, okay, downwind.” It took two more awkward transmissions by an incredibly patient tower controller to clear up this communications failure…while the other five aircraft in the traffic pattern hung on every word! The solution: full call sign and complete clearance read back, no exceptions.

When standardized terminology fails, there is no substitute for plain and simple English. The pilot/controller glossary does not pretend to cover all situations. If the pilot knows what they want and can communicate it clearly without eating up a lot of airtime, the controller is more likely to be able to make their dreams come true. General aviation is often much less scripted than airline and military flying, so simple English, used in a thoughtful manner, usually carries the day. Remember, this should be a partnership between equally professional controllers and pilots.

Often, after a major military exercise, the pilots and controllers would get together and share what worked and what could be improved. These were great events. If you have a chance to visit your local tower or radar facility, take the opportunity to see things from their point of view. The controller wants to know what you want and needs you to respect the limited time they have to dispense instructions to the many aircraft they are controlling.

Communicate Like A Pro!

So, the next time you prepare to take off into the wild blue yonder to demonstrate your incredible aviation skills, take a moment and think about how you might improve your communication skills. Try imagining what you sound like to others. Do you listen carefully and make your responses and requests simple and blessedly brief? Does your sterile cockpit habit result in nary a missed radio call or misheard ATC clearance? And do you always hear yourself responding with your full callsign and clearance in plain English? And yes, it is still okay to sound just a little bit like that iconic test pilot from West Virginia with the right stuff. Just maybe, the late General Chuck Yeager is listening from up on high, and we ought to make him proud! 

Anger Aloft

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June 15, 2021

THIS PAST WEEKEND, airport boardings in the United States broke two million mark for the first time in fifteen months, bringing passenger totals to about 75 percent of pre-pandemic levels. That’s the good news. The bag news is, along with the long lines and suddenly full cabins has come a well-publicized rise in so-called “air rage” incidents, several of which have resulted in flight diversions, injuries to passengers and crew, and arrests.

What gives?

Air rage is nothing new, but the dynamics are a little different this time. Not surprisingly, a majority of the latest incidents revolve around masks. This is nothing if not predictable, given how politically charged mask wearing has become, to say nothing of the discomfort factor. But although nobody enjoys wearing masks on a plane, their use is mandatory and the rules aren’t changing any time soon (not before September at the soonest, when TSA’s mandate is up for renewal). People have little choice but to comply, which is both the problem and the solution.

While it might seem a stretch, the anonymizing effect of masks could have a role here too. It’s all but impossible to accurately gauge a masked person’s expression, which, at the make-of-break point of a hostile encounter, can in some people trigger anger or even violence. The fears, frustrations, and aggravations of the past year, meanwhile, have left many people traumatized and on edge.

We’re also seeing a rush of bodies into a system that, in terms of staffing, is lagging weeks or months behind. TSA staffing is down, and many airport restaurants and facilities remain closed. This means longer wait times for just about everything, which leaves people irritated and frazzled even before they step aboard. Some of the checkpoint lines I’ve witnessed over the past few weeks are the longest I’ve ever seen.

Another factor is a demographics shift among flyers. Business travel remains by and large curtailed, while a growing number of leisure travelers are taking advantage of cheap tickets to budget vacation spots. Many of these people are infrequent flyers unfamiliar with the rules and hassles of air travel, and thus more prone to acting out.

Then we have alcohol. Historically, inebriation is a factor in more than 80 percent of air rage incidents. The most recent statistics are incomplete, but several airlines have temporarily banned alcoholic beverages in their economy cabins.

Above and beyond all of this, meanwhile, are the baseline stressors of air travel: noise, crowds, kids, cramped seats, delays. None of these things is going away, and neither is air rage as a phenomenon. Flying has long had a way of bringing out the worst in people, and this will go on. What airlines need to figure out is how to keep the numbers from rising disproportionately.

A zero-tolerace approach to inflight violence is absolutely essential. That being said, could carriers be a little less heavy-handed in how they set the table, so to speak? Air travel was already a confrontational experience in some respects, and has grown more so under COVID: more rules, more being bossed around, more repercussions if you disobey. I understand the need for a tough stance, but at some point the onslaught of public address warnings and threats can have a detrimental affect, inciting rather than calming those who are prone to hostile behavior in the first place.

Which isn’t to blame airlines. The affronts and hassles of flying are duly noted, and getting on a plane is no longer the rare and special event that once beckoned our imaginations and, in turn, our best Sunday suits and behaviors. But that’s hardly an excuse for what we’re seeing. This is ultimately a behavior problem squarely on the shoulders of passengers. And, if you ask me, it’s symptomatic of our society’s increasingly shitty behavior in general. Are we coarser and more unruly as passengers, or as human beings? It’s maybe more of the latter than we care to admit.

Perhaps the best antidote is nothing more than a gradual return to normalcy. Fortunately, that seems to be where we’re headed.


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Sailplane Hitches A Ride On A Tornado

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A sailplane pilot over the weekend was soaring along in his motor glider near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in smooth air when the variometer started to sing. Unbeknownst to pilot David Evans, he was riding a tornado aloft. And he even captured the event on video.

You might know that this wasn’t a bona fide twister. It was more like a starter tornado—known as a landspout. And nothing bad happened, though we would counsel keeping a far greater distance from these whirlwinds, but in Evans’ case, he wasn’t aware of the phenomenon until the funnel cloud had already formed.

A landspout looks like a mini tornado, and it pretty much is, in that it’s a fast-spinning cyclonic cloud. A close cousin of the landspout is the waterspout. These form over water where landspouts, as the name conveys so well, form over land. Whereas tornados are associated with strong convective activity, landspouts can be hatched over dry land in relatively benign conditions, as is the case in the video. The power of a landspout is also far less than that of a convection-spawned tornado, with maximum wind speeds of around 70 mph, which equates to around an EF-0 tornado. Still, they are powerful enough to wreak havoc with objects, people and critters. Waterspouts, by the way, can capsize good-sized boats. They are to be avoided, as are landspouts.

Such mini twisters are rare in Oklahoma, which is well known for their full-sized cousins. But an area much farther north, just east of Denver, Colorado, is the landspout capital of the world because, according to meteorologists at Penn State University, the terrain “is naturally ripe for landspout formation because air flowing over the local rugged terrain can lead to the low-level convergence and circulation needed for landspout formation.”

Which is what we’re seeing here. Cool, yes, but have we mentioned that it’s way too close for comfort!

Video credit: David T. Evans

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

Facts About Midair Collisions

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Near-Midair Collisions Reported Each Year: Approximately 200
Actual Collisions: Between 15 and 25

Fatal: 70%

Distance From Airport Most Occur: Within 5 miles
Average Altitude: Less than 1,000 feet
Typical Meteorological Conditions: VFC
Most Common Time: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., weekends

Percent Occurring Within Traffic Pattern: Around half

During Takeoff/Climb: 10%
At Non-Towered Airports: 78%
Cases Involving No Radio Communication: About half
Cases Involving A CFI: 37%
Average Experience Of Pilots Involved: 5,000 flight hours
Common Scenario: Low-wing converging on high-wing
Less-Common: Formation flying, air-to-air photography

Collision Avoidance Technique Pushed By FAA: “See and avoid”
Critical Aspect: Traffic scanning
Also Known As: Keeping head on a swivel
Recommended Method: Block system scanning
# of Blocks To Divide The Sky: 9-12
Size For Each Block: 10-15° horizontally, 10° vertically
Minimum Area To Scan Around Intended Flight Path: 60° side-to-side, 10° up/down
Average Seconds Needed For An Effective Scan: 20

Technology Designed To Prevent Mid-Airs: Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS)
How It Works: Monitors traffic, generates warnings (TAs) and mandatory actions (RAs)
Percent Of TCAS Advisories Ignored By Pilots: 11%

Deadliest Mid-Air: 1996 Charkhi Dadri collision
Fatalities: 349
Survivors: 0
Experience Of Captain At Fault: 9,200 flight hours
Aftermath: TCAS required on commercial flights worldwide

U.S. Midair Resulting In Sole Survivor (Initially): New York City, 1960 
Aircraft Involved: United DC-8, TWA Super Constellation
Fatalities: 134
On Board: 128
On Ground: 6


Total Solar Eclipse Done Right

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There’s disagreement about whether the subject of Carly Simon’s big early 70s hit titled You’re So Vain was Mike Jagger or Warren Beatty, but regardless, that dude, according to the singer, flew his “Learjet to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun.” Which to be perfectly honest never sounded like a bad thing to us, but to each their own.

Regardless, this particular video of a total eclipse of the sun, what looks to be an annular eclipse, where the moon covers all but the outer ring of our home star, is awesome and is one of the coolest things we’ve ever seen. Totally Learjet worthy. 

You’ve missed the June eclipse, which was yesterday, but there’s another one this year, in December, and one company, Sky & Telescopes, is selling rides on a chartered Airbus A321 to witness the December 4,  2021 total eclipse from what it says will be cloudless skies at 38,000 feet. If you fly fast enough, you can extend your time in the path of the eclipse by a lot. Concorde did that trick back in June of 1973, managing to stay in the umbra for almost 74 minutes! An A321 can’t do that well because, well,  it’s not Concorde, but passengers could enjoy the darkness for nearly two minutes! Check it out here. Prices for a tour that includes the eclipse flight range from $4,500 to $12,000.

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

Cicada Madness, A Scary FAA Reading Of A Judge’s Ruling On Flight Training, and US aircraft makers are down with future LSA and V-TOLs.

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Cicada madness has struck the United States, and the mid-Atlantic states are getting the worst of it. After being underground for the past 17 years, huge swarms of cicadas have arisen and wreaked havoc (well, minor annoyance anyways), causing a delay to an Air Force One Press Flight and showing up on radar screens around the Washington, D.C., area, where experts say there are trillions of the bugs. At least now we know how many bugs it takes to fill the Nation’l Mall.

AOPA, EAA and nearly a dozen other member organizations are baffled and angered—they said “displeased”—by the FAA’s reading of a judge’s opinion on flight training that arose from a case against Warbird Adventures, which conducted living experience flights in a Curtiss P-40 to paying students. The court ruled that such flights were illegal, and the FAA followed up with an opinion that supported that of the court. The FAA guidance, the member groups say, could have a devastating impact on training in several different categories of aircraft, including homebuilts.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has partnered with Frontier Airlines for a pilot hiring program. Frontier will make regular recruiting trips to ERAU and meet with students there who have great recommendations, high GPAs and a record of “stellar” flight performance.

In an announcement that has drawn little notice, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and the SAE International, a global manufacturing standards association, have signed a cooperative agreement to work together in light GA and business aviation efforts. The partnership could have positive long-term implications for a new generation of Light Sport Aircraft-like models that could emerge within the next few years.

Genesys has introduced a big upgrade to its already popular S-TEC 3100 digital autopilot, with new hardware and capabilities, including an upgraded display and extensive V-NAV capabilities. The improvements are retrofittable to existing model 3100 autopilots.

A group of minority shareholders of Icon Aircraft have banded together to sue the manufacturer, owned by a Chinese company, claiming that Icon has passed up partnerships and other opportunities that would have improved the company’s fortunes. The suit claims the reason that Icon is doing this is so that it can transfer related technology to China.

The United States Air Force is looking into the development of a supersonic or hypersonic replacement for Air Force One and Air Force Two aircraft. The funds, reallocated from an existing program, are paltry compared to what would be needed for such development. Experts further suggest that the effort is part of a move by the Air Force to invest in the technology that China has been pursuing for the past several years.

Speaking subsonicallly, Vice President Kamala Harris was off on a multi-day trip to Central America when, only 20 minutes into the flight, the plane had to return to Andrews Air Force Base due to the landing gear not fully retracting. They swapped out planes and the Veep was on her way with minimum delay. No word on whether the mechanical issue was cicada related.

Boeing backed out on Aerion at least in part because of its great interest in the urban aerial mobility market, according to a story in Aviation International News Online. The story quotes Boeing president and CEO Dave Calhoun as saying that its joint venture with Kitty Hawk on the all-electric Cora eVTOL shows the kind of commercial promise that the Aerion Supersonic program presumably lacked.


The future of eVTOLs is beginning to look a lot like an electrical direction for conventional helicopter operations, and the order for 50 urban air mobility craft from Brazilian helo operator Helisul from Eve Urban Air Mobility Solutions adds to the perception. Eve is a subsidiary of Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer. It had earlier gotten an order for 200 of its craft from Halo, an urban air mobility startup.

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

Summer In A Snapshot!

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Summer Scenary


This week’s Plane & Pilot Photo of the Week is from Jamie Lou and captures what summer is all about in a single photo. Let’s go flying! Jamie is more than just a talented wingtip Wednesday shooter. A real estate broker and a corporate pilot, she is also the founder of, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit that is all about encouraging young women to fly. In our never-to-be-humble opinion, this photo shows the kind of scenery that will get anybody itching to get airborne! Thanks, Jamie!

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

Forced Landing Caught on Tape And Guess Who’s Flying? The Student!

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This short video of a forced landing in a Diamond trainer is one of our favorite videos…ever. But not for the reasons you might think. It’s not only because the “student” here made the forced landing, but because the instructor made this into an instructional opportunity, teaching it all the way as though it were part of the syllabus. Woot.

You need to watch a few times to figure out what’s going on, but we think we’ve got it figured out. The aircraft has lost power. Its prop is stopped. For all intents and purposes, it’s a glider. (Good thing Diamond builds nice gliders!)

There are abundant farm fields available for the landing, and the one they picked seemed like a good choice

But when we say “they,” who are we talking about? Well, the situation is this. The right seater isn’t the instructor. She’s the student, apparently a CFI student on an instructional flight. And since CFIs sit in the right seat, that’s where she is. And in this case, the instructor plays the part of the student, though he kicks into instructor mode to talk the CFI student through the landing. He also follows her through on the controls, though it sure looks as though she’s all over it.

And at the end, when they’ve come to rest just short of a fence, he calmly says, “Nice job.” We agree. And he was just as good.

There’s one other thing. One commenter online wondered what the “drunk saxophone” playing was. It was, of course, the stall warning horn. Now, if it’s going off, are they too slow? In terms of outcome, it’s hard to imagine a better forced landing. And being slow when you touch down on what could be a really rough surface is a great idea. And you are risking a stall/spin if you get too slow. They clearly didn’t, and their milking of the horn seemed just perfect under the circumstances, though some might disagree. In this case, the outcome says it all

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

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