Travis Kircher Aviation Articles

MISSING: What do do when your pilot logbook is MIA

 

By: Travis K. Kircher

It was past midnight on Dec. 17, 2016, and I was walking out of the theater after having just seen, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story."

When I got to my car, I imagine I was still whistling the John Williams score and basking in the coolness of that Darth Vader scene -- you know the one I'm talking about -- when I noticed my driver's side door was unlocked.

I always lock my doors. All of them.

Confusion gave way to panic as I quickly realized what had happened: some lout had apparently used a hammer and screwdriver to pop out the lock on my car, open the door, pop the trunk and make off with my loot. The cretin nabbed my laptop, my DSLR camera, and a backpack.

Thankfully, the perp -- no doubt a scruffy-looking nerf-herder -- had completely passed over one of my most valuable possessions. To my great relief, my pilot's headset bag, along with my logbook, was still tucked away -- rather lonesomely I might add -- in the back of the trunk.

His oversight was my gain, but it got me thinking: I was still a student pilot then. Many student pilots are not so lucky. What would I have done if he had taken my logbook? What would have become of my (then) 14 solo hours? My cross-country flights? My night hours? The time I logged wearing the foggles?

How would I one day prove to my checkride examiner -- not to mention the FAA -- that I have the experience I claim to have?

Retracing your steps

The pilot's log is a student pilot's most treasured possession. It records not only the dates and durations of flights but also the activities that took place during those flights -- and it tabulates the total time spent flying dual and solo. Without that information, the student would be unable to eventually take his or her checkride.

That said, a student whose logbook is lost or stolen does have options other than simply starting all over again. FAA Order 8900.1 5-172 states that students can reconstruct their flight history -- using among other things, aircraft logbooks and aircraft rental receipts -- and then submit a signed statement outlining that flight history.

Ed Bryce, a CFI of more than 30 years who is currently based in Seattle's Boeing Field (KBFI), says he himself was able to come to the rescue when thieves stole one of his students' logbooks.

"As a flight instructor, I'm required to keep a record of my instruction given," Bryce explained. "So since he had only flown with me, I had 100 percent of his dual time in my logbook. So I just simply typed it into an Excel spreadsheet and mailed it to him."

Flight school invoices and receipts also came in handy, Bryce said.

"He had minimal solo time, but he had the receipts for the flights when he paid for it, so he could reconstruct how long those flights were, even if he couldn't reconstruct exactly what he did on them."

Daniel Diamond, a CFI based at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (KFXE), says he encourages students who own their own aircraft to keep a detailed aircraft logbook in addition to their pilot logbook.

"They can always go ahead and write down the Tach time or Hobbs time in their aircraft, the date that they flew, where they went, what airport and what time," Diamond said. "That way they would always have somewhat of a secondary backup for them to go ahead and kind of recoup that lost time."

He adds that students who have recently completed a rating are at a particular advantage since part of the IACRA rating application requires them to complete FAA Form 8710-1, which includes a legally binding record of pilot time that can suffice as the student's signed statement.

Taking no chances

But both instructors agree the best way to protect yourself is to always create and maintain a backup -- either a digital backup or a hard copy -- before a loss or theft occurs.

GlobalAir.com offers a digital pilot logbook that is free and can be accessed from anywhere in the world. There's no limit to the number of entries you can have! 

"What I advise them is, whenever they finish a page, take a photo of it and e-mail the photo to themselves," Bryce said. "Your e-mail is usually backed up -- either at home or on a server somewhere -- so even if you lost your logbook, you would have all your e-mailed photos…That way you never lose more than a page."

"You can even go and make photocopies of each page, and keep that in a secondary location," Diamond adds.

Sound advice. And if you happen to see a scruffy-looking nerf-herder around, tell him I want my laptop back.

TRAVIS K. KIRCHER is a private pilot based at Bowman Field (KLOU) in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Remembering my first soft field landing

In flying, as with anything else, when you have a goal, it helps to stay laser-focused. It helps to avoid distractions.

This is especially true when you're working on earning a new rating or trying to learn a new skill.

Take soft field landings, for instance.

I did my first soft field landing in April 2018. It was several months before I would get my private pilot ticket, and my instructor at the time, Justin, was intent on teaching me soft field landings on actual SOFT FIELDS.

That's the only way to learn it if you want my opinion. Simulated soft field landings might get you checkride-ready, but there's nothing like having some actual grass and hard dirt under the wheels to show you what it's really like.

The field in question was Lee Bottom Airport (64I), a gorgeous 4,000-foot-long nicely kept grass strip tucked away among trees in Hanover, Indiana. While it made some instructors nervous, Justin loved that field, and would often be happy for any excuse to touch down there, as long as the grass wasn't wet.

I still have video of my first landing there. With my Go-Pro pointed out the window – slightly crooked, as always seemed to be the case – I swung the plane onto final, at Justin's direction. Nervously, I could see the tops of the 60-foot trees passing below me as our aircraft glided closer to the airstrip's threshold, the branches seemingly reaching up trying to snatch our little Cessna in their clutches.

I was always nervous at this point -- particularly on days when there was a strong headwind and the airplane appeared to be moving slowly over those trees. On days like this, I was tempted to add power and come in too fast, floating down the length of the airstrip.

"I just feel soooo slow coming in over those trees," I once quipped.

"That's because we've got the headwind," Justin replied. "Don't worry about your groundspeed. Your airspeed is what is important."

But invariably I would glide over the trees and come down beyond them, landing just past the white cones of the airstrip's threshold. I'd try to add just a little bit of power just before the wheels would touch down on the grass.

The rough feeling of the grassy strip just rushing by under the wheels was so alien to a student pilot like me, who was so used to the smooth concrete of runways at controlled airports.

But I thoroughly enjoyed applying full back pressure to the yoke as I held the nose up and gently pumped the throttle so as not to lose momentum before turning the plane around near the end of the grass strip. Using no brakes, to avoid getting stuck in the grass, I'd taxi back to the threshold, set the flaps at 10 degrees and take off again.

We did this over and over again, in all types of winds, lesson after lesson. Because I was determined. I wanted to get my soft field landings down perfectly. I had a goal. I had a checkride. And I wasn't going to let anything distract me.

But one evening was different.

It was June 16 of 2018. It was sometime around 7 o'clock in the evening, and Justin and I were once again returning to Lee Bottom Airport to do some soft field landings. It was supposed to be a short lesson, and after one or two landings, we were going to fly back to the flight school and head for home.

But as we were gliding down on final, something caught our eye. A small plane was parked midway down the field, off to the side of the airstrip. We couldn't tell what it was. As we drifted closer, we could begin to make it out.

"It's a Pietenpol!" Justin said.

As we touched down on the grass strip and rolled passed the airplane, it grabbed my attention.Pitenpol

"You wanna stop?" I asked.

"You wanna?" Justin replied.

Thankfully, no one else was scheduled to rent the plane after us that evening, so there was no need to get back to the flight school right away. Sure, I had a lesson, but we could get back to that later. Right now, I wanted to check out the classic plane. After landing, we pulled our plane over into the grass on the side of the strip and climbed out.

The kind owner of the aircraft -- I don't recall his name, unfortunately -- had flown in from the north that afternoon and was more than happy to show us his plane. It was bright yellow taildragger with an open-air cockpit, with two big front wheels that reminded me of oversized wheels that came from a child's wagon.

On the side of the aircraft was mounted a device we could tell was the pilot’s pride and joy. It was labeled the "Bacon Savor" -- a simple pointer that warned the pilot when he was about to exceed the critical angle of attack and stall out.

On the ground next to the airplane was a simple blue mat. The pilot had actually flown in and planned to camp out that night under the stars – perhaps making use of the fire pit near the airfield to cook some grub.

It seemed like the perfect life.

Of course, we had to get going. I had a lesson to finish -- more stuff to learn -- I had to get ready for that checkride. But just as we were about to head back to our plane, we spotted another aircraft about to land on the field.

It turned out it was Elijah -- another pilot who flew out of our flight school. Cheerfully, he landed and taxied over to where we stood.
Quickly joining the conversation, the four of us found ourselves laughing about the things pilots and student pilots often joke about: Eccentric flight instructors, strange airplanes, predicaments we shouldn't have gotten ourselves into but did anyway, upcoming checkrides, stupid oral exam questions, etc.

Before we knew it, two more hours had elapsed.

By the time Justin and I climbed back into the plane and took off, the sun was setting -- and we were way later than we planned. As we flew west, we followed the Ohio River with the burning horizon in front of us. Behind us in his airplane, Elijah tried to race us back. He lost, but to be fair, we had a pretty big head start.

So much for avoiding distractions. Truth be told, I wasn’t very focused that night. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time practicing landings or doing maneuvers like I originally planned.

But we did have a whole lot of fun. And in the final analysis, I guess those are the lessons you remember most.

Travis K. Kircher is a private pilot based out of Louisville, Kentucky.

 

Aviation Tragedy: When disaster strikes

Bruce Van Fleet and Luke Sullivan (Source: ITEC / Facebook)

Let me tell you about Luke and Bruce.

Luke Sullivan was 28 years old. By all accounts, Luke wanted to do more than just fly airplanes for the fun of it. He didn’t want to make a buck. He wanted to make a difference. So while so many pilots wind up flying to the airlines, Luke’s aviation career led him to Guatemala.

It may sound like an unlikely place for a budding young Texas aviator to end up, but Luke accepted the position of aviation director for Paradise Bound Ministries. The Michigan-based organization, according to its website, is a Christian non-profit created to “do ‘whatever it takes’ to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost and dying in Guatemala.” That includes providing clean water and medical care to people in remote villages – and Luke was a part of that.

Bruce Van Fleet, age 32, is from Florida. Another pilot, I’m told Bruce had just received his commercial license and was working on getting his A&P. Like Luke, he was interested in mission aviation, and he recently went to visit with Luke in Guatemala to learn more about the possibility of working with Paradise Bound Ministries.

Four days ago, both of them were on the same flight. According to a report by The Washington Post, the aircraft took off from Quiche department, bound for Guatemala City’s international airport, when it went down in Chimaltenango department, about 20 miles from the capital.

Luke ultimately died from his injuries. He leaves behind a wife, three children and a fourth on the way.

As of the time of this writing, Bruce is back in the states in a medically induced coma. He is fighting for his life. He has a wife and a child.

I write this not to be morbid. I don’t know either man. Originally, I planned this blog to be about a chance encounter with a Pietenpol pilot one of my instructors and I had while visiting a grass strip. But with my Facebook feed filling up with concerned prayers and condolences for the families involved, this seemed more important.

"He is one of the nicest people you could ever meet," wrote Austin Brumfield, one of my Facebook friends, about Bruce. "I don't know why God gives us days like these, and I know Bruce has got to feel so alone where he's at right now. Be praying for him."

Zack Wilkinson, another Facebook friend, had this to say:

"At its core, aviation is about relationships. In the same way, the calling of Christ is a call to establish a connection with a man who came to offer salvation to all. Regrettably, Luke lost his life in pursuit of serving the Lord through aviation largely before getting started. He was not the first, and he will not be the last. Though his part on earth is done, its impact is far from over. Luke lived for Christ each day. For some who hear his story, his impact will have just begun."

There is just something about the aviation community. Maybe it's the shared bond we have of having spent hours studying weight and balance problems and acronyms. Or trying to figure out how to track and follow VOR approaches. Or sweating out power on stalls for the first time. Maybe it's simply the closeness we all feel from a shared love of aviation. Whatever it is, when a tragedy like this strikes, aviators from all over the country seem to come together and step up to help.

You don't have to share Luke and Bruce's faith – as I do – in order to feel for their families or mourn Luke's loss.

As my Facebook friend so eloquently put it, it's not the first time the field of mission aviation has faced such tragic losses. Most famously, on Jan. 8, 1956, Missionary Aviation Fellowship pilot Nate Saint, along with fellow missionaries Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian, were slaughtered in Ecuador by members of the Huaorani tribe after making the first contact. (For more information, see the film "End of the Spear," or better yet, read "Jungle Pilot" by Nathaniel Hitt.)

Those deaths seemed senseless at the time. But something incredible happened. Some of the widows of the men who were murdered went back to live with the tribe. They ministered to them. This isolated tribe – a tribe so murderous the locals had given them the derogatory name "Auca," which means "savage" – took them in. They learned a better way. They stopped killing each other.

Years later, Nate Saint's children were baptized by the very men who murdered their father. Their families share a bond that, to outsiders, makes absolutely no sense. And yet…

After the murders on the beach, the remains of Nate's plane were washed away by a brutal storm. They weren't found until decades later in 1994. The skeletal frame is now housed in the lobby of Mission Aviation Fellowship headquarters in Nampa, Idaho. I've seen it. I've seen the dents the natives' machetes made in the metal.

The remains of Nate Saint's airplane, located in the lobby of Mission Aviation Fellowship. (Source: MAF.org)

Aviation is, by and large, relatively safe. Most of us know this. Most of us will never have to deal with this kind of tragedy. But when it does happen, it seems senseless. It seems like it was all for nothing.

The family of Nate Saint would disagree.

I would not dare to speak for the Sullivan or Van Fleet families. They don't need me to speak. I don't know them. They need us to listen – and to help where we can.

If anyone is interested in helping either family, there are a number of ways to step up:

Paradise Bound has set up a GoFundMe account to help both the Sullivan and Van Fleet families. For more information, CLICK HERE.

ITEC, the company that was training Bruce Van Fleet (the company that was started by Nate Saint's son), has also set up a GoFundMe account for his family. For more information, CLICK HERE.

Travis K. Kircher is a private pilot based in Louisville, Kentucky.

 

FIRST SOLO FLYING

The moment a student pilot soars into the air alone for the first time is a leap of faith – for both the student and the instructor.

The date was July 31, 1997.

It was the date of my first solo. I was 21 years old. And I was petrified.

Okay, maybe not petrified. But my palms were sweating. My heart was pounding.

Flying Solo for the first timeSee, we aviation enthusiasts like to imagine ourselves as those old pilot stereotypes:  the barnstorming stick jockeys who are afraid of nothing – who duel it out with the Red Baron, defending our homeland. Then, when our plane gets shot up, we bail out, and ride our parachute down to where we happen to land just outside our favorite diner. Just in time for breakfast, we pack up our parachute, trudge into the diner – to the awe of everyone inside – and order bacon, eggs and grits.

“Coffee’s cold again,” we would grumble. “Heck, this wasn’t even worth getting shot down for! And I don’t even eat grits!”

That wasn’t me. I put my first solo off.

I was a fair weather pilot. I was the guy who was constantly checking the winds – and if they weren’t straight down the runway, there was no way I was going alone.  What? There’s another plane in the pattern? Better wait till he’s gone. Don’t wanna go while it’s crazy up there!

ME:  And look! See that little cumulous cloud off in the distance? Looks grim! Probably means a storm’s coming!

INSTRUCTOR:  That’s a smokestack.

ME: Who cares? They both have lifting motion!

Okay, again, I exaggerate. But no matter how many touch-and-go’s I did, the thought of me taking off without my instructor in the right seat set me on edge.

But that week I decided that, come what may, I was going to do it. I was going to fly my first solo.

Part of it was a girl. The girl I liked at the time was dating someone else – but she would have found out if I chickened out, and I wasn’t about to let THAT happen.

But mostly, it was because I wanted to fly. My aviation career had hit a wall – and there was no way I was ever going to get over that wall and get my license if I wouldn’t solo an airplane.

So two days earlier, I went to see a wise old doctor to get my third-class medical. Like countless student pilots before me, I walked up to a kind receptionist who basically handed me a plastic cup, pointed to the restroom and said, “You know what to do.” 

Unlike student pilots nowadays, I walked out of the doctor’s office that day with my medical in my hand. It was a pre-9/11 world. We didn’t have to wait weeks for our paperwork.

That Thursday evening, when I walked into the Devonair Flight School on historic Bowman Field (KLOU), I had butterflies in my stomach. I told the folks there that I hoped tonight would be the night that I would solo.

“Your flight instructor called,” one of the guys said. “He said he’s sorry, but something came up and he won’t be able to make it tonight.”

At first I felt relief. I had an excuse. God obviously didn’t want me to fly today. Well, better luck next time.

But deep down, I also felt disappointment. I was ready. I had spent all day psyching myself up for this.

“I will solo you!”

The voice came from the chief pilot, a Norwegian, who had subbed in as my instructor on a couple of occasions. I’ll call him Dan.

“I dunno, Dan,” I stumbled. “I should probably wait until—“

“No!” Dan replied. “I will solo you tonight. Go pre-flight the plane.”

Dan and I went up and did a few touch and go’s in N9105, a Cessna 172 trainer. It was a hot summer evening, and Runway 6 – a 4,300 foot runway – was the active. I did the touch-and-go’s one after the other, and to my growing irritation, Dan wasn’t paying any attention. As I glided in for touchdown, he didn’t seem to even be looking out the window.

I wanted to yell, “If you’re going to sign me off to fly this thing alone, will you at least pay attention to see if I can land properly????”

(He was of course. Paying attention, I mean. I hadn’t yet caught on to that old instructor trick of feigned distraction and faking indifference during the most critical moments of flight, in order to build the confidence of the student.)

Finally, he had me taxi back to the hold short line, where he grabbed my logbook and signed it.

“You will solo now,” he said.

“What?” I said. “I don’t think so. You haven’t even been paying attention. I should probably wait for—“

“You are ready,” Dan replied. “You should solo right now.”

“I dunno Dan,” I said.

Dan sighed. Then he opened the door of the airplane, turned, and to my surprise, hit the transmit button.

“Bowman Tower, Cessna November Niner-One-Zero-Five is ready at Six.”

Then he smiled.

“Bye!”

In a moment, he shut the door and was gone.

I was shocked, half nervous, half grinning at the audacity and hilariousness of my situation. Then the controller answered back in my headset:

“Cessna November Niner-One-Zero-Five, Bowman Tower, cleared for takeoff, left turn approved.”

I had two choices at that point. I could decline the clearance and taxi back to the flight school in shame and defeat, or I could say a prayer, taxi onto the runway centerline, throttle up and come-what-may.

I chose the latter. And as soon as the wheels left  the pavement, my hours of training kicked in. On my first landing, I was dumbfounded – I had just landed an airplane by myself! By the second landing, I had a big, stupid grin on my face. On the third landing, I was Luke Skywalker tearing my X-wing through the trenches, getting ready to blow up the Death Star.

When it was over, I taxied back to the flight school in triumph. A few minutes later, I learned that my Dad had shown up at the school on an errand. He didn’t know for sure that I would be soloing that evening, but when he heard my voice crackling over the flight school’s handheld radio, he sat down on one of the airport benches to watch me land. He told me later that my wheels “kissed the ground.”

My dad passed away a few years later. That night will always be one of my favorite memories of him.

My first time - Flying SoloOvercoming my fear of soloing was a huge accomplishment for me. I would go on to make more solo flights, eventually to the practice area, then on to do several long solo cross-countries, before getting my license.

Like me, there may be lots of other students standing on the edge of the abyss, wondering whether you’re ready for your solo. Here is my advice:

  • Make sure you meet the legal requirements for soloing student pilots, outlined in 14 CFR § 61.87.
  • Trust your instructor. He or she knows what they’re doing. If they think you’re ready, you’re ready.
  • Trust yourself. You have the training and the ability, or your instructor wouldn’t have signed that logbook endorsement.
  • Fun. Take time to look out the window. Enjoy the view. Notice the seat empty seat next to you. And when you land, be sure to take plenty of pictures (but NOT UNTIL YOU LAND!)

 

Study hard. Learn the procedures. Then when you’re instructor says you’re ready, take the plunge.

If I can do it, you can do it.

How about your first Solo, tell us about it?  Help a new pilot understand it happens to all of us:) 

Sometimes the experts are wrong

When you’re working toward earning your private pilot’s license, and you’re not sure you’re gonna have the time or the cash flow to make it happen, most of the self-proclaimed experts will give you one piece of advice.

Whether it’s a column in a flying magazine, a message thread on a Facebook aviation fan page or a couple of CFIs opining on your favorite podcast, they all chant the same mantra:

If you don’t have the money to fly regularly – at least once a week -- then stop.

Quit floundering in the wind.

Take a break from flying.

Save up your money. For weeks. Months. Years, even. However long it takes to build a cash mountain that will keep fuel flowing in the tanks on a continual basis. THEN start back up again.

If you can’t go weekly, don’t go at all.

At least that’s what they say.

Travis first flightMy first flight was on June 11, 1994. My parents had a rule:  Until I graduated high school, no motorcycles and no airplanes. Well, I was now a brand new high school grad – and I still remember my first flight that hot, humid, hazy Saturday morning with instructor Mark Loring. According to my logbook, we were up for 0.7 hours in a Piper Warrior (I’ll always love you N9886K), and we practiced climbs and descents, level turns and dutch rolls out of Bowman Field (KLOU) in Louisville, Kentucky. When it was over, I celebrated with deep-dish sausage pizza at the Bearno’s across the street from the airport.

I couldn’t believe I had my first entry in my Pilot Logbook.

I couldn’t believe I had a Pilot Logbook.

Eventually, my family got into the flight school business. I had easy access to aircraft and flight instructors. Looking back, I can’t believe how spoiled I was. I was allowed to work the desk at the flight school in exchange for flight time – and soon I was well on my way toward getting my PPL ticket. My first solo was on July 31, 1997. Then came my solo cross countries. My long solo-cross country.

But then, suddenly, things changed.

Our family got out of the flight school business. I moved out of the house. Graduated from college. Launched a new career. Gas prices went up – and my disposable income went down. In the meantime, a handful of evil, selfish people decided to fly airliners into buildings in New York. I changed careers again.

I didn’t get my PPL.

Instead, I took a break from flying. In fact, the very idea of spending money on flying airplanes was laughable. I would still look back on flying wistfully, but as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t in the cards. My medical expired, my sectionals and FAR/AIM s were WAY out of date, and my Jeppesen flight manual gathered dust on my bookshelf.

MY break lasted 16 years.

If you look at my logbook, you’ll see two entries right next to each other. They’re only centimeters apart, but the time they span is breathtaking: one reads Feb. 20, 1999. The next reads June 13, 2015.

I can’t really point to one single thing that brought me back to flying. I guess it started during a 6 a.m. Thursday morning men’s Bible study group at Southeast Christian Church. One week I was asked to summarize my life – from birth until the present day – and flying came up.  The guys at my table asked if I was still doing it. I wasn’t.

Then I read “Jungle Pilot” by Nathaniel Hitt, about the life of missionary pilot Nate Saint. I started volunteering for Mission Aviation Fellowship – an evangelical Christian organization that sends general aviation pilots to serve unreached people in isolated regions. I became friends with some of our missionary pilots – and helped some of them move overseas. I even got the opportunity to visit some of them out in the field.

Ultimately I realized that maybe the experts were wrong. Maybe I didn’t have to go once a week. Maybe I could just go once a month. Maybe once every six weeks. Even if I never got my license, at least I would be in an airplane again. At least I would be flying.

Do you want to fly?

Do you have cable TV? Take my advice:  cancel it.

That’s one flight lesson. One flight lesson a month right there!

The experts are wrong. Don’t do what I did and take 16 years off, thinking flying is out of your reach. If you love flying, and you can only afford to go once a month, then just go once a month. Or once every six months. Or once a year.

Here is a link with Flight Schools and Recurrent Training facilities all around the world, tell the experts to take a hike.

Yes, I know you won’t progress very far toward getting your certificate on a once-a-month regimen. Yes, I know students who go more frequently will get their PPL much faster. And yes, I know every expert says you’re wasting your time. But at least you won’t be giving up entirely.

And it’s not wasting your time if you simply love flying.

Travis PIC

As I write this, I’m looking at my shiny blue private pilot certificate. I passed my check ride – at Sporty’s no less! – on Sept. 1, 2018. Ultimately, I did have to increase the frequency of my flight lessons, but that wasn’t always an option. I’m glad I hung in there, even during the dry spells.

I’m working on my Instrument Rating now. My goal is to eventually get my commercial ticket, and my CFI. Then my flying will finance itself.

Maybe I’ll get there and maybe I won’t. What I do know is I hope to keep flying a part of my life some way – even if it’s only volunteering or reading a book about it – for many years to come.

Sixteen years is far too long.

TRAVIS K. KIRCHER is a private pilot – as well as a lifetime student – based in Louisville, Kentucky. His home airport is Bowman Field (KLOU). He is always ready and willing to tell you about Mission Aviation Fellowship – and you can find out more about it by visiting www.MAF.org

 

 

 

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