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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.

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.
Monday, October 1, 2007

Myth Bustin'


Exploring 20 aviation myths



myth bustinRight up front I should post a very clear caveat: Myths within any technological field almost always have a grain of, if not truth, at least enough fact that they have some ardent supporters who swear by them. (They “know” it’s true and can prove it because a friend of an uncle knew someone who had it happen to a cousin.)
Saturday, September 1, 2007

Synthetic Vision


Beyond Today’s Glass Cockpit



synthetic visionFor instrument flight, the glass panels that are increasingly common in today’s general aviation fleet may be a huge improvement over old-fashioned round “steam gauges”—but if the weather closes in, you’re still depending on instruments to provide an artificial substitute for a view of the terrain and runway environment. The primary flight display (PFD) in a typical glass panel combines the functions of yesterday’s attitude indicator, airspeed indicator, altimeter and course/deviation indicator on a single screen.
Saturday, September 1, 2007

Back In The Saddle


Returning to the cockpit can be exhilarating and difficult, but worth every frustrating minute



Back In The SaddleThe first thing I did was introduce myself to her. I did it quietly as I touched her spinner and as my flight instructor ambled off to untie the right wing. The last thing I needed was my instructor thinking I was crazy for talking to a machine. This was, after all, a machine—a complex assembly of aluminum, cables, spars and wires. There could be no life in this 2,000-pound craft of the air, but I knew better.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Lazy Pilot’s Guide To Single-Pilot IFR Success


It’s all about managing your workload



The Lazy Pilot's Guide To Single-Pilot IFR SuccessYou can be proud of the hard work you’ve put into reaching pilot status—especially if you’ve gone the extra mile to become instrument rated. Our aviation culture admires and encourages people to keep busy and work hard. We have checklists for checking everything—often more than once. We’re told to tune and identify VORs along our route of flight, even if we’re navigating with GPS, just because we might need them. We’re often reluctant to use the autopilot for fear that we’ll lose our flying skills. The work ethic is alive and well in general aviation.
Sunday, July 1, 2007

WAAS Up?!


Can GPS replace ILS?



waas upLately, several new acronyms have entered the GPS field; most notable among them is WAAS, which stands for Wide Area Augmentation System. To VFR pilots, WAAS is just a new level of GPS that’s more accurate and reliable, but to IFR pilots, it brings a confusing array of new options. Look at one of the new RNAV (GPS) approach plates, and you’ll see unfamiliar terms, especially in the minimums: LPV, LNAV and LNAV/VNAV. It’s enough to leave a pilot scratching his or her head, but in the next few pages, I’ll try to make sense of it for you.
Sunday, July 1, 2007

What’s RVSM?


A great idea that allows ATC to fit more airplanes into smaller, radar-less airspace



The problem was simple: too many airplanes and too little sky. This flies in the face of traditional wisdom that suggests it’s a very big sky. While that’s unquestionably true above places such as Chad, Antarctica and the Gobi Desert, there are other places where there’s an uncomfortable amount of aluminum vying for roughly the same airspace.
Sunday, July 1, 2007

Deciphering Accident Statistics


Digging beyond the numbers for the complete story



Deciphering Accident StatisticsThe aviation industry sure loves its statistics—there’s an X% chance of this, and one aircraft is Y times safer than Z. But what if you were told that just about everything you’ve heard about aviation accident statistics isn’t true? Most pilots feel pretty good about the commonly published statistics claiming that all types of air travel are safer than driving. But if the numbers are presented in a certain way, general aviation flying can appear more dangerous than driving.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Flight Level Fliers


How to stay safe at high altitudes



Flight Level FliersWe live in the best of times and the worst of times. Imagine flying with glass panels that allow you to visualize terrain, position, weather and traffic all at the same time. Fly coast-to-coast with only a nod to weather. Anytime, anywhere, faster than ever before.