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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, 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


Can GPS replace ILS?

WAAS Up?!Lately, several new acronyms have entered the GPS field; most notable among them is WAAS, which stands for Wide Area Augmentation System.
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.
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.


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Designing Your Flight Review

Customizing your training will make you a safer, smoother and more efficient pilot

flight reviewLike many newly minted instructor pilots, my first “dual given” was a flight review. I didn’t know how to put together a review. At the time, the regulations gave almost no guidance and didn’t require a minimum amount of time on the ground or in the air (this has since changed).
Sunday, April 1, 2007

When To Abort

Continuing a flight with a known problem may be possible, but is it wise?

I was just over three hours out of Santa Barbara on my way to Honolulu in a Piper Chieftain when the HF radio suddenly went quiet. “Hmm, not good,” I thought, “but not a world-shaking emergency.” The HF was my old reliable Kenwood TS-50S ham rig, temporarily “mounted” on the right front seat. For 12 years, it had served me well on the oceans with never a hiccup. Now, it was dead.
Sunday, April 1, 2007

Getting That Sport-Pilot Ticket

Sport-pilot certificates are an invitation to fly

Getting That Sport-Pilot TicketIt’s been official since September 1, 2004, and it’s working: the sport-pilot rule is a reality; light-sport aircraft (LSA) and flight training are available; and maintenance facilities are catching on. So, how does one get that sport-pilot certificate? What does it take, and how much does it cost?


Monday, January 1, 2007

Box Canyon Hazards

Beyond mountains, airspace restrictions & tall buildings can also define tight spots

Box Canyon HazardsThe visibility isn’t the best going up the mountain pass. On the far side lies better weather and home. Behind are a tent, camp, cold and wet weather, and insufficient gas to go elsewhere. The pilot continues deeper into the pass, hoping conditions will improve. The ceiling is steady, but the terrain is rising. They’re headed south, and winds are westerly at 20 knots, with gusts. The pilot hugs the right side of the pass for traffic.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Make New Year’s Resolutions Count

All of us should be able to handle one self-promise per month

Make New Years Resolutions CountThe human race has an insatiable need for self-delusion, so every year we make promises to ourselves. Even though they’re made in earnest on December 31st, they usually prove very hard to keep as the year progresses. Hey, when it’s July and you’re gorging yourself at a picnic, it’s hard to remember that six months earlier you pledged to lose weight. Twelve months is a long time.



Wednesday, November 1, 2006

The Go/No-Go Decision

Putting the pieces together

The Go/No Go DecisionIt’s probably the toughest decision a pilot must make, and it’s often tainted by factors that shouldn’t even be considered. To paraphrase the Bard, “Go or no go, that is the question.”


Wednesday, November 1, 2006

The Littlest Emergency

What To Do If Your Door Pops Open

The Littlest EmergencyPicture this: You’re cruising straight and level at 8,500 feet in your A36 Bonanza. You’re luxuriating in smooth air and sunshine, and there’s perfect weather at your point of departure, destination and all points in between. The engine is running perfectly, everything is working well, your passengers are happy and then…



Sunday, October 1, 2006

10 Tips For Happier Passengers

Putting the backseaters at ease

10 Tips For Happier Passengers At any airport social gathering, you can expect to come across a group of grinning avgas burners in one room, enthusiastically telling tall hangar tales, their hands weaving imaginary flight paths through the air over their heads. They’re comparing fancy “must-have” equipment, optimistic “true” airspeeds and brilliantly heroic escapes.


Friday, September 1, 2006

Romancing the Stone

Her husband’s love for aviation and camping inspired Carlana to learn to fly

Romancing The StoneCarlana Stone and her husband John Lawson love nothing better than going camping with their 1977 Maule M5-235, fondly nicknamed Molly. Lifting off from Whiteman Airport in the busy Los Angeles area, they fly to campgrounds ranging from remote bush strips, such as Idaho’s Johnson Creek, to local romantic getaways in the vineyard country of Santa Ynez. Typical camping activities ensue: pitching a tent under Molly’s wing, exploring the area and swapping flying stories around the campfire.

Friday, September 1, 2006

Is 35 Hours Enough

If you don’t fly much, make each hour pay for itself

The world’s flying community looks at the 35-hour yearly average for U.S. pilots and shakes its collective head. They bemoan what they perceive as a general lack of proficiency and place blame on the pilots, as though they’re doing it on purpose.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

ADS-B: The FAA’s Bold New Bid To Change The Way We Fly

What’s this new technology we’re hearing so much about?

Aircraft owners usually cast a wary eye when the FAA introduces a new technology. With each announcement, owners are concerned about paying a price to retain their rights to use the country’s airspace, and there’s usually a mass grumbling that begins with “What’s in it for me?”

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Soloing At 14 Years Old

He’s the world’s youngest air show pilot and much, much more

Soloing At 14 Years OldJamail Larkins took his first airplane ride when he was twelve. As he recounts, “I remember going out to the airport. It was a partly cloudy day in the middle of summer. Mr. Fox pulled out his 1956 Cessna 172 and I watched him preflight. Then we hopped in and I helped him go through the checklist. I remember thinking, ‘I really can’t believe that I’m in the middle of an airplane right now.’”
Saturday, July 1, 2006

Bernoulli Or Newton: Who's Right About Lift?

Misconceptions abound about one of the most important forces in flying

Just about every pilot would agree that studying certain aspects of flight can be a time-consuming mental workout. Any attempt to master complex aviation subjects can be frustrating, if not impossible, when pilots are given conflicting or incorrect data. One topic in particular, how lift is generated, tends to muster a tremendous amount of heartache among aviators and aerodynamicists alike. In fact, if you look at five different aviation references, you’re likely to find five different explanations about how lift comes to be. Even worse, some sources advocate a specific theory, while rejecting the premises favored in others.