Tuesday, 5 December 2017


Acknowledgements: John Zimmerman (Sporty’s Student Pilot News)

“Some aviation tips are in the “commandments” category, e.g:
  •          never land with less than an hour of fuel on board,
  •          never take off over gross weight,
  •          never fly below minimums on an instrument approach.
  •          My personal favourite is never run out of airspeed and ideas at the same time!

Disregarding any of these tips means you are courting danger, but while they are all true, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other, smaller tips that can reduce risk.

In fact, as pilots there’s a lot we can do to increase the safety margins of every flight, just by keeping a few good habits. Below are seven I try follow in the cockpit:

1.  Set the altimeter to field elevation as soon as you get in the airplane. 
This may not be exactly correct, and you’ll want to fine tune the setting before take-off (via ATIS or AWOS), but getting the altimeter in the ballpark is a good hedge against making a 1,000-foot error. This can happen if the barometric pressure has changed dramatically since your last flight. I once set the altimeter for -500 feet, thinking it was actually at 500 feet (the correct altitude). This habit gives you two chances to catch any errors, and takes just a few seconds.

2.    Set the heading bug on the runway you are using for take-off. 
Many airplanes have a heading bug these days, which is used to control the autopilot. But that bug can be used as a valuable reminder, even if you aren’t using automation. Especially at an airport with multiple runways, I always set the bug on the runway heading that I’ll be using. It’s a quick reminder during taxi, and a valuable last-minute check before you take off. In larger airplanes, it could even prevent a fatal mistake, like the CRJ crash in Lexington, Kentucky, some years ago.

3. Don’t reconfigure on the runway. As you gain confidence in the airplane, it’s tempting to multi-task. Sometimes that’s OK, but resist the urge to do it after landing, while you’re still on the runway. Leave the flaps where they are, don’t touch the trim, and don’t worry about the lights. They can all wait, and if your attention is in the cockpit, you might miss a serious traffic conflict or even taxi the airplane into the grass. Keep the cockpit sterile until you’re over the hold-short line. Obviously, an exception can be made for touch and goes, but I’d only do this with an instructor in the right seat (never solo).

4.   Verify the flap handle in retractable gear airplanes. 
Don’t grab that flap handle without first making sure it’s the right one. Somewhat related to the previous habit, in retractable airplanes it’s easy to mix up the flap and gear handles, particularly if you’re in a hurry. Sure, there are systems to prevent the retraction of the gear when you’re on the ground, but those can fail. Take two extra seconds when you grab the flap handle to retract them after landing, and say (out loud), “I have the flap handle.” It may seem silly at first, but it can prevent a very expensive mistake.

5.   Use a quick flow check at key moments. 
Every pilot and every airplane will have a different flow check, but a good one includes essential items like: power setting, trim, flaps/gear, engine instruments, and altitude. This can take just a moment, but I like to do it shortly after take-off, at the top of climb, before starting descent and just before landing. It’s not a replacement for a printed checklist, but a good backup to make sure the critical checklist steps have been completed.

6.    Leave the landing light out until cleared for take-off
At towered airports, you’ll sometimes be cleared to “line up and wait,” meaning you’ll take the runway but hold your position until you get additional clearance from the tower. To avoid confusion, I always leave the landing light off until I have received clearance to take off. That gives me a quick check if I’m ever uncertain of my status. And yes, you should always turn on the landing light for take-off, even during the daytime. It’s helpful for collision avoidance.

7.    Call out “1000 to go” in climbs and descents. 
The pros always say this, and most newer autopilots also do it too. When you’re within 1000 feet of your level-off altitude, say “1000 to go” and maybe even hold up one finger. It’s a good way to prevent an altitude bust (a big deal in the world of IFR flying), but it’s also a helpful reminder that you should be focusing on flying the airplane, not talking to passengers or programming the avionics.

All these are easy and quick, so they shouldn’t burden your typical flight. In fact, after a while, you probably won’t even notice you’re doing them. In my 3000+ hours of flying, all seven have saved me from a mistake. Sure, not all would have been fatal or even serious, but striving for that mistake-free flight is every pilot’s goal. I’ll take all the help I can get!”



Acknowledgements: JC Mayerle (Sporty’s “Student Pilot News”)

(Ed. Note: Some tips below from JC Mayerle at Sporty’s for those at the start of their quest to conquer gravity!)

1.    Under-utilising at-home study and being under prepared for the lessons
Learning to fly is almost like a full-time job. It requires a lot of study outside the airplane. One of the mistakes we see students making is coming to the lesson under-prepared.

The last time you thought about flying should never be the last time you met with your instructor. You’ll end up taking more time re-learning the material than you’ll spend making progress toward your goals.

I highly recommend going over the lesson once you get home for 20 to 30 minutes at least. Your brain has time to unwind after the lesson on your drive home; then, if you peek back into the material for half an hour, it does wonders for your memory.

Don’t waste money and time by forgetting the lessons and covering the same topics over and over. Just use your own time wisely, and you and your instructor will be happy you did.
2.    The iron grip and over controlling
When you first get in the airplane and take the controls it’s difficult to manage everything that’s happening around you. There’s more gauges, more controls and more room for error than probably any other vehicle you’ve controlled.

When I was a student, I had a terrible time with over corrections. I’d lose 100 feet of altitude and suddenly find myself climbing 500 feet per minute. Or I’d get lined up with the runway and drift a little left, only to over correct to the right.

So, let’s not forget one of the causes of this issue, the iron grip on the yoke. My instructor put it plain and simple for me, “The airplane wants to fly, just let it be and relax.” After all, when you think about it, you’re just there to keep things running smoothly. Flying is about grace and finesse. I promise that if you relax, your flying will improve.

3.    Not having a mentor.
There are a lot of barriers to entry when it comes to getting a pilot’s licence, but most can be overcome with the help of a mentor. The first time you get to the airport can be daunting enough.

Engage someone who can show you the ropes. You should never feel unwelcome. It’s a friendly atmosphere when you get to know the pilots. The more you get involved with aviation, the more questions you’ll have. Choosing the right mentor can help for years to come.

4.    Buying a cheap starter headset
The most often used item when you begin your flight training is a headset. You’re going to quickly find what details and features matter.

I’d warn against the bargain bin used headset to save a few extra dollars. Too often we see students opt for something cheap (not the same as inexpensive!) only to upgrade to a higher quality headset a short time later.

Think of the headset as an investment in your flying career and, most importantly, your hearing. If you plan on flying with this headset every time you get in the airplane, it needs to be comfortable and quiet.

Only the higher-end headsets come with active noise reduction technology (ANR), which actively dampens the noise around you so that you don’t hear as much cockpit noise. ANR makes for a more enjoyable flight; it also saves your ears from too much high frequency noise which can damage your eardrums.

Another benefit of a higher quality headset is comfort. Wearing a tight headset with noticeable clamping force for a long cross-country flight is a problem. Your head will be screaming for relief. It’s unpleasant to say the least.

Other features you’ll enjoy are soft leatherette ear seals, adjustable clamping pressure, swivel ear cups, adjustable head pads and thicker ear seals. 

5.    Not flying often enough.
If you can dedicate three lessons per week, you’ll be able to knock this out with the least amount of time and the least amount of money. If you’re only flying once per week, it’s going to take a year to earn your license.

To put it simply, Go! Go! Go! With the right amount of dedication and a little luck from the weather you’ll be certified in only a matter of months. The more often you fly, the better you’ll retain the material.

As a wise older pilot said, “Once you become a student pilot, you’re always a student pilot. You never stop learning.” Here at Sporty’s, we think there’s always a lesson to be learned with pilot training. That’s why we share our stories on Student Pilot News and why we encourage you to share your stories as well.



Friday, 1 December 2017


Acknowledgements: Thomas P. Turner – Mastery Flight Training Inc.
(Ed Note: The following relates to an actual gear-up landing incident at Daytona Beach, Florida, and if you view the two video films included in the report you can understand the value of calm control, and the advisability of regular refresher training on potential emergency situations).

A reader wrote:
“Tom, I wanted to let you know that I had a gear up landing in my Baron last week. The FAA and the local shop are getting ready to put the plane on jacks to look into a root cause …..“

Tom’s thoughts on viewing the filmed incident:
“Two things are obvious from the video posted by a witness on Face-Book, and which was forwarded to me by the pilot involved. To see it, follow the link below:   

• The amazing display of sparks (amid an impressive scraping sound) beneath and below the airplane as it slid down the runway. Twilight conditions made the sparks very visible. Although we do not see the sparks in a full-daylight gear up landing, they are there even in the bright light of day.
• The speed and efficiency with which the pilot, an adult passenger, and two young children evacuated the aircraft and moved well away, toward first responders. The visible sparks and smoke in the cabin, as reported by the pilot, emphasized the need to evacuate.

Although the sparks may not be as visible in full daylight, there is good reason to swiftly evacuate after a gear-up landing. Although it is rare, I have heard of several cases in which post-gear-up airplanes erupted into flame as much as half an hour after ending their runway slide.

The rapid evacuation was no accident—it could only have been done with forethought, and then with active direction by the pilot. In a local television news video, the pilot is quoted as crediting annual training for the success of his landing. Follow the following link for the TV report:

When the gear would not extend either normally or manually using the emergency extension procedure, the pilot told me, he used his training to plan and execute the emergency landing.

This included a decision to divert from his destination, his home airport, to the Daytona Beach airport because of its rescue response capability and the length of its runways.

Investigation revealed a pre-impact mechanical failure of the landing gear motor. When the motor seized, the design of the Baron’s gear extension system made it impossible to put the wheels down. Fortuitously the gear was fully up when the failure occurred, the pilot told me, although he quips that he would prefer it to have stuck down!

This event serves to remind us that despite a pilot’s actions machines sometimes break. When that machine is an airplane the pilot will have to make many decisions, perform many actions, and above all, uphold his/her responsibility to passengers - all while flying the airplane.
The pilot of the Baron was ready. Would you be?"


Thursday, 30 November 2017



1. Know What’s in Your Fuel Tanks
That means making sure that no water has got into the tanks, and verifying that the tanks haven’t been filled with the wrong fuel.

2. Know for certain how much usable fuel is on board
Fuel computers will tell you how much you’re burning and how much you have left, but the pilot still needs to input the starting fuel quantity.
·     A calibrated dipstick is a good way to measure fuel, but be sure it’s calibrated for your airplane.
·     Departing with full tanks is not always possible due to weight and balance limitations.
·     And what about the previous pilot who tells you “I only flew an hour on full tanks”? Were they full? Did he/she lean the mixture? Verify: It’s your safety and certificate on the line.
·     If using an unfamiliar airplane, AOPA Air Safety Foundation recommends you add one or two gallons per hour to your computed fuel consumption until you see how much it does burn.

3. Know Your Airplane’s Fuel System
·     All airplanes have a means of selecting which tank or combination of tanks is in use, and of shutting off all fuel to the engine. Some (like the Cessna 150/152) feed from two tanks at the same time. The fuel selector valve has only On/Off positions. Others have Off, Left, Both, and Right fuel selector positions. In most carburetted high-wing designs, gravity feeds fuel to the engine. But If the fuel supply is lower than the engine, fuel must be pumped
·     So, fuel management on a Cessna 150 is easy: Two wing tanks simultaneously gravity-feeding fuel to the engine, with the fuel selector either on or off.
·     But a low-wing single with two main, two wing-auxiliary, two after-market tip tanks, an engine-driven primary fuel pump, electric boost pump, and electric fuel transfer pumps? It’s not surprising that pilots have made forced landings with fuel still available!
·     The location of the fuel selector valve varies with airplane type, and in some designs the valve is hard to see. To avoid fuel-starvation make sure you are moving the fuel selector correctly.
·     Switching tanks should not be done at low altitudes: Perform pre-landing fuel tank selection before reaching pattern altitude

4. Update Your Fuel Status Regularly.
Your POH shows fuel consumption for various power settings. But remember: Fuel consumption figures are based on a properly leaned engine operating at a specific power setting. Winds are rarely exactly as forecast, and weather deviations add miles and minutes to your trip. AOPA Air Safety Foundation recommends that pilots evaluate the fuel status as follows:
·     In flight, recalculate range and endurance hourly
·     Compare your range calculation with the distance to your destination, to make sure of an adequate fuel reserve. By doing this, you can make timely adjustments to your flight plan for un-forecast winds, or weather deviations
·     Estimate how much fuel your airplane will take at each fuel stop. When you refuel, comparing this estimate with what actually goes into the tanks is an excellent way to develop “fuel sense”
5. Always Land with Adequate Reserve Fuel
AOPA Air Safety Foundation recommends that pilots always LAND with at least one hour of fuel in the tanks. This does not mean searching for an airport when approaching the one-hour reserve: It means being on the ground.

6. Leaning
It’s impossible to achieve “book” performance, range, or endurance unless you lean the mixture.
·     Leaning manually: On basic airplanes, set cruise power and lean the mixture until the engine runs rough. Then slowly enrich the mixture until the engine smooths out. You may see a slight increase in rpm before the engine starts to roughen. If you later need to climb to a higher cruising altitude, enrich the mixture before adding power (if you’re at or above 75 percent power) and then lean again when level at your new altitude.
·     Leaning for take-off: At high-density-altitude airports, you’ll have to lean before take-off to maximise engine power. Consult your POH for details.

7. Carburettor Heat
As air moves through a carburettor its temperature drops and, if conditions are right, water vapour in the air can form ice. Most carburetted aircraft are equipped with a control that routes heated air to the carburettor to melt the ice and keep it from re-forming. This results in a richer mixture (and increased consumption) because the heated air is less dense than ambient air. Pilots should lean while operating with carb heat and enrich when it’s no longer needed.

8. Extending Range
Long deviations around weather, stronger than forecast headwinds, or discovery of a low fuel condition may require you to maximize fuel economy. Let’s look at some ways to conserve fuel:
·     Slow down: You’ll burn less fuel if you cruise at a lower power setting.
·     Fly with the wind: If you have a choice of equidistant fuel stops, pick the one that’s downwind. You may have to back-track, but you’ll burn less fuel and get there faster.
·     Lean for best economy: Consult the POH for best economy/long endurance power settings and leaning procedures.

Obviously, pilots should adjust their flight plan before fuel becomes a critical issue, but if you’re low on fuel or, worse, dipping into the reserve, land as soon as possible. Don’t wait for the FBO with the best price or the preferred credit card!