Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

20 Tips For VFR Flying

These ideas may not save your life, or maybe they will

6 When you're through using an air vent, remember to close it. Most general aviation airplanes don't have air-conditioning, so many of us open the air vents in hot weather and forget to close them when it's cooler. That introduces what aeronautical engineers call parasite drag, just as surely as opening a window and sticking your hand in the wind. Even if the actual vent doesn't disrupt the airflow, the disturbed air associated with the vent will add drag.

7 It's only good sense to use flight following whenever you can, especially around heavily congested airspace. The FF controller has some very sophisticated radar at his disposal, very likely more exotic than the TIS/TCAS you have on your panel (if you're that lucky). Flight following can be especially valuable if your trip is a long one, over water or remote terrain. If you have a problem, you won't need to scramble to find the proper frequency. (Out in the boonies, I keep one radio set on 121.5 mHz anyway, in case I or someone else needs help.) A flight-following controller can also keep you clear of restricted or prohibited zones and advise when they're "hot." Also, each subsequent controller will automatically update the altimeter setting with every handoff.

8 Route around big cities whenever possible. Traffic is usually lighter, smog isn't as much of a problem, fuel, ramp and parking prices generally are lower in the boonies, and you're less likely to receive vectors away from your course line or altitude restrictions to deal with.
Temper your judgment about flying in high-mountain terrain at all, if you can avoid it. It's beautiful, but there may be little margin for error if you accidently
enter a cloud.
9 Be smart about descents, and don't automatically start down at 500 fpm (as I did for years). In winter, you may want to stay high as long as possible to maximize the effects of tailwinds. Similarly, hot surface temps in summer may dictate the same technique to avoid the heat and convective turbulence down low. If there are gathering clouds ahead, you may want to descend early to make certain you don't get trapped on top.

10 Don't be paranoid about turbulence. You don't need to reduce to maneuvering speed for every little bump in the sky. I flew with a G-meter in my first airplane, only because I had an open hole in the panel and needed to fill it with something cheap, and I was amazed to discover that I almost never encountered an "air pocket" (as the media calls them) stronger than 1.5 to 2.0 Gs. If you're uncomfortable, do whatever's necessary, but don't assume the airplane will start coming apart every time you fly through a section of cobblestone sky.

11 Think ahead for cross-country trips. Take along updated charts, food, water, pilot relief bags, a big watch, an extra pair of Ray-Bans and survival gear as necessary. Don't forget life vests if you're flying over large expanses of water. Everyone knows you need vests for ocean crossings, but the Great Lakes and even some rivers can also demand a vest, and sometimes a raft. If you're flying in remote areas, consider including a survival weapon. I carry a .22 rifle/20-gauge shotgun over and under. Yes, I'm aware there can be legal implications to carrying a rifle in some states, but I'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.


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