Hurricane Irene

I recently came back from the Midwest and immediately faced to natural disasters; an earthquake and a hurricane. Well, the first oneI didn’t actually feel. The second is on its way and will be here this weekend. I remember the last time I dealt with an earthquake but not with a hurricane. Decent flying weather? I don’t think so.

As you probably heard in the news, the earthquake did have an effect on some airports around the eastern seaboard. I was lucky because I flew across the country on Monday and if the earthquake that hit that day I probably would’ve been stuck in Baltimore. Good job Mr. Earthquake!

Anyway, the looming hurricane presents problems for everyone… not just pilots. I’m not spending too much time worrying about the impending storm because we weathered the great ice storm of 2008 with just a bit of rain; the next town over was covered with 2 inches of ice. The only thing that has me nervous is the fact that this storm is supposed to bring 12 inches of rain. That’s a lot of dripping wet stuff.

So do yourself a favor and, if you’re in the path of the storm, please be vigilant and take the proper precautions to ensure your safety and the safety of those you know. Keep an eye on the news and the weather and worry about flying another day.



Complacency is one of the many demons on an aviator’s shoulder.  Unfortunately it’s the demon that kills most often.  First, let’s start with the definition of complacency: “…the experience of satisfaction and being at ease in one’s situation.” (Wikipedia)

How many of you have “breathed easy” once the airplane was leveled off and trimmed for cruise flight?  I know I sure have.  My mind wanders and I’m not as apt to pay attention.  Instead of spotting emergency landing sites I’m admiring the landscape 50 miles on the horizon.  I’m bored and not focused on the flight.

Every flight is a lesson in itself.  “Chair fly” once you’re on the ground and you’ll find there’s something you could’ve done differently (or better).  No flight is, or ever will be, the same as the previous or the next, no matter how routine the trip.  A great example of a flight that taught me how to recognize and fight complacency is my very first cross country in a C-152.  I nailed it on the way over (it was my first time leaving the airport and heading to a neighboring field).  I did more takeoffs and landings than I could count and I was happy.  Nothing could yank me off of the “high” I was on.. I was growing up as a pilot.

The way back was a different story.  Yes, the journey was only about 25 NM.  But where I fly (mountainous areas of eastern NY/western New England) the weather can throw you a curve ball at any time.   I took off and position the airplane on my desired heading and aimed for the mountain ridge that would bring me back home.  After trimming and making sure everything was fine I put the sectional on my lap and stuck my nose to the left window.  The air was smoother than silk and the snow-covered landscape sure was pretty.  After about 10 minutes I grabbed the chart to figure out where I was.  I looked for a town I should’ve been coming up on… wasn’t there.  Looked left for the water tower… wasn’t there.  Heck, I couldn’t even see the river I was following (the Hudson River, to be exact).  I was on my first solo cross country and I was lost.  Big time.

I was frantic in the beginning but glanced at my fuel gauge and realized I had enough for at least two hours of flight time.  Surely I didn’t end up in Canada or something… but you never know.  I climbed a few thousand feet and started looking for familiar territory not marked on my sectional.  Once I resigned to the fact that the world is a whole lot different from this high I picked up the chart and started from square one.

There was a racetrack underneath my left wing.  Great!  There are three racetracks on the sectional which are fairly close together.  Next….

A railroad track!  My neck of the woods is littered with them.  Bad idea.

I was getting mad.  Not nervous or frustrated; mad.  All that confidence I had in myself from a half hour prior to what was going on had diminished.  I was lost in the landscape where I spent all of my life growing up and I couldn’t figure out where to go.  Then it hit me like a sack of potatoes…

The wind turbine.

The Jiminy Peak Ski Resort had just built a wind turbine to help power their operations.  It was the first and darn near only turbine in existence back then and it stuck out like a sore thumb.  It was so new that it hadn’t been marked on the sectional yet.  DUH!

The chart found a new home in the back of the airplane and I embarked on my new mission – find the turbine.  Not five minutes later I spotted it spinning smoothly in the breeze.  Except it was going fast.  I then realized why my course was so messed up.  But epiphanies aside.  I had an airport to find.

I brought the airplane up and over the mountain with the turbine and saw the airport in all its glory.  What a relief!  I landed and while taxiing back I debated whether or not to tell my instructor what happened.  I mentioned it in passing but he explained that I approached the airport from the northwest when I should’ve been coming in from the southwest.  Those darn instructors ALWAYS know what’s going on.

What was the lesson I learned from a flight that happened about four years ago?  Get comfortable and something will almost always go wrong.  We’ve all had it happen… though most are probably embarrassed to talk about it.  Remember that a story like this can do wonders for someone who is listening or reading.  Perhaps a pilot did something of the like and got away with it.  A quick glance at any NTSB reports where “the pilot was complacent” will drive the point home.  I can’t explain how many pilots I’ve flown with who did what I did so many moons ago.  Do your friend (and yourself) a favor and ask them a simple question – “What would you do if the engine failed right now?”

Or just yank the throttle back and call out a simulated engine failure.  See what your buddy does THEN!

…All the more reason to never fly with your flight instructor on leisurely cross countries….

747-8 Draws “747” Over CONUS

FlightAware is a great website for tracking your friend’s flight or keeping an eye on famous test flights.  On August 2nd, a 747-8 drew “747” over the course of 17 hours… presumably on an endurance flight.

This isn’t the only time something like this has happened.  Here’s an unnamed image of a very nicely sketched airplane…

And here’s another that was done by a Gulfstream GV…

Pretty cool!

Age is No Excuse for Ignorance

You’ve undoubtedly heard of Myrtle Rose and her “cute” airplane Winston.  She busted a TFR over Chicago while President Obama was in town and thought F-16s were admiring her airplane.  I rarely have a problem with a person in the news who made an “oops”… but this lady goes over the edge.

FAR 91.103Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight.

She was flying solo.  Therefore she was PIC.  It doesn’t matter what her age is or how “cute” her airplane might be… she’s not beyond this rule at all.  To make matters worse… she was using an excuse to not check the information pertaining to the flight – her computer wasn’t working.


I’d be more apt to feel bad for her if she wasn’t so cocky about the incident. “Oh dear, maybe I should send him a belated birthday card and say, ‘You should have stayed home and Michelle baked you a birthday cake.'”

No.  The sky doesn’t revolve around you and your airplane named Winston.

Ground School Success and Thoughts on Instructing

My last post was somewhat gloom-and-doomy (see “No Giving Up Allowed!“) regarding the fate of the ground school course which I was tapped to teach this summer.  I’m extremely proud to report that one of my students passed his knowledge test with a 93.  That’s right: niner tree!

This was a great lesson for me as a budding instructor.  I can’t take all the credit for this student’s success because it was evident from the beginning that he was highly motivated to learn.  Which brings up a new task: how can I motivate my students?

All of us who fly know that aviation is “a very pleasant mental disease”.  A student pilot will occasional say he or she has “caught the bug” and has a new-found passion for flight.  But is aviation really contagious?  Are we born with a trigger in our brains that suddenly switches on when we have an aviation-related experience?

Most pilots I know fly for two reasons: work and pleasure.  They earned their license because they had a relative who flew or someone introduced them to aviation and they were hooked.  Sometimes a person’s job requires a great deal of traveling and the choice to earn a license and buy an airplane seems very logical.  But this is where motivation comes into play.

I can honestly say that my motivation to become a pilot stemmed from a love of aviation at a very young age.  My grandfather passed the “bug” on to me and I could talk someone’s ear off about airplanes.  Doesn’t it seem like all pilots can do that?

Many of my ground school classes started with a definitive plan and ended up on some whacky topic about something that happened to me or someone I know.  I love telling stories in the classroom as a way to bring the students into the same situation and have them think of how they would react.  But how can I use storytelling as an effective motivator for students?

Each instructor has his or her own methods of conveying aviation knowledge to enthusiastic learners.  This is where I hit the bump in the road.  Not all of my students were motivated to learn and frequently showed this in the classroom.  I can understand this, as aviation is not something you can “convert” someone to.  The student needs to possess a genuine passion for flight in order to embrace the material that is being taught to them.

Which presents another problem – choice.  The program I taught allows students to choose to be in the class.  Granted, they’re in an air conditioned building with computers that are wired with yokes and pedals for Microsoft Flight Simulator.  But is that their only source of motivation?  If this is the case then we should just have a flight sim class.

I’m encouraging responses to this post from pilots, students, and instructors.  🙂

No Giving Up Allowed!

Yesterday’s class was a disaster. The guest instructor issued a 35-minute exam which was meant to test everything that the students learned throughout the week. However, he included material on the exam that I did not cover in class. When the students got most of these questions wrong it gave him the wrong impression and led him to believe that they were not studying.

When class ended and he was done rolling his eyes he drew a deep breath and sat down next to my desk. He said that he wanted to “write off” the rest of the summer. This basically means that he has absolutely no intention of keeping the faith in my students.

I am supposed to be a budding instructor who looks to a certified teacher for guidance and ways to effectively deliver material to students. I am not supposed to learn why I shouldn’t teach using their methods and thought processes. Yesterday showed me that some instructors are willing to give up when the end isn’t even in sight yet. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be done.

Yes, it’s true that I only have six weeks to prepare students for their written exam. This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible because other instructors have been able to do exactly what I’m trying to accomplish. Last year we didn’t sign anyone off… but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t have. I’m pushing my students extremely hard and teaching the material to them as quickly and efficiently as I possibly can. The main problem with this is I’m not left with very much time to be able to elaborate and deviate from the curriculum.

I also learned that this particular instructor is putting his priorities above all the students. He will not sign off any students unless they score an 80 or above on the comprehensive final exam. As we all know, the minimum passing score is a 70. His justification for this is not so the students are prepared, but so that the students are prepared enough to pass the exam so that he does not receive a bad passing rate.

As the primary instructor for this ground school course I absolutely refuse to give up hope on these students. I don’t care what the instructor says; I will make sure at least one of my students passes their written exam. I have two weeks left to prepare them. Time to hold my breath and pull them through.

App Review #1- RadarScope

As I said in the previous post, I’m a huge weather junkie. The first app review I am going to share with you (the first of many) is an iPhone app which isn’t directly related to aviation. Instead, it’s an extremely simple app that contains all radar data for the entire United States. You can select different reflectivity modes based on what you’re looking for and you can choose exactly which radar station you want to see data for. I find this app  extremely useful because I’m a very visual person; if I can tell where the storm cell is and what direction it is moving in, that’s about all the information I need to know.

RadarScope does come at a very high price though… the app costs $9.99 in the Apple store. Even though the price tag is pretty steep I personally feel that this is an invaluable app to have as a pilot. Other apps such as and WX Alert are excellent for providing basic weather forecasts and information about severe weather but RadarScope gives the user a visual reference as to where severe weather is located. And, if you’re a weather junkie like me, being able to see what’s going on in the entire United States is a pretty cool thing. Plus it’s an excellent way to kill some time.

Another cool feature is being able to actually read the weather alerts that were issued for a particular storm. The app provides a drop down list of all current warnings (not watches) and the option to view the storm cell on the radar screen. If you really need a fun way to entertain yourself, try to find the hook echo in a tornado-warned thunderstorm!

I can only imagine how this app would look on an iPad screen. Oh darn, there I go mentioning that silly little gizmo again!

If you’re interested in purchasing this app in the Apple store you can do so here:

Apparently RadarScope is also available to download for your Mac (sorry Windows users). Here is the link to that app as well:

Happy apping!