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Flight Training

Flight Training (24)

Wednesday, March 02 2016 18:53

Learn on the Ground

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September 2015

What are you waiting for - it's free!

While I am confident some of you may disagree with me on this subject, it is my firm belief there has never been a greater time to be a pilot than the period we are enjoying right now.

True, energy prices are not quite as palatable as when I learned to fly in the early 1970s. However, there are so many other advances that we can—and should—enthusiastically embrace today.


Bargains abound
First, we can all agree the affordability of numerous models of pre-driven General Aviation aircraft are within the financial grasp of most everyone. On a weekly basis I canvass familiar publications such as Trade-A-Plane and Barnstormers.

When compared to other modes of transportation, there truly are some aviation bargains to be had. (I freely admit I have a character flaw that provides a bias toward airplanes.) But consider this for a moment: my wife Karen’s lifelong friend recently shared with us the cost of a new Harley-Davidson trike. One can get a lot of airplane for the same price.

Learning to fly can be achieved on a budget as well. And with the advances in technology we all have at our disposal, if you are already a rated pilot there is no reason you can’t remain current without breaking the bank.

In fact, there is a lot of free flight instruction available for all of us if we just look for it.

An explosion of shared information on the internet has provided both students and instructors a smorgasbord of opportunities to learn and refresh their skills. The route to maintain currency has become seamless as well.

When I measure against what I had at my disposal 40 years ago, the learning process for earning a private pilot certificate (as well as those seeking advanced ratings and certificates) has become an easier and more enjoyable path.

If you would like to gain some insights as to what I viewed four decades ago—in contrast to what is available today—just go to YouTube and enter “Density Altitude with Harry Bliss” in the search box. It will take you back in time! (And in all candor, if you are like me, you will most likely enjoy the retro component.)

I can still vividly recall the Sanderson Private Pilot Course. Back then, the industry standard was a state-of-the-art comprehensive package consisting of books, a plotter, an E6B computer and a workbook.

I fastidiously poured over those books, and during breaks from listening to Grand Funk Railroad and Chicago’s Greatest Hits on the eight-track, Karen would quiz me. When I was confident I had a working knowledge of the material, I took a series of practice exams that were then graded by my instructor.

When he thought I was ready, I went to the local FAA Flight Service Station to take the written test. I remember going into a small room in the facility, and having a test booklet and a number-two pencil. We were warned to be careful and precise in our effort to fill in the entire circle, or the answer may be graded as incorrect.

Once the form was completed, the FSS sent the file by snail mail to Oklahoma City. It took two weeks from the time I walked out of the FSS to the time I received my results in the mail. Today, we find out instantly if we passed!


Self-paced, continuous learning
All of that is now behind us. John and Martha King paved the way for learning at our own pace in the comfort of homes. With VHS tapes from King Schools, Inc., we figuratively had an instructor in our living rooms. Rapidly we moved from our television sets to our computers, and then to our smartphones. Now we can study just about anywhere!

John and Martha King are what many pilots think of when they consider self-paced ground schools, and I will always be grateful for their help as I climbed the ladder of certificates and ratings.

However, the internet has opened up a plethora of other options, too. I recently read where YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. I use it for a number of reasons, ranging from entertainment to teaching tools.

As a CFII/MEI, I enjoy watching and learning how other instructors teach. (I am of the mindset that if a student is not learning, it is not the student, but the instructor who is at fault.) If I can pick up something from another instructor simply by viewing a YouTube video and observing his or her ability to impart knowledge, I am not above giving it a try.

I also direct pilots to use YouTube videos to rehearse maneuvers. As pilots, we adhere to the principle that we learn on the ground and we practice in the airplane. Getting the basics cemented in our gray matter for a complex maneuver such as a chandelle or a steep turn while in a relaxed atmosphere greatly enhances our ability to perform the maneuver when we are in the airplane.

Plus, the video always provides the option to hit REPLAY! And it doesn’t cost a dime to watch until there is no confusion or ambiguity in any area of any maneuver.

As a flight instructor, I have a duty to promote flight safety at every opportunity. This is accomplished in a number of ways. The most obvious method would be leading by example. Another way to encourage safety of flight is to remind pilots to never let their guard down and always keep procedures fresh in their mind.


No easy answers
I am certain any flight instructor reading this will agree—we have all had questions asked of us we could not answer. When I was earning my initial CFI, there was a standing joke that flight instructors were nothing more than commercial pilots with librarian privileges.

It is true. We have all had to hit the books at some point to answer a question engendered by a student.

And some questions have no easily identifiable answers; for example, the Young Eagle I gave his first ride in a light aircraft.

Two years ago, five of us old guys eagerly volunteered our time and aircraft for the day. We had been flying kids since 9:00 a.m. Karen was doing her part assigning and grouping my flights all day, and it was now midafternoon.

The load she assembled next included a dad, his son, and the boy’s friend. I should have had a premonition of what was coming when the line of questions trended toward an area I had not experienced with all the previous flights that day.

As soon as Karen released the group to me and we began walking out to the airplane, the conversation went like this, with a red-headed kid firing questions at me like a machine gun:

“Can we fly upside down?”

“Why can’t we fly upside down?”
“Because this airplane is not capable of it.”

“Other airplanes fly upside down…”
“They have systems this aircraft does not.”

“Can we do a loop?”

At this point we had crossed the short distance to the ramp and approached the nose of my Cherokee. The dad had already established dominance with the boys by declaring he would sit in front.

I passively noticed the 10-year-olds were whispering to themselves, and I assumed they were grumbling about sitting in back as that was a recurring theme all day.

And then the question came I could not answer.

“If I rubber banded my hamster to the prop, how far would it chuck it when the engine starts?”

I am usually pretty good at thinking on my feet. However, I was stumped.
I punted and said, “We are not going to find out!”


Answering with confidence
When we were putting the airplane back in the hangar late that afternoon—keep in mind I am moving toward the end of my fifth decade on this rock hurling through space—I turned to Karen and said, “I wonder if there are any hot dogs left... I could rubber band one to the prop and simulate a hamster being chucked…”!

And this is why we earn our flight instructor certificates. We endeavor to be front-loaded and acquaint ourselves with all available knowledge and information so that when the questions do come, we can answer them with confidence.

As tenacious and diligent as I was, I could not find an answer to this kid’s question using the internet. I did, however, stumble on other resources for pilots—that is the impetus for sharing with you what I believe to be a gold mine of material begging to be watched.


A piece of the gold mine
Recently I came across a series of videos that truly impressed me. They are hosted by a young flight instructor named Jason Schappert of MzeroA Flight Training. This individual is the embodiment of what we should all reflect as teachers and mentors. His enthusiasm is contagious, and he always solicits feedback.

I was attracted to these videos for a number of reasons. First, this is free flight instruction! You read that correctly—free! When I learned to fly, I paid cash for all my time spent in ground school.

These videos are also a great tool for maintaining currency. Schappert has assembled 31 videos into a “31 Day Safer Pilot Challenge.” It’s an idea that immediately impressed me. I do not want to see anyone hurt themselves in an aircraft, and I believe these videos will help in that respect.

Each segment runs about six minutes and is designed to keep important safety of flight information fresh in your mind. The videos can be viewed anywhere, anytime. I have watched all of the Safer Pilot Challenge videos and I can tell you that several of these videos were enjoyed while sitting in the local mall with a cup of coffee while I waited for Karen to finish shopping.


Stay flexible
That component of flexibility is what to me is so appealing about these videos. Surely, we all can find six minutes in our day to click on any of the 31 clips—whether we’re on our computer, a tablet or our smartphone.

As an instructor, I also need to take time and head to the practice area on a regular basis. And I find videos like the ones on YouTube to be a great tool for keeping procedures fresh when the weather does not allow me to fly.

Additionally, I enjoy observing the teaching techniques of other instructors and learning from them. Schappert perpetually reminds us at the end of each clip that a good pilot is always learning. That statement is so true!

We do not have to look too far to find someone in the aviation community asking how we can stimulate more interest in General Aviation. Jason Schappert is—and I commend him for it.

Terry Hocking learned to fly in 1976 and first attended EAA AirVenture in 1977. He has been married to his wife, Karen, for 31 years. Terry and Karen have a Pomeranian named Runway (his brother was Aileron). Send questions or comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A brief walk around Alaska’s online aviation weather camera program.

May 2015-

A few months ago, the FAA announced the deployment of its all-new Aviation Weather Camera program. I was curious, so recently I took a look around the site—and I have to say, it’s incredible.

The design of the site is so simple, I felt like a power user on my first try. The FAA explained it this way: “This new route based information tool (RBIT) features navigational planning on an interactive map with easily accessible images and other weather data.” In short, it’s almost unbelievably intuitive.

I watched the video tutorials (all are between one and three minutes long—and worth the time) in addition to clicking around by myself to discover how the tools work. Here’s a quick overview.

A graphic interface
Cruise over to alaska.faa.gov using your favorite browser. The map interface (see photo 01) will be familiar to any users of Google Maps: you move around the map by clicking and holding the mouse button to get “the hand,” and zoom using the mouse wheel (or the slider bar in the upper right edge of the map). Terrain and satellite views are available; choose your preference in the upper right.

Monday, January 26 2015 00:00

There Is No Litmus Test for Aborted Takeoffs

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February 2005-

There is no flying decision harder to make or more second-guessed than aborting a takeoff. It is the most time-critical choice you make in the pilot’s seat and it has some of the largest and most dire consequences if you get it wrong.

Monday, January 26 2015 00:00

Cockpit Resource Management

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April 2005-

Back when the idea was first born a good number of years ago, the concepts known collectively as “cockpit resource management”—CRM, for those of you who enjoy acronyms—was suddenly the single-minded thought of government agencies and airline managements on how larger airplanes should henceforth be operated.
There were lots of mandatory touchy-feely training sessions given over to this new concept which, basically, told the old heads in the left seat to start paying some attention to the younger heads in the crew who sat on the right, sat one row further back, or walked up and down the aisles in the cabin of those big jetliners.

Thursday, January 15 2015 00:00

High Anxiety: It’s Flight Review Time Again

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January 2015-

Ugh. Here we go again. Every two years I ask myself the same question: What would my idol, the venerable Lyn Freeman, do about my upcoming flight review?

I've been following Freeman's writing career for decades and have smiled many times while reading his work—and occasionally I have even agreed with him. So again I asked myself, what would Lyn do? I don't really know what Lyn would do, but as for me, three things come to mind: procrastination, procrastination, procrastination—and of course, procrastination. (I know... that's four items.)
So here it is, just one week from my flight review. I have an appointment lined up with my flight instructor, who we'll call Dave in this article, but who shall go nameless to protect the innocent. (Actually, his name is Dave.)
Every two years I have the same routine: I wait until a week before the review to actually get ready. However, I have a plan that has proven to work well for me with a minimum of fuss and effort. And my preparation accomplishes what it's supposed to accomplish—a review of my flight skills and a general cleaning-off of the accumulated aviation dust from the last two years.
My plan has two phases. Phase One is an intellectual plan, and Phase Two is a flight skill plan.

Thursday, October 02 2014 12:12

Lightning Strike!

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October 2014-

Though it is rare, it does happen. It happened to me just last week.

Tuesday, July 15 2014 17:00

Flight Training for the Owner Pilot

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July 2014- I have one student who uses his plane to go from Palm Beach to Marsh Harbor every other week; another who goes to Asheville N.C., once a month or so. These owner pilots can certainly get there and get back—as long as everything goes normally. My role as a flight instructor is to make sure they can handle things when the flight doesn't go off as planned.

At the Gathering at Waupaca last July I showed a safety video about a pilot who made a mistake that resulted in a crash and caused a fatality. The pilot survived, and told his story. It was sad, but the story serves to emphasize the potential magnitude of even the smallest mistake while flying an airplane.

Practical Test Standard
In the commercial world, we take a checkride every six months. Part of that is to get us to practice things we don't normally do every day, like steep turns; and part of that is to see if we have developed any bad habits that are potentially dangerous.
There is good guidance for this in the form of an 8410 checklist. It specifies a series of maneuvers to demonstrate command of aircraft handling, basic stick-and-rudder skills, as well as instrument procedures.

Some of the instrument work is right out of the Practical Test Standard (PTS). In fact, a few years back, the FAA reissued the PTS and stated that for the purposes of an instrument proficiency check (IPC), the procedures on the checklist were not optional, they were required.

For example, even though you may never fly a circle-to-land approach, in order to get a legitimate IPC sign-off, you would have to demonstrate one. This is why you can't get an IPC in most simulators anymore, because they aren't approved for circle-to-land procedures.

If you were to fly with me, a typical training session would look something like this:
45-degree left and right turns
Minimum controllable airspeed, clean and dirty
Clean stall and dirty stall
Emergency descent
Landings, with and without flaps
Simulated engine failure
One precision and two nonprecision approaches (one of which features a missed approach, another would feature a circle-to-land)
Intersection and VOR holds

Another thing I like to throw into the mix is equipment failures. If you're flying a glass panel plane, try flying it black tube—on the standby gyro. In a conventional steam gauge equipped aircraft, try flying an approach partial panel. If we're doing this in a multi-engine airplane, we would do some single engine work at altitude, a single engine approach, and a simulated engine failure on departure somewhere.
I would expect you to be able to fly these maneuvers to the criteria specified in the PTS for the rating that you hold. The whole point of my approach is to get the student to think about what they are going to do when things don't go the way they planned.

Decision making
There is a lot of published material on the subject of aeronautical decision making. The "I'm Safe" checklist and the PAVE checklist are just a few examples. Being mentally prepared and physically prepared to fly is just as important as having the training and the skills.

This is an area where owner pilots don't always do well. The NTSB reports bear that out. Flying aircraft with known mechanical defects, flying into weather they are not rated for, and exceeding the aircraft limitations on purpose are all common themes in the NTSB accident report database.
I can tell you that from time to time I get a text or a voicemail that says something like, "I shot the approach into Savannah and it was below minimums, so I missed and went to Beaufort. I had my whole family on board and all I could hear was your voice saying, 'Fly the plane, fly the plane, fly the plane.' THANK YOU!"

It's not much, but at least I know that student understands the value of being well trained, and I'm sure I'll see him again.
Make the most of your flight training time. Tell your instructor to push you—hard. Go fly approaches you are unfamiliar with. Go fly at night. Go get some actual IFR.
Renters have insurance requirements for checking out in a rental aircraft every 90 days or so, and they have the flight school or FBO to stop them from going out flying when they probably shouldn't.

As a Piper owner you'll need to be self-motivated about training, and monitor yourself. Take the time to be well trained and most of all, let's be safe out there.
Michael Leighton is an 8,000-hour, three-time Master CFII MEI-ATP, as well as an A&P mechanic and former FAA Accident Prevention Counselor. He operates an aircraft management, maintenance and Part 135 air charter company in South Florida. You can find him online at web.mac.com/mkleighton. Send questions or comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


"No Greater Burden: Surviving an Aircraft Accident"
Pilot Safety, Risk Assessment and Checklists

Thursday, April 24 2014 00:00

Stallion 51’s Unusual Attitude Training

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March 2014- When I looked up at the all-glass attitude indicator, for a moment I wasn’t quite sure what I was staring at. Instead of a nice horizon line separating a blue sky and brown terrain, the PFD instrument was showing almost all brown.

A few seconds ago the airspeed indicator on this highly modified L-39 Albatros was nudging 300 knots, but now the numbers were winding up on the digital display, indicating we are likely heading downhill to terra firma. Finally, I realized I was inverted and pitched almost straight down, leaving me just a matter of seconds to figure out what to do.  

“Watch the airspeed,” came the voice over my intercom. The voice was that of high performance wizard Lee Lauderback, the inspiration behind Stallion 51 Corp. of Kissimmee, Fla., and its team of P-51 Mustangs.

Lauderback began talking me through a recovery that included a power reduction and a roll back to the upright. Within a few seconds, the emergency was over, and the jet was happy again, plowing along straight and level. Whew! Very glad to have had Lauderback along on this flight.

Unusual Attitude Training

Stallion 51’s new division, Unusual Attitude Training (UAT), recently launched its upset prevention and recovery program which is the result of over 25 years of training, most of it in the company’s shiny P-51s. But when Lauderback decided he wanted to move forward with the most realistic training in the world, he and his team began searching the collection of civilian jets for a suitable trainer.

For a number of reasons, they selected the Czech L-39 turbojet and immediately upgraded the advanced trainer’s instrument panel to glass, simulating the equipment now found in most corporate jets and airliners. After five years of preparing both aircraft and instructor teams, Lauderback’s UAT company is now operational.

The UAT program trains everyone from individual pilots to entire corporate flight departments. The training has received emphatic endorsements from the FAA, NTSB and corporate flight departments.

“Put 10 corporate guys in the room and most likely eight have never been inverted,” Lauderback stated matter-of-factly. Recently he flew with a 29,000-hour airline captain who had never been upside down in an airplane.

“Most pilots are trained to operate within only a small box of the larger envelope that represents what the aircraft is capable of. They live in a world where they are expected to restrict themselves to, say, 30-degree banks and maybe 20 degrees of pitch. What we do in our UAT program is to expand each pilot’s personal envelope.”

The Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) is divided into four phases, the first being a fascinating look at aeromedical physiology. Candidates interact with a staff flight surgeon, a Senior AME who instructs them on how, where, when and why their bodies can influence their decision-making.

Next comes an in-depth look at the aerodynamics of unusual attitudes and upsets and a detailed examination of what forces act upon the aircraft in any number of configurations. Techniques of recovery are then matched to the situation. Every phase of this “ground school” is supported with first-class multimedia illustrations and real life video, followed by some lively discussions with the instructors.

“Our UAT program represents the best talent I’ve ever put together,” Lauderback said. “We have more than 50,000 hours of combined flight time.”

Instructors bring skills from a wide variety of aviation backgrounds, from corporate to military, from bush pilot to airshow pilot.

The highlight for many UAT candidates is undoubtedly the flying. Two sorties normally accompany the ground school, the first a VFR segment for about 1.2 hours, which can be done in the P-51 Mustang if desired, followed the next day by a 1.0 IFR segment. “It’s similar to what the military does,” Lauderback noted.

There are perhaps dozens of other unusual attitude training courses around the United States, but Lauderback is quick to differentiate his program.

“A guy that’s flying jets or high-end turboprops is not going to relate to the cockpit of an Extra 300 or a Citabria. He wants his training to be jet-to-jet. We may be the new kids on the block, but our L-39 is filled with cutting-edge technology. Our cockpit and our performance closely match what the pilot is used to seeing.”

Today, a lot of aviation training is relegated to the simulator. “We do all kinds of things you can’t reproduce in a simulator,” Lauderback said. “How can you show a pilot what three gs feels like if they’re sitting in a simulator? How can you learn to recover without also pulling the wings off? G-calibration of the pilot is an important part of our UAT training.”

Corporate flight departments are drawn to Stallion’s UAT course because chief pilots are always looking for ways to get out of the training rut and do some continuing education that strikes a chord. “One guy we trained had been to simulator training 18 times for the same recurrent training course,” Lauderback said. “Pilots get pretty excited about what we’re teaching them, and we’re very proud of that.”

Like all unusual attitude training, pilots are distracted and then given the opportunity to correct a significant aberration of either altitude or heading or both. Students are trained to get the aircraft back to straight and level without structural damage or failure or hitting the ground. All of us had some variation of the training during our private pilot course, but we probably didn’t train for upsets in IMC.

And that’s where Stallion 51’s program shines. The rear cockpit in the tandem-seat jet is equipped with a curtain that completely isolates the pilot from seeing outside. Lauderback commands prompts from the front seat over the intercom.

Calibrated for the real world

Stallion’s UAT course is not to be confused with a scare-you-to-death aerobatics program, but is instead calibrated to be real, featuring real-world upset scenarios and teaching real-world recoveries that save pilot, passenger and airplane. “O.K., close your eyes,” came the command. Lauderback pulled the jet vertical and rolled in some bank angle creating a classic unusual attitude without excessive maneuvering or discomfort for the student pilot—me, in this case. As I wait with eyes still shut, I know I’m in good hands and that this training is as real as it gets.

And then these words came through the intercom: “Open your eyes, you have the aircraft.”

I blinked and realized I was near inverted and pitched almost straight up with almost no airspeed left before the two swept wings on this jet quit flying completely.  

“Push the stick; unload the aircraft.”

As I pushed the nose toward a zero-g configuration, I was absolutely amazed to discover that the aircraft continued flying, well below the bottom of the green arc and its associated stall speed. Wait, we were below the stall speed but the airplane was still flying!

“Normal stall speeds are figured at one g. Go below one g and the stall speed gets even slower. Knowing that might just save your bacon one day,” Lauderback said clearly.

Did your instructor teach you that?

We turned the jet toward home and, on the flight back to Stallion 51, I knew I’d just had a day I’d always remember and gained a skill set that just might save my life one day.

Screenwriter, philanthropist and good guy Lyn Freeman has been writing aviation articles since before John Glenn joined the Marines. He is the former editor of Plane & Pilot magazine, founder and current chairperson of the Build-a-Plane organization, a master scuba diver, a championship table tennis player and an all-around Renaissance man. Send questions or comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Wednesday, April 23 2014 10:02

IFR Single Engine Safety

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With the increasing use of single-engine aircraft for actual IFR flight, it is important to understand and properly maintain the pneumatic system that operates the gyroscopic instruments.

Reliable aircraft operations require customary service and system replacement at regular intervals according to manufacturer specifications. Ignoring this system until it fails could end in disaster and at the least could become quite inconvenient and costly.

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