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.
Picture 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…
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.
Her husband’s love for aviation and camping inspired Carlana to learn to fly
Carlana 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.
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.
He’s the world’s youngest air show pilot and much, much more
Jamail 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.’”
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.
In 1978, Bert and Grace Poloson, both licensed pilots, flew a wheeled Cessna 182 from their Montana home into northern Canada. From the air, they surveyed the expansive scenery and the myriad remote lakes, and they pondered what it would be like if they brought a floatplane on their next trip.
It’s a pristine, fair-weather day, so you can’t resist the urge to hit the sky for some pattern work. After a few rounds, your circuits begin to get a bit messy, which you attribute to a slowly escalating wind. It’s time to call it quits. On base to final, the darned wind is blowing even harder than before, causing you to overshoot. You crank over toward the runway and pull back. But to your surprise, the plane quickly rolls more than you expected and now you’re looking at the runway, but it’s upside-down. You’ve just become a stall/spin statistic.
Despite constant warnings, controlled flight into terrain continues to vex general aviation pilots
It seems as though every time you read a paper, there’s something about a pilot crashing a perfectly good airplane into the ground. These sad events are typically referred to as controlled flight into terrain or CFIT. Most of these CFIT catastrophes result from a pilot’s breakdown in situational awareness (SA) instead of one of the more arresting emergencies, such as an engine failure or a fire. In other words, these accidents are, for the most part, entirely preventable by the pilot.
The “Shall we or shall we not teach spins?” debate has been raging since spins were removed from the private-pilot curriculum decades ago by the FAA, who preferred instead to concentrate on stall recognition and prevention. Under today’s FARs, only flight instructor candidates are required to do spins. Even then, it’s usually not in-depth training because all the candidate needs is a logbook entry saying that he or she has seen spins. We won’t get into that debate except to say that as an industry, we must be doing something wrong because stall/spin accidents are still killing people.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to bring your airplane down
Descents are too often regarded as throwaway maneuvers. Pilots place great emphasis on proper techniques for takeoff, approach, landing and cruise, but few are educated in the best techniques for descent. If you’re one of those pilots who loves to fly low and slow—or even low and fast—descent planning may not be much of a concern. Most of the time, Cub and Champ drivers need hardly worry about descents from 1,500 to 2,500 feet AGL.
Sometime 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.
Piloting an aircraft requires decision and precision. Quick references to the basics can make both easier.
Pilots 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.”
Take the plunge! Here are some remarkable tips for transitioning to the new cockpits.
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.
If 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.
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.
If 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.
Pilots continue to fly into restricted airspace. Are the feds losing their patience?
Once 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.
Here’s what you can do to “see and be seen” when flying into high-traffic airspace
It 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.