Wednesday, 6 September 2017


Acknowledgements: Spidertracks

Flying cross-country can be a pretty daunting experience, especially in busy airspace areas – but with the right planning and preparation, anyone can do it. In 2015 Spidertracks’ US Sales Manager Jerry Lee completed a one-million-square-mile air tour across the United States in a Cessna 182, and in January 2016, Spidertracks’ Marketing Manager Todd O’Hara flew the length of New Zealand in a Sirius Light Sport.  Here are some of the things we picked up along the way.

1. Plan
Planning is the most essential part of any cross-country flight. Work out where you need to be and how you need to get there. Take into account airfields along the route, as well as different frequencies. Build a list of legs, and populate as much information about them as you can. It can be helpful to write each leg’s information on different pages and carry them with you during the flight.
  •  Does your track take you over water for extended periods of time?
  • What is the single-engine performance of your aircraft?
  •  Is there a similar route that keeps you within gliding range of land?
  • Does your track take you over terrain for which your aircraft is suited?
  • If flying over high terrain, is your aircraft capable of operating at the altitudes required?
  • What’s your comfortable endurance for each leg?
  • How much fuel can you carry?
  • How much is the fuel price en-route?
  • How long can your passengers sit in the aircraft comfortably?
‘Fly’ the leg in your head before departure. Imagine what you expect to happen based on the maps. Who should you talk to, and what should you say?

2. Weather
A comprehensive weather briefing is one of the most important tools in your planning and decision- making kit. But it’s more than just downloading a copy of the weather brief for your area. It’s essential that you actually understand it and build a mental picture of what it means for your flight. Weather-related pilot error accounted for 18% of aircraft accidents from 2000-2010.

There are four steps to weather and flying:
  • gather
  • understand
  • think ahead
  • review
Set your personal limits before you depart, and review your situation as you go. Ask yourself, “If this was a local pleasure trip with friends, would I be flying in these conditions?” Use the most reliable weather forecast system – your eyes – and look at the weather around you before leaving.
  •  Does what you see match what your forecasts and METARs are saying?
  •  Do you feel comfortable flying in the conditions you see?
  •  Do your passengers feel comfortable?
  • Check the weather along the route, and know what to expect. Always have options to divert to if the weather closes in.
  •  Where is the wind coming from, and how will that affect your flight?
  •  Do you have to cross terrain or fly beside it?
  •  Should you be in the leeward or windward side of the feature?
  •  If you’re thinking about climbing on top of low-level cloud, are you sure you’re able to get back down? Don’t get caught above the cloud trying to find a gap back through.
3. Yourself
With everything else you’re thinking about before the flight, it’s easy to overlook the most critical part of flying – yourself.
  •  Plan to stay engaged during the flight, and think about your mental welfare.
  • Keep hydrated. Carry a water bottle in the aircraft – or even better, a camelback-type device – and make sure to keep drinking at regular intervals.
  • Keep important things where you can reach them: maps, airport information, cell phone, pen and paper, etc.
  • Know where you are at all times, and stay “un-lost.” Ask yourself constantly to prove where you are. Look outside first, and build an image of what you’re looking at. Match the features outside to what you see on the map. Ensure you use a couple of features so you’re not just moulding what you see to fit where you hope you are.
  • Keep entertained. Does your aircraft have a system you can play music through safely? Engage with your passengers if you’re able to. It can be hard on a long flight to keep mentally switched on.
4. Destination
There are approximately over 500 airports/airfields in the UK alone, and in the United States around 15,000. Make sure you’re at the right one!
  •  Do the runway markings match the plate?
  •  Is the airport where you expect it to be?
  • Know the traffic patterns in advance, and anticipate joining instructions or circuit direction based on your weather briefing.
  • Where are you going to go after you land?
  • Is there parking available?
  • Is there a landing fee?
5. Aircraft
Remember that not all aircraft are the same; even different models of the same type can vary greatly. Know your aircraft and its traits before you leave.
  • Understand which instruments are fitted, where they are, and how they work.
  • Are your steam gauges where you’re used to, or can you work the new G1000?
  • Know what feels right for the aircraft. Is a shimmy in the nose wheel normal?
  • How much play do you have in the flaps on the pre-flight?
  • How does your engine normally sound?
  • What kind of equipment do you have on board? Devices like iPads can greatly increase your situational awareness in flight, but do you know how to use them?
  • Is it mounted securely?
  • Do you have a back-up in case they’re not working?
  • Are there any other specific tricks that you may not have come across during near-field flying?
6. Hope for the best, plan for the worst
  • What safety equipment do you have on board? ELT/PLB/FTD?
  • Where is the fire extinguisher and the axe?
  • If you’re flying over water, do you have a life jacket on board?
  • Should you wear the life jacket?
  • Are you dressed for the environment you will be flying over? Could you survive 24 hours in what you’re wearing?
  • Plan on not being able to take anything with you if you have to leave the aircraft in a hurry.
  • Keep your emergency kit attached to you or at least within easy reach.
  • Who else knows where you are? Before you leave, coordinate with a safety person on the ground, letting them know what time you expect to arrive at your next location.
  • What happens if you’re overdue? Form a plan with hard stops along the way and what steps to take if you are overdue.
  • Do you have a flight follower on the ground?
  • Is your aircraft equipped with a fixed or portable flight tracking device so your position is known at all times? Knowing that someone’s got your back no matter where you are is a huge relief when flying across remote areas without any cell-phone reception.
7. Look outside
Flying is one of the most exciting things humans can do. Flying cross-country often gives you the ability to see things in a way that most people never will. So, for enjoyment just take a moment to look around while you’re up there. But for safety employ the 80/20 rule (80% scanning outside/20% attending to things inside the cockpit)

Wednesday, 23 August 2017


Acknowledgements: Bill Cox (Plane & Pilot)
VFR flying can be more difficult than you might imagine, so here’s a series of suggestions to make it easier, safer and more fun.

1. Resist the temptation to fly direct on GPS.
Rather, put together a flight plan to include slight deviations to stay near highways, airports or flat terrain. You'd be amazed how far you can deviate from a Great Circle route without adding significantly to total distance.

2. Think twice about cruise altitude.
Even on short trips higher is nearly always better, for several reasons. Fuel burn is less, the airplane may actually fly faster, and range will be extended. Most GA airplanes can reach 8,000 to 10,000 feet, where they'll be above much other traffic, have longer radio range, usually operate above the convection layer in smoother air and have more sky beneath them in the event of a problem.

3. "The only time you can have too much fuel is when you're on fire".
You may never know what circumstances will dictate the need for more fuel, but it's nearly always a good idea to carry as much fuel as possible, cabin payload and CG permitting, of course.

4. Clean the windshield and front side windows every time you fly.
Author and humourist Rod Machado does that religiously and if it's good enough for Rod it's good enough for me. I've had too many instances of spotting another aircraft coming right at me, only to discover it's a bug spot with the light hitting at exactly the correct angle.

5. Minimise extra weight by leaving it in your locker or hangar.
Extra weight slows you down. You might be surprised at the amount of useless junk you're carrying around for no good reason. Also, store whatever you do carry aboard as far aft in the airplane as convenient. The farther aft the permitted CG, the faster you'll cruise.

6. When you're through using an air vent, remember to close it.
Most general aviation airplanes don't have air-conditioning, so many of us open the air vents in hot weather and forget to close them when it's cooler. The disturbed air associated with the vent will add drag.

7. Use “flight following” whenever you can, especially around heavily congested airspace.
Particularly if your trip is long, over water or remote terrain. If you have a problem, you won't need to scramble to find the proper frequency. A flight-following controller can also keep you clear of restricted or prohibited zones. And each subsequent controller will automatically update the altimeter setting with every handoff.

8. Route around big cities whenever possible.
Traffic is usually lighter, smog isn't as much of a problem, fuel, ramp and parking prices generally are lower, and you're less likely to receive vectors away from your course line or altitude restrictions to deal with.

9. On descent, don't automatically start down at 500 fpm.
In winter, you may want to stay high as long as possible to maximize the effects of tailwinds. And hot surface temps in summer may dictate the same technique to avoid the heat and convective turbulence down low. If there are gathering clouds ahead, you may want to descend early to make certain you don't get trapped on top.

10. Don't be paranoid about turbulence.
I flew with a G-meter in my first airplane, and was amazed to discover that I almost never encountered an "air pocket" stronger than 1.5 to 2.0 G. If you're uncomfortable, do whatever's necessary, but don't assume the airplane will start coming apart every time you fly through a section of cobblestone sky.

11. Think ahead for cross-country trips.
Take updated charts, food, water, pilot relief bags, a big watch, an extra pair of Ray-Bans and survival gear as necessary. Don't forget life vests if you're flying over large expanses of water.

12. Remember that water can be your best friend in some circumstances over landlocked trips.
A friend who suffered a total engine failure over the Swiss Alps picked out the biggest flat spot he could find, an alpine lake, and ditched the airplane rather than attempt a dead-stick landing against the side of a mountain. The airplane got very wet, but he swam away uninjured.

13. Temper your judgment about flying in high-mountain terrain at all, if you can avoid it.
There may be little margin for error if you accidently enter a cloud. A 180-degree turn won't necessarily solve your problem, but it's a far safer bet than continuing without any idea of where the tall rocks are!

14. If you fly with a panel-mount GPS, have a portable backup.
Panel mounts typically have their own dedicated battery specifically designed to avoid losing position information following an electrical power failure, but depending upon your situation, that may not be enough.

15. Avoid flying at any limit speed. 
Vne is the obvious worst one, but there are a dozen others. Vle, max landing gear extension speed, is often specified to save the gear doors. Violate it consistently, and those doors may eventually fail. It's the same with flap extension speed, Vfe. If you use gear and flaps to decelerate, do so only well within the specified limit speeds.

16. Carry a set of low-altitude en-route charts for the trips you make most often.
A low-altitude chart can provide you with IFR MEAs, an instant measure of safe altitude along established routes. You'll also have an easy reference to leg distances between VORs and airports. IFR charts also provide sector frequencies in case you need help and there's no one awake on 121.5 mHz.

17. Remember that the most neglected quadrant of see-and-be-seen is directly behind you.
Studies of mid-air collisions have shown that the most likely risk is from the rear. That's especially true during descents when a following aircraft overruns preceding traffic. If you're descending, try throwing in some slight turns occasionally and check six for what might be gaining on you.

18. Think at least three times about flying VFR at night, especially when there's no moon.
There's no question night flying is more demanding than day VFR. Horizons often vanish at night, clouds become invisible and ground detail usually fades to black. Night can simulate a black hole, no place for a VFR pilot.

19. Every non-IFR pilot fears winding up on top of an overcast with little fuel, experience or options.
It can happen to anyone, accidentally allowing the clouds to thicken and turn solid below them almost unnoticed. There's a special risk over any body of water that can generate instant ground fog. So, keep an eye on the lower quadrant to assure you're not drifting into a situation you'll have trouble getting out of. And If temperature and dew point are approaching equality, it may be time to look for someplace else to go.

20. Don't wait too long to ask for help.
Whether you're trapped above clouds, "temporarily disoriented" or have some other problem, someone on the ground may be able to help. If you do get into trouble, remember the four Cs of an emergency other than a loss of power:
·       Climb for better radio reception.
·       Communicate with someone on the ground who can help.
·       Confess the details of your situation.
·       Comply with any directions.