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Flight Training (24)
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.
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.
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.
A brief walk around Alaska’s online aviation weather camera program.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
"No Greater Burden: Surviving an Aircraft Accident"
Pilot Safety, Risk Assessment and Checklists
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.
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.
November 2005- If you operate your aircraft into large busy airports, this comment from the tower controller has almost become a cliché. “Caution wake turbulence,” your trusty government employee will say. “You are six miles behind a heavy Boeing 777. Wind calm, cleared to land.”
If you’ve been operating at large airports long you’ve heard this warning hundreds of times and nothing has happened to you. In a few instances your airplane went through a few seconds of rough air – nothing you couldn’t handle. Following a heavy 747 in past encounters only resulted in a little mild rocking and rolling.
It is the mildest of weather conditions facing pilots, and yet it can be the most deadly. It creeps in on "little cat's feet" but can make even the most expensive airliner or business jet go someplace else rather than face it. Like an in-law, it comes sometimes when it isn't predicted and seems to never leave—at least, not on your schedule.
Fog doesn't sound like much of a problem until you are flying above it, are running low on fuel and hoping it will go away before you hear silence instead of your engine. I have dealt with all kinds of fog with all kinds of aircraft all over the world.
The most frustrating thing for me and possibly for you is the fact that you can often see right up through the stuff and still don't have the visibility to be legal or safe. Most low visibility instrument takeoffs I've done with the airline resulted in us being in the clear above the fog well before our landing gear was up and in the wells. So... what is the danger of going ahead and taking off when you know you'll be on top or at least think you will?
Simply put, when you are operating in fog, you can't see. I know that sounds terribly simplistic, but you'd be surprised how many pilots, especially VFR only pilots, every year try that little takeoff in the fog trick and end up running into things on the ground or discover that the fog actually doesn't end at 200 feet—it goes up to 35,000 feet.
Point is, you can never really tell with fog. Fog, while being a quiet, white thing of poetry and drug overconsumption is the most discussed and debated item every year when I go to recurrent training at the airline.
The main question for us airline guys? Legality. Depending on how your aircraft is equipped, how you are rated, what kind of experience and training you have and the details of the runway you are trying to use for takeoff, the minutiae of what constitutes a "legal takeoff" can baffle the most experienced pilot. Just following the guy ahead of you won't make you legal—and just because you are legal, does that guarantee that you are safe?
- Back to the 1950s
- One of the gifts my old flight instructor, Jesse Hinson, left me was his copy of Theory of Instrument Flight by the Department of the Air Force. It was published in 1954 and I'm sure Jesse thought, "What the heck, this kid is never going to do any real flying anyway... I'll just give him this old book."
It turns out I've been reading this tome for over 30 years now and a lot of what is in it is still perfectly reasonable and usable. Not the part about flying in and around thunderstorms, though.
- Hang On!
The Air Force's advice for thunderstorm penetration? (That's right, I wrote "penetration"—they didn't have much airborne weather radar in those days and the mission had to be accomplished, right?)
"In general, thunderstorms in the form of turbulence, blinding lightning, icing, 'heavy' rainfall and high winds, present very definite hazards to flying.
"A pilot with basic knowledge of thunderstorm activity, however, should be able to cope with such hazards."
I guess I wasn't that pilot because the first time I accidentally penetrated a storm in a 172 the engine quit, the prop stopped and my seat needed to be replaced.
Fog in the '50s
During the age of the real "Fonz," fog was the same thing it is today—a pain in the butt. According to the Air Force of June Allison and Jimmy Stewart, "Fog is a suspension of minute water droplets, or ice crystals when the temperature is substantially below freezing in the atmosphere with no apparent downward motion."
The Berlin Airlift Boys continue: "Fog is generally more prevalent in coastal areas, where more water vapor is available, persistent in industrial regions because of the high concentration of condensation nuclei, but also frequently forms when the relative humidity is less than 100 percent. In most areas of the world, fog occurs more frequently during the colder half of the year than the warmer half."
- Modern, Space-Age Fog
Fog today is the same stuff that shrouded James Bond when he left M's office in London to go out and kill his first super villain.
What made the fog happen and what type of fog you are dealing with is more important to you than James, because knowing that information will be what tells you when the fog is going away. This information is more valuable than having "sharks with friggin' laser beams glued to their heads."
We'll quickly review the types of fog and then get back to our kick-butt James Bond metaphor:
• Radiation Fog
is formed by the cooling of land after the sun goes down by thermal radiation when the skies are calm and clear. The ground, cooler than the air, produces condensation in the surrounding air by heat conduction.
It can be less than three feet deep but slight turbulence in the surrounding air can make a thicker layer. Radiation fog usually occurs in the autumn and sunrise usually solves the problem by burning it off.
• Advection Fog
happens when wet air passes over cool ground by advection (wind) and is cooled. It is common at sea when tropical air runs over cooler water. You'll probably see it in your flying travels when a warm front passes over an area with a significant snowpack.
• Steam Fog
is caused by cold air passing over warmer water. You Chicago pilots know of this sort of thing and call it "lake effect snow" or "lake effect rain." Lake effect fog is the same thing and can also show up as hoarfrost or freezing fog.
• Precipitation Fog
(or frontal fog) comes to be as precipitation falls into drier air below the cloud, the liquid droplets evaporate into water vapor. The vapor cools and at the dew point it condenses and fog forms. I have never seen this type of fog, even out West in the desert, unless I mistook it for virga.
• Upslope Fog
happens when winds blow up a slope (called orographic lift). It cools as it rises and the moisture condenses into fog. This happens sometimes on mountaintops which explains some of the out-of-control runs I've had at Park City, Utah.
I think for the purposes of operating your aircraft, we can eliminate precipitation fog and upslope fog from our list of problems. The possible trouble you'd have with precipitation fog are overshadowed by the precipitation itself and if you are flying around upslope fog, I suggest you worry more about the mountain and less about the fog.
Radiation fog is like watching reruns of "Sex in the City." No matter how much it bores you, you'll just have to wait it out if you want a successful date (or flight). The bad news is that if that fog is there at night and you are too, it will most likely win the battle of wills. If you are there in the morning and see radiation fog, you can count on the sun to burn it off.
The question then becomes not how, but when. In my experience this "wait for the fog to burn off" is inversely related to how badly you want to leave. When I am standing-by in an aircraft for which I am being paid by the minute, the stuff burns right off. If I'm in a hurry to get my rental 172 back before they charge me another three-hour-a-day minimum, it'll hang around until noon.
With advection fog, you have the added variables of wind and weather to either help or hinder your escape. The same wind that brought you the fog off of Lake Michigan can shift and blow it away.
- What are your Minimums?
The minimum visibility you must have for takeoff varies for each airplane and pilot and what part of the FARs you are operating under. That would take another article and like I mentioned about recurrent, we'd never agree anyway. Just fly safe, okay?
Landing minimums in fog are also a variable thing based on your operation. Before you go in to "take a peek" remember that not only is that a stupid thing to do, the FAA is getting more serious about enforcement—and fog and visibility is something the FAA can quantify. Bureaucrats love things they can quantify. You'd lose.
- The Final Bond Metaphor
The fog that 007 stumbled out of MI-6 into his Aston Martin is just as deadly as the thunderstorms that those gallant cold warriors flew their Century Series fighters through. Fog is more insidious though, because many pilots think they can beat it.
Think again, please. There is nothing in your life that is so important that it won't wait for an hour as the fog burns off and you leave VFR instead of in an ambulance.
If you are already in the air and fog starts to form below you, find a place to land now.
Morning fog sometimes takes more hours to burn off than you have fuel in your tanks to out-wait. Landing at an airport short of your fogged-in destination beats being picked out of a tree by a fireman named "Bubba."
There is no dishonor in a strategic retreat—and even if you break an FAR or two in order to land safely, it is a much better deal.
- Jesse Hinson Has the Final Word
When it comes to legalities versus safety, my flight instructor, Jesse Hinson, said it best: "It is better to be judged by 12 men than carried by six."
Kevin Garrison's aviation career began at age 15 as a lineboy in Lakeland, Fla. He came up through General Aviation and is currently a senior 767 captain. When not frightening passengers, Kevin plays tennis and lives on a horse farm in Kentucky, where he writes unsold humor projects and believes professional wrestling is real and all else is bogus
You might think that this season of the year is an unusual time to have a discussion about aircraft icing. Not really. All you have to do is climb a few thousand feet, enter some visible moisture and you can easily have an ice issue on your hands.
Late summer and autumn are the best times to have this discussion because it allows you time to make sure your airplane is in good shape for the upcoming icing season and that your knowledge and training is up to the challenge.
By now pilots should know that it is a bad idea to fly through icing conditions and get that stuff on their airplanes. It seems simple enough: stay out of ice and you stay out of trouble.
Icing forecasts are spotty at best and lots of times you'll run into icing where you least expect it. Once in it, your three options of staying in the icing, climbing above it, or descending out of it aren't as simple as they may seem.
Even though you might have good anti-icing and de-icing equipment, sometimes it isn't enough to keep you safe. Climbing out of ice is usually the best idea because once the outside air temp gets below freezing you are out of danger, but that presupposes that your airplane still has the capability of climbing. One half-inch of airframe ice can reduce lift and increase drag by over 50 percent, so climbing may not be an option if you get frosted.
In order to have ice you need two things and two things only: Cold and Wet. Doesn't matter if your airplane is providing the cold or fog at your local airport is providing the wet. You gotta have both in some combination to have ice.
"Clear, Rime, and Frost" is Not the Name of a Law Firm
Clear ice is caused by the slow freezing of large supercooled drops of H2O. They spread out when they hit your aircraft and freeze smooth and clear which makes it hard to detect with your naked eye.
In addition to the fact that it is hard to see, it is also very heavy—62 pounds per cubic foot. This ice is usually found in cumulo-bumpy clouds and occurs at temps between 0 and-10 degrees C. Clear ice is very difficult to get off an airframe once it's on.
When we're talking about Rime, we are certainly not talking about Leann. We are talking about that opaque, crusty, out-of-shape ice that can stick to your airplane tighter than a tattoo on a biker.
Rime ice instantly forms when small, supercooled drops hit your airplane and instantly freeze. It is brittle stuff, which is good, because it makes it easier to remove. It also forms weird shapes, which is not so good, because it changes the performance of your airfoil and propeller.
Rime happens mostly in stratiform clouds and can form in a wider temperature range. You can get rime ice between 0 and -40 C. Throughout your "circle of life" as a pilot, you can expect to get much more rime than clear.
Frost isn't just a poet who had to go to the bathroom outside on a snowy evening. It is probably your biggest enemy if you fly General Aviation people movers through the chilly air of this great nation of the free and the brave.
Frost usually forms on parked aircraft and is a royal pain to get off. Make sure you remove it all, because just a quarter inch of the stuff on your wings can totally ruin your day.
The FARs allow you to "polish the frost smooth" before flight, but I've checked and Sporty's doesn't offer a frost polisher of any kind in their catalog. In my opinion, the very best defense against frost is something we pilots call the "heated hangar."
More Kinds of Ice
Carburetor icing is something you've known about since your student pilot days in that dusky-smelling Cessna 150 when your CFI taught you about the "Gas, Mixture, Carb-Heat" procedure halfway on the downwind.
According to aviation experts, the reason carb ice is such a raspberry seed under everybody's wisdom teeth is that it occurs in warm air. All you need is a dew point of around 65 degrees F and you'll be yanking the carb heat handle.
Impact ice is the stuff of which NTSB investigations are made. Ice covering your induction systems, your windshield, static ports and pitot tubes can be more deadly than the stuff blanketing your wings. A Northwest Airlines Boeing 727 crew learned this the hard way in 1974 when ferrying the plane from JFK to Buffalo, N.Y.
During climbout, both pitot tubes were clogged with ice and the airspeed indicators in the jet became, in effect, altimeters. As the aircraft climbed into the thinner air the airspeed indicators, sensing the pressure difference between the clogged pitot tubes and the not-clogged static ports, showed ever increasing airspeed. As they increased pitch to slow down the increasing airspeed, it also increased until they entered a fatal spin.
After the crash it was determined that their pitot heat was never turned on. It was on the taxi checklist, but the switches were never moved. It is easy to fault these guys, but tell me this: you have one pitot heat system on your aircraft... how will you know for sure that it is continuously on, and what will you do if it fails?
The last kind of airframe icing we can talk about today is rarely discussed. It is the stuff that splashes up from the taxiways and runways. That's right—slush and snow. Get a lot of slush frozen to your flaps and the underside of your horizontal stabilizers and you got trouble. Get enough of it stuck to your landing gear and you won't be retracting it today. Slush is generally more of a problem than snow is for takeoff and landing because it is much heavier and tends to build up in front of your wheels.
Now that we've dispensed with the generalizations and definitions, just how do you deal with this stuff?
Just Don't Do It
Most of you shouldn't fly into icing, because it is illegal, immoral and not healthy for you to do so. According to the FAA, unless your airplane is equipped for flight into "known icing," it is against the law for you to fly in the stuff.
If your aircraft is equipped for flight into known icing, you will know because it will be placarded and the salesperson you bought the bird from will have probably gone on and on about it.
If you are in doubt, you can look up the requirements in FAR part 23, section 34. Then you can peruse Advisory Circular AC 23.1419-2a. They will take pages and pages to tell you this: Your airplane is equipped for flight into "known icing" if it has deicing or anti-icing equipment protecting each propeller, windshield, wing, stabilizing or control surface. You must have ice protection for each airspeed, rate of climb, altimeter and flight attitude instrument system. I think you'll agree with me that if you have ice protection on all that stuff you have one well-equipped bird.
De-Icing Equipment Won't Keep You Out of Trouble
Let's say you have all the equipment that I have on the 767 I fly to pay the rent: heated leading edges on the wings, hot tail, fuel heat, a heated windshield, engine anti-ice and a pitot-static heater system that won't quit.
Even with all that airborne heat, I avoid icing conditions whenever I can and get out as soon as I can if I get in them. Having ice on your airplane is never a good idea and even the best anti-ice systems can fail or fall behind.
Recent pireps will be passed along by your controller, especially when moderate or heavy icing is reported, and are the best way to find out where the ice is. If you're in doubt, ask your trusty ATC sidekick if there are any reports of icing in the area.
Your visual orbs are your best line of defense against the frosty stuff. Take a good look out of your windshield. Are you in a cloud? Now look at your outside air temp gauge. If it is at or below 0 degrees C you should be on the lookout for ice.
Every airplane has a best place to look for ice from the cockpit. On the 767, DC-9 and MD-88 it is the windshield wiper bolt. When we see ice forming on it we know it is time to turn on the airfoil anti-ice. For engine anti-ice, we rely on the TAT gauge (total air temp) and a peek outside our window. If we forget, the first sign of engine ice on a turbojet is an increase in EPR (exhaust pressure ratio) because the pitot-probe for that gauge ices over and leads to a really big jump.
Your plane's icing location will be different. It should be an unheated spot that you can easily see from your seat. By the way, a little ice forming under your windshield wiper blade doesn't always mean you have airframe ice, but it is a sign that you need to think about it. You usually can't go wrong by turning on any anti-ice stuff you have ahead of the time that you really need it.
The exception to that rule is when you have pneumatic boots. That is a totally 'nother animal and I have no expertise to offer you on the subject of boots other than I think you ought to trade up to a jet that has hot wings.
When you find yourself in icing conditions your best bet it to climb out of it if you can. Once you are in cold enough air that the wet stuff hitting your bird is already frozen you're in good shape.
The problem with climbing, of course is two-fold. First, with an ever-building load of ice you may not be able to climb. Second, unless you are pressurized you are going to need oxygen sooner or later. Descending to find warmer air sometimes works. The problem with that strategy is also a "two-fer". You may not be able to find warmer air or air warm enough to get rid of existing ice and second, you always have to worry more about the ground the closer you get to it.
Icing is an insidious problem because it is so painless until it is too late to do anything about it. When your airplane is getting frosted you usually aren't in any turbulence or rain and the ride is deceptively smooth. Unlike thunderstorms which, although they are nasty beasts, are in easily definable spots, icing can be in every cloud along your route and on some really bad days can begin at ground level and go well above the service ceiling of your airplane.
With a little help from your friends in the form of pireps, a look or two at your temp gauge and some common sense you can avoid being the next pile of steaming aircraft wreckage on the six o'clock news.
Kevin Garrison's aviation career began at age 15 as a lineboy in Lakeland, Fla. He came up through General Aviation and is currently a senior 767 captain. When not frightening passengers, Kevin plays tennis and lives on a horse farm in Kentucky, where he writes unsold humor projects and believes professional wrestling is real and all else is bogus.
Jacob Eiting is an innovator and a broad thinker. He works as a software engineer by day, creating learning games in Spanish and other languages, and at night, he runs a service-side business called Five Zero Mike that creates aviation-related mobile apps for iPhone and Android.
“My passion is aviation apps,” he said. “GA is a really small market [so] I can have a lot of impact—and I have a vested interest,” he said. Eiting, I should add, is a GA pilot, with a newly-minted IFR ticket.
So far, Eiting’s developed a plug-in for flight simulators, has a weather briefing site he’s working on, and is planning a new app to record flight tracks.
Eiting is part of Generation Y, also known as Generation Net or the Millennials—he says he grew up when technology was growing up. Now 25, he sees a huge gap right now between technology and aviation. “There are potential gains to smoothing things out between technology and aviation,” he explained.