Wednesday, 19 October 2016


Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS/Steve Thompson

Most will agree that on a long VFR flight, there are stretches of time when your mind can wander. Other than doing the usual drills, here are the top activities for putting that time to good use:

10. Play with the ADF. If you’re blessed with older avionics, chances are good that you have an ADF in your panel. While the antiquated Automatic Direction Finder is intended to provide navigation based on the location of an AM radio station, it also allows you to tune into the AM broadcast band, where you can find some interesting programs to listen to; and by watching the ADF needle and confirming the station on your chart, you’ll learn more about how to use your ADF.
9. Submit a PIREP. Regardless of weather conditions, even if it’s clear and smooth air, reach out to Flight Service and give them a PIREP. You’ll become familiar with the format and exchange, and it’ll be useful information for the next pilot who comes along. If you have forgotten the standard dialog, just ask Flight Service to help you through the process and they’ll be glad to do so.
8. Create an efficient scan of critical instruments. If you’ve not already developed an optimal scan pattern, then here’s your opportunity to create one – this might be a left to right, top to bottom scan, or another pattern depending on your panel layout. Then, use your scan regularly… someday it might give you a warning of impending failure and you’ll be glad you caught it early.
7. Play the Alphabet Game. If you’re flying with your kids, then play the Alphabet Game with tail number suffixes heard on the radio. It’s a way for young pilots-to-be to learn the Phonetic Alphabet, and it encourages them to listen what’s going on with ARTCC.
6. Refresh your VOR skills. VORs are slowly being phased out, but are still valid means of determining your location should alternatives be unavailable. If you have a NAV radio, tune to the nearest VOR and confirm the CDI (Course Deviation Indicator) indication agrees with other means of navigation. If you’ve got two CDI instruments, play with triangulation and predict when both CDI needles will swing through centre.
5. Monitor NRST. Most aviation GPS units have a “NRST” button, allowing you to instantly see a list of the nearest airports. Watching this list will give you increased situational awareness, and it’s also fun to visually identify the airports you see on the list as you go by them.
4. If my engine quit right now… where would I land? Develop the habit of looking at regular intervals for an emergency landing spot. If it’s a road, is it clear of power lines? Are the trees alongside the road too close for comfort? How well traveled is the road? If it’s farm land, are there furrows to be considered? Or, if it’s rocky, raw desert, which surface is going to give me the best chances of walking away after the landing? If my aircraft flipped over during landing, how would I escape? It’s time well spent.
3. So, if my engine did quit… what speed would I immediately establish? Vglide is the speed which produces the farthermost glide if you were to lose power. During cruise, pull out the POH and confirm the Vglide speed. Then, commit it to memory. On most aircraft, it will be roughly half way between Vx (best angle of climb) and Vy (best rate of climb). Vglide speed increases with weight, and the published speed is likely computed for a max gross weight configuration. Is your best glide speed a knot or two less since you’re under gross? Know this number; it might save your life in an emergency.
2. Turn off the GPS. If you’re running a GPS, then turn it off or disable it for a bit. Look outside for visual cues – mountain tops, highways, power lines, railroad tracks – and match them to your chart. Then make a guess at your precise location and turn the GPS back on to see how close you were. If your GPS ever fails, then by occasionally having taken this challenge, you’ll feel more comfortable navigating solely by the chart.
1. Enjoy the flight. During the short golden age of powered flight, only a select few of us have the aptitude, ability and budget to be a PIC. This puts pilots in an elite group of human beings. Our privilege to fly at will could be threatened in the future by technological changes, personal budget, health, and even political climate – so pause for a moment and consider how fortunate we are to be pilots. We’ve got it so good!



Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS/John Zimmerman

A check-ride is always a stressful time for student pilots, as months of preparation culminate in a big test and hopefully a new certificate. It’s also a time when new pilots go from the clearly defined instructor-student relationship to the much fuzzier examiner-applicant relationship. Who’s in charge? The simple answer is the applicant, but an accident from late 2013 shows how tricky this question can be in real life. It also offers some lessons for all pilots.

The student pilot wasn’t going far in his rented Cessna 182, just 20 nm to a neighboring airport to meet a designated pilot examiner for his Private Pilot practical test. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating, with a 600 ft. overcast and 4 miles visibility at his departure airport. The pilot called the examiner to discuss the weather, and the accident report included the following.

According to the Examiner, the student pilot called him on the morning of the accident and informed him there was a cloud deck at his departure airfield. He told the student that the cloud deck was probably a thin layer which would burn off, and that he should make the flight after the weather cleared up.

How this was interpreted by the pilot we’ll never know, but a short time later surveillance cameras at the airport show the 182 departing. The airplane flew just two miles on runway heading before crashing and killing the pilot. Examination of the airplane did not show any mechanical malfunctions or pre-impact failures. It appears to be a simple VFR-into-IMC accident.

Unlike some of these scenarios, the pilot didn’t stumble into ever-worsening weather. He was aware of this as demonstrated by his phone call to the examiner. So why would he launch into weather that was obviously unsafe for VFR flight?

The report makes note of the student’s known “gung-ho” personality, suggesting he was not afraid to take some risk. He was a successful, goal-oriented person who viewed aviation as a way to support his business, and his flight instructor had previously warned him about trying to “push too hard” to complete a trip.

So, on the surface this may sound like a reckless pilot who did not recognize his limitations, which may be part of it but other details suggest this to be an oversimplification. According to the CFI the student was feeling self-imposed pressure to complete his flight training, and this combined with his personality created the possibility of a potentially unsafe flight. 

With that in mind, the examiner’s comment about the cloud deck burning off seems like the final straw. Here is a much more experienced pilot suggesting that the clouds are not a major problem, since they will not last long. While the examiner clearly said he should not fly until after the weather cleared up, the student may have taken that as encouragement to make the trip. He may have heard what he wanted to hear. And it was only a 20 mile flight.

Regardless of the pilot’s thinking, this accident is a reminder for all pilots that only the person controlling the yoke is pilot in command. That authority cannot be outsourced to anyone else and whilst saying “No”, even to implicit pressure or harmless suggestions, is sometimes hard to learn, it’s a life-saving skill, which faces pilots of all experience levels.
  •  When a controller says there’s a gap in the weather but you’re not sure, do you resist that subtle pressure? 
  • When a mechanic says the airplane is ready to go but you have your doubts, do you trust your own judgment?
  • When a flying buddy says the weather is good enough to go but it’s below your personal minima, do you stand firm?

 These are all hard questions, and of course the right answer is not necessarily to cancel every flight at the first sign of trouble. But there is only one vote that counts in the go/no go decision: that of the PIC. Guard that power jealously.


Wednesday, 14 September 2016


The following is condensed from an article published in the Autumn edition of the GASCO Flight Safety Magazine.

Acknowledgements and thanks: GASCO/Gerry Humphreys

Loss of control is increasingly evident in fatal accidents in both GA and commercial operations, and the key to avoiding it is Angle of Attack Awareness.

For those wanting to learn to fly in as short a time as possible simulators are used to teach standard and emergency procedures, and to minimise costs. However, they do not recreate the effect of “G”, without which the trainee is missing out on experiencing instruction in an important skills area. Thus many trainees rarely get to fly a turn above 45angle of bank, or a pitch of 200.

AoA is important in determining whether a wing flies or not, so understanding it is vital if we are to understand what is happening when we pilot an aircraft. LIFT and DRAG are directly related to SPEED and AoA, but whereas we seem to concentrate on speed, AoA is the more fundamental concept to be grasped; because STALL is related to AoA alone. A good Instructor will thus introduce the concept of AoA at an early stage of training.

Primary Elevator effect:         
Stick back, AoA of wing increases, lift increases, aircraft climbs

Secondary Elevator effect:    
Stick back, AoA of wing increases, drag increases, speed decreases

Speed .v. AoA relationship:
High speed, Low AoA; Low speed, High AoA

Primary Aileron effect:
Change in the LOCAL AoA, which alters Lift and Drag in their own Area. Wing rises, 
Lift & Drag increase; Wing falls, Lift & Drag decrease

Secondary Aileron effect:
Yaw in the opposite direction to the input roll. In an established bank, an aircraft will first
slip then yaw in the same direction as the input roll, but at this stage the ailerons are actually
NEUTRAL. Any subsequent slip & yaw will be an effect of Angle of Bank & Stability, 
not aileron control input

Keep the ball in the middle:
If not, the ailerons will be deflected, with one wing at a higher AoA than the other.
Approaching a critical overall AoA, the down-deflected aileron will stall first

Spin training:
Of limited value in the real world, as most fatal spins occur too close to the ground to enable
recovery. Better to train prevention by means of realistic stall training incorporating AoA

Feeling the Force:
Much steep-turn training is done at 450 AoB, but training at 600 AoB as well is beneficial 
in two ways:
-     It demonstrates that the increased lift needed demands an increased AoA
      Stick back further = more lift = more drag  = more power required
-    The pilot can experience what 2G feels like, and if on pulling the stick back you feel 2G,
      you have enough lift to fly. You will not stall unless speed reduces, so given sufficient
      terrain clearance and the application of correct technique, recovery is achievable. If you
      don’t feel the   force you need more speed or a lower AoA for the lift equation to work


Monday, 5 September 2016

7 ways to scare yourself in an airplane - and how to learn from them

AIRFACTS/John Zimmerman

John says: Sometimes the only way to learn an important lesson is to scare yourself just a little. We try to fill the experience bucket before the luck bucket gets to empty. Here are seven common ways to do it, and before you say it could never happen to you, remember that pilots don’t crash aeroplanes because they want to. That’s why we call them accidents.

1. Run low on fuel. So common, and yet fuel is one thing we have almost total control over. Poor planning combines with ‘get-home-itis’ until the pilot runs low on both fuel and options. Most of the time, the pilot lands before the engine quits, but usually not before a lasting impression is made.
Lesson: Be pessimistic in your calculations. Aim always to land with one hour of fuel in the tanks.

2. VFR into IMC/scud running. Similar causes, but whereas low fuel is pretty easy to monitor, there is no instrument to measure “low weather.” There are FARs to define legal VFR, but where’s the line between safe and legal? Pilots sometimes become overly optimistic, taking false comfort when the forecast says “it shouldn’t be this bad.” The only weather report that matters is what you see ahead. Ignore it and, you scare yourself by flying dangerously low or skimming in and out of cloud.
Lesson: Trust METARs, and the trends indicated in them, more than TAFs. Consider your flight as a series of “go a little further/stop going” decisions instead of a single “go/no go” option. If you have to go down or slow down more than once, it’s time to divert.

3. Close call in the traffic pattern. Most pilots can remember at least one close call, with one flying a standard pattern and another making up his/her own arrival or transit. Often exacerbated by poor radio calls and a lack of awareness. Both airplanes bank to miss each other and tempers usually flare afterwards.
Lesson:  Fly the standard pattern, making clear position reports. Assume other pilots won’t be so conscientious, so fly defensively. Keep your visual scan going and raise or lower a wing to double check. Have a sense of where each airplane is in the pattern, and if unsure, ask!

4. Runway incursion. Given clearance to cross the runway, as I did so I saw a Falcon 900 barrelling down it. I had been lazy, and was lucky! Turned out he was landing and stopped well short of me, but it was a clear reminder that airmanship is required also on the ground.
Lesson: Trust, but verify. I say to myself “clear left, clear right, cleared to cross” when crossing a runway.
5. High density altitude take-off. The first take-off at an airport above 5,000 ft. is a real attention-getter. Combine elevation with high temperature and a non-turbocharged engine and you have a long take-off roll and a slow climb. It’s hard to resist the urge to pull back even more, but don’t!
Lesson: Don’t assume your airplane can do it – build in some healthy margins. You can’t make the airplane fly if it doesn’t want to.

6. Falling asleep in flight. You close your eyes for a moment …. When you wake up, you instantly look to the fuel gauges and GPS. You call ATC to make sure you didn’t miss a radio call while you were “off air.” It may have only been seconds, but you’ll remember the scary feeling forever.
Lesson: The old “eight hours bottle to throttle” is a bare minimum. If you’ve been working hard or playing hard, make an honest assessment of whether you’re safe to fly. When in doubt, delay the flight.

7. In-flight icing. A frightening event for most pilots, especially in airplanes with no de-icing equipment. Whilst we’re getting better at forecasting ice, the when, where and why it happens is still a mystery to many.
Lesson: If the temperature is below 5C and/or you’re in cloud, be alert. Learn to read Nature’s signs of possible icing: Lows, temperature inversions, strong lifting forces etc. Look for reports of cloud tops so you know whether getting on top is an option. Do not linger in ice, even with de-icing equipment. Execute your backup plan immediately (you do have one, right?).

Any of the above ring a bell?


Thursday, 1 September 2016


(Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS/Richard Collins)

Here’s Richard’s view of the 3rd. pre-requisite of Smart Piloting …..


Pat your head and rub your tummy…
When I was a kid I heard that one item of screening for potential military pilots in 1938 was to be able to pat your head with one hand and rub your tummy with the other, and then switch without missing a beat.

What does that have to do with flying in 2016? A lot, because operating a private airplane has come to require more and more coordination as time has passed. Now it has become a matter of getting all your stuff together before a flight and keeping it together.

Next time you ride on an airliner, note everything that happens before, during and after the flight. Note how many people it takes. Then, next time you prepare for a trip in your airplane, remember that everything you saw done has to be done for your own flight by one person - you. That is why coordination is such an important piloting skill. Known poshly as CRM (cockpit resource management), it means the effective use of all personnel (including any with local experience or knowledge who may not actually be travelling with you) and material assets available.

Preflight work is pretty standard. Plan the flight, check the weather, check the airplane carefully, load everything properly, run the checklists, get a clearance (if IFR, or required for VFR) and you are ready to fly.

However, there is a special element requiring coordination when considering your route v. weather. In flat country the weather is the prime consideration, but in hilly terrain the interface between the two has to be considered. The hard part is coordinating the arrival with known weather conditions. So don’t just plan the weather, but plan how the weather and the terrain work together.

Also requiring coordination is the relationship between your altitude and the distance to fly to touchdown. This ratio can get pretty ridiculous at many mountain airports, and if you haven’t done your homework the approach can become a muddled high and fast affair. So do a thorough pre-flight survey of the departure and destination airfields to determine the existence of any out-of-the-norm departure and arrival procedures set up by those who know in order to counter problems inherent in the terrain. A lot of airplanes have been lost because the crew was unaware of the terrain or the procedures at one end or the other.

I’ve told of this before but when on the subject of coordination, it is worth repeating. Concorde flew its whole life with the original avionics. There were none of the modern whistles and bells. I watched in wonder many times as a captain coordinated everything about an arrival. From almost 60,000 feet at 1,150 knots, he had to prepare for it even with the airplane still at the gate at JFK. I watched a number of them do that using the best computer of all, the old brain.