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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 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.

2015 Business Jet Traveler Readers Expect to Fly More in 2016

The October/November issue of Business Traveler Magazine contains the results of the 5th Annual Readers' Choice Awards.  As with previous surveys, they let the results speak for themselves. Go read it, but first, my observations.


Good news for 2016, their readers expect to fly more in 2016 than in 2015 (37.9%) with just over half flying about the same next year. Only 7.3% expect to fly less. This is encouraging since more than one in five (22.7%) reported flying less in 2015 than in 2014. I'd say this is more of a sign of stability or slow growth. Still, slow growth beats a slow decline.

Why people fly is as you think. These private aircraft "save time" by getting people to airports that are not served by the airlines and all the travelers to be productive while en route. These simply spell productivity.  Comfort, privacy and security round out that list. Those last three imply quality of life to me. 

What people fly remains consistent with previous years. It's the economics. That, along with range and cabin are the big three drivers in the aircraft the reader flies. A slight change from 2014 is economics is now the top driver, slightly more than range. Interesting was the number four response: Aircraft Manufacturer. The OEMs try to get brand loyalty and this indicates some level of success in that effort. Aircraft age and speed round off the top half of the list. 

Among the readers using fractional, charter and jet cards, customer service rated top for all three. Overall satisfaction also rated consistently as ver good with no clear advantage to any of them. Value for price paid rated best for Jet Cards. Fractional rated lowest for value which ties into their ranking for residual value terms. That was the lowest average score among all the fractional rating categories. If the reader had not used the provider previously, the biggest factor in selecting the provider was a recommendation of a friend or colleague. Step aside Internet, word of mouth from someone you trust is still the number one reason to buy.

Speaking of value for price paid, for the fixed-wing aircraft, Embraer rated quite well in that category. They also rated very well in cost of maintenance and were close to survey-leader Gulfstream in product support. Kudos to them. Overall, the strongest fixed-wing OEMs were Embraer, Gulfstream, Dassault, and Pilatus. 

Regarding aircraft reliability, Pilatus and Gulfstream received the highest marks. Al the OEMs did well, with Hawker (as in the 800 series) and Bombardier receiving more "fair" ratings and fewer very good to excellent ratings. Regardless, all the fixed-wing OEMs having from 87% to 100% ratings when adding the very good and excellent scores. The wireless and cable providers would love rating like that.

On the helicopter aircraft, Business jet traveler only had sufficient data for Airbus (nee Eurocopter) and Bell. I was surprised that Sikorsky had too few responses. Like last year, neither helicopter OEM received greater than a 40% excellent rating in any category except for reliability, where Bell had 52.4% excellent ratings. That would be last place if put in with the fixed-wing. I'm not sure why the expectations aren't being met.

BJT did ask its reader's that if they could get a year of complimentary flying, which would it be for various categories of aircraft? Read the article to see what folks favored. Most choices were the popular new aircraft for each category. Of note, 6.5% of the Super Mid-Size Cabin Jet readers wanted a Hawker 4000 over the current production offerings. As with last year, no one listed a P51 Mustang. 

2016 looks promising from this survey. It's a small list, but here's hoping its representative. How about you, will you be flying more next year? Let us know if the replies.

The Rise of the Angle of Attack Indicator for General Aviation Airplanes

Earlier this year, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) added the prevention of loss of control accidents in general aviation to its Most Wanted List, a list of advocacy priorities the organization releases yearly.

Loss of control accidents (stalls, spins, etc.) made up 40 percent of fatal fixed wing general aviation accidents between 2001 and 2011, according to NTSB statistics. More than 25 percent of all fatal general aviation accidents occur during the maneuvering phase of flight, and more than half of these maneuvering accidents result in a stall/spin scenario. The NTSB continues to emphasize an industry-wide need to focus on preventing these accidents in order to reduce the accident and fatality rates for general aviation pilots. Preventing loss of control accidents should include awareness, as well as educating and training pilots, says the NTSB, and the organization is taking their own advice - in October the agency will host a forum to discuss some of the ways the industry can improve. The topics of discussion will include a statistical review, new training techniques, and equipment and technology improvements, and will most certainly include the installation and use of angle of attack (AOA) indicators in light general aviation aircraft.

Over the past few years, the NTSB, FAA and General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC), with support from industry groups like AOPA, have been working together to advocate the use of AOA indicators in light airplanes as a way to encourage recognition and prevention of stall accidents. In the past, pilots and aircraft owners haven’t been all that eager to install them, though, based on cost and the red-tape problems associated with the installation process. In 2014, the FAA streamlined the process of installing AOA indicators, making it easier for aircraft owners to enjoy their benefits.

We know that a stall will occur any time the wing’s angle of attack - the angle between the chord line and the relative wind – exceeds its critical limit. But historically, pilots have been trained to monitor and fly precise airspeeds in order to prevent stalls. This is helpful, but only when the aircraft is in straight and level, coordinated, unaccelerated flight, when the aircraft’s stall speeds are quite low and where they are known and familiar for that particular flight configuration. But an aircraft can – and will - stall at any airspeed, any weight, any configuration, and any attitude when the critical angle of attack has been exceeded. While airspeed is a good guideline to use, it shouldn’t be the only one. Pilots should understand that the angle of attack, which is invisible, matters much more than the airspeed.

Enter the much talked about angle of attack indicator. It’s designed to help pilots determine the aircraft’s true angle of attack in real time, allowing the pilot to “see” the angle of attack in a way that’s not possible otherwise. This will be especially valuable to new pilots, who, through its use, will better understand the concept of angle of attack as it relates to different aircraft configurations and phases of flight.

So what will it take to install an AOA indicator? According to this article on AvWeb, not much. After the FAA approved the more streamlined process, most general aviation aircraft will not require an STC and the modification can be done by any A&P mechanic with just a logbook entry. AOA indicators for small general aviation aircraft like the Cessna 172 cost between $400 - $2000, depending on whether it’s electrical or mechanical, heated or not, pressurized or not, and other variables.

The Importance of Checklists: 4 Accidents That Checklist Use Could Have Prevented

Photo 1981 by J-E Nystrom, Helsinki, Finland/CC 3.0

It’s human nature to be complacent. We’re all lazy, right? But aviation isn’t an industry that welcomes complacency, and even the slightest oversight on behalf of a pilot in command can mean the difference between a successful flight and an unsuccessful one.

My flight students get tired of me reminding them about checklists. Before we even get into the airplane, I can often be heard saying: “That preflight checklist is there for a reason.” And on downwind, every single time: “Before Landing Checklist.” Some people understand the tedious nature of checklists and accept it; others defy it.

Why don’t pilots use checklists? Probably because they don’t expect anything bad to happen when they don’t. After all, they’ve skipped a checklist- er, many checklists - before and nothing bad happened. Maybe they remember all of the items, after all. Or maybe it’s true that 999 out of 1,000 times, a forgotten checklist item still results in a successful flight, which reinforces the pilot’s belief that it isn’t complacency, but skill, that gets him back on the ground safely. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be more wrong.

We’d all like to think that we’d never end up crashing because of a forgotten checklist item. But here are a few examples of average pilots who failed to accomplish checklist items or otherwise got into trouble for a checklist-related item. We’re not any different. We’re not immune. At the very least, it’s embarrassing to end up like one of these pilots; at the worst, fatal. If using a checklist can potentially prevent you from embarrassment or death, shouldn’t we just use it?

Here are four accidents where proper checklist use would probably have prevented the accident entirely:
Gear Down and Locked
As seen on YouTube, the pilot of this Piper Aerostar twin-engine airplane landed without gear at Aero Acres Air Park in Port St. Lucie, Florida. And then, to everyone’s surprise, he took off again. You can see from this video that the airplane is coming in too fast and unstable, and the pilot decides to go around only after touching down. Unfortunately, the pilot not only forgot the gear, but he forgot his go-around procedures. The pilot claims that he intended to go around, retracted the gear and all of the flaps prematurely and sank to the runway. Once airborne, the pilot is said to have flown the aircraft all the way back to his home in Ft. Lauderdale- about 100 miles.

This is only one report of many, many gear-up landing situations. Pilots: Don’t forget your GUMPS checklist!

Flight Controls Free & Correct

Earlier this month, the NTSB released an animation highlighting the crash of a Gulfstream IV in Bedford, Massachusetts last year. The aircraft skidded off the runway after a failed rejected takeoff, killing seven people on board - two pilots, a flight attendant and four passengers. The reason for the crash? Failure to check that the flight controls were free and correct before takeoff, and subsequently failing to expedite a rejected takeoff once they determined the problem.

The NTSB report states: “A review of the flight crew’s previous 175 flights revealed that the pilots had performed complete preflight control checks on only two of them. The flight crew’s habitual noncompliance with checklists was a contributing factor to the accident.” Sadly, seven lives were lost because basic checklist procedures were not followed.

Water Contamination
There are several ASRS reports from pilots who have lived through off-airport landings due to engine failure. Many of these emergency situations are due to engine failure from fuel starvation. In many of those cases, water contamination was the culprit. In this ASRS report, a man describes his lackadaisical preflight habits after his Grumman Tiger engine quits due to water in the fuel tanks:

“Although I did not discover the water prior to takeoff, I have learned a valuable lesson. I feel that I had gotten complacent in my approach to the pre-flight in that I never found condensed water in my tanks before due to keeping them full at all times.” He admits to failing to sump the fuel carefully to check for water.

In the early days of flight training, it might not be apparently obvious why a student’s flight instructor emphasizes the importance of getting a current altimeter setting. If the flight is conducted in VFR, the altimeter can be off by 100 feet and it might not matter much. It’s not until a pilot flies an approach to minimums that he realizes the value of setting the altimeter correctly. Being 100 feet lower than you intend when you’re descending on an approach can mean crashing into the runway or just short of it.

Knowing how an altimeter works and accounting for altimeter error will only keep you out of trouble if you set it correctly. We’ve all heard stories of pilots being to low or too high during an approach into IMC. This compilation of NASA ASRS reports tells how altimeter errors can lead to altitude deviations, traffic separation violations and landing accidents.

The NASA report states, for example, that, “A helicopter accident resulting in four fatalities was attributed at least in part to an incorrectly set altimeter during a period of known low barometric pressure. The report from the Canadian Aviation Safety Board states: ‘The helicopter was being used to transport personnel to work sites across a large frozen lake. An approaching low pressure area with snow and high winds...reduced visibility to near zero in some areas. The pilot most certainly encountered adverse conditions and altered course to circumvent the worst areas. The aircraft was later found...wreckage was widely scattered. The altimeter showed a setting on impact of 30.05; the correct setting would be about 29.22, causing the altimeter to read about 800-850 feet high. The altimeter had obviously been set two days previously [apparently during a time of high barometric pressure-Ed.].’”

Incorrect altimeter settings can be fatal. Checklist procedures should always include getting the current altimeter setting occasionally during flight and always before landing.