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A Beginners Guide to General Aviation Aircraft Identification

If you are the type of person who can visit an airport on any given day and accurately identify the make, model, year, and flight characteristics of any aircraft that you happen to see, this article is not for you. This article is for the good-hearted airplane enthusiast who is just starting out, or the student pilot who feels inadequate when their pilot friends rattle off airplane facts like nobody’s business.

I took a poll of my friends at school, asking them how confident they are in their airplane identification skills. The majority of sophomores and juniors said they were extremely confident, and could identify most military or civilian aircraft with ease. Some freshmen had grown up around aircraft, and felt mildly confident. However, I found a surprising amount of new student pilots who felt they would not know the difference between a Diamond and Cirrus, and referred to the majority of single-engine aircraft as simply “Cessna.”

This article is designed to give an overview of the most common single-engine aircraft, and to give a new airplane enthusiast a good starting point for their upcoming years of impressing friends with their aviation knowledge. After all, even the most experienced plane-spotter had to start somewhere.

Stepping out onto a busy tarmac, one has a very high chance of seeing any combination of the following aircraft. The hope is that by the end of this list you will be able to easily pick out the subtle differences of each and take your first steps at being an airplane guru.

Cessna - The most popular single-engine general aviation aircraft has to be the Cessna 172. The four-seater aircraft has high wings, and the imaginary line from the bottom of the fuselage to the tail is almost perfectly straight. They are very angular and boxy, but have a classic look that is easily recognized. Cessna also has the 150, 152, 180, 182, and several other models, all of which have the same basic shape. Overall a very recognizable aircraft, and 80% of the time if there is a high winged aircraft on the ramp at the airport or flying around, it is a Cessna.

Diamond -The Diamond DA20 is a low-wing, curvy aircraft with a very large wingspan that could be mistaken for a powerful motor-glider. The fuselage is oval shaped, which flows into a skinny tail section and T-tail (position of vertical and horizontal stabilizers resemble an uppercase T) that makes me think of this aircraft as having a dolphin tail. The canopy opens upward, encasing the pilot and passenger in a bubble with great visibility. This aircraft also has four-seat model, the DA40.

Cirrus - Often confused with the Diamond DA40, a Cirrus SR20 is similarly shaped, but much less curvy and thin. The low-wing aircraft has a roomy interior, and features sporty doors that open upwards with a forward-pivoting hinge. The horizontal stabilizer is positioned similarly on the tail as a Cessna 172. These are not to be confused with a Cessna Columbia, which has a very similar shape but a perfectly straight nose gear.

Mooney - One of my favorite aircraft is the Mooney. These are easily identified by the vertical stabilizer, which appears to have been put on backward. It forms a sharp L-shape in the tail. This is also a low-wing aircraft, known for its speed. Another interesting feature is how the leading edge of the wing is perpendicular to the fuselage while the trailing edge is angled forward, giving it the appearance that the wings have been put on backward as well.

Piper Cherokee – Another popular training aircraft is the Piper Cherokee. They have chunky low-wings, and appear to sit closer to the ground. It seats four passengers and the majority of models have a fixed gear. This is the Cessna of low-wing aircraft. They are sometimes confused with the Beechcraft Bonanza, but are much smaller and less bulky looking.

Beechcraft Bonanza – A popular personal aircraft, this six-seat beast has been in continuous production longer than any other airplane in history. The oldest models have an easily recognizable V-shaped tail, but newer models sport a conventional tail, and all models have a trapezoidal gear leg fairing. They have a rather beefy fuselage, and occupy a lot of space.

I hope that this basic guide to identifying the most widely known and flown aircraft has been helpful. Next time you visit an airport, see how many of these legendary planes you can recognize. The more practice you have recognizing the different models, the better you will be.

The Top Five Skills a Pilot Must Learn (Besides all That Airplane Stuff)

On the first day that I met my instructor who ultimately helped me earn my Private License, he said something that has stayed in my mind until today. He sat me down and said, “Look. Anyone can be a pilot. They have taught monkeys how to fly. It is not difficult at all. I will teach you how to be a safe and proficient pilot, that is the part that takes work that you have to be willing to put into it.”

Now that I’m attending a flight university, I have met a lot of different people who are serious in their pursuit of becoming a professional pilot. I have also met several who have dropped out of the program within the first few months. It isn’t the fault of the program, or the flight instructors, but it is because these students had it in their minds that being a pilot is a way to avoid getting a “real job” and had no idea how much work they need to put in to achieve what they wanted.

I’ve come to learn that there is a big difference between being a professional pilot, and having piloting as your profession. You can pass a checkride or earn a rating with a little effort, but the true professional pilot continues to learn and challenge him or herself every day. You never stop learning as a pilot. There are skills that every pilot must be proficient with, such as navigation and maneuvers, but there are also several life skills that pilots must strive to achieve and exemplify.

1. Good Study Habits. A friend and I were discussing a mutual friend who seems to breeze through any portion of his training with no effort. My friend said, “He reads too much.” Truly, the friend that appeared to learn so easily had just dedicated way more time to reading and learning the material than we had. Pilots are often berated with a whole lot of information in a very short amount of time. If a student can effectively learn to study and absorb the information they will have a much easier time as they work their way through their careers.

2. A Willingness to Make Mistakes. Every pilot will make mistakes in their career. It is just a fact of life. With such complicated systems and flight rules, it is impossible to not mess up eventually. It feels terrible when you do mess up, and you may wonder if learning everything is just too much for you. The only way to deal with such instances is to learn from your mistakes and move on.

3. Quick Decision Making. There is very rarely a flight that goes completely according to plan. Pilots quickly learn to expect the unexpected. It can be something as small as unanticipated instructions from ATC to an engine failure. In my Multi-Engine Ground class the other day, the teacher was talking about minimizing the typical reaction time to an engine failure. He said an inexperienced student would spend 7-10 seconds processing what just happened before they begin to act. Those can be valuable seconds, which could ultimately save your life.

4. Punctuality. Nobody wants to hire someone who is perpetually late. Being late is a way of telling the person who is waiting that your time is more valuable than theirs. Whether is be for classes, a flight lesson, or a meeting with a potential employer, you had better always be punctual and arrive prepared. It makes you look better and more on top of your priorities.

5. A Sense of Adventure. Let’s face it, piloting can be a very fun and interesting way of life. The best pilots appreciate it for the fascinating profession that it is, but never forget to preform their best while in the cockpit. There are opportunities to travel many places, meet new people, and to enjoy the beauty of the world from above. Because of how monotonous training can seem at times, the ability to keep in mind why you started this journey in the first plane is essential.

I hope that this list has helped inspire you to work harder in some aspects of your life, or to reevaluate your priorities. Do you have any skills you believe a pilot should possess? Post them in the comments and let me know what you think!

New Years Resolutions for Pilots

The sun is setting on 2014, and this is the time that most people feel reflective and contemplative over their past year. Perhaps they achieved all of their year’s goals, or they fell short of a couple. My theory has always been to try your hardest, and even if you fail you can feel good knowing you did all that you could.

I was writing down my goals for the upcoming year, and I realized that most of them had to do specifically with aviation. My list included earning my instrument rating, getting my tailwheel endorsement, and hosting at least one Ninety-Nines meeting. I began thinking about how a pilot could create a whole list of aviation resolutions in addition to their personal list. I decided to create a handy guide to some aviation resolutions and goals to inspire your planning for 2015.

Earn a New Rating/Endorsement – This one is fairly easy for a student pilot already viciously working their way towards their next certification, but perhaps even the casual Private Pilot should consider this for 2015. An Instrument rating or tailwheel endorsement can only serve to make you a safer and more proficient pilot. A year is plenty of time to earn either of those, and will they will give you a huge sense of accomplishment.

Log X Amount of Hours Have you been tearing up the skies with your frequent trips or has chair flying been the more of the reality for 2014? It could be time to set aside the time and money to get back into the air. This could also be a great incentive to get current again. Planning to fly a certain amount of hours a week or month could inspire you to start up the engine and...

Go Mountain Flying (fly somewhere new) – I say mountain flying because it’s something new and different that a lot of pilots haven’t tried yet. This could also mean exploring airports around you that you have not visited yet. One of my favorite flights was when I went to Georgetown (27K) airport with my boyfriend just to fly somewhere. When we arrived a girl happened to be there waiting for someone with her 4 dogs of different breeds. As soon as we walked in the FBO they saw us and got so excited. One dog kept slipping on the floor as he excitedly paced back and forth. We asked if we could pet them and spent a good 20 minutes just playing with these dogs. Exploring new places lends itself to chance encounters like this, and great stories to tell later on.

Purchase a New Airplane This might be more along the lines of a 5-10 year plan, but it is still worth mentioning! If you aren’t quite ready to shell out thousands of dollars, there are other things worth saving up for. A new headset, an updated kneeboard, or even a leather logbook cover are all good options.

Give Back – There are so many ways to give back in the world of Aviation. You could volunteer your skills to fly for an organization such as Pilots N Paws or the Volunteer Pilots Association. If you don’t have the resources to fly for them, consider giving a donation. I will be volunteering at Clark Regional Airport this summer when the Air Race Classic comes to town for a stop. There are a lot of opportunities out there and you never know what neat things you’ll see in aviation.

When I asked a dear friend what their aviation resolution was, they jokingly said it was to only have one forced landing a month. Whatever your plans are for 2015, I wish you the best of luck and want to encourage you to have fun and follow through. Happy New Year!

The Balloon Corps of the Civil War

Thaddeus Lowe’s Union Army Balloon Corps poses with an inflated balloon and observation basket near an unidentified battlefield. Photo via.

If there is anything that has experienced an entirely unique and interesting history, it is aviation. From the Wright brothers to the Blackbird, the innovations and creative ideas that helped get us into the air have been nothing short of amazing. Recently I was studying aviation history and I came upon something I had never heard of before. I decided to do some research and find out more about this interesting piece of aviation history.

In 1861, the beginning of the Civil War had come upon America. The North and South were split, and President Abraham Lincoln was desperate for a new way to help the Union defeat their enemies and abolish slavery. It would take some creative ideas to get the upper hand against the Confederate Army.

A man by the name of Thaddeus Lowe was one of the top American balloonists and was also in the business of building balloons for other aeronauts. He successfully flew his balloon over 600 miles on an eastward wind to the coast. He traveled from Cincinnati, Ohio to South Carolina in about nine hours. He was convinced he could cross the Atlantic Ocean, a feat unaccomplished at the time, in just two days.

Unfortunately Lowe never had the chance to complete is Atlantic flight. After landing in South Carolina, the locals saw his Ohio newspapers and figured he was a Yankee. They ordered him to be shot, but he used his charm and wit to talk his way out of the situation. When he finally found a northbound train and headed home, he could see the beginnings of war in America. He decided then that his Atlantic flight was not important, and he was determined to serve his country. With a great idea and resources available, he went to President Lincoln to pitch the idea of creating a Union Army Balloon Corps.

On June 18, 1861, Lowe had the chance to show Lincoln exactly what his balloon was capable of. He traveled to Washington and discussed the possibilities with the president, who was intrigued and asked him to demonstrate with his balloon. To prove that balloons had value in the war, Lowe decided try something he had never done before. He ran a telegraph line from his balloon to the ground, and sent a telegraph to President Lincoln from the air. He was asked to spend the night at the White House and they discussed plans for a future balloon corps.

Lowe was placed in charge of all Balloon Corps operations, and successfully aided in several spying, land mapping, and other helpful missions for the Union Army. The creation of the Balloon Corps also brought along the first instance of an aircraft carrier in history. Although many enemies shot at the balloons, they were never hit.

This is just a brief overview of the fascinating story of the Balloon Corps. I highly encourage further reading and research into the subject, as the stories of these aeronauts are simply amazing!

Times are Changing

A log book is used to record how many hours you've gained flying - but are the hour requirements for upward mobility in the job industry becoming too strict?

In the world of aviation, times are changing. More specifically, the time required for a pilot to operate as the copilot of a commercial airline is changing. There are several factors involved in these changes, and in this article I will give an overview of the history and reasoning behind the recent modifications to the hour requirements in the Federal Aviation Regulations.

I enjoy spending time researching current events in the aviation industry. Naturally I like knowing the issues affecting my generation. I believe that most people in my position have heard about the laws changing regarding hour requirements, but have not dug deep enough to truly understand what it means for us. Obtaining the job position of first officer in a commercial airline operating under Part 121 is a very important step in any successful piloting career. This achievement has become much harder to obtain, but change is yet again on the horizon.

Here is the breakdown:

On January 12, 2009, Colgan Air Flight 3407 experienced an aerodynamic stall and crashed into a house in Clerence Center, New York. All 49 people on board were killed, as well as one person in the house. The accident was determined by the NTSB to have been due to the pilot’s failure to respond properly to stall warnings. Further investigation found that the pilot had previously failed three checkrides. It was also found that both pilot and copilot were severely fatigued at the time of the accident due to long flight hours the day before.

The friends and families of victims of this disaster formed a legal group. They took immediate action against airline regulations in order to create a safer flight environment and avoid future tragedies. They successfully implemented the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010 in August. Amongst several regulations, they changed the crew rest requirements to provide more recovery time for busy pilots. The second huge change they implemented affected the hour requirements for flying commercially.

Prior to this disaster, pilots were able to obtain a commercial rating with only 250 hours, and immediately snag a job flying as first officer on an airline. From there they could gain hours and seniority with the airline that they were hired by fairly easily.

After the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010 was implemented, all crewmembers in in an aircraft operating under Part 121 were required to hold an ATP (Airline Transport Pilot) certificate. This particular certificate cannot be obtained until the pilot has 1,500 hours of flight time. So pilots on their way to achieving their commercial licenses had to gain 1,250 more hours of experience than those before them to fly in the airlines.

The requirements for other commercial aviation jobs did not change, such as flight instructor or agricultural positions. However, these high hour requirements force pilots to stick with these lower-paying jobs until they have their required flight time.

Due to concerns about a pilot shortage, special permissions were granted to pilots training under different circumstances for what is called a Restricted ATP. There are three tiers to these special considerations. Students with an associates or bachelors degree with 30+ aviation semester hours could apply for a R-ATP at 1250 hours. All baccalaureate university professional flight graduates with 60+ aviation hours could apply at only 1000 total hours. Most substantial of them all, any former military pilots could apply at 750 hours.

Several accredited flight universities are working on owning or successfully own authorization for the 1000 hour RATP. This saves students 500 flight hours from the previous regulation. The future of these special permissions looks bright, as they are now researching and considering allowing pilots in universities to obtain their RATP at 750 hours. The argument is that a Part 141 university truly devoted to proper training and rigorous testing of its pilots can be very near the same quality level as military training.

The change the airline industry is facing regarding hour requirements can be quite fascinating. I sincerely hope that a middle ground is reached, allowing for well-trained pilots to make the transition to a commercial airline with ease.