May 2021 Aviation Articles

Ready to File a Flight Plan? Here’s What You Need to Know!

              Flight Planning

What is a flight plan? A flight plan is pretty much the product of thorough flight planning that the pilot is responsible to do before every flight. There are certain flight plans though that require you to file them to FSS so that ARTCC can process the information for route sequencing. This precise planning, in other words, provides written intentions to ATC outlining their (the pilots) intended plan of flight.

There are five types of flight plans—VFR flight plan, IFR flight plan, composite flight plan, defense VFR flight plan, and International flight plan. Today, we will be discussing the two flight plans primarily used—VFR and IFR flight plans. If you are interested in learning more about composite flight plans, defense VFR flight plans, and International flight plans, check out AIM 5-1-6 through 5-1-9.

Even though filing VFR is not necessary unless you plan to fly through an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), there are still benefits to it. It’s purpose is to activate search and rescue procedures in the event that your flight plan is not closed 30 minutes after your proposed time of arrival. This is why it is very important to remember to always close your flight plan as soon as it is safe to do so!

         Filing Flight Plan

Your IFR flight plan works a little bit differently. Before you enter into IMC conditions that lower visibility below VFR (1000 ft ceilings and 3SM) or entering Class A airspace you must file a flight plan to FSS. It is recommended that the pilot file their IFR flight plan at least 30 minutes prior to estimated time of departure to preclude possible delay in clearance received from ATC. If nonscheduled operators are conducting an IFR flight above Flight Level (FL 230) they are asked to voluntarily file their IFR flight plan 4 hours prior to Estimated Time of Departure (ETD) to allow the FAA to provide traffic management and routing strategy. Be sure to pay close attention to the clearance you are given! If you are on the ground at your controlled departure airport contact clearance deliveries frequency to receive your clearance. (REMEMBER the acronym CRAFT)

  • Clearance Limit
  • Route (Via route, via direct…, via radar vectors)
  • Altitude 
  • Frequency
  • Transponder Code

In the event that your airport is uncontrolled, there’s still a way to open it before you get into IFR conditions. Take note that the methods in which you can open your flight plan, are similar to the ways you can close your flight plan.

OPEN FLIGHT PLAN                                                                               

  • Contact Clearance Delivery via frequency on the ground
  • Call FSS via 1-800-WX-BRIEF or radio frequency (On the ground or in the air)
  • Call your local tower controller (On the ground or in the air)
  • Open with Electronic Devices (ForeFlight, FLTPlan Go, etc.) 

CLOSE FLIGHT PLAN 

  • If your at a controlled field, the tower will close it upon your landing
  • As long as you can guarantee you are in VFR conditions, can maintain VFR altitudes for involved airspace, and can remain in VFR conditions all the way to landing, you can close your flight plan in the air (Via approach controller or FSS).
  • Once we land at a uncontrolled field, you can close your flight plan via FSS or controlled tower of local region.
  • Close with Electronic Devices (ForeFlight, FLTPlan Go, etc.)

  Flight Plan

Which way do you prefer to open and close your flight plans?

 

 

Understanding Nosewheel Steering

In most small aircraft, steering on the ground is controlled by brakes and rudder pedals. This is through a mechanical linkage pulley system that's pretty old school, also referred to as a free-castering system.

However, as planes get heavier and faster the need for a different system came into place. The Learjet 60 is a perfect example of an aircraft with this. Thus nosewheel steering became the solution. Nosewheel steering facilitates better directional control on the ground for takeoff and landing and sharper maneuvering at slower speeds such as taxiing to park. 

A Design of a Nosewheel Steering

Nosewheel Steering depicted by FlightMechanic.com

There are various designs for nosewheel steering but this is the basic depiction of how it is designed. Most are hydraulically powered and have mechanical, electrical, or hydraulic connections that transmit the pilot input to a steering control unit. The range that these inputs can control the movement of the nosewheel are important, as you don't have full range to move the nosewheel 90 degrees in either direction at just any speed. Most systems only operate up to about 90 knots, and the faster the aircraft is increasing speed towards those knots the less movement the wheel will move. 

Hardly any aircraft manuals depict or discuss this range in detail but this is the best photo I could find that helps illustrate this. Just remember that the faster the aircraft reaches, the more the system goes from nosewheel steering back to your usual rudder pedal system. 

Another important component to know about in this is shimmy dampers. There are torque links attached to the stationary upper cylinder of a nose wheel strut that work to control rapid oscillations, otherwise known as nosewheel shimmy. You'll feel these oscillations sometimes when you're taxiing too fast and/or have too much pressure centered on the front wheel. Simply slow down or try pulling the yoke back then gently back forward and 9/10 times this will stop unless it is a mechanical issue that needs to be addressed. 

There's a lot of components that are a part of the nosewheel steering system. These however seem to be the most common issues pilots have when transitioning to using one and trying to keep their operations smooth and comfortable for passengers. To understand the system better on YOUR aircraft however make sure to always read your flight manual in depth and talk to your mechanics when you can. Usually they're happy to share knowledge and teach you how to not break things as much ;)

Questions or comments? Add them below. 

Do You Know Your Runway Markings?

Runway Markings

Flight training magazine and AOPA discussed runway markings recently because after your private, and maybe a few times in instrument training, it's not really discussed in depth again. Sometimes if you didn't get the best luck of the draw with your instructor it may not be discussed well at all.

Whatever the case is, let's talk about runway markings!

Displaced Threshold

I think this one is most often missed in training. The basic information taught about a displaced is "you can taxi and takeoff there but don't land." BUT WHY?!?! 

The short unprofessional answer for this is because you'll hit something. The better answer is it's there to protect you. If you aim for it as a landing spot, your glide path will become too low and again...you'll hit something. This could be power lines, trees, hills, etc. depending on the airport environment so it is designed specifically to avoid the dangers. Don't aim to touchdown until the threshold to be safe.

Threshold

As previously mentioned, the threshold now marks the beginning of available landing distance on the runway. Thresholds also have a coding system to tell you how wide the runway is. I think the coding system for the threshold is pretty neat. Here's a picture as it's described in the AIM of how the width is depicted:

Threshold Stripes

When it comes to instrument flying, the threshold can also tell you what type of approach the runway has: visual, precision, or nonprecision. On a visual runway with no approaches, it will just start at the beginning of the paved area, but for approaches, you'll see long, bold white stripes between the start of the runway and the edge of the numbers called your threshold markings. 

Designation Markings

Believe it or not, this is the official term used for runway numbers. They indicate the approximate magnetic orientation of that runway. Over time as the earth's magnetic fields change, however, the number has to be changed. A runway might be 17 for 10 years and then have to be changed to say 18 (this blew my mind as a private student!).

Side note: make a good habit as early as you can of saying "runway verified" or "I see 17 (insert correct runway number)" whenever you enter a runway and see the designation markings. It'll save you on that one leg in the middle of the night where you're exhausted and accidentally enter the wrong runway. You never know!

Touchdown Zone 

500 feet down the first stripe of runways with a precision approach is what is known as the touchdown zone. This is the line where football players must reach to score a goal against their opponent.

Just checking to see if you're still reading! These stripes are most useful in helping you know how much runway you've already eaten up in case you're pushing landing distance factors. 

Aiming Point

You might recognize these as they're most commonly called: the 1000 foot markers or captains bars! Similar to the purpose of the touchdown zone, these also help to show how much runway you've used. And if you're a commercial student, these are much better to use to aim for on power off 180's than the numbers!

Side-stripe Markings

These are the solid continuous white stripes that signify the edge of the runway to help provide a visual contrast from the terrain off the side of the pavement. Something similar to this is the yellow runway shoulder marking, cueing a non-taxi area. 

Centerline

Lastly demonstrated on the picture is centerline, perhaps one of the most important! One of its functions is keeping you on the center of the runway, protecting the wings from hazards off the side of the runway like windsocks, terrain, and worst of all aviation YouTubers.

The stripes also help mark the distance you've used. According to the AIM, each stripe is 120 feet long with 80 feet in between each of them. The stripes can be between one and three feet wide depending on the size of the runway. 

Hopefully this was a good refresher for runway markings for you! Remember to work for centerline and don't forget to flare!

Questions or comments? Let us know below!

ATC, ATCT, TRACON, ARTCC -- Who are We Talking to and Why?

AirTrafficControl

ATC (Air Traffic Control) is a really big part of the safe operation of a flight. Even though their goals are similar, ATC assists pilots in different phases of reaching their destination utilizing different specialties and methods. So, who are we talking to and why?

What Does Air Traffic Control Do?

  • The controller’s responsibility is to provide a safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of air traffic
  • Provide safety alerts to aircraft
  • Properly sequence aircraft while ensuring that traffic remains a safe distance from each other

Where do ATC controllers Work?

Controllers work in three different specializations:

(1) Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT)

  • They have windows! ATCTs monitor aircraft that are on the ground or airborne within 5 miles of the airport. Due to the close proximity and range of service, these controllers use line of sight to help aid in the safe flow of traffic.
  • They even have light guns to serve as another means of communication with airborne or ground-based traffic.

ATC Light Gun Signals

  • Clearance delivery— Clears a pilot to fly a specific predetermined or amended route
  • Ground control— provides pilots with taxi instructions to or from the active runway
  • Local control—they are responsible for controlling aircraft that are prepared for departure or approach (“Cleared for takeoff Runway… or cleared for landing runway…”). They are usually referred to as just ATC.

  (2) Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON)

  • They once used large vacuum tube radar scopes to watch dots (aircraft) transition across the screen via the radar line of sight. 

Terminal Radar Approach Control

  • They provide en-route air traffic services to low altitude aircraft VFR or IFR flight plans.
  • TRACON controllers have airspace of a 50-mile radius centered at the primary airport usually from the surface to approximately 10,000 ft.

(3) Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC or “Center”)

  • A Center does not have to be at or even near an airport. They are usually in less populated or more rural areas. There are 21 centers across the United States. The responsibilities of a TRACON controller and ARTCC are similar. They both provide air traffic services to aircraft, but more specifically ARTCC provides services for flights operating at high altitudes on IFR flight plans during an en-route phase of flight. According to the FAR/AIM Pilot/Controller Glossary, it states that “when equipment capabilities and controller workload permit, certain advisory/assistance services may be provided to VFR aircraft.”
  • Several hundred controllers controlling several million square miles of airspace.
  • Usually from 11,000 ft to the edge of outer space (60,000 feet)!

Trivia Question: Why aren’t ARTCC’s Located near an airport? Provide your answers in the comments below!

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