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Pilot Skills

Hone your pilot skills with the articles and advice below. Our sport-pilot articles cover topics of interest to novice and advanced general aviation pilots. Trust our ongoing training articles to improve your piloting skills.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

First 500 Feet, Part I: Engine Failure!


What to do when the worst thing happens at the worst moment



500 ftEngine failure on takeoff is every pilot’s worst nightmare, but there’s one basic rule that applies to all in-flight emergencies, regardless of the situation: Keep your cool (easier said than done) and fly the airplane. Having said that, the most important aspects of survival can be summed up in two words: mental preparation and training/practice. Okay, that’s four words, but you get the point.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Last 50 ft.


Making it all come together



the last 50 ftWhen you’re on short final and descending through 50 feet, it really doesn’t make much difference how good you are at centering airways, whether you can spout FARs or if you scored 100% on the written: The only thing that counts is how well you actually fly. Everything else is superfluous because every single thing you know about actually flying the airplane is compressed into a 10-second time span and an ever-decreasing sliver of altitude. This is literally where the rubber meets the road and where every one of your moves has measurable consequences.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cell Phone To The Rescue


In the air or on the ground, it could save your life



cell phoneI was doing my first solo out to the practice area north of the airport. I was doing some ground reference maneuvers and noticed that the GPS and NAV lights were on. I thought that was strange, then noticed the annunciator flash, “low fuel.” I knew the fuel tanks were full because I checked them during preflight.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Controlling Control Pressure


On becoming one of the “smooth ones”



controllingWe’ve all seen super-pilots, such as Patty Wagstaff and Sean Tucker, who seem so in control of their airplanes that they’re never where they’re not supposed to be. Their airplanes flow from one position to another in a seamless rendition of flight that we know, for a fact, we can’t come close to duplicating. Or can we?
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Going The Distance


Tips for planning a long cross-country



going the distanceAs pilots, we’re used to flight planning. Flights are usually straightforward and easy to plan, but occasionally, they involve multiple legs and traversing congested or complicated airspace. Longer flights require more-than-normal flight planning. I recently completed a 1,600-mile flight in my Garmin G1000–equipped Columbia across seven western and midwestern states and three time zones. It was apparent to me that, to do it right, longer flights entail more than just sitting longer en route and making additional fuel stops, particularly when the flight is more than 1,000 miles.
Saturday, November 1, 2008

Flight Planning In The Real World


Realistic flight-planning requires far more than simply measuring the distance, figuring the book speed and fuel burn and then launching



flight planning My first airplane, a 1947 Globe Swift, purchased in 1966 for $3,700 when I had a whopping 80 hours in my logbook, was a cute little devil. It offered quick handling and was a ball to fling around the sky, but it obviously hadn’t read its own press releases. The stock Globe GC-1B came up short in virtually every performance parameter—it wasn’t nearly as fast as advertised, didn’t climb as it was supposed to, burned more fuel than the POH suggested and couldn’t carry nearly as much weight as it “should” have. I learned the airplane’s true nature by trial and error, probably not the best method in any aeronautical pursuit.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

True Confessions


NASA reports are good for your certificate, as well as the air safety system



If aviation in the United States was a religion, its confessional would be the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS). Pilots, air traffic controllers and other people involved in aviation are encouraged to send reports to ASRS when they’re involved in, or observe, a situation in which aviation safety might have been compromised. These reports are often called NASA reports because they’re submitted to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Telling The Truth On Your Medical


What You Need To Know



telling the truthA few days ago, I received a call from a pilot who was being seen by a physician in the emergency room. Did he want a second opinion? No, he wanted to know if the condition affected his medical certificate!
Monday, September 1, 2008

Crosswind Survival


Does your adrenaline level skyrocket on gusty days?



We can all admit that, at some point, we’ve scared ourselves in a crosswind. Sure enough, most flying accidents occur during landing, and most of those are in crosswinds. Almost all crosswind-related accidents happen due to loss of control after touchdown; only a tiny portion involve a crash on approach or on a go-around. To stay safe, we should examine the true risks we face when landing in a crosswind, and the big risks come after touching down.
Thursday, June 19, 2008

Making ADS-B Work


The technology looks promising, but there are still unanswered questions about its implementation



ADSWhen it comes to owners being told they must install expensive new equipment in their planes, it’s always better to offer them more carrot and less stick as an incentive. For now, the FAA’s proposed mandate on Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) is looking like too much stick and too little carrot.
Sunday, June 1, 2008

Getting Out Alive


Survival experts show pilots what to do when the propeller stops spinning



Getting Out AliveFew topics in aviation are as popular as that of survival after a forced landing. Since the tragic September 2007 disappearance of adventurer Steve Fossett, the topic has been the subject of countless hangar flying sessions and pilot’s lounge discussions.
Sunday, June 1, 2008

Do You Have An Accident Personality?


Making sense of accident risks



accident personalityAre you a pilot who turns down the radio’s volume and does a straight-in at an uncontrolled airport when there are four other aircraft neatly spaced in the traffic pattern? Do you think your lungs are so good that you can cruise at 15,500 feet MSL without supplemental oxygen? Are you convinced that you’re experienced enough to avoid using checklists? If so, you may be displaying some of the characteristics that aviation psychology researchers suggest can increase the chances of an accident.
Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Desire To Go Lower


Making sense of low IFR approaches



Desire To Go LowerOn February 16, 2008, the general aviation community lost one of its members. A single-engine aircraft crashed to the right of runway 10R at Portland International Airport in Portland, Ore., while attempting an ILS approach for the second time in very low IFR (VLIFR) conditions. The pilot sustained fatal injuries and the aircraft was destroyed. Because the NTSB is still investigating this fatal accident, we don’t know if this pilot had Category II authorization. According to the preliminary NTSB report, we do know that conditions two minutes prior to the accident were well below Category I minimums for the approach, with a broken ceiling of 100 feet and a runway visual range (RVR) variable between 800 and 1,600 feet. Without Category II authorization, attempting this approach more than once was an accident waiting to happen.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Wings In The Wilderness


Flying safely in the backcountry



WildernessThe runway lights are still on at Friedman Memorial Airport (SUN) in Hailey, Idaho, as the Cessna 182 levitates off the pavement, the pink glow of dawn just spilling over the ridgeline of the Wood River Valley. The harsh, pitted lava plain of the Craters of the Moon lay behind us, and ahead, another day of exploring Idaho’s backcountry and its challenging airstrips. Guiding us is the man who literally wrote the book on the subject: Galen Hanselman, author of Fly Idaho!, Air Baja!, Fly the Big Sky! (Montana) and the new two-volume Fly Utah! Hanselman’s books are the ultimate pilot’s guides to the backcountry, providing essential information on the airstrips and airport environment. Yet, they’re also elegant, miniature coffee-table books that brim with beautiful photography and pithy text covering history, local lore and practical information on what to do and where to go at each location.
Thursday, May 1, 2008

Human Factors In Light Jet Aircraft


Are your mind and body ready?



human factorsThe schedule was tight. Following a day on the slopes and an evening watching the Super Bowl, the pilot was a bit tired, but still had to contend with a 45-minute drive to the airport, a snowy instrument departure and a night flight to North Las Vegas Airport. He landed at VGT after the tower had closed and arrived at the hotel around 1 a.m. No rest for the wicked, however, as wake-up calls jolted him from bed in time for 7:30 meetings and a full day of walking through exhibit hall aisles. Then, after dinner at 6:30 p.m., he flew home, touching down on home turf at 3 a.m.
Thursday, May 1, 2008

Understanding RPM


Whether you fly behind a fixed-pitch or constant-speed prop, a little knowledge definitely is not a dangerous thing



rpmIt was just after 6 p.m. when I turned final for runway 4R at Honolulu International Airport. My 2,160 nm crossing from Santa Barbara, Calif., into the wind had required 13 hours and 15 minutes, yielding an average speed of 163 knots. I’d maintained 8,000 feet in the new Mooney Ovation for most of the trip, climbing up to 10,000 feet for the last 500 nm into Hawaii to take max advantage of the standard trade winds.
Saturday, March 1, 2008

Learn To Fly: March 2008


Becoming a pilot is a dream for many. Here we present the basics to help you make that dream a reality.



learn to flyTo learn to fly is to step off the precipice of the ordinary and mundane. It’s a step into a new world that challenges your mind and senses, and rewards you like nothing you’ve ever dreamed of. To become a pilot is to see the face of our planet from the vantage point of angels.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Time To Get Typed


Earning a Citation Mustang rating



A few months ago, a friend who’s getting a Citation Mustang called and asked if I’d be willing to do the type rating with him. The answer was pretty simple: “Uh, yes!” Twelve months prior to the phone call, I’d been selling Flying the G1000 IFR Like the Pros! CDs and teaching single-pilot ops on the Citation 525 series (CJ1/CJ2/CJ3), so I jumped at the chance to fly this new Citation with the Garmin G1000–integrated flight deck.
Friday, February 1, 2008

When The Propeller Stops Propelling


Engine-out emergencies: Planning and training are your best defense



propeller openerThere aren’t many mechanical contrivances that are more reliable than an aircraft engine. At the same time, there aren’t too many mechanical contrivances upon which our physical well-being is so clearly dependent. The good news is that engine failures almost never happen. The operative word being “almost,” it has to happen only once to ruin your day. If you keep your wits about you, however, and you plan for the possibility of an engine failure, you greatly increase the probability that you’ll survive the unscheduled reunion of airplane with earth.
Friday, February 1, 2008

New Instrument Rating?


Now what?



instrumentCongratulations! I heard that you called from the municipal airport to say that you passed your instrument checkride. Plus, I understand that your instructor made sure you got time in the clouds during your training and you shot some real approaches to minimums. You received good training and now you have the thinking pilot’s rating. Well done.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008

VMC Vs. VFR


What’s technically legal isn’t necessarily safe



vmc cs vfrIn basic flight training, student pilots memorize the cloud clearance and visibility criteria for operation under visual flight rules and instrument flight rules (VFR and IFR). Flight schools and instructors drill into students the cloud clearance and visibility requirements for VFR operations in various categories of airspace, all the while neglecting to mention that none of this has much to do with the ability to keep an airplane upright during periods of restricted visibility and/or lack of terrain definition.
Monday, October 1, 2007

Get The Balance Right


If you think weight and balance are boring and unimportant, you need to read the following



get the balance rightIt was 1985, and I was refueling a Cessna 425 Conquest I at Tenerife in the Canary Islands on my way to Johannesburg, South Africa. I’d instructed the fueler to fill the wing tanks first, then begin topping the three 110-gallon internal ferry tanks starting with the front tank. I turned away to fill out the necessary paperwork, heard the pump running for a few minutes and as I finished the fuel request, heard a sickening crunch behind me.