I’ve been thinking recently about my time as a flight instructor. While I’ve been flying for over 40 years, I’ve only been teaching for a handful of those, so I am still learning a tremendous amount in the early stages as a CFI. It’s been great. And if you’ll permit me a short commercial message here… if you’ve ever thought about becoming a flight instructor, I encourage you to dig in further and strongly consider it since you likely have a lot that you can pass along to the next generation of aviators—especially if you been flying for a long time. I believe that I’ve learned more in my teaching hours than in all the hours that came before during those 40 years of flying.
Because most of what I do is helping Civil Air Patrol pilots transition to our high wing Cessna airplanes, I tend to fly with a lot of different folks but in just a few airplane types. This has allowed me to observe aviators using a wide variety of techniques to fly “nearly the same” airplane, including in the traffic pattern. And because some folks I have recently flown with have struggled with landings I will share what I have done to help them overcome their landing issues. I must admit that nothing I share below is original to me. I have shamelessly taken techniques from the great ones and assembled them into a ritual that I routinely teach. As Air Facts Editor John Zimmerman told me, “Every pilot is interested in landing better…” so here goes!
A good landing usually starts with a good approach.
The “good” bottom line is that I have found that when my students (or I!) fly the traffic pattern using a consistent technique our landings improve and become consistently good.
When the topic of getting better at landings come up, some people focus their effort on the last 10 feet (above the runway) to solve landing issues or just to try to get better overall. My experience indicates that while there’s nothing wrong with focus there (or anywhere else) to get better, landing issues are usually the result of a poorly flown pattern which usually leads to an unstable approach. This typically begins at one of two places: the crosswind to downwind turn, or the pattern entry. My focus here will be on the flying the pattern up to the point of the round-out.
For the folks having landing issues, it is in the traffic pattern that I see a non-structured methodology that I believe is hard for many to overcome. Specifically, the before landing checklist occurs at a different place each time, power/configuration changes and speed are not standardized, and neither are the location and angle of bank of pattern turns. Because of this “randomness,” the pilot tries to manage the process differently each time which results in the wrong things happening at the wrong time. I believe structure here helps pilots allocate more thinking time to managing the profile. The predictable “bad” bottom line in the lack of structure is frustration and a poor landing. It doesn’t have to be this way.
The other thing I routinely see is that folks are not thinking about the wind and its effect on their pattern. Unless the wind is perfectly calm, there is going to be some crab needed at different parts of the pattern to maintain the desired shape of a rectangle. The wind will also influence your pattern as to when you make your turns due to speeding you up or slowing you down on the various legs of the pattern. By the way, I suggest you refer to the FAA Advisory Circular 90-66B for details on flying at non-towered airports, which outlines the best way(s) to enter the traffic pattern.
What I advocate here is a ritual for flying the pattern. It assumes that you know your power, configuration, and flap settings for each leg of the pattern. If you don’t know this, get together with a CFI and work through that and write down them down so you can refer to them again. Don’t try to coach yourself here. And when you fly with the CFI, pick out some maneuvers that you can fly as part of the WINGS safety program and get credit toward your next flight review while you’re at it. More on the program here.
Here’s how I teach the pattern:
1. Perform the before landing checklist in one of two places: after completing the crosswind to downwind turn if already in the pattern; or before joining the downwind if joining the pattern.
2. On the downwind be at the power setting that will sustain level flight at pattern altitude at your normal downwind speed. In a Cessna 172 this is about 75 KIAS.
3. Fly the correct heading to parallel the runway. Your GPS track (on your navigator or iPad) is a perfect way to double check this. If you’re landing on runway 28 you should make a track across the ground in your downwind of about 100 degrees. Since the wind is likely to blow you away (or toward) the runway this helps you to maintain proper distance, which is part of a good approach.
4. Abeam the numbers, make your normal power reduction and first configuration change (flaps and, if equipped, gear down). Lower the nose slightly and the net result is approximately the same airspeed with about a 500 foot per minute descent.
5. Turn base at the 45-degree point. Add next notch of flaps. Maintain proper speed. In the 172 I suggest 70 KIAS with 20 degrees of flaps. As you complete your base and are about to turn final you should have descended about 500 feet: “halfway around – halfway down.” I will run the before landing checklist one more time during the base.
Short final is not the place for aggressive banking to correct a late turn to final.
6. You should turn final at the appropriate time by anticipating based on how the wind has affected the rest of your pattern. This is where people can easily get behind because they turn to final late (faster base due to tailwind), overshoot the centerline, and start to maneuver aggressively to get back on the centerline. Bad move! Don’t try to re-intercept; level the wings, power up, and go around. Aggressive maneuvering that close to the ground is a perfect recipe for a stall/spin event—which could be deadly.
7. Last notch of flaps goes in here once wings are level after base to final turn. Target speed in the 172 here is 65 KIAS for a normal landing (not short field). Again, use the speed and configuration most appropriate to your airplane. I teach students to pick a spot on the windshield that lines up with the landing point and watch the trend of how that spot continues (or not) to remain lined up with the desired landing point. The key is to notice changes quickly (laterally or vertically) and correct with appropriate crosswind correction as well as power or pitch as appropriate. In general, I teach a correct pitch attitude for the airplane with backup checks on power and speed. Making small changes is far preferable to large ones, so it is important to notice and correct small variances vs. missing the trends and then attempting to make large changes in power or speed. Final is also the place where I perform one more before landing checklist.
8. From this point the goal is to fly the profile and make small corrections as needed to remain on it. I teach students to be “spring loaded” to go around. This could be because of another plane on the runway, crosswind correction that they are unable to manage, significant deviations in the profile, passenger getting sick, etc. Better to go around and make another attempt that force a bad situation.
9. The other thing I teach is for the student to hold the correct pitch attitude all the way to the round-out (which occurs 10 ft. or so above the runway). What I see a fair amount is students slowly allowing the nose to come up before reaching the round-out point. This results in a few things:
The airplane gets very slow because no power has been added yet the airplane is no longer descending at the previous rate.
A pretty hefty sink rate starts to occur as the airplane runs out of energy
A perfect setup to drop the airplane onto the runway very hard, potentially causing damage.
It is very important not to level the pitch attitude until it’s time to round out and prepare the airplane for touchdown.
It’s been my experience that if the approach has been flown largely as described above, the setup for a good landing has been largely accomplished.
I would be very interested to hear your comments on what you have learned on this topic. I look forward to seeing them!
Marty Sacks is a second generation aviator living in Maryland who thanks his Dad for passing along what has become a lifelong love of flying and the appreciation for great aviation books written by legends like Robert Buck and Richard Collins. Marty recently became a flight instructor and enjoys working with the next generation of pilots. He is a very active member of the Maryland Wing of Civil Air Patrol. He is married to his best friend and occasional passenger Mary Beth. They have three grown sons. By day he works in the broadcast industry for an equipment supplier.
We all seem to have challenges in managing all we want or need to get done in life, and as pilots we have many things to manage in order to be safe and have a good flight. Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM) is an essential skill for a pilot, and managing our time and resources while in the left seat is critical. If we don’t do it wisely, things can go bad in a heartbeat.
Time management guru Peter Drucker said there are three rules for effective time management. They work well for pilots. These are also concepts I teach to my high school aviation students.
If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. You need some place to document your commitments and tasks. There are countless methods, but something that is organized by date and time and can be referenced and used for planning takes away the burden of trying to remember all that you committed to. I have used the Franklin Day planner for the last 30 years and it has worked well for me.
You need to be able to prioritize. Having some sense of what is important and what is not is something we as pilots do all the time. We fly in a dynamic, ever-changing environment and know what is important and can prioritize our actions (aviate, navigate, communicate). We all know the horror stories of the pilot and passengers who died when the pilot succumbed to the “get-there-itis,” or pushing into the IMC conditions from VMC. What do many of the stories have in common? The pilot made a decision not based on the priorities of taking actions that would create the highest level of safety. Dirty Harry said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
Have you seen any buffaloes lately?
“Buffalo Time.” This my own interpretation of Drucker’s third rule. Some years ago, my wife was teaching a Dale Carnegie course and had a class member who was Amish and didn’t drive. Bill Plank of Brodhead, Wisconsin, had a successful harness and tack company—his company made the harness and tack for the Budweiser draft horse team. Bill’s company was based in large part on his making a commitment and following it through. Bill came back to assist with the next course and she would pick him up early and drive him to class. He never missed a class.
One day when she went to pick up Bill, his wife Elizabeth came out and told her Bill would not be going to class that night. That was very unusual, and my wife was concerned. Earlier in the day, one of their full-blooded buffaloes escaped and it had headed north, ripping up everything and anything is its path. The only way he was able to stop it was to shoot it. He was now out in the in the pasture, field dressing the 2,000-pound animal!
How many times in your life or flight has a “buffalo” showed up and completely changed your plans? These are things you didn’t expect but require your immediate attention and action: weather, mechanical failures, and other things develop that you didn’t anticipate. We all have or will experience something like this in our flying. It is not “if” but “when.” We train, prepare, and practice for these buffaloes.
The point is, as you plan your flight and daily tasks, provide some room in your plan for the buffaloes to roam. Be flexible, because those critters will come and stomp on you if you don’t allow some room for them. Have an alternate route or destination, plan extra time, and don’t cut it too close. It is better to arrive early rather than late—or never.
I try to share life lessons with my high school aviation students based on my flying experiences. There are five rules for success in my classes:
Be there. Don’t miss class. It’s hard to make up some of the hands-on things we do.
Have a good work ethic. Set high standards for your work. A pilot’s life and well-being will depend on the quality of your work when he or she is sitting in the left seat of the airplane you are building.
Work as a team. Learn from others, share the workload. Many hands make light work.
Have patience. This is big challenge for today’s youth. We are so used to everything being instant and quick-serve. It takes time to build skill and confidence. Learn from others who have more experience and skill. Learning to work with hand and power tools will take time to master.
Time management is another challenge for our youth. They want to do everything and will over commit on a regular basis. The last-minute cramming and “I work better under pressure” are just excuses for poor planning and managing your commitments. I have lots of fun relating the buffalo story with them. I’ll often ask them if they saw any buffaloes recently. It is a fun and tactful way to remind them to manage their time effectively.
Have you seen any buffaloes lately?
In 1980 John Rousch was Youth Programs Coordinator at Mount Rainier National Park. He coordinated US Army Reserve helicopter support for the youth programs working in the backcountry. Currently he is the Director of the Highlands Aviation and Aerospace Academy with the School Board of Highlands County, Florida, community partnership supporting youth aviation education.
Covid closed down Young Eagles as well as $100 burgers, and also my flying abilities were going to pot. “Use it or shed it” holds true where adherence to responses as well as treatments to emergency situations are worried. Would certainly a trip simulator aid? What would certainly one price? Did I be successful in constructing one? Check out the image as well as inform me.
Would you think it set you back much less than $1,700? An age when federal government asserts to invest trillions, without expense to normal taxpayers, has a certificate for innovative bookkeeping. You will certainly concur that there is no brand-new out-of-pocket price
for something one currently possesses– the keyword being”brand-new. “What did I have that could be utilized to construct a simulator? An instance is the iPad mini with ForeFlight on the yoke. It is one that I make use of in N4500R, so the expense for utilizing it in a simulator is$ 0.
Got my factor? Like any type of penny-wise individual, I rely on scrap cabinets. For some, they stand for untidiness. For others, a location to stow away things they presume may be valuable at some time. Mine no more suit cabinets, and also consist of computer systems like Atari from when Pac Man allowed. Daniel C. Dennett explained my placement on scrap cabinets a lot more elegantly:”Creativity has to consist of errors as well as randomness … scrap existing around that your imaginative procedure can run into, sounds that your innovative procedure can not assist hearing.”To reduce to the chase, the Atari Flight Simulator yoke opposed any type of link with a modern-day computer system,
yet old displays filled up a requirement. X-Plane is a design device made use of in trip simulators. One can download and install a cost-free trial restricted to 15-minute sessions. Accessibility to the limitless variation needs acquisition of a secret. Because the complete program is currently onboard, if the demonstration functions, the program functions. It did (or appeared to) on my MacBook Air, so I acquired the eight-disc collection for $60, in addition to a pay-ware program, vFlyteAir Cherokee 140 Original ($25), to match my 56-year old Piper Cherokee. A control yoke, power quadrant, as well as tail pedals expense $350, and also the substitute Cherokee flew efficiently.
As it ended up, flying was smooth since it was sluggish activity. Think about the Six Million Dollar Man leaping over a wall surface. Given that the wings of a Cherokee do not flap, the slow-moving activity was refined. Profits: a MacBook Air might not provide the 20 fps (frameworks per secondly) required by X-Plane. At 50% of actual time, every little thing took two times as lengthy. The simulation looked terrific, yet the Cherokee drifted excessive.
Reasonably great trip simulator controls can be bought for much less than $200. Re:”sounds your innovative procedure can not aid hearing, “very early records of the M1 Mac Mini mentioned lack of follower sound in CPU-intensive applications. Battle simulators are both CPU-(Central Processing Unit
) as well as GPU -( Graphics Processing Unit)extensive, as dials inside and also surroundings outside concurrently show what is being substitute. If the wind sleeve was limp in a 15-knot crosswind, realistic look would certainly experience. A 16 GB M1 Mac Mini($ 899) was contributed to my system, that included an extra television and also display from downstairs. My boy provided me an additional old screen.
One was linked using HDMI, as well as a 2nd one utilized a Thunderbolt port. Exactly how to link the 3rd display? Why did I desire 3 screens when most trip college simulators have just one? Their simulators are IFR fitness instructors, where one concentrates on tools up until bursting out of the murk on last. The path is in front of you if done properly. I fly VFR, making use of a pattern around the flight terminal instead than a lengthy last. While one screen might be adequate for IFR, VFR flying requirements side home windows.
While proclaiming the rate of M1 chips, Apple keeps that the M1 Mac Mini can not sustain greater than 2 screens, as well as dismissed an eGPU. Consider an eGPU (outside Graphics Processing Unit) as a computer system that informs an additional computer system just how to attract things. It is not called a computer system, since that may make your primary computer system really feel poor. Presuming that “wise” computer systems could have sensations assisted obtain the 3rd screen to function.
What do you make use of when something can not be done, however you are established to do it? Experimentation, which calls for willpower as well as loads scrap cabinets. The latter can likewise add. The nonfunctional vapor assesses under the radio panel originated from a scrap cabinet. In the 35 years that I have actually possessed N4500R, points damaged, as well as they look much better as eye sweet in my simulator than my scrap cabinet.
I was making use of a couple of Thunderbolt ports on the Mac, so I attempted to utilize the various other to attach the 3rd display. Tests consisted of DisplayPorts with USB-C to VGA, to DVI-I, as well as to HDMI. If you obtain shed in alphabet soup, do not really feel like the Lone Ranger. You do not need to comprehend it, however if you are not going to obtain puzzled, you are not striving sufficient.
Computer system discussion forums resemble EAA phases, although online forums concentrate on computer systems, instead of flying. X-Plane. org online forums are a crossbreed, as everyone is either an aspirant or a pilot, consisting of ATPs anxious to preserve abilities in others and also airplanes that enjoy “eye sweet.” ATPs require intricacy that has no attract me, and also the last requirement high cost devices. My simulator must not set you back greater than my airplane, as well as I am a VFR leaflet. Handle your assumptions, as well as an economical trip simulator is attainable.
Numerous reacted that a Mac Mini might not supply graphics at appropriate fps when I asked for tips on the discussion forum re a 3rd display. Maybe they did rule out the M1 chip. One participant recommended a DisplayLink and also chauffeur. I had actually evaluated numerous DisplayPorts without success, as well as can not inform the distinction in between them and also a DisplayLink. The referral was “USB 3.0 Dual Head Graphics Adapter– HDMI and also DVI-I” ($80). No place on package did words DisplayLink show up. Neither did it state that it called for a DisplayLink motorist, however it does. With the chauffeur on, the M1 Mac Mini brightened all 3 displays.
Obtaining the Mac to see 3 displays won a fight, yet not the battle, as X-Plane opened up just 2 displays. My other half, that was helpful while I transformed the living room right into a lab, recommended that I deal with X-Plane like an envious youngster. “You have actually been utilizing 2 screens, possibly X-Plane does not wish to satisfy a 3rd one.” Considered that it uses expert system, possibly I should not treat it like an including equipment? I give up X-Plane and also assigned the 3rd display to be major screen. “Who is a huge child currently?” It functioned! After reactivating, X-Plane identified the brand-new display. All that required to be done was inform it which screen was truly the major one, as well as prepare visuals setups.
Getting the graphics to show correctly makes a large distinction when exercising”the difficult turn.” You saw 6 displays on the initial image, not 3. The iPad mini with ForeFlight web links wirelessly to X-Plane, which functions as a GPS resource to portray the character on a VFR Sectional graph. The various other iPad makes use of Sim Innovations Air Manager($23 )to show picked tools.
I acquired that iPad for one more function that was obstructed by Covid. Google Earth is operating on the bigger old iPad, so one can focus anywhere in the world with 3D, to road degree. An instance of just how I utilize this simulator for individual training is the supposed difficult turn, an effort to preserve 80 miles per hour at a financial institution angle of 60 levels after shedding the
engine on launch(see image over ). Every pilot asks,” Can you log time to preserve money?” No, as well as not due to the fact that the simulation is various from an FAA-certified simulator. It is simply that it is not “FAA-certified.” The retail variation of X-Plane is practically the same to that in $500,000 complete activity FAA-certified systems. Accreditation calls for fps checks, documents, equipment panels, and also does not have simply enjoyable things like room trip. My home-use certificate does not allow usage in an industrial trip college. That needs an X-Plane Professional certificate, setting you back $750. It resembles acquiring an STC to make use of automobile gas. Absolutely nothing was done to my engine, yet the paper allows me lawfully make use of automobile gas.
One can call any kind of regularity on radios on the display with a computer mouse, I checked out including the outside radio panel. The supplier’s support system stated they do not sustain Macs. A participant informed me not to purchase one when I asked regarding it on the discussion forum. He sent me one from his scrap cabinet. One more offered software program to make it deal with a Mac. If you question such kindness, credit scores the Digital Age, and also there was some quid professional quo. That radio panel is currently tuned to Racine flight terminal’s ASOS, which sends weather condition 24/7. It can additionally be a Transponder, dme, or adf.
The test stage exposed a trouble with having the yoke on the desktop computer. Because the yoke sticks out from a box, placing it on the top places the control panel on the display either far or expensive. The option was to place the yoke and also power quadrant beneath, putting the display beside the workdesk. A brace labelled “LowRider Yoke Mount” on the web motivated me to utilize a rimless cookie sheet. Openings were pierced in the cookie sheet for 4 of the 6 screws on the top of the yoke’s box as well as around the sheet, to make sure that maybe screwed to the base of the workdesk.
Details like a trim wheel can make a huge distinction. The Flight Velocity Trim Wheel Pro on the left expense $99. While tail as well as lift cut can be substitute by turn on the yoke, I discovered the
last impractical. Lift trim obtains an exercise when landing a Cherokee, while one seldom changes tail trim. This is privileged, as I need to elude my head under the panel to reach it. After finishing lists as well as engine begin, clicking Shift-W resets the screens to reveal just the sight outside the cabin. One can additionally watch the airplane from behind, so
the Air Manager panel on the desktop computer aids. To make the simulator nice sufficient for the living room, a solitary desktop computer of 3/4-inch plywood was reduced. A four-foot lengthy angle iron was screwed beneath along the 48″ end, as well as the board was covered in matte black call paper. The 36″ sides supply room for an arm remainder and also a computer mouse.
The workdesk’s legs were trestles. When put in between the trestle as well as desktop computer, the L -designed braces on the flooring, each with an added 90-degree bend, offer a rack for a key-board, maps, and so on.
Tail pedals offered an obstacle, because they should be secured location, as well as I desired adaptability to utilize either a joystick or the yoke. Do I require a joystick ($150) for training in a Cherokee? No, yet old men have a good time as well. I had actually downloaded and install a Spitfire ($0) from X-Plane. org. The obstacle was exactly how to place the joystick, without getting rid of the yoke.
My initial effort affixed the joystick to a lapboard, yet that placed the tail pedals as well far, considering that they were secured location for usage with the yoke. The option was to connect the pedals to an item of plywood that was somewhat larger than the area in between the trestle legs. Notches on the sides of the plywood enable the pedals to be secured by the trestle legs for either the Cherokee or the Spitfire setup. It is just an issue of raising the board as well as relocate to the collection of notches suitable for that aircraft.
The drop-in-place method was made use of for the joystick. It was connected to a board that suits the workdesk well. Bent bookends were bolted on as dental braces, and also self-adhesive Velcro fuzz lessens scraping when it is being relocated. Whatever was either repainted black or covered with call paper. When I fly the Cherokee, the joystick is alloted.
, 300px”course=” size-medium wp-image-24563 lazyload”src =”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/building-a-frugal-flight-simulator-4.jpg”srcset=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/building-a-frugal-flight-simulator-4.jpg 300w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/building-a-frugal-flight-simulator-19.jpg 768w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/building-a-frugal-flight-simulator-20.jpg 705w, https://airfactsjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Flight-sim-stick-setup.jpg 982w”> A couple of small mods and also the simulator changes from yoke to stick. Both collections of controls continue to be connected in, so it is merely an issue of going down the joystick in position and also rearranging the tail pedal board when I intend to most likely to the Spitfire setup. The controls do not conflict with each various other, as they are established as either energetic or”
not do anything “in the aircrafts’ accounts. I such as to imitate trips in Ireland, and also ForeFlight’s Aerial Map is a satellite sight of the globe. Considering that the result of the iPad can be mirrored, we carry out airborne excursions on a living room television with X-Plane. I flew over a fairy ring ft. Such ring fts are tough to discover at ground degree, as they simply appear like a line of shrubs. They are apparent from the air. My grandkids were surprised to see 2 fairy fts beside your house where their grandma matured. I never ever understood they existed when we were dating.
To discover the fairy ft I flew over, get in “Fenit, Ireland,” in any type of satellite map, and also matter 4 areas eastern of the last residence in the town. These Bronze Age strongholds have actually not been disrupted for centuries, since residents did not take the chance of the displeasure of the fairies. You can locate numerous in the location. They are less complicated to see than the pyramids of Egypt, the topic of an additional airborne excursion.
A last inquiry numerous pilots ask connects to my simulator’s capacity to deal with complicated airplane, something numerous individuals in the discussion forum claim it can refrain. To discover, I removed in a Boeing 747 on a clear day, touchdown in ORD. The touchdown was not quite, needing 3 go-arounds. Fps was 31 throughout the trip at primarily high visuals setups. When reduced clouds were consisted of, these setups had actually to be minimized. For me, the wonderful area for fps in is 25-35, although eye sweet perfectionists require much more. While it interested fly a 747, that is not my point. I simply wish to fly VFR and also method crosswind touchdowns in a PA28-140. Profits: the M1 Mac Mini as well as X-Plane fulfill my demands. I can use whatever climate I desire, so high graphics setups as well as fps are feasible.
The Mac Mini, USB bus, as well as power bar are all concealed behind the displays, and also improved beer canisters hold the iPad minis. If you have actually been including the expenses thus far, you will certainly recognize my out-of-pocket was $1,661. Information for obtaining the M1 Mac Mini to sustain 3 displays can be discovered right here.
My simulator is not a plaything, and also I am extensive concerning adhering to lists when I fly it. It is no criminal offense to have enjoyable!
Seán G. Dwyer is a Private Pilot as well as long-lasting proprietor of a PA28-140. Birthed in New York, he expanded up in Ireland prior to returning to the USA to participate in college. After gaining a PhD in chemistry from UND, he had a job in market, retiring in 2001. Significant continuous passions consist of advertising STEM amongst young adults and also discussing the scientific researches that allow air travel. He is the writer of STEM for All Ages, as well as acted as Curriculum Chairman for Young Aviators Inc., a weeklong summertime program in Racine, Wisconsin, for teen kids and also ladies.
Recent episodes of the Pilot’s Discretion podcast from Sporty’s cover some essential subjects in aeronautics. Richard McSpadden, the Executive Director of AOPA’s Air Safety Institute, shares his viewpoint on the GA safety and security document, consisting of VFR-into-IMC crashes, the function auto-pilots can play, and also why excellent pilots make poor choices. In episode 23, trip teacher as well as airshow entertainer Spencer Suderman clarifies what airmanship indicates to him as well as uses some ideas for boosting your stick and also tail abilities. Pay attention below, or in your preferred podcast app.Listen in Apple Podcasts > > Listen in Spotify > >
the rear of tiny aircrafts as well as found out to fly as a teen. Since, he has actually been hooked on anything with wings as well as routinely flies a Citabria, a Pilatus PC-12 as well as a Robinson R44 helicopter. He is an ATP as well as likewise holds scores for multiengine, gliders, seaplanes, as well as helicopters. Along with being Editor-in-Chief of Air Facts, John is a Vice President at Sporty’s Pilot Shop, in charge of brand-new item growth as well as advertising and marketing. Most recent messages by John Zimmerman (see all)
As one of the premier Cirrus flight instructors in the country, Max Trescott has strong opinions about pilots and technology, including: “the debate about the parachute is over” and “the autopilot is the glass cockpit.” In this episode of Sporty’s Pilot’s Discretion podcast, Max makes the case that technology has changed and pilots need to change too. He also shares tips for flying stabilized approaches, how to use an iPad to avoid terrain, and why the track vector on glass cockpits is often overlooked. In the “Ready to copy” segment, Max tells us why you’re probably pouring oil into your airplane’s engine the wrong way, the best part of being an independent flight instructor, and why sumping fuel doesn’t guarantee you’ll notice misfueling.
Listen in your favorite app:
Coming from an aviation family, John grew up in the back of small airplanes and learned to fly as a teenager. Ever since, he has been hooked on anything with wings and regularly flies a Citabria, a Pilatus PC-12 and a Robinson R44 helicopter. He is an ATP and also holds ratings for multiengine, seaplanes, gliders, and helicopters. In addition to being Editor-in-Chief of Air Facts, John is a Vice President at Sporty’s Pilot Shop, responsible for new product development and marketing.
Fifty years ago, life was simple: aircraft rentals were $10 per hour and the latest technologies in trainer aircraft were nose wheels and VORs. And before there was “Aeronautical Decision Making” (which still sounds to me like a TV game show) we were taught “judgment,” an ominous term with biblical undertones. “Maintain thy flying speed, lest the earth reach up and smite thee,” said my first CFI. “Good judgment comes from experience,” said the early aviators, “and experience comes from poor judgment.”
Fifty years later, I still hear the voices of those Ancient Pelicans who had learned in taildraggers or biplanes—many of whom had flown in the big war. Though they are long retired, their hard-won wisdom still instructs us today, such as these nuggets.
Preflight. Checklists for the exterior walk-around are fine (especially in more complex airplanes), but the main thing as you walk around the plane is to look at the plane. Look for anything that’s different, anything that doesn’t look right. A wavy-potato chip appearance on the belly indicates a really hard landing. A gap between the lower engine cowling (where it connects to the fuselage skin) means a broken engine mount. Anything that “doesn’t look right” is not right, whether on the checklist or not.
Make sure your preflight inspection involves real inspection.
During my Air Force instructor days, a student went out to his assigned T-37, walked around it, and climbed over the side. An old sergeant (you know the type: lots of stripes on the arm, cigar butt jutting out from his lips) strolled over and quietly asked, “Lieutenant, what are you doing?”
“Hi Sarge, I’m going out on my third solo flight,” he said eagerly. The sergeant asked, “Uh, did you notice that this airplane is actually on jacks?” What? “You know,” said the student later, “I did notice that this plane seemed taller than the other ones I had flown.” But there was nothing on the checklist that said, make sure the tires are actually touching the ground.
Start and taxi. An engine that doesn’t sound right is not right, no matter what the little instruments say. If the aircraft won’t move forward, don’t be a “chock-jumper,” shut it down and deal with it. A Bonanza pilot had failed to untie the tail, which was attached to a tire filled with concrete, and he taxied out dragging that anchor behind him. With full power the Bonanza went down the runway and got into the air—but at that very moment the CG went way back, and the airplane whiplashed onto the runway. Later, the pilot said to the man with the clipboard, “The old bird just didn’t feel right—taxied like a truck.” Dude, if it taxies like a truck, don’t take off—taxi back to the truck stop!
Departure. History shows that most piston engine failures occur in the first 15 minutes of flight (excepting fuel starvation and exhaustion). The Ancients had all seen engines cough and choke (as have I, in both piston and turbine engines), so they actually contemplated where they were going to land if the prop stopped shortly after takeoff. I like to turn crosswind at 400 feet and look back at the runway. From crosswind, I can bend it around and land at mid-field.
Prior to that turn, if it quits, I’m landing somewhere between 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. Go up high and practice it someday; set up a climb and chop the power as you pass a cardinal altitude. You’ll lose 400 feet before you can finish the U turn—and then you’d be offset to one side (unless there’s a parallel runway). So the Ancients said, “600 feet minimum or we’re not going back.”
Cruise: Even with all of our high-tech gizmos, nothing beats the “Mark One Version Two Eyeball” for seeing what the weather is really doing, right here, right now. No PIREP for turbulence is as good as a SEAT-REP, or the feeling you get when small objects start flying around the cockpit. The Pelicans also liked to be as high as practical. “Altitude is life insurance,” they said, so why not carry some?
The Ancient Pelicans also pushed us neophytes into IFR school. We went under the hood having never played a video game, so it was all “pitch, bank, and puke” for a few hours. The Pelicans had seen far too many pilots succumb to the “short, carefree life of the scud-runner.” I live near the mountains, and we often remind visiting scud-runners that “the mountains don’t move. They just stand there, secure in the knowledge that CFR Part 91 gives them the right of way over all aircraft.”
Can you cross that mountain? The only way to know is to climb above the altitude of the pass first.
Crossing the mountain passes Pelican-style is simple: do not ever point the aircraft at terrain and think you will climb over it. Rather, get above the altitude of the pass, and when you can see the valley beyond the ridgeline, only then do you approach it, at a 45-degree angle. This way, you already know which way to run if the winds get ugly. Sometimes they get ugly at the last minute, as you hit the down flow coming over the pass. Remember, skipper, you are a very small trout swimming upstream in a very large river of air flowing over that pass.
How do you notice carburetor ice? Answer: a drop in RPM. But, with a constant-speed propeller, the governor will compensate and hide that drop for some time. Manifold pressure should drop, but what I discerned one night, cruising along in IMC on a cool New Mexico night, was a fine vibration of the instrument panel. The old Pelicans taught that any anomaly in sound, feel, smell, or sight (even if the gauges were all “in the green”) was worth investigating. At first I thought it was just “automatic rough,” that perception you conjure up flying on a dark night (or over water.) But a quick pull on the carb heat knob told the truth! And carb heat works a lot better… while the engine is still generating heat.
Ice. Having a little bit of ice is like being a little bit pregnant. Gordon Baxter didn’t care for ice either, and wrote, “Once your wings ice up (or frost up), you are flying a plane with a unique airfoil—and one that has never been tested.” Follow Richard Collins’s advice: “Treat ice like it was smoke in the cockpit. Do something now!”
I consider myself “ice current,” because once I have seen that scary stuff in flight, I am good for at least another ten years before I need to see it again. It was bad enough on the Cherokee’s leading edge one morning that my cruising speed went down ten knots. I remembered from aerodynamics class that when ice causes one’s cruising speed to drop, one’s stall speed is inversely creeping up—and you don’t want the two to meet in the middle. I shot down final that day at full power, fast as I could go, and during the flare it quit flying while the airspeed was still in the green. After my knees stopped shaking, I was able to drive the rental car the rest of the way home.
Thunderstorms. Want to live to a ripe old age? Follow these two simple rules:
Do not fly into a thunderstorm.
Do not fly near, next to, or under a thunderstorm.
Rules about flying in thunderstorms are simple: don’t.
One day in the flight office, a young pilot mentioned, “Man, it’s bad out there. I was bouncing around and at one point, almost flew into this greenish looking cloud.” George Dale, a true Pelican who had flown over the China-Burma hump in C-46s, stopped in his tracks and turned around. “Son, don’t ever fly into a green cloud—that’s hail you were seeing!” Author Ernest K. Gann explained the facts of life in thunderstorms this way: “A pilot may earn his full pay for that year in less than two minutes. At the time of incident he would gladly return the entire amount for the privilege of being elsewhere.”
Radios. Pay attention not only to your calls but to other chatter as well—and learn to listen between the lines, as did this DC-3 pilot did who departed Austin while leaving a trail of gray smoke. Tower had casually asked, “Douglas Eight Nine Uncle Mike, are you skywriting?” The pilot answered: “No… WHY?!!”
And what action do you take when you hear, “Traffic at 12 o’clock, one mile, opposite direction, your altitude.” Me? I am turning right, and going down (not up). Pull the nose up and you are blind; the Ancients said “go down and you can see 12 o’clock level.” Plus, I can go down quicker than up. And please, do not key the microphone and say, “uh, okay, ah, we are looking.” Twelve o’clock at a mile? That’s as scary as “bandits at six o’clock high.” Moving beats looking. By turning turn right, you keep the traffic on your left, out the pilot’s side window.
Say you are on left downwind, approaching mid-field, and some bozo announces, “Bentwing 123 entering downwind at mid-field.” That guy is belly-up to you. Same deal: go down and right. If you turn left, you’ll be belly up to him also! Regardless of your particular horoscope sign, at that moment your new sign is YIELD. Give him the whole downwind at pattern altitude. Find him before he finds you.
Navigating. “The primary means of navigating,” said the Pelicans, “are pilotage and dead reckoning.” Everything else was a refinement or a backup. This was long before the era of the magenta line, but still true: “pilotage” means looking from the map to the ground, and checking your progress. “Deduced reckoning” means calculating from true to magnetic, factoring in wind, airspeed, distance. If you are cruising along and your plan doesn’t match your avionics’ plan, something is amiss. Perhaps an unforecast wind? A NAV radio tuned incorrectly? Is the CDI icon still on GPS when you intended VOR?
I was walking across the ramp with a student in Austin, Texas, one day, and we had to pass around the left side of a huge Lockheed Lodestar that had just loaded up a bunch of people and was about to start. “Hey,” the pilot called out to us from his little storm window. Then, in a softer voice, “Which way is Lubbock? Don’t point!” Well, at least he was thinking about that before lurching off into the Texas sky.
Emergencies. Remember Apollo 13’s infamous radio call, “Houston, we have a problem…” The nerdy ground controllers flew into a panic, but NASA flight director Gene Kranz brought order to the chaos by commanding, “Work the problem, people.” That’s great advice for any pilot facing an unplanned event and a rise in blood pressure. Keep calm, and work the problem!
When the lights start flashing, don’t rush.
By the 1970s, the Air Force had distilled its checklist for handling any emergency into three steps, memorized and recited verbatim by all of us student pilots:
Maintain aircraft control.
Analyze the situation and take appropriate action.
Land as soon as practical.
Today’s pilots might want to have that tattooed on their wrist, for quick reference. A C-141 pilot taught me, in any crisis, do take time to sort out all possible actions. Then do the most important one first. “If everything is priority,” he said, “then nothing is priority.”
Oh, those ancient ones were well-acquainted with Mr. Murphy and his laws: vacuum pumps and alternators only fail in IMC; sudden runway closures occur only at airports with a single runway; and if everything seems to be going along fine, you’ve obviously overlooked something.
Most odd situations are “semi-emergencies,” and require thoughtful, not frantic, action. Okay, an engine failure in a twin on takeoff leg requires a bit of hand-ballet (identify, verify, feather, gear up, flaps up) but most things (a wisp of smoke, an odd sound, a needle in the yellow) call for some careful thought before some reckless action.
Lindbergh himself was heard saying, “Danger is relative, and inexperience can be a magnifying glass.” Gray-haired Pelicans had seen co-pilots jerk the gear up too soon, or neophytes feather the good engine instead of the failed one (allowing the crew to log a few minutes of glider time while pleading with either engine to re-start).
Problems only worsen when the “brain-stick” interconnect fails, and the hand moves quicker than the mind. A good tip for preventing premature manipulation of a handle or switch, came from Thomas Block, retired airline pilot and columnist. “Mentally plant a cactus bush,” suggested Block, “on any lever, knob, or switch that must be handled with extraordinary care, since any misuse of them can easily produce extraordinary problems.” Fly the plane first. And work the problem. Odds are, you’ll end up with a good story to tell at the bar.
Ground school. Learn the systems: how the fuel flows through the plane, how engines get their spark, what actually makes the wheels come down. What happens if the audio panel fails? How long will battery power give you comm ability? How does that propeller pitch control actually do its thing? Know the plane so that as you operate it, you and the plane become ONE—as Lindbergh famously said, “we” flew the Atlantic.
Do you understand all the details of that diagram?
Riding in the back of a crowded crew bus on a T-38 flight line, several of us overheard a “check pilot” grill his student orally as they rode out to fly the practical phase. The examiner queried him, “Trace a drop of JP-4 from the beginning until it flows through the plane and comes out the back of the tailpipe as exhaust.” His intrepid student replied, “Well, in the beginning, there were these dinosaurs…”
Seriously, on the ground with your CFI, there are no stupid questions. Once, during gunnery school transitioning into the F-4 Phantom II, we were doing weight and balance. With a bunch of bombs hanging on external stores, I just could not make the math work—nothing was adding up. So, up went my hand in class, and I innocently asked, ”How much does a 500-pound bomb weigh?” Oh yeah, they all doubled over with laughter, but I had the last laugh: it turns out a 500-pound bomb (with the casing) weighed 575 pounds—so there!
You must master this kind of detail—and especially the technical vocabulary. To fly in the soup, you must absolutely know the difference between MDA, MEA, MRA, and MXA. As Mark Twain remarked, “There is a big difference between the terms lightning and lightning bug.”
Landing. The Ancients liked to do full-stall landings, so when the tires kissed the runway, the wings had let go of their lift. Their three point landing can still be accomplished in a tricycle gear plane—if you understand that the three points refer to two main gears and the tail! Hold it off the concrete until you reach a nose-high, near-climb attitude, and the two main wheels will touch while the nose remains in the air. This is absolutely the case with Cessnas; not so much with some new birds.
Pelicans would continue to keep some back pressure on the stick—keeping weight off the nose wheel—after touchdown. If you drop the stick pressure, the nose wheel slams down, the plane jerks left and right, and in many aircraft you get the dreaded “shimmy dance.” This is because the nose wheel was not designed to support weight while going that fast.
Taxiing. General aviation planes were designed to fly upwind, not to taxi downwind. Lightweight and high-wing planes resemble sailboats when the wind comes over the tail—and more so when turning with a quartering tailwind. Ask any three-year-old about how easy it is to tump over his tricycle while turning sharply. Many a prop and wingtip strike made a grownup pilot look like a three-year-old.
One of my more embarrassing moments came after my student passed his checkride, but was reproved by the examiner for his taxi speed. “I don’t know your CFI,” said the Pelican, “but tell him he taxis too damn fast.”
But at least I wasn’t like that fellow who panicked after running his military transport into the ditch at high speed. He was immortalized by this understatement from the accident report: “The board felt that the pilot’s action in failing to order evacuation of the aircraft and in being the first to deplane was not in keeping with accepted practices for aircraft commanders.”
Len Morgan, legendary airline pilot and writer, was one of the Old Pelicans.
Few of us are master birdmen, so our best bet is to keep on learning. “Show me a pilot who has stopped learning about flying,” said one Pelican, “and I’ll show you an accident waiting to happen.” Former Braniff Pelican Len Morgan (of the DC-3 days) was right when he wrote, “An airplane might disappoint any pilot, but it’ll never surprise a good one.”
One single attribute often separates the real aviators from those who just plod through the skies machine-like. And that attribute: a love for flight. Ernie Gann again: “Flying is hypnotic and all pilots are willing victims to the spell. Their world is like a magic island in which the factors of life and death assume their proper values. Thinking becomes clear because there are no earthly foibles or embellishments to confuse it.” Gann bemoaned those pilots who operated their aircraft with no more love than they would have for a rented car. “Such people leave a stain on the sky,” he wrote.
Let us give the last word on this to Richard Bach, and land this article with his thoughts upon landing one day: “My airplane is quiet, and for a moment I am still an alien, still a stranger to the ground.” May you become that stranger: a true aviator, a lifetime learner and a lover of flight. How better could you honor those Ancient Pelicans who showed us all how to ascend into the rarified life of a pilot.
James R. Walters first earned his CFI in 1968, then flew F-4s and T-38s instructing for the Air Force. With more than 5,500 hours, 50 makes and models, and 500 airports in the logbooks, he is still actively flying at age 72. He has written for Air Progress, Plane & Pilot, Private Pilot, and FLYING (ILAFFT, July 1991).
To file, or not to file, that is the question… This familiar soliloquy with a play on the verb “file” is something that has piqued my interest for a number of years now. I once had a hangar neighbor who oftentimes would say that “he filed” to such and such a place. His intent was to inform me that he had ventured out into the world of “hard IFR.” Because I was a newly minted instrument pilot at the time, that reverential statement generally left me somewhat awestruck.
Beset with that indelible image of IFR adventure, I too began “filing” shortly thereafter. Ahhh, the pure joy of filling IFR was now realized, albeit not into the “hard stuff;” that came later. Truth be known however, it didn’t take me long to realize that when the DPE on my instrument checkride handed me my temporary certificate followed by the statement, “this could be your death certificate,” he really wasn’t kidding around. So, I moved along minding my Ps and Qs, never missing an opportunity to file, even in severe CAVU.
New tools make it easier to file—should you do it more often?
Given the fact it’s not always the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B, it does add that extra layer of safety and protection while enroute on a cross country flight. It also keeps you “legal” should you venture inside one of those puffy white obstructions in the sky, along with multiple options for extrication, should that need arise.
For those of you who have been there and done that you also know pre-planning is absolutely essential. Weather, weather, and more weather—it’s all part of the game. Not to be remiss, time doesn’t permit mentioning all the other finer points and details. One just wouldn’t think of leaving home without it. Period.
In tightly knit social groups such as can be found in GA, there’s not too much that remains a secret for very long. As time went by, I happened to take notice that some of my VFR-only buddies kind of eschewed the notion of filing a VFR flight plan. “What in the heck is up with that?” I asked.
“It’s a pain in the derriere,” they’d reply. “If you pick up Flight Following why bother with a flight plan?” Someone once made this prophetic statement: “filing a flight plan is like telling someone you’re going on a long hike in the woods. Getting Flight Following is tantamount to taking a buddy along.” So who’s right? Why not do both?
When you boil it all down to its simplest form, you can easily find the answer. It’s not a legal requirement to file IFR or VFR on a CAVU day, but if your preflight planning reveals that you will be unable to maintain minimum cloud separation requirements, you must file IFR if so rated. Otherwise if you’re only VFR you stay home or plan a different route. Is “get-there-itis” the reason we see so many examples of continued flight from VFR into IMC mishaps?
Why don’t more pilots file a VFR flight plan on CAVU days when IFR pilots do? I wonder if some of us, myself included, are perhaps haunted by the notion of, “if we forget to close it we’ve got some tall ‘splainin’ to do.” Never mind the cost of that practice SAR exercise. I’m not exactly sure, but it’s the only reasonable explanation I can come up with. Given how simple and painless Leidos has made this process (see more on this below), it certainly does beg the question, why not?
When I started working full time as a flight instructor, it became apparent that many student pilots were uncomfortable with the whole filing thing. I don’t think most ground schools do such a great job teaching how to do this. But alas, along comes the knights in shining armor: Leidos (1800wxbrief), ForeFlight, FlightPlan.com, FlyQ EFB, and many more. My personal favorites are Leidos and ForeFlight. One can virtually go through the entire process without any personal communication or intervention whatsoever. Those who are reticent and reluctant to speak to a briefer are the ones that love that option.
That said, I do literally require my students to dial in and make that call to a briefer for their first dual cross country flight. Then, being the meanie I am, I have them open and close that first one in the air using Flight Service. Simply put, it is my responsibility as a CFI to show them every available option, the same as planning that flight using paper charts and the E6B is.
Once we get through that, I’ll present other options to them, such as closing their VFR flight plan by calling 1800wxbrief on the ground, while remembering (to my earlier point) not to forget to do so. I should also mention that it is absolutely necessary to establish an online account with Leidos and set up a personal profile along with that of the training aircraft. Subsequent VFR flight plans then become very simple once the system recognizes you.
Leidos has made the process of opening and closing flight plans a lot easier.
I have to say that Leidos has literally transformed the flight planning/filing process into a quick and easy experience. When filing using your cellular device you will receive a text message and an email from Leidos the moment you hit the file button and the flight plan has been accepted. Once you reach that point, opening and closing the VFR flight plan can be accomplished in just a few seconds using your cell phone or tablet right inside the airplane. It just couldn’t get any simpler, and both my students and I love the straightforward and streamlined process.
ForeFlight has made filing IFR a simple process too. Perhaps it’s the overall visibility of the iPad, combined with the feature-rich flexibility of ForeFlight that allows for such user friendliness, but I have to submit that I find the briefing aspect somewhat more digestible and concise as opposed to the previously mentioned platform. There again, the way I see it, it’s a matter of personal preference. John Zimmerman wrote a great piece about the finer points of using ForeFlight on iPad Pilot News—I’d highly recommend that all users of ForeFlight check it out, it’s a very worthwhile read.
Bottom line: whether you are a VFR or IFR type, technology has really come to the rescue, and irrespective of your personal preference (self briefing, or calling a briefer), it’s way better than it used to be and that brings a smile to my face!
As for that “touch of humility,” I would really like to share the following story with y’all. A few months ago, while enroute from Cameron, Missouri (EZZ), to Dodge City, Kansas (DDC), I heard a most unlikely exchange between a controller from Kansas City Center and a pilot on his radar screen. On the air, in the presence of God and every other pilot on that frequency, I heard that controller openly apologize for his so called “rude behavior” while speaking to that pilot on an earlier landline call. He literally took at least a full minute to express his remorse for whatever misdeed he felt he had committed. I was totally in awe of this controller’s absolute strength of character in making that open air act of contrition. If left me feeling like, “wow, perhaps there still is some hope.”
To whoever you are sir, if you happen to be reading this, my hat is definitely off to you. Thank you for sharing that great lesson in humility! Humanity became a better place on that day and time.
Tom Slavonik is a 3100-hour CFI/CFII/MEl who resides in Pueblo West, CO, with his wife Adrienne. He currently works as a full time flight instructor at the Pueblo Memorial Airport (PUB) in Southern Colorado. Prior to moving to Colorado in 2017, Tom and his wife owned a 1959 Cessna 182B for 16 years and flew it extensively from home bases in both Chesapeake, VA, and Chester, SC. As a jump pilot, Tom has over 1000 jump runs under his belt and considers that job to be the most fun he ever had.
Pilots don’t like surprises. Surprises usually mean bad things, like an unexpected obstacle on short final or a closed runway that we don’t detect until too late. We especially disliked surprises in my prior life as an Air Force transport pilot, where we frequently operated in non-routine environments with a high chance of receiving an unpleasant surprise. We sometimes spent hours flight planning a single flight to mitigate surprises.
During my career, I flew to remote airstrips in places like Ethiopia and New Guinea, and busy airports like Bogota, Colombia, where nobody I knew had been. My crew and I had to study these places on our own to ensure that we could safely accomplish our mission. In military jargon, we called this preparation “objective area analysis” and used a mnemonic, called OUTCAST, to guide our preparation. After these missions, we debriefed our analysis by asking ourselves “were there any surprises about the airfield.” We took it seriously.
So imagine my recent displeasure at being surprised while landing at an unfamiliar airfield. I was flying from Arkansas to the Northern Rockies in my Cessna 180. I try to make this trip every year, and I typically stop for fuel in Kansas or Nebraska. On this day, I was making a VFR arrival to an airfield with the perfect combination of cheap fuel and a grass strip aligned with the wind. While on left base, I looked right to clear final and I saw a 400-foot tower, about my altitude, that I didn’t know was there. I was not happy. Post-flight analysis showed that I flew about 5000 feet east of the tower at about the height of it. I wasn’t particularly close to hitting it, but I would have liked to know it was there. I kicked myself as I pumped the cheap fuel.
When preparing to land at an unfamiliar airport, there is a lot to consider.
And I thought back to the OUTCAST mnemonic that is designed to prevent exactly this type of surprise. I offer it here for your consideration, with a GA twist.
O: Objective Area. Take a big-picture look at the airfield. Start with a sectional chart, an aerial image, and maybe an approach plate. Then, drill down to specifics. Where is the airfield relative to nearby cultural features? What is the runway orientation, and what is the length, width, elevation, and slope of each? What is the surface, and what condition is it in? What markings do you expect to see? What is the taxiway arrangement, and how will you get from your touchdown point to your parking spot?
U: User. In the military, this meant “who are we supporting.” That still applies here, although in many cases the user is you. Some things to think about: Who are you meeting and where will you meet them? Do you have ground transportation? What about food, customs, fuel, parking/hangar space, fees, or services such as oxygen? Is there maintenance available? What about Wi-Fi or cell service?
T: Terrain. This is a big one, given that many CFIT accidents occur near airports. What is the surrounding terrain, and does it require modification of any traffic pattern procedures? Are there any towers nearby that you need to identify? How about power lines or high-tension wires? Will the terrain do weird things to the weather, like funnel the winds in a particular way? What is a minimum safe altitude, and can you climb to reach it? Is there a density altitude concern?
C: Communication. Who do you need to talk to? Is there a control tower? If so, will it be open when you arrive? How will you get the weather or close a flight plan? If you need to talk to approach control, what frequency will you call them on and what service can you expect? If you need to pick up an IFR clearance or cancel a flight plan, how will you do so? Is this airfield frequented by aircraft like gliders or ag aircraft that might not be monitoring a common frequency?
A: Airspace. What class of airspace is the airport in? Is there a different level of airspace overlying it that you need to know about? Are there any TFRs or Special Use Airspace areas around the airfield that you need to be concerned about? Are there any special pattern procedures such as right-hand traffic or non-standard traffic pattern altitudes that you need to be concerned with? How about any unique procedures for the airfield that might be published in a NOTAM or in SFAR Part 93?
S: Solar/lunar illumination, and lighting. What time does the sun rise/set, and will you be operating directly into a rising or setting sun? If you’re operating at night, will the moon be up? How bright will it be? Is there nearby cultural lighting that will help illuminate the airfield? What kind of lighting does the airport have, and how will you turn it on?
T: Threats. In the military, this meant “who might be shooting at us.” That shouldn’t be a problem in our GA flying, but I encourage you to think of this as “hazards” to your operation. Some examples: Are there parallel runways that could be confusing on arrival? Are there any hot spots on the airfield that warrant attention during taxiing? Are there nearby airfields with a similar runway arrangement that might cause confusion? Is there traffic that you need to be particularly aware of, like military/airline traffic or traffic from a busy flight school?
There it is… the OUTCAST mnemonic. After your flight, compare what you expected to the actual conditions you found. Were there any surprises? For example, if you joined a left downwind only to find that other aircraft were on the right downwind then you probably missed something in the Airspace section! Make a mental note to do a better job next time.
Of course, many of us fly with electronic systems that help us identify towers or terrain hazards in time to avert an accident. However, I never want to rely on these systems, and I hope to never hear them alert in flight. That’s where OUTCAST can help you be a safer pilot. Hopefully it will help you avoid any unexpected towers… ahem, surprises in your flying.
Joe has been interested in aviation since he was a kid and took his first flying lesson when he was 22. He liked it so much that he joined the Air Force to become a pilot, and I spent most of the next 20 years flying a C-130. These days, he can be found in the right seat of a 737 or in the left seat of a Cessna 180, which he’s had the great fortune to fly to 41 states. He looks forward to flying it to the other eight that he can comfortably reach!
These events happened. That they happened, and I survived, made me a more sober and thoughtful pilot. In these events, never have I learned so much so quickly. This is my confession.
After reading this, the newly minted pilot might say, “Of course, everyone knows that.” Being polite, they might say below their breath, “Bridge, you call yourself a pilot?” then sling off letters of admonition to the editor. In my jet trainer days, after a 300 mph “formation of four pitch-out to land” or night aerobatics in formation with speeds between 300 and 600 knots, one of my colleagues would remark, “Why, even my grandmother could do this. Maybe not yours, Bridge.” I was never offended, because that toss-off was a way of relieving the stress of the thrills and scares of formation aerobatics. A more seasoned aviator might say, reading these stories, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
In flying, as they say in recovery programs, “One has to do the work.” A written article may make an impression. Far better for learning is deep and concentrated study. Study plus practice is better yet. Then, there’s experience. One can learn from experience. Sadly, a wise man noted, “That always means bad experience.”
I would like to offer you several learnings of this kind. Hopefully, you won’t have to learn this way, and be wiser without suffering the anxiety, embarrassment, and humiliation I experienced. It took me days to develop the courage and honesty to write these words. With my arrogance and ignorance, I could have contributed myself to the IFR Magazine’s “Stupid Flying Tricks.” Thankfully, I have not. Not being arrogant, I have only had to overcome ignorance: hence, these stories.
In our Air Force flying school class, we had to make one solo night cross country. At 42,000 feet in a jet at 600 kts, the night is very black. The engines are a distant thunder. One feels very alone with the unseen presence.
All alone at night, even a good pilot can lose focus.
Coming and going on the one hour, fifteen-minute flight, we crossed two ATC centers and set up for instrument approaches at both ends. We all made it but one. This student pilot decided to bring a sack lunch on the return flight. He was a top student pilot, right? He knew the airplane cold—he thought. He might need a snack; that’s what they do in the airlines, right?
The student lost his radio in flight, made several futile calls while traveling ten miles per minute, forgot to squawk 7600, got flustered with all the clutter in his cockpit, delayed his descent and rushed it at 6,000 feet per minute, got more panicky with fruitless calls on his dead radio, forgot to connect his zero-delay lanyard to his parachute, failed to stabilize his approach, got more behind their airplane, skipped his checklists, lost trust in his eyes on instruments, forgot the “black hole effect” of unpopulated terrain with no features, and flew into the ground at 300 mph.
“Aviate, navigate, communicate,” in that order. Always.
Learn the basics
In our mission of forward air control in the 1970s, we launched target-marking missiles while we were protected by the terrain. “Nap-of-the-earth” flying was routine; more than once, I looked up at the top of a saguaro cactus. We knew the trajectory of the white phosphorus rocket and the distance to the target. Not actually seeing our target, “Kentucky windage” was good enough.
My colleague knew “pop-ups” from his fighter-bomber days. He had some 4,000 hours of military and commercial airline time and was highly experienced in jets. Combat jets do 5 or 6 Gs routinely in their yanking and banking. Our surveillance airplanes were not jets; a 2-G pull was close to the limit with the weight and external pods, the use and abuse of the airplane in the late Vietnam War. In the thin, hot air of the Nevada training area, with rocket pods and a co-pilot, he did a pop-up on a target and aimed directly at his fast-closing target. He pulled three or four Gs, and his airplane entered an accelerated stall very close to the ground. They went down and the world is poorer for it.
The ground school lessons of Weather, Weight & Balance, Density Altitude, and Airframe Limitations always apply. Every airplane has them. Learn and Remember the Basics.
In summer of 2017, my wife and I decided to go back into flying after 35 years away from an airplane. I brought in about 1200 military flying hours from the 1970s and 80s in complex, multi-engine aircraft. Most of my flying was in the severe clear of Southern California; we had joked about canceling a flight if we saw “little wispy things” (clouds) on the horizon. Military pilots in those days knew next to nothing about general aviation flying; it was radar control and IFR flight plans all the way to the desert working areas and back. We were confident and rigorous and ATC knew what to expect.
After 25 hours of flight and two turns through ground school, I got the basic Flight Review. All of this recent time was in a Cessna 172, VFR at 4,000 feet or less in the summer, with no icing in sight. I began the journey of learning the modern electronic flight bag (EFB), communication disciplines, and modern airspace. My eyes were opened to the vast improvements in pilot weather analysis over the decades. I learned that general aviation pilots are real aerial citizens, not just distractions to be avoided as they were in my military days.
The Bonanza requires transition training, even for highly experienced military pilots.
We settled on a 1995 Beechcraft Bonanza A36. The airplane speaks to the heart. It had room for two or three passengers for Angel Flights across our state, was fast, and IFR capable. It had avionics in the “six-pack” layout which I knew once upon a time, and a GNS 530W radio/nav equipment. It had a heated pitot tube and prop heat, but was definitely not approved for icing conditions. It had an autopilot, but I had never flown with an autopilot.
I was no longer rusty, but I was still ignorant. I knew “about” Northwest weather, but had always avoided it. Where in the jets we could be in and out of the weather in seconds, a single-engine piston would be socked-in for long, stressful minutes. I knew complex aircraft with controllable propellors, fuel-air mixture, and retractable gear; fortunately, I did not have to learn that from scratch.
I have no excuse for the story that follows, other than, “I didn’t know.” My parents taught me that “ignorance is no excuse.” The story is embarrassing and I don’t want to share it, except that it may bring some benefit to another pilot, budding or returning after a long time away. One more thing: now I have personal minimums branded into my being.
The following occurred in one day in November 2017. The temperature was about 40 degrees at the airport. Ceilings were at 6,000 feet AGL, with a stratus layer extending to an indeterminate 10,000 feet or so. The clouds extended to the mountains to the east and maybe beyond. The morning flight with the transition CFII covered slow flight and stalls, emergency descents, and landings. There was no instrument work and no introduction to the autopilot (not that it would have mattered to my overloaded mind). The A36 is a fairly fast GA airplane, and one has to adapt to this, as well.
The insurance company asked for a cross country of 100 miles; a flight to the Walla Walla Airport would suffice. The CFII examined the weather and planned the flight. She filed for 9,000 feet, right in the middle of the stratus layer. I did not even pause to ask, “What about the icing level?” Some wisp of a memory recalls her saying, “If we encounter ice, we’ll just fly above it. We see it all the time where I work” (a regional Northwest airline). Exactly how much confidence can one place in one’s climb rate in this airplane, even at max power, when the lift is being saddled with ice, with the gross weight of an airplane is increasing, as well? I was in no position to quibble, being on the far side of information saturation. She was an airline pilot and CFII, right?
We fueled and preflighted. Was one prop blade cooler than the others? Was that important? Hmm… Did we pre-brief PIC duties? Did we plan an emergency engine-out on takeoff? My heart grows cold when I think of all this.
As we taxied out, she programmed the flight plan in the GNS 530W, confirmed and activated it. I had not flown IFR for years, and scantily in the RNAV environment in my recent refresher. I could fly basic maneuvers on instruments, but was not at ease with instrument approach procedures. I hardly knew ForeFlight. I remember looking over my shoulder at the disappearing earth, and we were in the clouds at 6,000 feet. I flew east on vapors and trust, heading north of Mt. Hood toward Walla Walla.
In our climb, I had the leaning procedures for the Continental engine down; “Maybe that’s all I needed to know?” I wondered. But no—with us in the clouds at 7,000 or 8,000 feet, just as you predicted, light rime icing began to appear on our wing leading edge. This was “known icing.” Is this normal? I had never seen this before. What’s happening? The pitot heat and prop heat were on. That cool prop blade in preflight began to press on my mind. I looked over at the instructor; not a blink. The CFII asked for higher, and we were given 11,000 feet. If not out of the weather, what then? 12,000? Higher? We reached 11,000 in the clear, and she put on the autopilot. Exactly what that meant, I did not know. I was flying, but definitely not PIC.
Mastering the avionics is usually an essential part of learning any new airplane.
I was thinking slowly. I looked down at the gauges, stable at 145 KIAS, 11,000 feet. Remember Mt. Hood? In my stupor, I looked over at it, shining in the glory of an early dusting of snow. Half consciously, I thought, aren’t those lovely, smooth clouds? I’m feeling chilly. My eyes wandered down to the airspeed indicator. Strange: now 180 KIAS, still at 11,000 feet. Uh, fast is good, but how did that happen? I had not touched the power. I said nothing. A minute later, the gauge reported 100 KIAS and falling, still at 11,000 feet.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
Our CFII announced, “Mountain wave.”
“Oh.” Clearly, I was very unclear.
“I want to retake the airplane, to fly it,” I said, as if that would help.
“Why do you want to do that?”
“I am confused. It will help me clear up.”
“OK.” With that, she gave me the airplane, autopilot still on, still holding the airplane straight and level at 11,000 feet. Then, I committed the basic sin of trying to overpower the airplane with the autopilot engaged. After a few minutes of my futile wrestling, she disconnected it, and I could breathe again.
Then, ATC: “N1234, do you have the airport in sight?”
I did not. The land was all new. My laboring mind was sloppy, as in a first drunk. Climbing through 8,000 feet 20 minutes ago, I had become slowly hypoxic, which, of course, you don’t know when you are hypoxic.
“Head 080, the airport is ahead 20 miles. Descend and maintain 5,000 feet. Contact Tower.”
On our landing, the Walla Walla Tower offered, “1234, here’s a phone number for you to call.” I wrote it down, settled the airplane, washed up, and called.
When I told “Joe” at Seattle Center who was calling, he said, “Hey, thanks for calling. We were all huddled around a scope up here wondering where you were going. ‘He’s going this way. No, that way. The airport’s down there.’ You were 20 miles south of your filed course.”
When I told him I was in a new-to-me airplane and had no clue how to fly a flight plan on autopilot and that I had a CFII, he said, “You okay now?” I reassured him, said I would be flying back to Portland and would file a NASA/Aviation Safety Reporting System report the next day.
“OK. Thanks for calling and have a safe flight home.”
The flight back had the same ride over the mountain waves and was slower overall due to the west winds. But no ice. When we arrived back at home, I flew an RNAV approach through the late afternoon clouds and light rain. The airplane landing lights and my night landing skills stood me well. The next day completed the training with manual gear extension and a back course approach into Salem. The CFII signed me off, we shook hands, and we were done.
We went on to some amazing experiences to be shared elsewhere, but all good. For now, my learnings:
Devise and meditate on your personal minimums. Religiously. Then grow them, modify them with your increasing competence.
Don’t fly unless you “own the weather.” Start studying it several days in advance of your flight. There is no excuse to fly into known or knowable icing. Anticipate mountain waves.
Don’t hurry in transition to a new airplane. You will cut corners that you didn’t know were there. Fly at least ten hours in it, VFR. Learn the pre-flight quirks (like prop heat, in my case).
Carry an oximeter. If your oxygen saturation drops at 8, 10, or 12,000 feet, it still drops. If it ever drops below 95 percent, carry supplemental oxygen for you and your co-pilot, at least.
Learn and practice your avionics in VMC. Learn your autopilot, or leave it off.
Hasten to fill out NASA reports: they will absolve you of most sins and misdemeanors.
Be grateful for Air Traffic Control. They are the finest people you could ever hope to know.
Art made his first solo in 1967 with the same CFI who taught his dad in 1941. After college, he joined the Air Force, flew the trainer jets, then an O-2 or Cessna 337 for the Air National Guard over the training areas of Nevada and California. After raising a family and teaching philosophy at a college near Portland, OR, he and his wife built a farm from scratch and went into horse boarding and training. After letting go of the farm, he missed flying, and persuaded his wife to purchase an airplane. He renewed his IFR rating and they flew Angel Flights up and down Oregon and Washington States. He now spends his days writing, walking, playing the cello, learning the clarinet, and learning how to be a granddad whenever he can.
I believe we have all read more than one article describing how to make good landings. I think we can all agree that using a stabilized approach should result in a good landing, the kind of landing where the flight attendants can smoothly walk the aisle collecting the last of the beverage cups and empty Goldfish packages.
There are groups of pilots who seldom use a stabilized approach because the variables of most of their landings make that difficult, and their normal landing is to use a flexible approach with almost everything varying except the final contact with the ground.
I’m not sure I can name all the groups of pilots that are in this category, but those that I can think of are: bush pilots, military liaison pilots, crop dusters, and many glider tow pilots who are limited by space or time factors. Getting on the ground quickly or into a too-small or non-standard area that may pass for a runway, will determine how it is approached. A stabilized approach is best for normal flying but is a luxury that some pilots don’t have.
Bush pilots don’t usually have the luxury of making a stabilized approach.
These pilots have made enough stabilized approaches and the resultant good landings to know what it is like to touch the ground smoothly even if everything on their variable approaches is wildly chaotic. The chaos is expected and through practice, mastery is achieved. With time it may be difficult to land using a stabilized approach. It may just seem too strange.
Crop dusters usually have the seasons working against them—crops ripen according to the season as light and temperature move north. Some dusting operations move with the growing season; some dusters remain local and do repeat applications of chemicals when needed. There is usually lots of area to treat. All dusters are subject to the weather and must make optimum use of flyable time. Getting on the ground quickly for refills is necessary. There are no beverage containers to collect, and the shortest distance between two points is still a straight line. Traffic patterns are not normal. Since dusting or spraying has been described as flying low altitude aerobatics all day long, the landing approaches are no exception.
Tow pilots often have time restraints as well. Getting gliders in the air when the thermals are strongest is the goal, and everyone wants to be in the air simultaneously. Short return times are desired, returning from the direction of the most promising looking source of lift, a billowing cumulus cloud. That often results in a downwind landing. Trailing a usually 200-ft. long towrope adds more challenge, especially if operating from a relatively short, tree-lined field. Almost every landing is a high approach over the trees until the rope is clear. That is often followed by a steep descent using maximum slip and/or full flaps until almost touching the runway. Another (time consuming) option is to drop the rope on one low pass over the field and then return to land with less challenge.
Bush pilots have many challenges. First, they might be landing at places that aren’t airports. In fact, the places they land are often not even thought of as places. They could be a beach, a stream bed, or an uphill glacier. If there is somewhere you want to go, they seem to be able to get you there. It does have to be clear of trees or large rocks, but they seem to be able to land an airplane like it is a helicopter. There are short field landing competitions, usually flying Piper Super Cubs, Cessna 180s, 185s, or similar high wing aircraft with huge low pressure tires that repeatedly land in about twenty feet.
The approach is not at all normal. It is stabilized however, in that once they slow the plane down to below normal stall speed in a very high angle of attack, power is all that is preventing a stall. They slowly approach the landing zone just “ hanging on the prop.” It takes lots of practice, hopefully done first at high enough altitude for stall recovery before it is in regular use. It’s always precarious—you’d better be really good or stay away from places like Alaska or northern Canada.
Pilots of military aircraft whose designation began with “ L” during World War II, Korea, and maybe Vietnam, and were used primarily for target spotting, shared most the challenges of bush flying where no standard landing site was available much of the time. Similar landing techniques were required in the L-1 to L-19.
I definitely agree a stabilized approach is the best way to have a smooth passenger or flight-attendant-pleasing landing. Practice and master these before you try landing in the other super flexible manner, because the only thing they share in common is to be stabilized—but only in the last six inches above the ground.
George was born in 1930 into an aviation family in New Jersey. Flying was delayed until age 30 as his P-47 pilot brother William did not return from World War Two. He started flying gliders in Ohio and has flown for 60 years in many different aircraft. He has owned a Cessna 180, an RV-6 which he built, a Glastar, and two sailplanes (a Schleicher ASW-15 and a Glasflugel CZ 304). Ratings are SEL, MEL, glider, tow pilot with 4500 tows, Commercial, and Instrument. George worked as a flight instructor, charter pilot, cargo pilot, and photo pilot for the agriculture department during summers while teaching Industrial Design at Kent State, and maintaining a design practice. He flew in two other countries, Iran and Switzerland. His total time of 3200 hours is in 41 different aircraft types.