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Pilot Stories

Enjoy pilot stories? Our Pilot Talk section is full of informative and entertaining flying tales from accomplished pilot authors.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tight Is Right


Inadequate preflights can have dire consequences



Tight is RightIt has been said that oil is the blood of an engine. If the oil is old and tired, contains foreign materials or flows at the wrong pressure, the engine’s optimum life span can be threatened. All pilots should know enough to check oil quality, as well as quantity, during preflight inspection. A quick peek at oil quantity marks on the dipstick isn’t enough. During preflight, you need to determine whether the oil seems suspiciously gritty, displays an unusual color or sheen, seems too thin or too thick for the ambient temperature, or has a “burnt” aroma. Inspect inside the cowling and on the ground under the engine for signs of oil leaks.
Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bad Landings, Egos & Me


Experience is a great teacher, but only if you listen to it



grassrootsI knew it was windy, but it wasn’t that bad. I mean 15 gusting to 25 isn’t even close to the top of the sphincter-tension scale in my little airplane. In fact, it’s so good in a crosswind that to a certain extent, those of us who fly the type tend to ignore crosswinds. Or at least pooh-pooh anything under 20 to 25 knots. My record, which I mention constantly, is 38 gusting to 50, 60 through 90 degrees to the runway. And therein lies the difference. At 90 degrees, I’m flying one airplane. At 120 degrees, as it was Sunday, it’s something quite different, and I knew it. Still, I didn’t have a doubt in my little airplane. We could handle it.
Sunday, June 1, 2008

State Of The LSA Industry


The future looks bright



State Of The LSA IndustryAt the 2005 AOPA Convention, barely six months after the first light-sport aircraft (LSA) airworthiness certificates were issued, AOPA President Phil Boyer observed, "This has got to be one of the most interesting things you can do: help bring a whole new segment of aviation to market."
Thursday, May 29, 2008

Touchdowns: Pregnant Plane Delivers


Kicking off the space race



touchdownOn May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced his plans for the United States to put the first man on the moon by 1970. The space race officially shifted into high gear. His announcement also triggered events that led to the manufacture of one of the oddest looking planes in aviation history—the Pregnant Guppy, an aircraft that would help make Kennedy’s goal a reality.
Thursday, May 29, 2008

Contact: Filling The Generation Gap


Airparks, theme parks and warbirds



In the Siegfried family tree, there’s a Cub that flies from branch to branch, as each generation introduces the next to aviation. Whereas some parents pressure their kids to play piano or throw a football, the Siegfried’s child-rearing checklist revolves around taildraggers. “Old Bob” took his first flight in a J-3 in 1943; his five children each soloed gliders at age 14 and Cubs at 16. And while granddaughter McKinley’s classmates were cavorting on spring break this year, the high schooler devoted 50 hours per week to building a Texas Sport Cub, the kit version of an American Legend Cub, with her father. We joined them in Lakeland, Fla., where 16-year-old McKinley soloed the low-and-slow derivative, extending family tradition another generation.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sun ’n Fun 2008!


And so begins the air show season



grassrootsAs this column is being written, I’m sitting in an open-sided tent at Sun ’n Fun. The annual event is held in Lakeland, Fla., which is about 50 miles west of “Mickeyville.” It’s raining, it’s colder than an auditor’s heart, I got soaked looking for a sweatshirt, so I’m wearing a garbage bag in a vain attempt at limiting heat loss—I look like I’m homeless. Plus, I’m shivering so much that typing is becoming a chore, so excuse any typos. The ’08 air show season is off to a typical start.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tiger Or Demon In Your Tank?


Fueling mishaps



NTSB DebrieferMisfueling occurs when the wrong type of fuel is pumped into an aircraft’s tanks. It could be that jet fuel gets pumped instead of gasoline, gasoline instead of jet fuel, automotive gas instead of aviation gas, automotive gas containing ethanol instead of auto gas with no additives, or something else yet to be devised by a creative fueling person.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Llamas & Condors


XC Log: Try South America



x-c logI was at a speaking engagement in Alaska awhile back, talking about the joy and pain of flying the oceans, when a member of the audience asked about my experiences in Central and South America.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

From The Editor: Shared Passion


The things we do



There was a time in each of our lives when we weren’t yet pilots. Born as aviators, perhaps, but not licensed pilots. We jumped at any opportunity to get closer to the sky, and more often than not, passion overruled reason. Countless childhood hours have been spent polishing aluminum in exchange for 10-minute rides around the patch. At age 15, Senior Editor Bill Cox even endured frostbite in minus-40 degree temperatures at Ladd Air Force Base in Alaska, but he got to fly in a Northrop F-89D Scorpion—so never mind that his fingertips nearly fell off.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ab Initio Training With A Touch Of Glass


The benefits of glass-cockpit experience



Ab Initio Training With A Touch Of GlassIf you were to drive across the country, you could point your car in the right direction and eventually you’d get to your destination, though perhaps not by a straight-line route. Before leaving, you’d need to consult a map to ensure that you’re heading in the right direction and don’t get lost. Likewise, to get your first airline job, it’s best to have a carefully thought-out plan so that you get where you want in the shortest amount of time. Increasingly, that means adding glass-cockpit experience to your checklist.
Thursday, May 1, 2008

From The Editor: First Passengers


Flying your own friendly skies



There are few things as rewarding for new pilots as flying with their first passenger. I know that was true for me. Part of my whole motivation for completing my ticket was to share the excitement of flight that I’d discovered during my lessons and prelicense flight experiences. And once I passed my checkride, I wasted no time in filling whatever rental I was flying with as many friends as I could.
Thursday, May 1, 2008

Paws In The Sky


Dogs make wonderful copilots, even if they do sometimes complain about the landings



x country logYes, I’m guilty. The rumors are true. I am one of those silly, sentimental pet lovers who regard dogs as a couple of steps above most humans. I’ve owned and raised a succession of Siberian huskies, Alaskan malamutes, German shepherds and dobermans for the last 40 years, and as a group, they’re some of the most wondrous creatures on the planet. I’m ecstatic when they’re born, and I cry when they die.
Thursday, May 1, 2008

Avoiding CFIT Incidents


Maintaining proper altitude



ntsbThe NTSB began 2008 by issuing a Safety Alert aimed at general aviation (GA) pilots. It deals with accidents involving controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) during nighttime VFR flight. The NTSB noted that some of the CFIT accidents it has investigated in recent years could have been avoided if the pilots had maintained better altitude and geographic position awareness. According to NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker, “Some of the pilots involved in these accidents had many years of experience and were instrument rated, yet for some lapses in basic airmanship, they failed to maintain proper altitude.”
Thursday, May 1, 2008

Super Bowl Super Fly-In


It’s Oshkosh, but with Gulfstreams, caviar, limos…and lots of beer



grassrootsIt was Super Bowl morning, and the airport was as dead as a Thanksgiving turkey. Where barely 12 hours earlier, the only way I could get into the air was by sitting at an intersection, engine running and whining to the tower, this day I practically owned the airport. The pattern, anyway. The airport itself was owned by the more than 208 jets and turboprops that had come into Scottsdale, Ariz., that morning and stayed—not to mention the dozens more that came, dropped off passengers, and then split. It had to be coincidental that across town, in the gleaming dome easily visible from the pattern, even though it was more than 20 miles away, the Giants and the Patriots were about to square off.
Thursday, May 1, 2008

Touchdowns: Ever Upward


Breaking four records in one jump



touchdownsIn the late ’50s, the Air Force began researching whether a pilot could survive bailing out of a high-altitude, supersonic fighter. There was only one way to find out: find a human who was willing to conduct such an experiment.
Thursday, May 1, 2008

Contact: Functional Beauty


"Beauty was the by-product, not the target."



The other evening, I was flipping through the channels looking for something to watch on TV when I landed on a show about Concorde’s final flight, back in October 2003. Hard to believe it has been almost five years. Knowing that last flight would occur sooner rather than later, I flew Concorde New York to Paris return in the spring of 2000, just a couple months before its first and only crash, on July 25, 2000. It was something I just had to experience, and I’m glad I did, because it seems the days of supersonic airliners are behind us, at least for the foreseeable future. And because my flight was also before 9/11, I spent some time during our 11-mile high, Mach 2.02–cruise sitting in the jump seat at the pointy end, which, in Concorde, is really pointy. (Can’t imagine that happening now.)
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

From The Editor: Cars & Planes


Safety skills transcend both



About a year ago, I was driving north on the 405, a freeway in Los Angeles that’s usually a huge, 10-lane parking lot unless it’s during the wee hours or a weekend. It was nighttime and I was probably scooting along at about 80 when I saw a flash of lights in my rearview mirror. My heart skipped a beat, though traffic often moves that fast on the freeway. I reflexively let up on the gas and looked back again. This time, there wasn’t just one police car, but many, in pursuit of a single vehicle, not a police car, closing on me fast. I darted rather urgently to the innermost lane as a white Honda or Toyota, followed by about seven police cars, passed me like I was standing still—and I was only down to about 70. I thought, “Welcome to Los Angeles, land of the car chase.”
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Safety—A Tough Sell


Blame it on pilot error



piper coltWoody was one of those pilots we all thought would live forever. He was something of a legend in the ferry-flying community: an aviator who had been everywhere in pretty much everything, had never wrecked an airplane and seemed to live a charmed life. A former African missionary, he was a friend for 20 years who knew more about flying the world than anyone else I had ever met, and we all assumed he was invulnerable to the dangers of ferry flying.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

LSA Safety


Analyzing some recently investigated accident statistics



ntsb openerWe seem to be at the dawn of a new era of hope for general aviation’s future with the steadily increasing popularity of light-sport aircraft (LSA). For many, the light-sport license is a lower-cost entry into the pilot community. For others, the ability to use a driver’s license in lieu of an FAA medical certificate offers a way to continue flying as long as it’s possible to self-certify that there’s no medical condition that would stand in the way of safely performing light-sport pilot duties. For everyone, an LSA’s lower fuel consumption offers hope that the cost of the $50 fly-in hamburger may someday really drop back to $50—something we haven’t seen in years!
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Four Aviation Food Groups


Man does not live by cross-country alone



grassrootsBalanced aviation nutrition is like nutrition of all types in that it has to support and nurture the body, the soul and the mind, but not necessarily in that order. Without it, the entity that is the aviator will, if not wither and die, at least not realize his full potential. The aviator’s growth, thinking and spirit will be stunted, and he or she will probably not even realize it. To maintain an aviator’s body and mind in peak condition, it’s essential that it be fed the proper balance of nutrition from each of the four basic av-food groups.