Gov. Shutdown Effects on Aviation — Aviation Ideas and Discussion!

This political showdown has given both “sides” a megaphone to voice political viewpoints. Avoiding all this hostility (please?), the effect on aviation – and especially flight training- is increasingly damaging as this shutdown continues to deepen. (We had two charter jets grounded waiting for RVSM approval – FSDOs closed – but fortunately the reg. now…

via Gov. Shutdown Effects on Aviation — Aviation Ideas and Discussion!

It’s Beautiful Out Here!

Autumn is here. The trees have started to change color. This weekend is expected to be peak for the Mid Atlantic area.

As we took off, I thought wow. The Earth is Beautiful!


Whether you are doing turns about a point, or eights on pylons, or greasing the 360 degree emergency landing to precision.

Flying in Autumn is extraordinary. A few 1,000 ft above the ground provides the most incredible view of the Earth.

Only few can boast viewing!


Thawing out

So, I am finally out of hibernation.

The first flight was to get my Flight Review done. It has been exactly 4 months and thirteen days since my last flight. In a way, I deliberately delayed my thawing out date, until it was time for my Flight Review.  On Saturday, I had my Flight Review. I did okay enough to get a sign off. I only wish I had reviewed my last flight review and prepared for the ground portion better, instead of attempting to wing it 🙂

Since then I have been flying each weekend. I’ve decided to get my commercial rating done this summer! This means taking my knowledge test again, and practicing my commercial maneuvers, but hopefully this times a charm 🙂


This time we made our way south to Stafford to practice landings in a C172RG. All the recent rains have brought out the green in the trees. It is finally starting to look a lot like Spring. And my landings were not too bad. Not too bad at all!

Looking forward to my next training flight.

See Also:
BFR: It can be fun
Flight Review

The Big Lie

I came across an interesting article this morning entitled- The Sky Kings: After We Had Our Accident, that most interestingly talks about the “big lie”.

We’ve heard it, often enough. In fact, I have said this often enough when friends and family queried about how safe it was to fly: “There are more car accidents every second than there are airplane accidents!” Or as the King’s say:” The most dangerous part of the trip is the drive to an airport”

To paraphrase the King’s, “While this is true, if you are flying airlines, it is not even close for GA aircraft. You are seven times more likely to be involved in a fatality in a GA aircraft than a car.”

snf20Fortunately, the article also tries to address the lapses as well as provide options to address these lapses:

PAVE: Pilot, Aircraft, enVironment, and External pressures: the tool available to pilots to determine how safe the planned flight is going to be. The idea being, you identify the risks of the flight before they happen.

CARE: Consequences, Alternative, Reality and External Pressures. This recognizes that the moment you are airborne, all the risk factors can change.

And they leave us finally with another acronym- CHORRD: Conditions, Hazards, Operational changes, Runway required and available, Return procedure, and our Departure routes and altitudes. It is a great situational tool that helps you plan and execute your flight.

While my negative experiences are fairly limited (Thank Goodness!), I do follow a common logic, each time I fly:

  • I rarely fly, anymore, when I think I am not capable of safely flying either as the Pilot in Command, Safety Pilot or Passenger.
  • As I indicated in my previous post, I often fly with my flying buddy, when possible. This is terrific. Since I know my co-pilot’s strengths and weakness’ as she/he knows mine. Based on the applicable circumstances, this prepares me (or her/him)  to decide if it is safe to fly or not!
  • I/We constantly communicate with each other to determine if I/he/she feels comfortable flying the particular scenario such as in clouds/night/congested situation
  • When it comes to flying, or driving or life in general 🙂 Safety always comes first!

And it is okay to take calculated risks!

It is a great saying, and it is true for flying on the airlines. But sadly, it isn’t even close to being true for general aviation. You are seven times more likely per mile to be involved in a fatality in a GA airplane than you are in a car. To get that figure, compare the fatal accident rate per mile for cars from the National Highway Transportation Safety
Administration to the fatal accident rate per hour for airplanes from the National Transportation Safety Board and assume an average speed of 150 miles per hour for airplanes.


It is a great saying, and it is true for flying on the airlines. But sadly, it isn’t even close to being true for general aviation. You are seven times more likely per mile to be involved in a fatality in a GA airplane than you are in a car. To get that figure, compare the fatal accident rate per mile for cars from the National Highway Transportation Safety
Administration to the fatal accident rate per hour for airplanes from the National Transportation Safety Board and assume an average speed of 150 miles per hour for airplanes.


It is a great saying, and it is true for flying on the airlines. But sadly, it isn’t even close to being true for general aviation. You are seven times more likely per mile to be involved in a fatality in a GA airplane than you are in a car. To get that figure, compare the fatal accident rate per mile for cars from the National Highway Transportation Safety
Administration to the fatal accident rate per hour for airplanes from the National Transportation Safety Board and assume an average speed of 150 miles per hour for airplanes.


It is a great saying, and it is true for flying on the airlines. But sadly, it isn’t even close to being true for general aviation. You are seven times more likely per mile to be involved in a fatality in a GA airplane than you are in a car. To get that figure, compare the fatal accident rate per mile for cars from the National Highway Transportation Safety
Administration to the fatal accident rate per hour for airplanes from the National Transportation Safety Board and assume an average speed of 150 miles per hour for airplanes.


Reunion Flight with M^2

Seems like Old Times

“Cutlas 02B, cleared R29, straight out”

We were off, with familiar sights ahead of us: pristine blue skies, three stacks, Morro Rock and the wide blue ocean.

Straight out, as we departed runway 29 and headed straight for the ocean, following highway 1. Off somewhere to the left, was my home, when I last lived in these parts. It was clear and calm, with unlimited visibility. The sky blended into the ocean and the Cuesta Ridge, Irish Hills, Islay Hills, and Bishop Peak, were all clearly visible. The lack of rains and drought, had rendered the hills brown. Yet, the clear blue skies and turquoise blue Pacific Ocean, provided uninterrupted and unending vistas.


We headed out to the ever familiar Morro Rock, before turning towards North, hugging the coastline. The three stacks clearly visible as was the Morro Rock. We traced the coastline following the Cabrillo Highway past Estero Bay and further north to San Simeon. Circling Hearst Castle is something every pilot did in the Central Coast. Talk about circling about a point!


We headed out further north to Point Pedras, circling the lighthouse, before turning south, keeping the coastline to our left and heading back, looking for seals.  For old times sake, I had opted to shoot the ILS R11 approach in VFR conditions. We headed straight for CREPE intersection, while I attempted to re-familiarize myself with flying an instrument approach procedure without an on board GPS, using ILS and VOR only.


Once I got the handle of things, the approach itself was fairly straight-forward. Leveling off a little before HASBY intersection  at 1,200 ft, I circled and set up for downwind 29 with short approach. Landing on R29 brought back fond memories of the innumerable landings I had made here…


I learnt to fly in SLO. The last time I flew with my primary flight instructor Michelle G was back in 2002. The last time I flew with my friend Michelle TG was back in 2005 and the absolute last time I flew here was back in April 2009 when I got my BFR and helped paint the Compass Rose!


m2Good to be back in the air with M^2 in familiar territory.

imageGood to be home!

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Some photographs by Michelle Torres Grant

Glorious Fall Flying

It was dark. And it was a Saturday. Sunrise was not for another 2-2.5 hours later. I need a few more hours sleep, I thought, as my Classical 90.9 buzzed a wake-up call. Most weekends, I usually remembered to turn off my alarm, so it would not inadvertently wake me up.


I was out the door by 6:30 am. A quick stop at Starbucks, for some wake me up coffee and a bagel, and I hit the road to the airport. This was the only time that my instructor and I could coordinate for a lesson. The last one was almost three weeks ago, and considering the sorry pace I am making, each day it appears maybe, I might not finish this year after all!

Although we are deep into fall weather, the day was gorgeous – warm for this time of the year. Almost like a late summer day. Sunlight was breaking, as I arrived at the airport. After a briefing and pre-flight, we were off.  The earth was vibrant with dashes of orange here and there. The sun’s rays washed over the earth’s surface gently as the sun started it’s slow rise, the bright streaks giving character and meaning. White, low clouds and fog hugged the surface in snatches as if a painter had added dashes of white to emphasize the orange glows of autumn. Off in the distance the Shenandoah mountains rose gracefully. The air was clear and crisp, and the mountains clearly visible to serve as landmarks for the commercial maneuvers, I needed to master.

photo(21)When I trained towards my private pilot license, many a time I had shown up bright and early for a quick lesson, before heading in to work, especially during winter months when there were few daylight hours.

This early in the day, there were hardly any flights to clutter the airspace or the airways. The air smooth. And the earth… beautiful beyond words.

I had forgotten how calm, soothing and glorious early morning flights are.

photo(22)Photographs: Courtesy E. Kontanis

Rusty IFR Pilot Refresher

I think attending safety seminars is the best way to stay sharp, learn new things, review things long forgotten and keep informed on things related to GA. There are also a great venue to meet other pilots and make new friends. When living in California, there was no dearth of safety seminars I could attend. Since moving east, this has been incredibly challenging, that I haven’t been able to attend a single in person safety seminar so far.


Every few months, my flight school hosts pilot refresher courses. This year, I decided to attend both the Rusty Pilot Refresher as well as the Rusty IFR Pilot Refresher. Since doing my Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC) back in California in 2009, this was the first IFR refresher course I had attended. I attended this a few months ago, but recently came across my notes.

Staying instrument current was easy, initially after I got my instrument rating. There were several of us who got the rating together and we were all active pilots, making those $100 hamburger runs, so it was easy to stay current. Once I moved out of the area, it was getting more and more difficult to fly regularly as well as to stay instrument current.

To be instrument current, FAR 61.57 requires that within the past 6 months the pilot should have executed in a flight simulator or flight training device:

  1. at least 6 instrument approaches
  2. holding procedures
  3. intercepting and tracking courses using navigation systems

If more than 12 months elapse, then an IPC conducted by an approved examiner, check pilot,  or instructor is needed.

A few key takeaways from the refresher were:

  • Need to check GPS NOTAMs if planning to use GPS for IFR flight. Flight Service Stations (FSS) don’t give these during pre-flight briefing. Have to ask specifically. Or can use a website such as for GPS outtages.
  • An IPC also requires circling approaches
  • Aviation Training Device (ATD) approaches are only valid for 2 months. Do 5 in ATD and one in an a/c to be valid for 6 months. This was a new one to me.
  • If there is no departure procedure (DP), must climb to 400ft before turning and must climb at least 2000ft/nm
  • 1-888-766-8267 can be used for IFR clearances or to close flight plans anywhere in the US
  • After setting altimeter, altitude should be within 75ft of field elevation
  • Minimum en route altitude (MEA) with G suffix is the GPS MEA in en route charts. Usually same as MOCA
  • A trick to stay on the glideslope: rate of descent = add a zero to 1/2 the approach speed. For e.g. if approach speed is 90 knots use 450 ft/min.

I am writing this as yet again, weather doesn’t cooperate for some beautiful fall flying up north to Niagara Falls. I even got IFR current last weekend, and hoped to fly IFR to KIAG tomorrow.  But third year in a row, we had to cancel. With a storm system hovering over the Mid-Atlantic likely most of the weekend, it is expected to be poor weather with rain and low visibility conditions. Unlike Falling Water, we are definitely not driving it! Although I have driven there a few times!


It has been dreary all week. Have a good weekend y’all 🙂

Chandelles, Steep Turns and Steep Spirals

After the hectic last few weeks, I suddenly found myself with plenty of free time.  And fortunately enough, so did my instructor.

It was seven years ago, I took my first orientation flight in an Arrow and officially launched my commercial flight training. I was racing against time to complete it with my favorite instructor, who planned to leave the area in four months. I should have known, that four months was not going to be enough. Still I accomplished all my requirements except my night solo flying requirement and mastery of the maneuvers to the required precision.

With a sudden availability of free time, I have re-started my commercial training with double vigor. After three consecutive lessons: one not so good, one tolerable, and one can quickly go to worse, I realized what it was. Stay tuned.

It was a glorious fall day, when armed with  a safety pilot, I set off to practice some steep turns, Chandelles and steep spirals. My key assignment if I have to pass this test: articulate, conduct and execute everything to the required commercial standards.

Switching aircraft during training, always adds additional time to relearn little quirks inherent in that aircraft that can, slow you down or make some tasks more challenging. Changing weather patterns also play a key role in how well you can execute a maneuver. Even more important: bad habits accumulated over the years, can also slow you down and dampen your moods!

After a relaxing break, I planned and prepared thoroughly for the maneuvers I wanted to practice. My goal was also to focus on outside references, so I could recognize them, choose landmarks that would serve as references for the maneuvers I had to master without my instructors help and even more importantly to enter the maneuver correctly and execute it to commercial standards. Armed with a safety pilot who would not only help with monitoring traffic but also who would monitor my maneuvers and ensure overall safety, I set off to the local practice area.

Last few lessons, I realized, although I am good with using checklists especially before starting the engine, I no longer refer to them again, all other checks are conducted by memory. While this may work on a normal flight, it is a distinct no-no during any oral exam. So step one, I had to re-learn the habit of referring to check lists during every phase of flight. And be vocal about it!

Calm wind helps. A lot. Learning to trim the aircraft correctly during all weather conditions, helps even more. Steep turns at 60 degree bank angles are so much easier and smoother, with trim then trying to hand fly them using erratic pitch maneuvers. Keeping the ball centered with adequate rudder, also, is key to a well coordinated maneuver.

Holding the yoke with a death grip is counter-productive… Use 2 fingers and apply gentle pressure, is what I have been told for ever. This is one bad habit, I would love to rid myself expeditiously. That I have been doing it for several years now, tells you it is not going to be easy. I should also note, this only happens when I am demonstrating maneuvers and not necessarily during normal flying. I think it is also due to the fact that the aircraft is not trimmed well and to maintain proper pitch and bank, I tend to grip the yoke too tightly with the resulting corrections being more aggressive than necessarily resulting in over or under correcting and resulting in constant adjustments: what is commonly known as chasing the needle. The root of the problem is maintaining proper trim. Learning to make the correct trim adjustments are the key to rid myself of this habit.

In addition to recognizing visual references, flying more precisely almost to commercial standards, I am happy to state that in calm weather I can achieve this reasonably:

  • Steep turns, yeah check!
  • Chandelles, getting there…
  • Steep spirals, almost, but can be better…

I still have ways to go, but at least this is a good start!

Flying Lessons: Flight Review

It used to be the Bi-annual Flight Review (BFR), now it is just the Flight Review. Every two years, to maintain currency, a private pilot needs to undergo a flight review and get a sign off from a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) to legally fly. 


Every instructor has his or her own technique to conduct a flight review. My best ever BFR was out in California with my favorite instructor, Lee Jaykell (see BFR: It can be fun!). If I were to rank my next best, it would be this. It was not as thorough as the previous one mentioned, but still I came away learning many new things.

The FAA has many resources available online for free: from the pilot handbook to the airport facility directory to terminal procedures. The FAA Safety website offers many links for activities, webinars, courses and seminars. You can easily create a login, and register your preferences for email notification, maintain your wings certification and other currency information. Especially if you live within the DC SFRA or plan to fly in the proximity of this airspace, it is required that you complete the DC SFRA course on the FAA Safety website and keep a copy of the certificate with you at all times.

When I first learned to fly, there was only the Minimum Equipment List (MEL) published in the FAR 91.205. Did you know that now there is a hierarchy in how you check whether your aircraft is airworthy? There are three other lists you might need to check before you resort to the FAR MEL.

  1. MEL specific for the make and model of aircraft
  2. Kinds of Operating Equipment Lists (KOEL) section of the POH if available,  applicable to newer aircraft
  3. Equipment list in W&B section of the POH if available
  4. MEL in FAR 91.205

A handy acronym to remember is TOMATO FLAMES 🙂

  • Airspeed indicator
  • Tachometer
  • Oil Pressure Gauge
  • Manifold Pressure Gauge
  • Altimeter
  • Temperature Gauge
  • Oil Temperature Gauge
  • Fuel Gauge
  • Landing gear position indicator
  • Anti collision lights
  • Magnetic Compass
  • ELT
  • Safety Belts

A nice, simple chart to remember  the ceiling and visibility requirements for each class of airspace:


Any flight review you come away learning something new, is a good one!

Guest Post: Flying Follies

As Central Coast pilots we are somewhat lucky to be forced into thorough pre-flight planning and most especially at night. We are fortunate to have a lot of dark, unpopulated areas in our county, with marginal evening weather to encourage safe and well thought out flight plans. As instructors we should encourage additional night and instrument training, more then what the regulations require to ensure we are all safe up there

Students do not always play by the rules and in fact at times create their own. One year I signed off a student for his first long cross country. We went over the weather and the flight plan together and everything went well. I signed him off and went on my way. Well, for some reason he decided to go run errands and eat before the trip and left several hours latter then he was supposed to. The marine layer was moving in while the sun was setting. I tried to reach him through phoning Center and Hawthorne FSS, but we all kept missing him. When he did turn up, he flew on top, and then scud ran to our airport making it in before the weather.

On his debriefing, I learned that the hood work I trained him on, paid off, contributing to his safe return. My mistake was not making it clear that he should take off at the time he was supposed to with the weather forecast and initial briefings he received. Incidentally since then, I’ve made my students’ cross-country limitations more time specific.

Another interesting example of a student’s creativity was a time when one of my school’s students decided to invent his own cross-country. I agreed to meet and sign off a student for a trip to Salinas with one stop at Paso Robles. His flight planning was great, but the forecast weather was marginal. We decided at the last minute to cancel that trip because of inclement weather, but he wanted a sign off to Lompoc where he lived. We discussed the flight route and airspace, got the weather (severe VMC) and I signed him off. When he got back several hours latter he announced he did a long cross country after all! He combined a previous sign off to PRB with his new Lompoc sign-off and created his own cross country.

What should we learn from all of this? Well, students and new pilots all have minds and ideas of their own with little experience to guide them. Just as youngsters want to get out, explore and discover things for themselves, the best we can do as instructors (or perhaps parents) is teach then how to safely get out of poorly made decisions, or the unexpected. Study the accident reports no matter how depressing they may be, then set up and simulate them with your students or fellow pilots. Practice recovering from different emergencies and don’t always relay on accurate weather forecast and briefings to keep you out of danger. Know how to get out of it when the unpredictable happens.

Michelle Graceffa