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.
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.
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.
Here’s a smart way to look before you leap onto the next flight
One 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.
Advanced training is the easiest way to become a better pilot
Is 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.
With the price of avgas at record highs, here are some thoughts on getting the most out of your budget
I 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.
As reluctant as we all can be to declare an emergency, there are times when nothing else makes sense
Face 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.
Second only to landings, problems at the beginning of the flight offer a multitude of challenges
Even though a takeoff requires only 2% or 3% of a typical flight’s duration, the maneuver produces more than one-fourth of our light-plane accidents. A significant portion of these departure mishaps occur on the ground during the takeoff run—most often the result of a pilot’s loss of directional control.
Since air carriers fly night and day all over the world, they know how to prepare efficiently
A friend of mine recently asked me if I actually did a weight-and-balance calculation before every flight. When I answered yes, he seemed somewhat taken aback. “Really?!” he quizzed, somewhat perplexed.