Aviation Safety - Page 11 Aviation Articles

12 Things to Know About Cold Weather Start Procedures in GA Aircraft


It’s cold out there. Winter days are often the best flying days, but it can be a pain to get your airplane started when it’s freezing outside. In addition, starting a cold-soaked engine can cause excessive engine damage in just the first minutes after engine start - damage that may not be evident initially but will significantly decrease your engine life. Preheating your aircraft engine will save you a lot of money on engine maintenance, as well as battery and starter wear and tear. Here are a few facts about cold weather operations in small general aviation aircraft:

  1. It’s not (just) about cold oil. According to this avweb.com article, cold oil isn’t really the main problem at all, at least not until the temperature gets below -18 degrees Celsius. While cold oil is more viscous than warm oil, the more important problem is the expansion and contraction of the engine’s different types of metal. Aircraft engines include many different types of metals - aluminum, steel, etc. - with different expansion coefficients. When heated or cooled, aluminum expands or contracts quicker than steel, so when the aluminum crankcase contracts more easily than the steel crankshaft (like in cold temperatures), you have little or no clearance between the two, causing metal-on-metal grinding, which isn't good.

  2. When not fully charged to begin with, a cold battery can mean a weak start, causing a pilot to crank on the starter more than he should in an attempt to start the engine. In a less-than-fully-charged battery, the chemical reaction is slowed when the temperature is cold which causes it to perform as if it has a lesser charge. This makes it more difficult to start an airplane that has a cold battery, and the continued cranking will be tough on the starter. Warming up the battery can reduce the demand on the battery and on the starter.

  3. Starting a cold engine can give it the equivalent of 500 hours of cruise wear and tear, according to this article on planeandpilot.com.

  4. Lycoming states that preheating your aircraft engine is required when the engine temperature is below +10°F/-12°C.

  5. Continental advises that preheating be done whenever the engine has been exposed to temperatures at or below 20° Fahrenheit for two hours or more.

  6. Lycoming also advises opening the cowl flaps, if necessary, during the preheating process, in order to reduce damage to nonmetal parts like hoses and wires.

  7. Preheating in increments of 5-10 minutes is best, in order to heat slowly and prevent overheating of nonmetal parts.

  8. When it comes times to start the engine, if it’s a carbureted engine, prime only when you’re ready to engage the starter. Allowing too much time to pass between priming and engaging the starter, or over-priming, can cause fuel from the primer to pool at the bottom of the carb heat box, presenting a fire hazard.

  9. After start, keep the engine at idle while the oil temperature and pressure increase to their normal operating ranges. Surges or fluctuations in engine RPM are an indication that the engine is still too cold and takeoff should not be attempted.

  10. Engines can be preheated with installed electrical heaters or forced air heaters, or by leaving the aircraft inside of a heated hangar for hours before the flight.

  11. When using a forced air preheating system, Continental suggests that you should direct preheated air directly to the oil sump, oil filter, external oil lines, oil cooler, coolant radiator and cylinder assemblies for a minimum of 30 minutes

  12. According to Continental, "Attempting to start your engine with a partially discharged aircraft battery may result in damage to the starter relay, possible engine kick-back resulting in a broken starter adapter clutch spring."

It’s Not You, It’s Your Instructor: Are You a Victim of Bad Flight Instruction?


Did you start flight training and not finish? Or maybe you started, took a long hiatus, and then returned to it in a better place at a better time.

There are many reasons people quit flight training. They get busy, start families, run out of money. Life happens. These are acceptable setbacks. But there are many other setbacks and challenges during flight training that, in my opinion, are unacceptable, and the most frustrating of these is poor instruction.

I recently had a conversation with a medical professional about flying. The conversation started out like many of them often do - we discussed our respective professions, and he mentioned that he began flight training when he was younger but never finished. When I asked him why, he described a myriad of flight training problems and challenges not uncommon to new students, but that he accepted as his own problems. He just wasn’t a good pilot, he said.

At first, it would seem that this particular person might have given up too quickly or too easily, but further into our discussion, I began to see a bigger story - a relatively common story that as a flight instructor, I really despise hearing.

Here’s a perfectly capable person- a medical professional and a seemingly well-respected business owner in the community - who is led to believe he can’t fly. "Some people just have the natural ability to fly, I guess, and I’m not one of them," he said. In discussing the topic further, though, it was clear that whatever instruction he had accomplished with his instructors in the first few hours wasn’t productive, wasn’t positive, and gave him a bad perception of flying.

Throughout our conversation, I discovered that he had been physically uncomfortable in the airplane (an airplane not really ideal for flight training, to begin with). I learned that he was unable to reach the rudder pedals, that he was all but reprimanded when he lost sight of the airport and was unable to navigate back to it on the first lesson. He said he wasn’t offered ground training and didn’t feel like he progressed.

Have you heard similar complaints before? Me, too. Is it possible that he was a student who showed up unprepared or didn’t make his instructor aware of his inability to reach the rudder pedals? Sure. But a bad pilot after only a few hours? Nah. There are outliers, to be sure, but the majority of flight students who walk into a flight school are eager to learn and capable of learning. We need to do better.

In a short conversation, I couldn’t convince him that he’s wrong, that he was likely (and unfortunately) the product of terrible instruction, and that it’s not like that everywhere. But I tried. I tried to reassure him that there are more professional instructors out there, more comfortable aircraft, simpler aircraft, and something called ground school, all of which would help alleviate many of his challenges, misconceptions and insecurities.

It might be too late for this person - I hope not - but if we’re serious about saving general aviation, if we want flight training to be a robust and successful industry within general aviation, we have to do better. Flight training is a serious venture, and one we need to approach cautiously, with safety in mind. But after ensuring safety - rather, along with the assurance of safety - flying should be fun. As instructors, we should be teaching students, encouraging students, and making aviation safe and enjoyable for students.

When it’s not fun, students quit. When they’re belittled, students quit. When they don’t feel safe, students quit.

I wonder how many other prospective pilots are out there with similar stories about initial flight training? How many of you started flight training and were faced with similar challenges and problems? How many of you quit and maybe found your way back somehow, eventually, after moving to a new flight school or befriending a new instructor? How many of you haven’t yet found your way back?

If you’ve had a bad experience with initial flight training, I urge you to find a new place to fly, or a new instructor to fly with. It’s not like that everywhere.

In the Dark About Aircraft Lights? Here's When to Turn Them On


Do you have any idea when your aircraft lights should be on? If not, you’re not alone. Often, I’ll get myself strapped into the right seat of a Cessna with another pilot who prefers to turn on every available light switch, leaving all of the lights on all the time, day or night. And then other times, I’ll get into a Cessna with a pilot who doesn’t turn on a single light the entire flight.

When with a new student, perhaps during a checkout flight, I’ll ask why they use all of the lights all of the time, and the answer is usually something like, "That’s what I was taught." The follow up question I ask is, "Which lights are required?" and at this point, the student often admits that they don’t know, which is really why they just light up the whole airplane all of the time.

What gives? Why are general aviation pilots so confused about aircraft lights? The confusion comes because while there are some rules, regulations and suggestions for using the lights on airplanes, they’re often pretty ambiguous. And, as it turns out, when rules are ambiguous, nobody pays much attention to them at all.

Deciding when to turn aircraft lights on and off seems like a common sense issue, but time and time again, I fly with pilots who turn lights on or off because that’s what their instructor once told them, and that’s rarely a good enough reason to do anything. So here’s the real scoop behind aircraft lights.

Most general aviation aircraft are equipped with the following lights:

  • Position/navigation lights
  • Anticollision lights
  • Landing and/or taxi lights

Position lights, also known as navigation lights, include a green light on the right wing, a red light on the left wing and a white light on the tail of the airplane. These lights work together to illuminate an airplane during nighttime operations, indicating to pilots in the vicinity not only the location of the lighted airplane but its relative direction of flight. Pilots can identify whether an airplane is flying toward or away from them at night based on these lights.

Per CFR Part 91.209, position lights are required during night operations - from sunset to sunrise.

Anti-collision light systems include the aircraft’s beacon and/or strobe lights. Some aircraft have both a beacon and a strobe light system, and other airplanes just have one or the other.

Per CFR Part 91.209, an aircraft that has an anti-collision light system installed must not operate without the anti-collision lights on, unless the pilots deems it necessary to turn off the anti-collision lights in the interest of safety (while taxiing on the ramp, for example, a pilot might wish to taxi with the aircraft’s strobe lights off so as not to impair the vision of other pilots or ground personnel).

And this is where the issue of aircraft lights often becomes unclear. Many pilots operate with the strobe lights and the beacon on all the time because they interpret the FAR to mean that they must. Other pilots interpret the regulation to mean that as long as at least one of the anti-collision lights - either the beacon or the strobe lights - is on, then they’re operating within the guidelines of the regulation. Who is right? Either one, or both. A pilot should operate with the anti-collision light system on unless he deems that, in the interest of safety, a portion of the anti-collision light system should be turned off to prevent vertigo or spatial disorientation, or as a courtesy to other pilots in the vicinity. This means that while it is not necessarily illegal to operate with just the beacon on, it is prudent to use the entire system when able. For this reason, you’ll see that the common practice is to turn on the beacon before startup and to turn on the strobes right before takeoff, as a courtesy to others in the ramp area.

The use of landing and/or taxi lights, installed on most airplanes, is optional. If operating an aircraft for hire at night, a landing light is required to be installed on the airplane, but there is no regulation that states that the landing light must be on or illuminated in order to operate an aircraft at night. If a pilot thinks that a landing light is necessary, either to illuminate the runway environment or for collision avoidance, he should use it. If not, he can leave it off.

AIM Guidance and Operation Lights On
In addition to the existing regulations, the FAA has implemented a program called "Operation Lights On," which encourages pilots to use lights for collision avoidance and offers the following guidance (AIM, 4-3-23).

"Prior to commencing taxi, it is recommended to turn on navigation, position, anti-collision, and logo lights (if equipped). To signal intent to other pilots, consider turning on the taxi light when the aircraft is moving or intending to move on the ground, and turning it off when stopped or yielding to other ground traffic. Strobe lights should not be illuminated during taxi if they will adversely affect the vision of other pilots or ground personnel."

This guidance also encourages pilots to turn on their landing light for takeoff and landing, and anytime they are operating below 10,000 feet MSL and within 10 miles of an airport, and that all lights should be turned on when crossing an active runway.

7 Practical Tips for Instrument Training

I am happy to report that in my pursuit of a career as a professional pilot, I successfully passed my Instrument Rating checkride a couple weeks ago. Although this is just a milestone along the long road to my goals, I am proud of how far I’ve come from my first attempt at flying an approach. Several pilots warned me that instrument training is more difficult than any other training, and I have to say that I now understand what they meant.

Instrument training was different from private training in a lot of ways. Everything that I had already spent hours learning and practicing was expected to be second nature to me at this point. This really hit home when I executed a poor traffic pattern and my instructor scolded me, saying, "This is PRIVATE stuff! You should know how to land." I could not longer struggle to control any part of my flight operations and blame it on still being a student. In a sense, you change from being a student of the airplane to a student of everything outside of the airplane. Factor in how you cannot see outside, and the learning curve suddenly gets that much more difficult.

Upon landing and being told I had passed my checkride, my DPE told me that he strongly believed that instrument training was more difficult than ATP training. This surprised me, and I will have to report back in a few years on if I find this true for myself or not. Regardless, my previous instructor’s warning that it will be like a "fire hose to the face" when I began training was definitely true. I struggled for months in the ground course and every flight seemed to make me feel more emotions than Private training did. If it was a good flight, I definitely knew it and felt like a champion. If it was a bad flight, it was more difficult to recover from and I felt more like a failure. I am sure this is because the acceptable margin of error in instrument flight is so small.

During my training I jotted down some notes on things I would like to tell other students currently working on their instrument rating. Hopefully some of these tips will be helpful for navigating the difficulties you will face along the way.

Accurate representation of what it feels like to study for the Instrument Written.

Knock out the Written Exam

There is nothing more frustrating than getting grounded during flight training because you haven’t completed a written test. It is policy at my school that if you have not passed the written test before you start the second "flight lab" (25 hours of training) then you cannot move forward. Even if the threat of being grounded is not looming over your head, the written is a huge hurdle to pass and I recommend taking it as soon as possible to get it out of the way. Some concepts are more difficult than Private, but it’s nothing that a few extra hours of studying cannot remedy.

Reference the Instrument "Know All" Handbook

My instructor sent me a link to this page early in our training and it was a game changer. It lays out the highlights of regulations and procedures in a way that is easily understood, and it is perfect for printing out and highlighting. I even made some sections into flash cards for further memorization. Being a pilot is about knowing how to use every resource available to you, and this is certainly a goldmine of helpful information.

Memorize Approach Plates you use Often

I would say that in almost every other flight lesson we flew over to KLEX and did an approach into whichever runway they were using. I became really familiar with the VOR-A, ILS, LOC, and RNAV approaches for 22 and 04. Knowing that I frequent these approaches so much, it was extremely beneficial to me when I sat down by myself and mentally flew the approach plates several times. It made the approach briefing less confusing, and helped me to understand exactly what I was doing as I went along. Even before a cross country, I recommend looking over the plates a few times to get familiar with them so that you are never a few miles out and looking at the plate for the first time.

Don’t Stress Over the Brief

When I first began my training, it seemed like every time we were getting close to the airport and I needed to brief the approach to my instructor my palms suddenly got sweaty. There was so much to go over. There is so little time. Don’t let yourself stress over the approach plates, and find an acronym or method that works best for YOU. I always use "FACTM" approach. Frequencies, Altitudes, Course, Time, and Missed. I go over this in my head, and find the information that relates to it on my approach plate.

Invest in Good Foggles/Hood

One thing that I almost got in trouble with during my checkride was the type of foggles I used. They are clear, except for the opaque white around the edges. When I was coming in on my final approach, I experienced a familiar phenomenon: a blinding glare from the sun. As we were coming straight towards the sun, it reflected off of the opaque part of my foggles and I could not see any of my instruments. I had this happen before but never to the extent of during my checkride. My extremely kind check airman held a binder up to block the glare as I finished the approach, and recommended that I look into a hood for future flights. Find what works best for you and consider all the possible negatives of all options.

Get into Actual IMC

Near the end of my training, when I was pretty comfortable with approaches, my instructor called me up on a particularly overcast and nasty looking day. He told me that I had better not think I wasn’t flying that day, and to get to the airport as soon as possible. That was the day that we went into real, solid, terrifying instrument meteorological conditions. Up to this moment I was sure that I could handle it, after all I had about 40 hours in simulated instrument conditions. Immediately when we burst into the clouds my entire body tensed up. It was the most disorienting experience I had ever had. I asked him to please take over the radios so that I could get a feel for it. I highly recommend going into IMC multiple times during your training to truly understand the mental aerobics that come with completely trusting what you see on the panel.

Keep a Reminder of Why You’re Doing it

I won’t lie, I thought about quitting a couple times during my training. Everyone said that Instrument training either makes or breaks you as a pilot, so I thought that if I could not get it down then I was not fit to be a professional pilot. I watched as a few of my friends switched majors or quit their training because it was just too difficult. Every time I had to remind myself that this has been my dream since I was a young girl, and I could not quit until I had given it all that I had. It absolutely pays off in the end if you dedicate the time and effort, and keep motivated.

I wish you all the best in your instrument training, and I hope that these tips will at least encourage you to stick with it. Stay safe and keep working hard towards your goals!

For Pilots, Driving is Harder Than Flying: Busy Airport Taxi Tips

For pilots, getting from point A to point B on the ground is often more challenging than doing so in the air. The maze of runways, taxiways and ramps at large airports like Atlanta or JFK can be intimidating even for the most professional pilots.

If you’re terrified of making the wrong turn at a busy airport, you might be somewhat comforted to know that most taxiway and runway incursions are made by airline pilots. Of course, airline pilots frequent the busiest airports more often than small airplane pilots do, but it’s still helpful to know that even professional pilots have a difficult time navigating through the taxiways of LAX or Chicago O’Hare. I pulled up a few NASA ASRS reports made by pilots and controllers who experienced a runway or taxiway incursion. Most of these reports are wrong turns, many are the result of not checking NOTAMs and others are from vehicles on the runway.

It’s interesting to note, however, that a surprising number of ASRS reports are from pilots who mistake another airplane’s call sign for their own, accepting a clearance that was not theirs because they thought they heard Ground Control say their call sign. In addition, a surprising number of reports are from pilots who took off of landed from the wrong runway. And finally, maybe less surprisingly, there are numerous reports from pilots who moved beyond the runway hold short line or otherwise entered a protected are due to a distraction in the cockpit or because they lost situational awareness.

So how do you prevent a runway incursion? How do you ensure that you never hear those dreaded words November 00000, call tower after parking? Start with these tips:

Study ASRS reports.
In just a few seconds, I pulled up 245 pages of runway and taxiway incident reports from NASA’s ASRS database, totaling 12,218 reports. But you can narrow the search more by studying the common problem areas for airports you frequent. If you’re planning an flight to DFW, for example, a review of the common ASRS reports citing a runway incursion or excursion will give you some valuable insight into what goes on on the ground at that particular airport.

Study the airport diagram.
If you know which runway is likely to be in use, you can study the likely path that a controller might give you to your destination on the ground. In real life, it might not happen perfectly the way you hope it will, but if you run through a few likely scenarios that you might encounter when you get your taxi clearance as part of the preflight planning process, you’ll be glad you did. And always have an airport diagram on hand in the cockpit! (P.S. You can find all of the airport diagrams on our website.)

Ask the controller for progressive taxi instructions.
The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) states that if a pilot is unfamiliar with the airport, he or she may "request progressive taxi instructions which include step-by-step routing directions." It’s a service provided to help unfamiliar pilots. If you’re one of those unfamiliar pilots, why not just make the request for progressive taxi instructions?

Know your taxiway and runway signs and markings.
Study up. It’s possible that if you often fly out of small airports, you’re used to a single runway with a single parallel taxiway, and the signs are pretty easy to interpret, even if you haven’t read up on them lately. Large airports with multiple runways, intersections and a variety of taxiways that go in every direction, the runway and taxiways signs can be confusing. Know which signs are location signs, which are directional and which are mandatory will help a lot when it comes to navigating the taxiways.

Read back all hold short instructions.
On the ground at JFK is not the time to skimp on radio calls. It’s mandatory that you read back the taxiway clearance properly, including any hold short instructions. Controllers are required to get a read back of all hold short instructions from pilots. If you don’t read back the taxi clearance in a way that includes the hold short instructions, the controller will continue to tell you the clearance until you do. Listening to ground control on a handheld radio or on LiveATC.com would be a useful exercise for pilots who want to get used to how to red back these clearances properly.

Minimize distractions.
Many runway incursions happen when one or both pilots are heads-down in the cockpit, or are busy talking to the passengers or on another frequency. Many of these incursions included pilots who taxied just a few feet past the hold short line of a runway without clearance just because they were recalculating TOLD data or pushing buttons on the CDU. Pay attention while you taxi.

Never cross a runway without a specific clearance.
Never, ever taxi onto a runway or other protected area with knowing for certain that you are cleared to do so. If you aren’t sure, query the controller.

If you aren’t sure, ASK!
As a final note, if you’re ever in doubt about which way to turn or whether you’ve been cleared onto a runway or to cross a runway hold short line, always ask. In all cases, it’s better to be absolutely certain than it is to hear the controller screaming at the Boeing 777 on final approach to go around because you taxied onto a runway when you weren’t cleared, which will always be followed by N0000, call tower when you land.

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