Thursday, October 26, 2006

Planning for an Emergency

If you're like most pilots (I used to fit into this category as well) you get your pilot's license and you give up on practicing emergencies. Why bother? You've already proved you can do it hundreds of times to your instructor(s), to the examiner(s) and you know you'll have a chance to prove it again when you next take your BFR. Why waste time on "training" when you've already proven yourself time and time again. An emergency is so unlikely with modern aircraft that you'd have a better chance of dying while driving to the airport! Some of you are nodding your heads in agreement with this outlook while others are shaking their heads with disgust. My former attitude is dangerous and so amazingly easy to acquire. Even if you do have a lot of respect for the aircraft and the Earth's gravity, even if you do intend on getting up with a CFI and practicing all of those things you were once proficient at-it's so easy to procrastinate and put it off until it's too late.

I've made a personal commitment to myself to make to never succumb to that way of thinking ever again. I'd recommend that everyone spend at LEAST 10% of their flying time practicing for all kinds of emergencies. It's not just a "good idea" like brushing your teeth after each meal or getting your car's oil changed every 3,500 miles-it could make the difference between life and death! Think about it this way, for every hour you fly, spend 6 minutes and practice one emergency procedure.

After reading hundreds of NTSB accident reports and "Never Again" AOPA articles, I see a constant pattern in a majority of the cases. Something went wrong with the airplane and the pilot either over or under compensated for the problem and the rest is history. Some pilots will hear the engine start to run rough and immediately overreact and put the aircraft in a field without even thinking to switch tanks, try some carb heat, try checking the mags etc. After dozens of engine-out procedures done during our training, a lot of us have a hair trigger on the commitment to ditch the plane. Other pilots however will ignore obvious signs of a dying engine and press on to their destination while passing up perfectly good airports to stop and checkout the problem. Has the reliability of engines led us to believe that they'll always be there when we need them?

Training will help you keep a lucid mentality during an emergency allowing you to stop and think it through but you can't just land with your engine off a few times a month and expect to be ready for anything the flying gods will throw at you. Unfortunately, I believe that the Private Pilot curriculum will only prepare you for the best of the "worst case scenarios" out there. Most CFI's will only teach what the FAA requires and what he knows the examiner will test you on. I don't mean to blame anyone here except YOU the pilot. If you're able to read this, it's not too late for you.

Most of the instructors I've encountered have pulled the engine on downwind, or over a field or near a big lake. It's always a complete engine loss. The decision is quite easy. "If I have the time I'll try a restart or if I'm too low I'll just land." I always landed safely and I felt confident that I could handle an engine failure. That is where we have a false sense of security. Read through the NTSB reports and see how many pilots died while mishandling a lost engine while on downwind. You're not going to find a lot of them. Accidents happen because of failures at all phases of flights and because of all sorts of problems-not just a full engine failure!

What do you do if you have partial engine failure on takeoff? Full engine failure on takeoff? Do you know what altitude you need before you can safely make it back to the runway? What do you do if your aileron or elevator gets jammed? What if your door opens in flight? What if your main gear won't come down? What if your nosewheel won't come down? What if you have a stuck throttle? It's not just mechanical failures either...What if you have a bird strike and you lose a windshield? What if your passenger becomes violently sick? What if you're getting an ice buildup on the wings? What if your landing light is out at night? A pilot can get so nervous reading the "what if's" that they become terrified of flying. Not one of the things I've mentioned will definitely result in a fatality and very likely, every single situation can result in a normal conclusion of flight with little to no damage to either the plane or its occupants. There's stories of people landing normally with an entire wing missing!

These are all situations that you can practice for. There's no excuse for any pilot to not know what altitude they can successfully turn around and land on the runway should the engine fail on takeoff. It's very easy to practice...Just takeoff and climb to a safe altitude and use that as your "hard deck." Overfly the airport (or any usable visual marker) then add full power and climb up to about 1,000feet and pull your throttle. Try to make a 180 degree turn and make it back to your marker before reaching your "hard deck" altitude. You might be surprised (either good or bad) to see how much altitude you need to make that turn.

When the pattern is empty, try flying with no ailerons. Just use your rudders to make your turns and align yourself with the runway. If you're in a Cessna 152/172, try opening both doors and pushing them out on either side. You can steer the plane with the drag from the doors! Trying adjusting your pitch with just trim and power changes. If you don't feel comfortable with this, do it at altitude!

How much power do you need to hold altitude? If you're in a warrior and your throttle gets stuck at 1300RPM do you have enough power to get you to the airport that's 7nm away or should you take the field that's right below you.

These are all very very easy things to practice yet most people don't! Some are afraid to think about the "what if's" while others are confident that "it'll never happen to me." I personally try not to think about it as "if something goes wrong" but rather "when something goes wrong." Most of my patterns are flown without power. Once i reduce the throttle, i do my best not to touch it again. It's as if every one of my landings are engine outs. It's greatly improved my judgment.

The bottom line is this...There's a million things that can go wrong and we're only officially trained for a handful of them. Very often, when something goes wrong, it's not the failure that kills people, it's what the failure does to the mentality of the pilot-in turn causing him/her to make a poor decision. There's very little that can happen to the airplane that will render it un-flyable. I once read that airplanes are a lot like escalators. Escalators don't break, they temporarily become stairs. Airplanes don't break, they temporarily become gliders.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Becoming a CFI

Well I met with George to discuss becoming a CFI. He gave me some study recommendations and a list of "must have" books that I'm ordering from Marv Golden as I type this (see the list below). It seems like the steps to becoming a CFI are great steps even for those who never plan on teaching. The amount of material you'll learn and the level of understanding you'll achieve (hopefully) will most definitly make YOUR flying better.

I've always found that I learn the most amount of material and achieve the highest level of understanding when I try teaching someone else. It forces you to understand a topic so completely that you can convey this same level of understanding to someone who does not have your experience. A good teacher will be able to adjust their explanation to people of different backgrounds and get them to understand your point. I think a good teacher is able to create parallels using the "students" non-aviation background to get them to understand aviation concepts.

Here's a list of the books I'm purchasing:
  • Aviation Instructor's Handbook
  • Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge
  • Airplan Flying Handbook
  • CFI-A Practical Test Standards

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Montauk Lunch

We flew to Montauk (KMTP) for lunch yesterday. Weather was beautiful. Great visibility and fairly stable air with just some minor light chop from time to time. We made it there in just about 30 minutes which is not bad considering it's a 4+ hour drive.

A call to the UNICOM was made and the active runway was 24. We were told there was a breezy crosswind. Dean had quite a bit of rudder in to compensate. We landed and parked and the woman at the FBO gave us a ride to the beach in a giant pink Chevy Van with the title "Pink Tuna" on the back of it. :)

The beach is actually just over the sand dunes at the end of runway 06. The drive to the beach consists of driving to the runup area of runway 24. There, there's a path through the brush and then up and over the sand dunes. Just as you reach the top of one of the dunes and look back toward the runway, you get the view shown in this picture. The walk is very short. It only takes a few minutes.

We sat on the beach and enjoyed the beautiful day. Even the seaguls were struggling with the wind. It's amazing but you can see them instinctively crab into the wind to get to where they're trying to go.

As we were walking back, a baron buzzed us as it was making its approach to runway 24. It was quite a thrill to be just underneath it. The flight back was uneventful for us but then many people get to fly to the beach on their lunchbreak?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

"IFR" to Orange County

As I've mentioned before Orange County NY (KMGJ) has a great new restaurant on the field. Yesterday Dean and I decided to take the ladies out for dinner and shoot for some IFR practice at the same time. BDL's forcast was for 3,000 OVC and POU's forecast was for 2,000 OVC. Both of the TAFs expected it to be a broken layer by the time we were supposed to be departing. Either way, it appeared like it was a nice IFR day. I filed the simplest route I could imagine which was HFD.IGN at 6,000ft. I ran home, went through all of the weather, NOTAMs and other information regarding the trip and headed down for the preflight.

When I got to the airport, the weather was quite nice. Clouds seemed to be scattered not overcast. There was one big dark region in the sky but the radar barely had any echos so I was not worried. The preflight was finished, the ladies showed up and we all got in for departure. I called BDL clearance before we started up just to make sure we weren't going to have to hold for 30 minutes waiting for a release with the engine running. I guess ZNY's computer didn't like my simple route so they cleared me for VEERS.V205.TRESA at 6,000.

As we got in the air, we realized that there were no clouds in the area. They were all well abov 7,000. We flew our assigned route and encountered no clouds until we hit the Hudson River.e There was one big dark cloud loaded with moisture there that we flew through for only a matter of minutes....but it was IFR! The trip was not a total bust anyway. I shot the ILS 03 into MGJ just for the practice and currency.

Dinner was of course great. I had a Chicken Club wrap which was very good. Lisa's hamburger looked like a more than adequate portion for any adult.

We finished eating and then departed VFR this time as the weather was now almost completely clear. I shot the VOR 36 approach back into MMK again just for the currency and practice.

It's funny how often we hope for perfect weather and get a crummy day and then when we want a crummy day, we end up with perfect weather. I guess that's just how nature is...

Friday, September 01, 2006

Flight to Block Island

Yesterday we went to Block Island for a few hours. The weather was perfect and the visibility was excellent. You could easily see Long Island in detail after we departed.

The flight to KBID was uneventful. The island looked beautiful and quiet from the air. We landed, switched to UNICOM and taxiied to a spot on the grass. Then we took a cab into town. The town was very quiet. There's the remains of a hurricane heading up the east coast right now so people's vacation plans got changed. The taxi driver said that there's 1/4 the amount of people on the island right now that there normally would be on Labor day weekend.

We had lunch at a nice little Italian Restaurant called Aldo's Original. The prices were a bit high but considering we were on Block Island they weren't bad. Everyone enjoyed their food and the location was great as it was fairly secluded from the main part of town.

A bunch of the guys bought cigars at the National Hotel and then we all just hung out on the breakwater for about an hour enjoying what's likely to be one of the last nice days of "summer" this year.

After a while we decided we should head back home. The flight home was as calm and smooth as the flight there. We caught a bit of a tailwind and made it home in just over 30 minutes.

I think we've really proved to our friends that when you're a pilot, the whole world is at your fingertips. You can get to places that you can't easily get to by any other means of travel. It's a wonderful "hobby" loaded with rewards.

Monday, August 28, 2006

IFR Alternate Airports (1-2-3 Rule)

When filing an IFR flight plan, you must include an alternate destination airport when the weather forecast at your original destination predicts conditions below those specified in CFR 91.169. To help remember those conditions, you can use the 1-2-3 rule.

1 - During the time 1 hour before to 1 hour after the estimated arrival time
2 - Ceiling less than 2,000 feet
3 - Visibility less than 3 miles

If the above conditions exist, an alternate airport must be filed.

The alternate airport also has requirements that it must meet.
  • If the airport has an instrument approach published, the weather must be forecast to be (at the ETA) better than the alternate airport minima specified in that approach or the following standard conditions:

    • Precision Approach: 600ft ceiling and 2SM visibility

    • Non-Precision Approach: 800ft ceiling and 2SM visibility

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Instrument/Equipment for IFR Operations

Those required for VFR day and night flight plus:

G - Generator or alternator
R - Radios
A - Altimeter
B - Ball (slip/skid indicator)
C - Clock (seconds)
A - Attitude Indicator
R - Rate of turn (turn coordinator)
D - Directional Gyro

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Right Seat Practice

Went flying with Dean today. I was PIC most of the flight from the right seat. I'm trying to get as much right seat work as I can in preparation for CFI-A. Things seem pretty weird at first but by the end of the flight I feel pretty comfortable.

I did the takeoff and departed MMK to the east for some maneuvers. I did slow flight, a power off stall, a power on stall, steep turns and a chandelle and I think they were all within PTS standards which made me feel great.

I flew back to MMK and did a landing. The landing was fairly soft but right of centerline (as I'd expect) and fairly flat. The next time around I came in faster than I would have liked so I floated a little bit but still landed pretty soft-this time much closer to the centerline. The last landing was just about perfect. I landed just past the numbers and it was a squeaker right on the centerline.

My confidence and comfort from the right seat are increasing but I don't think i'm ready to fly right seat with a non-pilot in the left seat just yet.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


After work, I preflighted Dean's Warrior, filled it up and got everything ready for our passengers. We took went with a coworker Tony and his wife Kim. Everyone arrived 45 mins later and got in the plane. The weather was perfect CAVOK.

We took off and climbed to 7,500 for a great view of Groton, Providence, Newport, Martha's Vineyard and of course Nantucket. Enroute we had some problems with the alternator kicking offline. Turning it off and then back on again seemed to solve the problem so we started turning off unnecessary electronics to try to take some load off of it. That only made things worse. Now it kicked offline every minute or so. We started turning things back on putting even more of a load on the system and it was fine for the rest of the flight. Dean confirmed that as long as there's a moderate load on it, it stays online. In any case, it didn't affect the flight after making the adjustments so we continued on.

We began our comfortable descent and stared out the window at how pretty and natural the island looked. We reported a 4 mile right base for 24, landed and parked. We were in a row with Citations, Gulfstreams and King Airs. We looked so small and out of place. "Small plane but BIG pride" Dean said. We checked in with the FBO and grabbed a cab into town. I've never been to Nantucket before however I have been to the Vineyard and they're very similar in a lot of ways however I must say that Nantucket wins the trophy for natural beauty and wealth. I could not believe the size of some of the houses as well as the landscape of the property etc.

Tony showed us the Maria Mitchell House with the astronomy dome. Apparently that woman did a lot of work both related and unrelated to science for Nantucket. He said that she even saved the church from burning down at one time. Tony's love for Nantucket was obvious as he was enthusiastically giving facts and details about anything in sight.

We had dinner at The Atlantic Cafe which was very good. We walked around a bit more and saw some people playing guitar out on the street. It felt like a Friday night not a Tuesday night. Everyone was just having a blast....maybe they're all on vacation-who knows?

We grabbed a cab back to the airport. The cab driver gave us some interesting facts about the island as well. "There's not a single stoplight or flashing light on the island and the fastest speedlimit is 45."

We got back to the airport and did a preflight and departed. Again, the weather was perfect. For the first time in my life, we could very easily see the entire outline of the Milky Way in the sky. To the average person, it looks like a streak of clouds but it's really billions of stars in the galaxy. Everyone in the plane was completely amazed by it. Aside from that, the flight home was extremely quiet and relaxing. ATC was not busy at all. We flew from MVY to GON without hearing a single transmission. I asked PVD_APP for our groundspeed just to see if our radios were even working and they were.

We landed back at MMK, tied up the plane and all decided that there's nothing cooler in the world than flying. "Who would have though this morning at work that tonight we'd be eating dinner on Nantucket" was Tony's phrase for the night. That's the beauty of flying.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

ConUS Challenge

The ConUS Challenge (Continental US Challenge) is a challenge to get pilots to visit all 4000+ public use airports in the US before Dec 31st 2007. To participate in the challenge, you just have to register and get a username and password, then fly to some public airport and take a picture. The password "goflyamerica" has to be in the picture somewhere to prove that the picture was taken for the purpose of this challenge. They have a sign that you can print out.

I think this is a great idea. It gets pilots flying to airports that they may not normally go to. We all have our favorite airports and it's easy to just keep flying to the same places. I'm anxious to see how this challenge turns out.