From the June 2015 Issue

Off The Beaten Path

Off The Beaten Path

Private pilots are required to demonstrate soft-field technique before they earn their certificates. The FAA, however, doesn’t require you to demonstrate that skill on an actual soft field. Perhaps they should. It’s too easy to find examples of pilots filling out reports of accidents and incidents involving unpaved landing surfaces. Based on my experience and those of other pilots like me, there are many novel ways a pilot can screw up when venturing off pavement. Insurance companies know this and often restrict operations to paved runways.

Current Issue

Hard Lessons

Among pilots, rules and regulations are often described as having been “written in blood.” The implication being that the regulation under discussion likely came about as a result of an accident or incident where, had the regulation existed at the time, the outcome may have been different. This is often accurate to varying degrees, and the notion can be a reminder to pilots that “[i]n this business we play for keeps,” as Ernest K. Gann wrote in his classic Fate is the Hunter.

Spin Training

Dad had a healthy respect for spins. A pilot trained in the “old school” of the 1950s, he’d done many of them in one of Mr. Piper’s Cubs as a student and private pilot. He’d taken my uncle up and shown him what one was like...and ended up cleaning the cabin afterwards. When I started pilot training 20 years later, he insisted I have my instructor teach me how to do spins.

Time To Bite The Bullet?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of ADS-B, or Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast. As of January 1, 2020, you’ll need this equipment to routinely fly in U.S. airspace where the FARs now require a working Mode C transponder. The FAA rule mandating ADS-B in 2020 went into effect in 2010, so there’s little argument that operators haven’t had enough warning about it, and it’s not likely the FAA will change the deadline. There are two flavors of ADS-B, the “in” and “out” kinds. For now, only ADS-B Out is required in 2020; ADS-B In is optional. Both flavors are operational today, as the two coverage maps below demonstrate.

IFR Training In IMC?

I’ve never felt it appropriate that a pilot could obtain an instrument rating without flying in clouds. From a safety standpoint, it seems ludicrous. I received instrument dual in IMC and have done my best to make sure my instrument students get experience in the clag before taking their checkride. Nevertheless, I recognize that there are flight schools and instructors who will not give dual in IMC for various reasons. Over the years, I’ve spoken with a number of them about the issue.\n

Tips From The NTSB

There’s no question pilots can make dumb mistakes—each month, the back pages of this magazine have the proof. In many instances, however, pilots make mistakes because they weren’t warned of the consequences of their (in)actions. In other words, sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know. It’s the NTSB’s role to investigate aviation accidents in the U.S., and to come up with recommendations on ways to prevent them.

Real-World Alternates

One of the concerns many pilots express about doing their flight planning on a tablet computer is that they don’t spend time with a chart and a plotter looking over a route. They end up starting a flight with less situational awareness about airports where they can bail out if something goes wrong en route. That, combined with what can become a rote fixation on selecting an IFR alternate based only on the regs regarding weather at the destination, is an invitation to poor decision-making when a little smoke in the cockpit means shutting off the electrical system a third of the way into the flight, or the engine starts running rough on initial climb from an airport that’s below approach minimums. One way out of these dilemmas is to keep in mind the FARs are, by law, nothing more than minimum standards—and only looking at an alternate airport for the destination on an IFR flight of 500 miles might not be doing ourselves any favors. We always need an ace in the hole, and it doesn’t have to be the one we tell the FAA about on the flight plan.


Everyone remembers the first airplane they flew. But what about the second one? Chances are it was a lot like the first one, but still was different. While the make and model may have been the same, the serial and registration numbers were different, of course. Even trivial differences between the two likely was a topic of discussion with your instructor. The conversation may have included how different avionics equipment was installed, or one of them never had a working landing light, or had a prop offering better performance. In an extreme, you could have been mixing makes, models, wing position and avionics. There likely was a moment where you couldn’t find that blemish on the windshield you used as a reference point, or found the throttle too stiff.


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