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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.

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Top 10 Rules Of Thumb


Piloting an aircraft requires decision and precision. Quick references to the basics can make both easier.



Top 10 Rules Of ThumbPilots are expected to know lots of stuff. So it should come as no surprise that they like all the help they can get when memorizing, analyzing and calculating aviation concepts. This is one reason why there’s so many mnemonics and abbreviations associated with flying. Pilots are also aided with staying on top of things by the various rules of thumb. According to Wikipedia.com, a rule of thumb is “an easily learned and easily applied procedure for approximately calculating or recalling some value, or for making some determination.”

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Balancing Act


Understanding the center of gravity



Balancing ActSometime back in the dark ages, I was getting ready to take my instrument instructor check ride, and the examiner, who was an actual FAA type from the FAA headquarters, asked me if I had done a weight-and-balance for the flight. Two thoughts flashed through my mind, the first being the obvious question: What has a weight-and-balance calculation got to do with an instrument check ride? The second was a little panicky thinking while I tried to remember how to do the calculations.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

World's Stupidest Pilot Errors


So many mistakes are just asking to be corrected



World's Stupidest Pilot ErrorsIf you’ve ever been to a farm, you know that when one cow makes up his mind to blaze a trail to the feed trough, the other cows always follow. It doesn’t matter if there are obstacles along the route or the farmer hasn’t put corn into the hopper—cows blindly follow. They don’t use judgment, ask questions or learn from their mistakes. I call this the Moo syndrome. Pilots may be eons apart on the Darwinian scale, from cows, but they, too, follow each other, disregarding the mistakes made by their predecessors. The outcome could very well be disastrous, but they still blindly follow.
Thursday, December 1, 2005

Switching To Glass


Take the plunge! Here are some remarkable tips for transitioning to the new cockpits.



Switching To Glass It has finally happened. While waiting for you to land one day, your significant other saw the advertisement for the new glass-cockpit rental airplane, looked it over and now wants a flight in it. “It’s so much cleaner than those old airplanes you always fly.” Those words stung. “Why can’t we fly the new one?” That didn’t sting. After some serious negotiating on the flying budget—the new airplane wasn’t your idea—you’re off to your first glass-cockpit transition lesson. Ensuring your significant other was at the airport on the day of the flight school’s glass-cockpit open house was a grand idea. Reading this article before the first lesson is another. These FAQs will make your first glass-cockpit flight go much more smoothly.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

How High Are We Now?


We all fly at erroneous altitudes—even when accompanied with a GPS. Here’s how to determine and understand the best way to get the most precise reading.



How High Are We NowIf you have a GPS and a blind encoder in your panel, you may have three independent ways to determine your altitude. But which one is most accurate? We all grew up on baro altitude, so after a short review, we’ll plunge into the GPS world of the WGS84 datum, your height above ellipsoid (HAE) and mean sea level (MSL) altitudes.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Busting TFRs


Pilots continue to fly into restricted airspace. Are the feds losing their patience?



Busting TFRsOnce upon a time, you could pull the airplane out of the hangar, fire up the engine, point it into the wind and fly. Wherever you want, whenever you wanted. As time went on, rules and procedures began to be as much a part of a pilot’s skills as the ability to fly with a stick and rudder.
Monday, August 1, 2005

Top 10 Pilot Errors


Here’s a smart way to look before you leap onto the next flight



Top 10 Pilot ErrorsOne of the most disturbing statistics about general-aviation accidents is that more than 75% of them are made because of pilot error. Considering that it’s unlikely that pilots are going away anytime soon, the solution comes in the form of prevention. Saying this is easy, but actually making progress toward this goal is rather problematic. The first step toward eliminating pilot error is to examine the enemy. Just what types of errors are pilots committing and why? Then, armed with this information, pilots can make a concerted effort to avoid such mistakes through a fusion of training, planning and keen attention.
Monday, August 1, 2005

Avoiding Midair Collisions


Here’s what you can do to “see and be seen” when flying into high-traffic airspace



Avoiding Midair CollisionsIt was over so fast, it was almost as if it hadn’t happened. And, of course, fortunately for everyone, it hadn’t. It was only a blur in my peripheral vision, so fleeting that I wasn’t really sure it was there. It may have been a Seneca or Twin Comanche, angling in from my 10 o’clock. The airplane was slightly below me, and I had one of those terrifying, stop-action glimpses of two people in the cockpit, the pilot looking down at his instruments and the right-seater staring at him.
Friday, July 1, 2005

Saving Money On Fuel


With the price of avgas at record highs, here are some thoughts on getting the most out of your budget



Saving Money On FuelI was told when I bought my first single-engine airplane back in the last century that I could estimate my total hourly operating cost by multiplying fuel expense by three. In those days, I flew a Globe Swift that burned six gallons an hour. Fuel was only about 70 cents per gallon as I remember, so I figured my fuel cost at $4.20 per hour and total cost to operate the Swift at a whopping $13 per hour, an intimidating number in those days.
Friday, July 1, 2005

Moving On Up


Advanced training is the easiest way to become a better pilot



Moving On UpIs there life after the check ride? The obvious answer is a re-sounding yes, there is definitely life after the check ride. Before the check ride, you’re a student; after it, you’re a pilot and the world is open to you.
Wednesday, June 1, 2005

The Stigma Of Mayday


As reluctant as we all can be to declare an emergency, there are times when nothing else makes sense



The Stigma Of MaydayFace it, no one likes to admit mistakes. Probably because of the Superman syndrome, pilots are especially reluctant to acknowledge errors to authority figures. Aviators are even more reticent to confess to dangerous mistakes if they have passengers on board.
Tuesday, March 1, 2005

The FAA’s Capstone Project


Phase II brings this remarkable high-tech situational awareness a step closer to the Lower 48 states



capstoneGeneral aviation in Alaska is different. Changeable weather and difficult terrain create an environment where you’d expect most flying to be done on instruments, but an antiquated route structure and limited navaids make this impossible in many places. Yet many towns and villages depend on aircraft to a degree that’s almost unknown in the rest of the country.
Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Why Every Pilot Should Take Acro


Learning the basic maneuvers is more important than you think



Why Every Pilot Should Take AcroYou may wonder about the benefits of aerobatics to general-aviation pilots, especially when most pilots’ main mission primarily consists of pleasure flights to try another $100 hamburger. After all, why bother with inverted loops when you can merely enjoy the view and have a pleasant flight? The answer is simple: Anyone who practices aerobatics becomes a better, safer pilot, and the skills you learn from a professional aerobatics instructor not only can be applied to your general-aviation flights, but also to saving your life one day.
Tuesday, February 1, 2005

The 10 Commandments Of Aviation Safety


There are some things you should absolutely positively know about any airplane you’re flying before you even start the engine



The 10 Commandments Of Aviation SafetySafety has always been a tough sell. Ask Bruce Landsburg of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. Landsburg has been in the safety business for 25 years, having worked for FlightSafety in Wichita, Kan., before moving to AOPA. “The sad thing is,” says Landsburg, “much of the time, safety consciousness is a direct result of an accident post-mortem.”
Friday, October 1, 2004

The New Sport-Pilot License Is Here!


Landmark changes from the FAA have just made Flying cheaper and easier



The New Sport-Pilot License Is Here!It took more than 2 ½ years to review the more than 4,700 comments on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) 2002 proposal to simplify pilot training and make the sport more affordable and accessible. After a tremendous amount of debate, research and consideration (and a certain amount of suspense), the FAA made its announcement on September 1, 2004: The new sport-pilot license became official, and with it came an entirely new category of planes, the light-sport aircraft (LSA).
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Mastering The Panel-Mounted GPS Part 2


Last month, we explored the commonality of the Bendix/King KLN94 and Garmin’s CNX80, and 430 or 530 for VFR operations. This month, we’ll discuss how to use these units during instrument procedures.



Mastering The Panel-Mounted GPS Part 2The Honeywell Bendix/King KLN94 and Garmin’s CNX80 and GNS 430 or 530 are representative of IFR-approved GPS units, and their commonality extends to IFR operations, in which flight plans are modified in very interesting ways as IFR procedures are added. So, we’ll explore the addition of IFR procedures, which can complicate a simple VFR flight plan.
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Taking On Extreme Runways


Flying into backcountry strips makes you a better pilot and can be a welcome relief to your flying routine



Taking On Extreme RunwaysHave you ever wanted more from lightplane recreational flying than driving from point A to point B for the $200 hamburger? (Well, there’s aerobatics, but that’s another story.) So, instead of thinking of flying from A to Burger, how about A to Backcountry? Before you dismiss this with a “Hey, my airship is a 172, not a Super Cub,” read on.
Sunday, August 1, 2004

The Last Spin


Why do experienced and inexperienced pilots alike fall victim to this all-too-common traffic-pattern accident?



The Last SpinThis is how it happens. The pilot turns base to final and notices a following wind is causing him to overshoot the centerline. He adds a little left uncoordinated rudder in an attempt to bring the nose of the aircraft back toward the runway. The aircraft rolls a bit to the left and he compensates by adding some right aileron to hold the 30-degree bank angle.
Tuesday, June 1, 2004

The 10 Dumbest Things Pilots Do


Although pilots continue to try to find new ways to screw up, there’s an amazing similarity to accident scenarios from today and from 75 years ago. Here’s a list of the most common stupid pilot tricks.



The 10 Dumbest Things Pilots DoAsk any pilot about the danger zones of pilot experience and most will give you a blank stare. Ask Bruce Landsburg of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation or veteran instructor/aviation journalist Rod Machado and you’ll receive intelligent, informed answers.
Thursday, April 1, 2004

The Ultimate Preflight


The assumption that the airplane has always worked in the past is no excuse for a hasty inspection



preflightThe operative word there is “almost.” “Almost zero” isn’t zero. Although we’ll never get an airplane to be 100% in terms of condition, wouldn’t it be silly to get hurt just because we didn’t bother to spend an extra five minutes and missed a loose nut or a crack that was right there, ready to be discovered?
Thursday, April 1, 2004

Got Insurance? Are You Sure?


You may be as surprised as we were to discover that as many as half of America’s active pilots unknowingly fly without it



insuranceA pilot rents an airplane from a fixed base operator. After an hour of flightseeing, he returns to his home airport and is cleared to land behind an arriving biz jet. The pilot gets into a small bit of leftover wake turbulence, the rental aircraft wobbles just before touchdown and a wingtip catches the runway. Head in hand, the pilot taxis the aircraft back to the FBO. A mechanic looks at the damage and estimates $15,000 to $20,000, and almost at the same moment, the pilot learns the FBO’s aircraft insurance deductible is $10,000. Any guesses who gets to pay the 10 grand?
Thursday, April 1, 2004

10 Fast Fixes For Lousy Landings


Pilots put their passion and their pride on the line with every landing. Here’s some advice from the pros.



10-fixesPeople place too much emphasis on landings. Non-pilots often base their entire evaluation of a pilot’s ability on nothing more than the smoothness of the touchdown at the conclusion of the flight. Never mind that the pilot in command may have made a clumsy takeoff, forgotten to retract the flaps during climb, leveled at the wrong altitude, left the cowl flaps open at cruise, descended without richening the mixture or almost landed at the wrong airport—a smooth return to Earth usually forgives all sins.