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That Frigid FICON NOTAM

by Sarina Houston 16. February 2016 08:56
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I don’t know about you, but we’ve had a few snow and ice storms this winter in our neck of the woods. As a flight instructor, bad weather offers the opportunity to teach students about runway condition and braking action, among other things, and it’s a good time to reinforce the importance of checking NOTAMs before heading to the airport.

During a recent winter storm, we were snowed in for three days. We were all getting antsy, wanting to get out of the house and fly. So after the clouds cleared, a student and I scheduled a flight for the first VFR day after the snowstorm. The weather looked fantastic - clear below 12,000, light winds and sunshine. Everything looked great… except for just this one thing:

!TTA 01/015 TTA RWY 03/21 FICON ICE BA POOR OBSERVED AT 1601241330. 1602241405-1602241900.

What does all that mean? In short, it means that there was still ice on the runway, and braking action was poor. This is a NOTAM(D) for runway condition, and yet another good reason to always check NOTAMs! While the weather outside was great VFR flying weather, we were still stuck on the ground. Here’s a breakdown of this NOTAM:



A NOTAM for field condition - what we call FICON - can be issued for any of the following runway conditions:

  • Snow
  • Ice
  • Snow and Ice
  • Slush
  • Water
  • Drifting or drifted snow
  • Plowed/Swept
  • Sanded/De-iced
  • Snow banks
  • Mud
  • Frost
  • Frost Heave
  • Cracks, Ruts, Soft Edges

Here are two more examples:

!MIV MIV RWY 10/28 FICON 1/4 IN LSR WEF 1112201200

NOTAM for Millville Municipal Airport (MIV), runway 10/28 is covered in ¼ inch loose snow, observed December 20, 2011 at 1200 UTC.

!ENA 5HO RWY 16/34 FICON THN PSR WEF 1109131520

NOTAM issued by Kenai for Hope Airport (5HO), thin layer of packed snow on runway 16/34, observed at 1520 UTC on September 13, 2011.

But what does that really mean? Can you - or should you - land under these conditions? For pilots, there are a few things to consider when taking off or landing on runways with any type of contamination. FICON NOTAMs will often include braking action reports, given as GOOD, FAIR, POOR or NIL, like in the example above. These values are often reported by pilots as they land.

Sometimes, braking action is reported as a MU value. MU is the mathematical term for the coefficient of friction, and its value is determined by a friction measuring device at airports. A value of 40 or above would mean braking action is good. A value of below 40 MU can mean a significant reduction in braking action.

Landing on any runway with less than GOOD braking action can be hazardous. It’s always best to avoid landing on runways covered in snow and ice. Even water can decrease braking action significantly. If you must land on an icy or snowy runway, use extreme caution, make a normal, stabilized approach use aerodynamic braking as much as possible before touching down. Try to keep the nose wheel straight during the landing rollout to prevent skidding. And remember that the taxiways are often in worse condition than the runways - even if the runway has been cleared, there’s a good chance the parking area hasn’t been.

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Aviation Safety | Flying | Sarina Houston

What You Should Know About the New Student Pilot Certificate

by Sarina Houston 2. February 2016 00:33
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New changes to FAA student pilot certificates are coming our way, and although there was an initial display of panic from some members of the flight training community, the new student pilot certificate rule might just be a good thing. Here’s what you need to know about the new rule, which begins April 1st, 2016:

The Details
First, don’t panic. Although students could have a delay in getting their student pilot certificates, it’s not all bad news. Here’s the scoop:

  • Students won’t have to go to the FSDO to get a student pilot certificate. FAA certified flight instructors, designated pilot examiners, Part 141 programs, and the FSDO will be all able to accept and submit applications for student pilot certificates. The student pilot applicant will have to show up in person and bring a photo ID to verify identity.
  • The new student pilot certificate will not expire, which brings it in line with the other certifications.
  • Instructors will no longer have to endorse both the student’s logbook and the student pilot certificate. Only one endorsement will be necessary from now on, which simplifies the process.
  • The student pilot applications will go through some kind of TSA approval process, which, whether we like it or not, should add a layer of security to flight training that we don’t currently have.
  • Student pilots who already have a paper student pilot certificate may continue to use it until it expires, or may choose to obtain a new plastic student pilot certificate from the FAA.

What could possibly go wrong?
Okay, so we know that it won’t be a perfect process, and as with any new process, there are sure to be frustrations involved. The biggest frustration that people foresee is that there will be a delay in the processing of student pilot applications. The FAA says it will process the applications as quickly as possible, but that it could take weeks or even months before the student receives the new plastic pilot certificate in the mail.

This delay in processing will potentially make it impossible for student pilots to solo right when they’re ready to. Some students, especially those in fast-paced flight training programs, will get to the potential solo flight in a matter of days or weeks, and will be left waiting on a student pilot certificate to arrive in the mail. This can be a source of frustration, to be sure.

Finally, should a student pilot applicant be denied a student pilot certificate based on information gleaned from the TSA check, the student will be faced with an appeals process that, as we all know, could take an extended amount of time. This, perhaps, will be the greatest source of frustration for those who may be “flagged” in the system for some reason, but who are otherwise eligible for a student pilot certificate. And perhaps, sadly, we’ll lose a few potential student pilots to yet another lengthy appeals process.

What do you think about the new student pilot application rules? A good thing or bad?

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Flying | Sarina Houston

How to Get Rid of Check Ride Anxiety

by Sarina Houston 18. January 2016 23:37
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Okay, so maybe there’s no getting rid of check ride anxiety altogether. In fact, a certain level of anxiety is helpful. It keeps you alert and ‘on your toes.’ But no matter how many check rides you take, it never seems to get any easier. Got a case of the check ride jitters? Here are a few ways to minimize your anxiety and maximize your chances of performing well on your check ride.

Take a mock check ride.
A successful mock check ride can be a great tool to help ease check ride anxiety. It’s often done with a more experienced instructor or a chief pilot at the flight school, preferably with someone who has been around for a while and has a successful pass rate of his own. You’ll probably find that the instructor evaluating you on your mock check ride will offer some constructive feedback, but in the end will tell you that you’re more than ready.

Get the gouge.
The actual content of check rides can vary wildly based on location and the check pilots themselves are different, as well. Don’t go in blind, without knowing anything about the examiner! Talk to other students and instructors in the local area before choosing an examiner, and you’ll often find that they charge different rates, have different philosophies and focus on different areas of the PTS. Asking students who have recently completed a check ride for tips is helpful, but always be prepared for anything!

Read through the PTS.
We can often ease anxiety by knowing what to expect, and failing to read through the FAA Practical Test Standards is a common mistake among students. The PTS provides information on how the check ride will be conducted, the examiner’s responsibilities, and the exact standards that you’ll be held to. If you know exactly what to expect, many of your fears may be alleviated.

Follow a checklist for what to bring to your check ride.
Your stress level will increase if you leave for your check ride without something important like, say, your logbook. Or your photo ID. Make a checklist and organize your materials beforehand, and then double-check and triple-check to make sure you have all of the required documents and materials.

Remind yourself that the worst that can happen isn’t really that bad.
So what if you fail? You’ll have to go up with an instructor and obtain a bit more instruction on the maneuver or maneuvers that you didn’t perform to standards during your check ride. Then, you’ll take a re-test and you’ll pass. I once heard an instructor say that your private pilot license just says “Private Pilot” and not “Private-Pilot-Who-Failed-His-First-Check-Ride.”

Remind yourself that the examiner actually wants you to do well.
He really does. Most examiners know that by the time you’ve been endorsed by your instructor for a check ride, you’ve put in the hard work. You’ve spent at least 40 hours, maybe 140 hours, practicing maneuvers, and many of those hours were by yourself. The examiner knows that you’re perfectly capable of flying safely. By the time you get to your check ride, it’s just another flight to the practice area.

Remind yourself that your instructor wouldn’t endorse you if you weren’t ready.
If you fail, it’s not just you that fails - it’s your instructor, too. Your flight instructor won’t send you for a check ride if you aren’t ready. It’s that simple.

Think safety.
Your examiner isn’t looking for perfection, just consistency and a safe outcome. Every examiner will have safety in mind. Can you complete the flight safely? By the time you are signed off to take a check ride, you’ve soloed at least 10 hours - probably more - and you’ve demonstrated that you can safely fly to another airport at least 50 miles away and back safely. While on your check ride, always err on the side of safety, and you’ll be just fine.

Prepare, prepare, prepare…
Study, chair fly and spend some time with your instructor going over anything that you don’t clearly understand.

Then prepare some more.
The more prepared you are, the less anxious you’ll be.

Then stop preparing and get some sleep.
Fatigue causes missteps and mistakes. A good night’s sleep is necessary to ensure that you’re at the top of your game. Showing up for a check ride after only a few hours of sleep is always a bad idea.

Bring a lunch.
On the day of your check ride, be sure to eat a healthy breakfast and bring a lunch or at least a few snacks. Things often take longer than you think, whether it’s last-minute calculations on your flight plan or waiting for the maintenance guy to show up to hand over the maintenance logs, you might find that the day moves along slower than you anticipated. And the last thing you want to do is get in the airplane with an empty stomach, depleted of energy after hours of running around on the ground.

Think positive!
It’s normal and healthy to be a bit nervous - it keeps us on top of things. But there’s something to be said for positive thinking, and for knowing that failure is often just part of the process. After you’ve spent countless hours preparing for your check ride, the only thing left to do is to think positively and hope for the best!

How to Afford Flight Training

by Sarina Houston 3. January 2016 23:14
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It’s a new year, which means you’re thinking, once again, about that resolution you had to get your private pilot license. Or maybe you want to work on an instrument rating or even a commercial certificate. You finally have the time to fly - but how, exactly, will you pay for it?

Cash
If you’re lucky enough to be able to pay cash outright for flight training, then you’re doing it right. But even if you don’t have 10,000 dollars in the bank waiting to be spent, don’t discount the idea entirely. Many flight students pay for flight training through careful budgeting combined with a set training pace. If you can afford one flight per week, for example, and can budget it into your regular expenses, then your goal might be completely attainable, after all. Most instructors will tell you that flying less than once a week isn’t ideal, but if you can compensate for the slow pace by doing ground school on your own, chair flying from home or supplementing with simulator time, then you’ll be well on your way. If there’s a will, there’s a way, and paying cash for flight training might just mean you have to put forth a bit more effort on your own than otherwise.

Financing
Sometimes, the only way to get ahead is to get behind… temporarily, at least. Many people have successfully financed flight training through private lenders. Taking out a loan is a good option for those who can or will be able to repay it quickly and easily. And it’s a good option for those who want to go through an accelerated program in which the private pilot certificate is earned very quickly through an intense study program. These fast-paced flight training programs often demand a flat-rate payment up front instead of the pay-as-you-go program that local FBOs often use.

If you’re looking for a flight training loan, check out AOPA’s financing program.

Scholarships
Scholarships are more abundant that you’d think, but you do have to search for them and get your timing right. Often, the scholarships that you hear about are ones that you aren’t eligible for, and it’s tempting to give up. But just because they all seem to be meant for other people - like the college kid who has already obtained a private pilot license or the female that wants to become a corporate pilot - doesn’t mean that there aren’t any out there for you. You’ll just have to look harder to find them.

And you don’t always have to be a minority to earn a scholarship. It’s true that many scholarships are offered with minorities in mind, but the same scholarship offerings often don’t exclude anyone, and you may find a scholarship for you on the Women in Aviation scholarship list, even if you aren’t a woman. Don’t pass over opportunities because you assume that they aren’t for you. Read the find print, and keep digging.

Where to look? Professional organizations at the local and national level will often offer scholarships to a variety of potential candidates. Check your local EAA or CAP chapters, AOPA, or your local and national Women in Aviation or 99s groups, the OBAP or the NGPA. And if you’re reading this, you don’t have to look any further than this website - Globalair.com offers a scholarship of $1,000 annually to four students who are dedicated to blogging on a weekly basis about flight training,

Get Serious.
If funds for flight training are tight, it’s time to get serious about your priorities. Here are a few ways to continue to keep your flight training budget in check:

  • Do as much ground study on your own as possible.
  • Complete an online ground school course before you begin flying.
  • Chair fly at home.
  • Observe flights whenever possible.
  • Be a safety pilot for someone.
  • Take advantage of simulator use.
  • Eat, sleep and breath aviation.
  • Choose your flight instructor wisely.
  • Choose your flight school wisely.
  • Ask for a discount or a flat rate.
  • Offer to help someone else study and they can return the favor.
  • Spend some time thoughtfully completing the homework that your instructor gives you instead of just trying to memorize answers.
  • Ask a lot of questions.
  • Work with a CFI who understands your personal aviation goals.

Have you made it through flight training on a tight budget? What are your tips? Share them with us in the comments section.

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

by Sarina Houston 21. December 2015 23:32
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It’s cold out there. Winter days are often the best flying days, but it can be a pain to get your airplane started when it’s freezing outside. In addition, starting a cold-soaked engine can cause excessive engine damage in just the first minutes after engine start - damage that may not be evident initially but will significantly decrease your engine life. Preheating your aircraft engine will save you a lot of money on engine maintenance, as well as battery and starter wear and tear. Here are a few facts about cold weather operations in small general aviation aircraft:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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