Flying - Page 4 Aviation Articles

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!

Understanding Departure Procedures and its Two Different Types

I look back to a year ago and remember the lessons I was covering in my instrument training— Fight instruments, Nav-aids, system limitations, etc. We, my flight instructor and I, had not quite reached the point of learning the full details of instrument approach plates, departure procedures, arrival routes, etc. When we did discuss it, it was a lot of terms and concepts to learn. Instrument flying has a great deal of information essential to safe IFR operation, including its many different plates and procedures. Generally, when you are training for your instrument rating, you tend to spend most of your time focusing on holds and instrument approaches and not nearly as much time with the encompassing factors associated with IFR departures.  

Let’s take a closer look at DP’s (Departure Procedures) and the two different types— ODP’s (Obstacle Departure Procedure) and SID’s (Standard Instrument Departure). 

To understand the importance of departure procedures, there are a few standards that need to be recognized. According to the U.S. standard for TERPS (Terminal Instrument Procedures), there is a specific obstacle clearance that must be maintained. Your aircraft must climb at least 200 Feet Per Nautical Mile (FPNM). This is determined through an observed obstacle penetration slope of 152 FPNM. If an obstacle does not penetrate the 200 FPNM climb gradient, the pilot has a minimum obstacle clearance of 48ft.

Side Note* the 152FPNM is the 40:1 ratio often referenced. 1 nautical mile is roughly 6067 feet, therefore 6067/152 = 39.9 or 40 to 1.

When obstacles penetrate that 40:1 obstacle slope, this can increase your required climb gradients as well as none standard takeoff minimums. ODP’s (Obstacle Departure Procedures) are created by the NFPO (National Flight Procedures Office) to ensure requirements are put in place to maintain sufficient obstacle clearance. ODP’s can be published either Textually or graphically. Do not be confused in that SID’s are only graphical (but may have text on them).

Highlighted in red is an example of a textual ODP. In the TPP, it is easy to confuse the ODP section with the “takeoff Obstacle Notes”. These are not the same thing. Takeoff Obstacle Notes are “low-close in obstacles” that are less than 200 ft above the departure end of the runway (DER) as well as within 1NM of the end of the runway. These do not require greater take-off minima. It is the pilot’s responsibility to see and avoid these obstacles.

Highlighted in yellow is a notable feature of graphical ODP’s that differentiate them from SID’s. On the plate, it will state OBSTACLE. Graphical ODP’s have identifiers (Ex. DRAKE2.DRK) which allows them to be filed during your IFR flight plan, while textual ODP’s can not.

Lastly, SID’s (Standard Instrument Departures) require an ATC clearance prior to flying the route. They are used to increase efficiency by expediting traffic flow and alleviating some pilot/controller workload. These are often seen at larger airports where congestion is high. If you received clearance from ATC via the SID, you are automatically cleared for the ODP. But if you are cleared for an ODP, that does not mean you are cleared for the SID. You have to make sure before accepting a SID, that your aircraft can perform to required climb gradients. If it can not meet requirements, put “No SID” in your remarks section of your flight plan.

There are two main types of SID’s — Vector and pilot navigation SID’s.

Vector SID— ATC will provide radar vectors right after takeoff and will continue until you reach your fix charted or an assigned route. As you can see here on the MEADOW FOUR, common to vector SID’s they do not have transitions or departure routes to follow. Depending upon your route of flight, after you follow the initial directions (heading and altitude) ATC will vector you via a Nav-aid in the direction of your flight. 

Pilot Navigation SID— have a set of instructions for every aircraft to follow a particular route. You may see two or more transitions listed on this form of SID. As you see here on the KKIDS ONE it has a visual (graphical or plan view) section and a textual description. This confuses a lot of people because SID’s are only graphical. Textual descriptions simply re-iterate what the graphical depicts but in some simple transitions textual descriptions will not be included. 

Departure Chart

Talk to us: If you have personally flown departure procedures, what was your experience with them? 

Refreshing Your Knowledge on RNAV/GPS Approaches

It's beginning to reach that time of year where we transition into Spring, meaning one really important thing:

Low IFR. 

Not that we don't experience low IFR throughout other seasons, but as we transition into warmer temperatures, the temperature/dewpoint spread likes to stay close. This is especially true for nighttime and early mornings until the sun comes out and burns everything off. So now is the perfect time to read up on approaches and make sure you're ready for it!

Specifically, RNAV/GPS approaches. Thanks to the invention of WAAS (wide area augmentation system), these GPS approaches are becoming more common.

GPS approaches are also highly accurate because they require something called RNP-required navigational performance. RNP means that the needle when centered for the course is within .3nm of runway centerline 95% of the time. So next to an ILS approach, GPS approaches can get you some pretty low minimums. 

When it comes to understanding GPS approaches, there are a lot of terms and acronyms to know that can be confusing at first. Understanding them, however, makes for a better IFR pilot! So let's discuss and break these down:

  1. DME: you've probably already heard and remember this term but if not here's a refresher. DME stands for distance measuring equipment. Notice at the bottom of the KHOU chart above categories you see numbers in nautical miles, there's your DME! So you can also identify each fix by their distance.                                                      RNAV GPS Chart
  2. LP: Localizer performance. Remember earlier we talked about WAAS? Well, this requires WAAS and is a mode independent of LNAV AND LPV. The above plate doesn't depict it but it would be the equal counterpart of having localizer only on an ILS approach. Higher minimums but still more sensitivity as you reach closer to the runway area. 
  3. LNAV/VNAV: This is more commonly seen than LP. It has higher minimums than LPV but can still bring you in pretty low on an approach with great accuracy (you won't break out 30 degrees off the centerline). What you should understand about this is it is horizontal and vertical guidance down to minimums. They however are not flown down to an MDA, but a decision altitude. Meaning look outside at this altitude and decide if you're landing or not! The quicker you can reach this (while still being stable), the better. Don't forget to also take a look at baro-VNAV temperature notes. This can raise minimums and get you in a pickle if not adhered to as your airplane has to abide by these corrections (I say get in a pickle...the possibilities of what can happen can truly be unsafe). 
  4. LPV: my favorite type of GPS approach minimums. LPV stands for localizer performance with vertical guidance. In reality how I picture this is it is the next best thing to an ILS approach, but still NONPRECISION. But why is it nonprecision? Well LPV minimums are the lowest of all GPS mins and you must have WAAS onboard. Unlike a localizer, the sensitivity does not increase as you become closer to the threshold. Instead, it caps to linear scaling 700 feet wide AT the threshold but will not become any narrower. They are very operationally similar to an ILS and are flown to a DA just like LNAV/VNAV, but are far more economical because no navigation infrastructure is required at the airport.
  5. Baro-VNAV: and here's one of my least favorite types of GPS approaches. This stands for barometric vertical navigation (that's a mouthful). From what we mentioned earlier, it can constitute for sticky situations if not compensated for. Think of your pitot-static system when you think of baro-VNAV, because that's exactly what it relates to. It uses approach-certified baro-altitude information from the pitot-static system and air data computer to register the vertical guidance.
    RNAV RNP Chart
    - Pictured is a circled noted area on the RNAV 35L Z approach into KOKC. Notice how it gives you temperature restrictions that make the procedure NA? That means don't even try it. 
  6. GBAS: last but not least is ground based augmentation system. GBAS does what is called "augment" the GPS, meaning it provides corrections and improves navigation. This is very much a precision approach. You will also see this termed as GLS, which the FAA uses as GBAS landing system. You likely have never heard of GBAS or shot a GBAS approach, and this is because it is only in use by several airlines around the world. The way it works is by using a 5-digit channel (similar but don't get it confused with WAAS) to tune into the FMS for better accuracy. 

 There are a few other terms this post does not cover, examples including LNAV+V or APV type procedures. There is a lot to know about RNAV/GPS approaches but this covers the most commonly used and also the most commonly covered on instrument check rides. Stick around for a post in the future digging into the rest of this information. The more educated we are, the safer instrument pilots we become.

 

Note: all information here was derived from the AIM and FAA published instrument handbooks. These are subject to change over time so please ensure you keep your materials updated!

Finding & Avoiding Parachute Jump Areas

Parachute jump areas: they're not the most common area you typically fly threw unless you do a lot of low flying or are a jump pilot. We learn about them a lot during private training then don't seem to talk about it much after that. They seem pretty simple to fly around, but there's a couple extra things to know to help you avoid it and stay safer.

Parachute Jump Area

Last week a friend called me and asked "hey, you're a CFI. Is it illegal to fly through a parachute jump area?"

Well the simple answer is no. He was pipeline flying along his usual route and noticed he went through a parachute jump area. Because he was monitoring frequency he heard another pilot call him up and become upset at him for flying through the area. After landing this other pilot threatened to record his tail number and turn him in for careless and wreckless operation. Does this other pilot have a case? Was the pipeline pilot in the wrong? I'm sure simple things like these happen more often than you think. So let's dig into it.

In the last article we discussed ForeFlight and how great of a tool it is. Pictured above is a parachute jump area charted in Galveston, Texas from the Foreflight VFR Sectional screen. Aside from published Parachute Jump Area NOTAM's programs like ForeFlight will also display active jump areas as a caution to pilots flying through. They also include a frequency to monitor as to help find when the jump pilots are going to be releasing skydivers- ATC must legally be notified 5 minutes prior to drop. In a non-towered area ATC has to be notified no more than 24 hours and no less than 1 hour from flying time. It's always a good idea to pick up Flight Following so you can listen to these interactions when they're getting close to drop. 

With all of this being said, was the pilot flying pipeline illegally operating? This is a tricky question because it depends on a lot of factors, but in this case it was not. The frequency was being monitored, the drop zone was 5 minutes out from drop and was clear at the time, and as a pipeline pilot it was part of his job to fly that route. The advice I gave was to file a NASA report from the Aviation Safety Reporting System. A lot of pilots call this the get out of jail free card. In the case of any incidents (cases where illegal crimes did not take place and no person was injured) they can help to avoid action being taken against a pilot. This is a perfect situation. Careful action was taken not to penetrate an active drop zone, but a disgruntled pilot still threatened to file a report. Now both sides of the story can be taken. 

When it comes to avoiding parachute jump areas, simply know where you're flying and what will be along that route. Avoid the area if you can, if you can't then check into the appropriate listed frequency so you never accidentally fly through falling skydivers. This would be the worst case scenario.

Remember a safe pilot is one who is prepared! Questions or comments? Write to us below this article.

 

 

Best Headsets for Your Money in 2021

Well well well, the article we've all been waiting for: how to buy a decent headset without breaking the bank!

Future tip, everything in aviation breaks the bank. Run away while you still can ;)

1) Bose QC35 & NFlight Mic

Looking for some Bose A20's without the price tag? Well, here you go. These headphones are very similar. By buying the Bose QC35 ii and the NFlight Nomad Aviation Microphone, you get the benefit of having normal headphones that double as a headset for about $500, half the price of the A20's! With this, you get noise-cancelling and professional microphone quality. And don't worry, if the headphones die, the microphone still works so you're not left with dead comms. But here's the downside:

  1. this headset is not TSO'd for those who are required to have it for work
  2. the microphone disables Bluetooth when plugged in

HOWEVER, both of these are fixable. You can make this TSO'd by purchasing the NFlight Nomad with David Clark Microphone instead for a higher price than the regular Nomad Pro. Any purchases through NFlight Mic are refundable within 30 days and have a lifetime warranty in which the company will replace the mic attachment, even if the damage is due to abuse. You can also get your Bluetooth back by buying a 3rd piece that costs less than $8. Because the mic disables Bluetooth when plugged in, the Apple Headphone Jack Adapter can plug into the mic box then into your phone and now you get music back in flight!

While the Bose headphones and NFlight Mic have the most popular reviews, you don't have to use these exact brands. A similar company called UFly Mike makes these microphone attachments and also has quality customer service. These microphones are approved to work on any headphones that have a 2.5mm auxiliary audio output. A technical specification says they "can also be easily converted to be compatible with headsets with 3.5mm auxiliary audio inputs with the use of a 2.5mm-to-3.5mm adapter. Popular headsets with a 2.5mm-to-3.5mm adapter:  Sony 1000XM2 and 1000XM3" so you have a range of options depending on what you may already own!

2) David Clark H10-13.4

Okay, first and foremost you can never go wrong with David Clark. The DC H10-13.4 model is your basic and best flight training headset, I won't be convinced otherwise. If you're on the hunt for a headset that will:

  • last forever
  • is comfortable to wear for hours
  • has a good cable length
  • has a foam cushion for the top of your head
  • come from a company with great customer service
  • offers excellent sound quality

then this is the headset for you. Given this does not offer Bluetooth or noise-cancelling, but now you don't have to worry about replacing batteries. Almost no maintenance is ever needed (although I'd recommend cleaning the earpads after a sweaty flight for hygiene purposes). Every time you're ready to fly, just grab this and go. The link attached for this one (in the above paragraph) includes a headset bag which is a must-have. It has different zippers to hold your medical, certificates, photo ID, and whatever else you need. 

For flight training students needing a headset that is cheap but won't break every 6 months, I recommend this every time. In fact, almost all of my students have purchased this exact model and love it. 

3) FARO Stealth Audio Link

Disclaimer: this one isn't a full-on headset. This is a product advertised by Sporty's that can convert any headset -- any brand, passive or active noise reduction -- to a Bluetooth headset. While I've used David Clark's and the NFlight mic conversion, I haven't had the ability to try this out. It's on the to-do list to order and review soon! 

So far the FARO Stealth Audio Link has 4 out of 5 stars with multiple reviews. The downside it seems is the cables can be kind of bulky and it needs improvement on the squelch transmission. But overall you get Bluetooth capability on older headsets that didn't have it installed and it pairs easily with your phone. 

4) FARO Stealth 2 Passive Headset

Last but not least! I had a student send this to me recently and decided to look into it because I was intrigued. This is a basic headset that offers good sound quality but also Bluetooth for less than $250. The FARO Stealth 2 Passive Headset offered through Sporty's is kind of new to the market.

Tested by multiple CFI's (even during covid having to wear a mask), feedback said the Bluetooth sound quality is great and the mic picks up sound easily. What this headset lacks is noise-canceling, which if you're flying GA then do you really need it? Not all small planes are super loud and it's good to be able to hear the engine the entire flight so you can detect if it's trying to tell you something is wrong. This headset may be best for pilots building time and doing longer flying days who aren't looking to spend a lot of money. 

Looking for any other Pilot Supplies? Click on that link and check out our directory of tons of pilot supplies ranging from "A Cut Above" uniforms to aviator sunglasses and, of course, headsets!

Best of luck in your search for a new headset! Questions about any of these or have a headset you'd like to see added to this post? Comment below. 

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