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How to Handle Lost Comms in Controlled Airspace

Well well well....another week of instructing has not only added more time to my logbook but more learning experiences to teach from. Aka, this week did not go smoothly by any means!

I've always been taught about lost comms procedures in controlled airspace and yet have never had to use them. One of my fellow coworkers had to a few months ago...but my time finally came and it happened at the worst possible timing. But I'm still here writing this post so that's a good sign ;)

So, first, let's do a review of what happened to my coworker, and then I'll tell my story. Because honestly, mine is a lot cooler - and more valuable to learn from (which I guess is more important).


Pictured above is the DA 60 at KEFD - similar to the DA 62 featured on our sale page

Here's a cool picture above of what my view is while I write this post! 

So the first incident, which both of these happened in the same plane about 2 months apart, my coworker and his student were practicing landings in the pattern and on the go tried to call tower for requested left closed. They got no response, so-called again.....still no response. The Garmin 430 showed the "tx" when he pressed the button indicating he was transmitting, but there was just silence on the other line. So as another resort he held the PTT and let the tower know he was transmitting blind, would be keeping left closed traffic, and come in for a full stop (no one else was in the pattern at the time). Almost immediately after they got the light gun signal from tower steady green, showing they were cleared to land. There wasn't even a need to squawk 7600. So they landed, plane went down for maintenance and that was the end of it.

THEN my day came a few days ago. My student and I took off and were cleared for right closed traffic and instructed to call on downwind for the option. In the pattern above us were two Air Force T38's, behind us two cessna's, and on a 8 mile final the NASA WB-57. Quite literally the busiest day I have ever experienced in the pattern as all of us except the high altitude plane was staying in the pattern to practice landings. 

So, the student is flying the plane and starts her landing procedures while I go to call on downwind....nothing. I can't hear myself talk and I can't hear a response from the tower. I look over to my student and start talking and she can't hear me either, so all comms were lost. I hurry and switch to our second comm and get the same result. So now it's time to turn base....time to implement some aeronautical decision making. Do I continue the landing? Turn around and leave the airspace? Try and diagnose the situation? All of these things ran through my head within a matter of .2 seconds. 

I decided to continue my turn to final because that was my last clearance: to maintain closed traffic. The issue was the T38's were right above me and we were both coming in at the same time. I was likely cleared to either extend downwind or do a 360 but because I couldn't hear anything I decided the best thing to do was turn to final and look for my light gun signal.

Nothing. So because I wasn't cleared to land I executed a go around and started heading to leave the airspace to a nearby uncontrolled field. On upwind the T38's came up beside me (coincidentally also having to execute a go around because of me) and leveled off for a second before they broke off to the right. So imagine this: no comms, executing a go around after about not even 20 seconds of losing complete communication with everyone and then seeing military jets right next to you watching you. Fantastic.

As I broke left and continued to leave the airspace I immediately remembered I had tower's number in my cell phone, so I stuck my phone in my headset and talked to them and let them know what happened while I continued to fly the plane. They cleared me to come back and land on a different runway and went ahead and gave me a taxi clearance with instructions to call back after I park.

So, after we parked I called and the controllers were just wanting to make sure I was okay. I asked if I did everything like I should've or if there was something I could've done better. Tower told me everything I did was safe and I made the right decisions! The only thing I forgot to do/didn't have time to - SQUAWK 7600. My student and I had just briefed transponder codes a few days before and what do ya know we had the perfect opportunity to use them and didn't!

The moral of the story here is I have 3 pieces of advice:

1) Don't forget your squawk codes, if I would've done this when I first lost comms on downwind I likely would have gotten a light gun signal. 

2) Save the tower phone number in your cell phone if you're out of a controlled field! It comes in handy in all types of situations.

3) APPRECIATE YOUR CONTROLLERS. The fact they wanted me to call back just to make sure I was okay and thanked me for making safe decisions made my day. They keep us safe and deserve so much recognition. 

Any questions or comments?! Maybe you've also had lost comms before? Let us know what happened below! We're all here to learn from each other's experiences.

 

Why Should An Aircraft Lessee Use An Operational Control Briefing?

As many of you are aware, the FAA has increased both its investigation of and enforcement against illegal charter operators.  One of the consequences of this heightened oversight is an increase in the FAA's scrutiny of Part 91 dry-leasing structures.  Using an operational control briefing in connection with those Part 91 flights can help minimize unwanted FAA attention.

To start, if structured properly, these leasing structures are legal and comply with FAA regulations. They ARE NOT illegal charter. However, in order to be legitimate, dry-leasing arrangements must be documented correctly.

The actual flight operations also need to be conducted consistent with those documents and the applicable regulations.  But proper documentation will not save an operator from FAA enforcement if the operations ignore the documents and are conducted as illegal charter flights.

How does the FAA figure out whether a properly documented operation is actually being conducted as an illegal charter?  FAA inspectors start asking questions.  For example, if an FAA inspector conducts a ramp check of a Part 91 dry-lease flight, he or she will first speak to the pilot. Next, the inspector will talk to the passengers in the back of the airplane.

The passengers' answers to the inspector's questions need to be consistent with a Part 91 dry-leasing structure. Incorrect answers can, and have, resulted in an illegal charter investigation of an otherwise proper Part 91 dry-lease flight.  And this is where an operational control briefing given by the pilot at the beginning of the flight can make all of the difference in the world.

The operational control briefing is intended to ensure that the passengers are able to tell the FAA inspector who has operational control of the flight.  Subject to a few very specific exceptions, the lessee, not the lessor, has operational control of a Part 91 dry-lease flight, even if the lessee or its principals are not physically on the flight.  The passengers need to know this fact so they can answer the inspector's questions correctly.

So, what should be included in an operational control briefing?  Here are a few, but not necessarily all, of the points that should be covered with the passengers:

  • The flight IS NOT a charter flight.
  • The flight will operate under Part 91 of the Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
  • The flight is operated under a lease between the aircraft owner (or another lessor) and the lessee.  And a copy of that lease agreement is in the aircraft.
  • The flight is under the operational control of the lessee.  (Identification of the lessee is critical, especially when the aircraft may also be leased to other affiliates or related entities).  This means that the passenger, by virtue of his or her relationship with lessee, has operational control of the flight.  He or she has the authority to initiate, conduct and terminate the flight.
  • The pilot is on board to help the passenger operate the aircraft in a safe and prudent manner and in full compliance with the applicable rules and regulations.  He or she will comply with the instructions and directions provided by the passenger, both written and oral, to enable the passenger to exercise operational control.
  • The passenger will still have operational control.  That operational control is only be subject to the pilot's authority to make all safety related decisions relating to the aircraft and the flight.

The operational control briefing should be used regardless of whether the flight is carrying the lessee (or its principal) or the lessee's employees/guests/invitees.  Although the lessee should understand the nature of the Part 91 dry-leasing structure to which it has agreed, the briefing can serve as a reminder of the basic requirements.

When the flight is carrying other passengers, the briefing is an important tool to make sure those passengers understand the nature of the flight so they are able to convey that information to an FAA inspector if or when asked. This will help prevent confusion and, perhaps, an unwanted investigation.

At the end of the day, it is the lessee's responsibility as operator of the aircraft to make sure the lessee's flights are conducted legally. An operational control briefing is a simple, but effective way to make sure the folks in the back of the aircraft also understand who is responsible for the flight.

How to Counteract an Engine Failure in Flight

First, let me start out by saying that this article is for single engine flying. I'll write another one on multi engine plane engine failures in the future.

I had this talk recently with a fellow CFI I work with on the biggest issues we see in student training. Engine failures aren't taken seriously because they don't happen too often. It's also because in your typical general aviation planes you have a good glide ratio, so rather than being quick people take their time running checklists and securing the plane in simulated engine outs. 

I GUARANTEE you during an ACTUAL engine failure you won't be taking your time, but instead immediately going through how you trained it. Did you train it nonchalantly and running checklist super slow? I hope not. So let's talk about what to do:

The acronym you want to memorize for engine failures is ABC. Kinda comical how simple it is, but it could save your life one day!

A is for airspeed. The VERY SECOND your engine fails, pitch for glide speed. Glide speed is published by the manufacturer to be at the maximum lift/drag ratio to give the pilot the greatest gliding distance available. At this point, you're not gaining any altitude. But giving yourself the most horizontal distance available to find a good spot to land is key.

B is for best place to land. As soon as you start bringing the nose up or down for glide speed and trimming for it, take a look outside and see where you're going to land. If you're struggling to find an airport, glance at your GPS if you have a screen onboard. You might be right on top of an airport without knowing it. If not, then keep looking outside. Anything like a field, road, coastline etc. can be a good spot. Some tips on what to watch out for is if you can help it don't pick a field full of trees, a marshy area, watch out for power lines over the road, and of course the obvious always avoid buildings/structures. 

C is checklist. Yes, now that the plane is secured lets see why we lost that engine! Commit your checklist to memory and do it from memory first and then check yourself on paper after doing one run through. This way you aren't stuck reading one item at a time and wasting time as you're losing altitude. Commit your checklists and run them like a machine: no time is wasted that doesn't need to be.

The same CFI I talked with about this experienced a real engine failure once. He told me "wow, no one prepared me for how absolutely quiet it gets when that engine stops." And I guess that's something I never thought about before. What will it be like when it actually happens? A CFI won't be there next to you with their favorite "you just lost an engine" grin.....no, just you and some dead pistons. He immediately did ABC and once he switched fuel tanks and restarted the plane it refired. Turns out there was a clog in the fuel lines on one tank, and switching to another fixed the issue. He was able to do this from memory and pretty much had no need for the paper checklist, although he still went through after to verify everything was secured as called for. 

He stuck to his training, and it saved his life.

So to end this post I ask, how do you train for an engine failure? Do you think it would save your life the method you're using? Have fun with flight training, but also take it seriously and make sure you learn something valuable each time you go up!



Don't forget our Globalair.com Scholarship is accepting applications through August, we hope to see you apply!

Tips for Becoming a CFI That You Don't Learn in Training

Okay...some of these tips you actually are likely to learn in training BUT I'm writing to give you all of these just in case you don't. 

1) Congrats on deciding to become a CFI! It's a lot of work, it's not always the easiest job, but it is so rewarding and is a great way to give back to aviation. If there is a NUMBER ONE tip that I can give you, it's to make each flight lesson fun and positive if you can.

Now...by this I don't mean to make it your goal to have students laughing and to "baby their feelings" so to speak. But students learn through positive affirmation and feeling association. If you make every lesson 100% serious the entire time where they never have fun, make them feel like they're a terrible pilot by only giving negative feedback and create a stressful environment for them to learn in....they're not going to learn well and may even leave you for another instructor. 

Flight training is dangerous and expensive, meaning you always want to be safe and stay as productive as possible to keep someone moving forward in their training. But this can be done while having a good time and having students look forward to lessons with you.

You'll learn this when reading through Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI's). But this is what you should take away from it. It's important to understand how students learn. Thank back to you when you were a student pilot. What did you like from your training and what did you not like? What constituted a productive day for you and made you confident in your flying? Take these characteristics and use it to make yourself a better instructor.

 This meme of Bob Ross is comical but it applies to this! If a student has a bad landing that wasn't super dangerous and broke anything but it just could've been a lot better.....are you going to yell at them or give them a good critique to make it better next time? Think about what will be most beneficial for THEM. This is their training and it's our job to make it great. If they keep making the same mistake over and over again....maybe it's time for a firm critique that lets them know you're serious. If this is the first time they did this....let them know to stay away from those "happy little impacts" ;)

2) Learn to have patience. Mannnnnnnn ohhhhhhhhhhhh mannnnnnnnnnnnn did I wish someone had prepared me for this more! There will almost ALWAYS be those students who don't study, don't pay attention to what you teach, don't take your advice....the list goes on. It's not worth your peace to lose your nerve every single time it happens. If you have a bad student you have a bad student. At some point the effort to shape them into something better ends and you give them an ultimatum of either: make a change or don't continue flight training. At the end of the day you still have to put yourself first. Becoming an instructor shouldn't mean you lose your sanity. So you HAVE to have patience with people.

3) Learn to have a crazy schedule. As much as you will try to have a set work schedule to follow, it just is hard to keep. Students will cancel, aircraft will break, weather will turn bad...the list goes on. Expect there to always be change and embrace (and that goes for the rest of your career in aviation too). 

4) Take a day off here and there and treat yourself. For anyone who watches Parks & Rec, it's like Donna and Tom would do: treat yo self day! Because you deserve it. This will be something that you'll learn is essential 2-3 months into being an instructor with a pretty good going schedule. Like I said earlier, being an instructor is not easy. You can have a crazy work schedule, bad students who test your sanity, you'll fight with weather and maintenance on almost a daily basis etc. And remember this: your students will almost always want to fly but that doesn't mean you have to. Learn to say no! If you work 12 hour days 7 days a week, you'll be burned out before you know it. And then you'll need a serious treat yo self day. So, take a day off here and there from flying and go do something you enjoy doing that allows you to relax. It'll be amazing the refresh it can give you. 

And of course, the best way to treat yourself is to buy a plane from your favorite website ever Globalair.com. It's okay...we know you love us, you don't have to admit it out loud ;)

If you have any tips you want to add or personal learning experiences that shaped you into a better instructor feel free to add! We're an aviation community and all here to help each other. 

Until next time, blue skies and tailwinds!

How to Overcome Plateaus in Student Training

Students reach plateaus during flight training for all different types of reasons. 

  • - Money
  • - Time
  • - Opportunity
  • - Studying
  • - Negative training

... and the list goes on. There are multiple factors that can have a negative effect on flight training. Let's talk about how to overcome them.

Pictured above is one of our students James that recently passed a check ride. James is one of the common examples of reaching a learning plateau. He actually had all the ground knowledge he needed, studied at home, had the finances to fly...but he just didn't have the time. 

Just a small insight into him, his full time job requires him to leave the country for extended periods of time (aka no flight training while he's gone). 

This meant lessons had to be redone after forgetting what was previously learned, solo endorsements had to be reissued constantly etc. 

BUT he persevered! The timing finally lined up, endorsements stayed current, and the check ride was passed like a breeze on his first try.

Now let's talk about some other examples of why students reach plateaus. One of the most common that we (as instructors) see is they study at home like they're supposed to, have the time opportunity and finances to fly....and then just keep struggling to get a maneuver down in flight. The actual performance of something is where the plateau occurs.

Here's what's not to do: we always hear the famous saying "if you don't succeed try and try again." Well, this is true but not in this case. Take a break from trying it and go do something else for a change. 

Let's say for example as a commercial student you're struggling with chandelles. Don't spend 5 flight lessons in a row trying to get them down! For the next 2-3 lessons go do literally anything else BUT chandelles, and then go back to try them again. Most of the time you're just overthinking the maneuver and can't get past the barrier that's unconsciously stopping you. Taking a break from it and then coming back to try it again will 99% of the time help accomplish the goal. 

The next common barrier....finances. Let's be honest, flight training is not cheap no matter how you look at it. Having to try and pay for each lesson as you go can slow down training a lot...especially if you can only afford one lesson each week or two. The learning curve best happens when you fly 2-3 times a week. So if you reach a learning plateau, one of the reasons could be you're just not flying often enough. The solution to this: SAVE UP. Save up to where you can get through multiple lessons at a time without having to take a break and you'll see a world of a difference. 

To add to the fact that you should fly often, let's keep flying as much as we can during this pandemic! If you can afford it, help out your FBOs by stopping by and buying some fuel on your trips. Aviation is struggling during the virus right now so little things like this help make a big difference. 

To conclude, there are various situations that can cause a learning plateau and the solution depends on what's causing it. If you're experiencing this right now feel free to comment and let's come up with a game plan to overcome it! 

Happy landings to everyone,

-Addi

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