January 2015

VFR Pop-ups

Subscribers Only - While this article is primarily focused on popping up on a controller’s radar screen to request an IFR clearance, VFR pilots also can find themselves suddenly needing to be in the ATC system. Reasons can include an in-flight emergency, an inadvertent encounter with poor weather, to request VFR flight following or to enter certain airspace. As with anything involving aviation—and especially when considering ATC—there’s a right and a wrong way to do it.

Flying in Europe

Subscribers Only - I quickly found there are at least three ways visiting U.S. pilots can access general aviation aircraft in Europe. The main ways are through aero clubs and conventional rental arrangements. The latter includes both pilot training organizations and organizations analgous to small fixed base operators (FBOs) in the U.S.

Tools You Can Use?

Subscribers Only - So, you’ve decided the risk is worth it and you’re going to execute a zero-zero or low-visibility takeoff. You’ve thoroughly prepped the airplane, the cockpit and yourself for the operation, you’ve practiced it, you have a solid-gold takeoff alternate only a few miles away, with an ILS above minimums, and you’re ready. One problem: The weather is so bad, you can’t see more than one or two of the runway stripes at a time. Is that enough to help ensure directional control on the takeoff roll? Probably not.

A Checklist, and More Concerns

Subscribers Only - While each pilot has to compile his or her own checklist for the go/no-go decision on a low-vis takeoff, here’s a start:

Motor Club

Failed Landing Gear Motor After takeoff, crew selected gear lever to up. Gear traveled halfway up and stopped. Crew selected holding area and ran checklist, manually lowering gear, followed by normal landing. Inspection revealed landing gear motor had failed and tripped the 60-amp circuit breaker under the floor. Motor was repaired and ops check was good. Part Total Time: 9452.0 hours

Planning To Divert

Subscribers Only - Pilots, being independent-minded—perhaps to a fault—and mission-oriented, don’t launch on a flight intending to land someplace other than their destination. Overcoming that mindset and accepting the reality that they’re not going to make it on the first try can be a problem for those who drank heavily when the “my way or the highway” Kool-Aid was served. But we all have to accept reality sometimes and admit conditions won’t allow us to complete the mission, at least right now.

Top Five General Aviation Fatal Accident Causes In Europe And The U.S.

Subscribers Only - With all the hazards I described in the main body of this article, you might expect that GA operations on Europe are less safe than in the U.S. I’m not sure how they fully stack up side by side, since exposure data for European GA flying is even sketchier than in the U.S. In addition, I found that EASA categorizes accidents somewhat differently than in the U.S. However, we can make some rough comparisons using published analyses. For this purpose I used the EASA Annual Safety Review for 2013, covering data from 2009-2013. I also reviewed data from the U.S. General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC), a joint FAA/industry team, for the period 2001-2010.

Surviving Inadvertent IMC

Subscribers Only - AOPA’s Air Safety Institute tells us half of all crashes attributed to “attempted visual flight into instrument conditions” involve instrument-rated pilots. You can survive, however, if you have a plan. If, despite your best efforts, you blunder into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) while attempting to remain VFR until you pick up your IFR clearance, use the following to get out of the situation:


Subscribers Only - In many ways, talking about flying consistent traffic patterns as a way to help perfect our landings is a fool’s errand. That’s because each pattern, approach and landing is different. Tower can bring us in directly to the runway on a long final or a short right base, or ask for an extended downwind. What was a mild left crosswind when you landed this morning can be a honker from the right this afternoon.

Be Where You Should Be

Subscribers Only - Since a good landing comes from a good approach, if you fly the traffic pattern the same way each time, you’re most of the way toward perfecting your landings. Try these suggestions for what to do and where to be at each point in the pattern, and you’ll be consistently gliding over the threshold at the proper speed and altitude. Modify as necessary for conditions, of course, but aim to hit each of these yardsticks in the pattern and you’ll have eliminated some of the more common problems pilots have with their landings.

On A Mission: A Status Report

Subscribers Only - It’s easy to fall into the trap of debating whether the U.S. general aviation accident rate is too high. Of course it is—all accidents are preventable by simply grounding the fleet. Somewhere between zero and what we have today—preferably on the lower end—is where we all would like to be. We’re not even close to getting there, though, and rates aren’t coming down the way we would like.

Do Ya Feel Lucky?

Subscribers Only - According to the FAA, “flight training has changed very little since the dawn of regulated aviation. In fact, a private pilot trained to standards outlined in the Civil Aeronautics Regulations, circa the 1940s, would likely do quite well in most operations required by today’s practical test. This is because many of the basic skills needed to pilot an aircraft have changed very little. However, the development of new technologies and a rapidly evolving airspace system have outpaced current training methods. Moreover, the FAA and the flight training community now have over a century’s worth of experience upon which to draw when determining how best to train pilots. While the military and airline communities have leveraged this experience, the general aviation community has been slow to make use of the lessons learned.

Weren’t TAAs Supposed To Improve Things?

Subscribers Only - On November 8, 2014, the NTSB presented the fifth in a series of safety seminars focused on U.S. general aviation accidents. This event highlighted knowledge gained from NTSB accident investigations involving technically advanced aircraft (TAAs) and explored “current government and industry efforts to prevent them, and the resources available to the pilot community.”According to the NTSB, “In recent years, the cockpits of many general aviation aircraft have undergone a transition from conventional analog flight instruments…


Like me, you’ve probably been using the FAA’s free traffic and flight information. The two services, TIS-B and FIS-B, respectively, comprise the basic benefits the typical GA operator can expect from ADS-B IN, a component of the FAA’s NextGen ATC system. They’re available now, well in advance of the FAA’s 2020 mandate to install and use the other component, ADS-B OUT.


Mike Hart’s December 2014 article, “POH Fiction,” does a great job highlighting the ways aftermarket modifications can fundamentally alter a certified airplane’s performance without providing a lot of documentation about the effects. It’s also a good primer on how two or more so-called “legacy” STCs—those approved by the FAA prior to, say, 2000, may be a little light on specifying how they interact with one another. For many added pieces of equipment, the streamlined approved model list (AML) process has helped minimize paperwork for thousands of owners. But combining some of the more complicated STCs can have unintended consequences.

Making Your Own Luck

Subscribers Only - One of this magazine’s missions is to help reduce general aviation’s accident rates. Ideally, there would be no fatalities. We want to see an end to poverty and war, too, but we’re not holding our breath on either. In the world of aircraft, a mechanical world, things are still going to break and pilots are going to have to respond quickly, thoughtfully, and appropriately in order to make aircraft accident fatalities go away. Sometimes they may have to augment that skill with luck, too.

GA Safety In Europe

Subscribers Only - General aviation flight operations in Europe often are radically different from those in the United States, yet GA pilots “across the pond” face some of the same safety issues confronting pilots in the U.S. Meanwhile, European GA pilots and operators also must battle safety issues unique to Europe, including uneven infrastructure and high operating costs, which can limit training and proficiency flying. As a result, comparing GA in Europe to its counterpart in the U.S. offers some risk management lessons for pilots who are increasingly facing similar challenges, no matter their geographic location.

Popping Up

Subscribers Only - You’re departing on an IFR trip in a well-equipped aircraft with two passengers aboard. When you call for your clearance, ATC cannot immediately find your flight plan—you get the oft-dreaded “clearance on request” response. After completing all your pre-taxi checklists and entering what you expect will be your route into the GPS, you’re still sitting on the ramp with the engines turning, waiting. Eventually clearance delivery returns and says they cannot find your flight plan. Take a moment, and look at the “pop-up pop quiz” questions in the sidebar on the opposite page. What is your most likely response if you actually found yourself in this same scenario, given the information you have so far? Let’s add some additional details to this scenario. For one, the airport you’re trying to depart is a busy, tower-controlled facility in Class C airspace, and under an inner ring of a very busy Class B area. To get to your destination, you’ll head southwest, away from the Class B airport. But you’re still sitting on the ramp, with the engine running, waiting on ATC to get its act together. Does this change your response to the quiz? But wait, there’s more. The weather is marginal VFR, thanks mainly to low ceilings (1000 to 3000 feet agl). Visibility is greater than five sm. Take the pop quiz again. Has your answer changed? Oh, did I mention that this is at night? Does that change your answer again? These kind of questions are standard fare for instrument pilots, and many conducting VFR-only operations in or near certain airspace. And while missing flight plans aren’t the norm, their not at all unusual, either.

Making The Low-Vis Takeoff

General aviation pilots make IFR takeoffs in reduced visibility and low ceilings on a daily basis. We line up, launch, establish a climb, transition to the gauges and press on with the flight. Assuming there is an approach with adequate minimums at home plate or a nearby airport, we’re confident we can return and land within about 10 minutes should something go sour. If we’re in a single and the engine decides to take the day off, our ability to pick out a good landing site is minimal but, hey, that’s IFR flight any time the weather is down.

Laid-Back Landings

Subscribers Only - Year after year, far and away the largest number of fixed-wing accidents result from attempts to get those airplanes back onto the ground.” So says the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s 23rd Joseph T. Nall Report, examining general aviation safety during 2011. Landing accidents are more than twice as frequent as any other pilot-related accident category, according to the Report. That’s the bad news. The good news is we can do something about it: improve our performance. There’s no question landing an airplane is a complex task, but one way to ensure we always perform well is consistency: do it the same way each time and you’ll eventually get good at it. In other words, we need to make our landings routine, not excitement-filled adventures where the outcome is in doubt until the last moment.

Bites At The Apple

Subscribers Only - Every now and then, we come across an accident report that makes us wonder what we would have done differently, and when. Usually, the answer is fairly clear-cut: Do exactly the opposite of what the accident pilot did. Sometimes, though, it’s not nearly so clear-cut, and we find ourselves wondering if we had been in the left seat, would we have done as well.

NTSB Reports: January 2015

Subscribers Only - U.S. Civil Aviation Accidents

Weighty Matters

I had been doing a lot of flying, but most of it involved long, multi-hour legs, solo. As one consequence, I was logging only one or two landings for every five or so hours. Even though the airplane I was flying was well-equipped (read “heavy” for its model), most of my flights ended up with only a couple of hours’ worth of fuel. In other words, my recent experience with landings, though far in excess of the minimum required to remain legally and technically proficient, meant I always was landing a fairly light airplane.