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The End of the PTS? What the New Airmen Certification Standards Will Mean for Pilots


In order to obtain a pilot certificate of any kind in the United States, a pilot must take an FAA Practical Test, better known as a checkride. The checkride you might take tomorrow is not much different from the checkride I took ten years ago. That is about to change. The FAA recently announced that the practical test standards that we all know so intimately will be overhauled. But will pilot training change? Will the actual checkride be conducted differently than it has for decades? Will aviation safety improve?

After the creation of the Air Commerce Act in 1926, which introduced new rules for pilot certification and the first ever regulations pertaining to aviation, along with a host of other things like new navigational aids and designated airways, the nation's first certificated pilots were born. The first official pilot license was issued to William P. MacCracken, Jr., after both Charles Lindbergh and Orville Wright declined the honor, with Orville boasting that he did not need a piece of paper to prove to the world that he was the first pilot.

This first pilot certificate was awarded as an honor in recognition of service to civil aviation. Subsequent certificates were awarded based on the personal judgment of examiners, which could be subjective. To standardize and make more objective the requirements for checkrides, the FAA eventually introduced the Practical Test Standards. These practical test standards outlined more specific expectations for pilot applicants and gave pilot examiners a rubric with which to evaluate pilot applicants. The test standards began mostly as a maneuvers-based evaluation, making sure the pilot could take off, land, recover from stalls, navigate by means of pilotage and dead reckoning, and others. Today, we still use these same practical test standards, although they've been modified over the years to include advanced navigation and new safety protocols. Yet, the practical test standards remain primarily maneuvers-based: The PTS lists what the applicant should be able to do, the conditions under which each task is to be performed and an acceptable performance standard for each maneuver or task.

The trouble, as accident data suggests, is that mastering a maneuver to a certain level, while it requires effective airspeed and altitude management, is not the most effective indicator of a safe pilot. The Nall report, for example, tells us year after year that improper decision-making and improper planning are common causes of accidents. The 2010 Nall report states that, "After excluding accidents due to mechanical failures or improper maintenance, accidents whose causes have not been determined, and the handful due to circumstances beyond the pilot’s control, all that remain are considered pilot-related. Most pilot-related accidents reflect specific failures of flight planning or decision-making or the characteristic hazards of high-risk phases of flight."

The PTS was created principally to provide objective standards for evaluating and certifying pilots. We have since learned that most of the qualities and abilities that separate safe from unsafe pilots are very difficult to quantify. In an effort to focus attention on these more subjective qualities – knowledge, discipline, risk assessment and management – the flight training community has in recent years created training techniques designed to incorporate these concepts. These techniques would include scenario-based training, FITS (FAA-Industry Training Standards), and training focused on technically advanced airplanes. Most thoughtful flight instructors already make every attempt to include risk management in the training regimen. The question remains as to how to evaluate these principles, which are really processes of thought, mental and emotional approaches to flight, in the course of a practical test. In recent years, these concepts have made their way into the existing PTS as front matter called “special emphasis areas," but only now, with the FAA's new Airmen Certification Standards (ACS), has there been a serious attempt to integrate these concepts into the specific objective tasks of the PTS.

But what exactly does this mean? Will it accomplish anything productive or valuable to flight training? The most prevalent change you'll see will be in the task list included. What we know currently as the PTS will be incorporated into the ACS, and the task list items, which were fairly brief, will be expanded to include many more specifics. For example, the current version of the Private Pilot PTS has 10 objectives listed for the Soft Field Approach and Landing task. It looks like this:

The new ACS project will have much more specific tasks in four different areas under the Soft Field Approach and Landing task: Objective, knowledge, skills and risk management. From a reading of the draft of the proposed ACS, this will be true for every task in the ACS. Knowledge and risk management are now made more specific by referring, in the standards for each task, to ways in which these somewhat amorphous and slippery concepts apply specifically to that task. It goes into much more detail about what could be evaluated on the check ride, including an entire section on risk items. It will look like this:

Along with the added emphasis on risk management, some students and instructors may be relieved to know that there will also be a change in the FAA's written knowledge tests. The FAA admits that over the years, parts of the knowledge test question bank have become redundant and outdated. With the new ACS, we should see the demise of old questions about NDBs and and irrelevant and poorly worded questions that include multiple calculations and interpolations. That's good news. As for when the new ACS will take effect, the FAA is proposing a rolling introduction beginning in late 2015 with the Private Pilot, the Commercial Pilot ACS and the Instrument Rating ACS and revision of the corresponding knowledge tests and codes. A Frequently Asked Questions document recently posted by the FAA admits that this schedule may slip into 2016, but advises that examiners, now called evaluators, may already use the draft ACS as guidance for the administration of checkrides.

The FAA wants us to look at the new ACS as an improved upon PTS, a long-overdue plan to make the qualities now known to correlate with safety an integral part of flight training and testing. They define it as "a holistic, integrated presentation of specific knowledge, skills, and risk management elements and performance metrics for each Area of Operation and Task." I'm not entirely convinced that this will be anything new or unusual for those of us training pilots. The performance standards will remain the same, and, according to the FAA, the ACS will not change the check ride. Instructors should already be teaching risk management and decision-making at every step of flight training, although the specific bullet points now included under each task may suggest specific ways in which these qualities pertain to every task we perform as pilots. In the end, the ACS is a change that is past due and should align the evaluation of pilots with the principles we should have long since been teaching.

Behind the Scenes at the Air Race Classic

Last Monday I had the opportunity to be a small part of history. 50 teams participating in an air race dating back to 1929 were landing at an airport right in my backyard and I had the opportunity to visit and help as they arrived. As the all-female Air Race Classic came to their third stop along the 2,200 NM route, Clark County Airport in Jeffersonville, Indiana, a small army had gathered to welcome them, provide them with food, fuel, and transportation to hotels. I was a volunteer “greeter,” meeting the racers as they came into the airport and providing them with answers to any questions that had about operations. Most importantly, I directed them to the restrooms and food.

The Air Race Classic had not been in the area since 1981, so spirits were high as many people worked hard to make this the best stop of their trip. In addition to an abundance of food and desserts provided by UPS, racers were offered complimentary massages and transportation to their hotels. The stop had a Kentucky Derby theme, so several volunteers wore colorful derby hats. The men’s restroom had a sign saying “Fillies (Women); Men’s Restroom Outside,” to accommodate the 123 women who would be flying in.

Special accommodations had to be made for the 123 women flying in.

Preparations for this day started almost an entire year ago. Once the route for the race was announced, Honaker Aviation teamed up with several local pilots and organizations to gather volunteers and create a game plan for the day the racers arrived. It was difficult to predict how weather would affect the day from months away, so Stop Chair Amy Bogardus prepared for every possible outcome. An online scheduling system through Sign Up Genius was set up with slots for Timers, Greeters, Transporters, Hospitality, and Stuff to Bring. Time slots were available for each task for Monday-Thursday. The organizers anticipated racers being able to spend the night and leave out Tuesday, but with the unpredictable weather it was best for there to be too many volunteers than too few.

My time slot was from 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm but I ended up staying until 6:00 pm. My younger sister has recently taken an interest in aviation, so I brought her along to meet all of the Ninety-Nines who were volunteering and to experience the race. I had been watching the racers make their way towards our stop since they took off in the morning through the live tracking at Trackleaders.com. Excitement was building as I arrived at the airport and watched the same live tracker from a large TV in the command room. All volunteers were given bright yellow arm bands to identify themselves, and we were ready for racers to begin flying in.

Stop organizers and spectators watched the live feed of aircraft flying in all morning, ready to serve as soon as they arrived.

The first few racers came in at a moderate pace, having left the last airport sooner than the others. After an hour or so of airplanes steadily coming in 10 minutes apart, the bulk of the racers came and it was amazing to see them doing a high speed pass and landing one after another. Because the race is judged on a handicap speed, the only time that the racers had to beat was their own.

The first few arrivals enjoy food provided by UPS.

My sister commented on how young many of the collegiate racers looked, as most of them are in their early 20s. I could see in her face that her dream of becoming a pilot seemed more and more realistic as she saw these shining examples of female pilots casually walking into the airport from their aircraft. It was different for her from hearing about my piloting adventures and actually being at an airport and experiencing the sights and sounds. The entire drive home she excitedly spoke about how she was beginning to find her purpose in life, and that becoming a pilot and flying medical missions was her dream.

I had an amazing experience volunteering at the Air Race Classic, and all racers said that the Clark County stop was well done and efficient. A huge thank you to every single volunteer, organizer, and sponsor for making the day incredible for everyone.

Why the P-51 is Still the Most Beloved Airplane at the Air Show

Perhaps the most influential warplane of all time, the P-51 Mustang is still one of the most beloved aircraft in the air show circuit today. Seventy years past its prime, the Mustang remains a steadfast and prominent part of air shows, only occasionally and temporarily overshadowed by the appearance of a modern fighter jet. Reliable and distinguished, people who know the P-51 recognize it and greet it the way they do an old friend - with respect and admiration. Why do people love the Mustang so much? After decades of innovation and an abundance of new sleek, capable aircraft, why do people still marvel at the sound of the Merlin engine?

A war hero…
The Mustang is an airplane with a story. It's a war hero - a sigh of relief in a dark time, a ray of sunshine that helped end an uncertain era in our nation's history. It's quick, easy on the eyes and music to our ears. The P-51 Mustang is so well loved and so respected because it tells the story of innovation, speed, valor and beauty during a time of difficulty.

As the first aircraft designed around a laminar flow wing, the Mustang was ahead of its time. And it wasn't just the 425+ mile per hour airspeed that made it impressive. The aircraft was rolled out in record time -about 100 days - making it one of the fastest aircraft to be produced, even during wartime. In a 1943 Popular Science article, author Andrew Boone predicted, "When the history of this war is written, there may be a hundred days underlined in red pencil - a period in which a young engineer and a veteran designer took a theory on airflow and turned it into the deadliest change-of-pace fighter airplane this stage of the war has yet produced." He was right.

The production of the P-51 was a demonstration of our nation's ability not only to innovate, but to innovate rapidly and on demand. The P-51 was designed by request of the British Purchasing Commission, and around 100 days after signing the first contract with the British Purchasing Commission, North American rolled out the first P-51, initially dubbed the NA-73X.

The British ordered 320 more aircraft from North American in March 1940, and soon after, America jumped on board, too. The U.S. Army Air Force took possession of its first Mustangs in March 1942. The airplane flew in every theater during World War II and continued to serve throughout the Korean War. By the end of World War II, it had destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft - more enemy aircraft than any other fighter aircraft in Europe.

That engine...
There's no doubt that the P-51 Mustang, with its numerous capabilities, had a tremendous effect on the outcome of the war. But we should give credit where credit is due, and the Merlin V-1650 engine, originally designed by Rolls Royce, was a game-changer.

Early on, the P-51 was fitted with an Allison V-1710 engine and used as a dive-bomber and for reconnaissance missions. But the Allison engine, as good as it was, lacked performance at high altitudes, and in 1942, Mustangs were fitted with more powerful 1,430-hp Packard-built Merlin V-1650 engines. The aircraft's capabilities expanded greatly, marking a turning point in the war.

With the Merlin engine, the P-51 could fly up to 441 miles per hour at almost 30,000 feet. Flying at altitudes without losing power made the Mustang capable of both long-range, high altitude escort missions as well as its low-altitude reconnaissance missions that it was known for.

The sound of the Merlin engine is one that's not easily forgotten. It's a slow, rumbling sound that sneaks up on you, maybe startles you, only to put you at ease, knowing that behind the whir of the engine is the sound of victory that many people know and remember. In a 1943 article in Popular Mechanics, the author describes the airplane as fast and quiet. "There is no distant engine drone, growing louder as the plane approaches, but a sudden screaming roar overheard and the wild horse is upon you."

Pure elegance…
Today, we marvel at the history and the airplane and the sound of the Merlin, but we also stand in awe of an airplane that is not only fast and practical, but absolutely stunning to look at. With its bubble canopy, its sleek lines and silver wings... the P-51 Mustang is simply one of the most beautiful airplanes in the word.

Never has an airplane surpassed the P-51 when it comes to utility and beauty in one. It's strong and powerful, yet quiet and elegant. It's a natural performer, and it demands respect without the dog and pony show. For those who witnessed its prowess during the war, it's evocative. For the others who marvel at it during air shows today, those who can only look into its past and wonder, it's an airplane with a strange pull, an often unexplained attraction.

You may wonder why you're so drawn to an airplane that is before your time, why this particular airplane is such a showstopper. Because whether you know the history of the airplane or not, the Mustang is an airplane that stops you in your tracks. Its beauty captivates you, lures you in, and makes you want to hear its story. And it's a story worth repeating, air show after air show.

The Ultimate Barn Find? Bid On a P-51 Mustang for $150,000!

In a dusty hangar in southern California, at an unassuming airfield, there sits a forgotten treasure: A P-51D Mustang, a legendary World War II warplane that could become the find of a lifetime for one lucky buyer. One of the few remaining 425-knot piston-powered airplanes - the fastest piston-powered airplane of its era and perhaps of all time - lies in a hangar at Torrance Airport in southern California, waiting to be auctioned to its new owner.

As the inheritor of the fabled Merlin engine, the most admired sound ever produced by twelve cylinders marching two-by-two in the classic V-12 configuration, the P-51 Mustang was the best fighter aircraft of its time, shooting down 4,950 enemy aircraft by the end of the war in 1945.

According to photographer and historian Dick Phillips of Warbird Images, who researches the history of P-51 Mustangs, this airplane, serial number 44-84896, was manufactured for the war effort in 1944 and ended its military career in 1956 as part of the 169th Fighter Squadron in the Illinois National Guard. According to Phillips, the airplane was stored in California until it was sold on the civilian market for $867 dollars to P.J. Murray of Oxnard, California and was registered with the tail number N5416V.

According to Phillip's records, N5416V would be sold 10 additional times in the next five years before being sold to James Keichline for $8,950 dollars. Keichline owned the aircraft for ten years before selling it to its most recent owner, Ken Scholz in Playa Del Rey, California in 1973. Scholz originally kept the aircraft tied down on the ramp at Torrance Airport, but vandalism caused him to move it to a hangar in 1978. Scholz, a retired aircraft mechanic, apparently never flew the plane, but intended to restore it during his retirement. It seems he would never get the chance.

Starting June 2nd, this old 1958 P-51 Mustang will be auctioned by Scholz's estate, and the starting bid is only $150,000. It's a little rough around the edges and needs an extensive restoration, but it's complete - or at least advertised as "appearing complete," which we know is hardly a guarantee. The Packard Rolls Model V-1650 engine is being auctioned separately, starting at $8,000. And there are no logbooks or any other documentation for the aircraft. Add to this that the aircraft is being auctioned "as is," and, according to the listing, there is a host of problems that will require extensive efforts on behalf of the owner, including crazing and discoloration on the canopy, oxidized paint, corrosion, and a total overhaul of all instruments and gauges.

We know that the aircraft will need to be almost completely rebuilt, but what about the logbooks? How much do the missing logbooks decrease the value of an aircraft? We know that with a typical aircraft purchase, the logbooks are vital for determining airworthiness, and can reduce the value of an aircraft significantly, sometimes by up to a third, but for an aircraft restoration project this may not be accurate. Without logbooks, an active airplane may not be airworthy until an A&P mechanic or IA recreates each AD or service bulletin and attests to its performance and compliance, an expensive prospect that may end up repeating service that was previously performed but not evidenced without proper documentation. But a project as extensive as this P-51 Mustang is likely to be documented over the course of its restoration, providing proper documentation in the form of logbooks by the end of the project.

Rumors are swirling that the bid price will come in around $400,000-800,000 (minus the engine) but the cost of this restoration project will far exceed that dollar amount. According to a few of our Facebook followers, a restoration like this will likely cost at least $1.5 million. The airworthy P-51 aircraft on the market right now seem to be going at a market rate of $2.0-$4.5 million. This 1945 Mustang is listed for $2.14 million.

How much would you guess this P-51D Mustang will bring at auction? How much do you think it will cost to restore it? How much would you pay for the privilege of owning it?

Big News from the Flying Musicians

Flying Musicians Assn

The Flying Musicians Association is again the proud recipient of a 2015 Wolf Aviation Fund grant to assist in strengthening the bonds between aviation and music in the FMA's programs that enhance outreach and education.

“We have re-focused our efforts of sharing our passions (aviation & music) with others through our outreach to inspire, educate, encourage and now assist youth (& adults) in growing through aviation and music.” Says FMA President/CEO John Zapp.

Since 1992 the Wolf Aviation Fund has awarded special grants for efforts supporting and promoting general aviation. For example, among the more than 350 previous recipients is Sandra Campbell, in flying helmet and goggles, performing for students "Follow Your Dreams," a stage recreation of the exciting story of Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman to win her wings as an aviator. Another small seed grant to School Superintendent Gordon Schimmel eventually resulted in a million dollar project creating and distributing a wonderful “Inventing Flight” Wright Brothers curriculum with videos and teachers guides to school systems across the United States. Other grants supported community outreach, technological development, airfield preservation, effective networking, organizational development, and inspiring the next generation.

Additionally, the Flying Musicians Association has announced that once again members will be on the ramp at each AOPA Fly-In across the country. FMA encourages all pilot / musicians and friends to participate. “This is about outreach!” says John Zapp, CEO FMA. “We want all who have a love of music to join us as we liven up the ramp while inspiring, encouraging, educating and now assisting folks to grow through aviation and music. Just as a pilot certificate is a certificate to learn, being a musician requires constant learning, practicing and performing. The AOPA Fly-Ins are a wonderful way for members to reunite across the country.”

AOPA Fly-Ins will have something for everyone. Spend a Saturday with AOPA participating in aviation activities, exploring exhibits and seminars, enjoying a couple of meals, music and building relationships.

Look for FMA members set up on the ramp at the following locations:

  • 6/6 Frederick, MD (KFDK),
  • 8/22 Minneapolis, MN (KANE)
  • 9/26 Colorado Springs, CO (KCOS)
  • 10/10 Tullahoma, TN (KTHA)

Visit the FMA website for more information and to contact the FMA coordinator to participate.

About the Flying Musicians Association, Inc:

The Flying Musicians Association (FMA) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization of pilots who are musicians, spanning the globe, proficiency levels and genres. The goal is to share our passions in order to inspire, educate, encourage and assist others by creating enthusiasm and promoting personal growth in aviation and music. “Pilot Musicians sharing their passion while encouraging and educating youth (& adults) in the science and art of aeronautics and music.”