About the Author

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Southport, Manitoba, Canada
Steve Pomroy is a professional flight instructor and aviation writer. He has been teaching since 1995 and holds an Airline Transport Pilot License, Class 1 Instructor and Aerobatic Instructor Ratings, military QFI, and an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering. He's written and published three flight training books through his company, SkyWriters Publishing, and has several other books under development. Steve currently teaches RCAF pilot candidates on their Primary Flight Training course.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

PPL Prep Review at Learntofly.ca

As a quick follow-up to my previous post, the folks at Learntofly.ca have published another review of a SkyWriters product. This time, it's a review of Private Pilot License: Written Exam Preparation.

There should also be an upcoming review of Instructional Air Notes within a few weeks. I look forward to reading that one too!

Happy Flying!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Applied Aerodynamics Review

Well, I was just reviewing my to-do list (some day I'll get through it all!), and discovered a little oversight.

Back in July, Learn to Fly Canada (www.learntofly.ca) wrote a review of my book, Applied Aerodynamics for Private and Commercial Pilots. The review was a pretty good one, and can be read at: http://www.learntofly.ca/applied-aerodynamics-for-private-and-commercial-pilots/.

Silly of me not to post this sooner, as I'd love for you all to read the review and buy the book:)!

Happy Flying!

Monday, August 15, 2011

What to Do ... Where to Go ...

So now that I've got the Weekly Aviation Tips Email up and running (with a nice beginning set of subscribers), I have a dilemma to solve. Incidentally, a dilemma is not, as one of my old engineering classmates joked, two lemmas (where a "lemma" is a type of mathematical theorem).

So here's the question: What do I do with this blog? Do I discontinue it (nope)? Do I use it to expand on the tips that get sent out weekly? Do I try to separate it fully from the weekly tips? The first option is a non-starter. With an established readership, I'd have to be silly to just stop. So really the dilemma is whether I tie the blog to the weekly emails or not. There are pros and cons both ways, so I'm a little torn.

If I tie the blog to the weekly emails, that give me an opportunity to expand on topics that may only be partly covered in the email. That's a plus. But it would probably require me to re-write the email here to bring blog readers up to speed. This makes the email redundant. It also might annoy subscribers who only get part of the info in the email and have to surf to get the rest.

Separating the blog from the weekly emails keeps both products fresh and independent. A plus. But it requires me to think of more things to write! Hopefully, with the informality of a blog, that won't be too much of a hurdle:)! Not to mentin the fact that I hope to have fairly frequent guest writers for the Weekly Tips. However, the separation of the two products cuts off any opportunities for them to compliment one another.

So I guess the way I'm leaning is to keep the two products separate, but occasionally use the blog to expand on the email (or vice versa) when I can do so without having to re-write from scratch.

Thoughts? Comments?

Incidentally, if you haven't already signed up for the weekly email, you can do so with the link in the first paragraph or with the form to the left.

Semi-regular blog posts should pick up again in the near future!

Happy Flying!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Weekly Tips

As regular readers will know, I've been spending quite a bit of time lately building my publishing company, SkyWriters Publishing. As a result, my posts here haven't been as frequent as I would like. The bad news is that that's likely to continue for a while. I'll keep posting, but not the regular once-a-week-minimum that I'd like. The good news is that there is now a regular weekly article that you can read, and it'll get sent right to your inbox!

If you look to the left, you'll see a new widget, enabling you to sign up for a weekly newsletter-ish type thing, the Aviation Tip of the Week. I won't always be the one writing these, but I'll be involved at the editorial level if I'm not actually writing. If you like regular content, and have a thing for airplanes, this Tip of the Week is for you!

You'll also note that as a recipient of the Tip of the Week, you'll be invited to submit your own tips for publication. Do you have a trick of the trade that you think others could use? Bring it on!

Happy Flying!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Turning Steeply

Well, I meant for this post to be about corner speed. But somehow it got transmogrified along the way into a post about steep turns. I guess corner speed will have to wait!

Early in training, every pilot learns how to do a "steep turn". Unfortunately, we don't often get taught the full maneuver. The Flight Test Guide (in Canada) specifies that the steep turn be conducted at 45° angle of bank. So that tends to be where the training ends (I've whined about this phenomenon in previous articles: Einstein's Razor and Multi-Engine at Night).

Properly done, the steep turn can be a much more comprehensive exercise than a simple 45° bank, 360° turn (not that this isn't a good starting point, it's just that it makes a very poor finishing point). Turning at other angles of bank should be included, as well as descending steep turns (and climbing is your airplane has the horsepower), and steep turns off of a 360° line (90° or 180° turn).

The steep turn itself is done mostly as a coordination exercise. Proper and timely use of all four primary controls (pitch, roll, yaw, power) is required to make the maneuver work. However, as a coordination exercise, it can be much more effective if we vary the angle of bank and roll-in/roll-out rates, and include a turn reversal (the CPL flight test now includes a reversed steep turn, which is a step in the right direction, but it is still limited to 45° of bank).

Further to improving the value of the steep turn as a coordination exercise, some attention should be given to the practical use of the steep turn. Three uses come immediately to mind: Collision Avoidance, Canyon Turns, and Cloud Breaking.

Using the steep turn as a collision avoidance maneuer, do we roll gently to a precise 45° AOB, turn 360°, and then gently roll out? Nope. If the collision geometry is such that a turn is the way out (it isn't always), that turn should be very aggressive—using a rapid roll rate to the highest useable AOB (limited by airspeed, limit load factor, and power available). In most cases, the turn should cover about 90° of direction change, but sometimes 180° makes more sense. In many cases, the less we need to turn, the higher the AOB can be. This is becasue many light aircrat are underpowered in steep turns and will bleed off airspeed rapidly—preventing a full 360° of turn without a stall, but allowing shorter turns without difficulty.

A canyon turn is exactly what the name implies. The technique is used during mountain flying, and serves as a way out if we take a wrong turn into a box canyon and find ourselves approaching a cumulo-granite wall that we can't outclimb. Assuming your aircraft has enough power to maintain altitude and airspeed, the canyon turn should be conducted at your corner speed (this is the link, I went from a post about corner speed to a post about steep turns here). In brief, your corner speed is just the right speed for a maximum-load-factor-minimum-airspeed turn, which will give you the smallest possible turn radius. More on the corner speed (and it's relationship to other useful speeds, such as Vo and Va) in a future post.

Cloud breaking is a use of steep turn to descend through an opening in cloud after inadvertently getting stuck on top. It's not an ideal solution (a much better one being not getting stuck on top in the first place!), but it can get you out of a jam if you don't have an instrument rating, or if your aircraft is not equipped for instrument flight. In order to conduct this maneuver safely, you need to be able to execute a stable steep descending turn without letting it evolve into a spiral dive or stall/spin scenario. If you can do that and find a hole in the cloud big enough for your airplane, you can descend visually to full visual flight underneath.

Another example of where we might see a steep descending turn is during a turn to final. Sure, we normally try to stay away from higher angles of bank during such a critical phase of flight, but steep turns to final can be conducted safely if they are planned and executed well. The ability to do this is especially important in cases such as an engine failure, where you may have to choose between a steep turn to a beautiful landing spot, or flying straight and landing in trees and rocks. If you aren't proficient with steep descending turns, this may not be a choice at all—trees and rocks under control are better than a nice landing strip in a stalled/spinning condition.

The bottom line to all of this chit-chat is that the stepp turn is a much more comprehensive exercise than typical PPL/CPL training would lead us to believe. This is unfortunate, and detrimental to overall student performance. If you are a flight isntructor, consider adding to your steep turn training program. If you are a student, pester your instructor for more thorough steep turn coverage.

Happy Flying!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

20% or Bust!

In the flight training world, there are lots of old wive's tales and half truths. Some of these are harmless ("you're not allowed to carry the technical log on-board the airplane"), while others are potentially dangerous ("carb ice is caused by the venturi effect and the subsequent expansion and cooling of the air").

One of the sources of these half-truths is based in the misunderstanding of certification standards—even to the point of not knowing that a "rule-of-thumb" originates as a certification standard. As a case in point, today I'd like to discuss the 20% stall-speed crosswind rule. This rule, which is almost invariably presented as a rule-of-thumb, tells us that an aircraft can safely takeoff and land with a crosswind component equal to or less than 20% of the aircraft's stall speed.

The statement "an aircraft can safely takeoff and land with a crosswind component equal to or less than 20% of the aircraft's stall speed" is in fact true. But it is not a rule-of-thumb, and some aircraft can takeoff and land with significantly more crosswind. The 20% rule is a certification standard, and it sets for us the minimum allowable crosswind tolerance for a type certified aircraft. In Canadian regultions, ths requirement is embodied in CAR 523.233:

523.233 Directional Stability and Control

(a) A 90 degree cross-component of wind velocity, demonstrated to be safe for taxiing, takeoff, and landing must be established and must be not less than 0.2 VSO.

This regulation establishes two requirements: first that the safe crosswind component for taxi, takeoff, and landing not be less than 0.2 Vso; and second that the safe operation be demonstrated, not just calculated. This requirement for a demonstration is why we often see a "maximum demonstrated crosswind component" published in the flight manual. This published number is the rule, not 20% Vso. However, a careful reading of the regulation will reveal that the demonstrated crosswind component does not have to be a formal limit. For example, if the test program for the aircraft included successful takeoffs and landings with an 18 knot crosswind component, this could become the "maximum demonstrated crosswind component". Even though the aircraft may be capable of handling a 20 knot or even 25 knot crosswind, these higher speeds weren't demonstrated.

So, what about 20% Vso? Is it a useful reference? On some older models of aircraft, the flight manual does not include crosswind information. However, the certification standard tells us that the aircraft can handle at least 20% of the Vso. Maybe it can handle more. Maybe not. But the fact that the aircraft has a type certificate indicates that we have a minimum baseline to work from—even in the absence of published data.

With newer aircraft, CAR 523.1585 requires that the flight manual include information on "The maximum demonstrated values of crosswind for takeoff and landing, and procedures and information pertinent to operations in crosswinds". This suggests that the 20% rule is not only misleading, but obsolete—as we no longer reference it to determine an aircraft's capability, since the capability is published.

Happy Flying!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Harbour Grace


Continuing on from my last post (Flying on Grass), a little discussion of one particular grass field:

This picture was taken in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland—by far, my favourite place to take students for some initial exposure to real challenging conditions (as distinct from the simulated conditions we often set up on long paved runways for training purposes).

Aside from being a great little airstrip, Harbour Grace has some history. It was the launch site for some of the original successful international and trans-atlantic flights (read up on some of the history HERE), although Alcock and Brown launched out of St. John's, just a few minute flight time to the East.

I took the picture while I stood on top of the 65 foot rock (read "obstacle") that must be cleared prior to landing. The aircraft was being flown by two of my instructor students. At this point, they had cleared the obstacle, and were completing their approach to the grass strip, which also has a 4% downgrade. In light winds, this is one of the few one-way runways outside the Rockies. You can land uphill with no obstacle on the approach, and takeoff downhill away from the obstacle. Unfortunately, this is Newfoundland, and light-wind days are few and far between. So, with prevailing winds out of the West, landing over the obstacle onto the downslope is the norm.

This is a good example of a place where you might push the limits of not only the aircraft, but the pilot. Precision control of glidepath, aim point, and airspeed are vital, or the approach will be unsuccessful. I have yet to see a pilot (private, commercial, or instructor candidate) make a successful, unassisted landing on their first attempt. On the other hand, I have yet to see a pilot who couldn't land here safely after a bit of practice. Perhaps the most important skill one needs before attempting to land in a place like this is the overshoot/go-around. The overshoot is your "out" if things don't go exactly according to plan. Don't be surprised if you need to use it here.

During takeoff, there is a clear preference to takeoff downhill and away from the obstacle. Luckily, the prevailing winds usually support this preference. However, I have had one occasion of taking off on the upslope and over the obstacle. We had landed uphill with a light headwind, with the plan to takeoff downhill with a light tailwind (less than 10 knots and within the limits of the aircraft we were flying). But we stopped for a break and wouldn't you know it, but the winds picked up. leaving us with three options:
  1. Takeoff downhill with no obstacle, but with a tailwind outside my comfort zone. This was a non-starter.
  2. Sit tight and wait for the winds to change. This showed some promise, although it might have been a long wait.
  3. Takeoff into the headwind uphill over the obstacle. But only after confirming it could be done and establishing an "out".

Option 2 woud clearly be the safest. But the question we faced was, could we make option 3 work safely? The answer came down to two actions and a possible third.

First, we spent some time crunching numbers—to see if it worked on paper. With a margin of error. Accounting for the gradient, the grass, and the non-standard (i.e. - not 50 ') obstacle required the application of some rules-of thumb. Not being manufacturer-approved, it was important to make sure the rules we used were conservative—that they erred on the side of caution. As it turned out, the winds really helped. Too strong to allow for a tailwind takeoff, they contributed greatly to shortening our takeoff and climb distance when applied as a headwind.

Second, we identified and marked a reject point. As it happend, the "mark" was pre-existing, but getting out and placing a deliberate stack of rocks (or some other marker) would have been an option if there weren't a natural mark to use. The ability to reject the takeoff was our "out" if the calculations were wrong, or if the engine wasn't actually performing as advertised. Or if any one of a host of other things didn't go as planned. The ability to reject a takeoff is just as important as the abilty to go-around from a bad approach or landing.

Our possible third option was leaving our passenger (a second student observing from the back seat) behind. If the takeoff was too marginal, the weight reduction could make enough of a difference to get us out. That would have meant returning without the front seat passenger (the student), and would have been a bit of a hassle. But it might have made the difference if we couldn't all get out together. As luck would have it, this wasn't necessary. But it was discussed as an option.

After all of this planning and thought, the takeoff itself was almost anti-climactic—a non-event. We accelerated (slowly, as anticipated) to our reject speed, after which we passed our reject point and made the "continue" decision. Then we lifted off and climbed over the obstacle—with a shallow left turn to take advantage of the slope of the obstacle (it's lower on the left than on the right), clearing it with plenty of margin. All in all a good day, a good flight, and a valuable unplanned learning experience.

Landing on (and taking off from) grass surfaces is something we train for. But almost always under "simulated" conditions—where we get to practice the technique, but are forced to skimp on much of the decision making. The opportunity to try things out on real grass is invaluable for students, and very rewarding for experienced pilots.

Happy Flying!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Flying on Grass

Ahem... I mean... Taking off and landing on grass runways!

Get ready for spring flying! For some of you more fortunate souls, it's been spring for a while. Here in the South of Manitoba, it was winter until faily recently, then it was flood season. Now we're into spring, and the grass runways (at least some of them!) are probably dry enough to start using.

I'm a big fan of operating off-pavement. It adds another element of complexity to flight operations and makes things that much more interesting—not to mention the fact that it opens up a whole host of new destinations to visit.

But before just bombing in to a grass (or gravel!) field, there are some facts, factors, and pointers to think about. I won't talk specific techniques here, since they can vary quite a bit from one aircraft type to the next—thanks to design variations such as tricycle gear v. taildragger, or conventional tail v. T-tail. But the techniques used generally stem from one of the following points:

Keep the Nosewheel Light
If you're flying a tricycle gear aircraft, remember that the nosegear can dig-in and cause problems for a variety of reasons (e.g. – it's smaller than the main gear wheels). If the nosegear digs in, we can see performance problems (more drag), handling problems (drag at the front of the aircraft = directional instability = possible ground loop), and/or structural problems (i.e. - snapping off the nose gear!). How do we avoid all of this? remove weight from the nose gear as early as possible in the takeoff roll, and keep the weight off the nose gear as long as possible in the landing roll.

Liftoff early, but Don't Climb: Accelerate in Ground Effect
Lifting off early (i.e. - at a reduced airspeed) reduces rolling friction later in the takeoff process, reduces structural loads on the landing gear, and reduces controllability problems introduced by the soft surface. But there's a catch. Liftoff speeds used for "normal" takeoffs are determined according to the stall speed. In other words, liftoff too slowly, and you risk stalling and gracelessly falling back to Earth. This is where ground effect comes into play. Our stall speed is reduced in ground effect. So we can take advantage of this reduced stall speed to get airborne earlier. We can then also take advantage of the reduced drag in ground effect to accelerate to a safe climb speed.

Remember: You'll see Longer Takeoffs AND Landings
This one catches new pilot off guard and is a little counter-intuitive. There is more rolling friction due to the grass and soft under-grass surface. So we expect to see a longer takeoff roll. However, new initiates to grass fields also often expect to see a shorter landing roll due to the same rolling friction. But there's a catch. During landing, we can use brakes. Our brakes work really well on pavement, but not so well on grass. So although we gain rolling friction, we loss braking effectiveness. The net effect is a longer landing roll.

All in all, flying on grass can be fun and rewarding. So brush the rust off your skills, get a checkout from an instructor if necessary, and go try it out!

Happy Flying!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

SkyWriters Update

I have several more posts started and underway for this blog. But until they're finished, this little post of shameless self-promotion will have to do:).

The reason the posts are slow in getting done is because, as noted previously, I've been very busy getting SkyWriters Publishing up and running. SkyWriters is my aviation publishing company. I'm using it to promote and publish a series of aviation training manuals for ab-initio students. ("Ab-initio" roughly translates to the first 250 hours, private, commercial, multi-IFR, although I also have products for instructors—both practicing and candidate).

Right now, SkyWriters Publishing has three products on the market.
  1. Applied Aerodynamics for Private and Commercial Pilots
  2. Private Pilot License: Written Exam Preparation
  3. Instructional Air Notes
There are also a host of products under development.

Each of these products offers student pilots (or instructor candidates) an opportunity to build their knowledge and improve their performance.

At the moment, I'm the only author being published by SkyWriters. But this will change. In the near term, an aerobatics quick-reference guide is under development by another author. In the longer term, some other products are under development, or at least being discussed. This will eventually bring other authors into the SkyWriters fold. In the meantime, if you know any aviation authors looking for a place to publish, have them drop us a line at SkyWriters Publishing.

We've recently entered into a tentative agreement with www.flyingcanuck.ca to carry our products. Hopefully, this will work out, and both SkyWriters and FlyingCanuck will benefit from the partnership. Further distribution channels are also being explored, but building this thing from the ground up is a slow process. Bear with me!

Happy Flying!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fly the Little Wing

One of the bloggers I read (Cockpit Conversation) has been writing lately about linguistics. So, in that theme, let's start today's post by discussing the etymology of 'Aileron'!

Aileron is yet another word brought to the aviation community by the French (some others: fuselage, empennage, decolage, nacelle, pitot, sacre bleu!, etc.) It originates around 1909, which was around the same time the aileron was actually invented. (The Wright Brothers used wing warping to control roll. The aileron was invented later by other innovators. But ultimately, the Wrights won a court ruling declaring that the aileron was included in their roll-control patent of wing warping.)

From www.etymonline.com:
Aileron
1909, from Fr. aileron, altered (by influence of aile "wing"), from Fr. aleron "little wing," dim. of O.Fr. ele "wing" (12c.), from L. ala "wing" (see aisle).
Bottom line, Aileron means "Little Wing"—not to be confused with the music of Jimi Hendrix. Since an aileron is essentially a little wing that gets used to modify a big wing, the name seems appropriate.

During normal flight operations, ailerons are pretty simple. When deflected, they alter the camber of the wing and the orientation of the chord line. Because they deflect in opposite directions, they serve to control the rolling movement of the aircraft—one wing gains lift while the other loses lift, and the aircraft rolls toward the up-going aileron.

Unfortunately, things get a little more complicated during non-normal operations—particularly in and around the stall. The aileron can quickly become unreliable, or, more unexpectedly, reliably work backward. The response of ailerons to the stall can vary quite a bit, and is heavily influenced by the planform shape of the wing—which in turn influences whether or not the wingtip will stall under any given set of conditions. Consider the following examples of planform effect on stalling:
Rectangular Wings
Rectangular wings stall from the roots, and the stall progresses outward—resulting in good roll control (read "unstalled ailerons") throughout the flight envelope.
Swept Wings
Swept wings tend to stall at the tips first, leading to a whole host of problems (pitch up and deep stall to name two that may be topics of future posts). One of these problems is the reversal of the ailerons.
Tapered Wings
Tapered wings begin stalling at around the midpoint of the trailing edge. The stall then propagates forward and outward until the whole wing is stalled.
These effects are further complicated by washin/washout (twisting of the wing), "aerodynamic twist" (varying the airfoil section along the span), configuration (flap setting), and features such as vortex generators and stall strips.

If the wingtip, and therefore the aileron, is stalled, deflection of the aileron will have an effect opposite to the intent. The down-going aileron—which normally increases lift—will effectively increase the angle of attack of the wing it's attached to, and deepen the stall—resulting in a reduction of lift and increase in drag. Vice-versa for the upgoing aileron—lower angle of attack, reduced stall, more lift. The effect in this case will be for the aircraft to roll opposite the aileron input—the ailerons are reversed.

On the other hand, if the wingtip (and therefore the aileron) is unstalled—even if the inboard portion of the wing is fully stalled—the ailerons will work properly.

Somewhere between these two extremes, when the stall has progressed spanwise to cover part of the aileron, there is a point where the aileron will have no effect at all. Why? Part of the aileron (which is stalled) is reversed, while part of the aileron (which is unstalled) is not reversed. The countering effect neutralizes any roll input made by the pilot.

So we have three possible aileron behaviors in a stall: they can reverse, they can be ineffective, or they can work properly. Which of these behaviors shows up will depend on aircraft design features (planform shape being a major one) and the depth of the stall. This stall-depth dependency creates some uncertainty regarding aileron response in many aircraft types, and is ultimately the reason for the "neutralize ailerons" doctrine of stall recoveries.

If we knew, with certainty, that the ailerons would work properly, we could just use them as usual. If we knew, with certainty, that the ailerons would be neutralized, we could just ignore them and not spend so much time learning not to use them. If we knew, with certainty, that the ailerons would reverse, we could just use them backward.

For most aircraft types, the aileron response will depend heavily on how deep the stall is. As a result, the ailerons can be considered unreliable—we don't know how they'll respond until we try. Since inadvertent stalls occur at low altitude, and minimum-altitude recoveries are paramount, spending time experimenting is ill-advised. So neutralizing the ailerons for stall recoveries is the best course of action.

For several models of the Cessna Skyhawk (C-172), the manufacturer, via the flight manual, recommends using pro-spin aileron to help ensure a proper spin entry. This approach will only work if we can reliably say that the ailerons will not be stalled at the entry to a spin. The same manufacturer does not recommend using anti-spin (or pro-spin) aileron during a spin recovery. Why not? as the spin develops, the stall deepens. It's possible in this case for the wingtips to fully or partially stall, resulting in the neutralizing or reversal of the ailerons. Unless we can reliably predict the effect, any attempt to use the ailerons is an experiment. If we get it right, bonus! But, if we get it wrong, we'll chew up much more altitude on the recovery—Unbonus!

As a counter example, on the Grob G-120A, the manufacturer, via the flight manual, calls for a spin recovery with full aileron deflection into the spin. Why? The tapered wing is a hint. We can reliably predict that the wingtips (and therefore the ailerons) will be stalled during a spin. This means that we know that the ailerons will work backward, and aileron into the spin creates rolling and yawing moments out of the spin.

I'm reminded by this post of a former colleague of mine who had previously flown F-5's in the Air Force. He explained to me one day that the spin recovery in the F-5 above 20,000' included full aileron deflection into the spin (not surprising, the F-5 is a delta-wing aircraft—wing tips stall first). He went on to explain that the spin recovery below 20,000' included pulling on the ejection handle and hoping your parachute worked!

Happy Flying!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Compound Emergencies

Ok. Finally, a completed post! Hopefully, I'll be able to stay on schedule and have at least one a week from now on! In the meantime, visit www.SkyWriters.aero.

I've read some comments recently on a couple of other forums about the practice of compound (i.e – multiple, unrelated) emergencies in flight training. It seems they aren't very popular, with some posters being adamantly opposed to their practice. There seems to be a widely held belief that they are of no value. So I thought I'd take some time to look at this belief to see if it's a valid one.

In Canada, compound emergencies are not tested. It is official Transport Canada policy (yes, policy, not regulation) that multiple unrelated emergencies not be presented to flight test candidates. The rationale, presumably, is that compound emergencies are very rare, and our finite testing and training resources are better spent preparing for realistic scenarios. Pretty solid reasoning, as far as it goes.

For clarity, we should note that multiple related emergencies are allowed. For example, consider being on a Group 1 (multi-engine) IFR flight test. After the left engine is "failed", a subsequent vacuum failure/partial panel scenario is fair game if the left engine is the only one with a vacuum pump. On the other hand, if your aircraft has redundant vacuum pumps, with a backup on the right engine, the compound engine-out/partial-panel is not allowed.

So now the real question, if compound emergencies are not tested, does this mean we should not teach them? At first glance, similar reasoning can certainly apply. We have finite training resources, and we should maximize the benefit of these resources. This means focusing on realistic scenarios. But if you've read my previous post on Teaching to the Test, you might guess that I would support training for compound emergencies. And you'd be right. With some very careful qualifications, I would indeed support training for compound emergencies. Let's look at the "How?" and the "Why?".

First for the "Why?". There are at least 2 arguments in favor of training for compound emergencies. The first is that, although they are rare, they do in fact happen. Never training for them gives trainees the false impression that they simply don't happen. This can result in a pretty rude awakening when suddenly our 500-hour-still-wet-behind-the-ears commercial pilot is faced with a thrown rod in his left engine which punches through his alternator, producing a power surge that kills his entire electrical system. At night.

Is this a likely scenario? Nope. Could it happen? Yup. Has it happened in the past? Probably, but I can't say for certain. Should we train for it?

It's impossible to train for every possible combination of compound emergency. Even if we wanted to, there are just too many combinations and permutations to allow for this level of training. But exposure to several different possibilities builds familiarity and problem-solving skills. It exposes us to scenarios where we have to think and prioritize rather than just running a pre-determined drill. So this training has some direct value, even if the specific scenarios are unlikely in the real world.

The second argument is that we need to train to some "margin of proficiency". What does this mean? Half way through a 1.5 hour training flight, when we've been training steadily for the past 6 weeks, we are likely to perform very well. But when we've been out of training for 6 months and we're at the end of a 14 hour duty day, our proficiency will suffer dramatically. We need to be good enough in training to allow for that degradation in proficiency and still survive a real emergency. In other words, the emergencies we train for should not necessarily be realistic. They should be much worse.

This idea of margin of proficiency reminds me of doing kick, punch, and block drills back in my martial arts days. We would spend portions (often LARGE portions) of many classes perfecting one particular technique. One of our instructors often reminded us that such a degree of perfection wasn't called for in a real fight. But we needed to be good enough to allow our technique to degrade due to fatigue, stress, fear, or injury while still being able to stay alive in a confrontation.

This is a valid point in any skill set where failure has dire consequences (like crashing an airplane full of passengers!). Our performance in a real world crisis is often lower than our performance in a training environment. Our training standards need to reflect this.

So the bottom line? Multiple unrelated emergencies are an appropriate training tool. However, using compound emergencies exclusively, or from the very beginning of training can indeed be counterproductive. Which brings us to the "How?" of compound emergencies.

The vast majority of real emergencies are "simple" (read "single") emergencies. This should be reflected in training, as training should be preparation for the real world.

Further, as learning normally occurs in a simple-to-complex order (instructors refer to this as the Law of Relationship, from Thorndike's Laws of Learning—this despite the fact Relationship is not one of the laws of learning! But I digress), we need to start out training for the more likely simple emergencies in order to build foundation skills to work from (not to mention developing necessary skills for the more likely real-world scenarios). When students reach the advanced (or at least intermediate) stage of training, introducing some easy-to-handle compound emergencies can be productive. this should occur in parallel with demanding better performance during "simple" emergencies.

With practice and progress, these easy-to-handle compound emergencies can be advanced to more challenging scenarios. But throughout this progression, we need to keep the goal in mind: training for the real world, with a useful margin-of-proficiency.

Happy Flying!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Accidental Post

Well, so much for my 5-day goal:). Here we are, 8 days later, and I don't have a post yet....

I did, however, have a temporary posting of a draft I have saved. That draft was scheduled, and I missed un-scheduling it. So it spent a few hours on display with a title and no content.

On the SkyWriters side of things, my initial ad campaign is running through AdWords now. the response has been pretty slow. It seems I need to work a bit harder on picking my keywords...

Now, for another 5 days...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

SkyWriters Publishing. Again!

Well, once again, I've gone a while without posting. Over a month this time!

As before, I've been a little sidetracked getting SkyWriters Publishing up and running. As it stands, the website is finished (for now) and live (WOOHOO!!), I have a growing stock of each product, and I've finished sourcing all of the materials I need to keep going and start growing sales. The company name is also officially reserved, and the incorporation papers are slowly grinding through the associated government beauracracy. Still a bit cash-straped, but that's normal for a startup business.

I still have many articles started and waiting to be written. My plan is to get at least one of them posted within the next 5 days. In the meantime, if you're looking for some good reading material, check out SkyWriters Publishing and our current products: Applied Aerodynamics, Private Pilot License: Written Exam Preparation, and Flight Instructor Air Notes.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Multi-Engine at Night

In my last post, I wrote about "dumbing things down". This time around, I'm going to continue with a similar theme—"teaching to the test". Along with dumbing things down, teaching to the test is another tendency in flight training that is, over time, degrading the qualitiy of training. And, needless to say, it's a pet peeve of mine.

Teaching to the test wouldn't be so bad if "the test" was a better guage of quality. But the fact is, for any license/rating beyond the Private License, the knowledge and skill standards are woefully inadequate. This is a topic I could rant on for ages, but I'll try to remain a little more focussed for the sake of this post. To keep it (relatively) short, I'll look specifically at multi-engine training at night.

Flying a multi-engine aircraft at night is not required to be tested at any point in the liceinsing process (for that matter, flying a single engine at night is not formally tested either). The absense of a test is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as this doesn't lead to oversights in training. But the fact is, it does.

Typically, a pilot finishes their PPL training, moves into the night rating (on a single engine—often the same type they completed their PPL on), and then sometime afterward, completes a multi-engine rating. Nothing at all wrong with this process, except for one thing: teaching to the test. On the multi-engine rating, instructors tend to focus on passing the flight test (there is no written). The flight test doesn't include any night flying assessment. So it's not uncommon for multi-engine pilots to have zero night experience in multi-engine aircraft when they are first rated.

Ok, so what's the problem? They can fly at night, they can fly multi-engine aircraft, can't they do both at the same time? Yes, as long as nothing goes wrong. But what if we have an engine failure at night in a twin-engine aircraft? Sounds simple enough—in principle, it's the same as an engine failure during the day, but for one vital difference: visual indications of yaw.

The presence of an engine failure is identified in large part by the presence of uncommanded yaw. Uncommanded yaw, in turn, is identified by the visual cue of the aircraft nose swinging in one direction or another when it shouldn't. Initial identification of the failed engine also relies on these visual cues, as does positive control of the aircraft. But at night, the visual cues are reduced, leading to potential loss of control.

Loss of control? Yes. A large part of training for the multi-engine rating centers around aircraft control after an engine failure. This is because of the large yawing moments introduced by an engine failure and the associated control problems (i.e. - the yaw itself, and the yaw-induced roll). Dealing with engine-out control issues really isn't that difficult—which probably helps explain why the multi-engine rating doesn't usually take that long to complete. But it does rely on either good visual reference or effective use of the instruments.

Theoretically, at night we are operating visually. But the fact is that visual cues are reduced, and increased use of the instruments is necessary. If we aren't using the instruments effectively, it may not cause a serious problem until something unusual happens—like an engine failure in a twin. When a pilot is accustomed to managing an engine-out scenario visually, and is suddenly faced with an engine-out at night, the risk factor increases significantly. Not only is a loss of control more likely, but regaining control is more difficult due to the very reduction in visual cues that caused the situation in the first place.

Following this line of reasoning, it's possible for fully "qualified" pilots—who have passed "the test" with flying colors— to be completely unprepared for operations that their license/rating allows. To avoid this problem, we have to either change "the test" or include training that is not formally assessed.

So, am I just theorizing here? Nope. When training multi-engine pilots, I make it a habit to include a night lesson at the end of the course. It's amazing to watch a perfectly competent daytime pilot lose control of the machine in a matter of seconds. I've had several multi-engine candidates put me into a spiral dive requiring my control intervention for recovery. I've even had one candidate put the aircraft into a pilot-induced dutch roll that also required my control intervention for recovery. In each of these cases, I was flying with night-rated (and night-current) pilots who were beyond capable of passing the (daytime) flight test for a multi-engine rating. But an engine failure at night was enough to get them in way over their heads.

The good news? In each case, the fix was easy. Exposure to engine failures at night for a single lesson was enough to get these pilots ready for the real thing—whether or not it ever showed up on a flight test (not to be confused with the real test that a suddenly broken connecting rod might throw at you someday!).

So the takeway here should be to include a little bit of night training during multi-engine training—even if it isn't on the test. If you're an instructor, build this lesson into the late stages of your initial multi-engine syllabus (I include it as the last lesson before flight test review/recommend). If you're a student, insist that your instructor include a night lesson during you rating. Yes, it will cost you a few more bucks. But it may save your life.

Happy Flying!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Einstein's Razor

Ok, it's been a few weeks since I've written anything. So this is long overdue. I have several article topics sitting waiting to be written. But alas, I've been a little sidetracked getting SkyWriters Publishing up and running. Bad excuse, I know! I'll try to write more in the future...

If you've spent any time in the flight training industry, you've probably heard the phrase "dumbing it down" or some variant. It refers to the act of simplifying concepts for students. Simplifying things if fine, but I cringe every time I hear the advice to "dumb it down". I think most professional flight instructors would agree that aviation, and in particular flight training, has already been "dumbed down" quite enough.

The problem is that there comes a point where things get over-simplified. Over-simplification inevitably leads to misunderstanding and faulty conclusions. I've written previously about some of these misunderstandings (for example, Maneuvering Speed and Turbulence Penetration.) Over-simplification is especially problematic when we're training people who will eventually hold leadership positions in the industry. This includes all commercial pilots—most of whom will spend at least some time as Captain of a multi-crew aircraft, Training Captain, or Flight Instructor.

The caution against over-simplifying comes from Albert Einstein. He is credited with saying,

"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." (http://www.quotedb.com/quotes/1360)

This is sometimes referred to as 'Einstein's Razor', which serves as a counterbalance to Occam's Razor. Ironically, it's more likely that Einstein actually said,

"It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience." (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein)

But luckily for us, the quote has been dumbed down over the years!

Should we simplify concepts for students? Absolutely. Simplification aids the learning process. But simplifying to the point if inaccuracy is counterproductive. In the language of the principles of learning, it violates the law of Primacy (Teach it Right the First Time!), and will often result in future Supplantive Learning (the need to unlearn the wrong information before learning the right information).

Should we use analogies that are 'imperfect'? Absolutely. Analogies are a form of simplification that aids the learning process by relating a new concept to an old and familiar concept. As such, analogies are very effective training aids. But they are almost always limited, and will promote misunderstanding if carried too far. As such, it's important that when we use analogies, we also highlight the limitations of the analogies and use them to eventualy build a more standalone understanding of the new material.

The bottom line here, of course, is that when you are teaching (in aviation or anywhere else!), you should make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Happy Flying!

Friday, February 4, 2011

SkyWriters Publishing

Hey Folks!

I havent' gotten to put up a post yet this week, and probably won't until at least early next week. I've been occupied getting SkyWriters Publishing up and running. So far, things are progressing slowly but surely. I have 50 copies of Private Pilot License: Written Exam Preparation hot off the presses, and a dot-aero domain name and rented server space.

The website, as you'll note if you click on the link, isn't much to look at yet. It's just a placeholder. The real site is under development and I hope to have it go live within a couple of weeks.

I'll be sure to post more news as the company comes fully on-line!

Happy Flying!

Monday, January 24, 2011

How Big and How Fast?

I recently gave some advice to a student pilot on another forum (www.askacfi.com: base-to-final turn). The advice included, among other things, the suggestion that the turn from final to base leg should be planned for 20° of bank. The reasoning was that steep angles of bank lead to high load factors, which in turn increases the stall speed—potentially bad news when operating at the low speeds and low altitudes associated with an approach to land. Planning for a 20° AOB for the turn allows for a 10° margin to correct for misjudging if we wish to limit ourselves to 30° AOB under these conditions.


30° is a good limit to use since the load factor and stall speed increases up to that point are slight. But they increase rapidly at steeper bank angles (1.15g at 30°, 1.41g at 45°, and 2g at 60°, all corresponding to 7.5%, 19%, and 41% increases in stall speed, respectively).

So the question from all of this is, "What difference does it make what angle of bank I use?". The difference is in the radius of the turn. The turn radius indicates how much space the turn takes, and therefore how much we need to lead the turn in order to roll out on a specific track. We have to lead the turn to final in order to roll out on the extended centerline of the runway. This means we have to anticipate how much space the turn will take, and to manipulate that spacing during the turn if we misjudge.

This is one situation where the relationship between airspeed, AOB, and radius of turn becomes important. Because we can't have a zero-radius turn (which would be a perfect corner on our flight path), we need to anticipate the space we take up when trying to turn onto a target track—such as when turning final and aiming to be on the extended centerline of the runway. If we turn too late, we'll fly through the centerline. If we turn too soon, we won't reach the centerline.

In practice, we normally control the radius of turn with angle of bank. Theoretically, we could also change airspeed, but our airspeed is usually constrained by other considerations—such as our selected target airspeed to use for the approach: too low and we risk stalling, too high and we run into landing difficulties. So a higher AOB will get us a smaller turn radius, and a lower AOB will get us a bigger turn radius. Of course, this is only useful if we have the option of increasing / decreasing the AOB. Decreasing AOB is easy—we can always fully or partially roll out of a turn to widen the radius. Increasing AOB, however, can be problematic if we are trying to limit our load factor (and the corresponding stall speed increase).

To allow for an increase in AOB to compensate for any misjudging that might occur, we need to plan the turn at an AOB that is lower than our selected maximum AOB. This is where the 20° rule comes from.

Planning for turn radius when turning final is often a problem areas for new multi-engine students. Because they are now operating at an airspeed that's higher than they're used to, they have trouble leading the turn-to-final adequately. the correction in this case, until the student has fully adapted to the new increased operating speeds, is to reduce the AOB once in the turn to final and turn judgment improves.

It's also worth noting that rate of turn is closely related to radius of turn. In many situations where we don't need to roll out on a specific track, we're often more concerned with rate of turn than with radius of turn. Luckily, the parameters are the same: airspeed and AOB. Lower airspeed and higher AOB correspond to higher turn rates (and smaller radii). Higher airspeed and lower AOB correspond to lower turn rates (and higher radii). There's a rule of thumb here that works well below about 200 knots: AOB for a "Rate-1" turn (3°/s) is 10% of your airspeed plus 7 (if you're working in knots) or 5 (if you're working in MPH).

Happy Flying!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Power of the Power Curve

Read about the power curve and it's application to fight operations. Check out my post, The Power of the Power Curve, published in the resouces section of www.aviationschoolsonline.com.


http://www.aviationschoolsonline.com/faqs/power-curve-article.php

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Top 10 Stick-and-Rudder Skill Builders

Stick-and-Rudder skills are perhaps the most important skills a pilot has. Without good stick-and-rudder, a flight will be, at best, inefficient, and at worst, dangerous—even to the point of being fatal. Further, stick-and-rudder skills are the only skills that really must be learned in the aircraft. Classroom instruction and home study may help a little. But ultimately, you have to get in the airplane and do it in order to learn the skills. This is distinct from other important skills like flight planning, navigation, weather assessment, and decision making—all of which can be learned largely on the ground and then fine-tuned in the airplane. Educators may note that stick-and-rudder skills fit squarely into the psychomotor domain of Bloom's Taxonomy.

Many experienced instructors lament the fact (belief?) that average stick-and-rudder skills are, and have been for some time, on a steady downtrend. I'm not sure this trend is real, but regardless, there is always room for improvement. Hangar talk often involves discussions of exercises that can be used by pilots and instructors to raise the bar a little. So, in the spirit of improved standards (and the resulting increase in flight safety and efficiency), here are The Top 10 Stick-and-Rudder Skill Builders:

DUTCH ROLLS

Dutch Rolls involve rolling the aircraft back and forth between two opposing bank angles while maintaining a steady heading. The difficulty is in using the rudder effectively. Initially, because of adverse yaw, pro-roll rudder is required. But as the bank angle is established, opposite rudder is required to hold the heading. Upon reversing the aileron, further rudder adjustment is required. The value of this exercise is in learning the coordination of rudder and aileron—even though you are deliberately uncoordinated for much of the maneuver. You learn how to control the attitude and the movements of the aircraft very effectively, and you learn how to cross-control effectively—which will set you up nicely for crosswind landings later on. The difficulty varies with roll rate, so try the maneuver at various roll rates and angles of bank. Also, try the maneuver in different configurations, and in cruise, climbs, and descents.

STEEP TURN REVERSALS

Every pilot has done steep turns. Rolling in to, maintaining and correcting, and rolling out of steep turns is part of the basic skill set taught early in pilot training. But Steep Turn Reversals bring the difficulty level up a notch. Rather than returning to wings-level and neutral rudder to roll out of the turn, keep the roll going to a turn in the opposite direction. Steep Turn Reversals carry on the lessons of the Dutch Roll, with the new twist that you want to stay perfectly coordinated throughout the maneuver—so you want the ball centered at all times. Maintaining a fixed heading is not the goal here (as it was with the Dutch Roll). Maintaining coordination is. Try the Steep Turn Reversal at different roll rates and with different angles of bank—up to and including 60°.

FALLING LEAF STALL

I've talked about the Falling Leaf Stall before (right here in Fall Like a Leaf, Grasshopper). For the Falling Leaf, simply enter a stall and, instead of recovering, stay in the stall while preventing a spin. The Falling Leaf is a great way to learn about the stalling characteristics of your aircraft. Further, it's a great way to learn rudder control in and around the stall, and to train yourself not to use ailerons in the stall. Try the Falling Leaf in a variety of configurations and with a variety of power settings. As a safety note, don't risk entering a spin (even inadvertently) in a configuration that is not certified for intentional spinning.

SLOW FLIGHT MANEUVERING

Slow Flight is the operation of the aircraft at speed lower than best endurance but above the stall. We often refer to this speed range as the "Region of Reversed Command" because of the increase in power requirement as speed is reduced. In this speed range, we experience a number of notable aircraft behavior changes, including: increased adverse yaw, increased lift asymmetry in a turn (i.e. - the tendency to overbank), reduced control forces, increased left-turning tendencies, speed instability, and a requirement for more power at lower airspeeds. Combined, these new (or more pronounced) characteristics make flying the airplane precisely much more of a challenge. Simply entering and exiting Slow Flight is a good start if you're new to the exercise, but don't stop there. Be sure to include maneuvering in Slow Flight. Conduct turns, climbs, descents, and climbing/descending turns. Also, don't set one airspeed, learn to operate the aircraft throughout the entire Slow Flight speed range.

GROUND REFERENCE MANEUVERS

The airplane only sees airflow. Our visual cues come from the ground. The difference can be critical and is more pronounced in high winds at low altitudes. Visual illusions caused by our interpretation of track/groundspeed as heading/airspeed can be very convincing, and have caused fatalities in the past. Low-level Ground Reference Maneuvers can help us learn to defeat these illusions and fly the aircraft more accurately.

Ground Reference Maneuvers include turns around a point and pylon eights. But if you're new to Ground Reference Maneuvers, keep it simple at first—try tracking along a straight road in a crosswind, then try flying a square or rectangular track (preferably following some visual reference like a set of roads).

CROSSWIND TAKEOFFS

The crosswind takeoff requires us to transition the aircraft from uncoordinated operation (while rolling on the runway) to coordinated flight with a minimum of fuss. We have changing roll inputs to prevent rolling over on the runway as our speed changes. We have changing yaw inputs to remain straight while on the runway and to eliminate the slip once we're airborne. And we have changing pitch inputs for the takeoff itself.

Conducting crosswind takeoffs in a taildragger is especially good for developing stick-and-rudder skills.

CROSSWIND LANDINGS

Opposite to the crosswind takeoff, the crosswind landing requires us to transition from coordinated flight (on approach) to uncoordinated operation by the time we're on the ground. In practice, we usually enter the uncoordinated phase very late in the approach (ideally just before touchdown). But in training, the transition is often made earlier in order to reduce the workload during the learning process. The maneuver requires us to maintain a track (along the extended runway centerline) while correcting for the crosswind—this means "crabbing". Near the runway, the "crab" is replaced with a slip so that we can touchdown with the wheels aligned with the runway. So we see coordinated track corrections followed by uncoordinated aileron-rudder cross-control, which is immediately followed by pitch inputs for the roundout and flare.

Conducting crosswind landings in a taildragger is especially good for developing stick-and-rudder skills.

BASIC AEROBATICS: AILERON ROLLS

The aileron roll doesn't require a whole lot of precision—which is why it's usually the first type of roll taught to new aerobatic students. But it does build a pilot's exposure to extreme attitudes, and therefore enhance our ability to maintain orientation and precise control throughout the entire maneuvering envelope. It also serves as an excellent warm-up for slow rolls, discussed next.

BASIC AEROBATICS: LOOPS

In principle, the loop is a very simple maneuver. But flying it well requires a degree of precision not required in "normal" flying. Because you lose sight of the horizon during the initial pull-up, it's difficult to make roll corrections until you can see the opposite horizon again (at around the 120° point of the loop). This lack of good correction amplifies any bank errors on the entry. So a good loop—although it is primarily a pitching maneuver—requires excellent bank attitude control on the entry. This, combined with the exposure to extreme attitudes, is what makes loops such a great skill-builder.

BASIC AEROBATICS: SLOW ROLLS

A well flown Slow Roll can look very easy. But, as is often the case, looks can be very deceiving. The well flown Slow Roll requires proper—and often counterintuitive—coordination of all three primary flight controls. Aileron is used to roll the aircraft. Rudder is used to prevent a turn initially, and then to maintain a pitch attitude at very high angles of bank. And elevator is used to maintain a pitch attitude and to prevent a turn at very high angles of bank. The rudder moves from neutral to opposite the roll, back to neutral (when you're inverted), and then to pro-roll. The elevator moves from slightly back for cruise, to neutral at 90° bank, to well forward when inverted, back to neutral at 270° bank, and back to slightly aft as you return to cruise. The rate at which all of these changes take place depends on the amount of aileron used—and therefore the rate of the roll.

With all these goings-on, one can imagine how perfecting the slow roll will help you learn to coordinate all three controls to precisely control attitude and direction.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Pre-Landing Check by Any Other Name

Way back when I was a student, we often (always?) used the term "downwind check" for what I now call the "pre-landing check". The "pre-landing check" or "before-landing check" terms are pretty standard phraseology among commercial operators. But the "downwind check" term still seems to show up among private pilots and at flight schools—even those that train a large number of new commercial pilots.

I'm pretty picky with my own students—especially instructor candidates—and insist that they use "pre-landing check", just like I insist that they use "pre-flight inspection" instead of "walkaround", and "landing area" instead of "field" for forced landings. Why worry? They all mean the same thing, right? I don't think so.

There have been documented cases of pilots landing without doing a "pre-landing check" because they flew a straight-in final—no downwind leg, so no downwind check. I've personally witnessed a student ignore a perfectly good paved runway within gliding range during a forced landing because he was looking for a "field". Pre-flight inspections tend to be under-taught and under-done, in part because we often don't refer to them as "inspections", which is a term that drives home the whole point of the exercise.

The point here is that the terminology we use carries secondary messages, or connotations, that we may not intend. "It's just semantics, so don't worry about it", or words to that effect, is a response I've occasionally received from doubters. But they miss the point that semantics is the essence of communication, and communication is the essence of instruction. We need to be aware of—and to control—the mesaages we're sending students. This includes the subtle, hidden messages in the connotations of our words and phrases as well as the direct, literal messages we send.

If a check is to be done before landing, then it's title should reflect this. If a sequence of actions are intended to inspect, then it's title should reflect this. If we're not necessarily looking for a "field", then the term/phrase we use shold reflect what we are looking for.

This clarity of communication isn't just for instructors. Pilots in general need to be able to communicate clearly and concisely in order to operate safely and efficiently. We're helped along by the use of standard phraseology. But unfortunately, some of the standards and commonly accepted conventions need a little re-thinking. So the next time you want to do a "downwind check", ask yourself whether you, your crew, and your passengers might be better served by a small change in language.

Happy Flying!

Monday, January 3, 2011

'Tis the Season: Night Flying

Well, it's that time of year when the days are shorter and the nights are longer: perfect conditions for night flying, or, if you've never flown at night, night training. This is also an excellent way to scrape the rust off after the Xmas break.

Of course, winter solstice has passed, so the days are already gradually getting longer (and the nights shorter!). So, if you want to take adantage of the extra darkness, now is the time!

Why fly at night? Well, aside from the sheer joy of it, night flying is an excellent skill builder. If you're working on a night rating, your aircraft control, instrument useage, and positional awareness will all improve. If you have the rating and are simply using it, the benefits you recieved from your original night training will now be used, refined, and improved upon.

Remember when flying at night that you need some extra instrument crosscheck—especialy over featureless terrain with little or no artificial lighting. Although the attitude indicator is not a legal requirement for night flying, I think it would be unwise to launch without one.

If you're working with an instructor on your night rating, make sure to see the syllabus plan he/she has for you. Look for specific learning objectives (and exercises to reach those objectives) on each lesson. Don't just fly the hours to put time in your logbook and get signed off. Instead, get your money's worth out of the training, and make sure there is a plan to follow.

Happy Flying!