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To B, or not to B -- The Basics of Class B Airspace in VFR Operations

VFR Mapping

You’re planning a route on a VFR sectional and come across an airport surrounded by class B’s solid blue circles. You know that class B is known for being the busiest and one of the most restrictive controlled airspaces. So what do you need to know about this airspace to navigate with confidence? Good question, here’s what you need to know.

Requirements/Limitations

  • ATC clearance (Ex. Skyhawk 099SP, cleared to enter the CLE Bravo)
  • Establish and maintain two-way communication prior to entering
  • Mode C transponder (within 30 nm, up to 10,000 msl)
  • Weather minimums
    • Visibility: Three statute miles
    • Cloud clearance: Clear of clouds
  • At least a private pilot certificate
  • Student pilot operations restricted
  • Speed restriction:
    • Inside the bravo: 250KIAS
    • Underneath the bravo: 200KIAS 

Your Level of Certification Matters!

According to FAR 61.95 if you are a student pilot you must have received both ground and flight training from an authorized flight instructor at that specific Class B airspace area in which you intend on operating within. You must also have received a logbook endorsed by your flight instructor who gave you the flight training, and the endorsement must be dated within the 90-day period preceding the date of the flight in that Class B airspace.

Remember! A major thing to keep in mind is that every Class B is tailored differently and may have different requirements. This being said, as a student pilot there are some Class B airspaces that regardless of FAR 61.95 do not permit operation due to high volume operations. These are:

  • Andrews Air Force Base, MD
  • (The William B. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport)Atlanta, GA
  • (General Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport)Boston, MA
  • (Chicago-O'Hare International Airport)Chicago, IL
  • (Dallas/Fort Worth Regional Airport)Dallas, TX
  • (Los Angeles International Airport)Los Angeles, CA
  • (Miami International Airport)Miami, FL
  • (Newark International Airport) Newark, NJ
  • (John F. Kennedy International Airport)New York, NY
  • (LaGuardia Airport)New York, NY
  • (San Francisco International Airport) San Francisco, CA
  • (Washington National Airport)Washington, D.C.

Special Area, Special Training!

Some class B airspaces require more than just standard training. A very restrictive Class B I want to point out is DCA or Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. This airport requires all pilots to partake in special awareness training before operations under VFR within 60 nm of the DCA VOR/DME. This is due to close proximity to prohibit areas, restricted areas, and the capital building. If you’re interested in taking the training for free, visit www.faasafety.gov. The training takes approximately 40 to 45 minutes to complete. 

 

VFR Routes

This is one topic that is less known amongst pilots. There are published VFR routes for transitioning around airspaces such as class B that have been established by the FAA and industry initiatives. These routes are not used or intended to discourage VFR pilots from requesting clearance from ATC to operate within class B. They are simply designed to assist pilots in planning their flights into, out of, and around complex terminals and class B airspaces. The following routes established are VFR flyway, VFR Corridor, and class B Airspace VFR transition route. All pilots must continue to adhere to VFR rules and continue to see and avoid other traffic.

Figure 1: VFR Flyways (Depicted by blue arrows with designated altitudes to surface. An ATC clearance is NOT required to fly them. These routes will be depicted on TAC (Terminal Area Charts) if offered. Eventually, all TAC‘s will include a VFR flyway planning chart. The ground references are a guide to improve visual navigation.)



Figure 2: VFR Corridors (It does not extend down to the surface like a flyway but consists of a defined lateral and vertical limit, it’s a ‘hole’. Exercise extreme caution to avoid other VFR traffic using the corridor. Communication nor clearance is required with ATC.)

Figure 3: VFR Transition Routes (These routes are special flight courses depicted on a TAC that assists transitioning a class B airspace. These routes are designed to show pilots where to position their aircraft outside of or clear of the class B Airspace where they can expect an ATC clearance with minimal or no delay. ATC clearance and contact are required.) 

Many general aviation pilots find class B airspace intimidating and would prefer to avoid it completely. However, knowledge is power and I believe with the proper training, a pilot can learn to operate safely and competently within class B airspace. Even in the event of using a VFR route, understanding your options in and around a class B airspace permits and promotes safer operation. Once you get the hang of it, class B airspace isn’t too challenging but it does require your full attention and a bit of practice. 

10 Things You Need to Start Your Flight Training

Thinking about starting your flight training soon? That’s awesome! Pursuing your pilot certificates is an exciting and big accomplishment. Here are 10 things I highly suggest getting to kickstart your flight training.

Bose A20s Headset

1) Headset

The most popular headsets I’ve seen so far are David Clark and Bose A20’s. These headsets range from roughly $500 to $1100! I found a cheaper headset for $200 on Amazon and they have worked well for the past 2 years. If you buy from a lesser-known company or brand, look up the reviews and choose wisely. Don’t go too cheap. As they say, you get what you pay for. If you have the funds to go for high quality, do so. I’ve used the Bose A20 once and the quality is definitely worth the price in the long term.

2) Flight Bag

Pilot Flight Bag

What better way to carry your flight things around than a stylish flight bag? There is a wide range of flight bags out there with different compartments to satisfy your item holding needs. I would highly suggest that you start off with a smaller size. The picture of the flight bag above is the first one I bought. Over time you will begin to accumulate many things and it’s best to keep it simple and limit your bag size until you truly need something bigger. 

 

3) Knee Board 

Knee Board

Originally when I started my flight training I wasn’t sure how necessary it would be to get a kneeboard. I waited quite a while to get one but soon learned this is one item you should never forget to bring to every flight lesson. The answer is, VERY necessary! My flight school doesn’t let you start off with an IPad for cross countries, which means you're lugging around Nav logs, weight & Balance sheets, sectionals, chart supplements, etc. Do yourself a favor and get a kneeboard to keep all of your important planning papers organized! I currently use a King School Trifold iPad kneeboard and it’s the best ever! But if you wish to start with the metal single plate board, it’s also a really great one to use.

4) Logbooks

Logbook

Once you start logging flight time you need somewhere to put it! There are several different types of logbooks but the main purpose is to keep track of your flight time, sim time, endorsements, etc. Stay in FAR 61.51 (Pilot logbooks) compliance!

5) Red Flashlight

Red Flashlight

According to FAR 61.109 Aeronautical experience, “a person who applies for a private pilot certificate with an airplane category and single-engine class rating must log at least... 3 hours of night flight training in a single-engine airplane...” Night flying is so wonderful but takes a minute to adjust to. Certain procedures change a little but a major must-have is a red flashlight to equip you for successful night operations. A red light is used to preserve your night vision far better than white light. My personal suggestion is to buy at least two in the event one is damaged or stops working.

6) Foggles

Foggles

If we look back at FAR 61.109 it also states “ 3 hours of flight training in a single-engine airplane on the control and maneuvering of an airplane solely by reference to instruments.” In order to comply with this requirement, you're going to need a view limiting device such as a hood or Foggles. These simulate instrument conditions and direct your view to your instruments only instead of looking outside the flight deck.

7) Books, Charts, and Maps

Books Charts Maps

Here are a few books I would highly recommend looking into getting:

  • Private pilot Jeppesen
  • FAR/AIM
  • FAA Airplane Flying Handbook (digital or hard copy)
  • FAA Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (digital or hard copy)
  • Gleim Test Prep – Private Pilot
  • VFR Sectional
  • Your aircraft Information Manual
  • Valid Chart Supplement

8) E6B or electronic E6B flight computer

E6B Flight Computer

An E6B is a flight computer used for flight planning to help you calculate fuel burn, wind correction, time en route, and other critical items. While you are airborne, your E6B can be used to estimate fuel burn, calculate ground speed, and update the estimated time of arrival. 

9) FAA Medical

FAA Medical Certificate

An FAA medical is a must-have to start your flight training. There are three types of medicals you can get. 

1. First Class

2. Second Class

3. Third Class

Each class permits different operation privileges that you will soon learn in your training. Look for an AME (Aviation-Medical Examiner) in your area. I recommend that when you go to get a medical, get the highest class (1st class) medical to see the requirements the AME will expect to receive that medical.

10) Flight School for your needs!

Flight School Students

Are you ready to kick your flight training off? The flight school you pick will structure the foundation of your flight career. They will be your connections into the inner industry and your foundation for fundamental flight operations. You can go Part 61 or Part 141, they both have their advantages and disadvantages but it all depends on your learning needs.

Before you pick a flight school, look up the price of attendance/rentals, success rate if available, credentials of the school's instructional staff, aircraft fleet/on-site maintenance, and talk to current students (if permitted). These are all important steps to picking the best school for you.

Always remember that when you pick a flight school and flight instructor, the majority of the time their values on safety, checklist usage, and skill development will become your structure as a pilot. This can be a stressful decision to make but do your research and you will be just fine!

Best of luck starting your flight training! 

 

 

Flight Training — Same Fleet Avionics or Multiple Avionics Systems?

Aircraft Avionics

What type of avionics did you use during your flight training? One aspect that I have found to be very difficult for many students during their flight training is the use of avionics and automation management. Personally, the automation in our fleet at BGSU consists of Warriors with G500 Garmin 650, Avidyne with Garmin 430, Steam gauge with Garmin 430, Archers with Glass panel G1000, and Seminoles with Glass panel G1000 with autopilot. It is the university's plan to consolidate their fleet to an all Archer G1000 and Seminole G1000 fleet. So the question at hand is this: is fleet variation a benefit or disadvantage?

Hazard Consideration

  • Challenges (variation consistency and understanding)
  • Technical knowledge
  • Proficiency across avionics
  • Mode awareness
  • Expectation Bias
  • Pilot & Aircraft Experience level
  • Depth of knowledge/ familiarity
  • Situational awareness
  • Environment
  • Conditions of flight: Dual/Solo, Day/Night, IFR/VFR

Garmin 430’s are not WAAS equipped. Therefore, during instrument training, you can only use non-precision approach minima (Ex. LNAV). Garmin 650’s are WAAS equipped therefore during instrument training, you can use precision approach minima (Ex. LPV). For your Garmin avionics (650’s and 430’s) with dual GPS you can disconnect the “Cross-Fill” option and overlay two approaches. G1000 you are not given the option to disconnect the “Cross-Fill” option, therefore dual GPS overlaying isn’t an option. Different avionics have sometimes very different functions as well as ways to program.

Solution Consideration

  • Fleet continuity
  • Differences training
  • Aircraft equipment guide
  • Avionics supplements and online simulation tools
  • Initial and recurrent instructor Standardization
  • Flight simulator training
  • Emergency procedures training

Piston in Flight

I have always personally loved the challenge posed by learning different avionics. With some of the steam gauges, you can practice NDB approaches and learn firsthand compass errors. These are all things G1000’s don’t have. But I do actively see possible risks and importance to mitigation. As you all know, safety first is a must!

 Anthony Foxx, the U.S. Transportation Secretary stated in an FAA compliance policy that “Aviation is incredibly safe, but continued growth means that we must be proactive and smart... to detect and mitigate risk.” Establishing “proactive behavior” is about controlling a situation through progressive mitigation rather than responding after something undesirable has happened. Proactivity is not just for pilot risk mitigation but for community wellbeing. As for pilots in all levels of training, safety is a decision and a shared mindset that must be trained and maintained. 

Here are a couple of takeaways to think about.

  1. Fly the airplane… Aviate, Navigate, Communicate, then and only then automation. How can automation assist me? Do not let it degrade performance further.
  2. Make sure your habit formation in your training environment, is constantly improving and growing stronger.
  3. Maintain a high level of proficiency. You will get out of it what you put into it. Challenge yourself to understand the avionics and automation you are using.
  4. Lastly, Be the PIC! You are the final authority and the keeper of safety for that flight. Prepare and gain understanding accordingly for safe operation.

What do you think? Should there be the same fleet avionics or multiple avionics systems in a flight training environment?

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?

 

 

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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