- Airplane performance
- Density altitude
- Flight Planning
- Global Positioning System (GPS)
- Instrument flying
- Night Flying
- Pattern Altitude
- Traffic pattern
A VFR flight plan is a form you send to the FAA with a record of your planned flight, including details such as your destination and route. The sole purpose of this procedure is so that they can initiate search and rescue services if something happens to you en route.
VFR flight plans are filed with the FAA’s Flight Service (FSS) organization, which provides services to pilots through a contract service provider, Leidos. You will need to create a free account at https://1800WXBRIEF.com in order to receive this service.
For VFR flights within the continental US, filing a flight plan is optional. However, if you are flying to an international destination, such as Canada, an active VFR or IFR flight plan is mandatory.
There are three steps to the VFR flight plan process.
Step 1. “File” your flight plan. There are numerous options to file. You can call 1-800-WX-BRIEF, file your flight plan online at https://www.1800WXBRIEF.com, file directly from your electronic flight bag (EFB) app, such as ForeFlight, or through other flight planning software such as SkyVector. Your flight plan will remain in the system for about two hours after your proposed departure time, and if you do nothing else it will simply disappear.
Step 2. In order to receive search and rescue services you must “Activate” your flight plan as soon as practical after your departure. This can be done in various ways. First, you can call 1-800-WX-BRIEF on the ground when you are ready to depart. Second, you can radio FSS in the air soon after your departure (you can find the appropriate frequency in the Chart Supplement). Another option is to activate it using your EFB. And lastly, if you filed online you will receive a link via email to open your flight plan using the Leidos EasyActivate service. All you have to do is click on the link and the flight plan is activated.
Step 3. “Close” your flight plan on the ground after you land by calling 1-800-WX-BRIEF, via your EFB or using the Leidos, EasyClose service (another email link). You must close your flight plan within 30 minutes after your estimated time of arrival otherwise search and rescue services will be activated. Note that flight plans are never closed automatically and you cannot ask ATC to close your flight plan.
You may also cancel or amend your flight plan in the air at any time by calling the appropriate FSS frequency on the radio or using your EFB. If you divert to a different airport, change your route, or take extra time en route, remember to amend your flight plan with FSS so they don’t initiate a search unnecessarily.
It is important to note that Flight Service is not an air traffic control (ATC) facility and they don’t track you on radar or provide any other services while you are en-route. If you want radar services you must initiate VFR flight following with ATC.
What are the advantages of filing a flight plan? The only service provided through this process is search and rescue, and that is only triggered 30 minutes after your estimated time of arrival if you have not either closed or cancelled your flight plan. If you are missing, Flight Service will initiate a search along your proposed route of flight. This service may be used for any flight but it is highly recommended for flying over remote areas.
Beth Rehm, CFII
It is not uncommon to be asked to be a safety pilot by a friend who needs to practice flying instrument approaches in simulated instrument conditions for the purpose of maintaining instrument currency and/or proficiency. Many pilots assume that both pilots can log pilot-in-command (PIC) time for this type of flight, but that is not always the case. There are multiple Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations that pertain to this activity that must be carefully considered in order to determine how to log your flight time correctly.
When is a safety pilot required?
A safety pilot (SP) is a second flight crewmember required by 14 CFR §91.109(c)(1) only when the pilot flying (PF) is flying under simulated instrument conditions. This is one of the rare situations in general aviation flying, other than flight training, that requires two pilots.
Who can be a safety pilot?
The minimum qualifications to perform the duties of a safety pilot are a private, commercial or ATP certificate in the same category and class as the aircraft being flown, and a current medical as required by 14 CFR §61.3(c). A December 22, 2022 rule change1 also allows pilots who operate under BasicMed to serve as a safety pilot when not acting as pilot-in-command. There are no other requirements, not even a current flight review.2, 3
How to log your time as a safety pilot
Assuming you meet the above requirements to act as a safety pilot, you need to figure out how you will log your flight time for the simulated instrument portion of the flight. You have two options; Pilot-in-command (PIC) or second-in-command (SIC), and which one you use depends who will be acting as the pilot-in-command.
As a reminder, here is a list of all the qualifications required for a pilot to act as pilot-in-command:
- Hold a pilot certificate and be rated for the category and class of aircraft being flown, 14 CFR §61.3.
- Possess a type rating for the aircraft (if required by 14 CFR §61.31).
- Have received the required training and logbook endorsements for complex, high performance, tailwheel or pressurized aircraft, if any of those apply to the aircraft being flown, (14 CFR §61.31).
- Hold at least a third class medical certificate, per 14 CFR §61.23(a)(3)(iii).
- Meet the requirements for a flight review within the preceding 24 calendar months as required by 14 CFR §61.56(c).
- To carry passengers, the pilot must have performed 3 takeoffs and landings within the preceding 90 days, per 14 CFR §61.57(a)(1).
Only one flight crewmember can act as pilot-in-command at a time, and in the airline world that is always the captain, but in the GA environment it could be either pilot. If both pilots meet the minimum qualifications to act as pilot-in-command, prior to the flight you must discuss and agree on who will be acting as pilot-in-command. Of course, if neither pilot is qualified to act as pilot-in-command then the flight must be cancelled.
Only the simulated instrument portion of the flight requires two pilots and is therefore the only period for which both pilots could potentially log PIC time. The pilot flying (PF) is able to log the entire flight as PIC as the sole manipulator of the controls under §61.51(e)(1)(i), as long as they hold a sport, recreational, private, commercial or ATP certificate with the appropriate category and class rating. If the PF is also acting as the pilot-in-command for the entire flight, then the safety pilot (SP) can only log SIC time under 14 CFR §61.51(f)(2). If the SP will be acting as the pilot-in-command for the simulated instrument portion of the flight, they can log that time as PIC under § 61.51(e)(1)(iii).
For a better understanding of these complicated regulations let’s take a look at some possible scenarios.
The pilot of a Mooney M20J wants to fly some instrument approaches under simulated instrument conditions and has asked you to be her safety pilot. She has a current medical and flight review, as well as a complex rating, and is therefore legal to act as pilot-in-command. You are a private pilot with a current 3rd class medical and you recently completed a flight review, but you don’t have a complex endorsement. In this case you can act as a safety pilot while the flying pilot is under the hood, but you must log the time as SIC.
A friend asks you to be his safety pilot while he practices approaches in simulated instrument conditions in his Piper Seminole. You hold a Private Pilot certificate and are rated to fly single engine airplanes (ASEL). Because you do not hold a multi-engine rating you are not eligible to act as a safety pilot for this flight.
You need to fly three approaches and a hold under simulated instrument conditions to maintain your instrument currency in a Cessna 172 you rent from a local flight school. You hold a private pilot certificate but your flight review and medical both expired last month. You ask a pilot friend who is current and qualified to act as pilot-in-command to be your safety pilot. You are eligible to log the entire flight as PIC as the sole manipulator of the controls. Although your safety pilot will be acting as pilot-in-command for the entire flight, they can only log PIC time for the instrument portion of the flight and nothing for the remaining time.
You plan to fly to lunch with a friend in her Cirrus SR20 and she asks you to be her safety pilot while she practices under the hood for a portion of the flight. You are a private pilot with a current medical but you haven’t flown in a few years and your flight review recently expired. In this example you are eligible to be her safety pilot but not to act as pilot-in-command, so you can only log the simulated instrument portion of the flight as SIC. On the way back from lunch your friend (who is not a CFI) asks you if you would like to fly the airplane. You enthusiastically accept her offer and fly for an hour. You can log this hour as PIC because you are a licensed pilot in the same category and class, and the sole manipulator of the controls. However, your friend cannot log any time during the period you have the controls because she is not an authorized instructor and even though she is acting as pilot-in-command while you fly, the operation does not require two pilots, so only one of you can log the time.
It’s a great day to get some actual instrument time but you feel your instrument flying skills are a bit rusty, so you ask a highly experienced instrument-rated pilot to go with you. You both are qualified to act as pilot-in-command but you will be the pilot flying for the entire flight. FAA regulations do not require two pilots for this operation and therefore your friend is not acting as a safety pilot. Only one of you can log the flight as PIC and the other pilot can log nothing4. You could log the time as PIC and actual instrument as the sole manipulator of the controls, or your friend can log the time as PIC if prior to the flight you agreed they would be acting as pilot-in-command.
Performing the duties of a safety pilot is a great way to build time and gain experience but it is important to log the flight time correctly, especially if you are building hours towards a career as a pilot. I hope this provides some clarity to a confusing area of the FAA regulations.
Beth Rehm, CFII
References and additional information
In addition to numerous FAA regulations, the following legal interpretations were also consulted for this article.
- See the Federal Register for the details of the Final Rule entitled “Medical Certification Standards for Commercial Balloon Operations” published 11/22/22.
- According to the FAA legal interpretation issued to Rizner in 1991, a safety pilot is not required to have a complex or high performance endorsement.
- The FAA legal interpretation issued to Beaty in 2013 states that a safety pilot is not required to have an instrument rating or be instrument current. Even though a safety pilot may log SIC time, they are not acting as second-in-command when the aircraft does not require two pilots.
- In their response to Walker dated 2011, the FAA clarifies which pilots may log PIC time while flying in IMC. A pilot need not hold an instrument rating to log PIC or actual instrument time while operating in IMC. However, for the flight to be legal another pilot is required who does possess an instrument rating and is instrument current (and meets all the other requirements to act as pilot-in-command). If the first pilot is logging PIC time as the sole manipulator of the controls under §61.51(e)(1)(i), the second pilot may not log the time as PIC even though they are acting as pilot-in-command.
- According to a legal interpretation issued to Gebhart in 2009, a person acting as a safety pilot for the simulated instrument portion of a cross-county flight may not log cross-country flight time because they are not a required flight crewmember for the entire flight.
- The safety pilot is not required to pay a pro-rata share of the cost of the flight, and not doing so is not a violation of 14 CFR §61.113, according to the FAA’s response to Roberts in 2012.
Many pilots are aware of VFR flight following but do not truly understand the benefits and rarely use this valuable service. For some, this is because they get very little exposure to flight following during their initial private pilot training and for others it could be because they don’t feel proficient using air traffic control (ATC) services in general. Whatever the reason, it is not used nearly as much as it should be.
It’s no surprise that pilots are unfamiliar with the benefits of VFR flight following because hardly any information is provided about these services in the traditional private pilot education materials. There is a very brief paragraph describing the service in the FAA Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25B), but they refer to it as “Radar Traffic Advisories.” Although we all know it as “flight following,” it is in fact officially called “basic radar service” and this is properly described in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) section 4-1-18.
Private pilot training usually only includes two to three cross-country flights with a flight instructor (a minimum of 3 hours). But because there are other skills we also practice during those training flights, such as diversions and managing emergencies, it is not always appropriate to use VFR flight following during these lessons. Consequently, by the time the student is ready for their solo cross country flights, they may only have used flight following once or twice, or maybe not at all.
Students training at non-towered airports have minimal experience interacting with ATC services in general and are therefore even less confident using VFR flight following than those who train at towered airports. But even students who regularly fly out of controlled airports exhibit an extreme reluctance to engage with ATC when it is not absolutely required. This is because interacting with ATC is complicated and frequently confusing to students and new pilots and there is potential for very real and legal consequences if they get it wrong. Add to this the perceived embarrassment that comes with missing a radio call or messing up a read back, and pilots may think they have a good excuse to avoid controlled airspace and related ATC services at all costs!
As with most things related to aviation, flight following is really not that complicated and all it takes is some good information and a bit of practice to get comfortable with it.
The Benefits of VFR Flight Following
VFR flight following means that air traffic control (ATC) is tracking your aircraft in real time on radar systems (where coverage is available). One advantage of being tracked is that controllers can alert you to potential traffic conflicts with IFR or VFR targets they see on their radar system. They may sometimes provide vectors to maintain separation with IFR flights but you are still conducting a VFR flight and therefore you are not absolved of your responsibility look for and avoid other traffic.
Controllers also will provide safety alerts in situations where the radar indicates an aircraft is descending below a safe altitude or in close proximity to terrain, obstructions or other aircraft. When sky diving operations are in progress ATC also must vector you around the relevant active areas.
If you need navigational assistance you can ask ATC for vectors. After providing you with vectors a controller will most likely tell you to “resume own navigation,” and from that time you are back to navigating by yourself.
ATC also provides hazardous weather information such as SIGMETS and PIREPs.
VFR flight following makes it easier to navigate through military operations areas (MOA), restricted airspace and class C airspace because they can provide the necessary advice and appropriate clearances.
But perhaps the most important benefit to pilots is that if you have any kind of problem controllers are trained professionals ready to assist you. For example, they can provide vectors for lost pilots, nearest VFR airport if the weather stars to deteriorate, and if the worst happens and a you need to make an emergency, off-airport, landing they will track your aircraft and immediately alert the local emergency response services. This is an improvement on a VFR flight plan when they would only begin to look for you 30 minutes after you were expected at your destination.
How to use VFR Flight Following
The only equipment you need for VFR flight following is a two-way radio and a transponder (and ADS-B if you plan to fly through airspace where that is required). VFR flight following must be requested by the pilot and it is important to note that sometimes it might not be available when controllers are too busy with IFR traffic to provide the service to VFR traffic. Remember that even while receiving VFR flight following you are still flying VFR and therefore responsible for your own navigation, altitudes, maintaining VFR (appropriate cloud clearances and avoidance of any weather) as well as avoiding other traffic.
Who do you call for VFR Flight Following?
To to obtain VFR flight following you call the nearest published Center or Approach frequency, which can be found in the Chart Supplement, ForeFlight or on your GPS. We do this in the air at an altitude that allows you to communicate with ATC. This altitude varies from one area to another but could be as low as 300-500 feet. When you are departing from a class C airport you can request VFR flight following on the ground from Clearance Delivery or in the air after you contact the departure controller. You cannot initiate VFR flight following with a tower controller – if you try they will most likely just give you the departure frequency to call once you are in the air.
How do you ask for VFR Flight Following?
Initially, you will simply say you have a VFR request. This alerts the controller to your presence and gives them an opportunity to get ready to copy down your information. For example, “Rockford approach, N-13364, VFR request.” ATC should respond with something like “N-13364, Rockford Approach, go ahead.”
You can then provide all the details of your flight, which the controller will enter into a computer system. Each ATC facility may vary in the order they prefer the information, but this is what they need:
1. Call sign
3. What you want
5. Aircraft type
For example, “Rockford Approach, N-13364, ten miles east of Rockford, request flight following to Iowa City, Cessna 172, four thousand five hundred.”
If ATC is able to accommodate your request, the controller will acknowledge your position, assign you a unique transponder “squawk” code (which you must enter into your transponder), and provide the local altimeter setting (which you enter on your altimeter).
En route, ATC won’t need to talk to you much unless they have traffic advisories, an updated altimeter setting, or maybe if you are deviating from your expected course they might ask you about that. If you do have a problem, remember to declare an emergency and if you are able, keep the controller apprised of your situation and intentions.
If your flight takes you beyond a controller’s sector or into the airspace of another Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) or Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) they will hand you off to the next facility or controller. Your flight information will be passed to the new controller and they will be expecting you to check in. The first controller will say something like “Cessna 13364 contact Quad City Approach on one-three-three-point-two-seven-five.” After acknowledging this hand-off (“one-three-three-point-two-seven-five, Cessna 13364, good day”) you switch frequencies and check in with the next controller, “Quad City Approach, Cessna 13364, level, four-thousand-five-hundred.” At a minimum, the new controller will acknowledge you and give you an altimeter setting.
While en route, pay attention and listen continuously for your call sign on the assigned frequency and always be ready to copy down the next frequency. It is also a good idea to monitor the emergency frequency, 121.5, on your second radio. If you miss multiple calls from a controller they will often use 121.5 as a last resort to reach you. If you need to leave the frequency briefly to call flight service or to listen to ATIS you just tell them what you are doing. “Quad City Approach, Cessna 13364, request frequency change to listen to ATIS.” (Ideally, you should listen to ATIS on your second radio, if you have one, while remaining on the controller’s frequency.)
If you decide to change your destination, route or altitude for any reason you just advise the controller of what you are doing. For example, perhaps you need to descend below a cloud layer; “Quad City approach, Cessna 13364 descending three-thousand-five-hundred.”
Terminating Flight Following
Pilots may cancel flight following at any time but occasionally ATC will deny that request! This sometimes happens in busy, controlled airspace when the controller needs to talk to you to ensure positive separation from other aircraft.
If you wish to terminate the radar service don’t just switch frequencies leaving the controller wondering what happened to you! You must request to cancel. You tell them “Quad City Approach, Cessna 13364, cancel radar service, airport in sight,” and they will respond with “Cessna 13364, radar service terminated, squawk VFR, frequency change approved.” You will acknowledge with “radar service terminated, squawk VFR, frequency change approved, Cessna 13364.” From this point they will no longer provide traffic advisories, safety alerts, etc. Enter “1200” on your transponder immediately but you can remain listening on their frequency for as long as you need to. ATC can also opt to cancel your radar service due to a high workload or some controllers automatically cancel with you when you are within 10 miles of your destination.
Your VFR flight following will be automatically terminated when you land at a controlled airport. Arriving at a non-towered airport sometimes the controller will initiate the cancellation with you when you are about 10 miles out or when you confirm you have the airport in sight. Or they will wait for you to cancel when you are ready to switch to the CTAF frequency.
In my humble opinion, the benefits of VFR flight following far outweigh the excuses pilots use to avoid using it. Like everything else with flying, it takes a little bit of practice to get good at it, but that should not put anyone off using the service. It is also a great way to improve your situational awareness by listening to other pilots and is also a good way to practice and improve your radio communication skills.
Beth Rehm, CFII
One of the most rewarding experiences for a private pilot is being able to share the joy of flying with friends, family members, and other non-pilot people. However, our passengers can easily distract our attention from our flying duties, especially those that are not familiar with flying in general aviation airplanes.
Examples of common distractions would be passenger sickness, anxiety or simply an excessive number of questions. One way to minimize distractions in the air is to plan ahead and prepare for any eventuality before you begin the flight.
If your passengers have never been in a small airplane before it is a great idea to let them know ahead of time what to expect during the flight. We pilots are used to it, but takeoffs and landings especially can be quite nerve-wracking for first time passengers and they might react unpredictably.
Consider putting your most anxious passengers in the back seat, but if you allow them to sit up front, show them what they can safely grab onto, such as arm rests or the seat cushion. Anything except the yoke!
Always consider the comfort of your passengers and if you anticipate any level of turbulence or gusty winds it is best to postpone the flight. I have personally met many would-be-pilots who were deterred from flying forever by a first flight with an enthusiastic pilot friend in inclement weather conditions.
Regularly check in with your passengers during the flight to look for signs of sickness or anxiety. Adjust the environmental controls for your passenger’s comfort and show them how to use the air vents. I highly recommend carrying airsickness bags and making those readily accessible to each passenger. Take note that some people may experience hypoxia even at lower altitudes depending on their medical history and medications so be on the lookout for early symptoms of oxygen deprivation.
Begin with taking the time to answer your passengers’ questions before the flight because the more you explain on the ground the fewer concerns they will have in the air.
Brief your passengers on the concept of a “sterile cockpit” and set expectations that allow you to fully concentrate on flying during the takeoff/departure climb and approach/landing phases of the flight.
In cruise, to help your passengers enjoy the experience you can point out landmarks they might never have seen from the air, explain how the airplane works and answer any questions they have.
Before each flight, always conduct a thorough passenger safety briefing that includes items such as latching and unlatching the door(s), adjusting the seats and seatbelts, the location and operation of safety equipment and making sure their headset is fitted correctly. Remember that it is your duty as a pilot to brief your passengers on the operation of seatbelts and shoulder harnesses and to ensure they keep them fastened at a minimum during taxi, takeoff, and landing.
If there is a door on the passenger side, carefully check that is properly latched before you start the engine. A partially open door, while not a significant problem in itself, can be a terrifying problem for passengers who then become a major distraction for the pilot.
It is also a good idea to instruct your passengers to keep their hands and feet away from the controls and not to touch anything unless they have your permission.
With a little planning and effort before the flight you can hopefully avoid any major distractions in the air and ensure the experience is fun for everyone.
Beth Rehm, CFII
When I teach my students about the right-of-way rules, I try to emphasize the point that the rules not only rely on each aircraft being aware of the other but also that at least one of them is going to take appropriate avoiding action. Whomever has the right of way is essentially irrelevant if either pilot is unaware of the other traffic, and even if you think you have the right of way do you really want to rely on the other pilot to do the right thing? If they don’t, the consequences could be catastrophic.
We can complain all we want about how other pilots should fly a “standard” traffic pattern or only enter the pattern from a 45° entry to the downwind, but the reality is we have no control over what other pilots do. We each need to focus on what we can do to ensure our own safety. Here are a few recommendations.
Remember to use all the lights you have on your aircraft even during daylight hours. Strobes, position lights and landing lights all significantly increase your chances of being visible to other pilots and from a greater distance than without lights. Use all of them.
Accurate Position Reporting
Make frequent traffic advisories starting from ten miles from the airport and in every leg of the traffic pattern. Make timely calls as soon as you enter each leg and don’t skip any leg unless you absolutely cannot get a break on the frequency. Remember that other pilots are making decisions based on where you say you are, so be accurate about your position and your intentions. If you make a mistake, transmit again to correct the misinformation.
In addition to looking for traffic and listening for traffic advisories, be sure you evaluate every visual target and position call for a potential conflict. If you are not sure where the other traffic is, ask them to clarify their position and intentions.
Be truly prepared to adjust your pattern to maintain proper separation from other aircraft. That means getting proficient at extending your downwind leg, performing a 360° turn on the downwind and go-arounds from base or final. We must also be mentally prepared to change our plans. Pilots have a tendency to fixate on flying the perfect pattern to a landing every time but circumstances often require something different.
Embrace the reality that other aircraft of all types may be approaching or departing from a non-towered airport from any direction and at varying airspeeds. Not all traffic will fly a standard traffic pattern or follow the recommended pattern entry procedures. There are other types of approaches to look out for such as straight-in, short approach, low approach and overhead approach. Pay particular attention to traffic flying a straight-in approach and never turn from base to final if there is traffic inside a five mile final for the same runway.
Make Decisions Early
Don’t leave it to the last minute to take avoiding action. Whenever you become aware of the potential for two aircraft converging at roughly the same altitude, in any phase of flight, you should be ready to take avoiding action immediately. Never rely on the other pilot changing course even if you think you have the right of way.
It is perfectly legal for aircraft not equipped with radios to fly to and from non-towered airports. However, my personal opinion is there is no good reason why a pilot shouldn’t at least use a handheld radio to improve their safety and that of other pilots. If you see traffic that is not making radio calls, make other pilots aware of their position.
It is every pilot’s responsibility to see and avoid other aircraft so let’s all work together to be vigilant and fly safely.
Beth Rehm, CFI
The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) encourages pilots to use a standard traffic pattern but there are in fact no regulations prohibiting straight-in approaches at non-towered airports because the FAA does not regulate pattern entry procedures.
However, just like any other approach to an airport environment, pilots executing a straight-in approach should not disrupt the flow of other traffic arriving at and departing from the airport.
Pros and cons
The main advantage of a straight-in approach is convenience. For example. if you are east of an airport and landing to the west then a straight-in approach is the quickest and most economical way to get there. Towered airports use this type of approach any time it is appropriate and IFR traffic will usually be flying straight-in to land from about ten miles away.
The downside of flying straight-in is you don’t get a good view of the airport environment, other traffic in the pattern or the windsock before you land.
A lot of pilots struggle with straight-in approaches due to the lack of practice with this procedure during Private Pilot training. What makes the straight-in approach difficult is the lack of the usual visual clues we rely on in a standard traffic pattern. When we fly downwind, base and final we know exactly when to slow down, reduce power, lower the flaps, etc. We are familiar and comfortable with this procedure because we practice it over and over again. But we might rarely be asked to fly straight-in by our flight instructors or controllers at towered airports.
When to descend
A straight-in approach isn’t as complicated as you might think. Essentially it is just a long final to land, but just like any other technique in flying, you have to know what to do and when. Assuming there are no obstacles, plan to be level at 1,000 feet AGL and slowed to your usual downwind speed around five miles from the airport. Execute your approach checklist items, then begin your descent 3.5 nautical miles from the airport, as indicated on your GPS. If you don’t have a GPS, find a prominent feature you can see from the air on your aeronautical chart to determine a 3.5 mile position from the center of the airport.
Using this technique will give you roughly a three-degree glide slope which is the typical descent profile used by most instrument approaches. If in any doubt about obstacles such as towers or terrain on the approach to an unfamiliar runway you can consult the instrument approach plate, if there is one, to determine if a steeper approach is necessary.
Configuring the airplane
If you divide the descent distance roughly into thirds you can plan your changes in airspeed and airplane configurations exactly how you would do it in a standard approach;
- 3.5 miles out reduce power, lower the gear (if not fixed), add flaps, start your descent.
- 2.5 miles out, slow to your usual base airspeed and add a notch of flaps (if required).
- 1.5 miles out, slow to your final airspeed and add the last notch of flaps (if required).
The last part is just a normal short final so it won’t look any different than your usual approach.
I highly recommend getting comfortable with this type of approach in case you are ever required to perform it at a towered airport. However, it does require some extra vigilance and coordination with other traffic, and if there are a lot of other airplanes flying the standard traffic pattern it might be a better idea to get in line with everyone else and join the downwind.
Beth Rehm, CFI
Some airports don’t have any weather reporting but the ones that do have various types of AWOS or ASOS. These systems differ by level of sophistication and therefore usefulness to pilots.
Automated weather observing systems (AWOS) use an array of weather sensors, voice synthesizers and radio transmitters to continuously provide real-time weather that updates every minute. It is sometimes referred to as “the 1-minute weather.”
You can listen to the current weather broadcast on VHF radio frequencies in the airplane or by phone on the ground.
This 1-minute weather report will be more up to date than what you might see in ForeFlight. This is because ForeFlight only displays the routine weather observations (METARs) that are issued by AWOS systems every 20 minutes, at 15, 35 and 55 minutes past each hour. It can take several minutes for ForeFlight to retrieve the information through their interface with NOAA, parse the data and add it to their database before it is displayed in the app, which means that their weather can be as much as 26 minutes old.
Here is a list of the various options of AWOS that are available;
- AWOS-A: Only reports the altimeter setting
- AWOS-AV: Reports an altimeter setting and visibility
- AWOS-1: Altimeter, wind speed, direction and gusts, temperature and dew point
- AWOS-2: Same as AWOS-1 plus visibility
- AWOS-3: Information provided by AWOS-2 and includes cloud and ceiling data
- AWOS-3P: Same as AWOS-3 with added precipitation data
- AWOS-3PT: AWOS-3P with added thunderstorm/lighting reporting
- AWOS-4: Provides all the same information as AWOS-3PT and includes precipitation occurrence, type and accumulation, freezing rain, and runway surface condition
Automated surface observing system (ASOS) is a network of monitoring stations located at airports across the country. They are more sophisticated than AWOS and include the observations required to generate a routine weather report (METAR). METARs are usually updated hourly but ASOS can report special observations (SPECI) if weather conditions change more rapidly. In addition to the METAR pilots can obtain more immediate weather data by listening on the published frequency (when available) or by phone.
In addition to all the information provided by AWOS-4, ASOS can also measure and report on wind shifts, peak gusts, and rapid pressure changes. An ASOS visibility sensor is usually located near the touchdown zone of the primary instrument runway.
Frequencies for AWOS and ASOS are listed on the VFR sectional and in the Chart Supplement and phone numbers are only listed in the Chart Supplement. This information is also readily available to pilots in ForeFlight under the Info tab for each airport.
You might be wondering “why don’t all airports have an AWOS or ASOS?” and the answer is, of course, cost. These systems range in price from $20,000 to $100,000 which is prohibitive for many smaller and privately owned airports.
Beth Rehm, CFI
To exercise the privileges of a pilot certificate pilots must meet the FAA standards for both currency and proficiency. Currency means recent flight experience and proficiency is the level of expertise.
FAA private pilot currency requirements are described in 14 CFR §61.57 Recent flight experience: Pilot in command. Three takeoffs and three landings in an aircraft of the same category and class within the last 90 days will satisfy this obligation. This rule only applies to taking passengers and does not specify how well the takeoffs and landings need to be performed. What the FAA describes is a minimum standard and the definition of minimum is “the least possible.”
Some pilots believe compliance with the bare minimum of 14 CFR §61.57 is adequate, but their passengers may not be so happy to hear the last time they flew was 89 days ago!
To supplement 14 CFR §61.57, the FAA issued Advisory Circular AC61-98D, which stresses the minimum recent flight experience requirements should be augmented to address factors such as overall experience, different operating environments, complexity of the equipment used and variations in makes and models of aircraft. Furthermore, it recommends that pilots develop a personal currency program with an emphasis on proficiency beyond the minimum currency requirements.
So how do pilots become and remain proficient? From the beginning of their private pilot training they are working towards a set of standards described in the Airman Certification Standards (ACS). The practical test (also known as a “check ride”) is an evaluation of a pilot’s ability to meet those standards. But it doesn’t end there. It is a pilot’s constant responsibility to make sure they continue to perform at least at the same level of excellence as the day they passed their check ride—but I’m betting their passengers would appreciate a commitment to a higher standard!
At least once every 24 calendar months pilots are required to have their knowledge and skills evaluated by an authorized instructor to ensure they are maintaining their proficiency and this is called a flight review. Like the currency regulation, the flight review rule also has a minimum standard. 14 CFR §61.56 Flight Review states that a minimum of one hour of ground instruction and one hour of flight training is all that is legally required to meet this requirement. But this rule has a caveat; it leaves it up to the CFI to determine what knowledge, maneuvers and procedures are necessary to be included.
In essence, a flight review is a training event in which proficiency is evaluated. All this means is that if the pilot does not demonstrate the required proficiency then more training is required until they do.
As a pilot gains experience their skills should (hopefully) improve beyond the level required to pass a private pilot exam. But whether they improve or deteriorate largely depends on how frequently they fly, what they practice, how much they read or study and how much additional training they participate in. Some pilots with sufficient experience, who fly regularly and are well prepared may be able to complete a flight review in the minimum time, but for most pilots that is not realistic.
Pilots should work with their flight instructors to develop a flight review plan that achieves (or preferably exceeds) the minimum regulatory proficiency levels. It should be tailored to fit their specific needs, skill level, the type of flying they typically do and the goals and standards they want to aspire to. Most importantly, it should always include training and practice for unexpected situations and emergencies such as engine or equipment failures, VFR into IMC weather, etc. Ultimately though, it is the CFI’s responsibility to determine the total training time that will be necessary to complete both the ground and the flight portions of the flight review.
Beth Rehm, CFI
If you have flown in the chilly midwest recently you may have noticed a significant improvement in the takeoff performance of your aircraft. Increased performance is a good thing, but it can take inexperienced pilots by surprise when the airplane leaps off the runway in less than 400 feet and reaches traffic pattern altitude with alarming efficiency!
Private pilot training focusses heavily on less dense air at higher altitudes and in hotter temperatures and the negative affects on aircraft performance. For those of you who need a reminder; lower density air reduces lift because there is less force on the airfoils, reduces thrust because the propeller is not as efficient, and reduces power output because the engine takes in less air.
The opposite effects apply in cooler, more dense air but little attention is paid to how colder than standard temperatures might influence the capabilities of the aircraft in the winter months.
Most Aircraft Flight Manual (AFM)/Pilot’s Operating Handbooks (POH) offer a very limited takeoff performance chart which doesn’t really prepare the pilot for the realities of alternative situations at any time of year. The 1975 Cessna 172 Take-Off Performance chart uses four (pressure) altitude and temperature combinations; sea level at 59°F, 2,500 feet at 50°F, and 5,000 feet at 41°F, and 7,500 feet at 32°F. The 1976 version of the C-172 Skyhawk POH, on the other hand, has a table with pressure altitudes from sea level to 8,000 feet and five temperature options; 0°C, 10°C, 20°C, 30°C, and 40°C. Both offer three gross weight options.
Most days the weather conditions don’t fit into any one of these categories but we must do our best to pick the closest (more conservative) option. For example, this morning the Rockford (KRFD) METAR indicated -19°C with a field elevation of 742 feet and an altimeter setting of 30.27 resulting in a pressure altitude of 392 MSL. Taking into account the temperature and humidity, ForeFlight calculated a density altitude of -3,768. The POH doesn’t have a data point that is even close to this combination. The shortest ground roll distance in the C-172 POH takeoff performance table is 505 feet at sea level and 0°C at a gross weight of 1900 pounds with no wind.
Don’t get me wrong, better performance is preferable but it does change a few things that might come as a surprise to students and newer pilots. In addition to a shockingly shorter takeoff roll, climb performance will also be greatly improved in colder temps. POH rate of climb tables are similarly light on data options with the 1975 C-172 POH beginning at sea level and 15°C with three weight options and the 1976 version starting at -20°C at maximum gross weight only. The best rate of climb the POH indicates at sea level and -20°C is 755 feet per minute, but in my experience you will see considerably better than that on your vertical speed indicator (VSI).
So how does all this affect aircraft in the traffic pattern? The first factor is that when your takeoff ground roll is shorter, your climb out begins sooner. Combined with a much steeper rate of climb, you will reach the point of turning crosswind (300 feet below traffic pattern altitude) in a shorter distance than usual. When you make your turn to downwind you might find yourself already pretty close to the midfield downwind position. Because you covered less distance in the upwind leg, there will be a shorter distance than you might normally expect in the downwind leg.
The pattern might feel like it is going much faster than normal and you may feel rushed and lacking enough time to level off, slow down, make the appropriate radio calls and complete the appropriate checklist items before you find yourself abeam the numbers.
This can lead to starting your descent later than usual, extending your downwind and altering your glide path. As I’m sure your CFI has told you before, a good traffic pattern sets you up for a good landing. If you haven’t reached your desired configuration abeam the numbers you are less likely to be stabilized on final and that reduces your chances of a good landing.
If you need more time in the traffic pattern to prepare for landing I would suggest extending your upwind leg before you turn crosswind. This provides more time on the downwind leg to get organized before you begin your descent. In time, and with practice, you will become quicker and more efficient at traffic pattern procedures, but it always helps to know what to expect and to be prepared. Pilots should consider aircraft performance on every flight and have an understanding of how it will impact you even if you plan to go no further than the traffic pattern.
Beth Rehm, CFI
I cringe when I hear the phrase “clear of the active” used over the CTAF at non-towered airports because the term “active” is totally meaningless; all runways are potentially active at a non-towered field.
One of the advantages of non-towered airports is that pilots can opt to use any of the available runways, regardless of wind direction. And yes, that means they can land with a sporty crosswind or a howling tailwind if they so choose, and as long as they are able to stop before they run off the end of the runway, no one cares.
When the winds are calm pilots may take off from either end of a runway or for the sake of convenience simply choose the runway closest to their hangar. Some days the elements present us with a unique opportunity to practice crosswind takeoffs and landings while other pilots are using the runway aligned with the winds. Some pilots prefer to use grass runways where they exist and conditions are suitable, and flight instructors can opt for the grass for soft-field training or because the winds are more favorable for that runway.
The point is that just because you don’t see anyone else using other runways at any given moment doesn’t mean they are not active.
What surprises me about this practice is that after fastidiously making explicit downwind, base and final radio calls identifying a specific runway, why then would anyone abandon use of those very same runway numbers and make such a vague announcement on the ground? It is not any quicker to say “the active” than any two numbers for the runway. Just so everyone is clear, you won’t find the phrase “clear of the active” mentioned anywhere in the FAA Pilot/Controller glossary and it is not sanctioned by the FAA.
While we are on the topic of transmitting clear of runways, when you make that call are you completely sure you are clear of all the runways? It is common for even small airports to have intersecting runways and I frequently see pilots exit one runway only to stop on another one and make that all too familiar call that they are “clear of the active,” all the while being oblivious to the potential for traffic landing or taking off on the runway where they are now sitting.
Sometimes pilots pick up poor habits because they see or hear other pilots doing them and the frequency of use may unwittingly imply legitimacy. But even common practices are not always correct or safe and this is one of them.
Beth Rehm, CFI
The VFR sectional information block for any airport may indicate one or multiple radio communications frequencies, including control tower, CTAF, UNICOM and MULTICOM. Here is an explanation of what they are all used for.
UNICOM is a frequency pilots use to request airport information from a ground station which is monitored by FBO staff (not air traffic controllers). They can provide “airport advisories” which include such information as wind, weather, recommended runway, and other traffic in the area. Additionally UNICOM can be used to request FBO support services such as refueling, tie downs, hangars, transport, catering, etc. Although the majority of non-towered airports have this frequency on the VFR sectional chart, these days they are rarely monitored by anyone. They are generally more widely used at larger, controlled airports with FBOs that cater to business aviation. The UNICOM frequency, if there is one, will be indicated in italics on the VFR sectional chart.
At controlled airports there will be a tower frequency which is used by air traffic controllers and pilots to communicate with each other within the specified airspace for each airport. For class D airports this is generally within a four mile radius and for class C it is usually a five mile radius of the airport. On the VFR sectional chart the control tower frequency will be prefaced with the letters “CT.” Control towers at busy airports may operate 24/7, but many are part time and shut down overnight. If there is a star after the frequency it indicates that this tower operates part time. Pilots can determine the exact hours of operation in the chart supplement or, if you use ForeFlight the hours are shown in the frequencies section. When the tower is closed pilots must use the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) for traffic advisories.
A Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) is a designated frequency used at, and in the vicinity of, non-towered airports by pilots to self-announce their position and intentions to other pilots in order to avoid traffic conflicts. The CTAF will also be used at towered airports when the tower is not operating. The letter “C” inside a solid circle immediately after any frequency means that is the frequency to use for CTAF self-announcing. When you see this symbol after the tower frequency it means that when the tower is closed the tower frequency should be used for CTAF communications. When this symbol appears after a UNICOM frequency it means the UNICOM frequency is used for traffic advisories as well as to request an airport advisory.
The MULTICOM frequency, 122.9 MHz, may be designated as the CTAF on the VFR sectional for some small, non-towered, airports where there is no UNICOM. This frequency should also be used for self-announcing procedures at any airport where there is no published frequency mentioned on the chart or in the chart supplement, including private/restricted airports.
Beth Rehm, CFI
JB Aviation Flight Training
Two things are necessary for a private pilot to act as Pilot in Command (PIC) of an aircraft even if they are flying alone; a current flight review and a valid medical qualification.
To fly with or without passengers, your most recent flight review must have occurred within the past 24 calendar months. This means that whatever day of the month you completed your last flight review, it will expire at the end of the same month 24 months later. After this date you may not act as PIC.
There are a few exceptions to the requirement for a flight review. If you take a pilot proficiency check or a practical test for an additional certificate or rating with an examiner you will have 24 calendar months from the date of the exam until you need another flight review. Also, a completed phase of an FAA-sponsored pilot proficiency program, such as WINGS, satisfies the requirement for a flight review.
You also cannot act as PIC without a valid medical qualification. There are several options that meet this requirement. You can get a first, second or third class FAA medical certificate from an Aeromedical Examiner (AME), or you can follow the requirements for BasicMed (14CFR Part 68). There is an exception to this rule for Sport Pilots who can fly light sport airplanes with a current and valid U.S. driver’s license.
For the full details of the Flight Review regulation, see 14 CFR 61.56 at https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/61.56.
You can find more information about FAA BasicMed at https://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/airmen_certification/basic_med/
Beth Rehm, CFI
JB Aviation Flight Training
Crosswind landings and takeoffs are required any time the wind is not directly aligned with an available runway heading. Even at larger airports with multiple runways the winds are rarely exactly aligned with any of the runways.
But why do we care? Compensating for crosswinds with aileron correction is necessary to prevent an aircraft from being blown sideways on takeoffs and landings. It is important to know how much crosswind you are dealing with in order to determine whether it exceeds your experience and capabilities and whether it is within your aircraft’s limitations. Even light crosswinds can be challenging for some aircraft and for pilots who are not proficient with crosswind takeoffs and landings.
Let’s look at an example at an airport with runways 33/15, 10/28 and 2/20 and the winds are from 240 degrees at 11 knots; there is a crosswind on every runway. Runway 33 has the highest crosswind component of 11 knots and 20 and 28 both have a 7 knot crosswind.
There are various ways to calculate the crosswind component and the best runway for the wind. These days the easiest way is to use an app on your smart phone or tablet! If you use ForeFlight you will know that this app calculates the headwind and crosswind components for each runway based on the latest METAR and suggests the runway with the best wind. However, this may or may not be the most appropriate runway for your aircraft, if for example, the best wind is aligned with a shorter runway and you require a longer takeoff distance. But if an airport does not report weather, this information will be missing from the runways tab.
There are other apps, such as HMC Crosswind Calculator for iPhones and iPads or FlightWinds for Android phones, that allow you to manually enter runways, wind direction and velocity to determine a crosswind component.
If you are old school, you can still figure it out with the headwind and crosswind component graph* by using the runway heading and the wind direction and subtracting the larger number from the smaller number to find the angular difference. The next step on the graph is to find the intersection of the angular difference line and the wind velocity arc, then read straight down to find the crosswind component and read across to the left to find the headwind component.
If your airport does not report weather information you can estimate the winds based on the windsock or a weather report from your nearest airport and use that data with your crosswind calculator or graph.
It is important to always know the expected crosswind component before you fly and diligently apply the proper correction to prevent an unexpected exit from the runway followed by an awkward conversation with your A&P and the FAA!
*You can find the crosswind component chart in the Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-3B) – Chapter 8, figure 8-19 on page 8-18.
Transition training in general aviation is necessary when you are going to fly with new or unfamiliar equipment or aircraft. It could be as simple as upgrading avionics or other equipment in an existing aircraft or as complicated as moving to a different make and model within the same category and class.
Due to the variety of options for transitions, there is no specific FAA syllabus for transition training so the details will need to be discussed and agreed upon with your flight instructor. For some transitions, however, your insurance company may require a minimum number of hours of training or even expect you to attend a formal training program with a company such as Flight Safety International.
There are no minimum number of hours for ground or flight training, and no tests, checkrides or endorsements required for transitions, except when the training is part of a formal training program.
For almost all transitions there will be some required reading in addition to flight training. Some equipment manuals can be very tough reading but sometimes you can find a great article or even a book that explains things better.
Transitioning to a new aircraft will cover the basic characteristics of the aircraft systems, normal, abnormal and emergency procedures, performance, and limitations, all while emphasizing how this aircraft differs from aircraft you have flown before.
The most complicated transition is from one aircraft make and model to another. For example, I got my complex rating in a Piper Arrow III and later purchased a Mooney M20J. Both aircraft were single-engined, low wing, with retractable gear but there were very few similarities beyond that! The Mooney had different avionics, a different autopilot, pull-type throttle, mixture and prop controls, the switches, gauges, gear handle and circuit breakers were all in different places. And the Mooney had speed brakes, which the Arrow did not, and this was a totally new system for me. In addition to differences in equipment, the performance, speeds, power settings and aircraft handling characteristics were not the same and of course, the operating procedures and limitations varied as well.
It took a significant amount of reading, training and practice to feel comfortable and competent flying the Mooney, perhaps more than I had anticipated. But it’s important to take all the time and training you need for your transition and not to set an expectation of a finite number of hours to get it done. When you discuss your unique training plan with your CFI its unlikely they will be able to give you a timeframe or a specific number of hours because a lot depends on your currency, experience, learning style and how much you study on your own.
Private and commercial pilot training includes some basic information on systems failures and what to expect in case of an electrical malfunction but there is no substitute for experiencing the real thing. I can now speak from experience after an alternator failure on a recent cross-country flight and it wasn’t quite what I expected.
On the ground, before the flight, there was some debate about whether or not the ammeter was actually showing a discharge or not. The ammeter is an indicator that shows if the alternator is producing enough electricity and whether the battery is receiving that electricity. The problem is the needle points to zero when the alternator is functioning correctly and during the run up for this flight the ammeter needle seemed to be, maybe, the width of a gnats fingernail to the left of zero which was so imperceptible that I put it down to my imagination.
Some aircraft have a low voltage light but in this Cessna 172 there is only an over-voltage sensor and warning light on the panel. This light will only illuminate when the over-voltage sensor automatically shuts down the alternator after detecting an over-voltage condition. So if the alternator fails for any other reason this light will not come on. In my humble opinion, it would be a lot more useful if the light illuminated whenever the alternator was not working for any reason!
Our route for this flight took us eastbound via the Northbrook VOR, to the coast of Lake Michigan and then south along the lakefront under the class Bravo airspace, with flight following. The first indication we had of any real problem was on the ground at Gary (KGYY) trying to contact the tower after landing. It did not appear that the controller was receiving our transmission so we switched to the number two radio and tried again. That worked perfectly so we continued with that radio.
Soon after our departure from KGYY the Garmin 430 GPS began flickering. No biggie though, we were VFR in daylight and a GPS was not essential so we turned it off. With good visibility and two iPads and an iPhone, all with ForeFlight, we were confident we could find our way home. My quick-thinking student-powered off his iPad so we could save the battery power on that one just in case mine ran out.
At this point I was convinced we had an electrical malfunction that was most likely related to the alternator. On a day VFR flight outside of controlled airspace this is not an emergency so I didn’t see any reason to land immediately and we continued onwards to Galt. We checked the circuit breakers and switched off the alternator master switch and looked for non-essential electrics we could switch off to reduce the load on the battery. But the only one we could come up with was the strobe lights. I didn’t think they would make much difference but we switched them off anyway.
One by one the remaining “essential” electrics began switching themselves off! Seven miles west of Gary we got a message on the transponder that it was no longer receiving ADS-B In data and the display began flickering. That meant that we no longer had traffic information on ForeFlight so we had to be extra vigilant about looking outside for traffic. I switched the transponder off at that point because it seemed like it wasn’t working correctly and would die soon anyway. I made a call to Gary tower to let them know we had a problem and they very kindly asked if we needed any help but I said no and explained our intentions were to return to Galt avoiding any class Bravo or Delta airspace. I did not request flight following because I was sure our radio was going to quit any minute and there was no point in dialing in 7600 on the transponder because that wasn’t working anymore either.
We briefly headed south to get out from under the mode C veil because we were without any transponder or ADS-B equipment but we changed our minds and decided it would take far to long to get back to Galt if we went around the outside and a more expeditious route was the best course of action in this situation.
In anticipation of the radio quitting I made a call to Galt 44 miles south of the airport, just in case anyone was interested, and explained to Galt traffic that we would most likely be NORDO (without radio) by the time we arrived in the pattern. I don’t even know if our transmission was strong enough for anyone to hear us at that point but I thought it couldn’t hurt.
A few miles north of DuPage the number two radio quit and right around I-90 the intercom stopped working and we were reduced to yelling and hand signals. I was honestly surprised how long all of these systems lasted on battery power alone.
There was other traffic in the pattern when we arrived and they were probably thinking why the heck we weren’t making any radio calls, but at a non-towered airport, they are not required so we weren’t breaking any FAA rules. But we were extra careful to keep our approach and pattern as predictable as possible and tried to stay out of everyone else’s way.
Abeam the numbers, even though we had briefed the no flap landing (long before the intercom died), my student still reached for the flap lever out of habit and we both had a good laugh about that! No flap landings are not easy if you don’t practice them a lot on account of the additional groundspeed, unusually low angle of attack and the tendency to float, so this was a great learning opportunity for my student.
After landing safely the airplane went to the shop and is now the proud owner of a brand new alternator! All around it was a very interesting and useful experience for myself and my student. There truly is nothing like real-life, scenario-based training to gain a level of understanding about what it means to be a pilot you just can’t get from reading a book.
The answer to this question is yes and no, because there are different kinds of monitoring of this international distress frequency.
In the U.S., air traffic control towers, FSS services, national air traffic control centers and other flight and emergency services continuously monitor the 121.5 MHz frequency. Many commercial aircraft also monitor this frequency which is also known as “Guard.” This frequency is still used by pilots in distress for radio communications during emergencies.
The 121.5 MHz frequency is also used by many emergency locator transmitters (ELT’s) which are battery-powered devices that transmit an audio alert to locate aircraft involved in accidents. This equipment is required in most U.S. general aviation aircraft.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operates the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite destress alerting system that detects activated distress alerting devices. However, due to the high number of false signals on 121.5 MHz they discontinued their satellite monitoring of this frequency in 2009.
Existing 121.5 ELTs still meet the FAA regulatory requirements but newer ELTs transmit on 406 MHz and are much more reliable with fewer false-alarms. COSPAS-SARSAT satellite monitoring now only monitors the 406 MHz frequency. Once activated COSPAS-SARSAT provides the owner’s information and position to the appropriate U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center or U.S. Coastguard Rescue Coordination Center. Because 406 MHz ELTs must be registered with NOAA, the first thing they will do is to contact the owner to verify if the signal is a false alarm.
Due to the poor performance of the older 121.5 MHz ELTs, I recently decided to replace the one in my Mooney with a new ACK E-04 406 MHz ELT. (This is a lightweight replacement for the E-01 model ELTs). This model accepts GPS position input data from a panel mounted or a handheld GPS device and the position data is updated once per second. It uses a lithium battery with a 5 year battery life and will transmit on 406 MHz for 24 hours and on 121.5 MHz for 48 hours.
406 MHz signals are detected almost instantaneously and when connected to a GPS their exact location will be downloaded to search and rescue (SAR) organizations within ten minutes of activation with a position accuracy of several hundred feet. Without the GPS input location can take up to three hours and is only accurate to a 1 to 5 km radius.
I hope I never have occasion to use it, but in the eventuality that I experience an emergency and need to be located I feel better knowing that through satellite monitoring the response will be quicker and more accurate.
~Beth Rehm, CFI
Not flown much (or at all) since the COVID-19 pandemic began? Here’s how you can get safely back in the left seat.
I think we can all agree it’s been a most unusual year and the Coronavirus has kept many pilots firmly on the ground for a lot longer than they would like. Piloting skills atrophy pretty quickly if not used on a regular basis. So when you do feel comfortable getting back in the air it will be a good idea to get some expert guidance from a flight instructor to help you blow the dust off.
Your CFI can refresh your memory on forgotten regulations, be an extra pair of eyes during your preflight, and give you some expert tips on everything from basic stick and rudders skills to perfecting your crosswind landings. And as an added bonus if the timing is appropriate this training should qualify as an FAA-required flight review.
If you rent from a flying club or flight school, you may even be required to fly with an instructor if your 90-day currency has expired. For example, JB Aviation Flight Club requires a minimum of three takeoffs and landings with an authorized instructor in one of their airplanes to maintain currency for day VFR rentals. However, if you haven’t flown in the past several months three trips around the pattern may not be enough to become proficient again.
When you haven’t flown for a long time you need to be extra methodical and take your time. Before you fly, look over your POH and checklists again and spend some time reviewing your paper charts or your electronic flight bag. You could do a practice flight plan with a weight and balance problem and download and review a full weather briefing.
If you do use an electronic flight bag take a moment to look at all the updates since the last time you used it. I use ForeFlight and they have introduced a whole bunch of interesting new features over the last 12 months.
Another useful tip is to be sure to use your checklists carefully for every stage of flight. This is a good habit anyway, but particularly useful if the procedures aren’t fresh in your mind.
After all the recent snow and frigid temperatures we are all looking forward to some milder spring weather and more opportunities to fly again. I look forward to seeing you all in the air in the near future!
~Beth Rehm, CFI – JB Aviation
The term ʺstabilized approachʺ often appears as something of a buzzword in articles and incident reports, as in, ʺThe pilot failed to establish a stabilized approach.ʺ I get the general idea, but when is an approach actually considered ʺstabilized?ʺ
The concept of a stabilized approach was first introduced by the airlines in the 1950s and has since that time become standard operating procedure for commercial operations. Stabilized approaches are equally important to general aviation and an understanding of a stabilized approach, including energy management concepts, is required by the Private Pilot Airplane Airman Certification Standards (ACS).
There are several obvious cues that indicate if our approach is stabilized or not. For example, if our airspeed is too fast, if we are descending too rapidly or we are having trouble staying aligned with the runway centerline, these are all signs that we will not be able to execute an ideal touchdown in the center of the first third of the runway.
The stabilized approach concept gives us a more specific set of criteria as well as a decision height for judging when we should execute a go‐around.
The best way to achieve a safe landing is when all of the following criteria are maintained from 1,000 feet height above touchdown (HAT) in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), and from 500 feet HAT in visual meteorological conditions (VMC).
The airplane must be on the correct track. For VFR flights this means aligned with the correct runway centerline and for IFR this means no more than normal bracketing corrections. The airplane is in the proper landing configuration, which means gear extended and flaps and trim set as required. The airplane speed is consistently within the acceptable range specified in the approved operating manual and no excessive pitch changes are required. The rate of descent is less than 1,000 fpm and +/‐ 300 fpm deviation from target. Your power setting is appropriate for the landing configuration selected and is within the permissible power range for an approach specified in the approved operating manual.
The airplane is within the desired glide path profile (usually a 3 degree descent angle) and requires no more than normal bracketing corrections.
All appropriate briefings and checklists have been accomplished.
The runway is clear and at a towered airport, you are cleared to land.
An immediate go‐around is recommended if you are not stabilized by the appropriate altitude. You should not try to “salvage” the landing from an approach that is outside of any of these tolerances within 500 feet of the ground.
Many things can contribute to a destabilized approach such as maneuvering to avoid traffic or complying with last minute air traffic control (ATC) instructions as well as other distractions or poor flying technique. Pilots should always be prepared and willing to execute a go‐around if necessary and the stabilized approach criteria provide a common set of reliable standards we can all use to make that decision.
Beth Rehm, CFI
JB Aviation Flight Training
When you are flying into or at an airport with a control tower and ATC says you are “cleared for the option” just exactly what are your options and what do you have to tell them?
“Cleared for the option” is a common phrase used at tower‐controlled airports and an option approach permits the pilot to do any of the following; a full stop landing, a touch‐and‐go, a stop‐and‐go, a low approach or a missed approach. Here is what they all mean.
- A full stop landing means that you intend to land and exit the runway. You may want to taxi back for another take off or you might be taxiing to an FBO or a hangar.
- A touch‐and‐go is a landing followed by an immediate takeoff without stopping or exiting the runway. You will be expected to touch down only briefly without slowing down and configure for takeoff on the go.
- A stop‐and‐go is a landing which comes to a full stop on the runway and once you have configured your airplane for takeoff you can start your take off from where you stopped. The point of the stop and go is not to rush the procedures needed for takeoff and is appropriate for complex aircraft when you need a few extra seconds to reconfigure. It is also useful for night currency landings when you must come to a full stop but you don’t want to waste time taxiing back to the beginning of the runway. This takes a lile bit more time on the runway but is often safer and more efficient, assuming there is sufficient runway length.
- A low approach would be a deliberately planned go around maneuver when you don’t intend to actually touch down on the runway.
- A missed approach is a procedure used by instrument pilots when an approach cannot be completed to a full stop landing or during training when the pilot deliberately plans to fly the missed approach procedure. If you plan to fly the missed approach procedure you should let ATC know your intentions after passing the final approach fix (FAF) inbound at the latest. After reaching the decision height (for a precision approach) or the missed approach point (for a non‐precision approach) and you have initiated the missed approach procedure or alternative ATC instructions, you should let ATC know as soon as practical.
Whichever option you choose, let ATC know as soon as you can what you plan to do so they can plan for other traffic accordingly. It’s worth noting that if any approach to land isn’t working out perfectly you can and should make the decision to go‐around at any point in the paern. Just tell the controller you are going around and what you’d like to do next.
~Beth Rehm, CFI
JB Aviation Flight Training
The answer to this question is whatever is published in the Chart Supplement for any given airport, unless there is no specific traffic paern altitude (TPA) established for that airport. Contrary to popular belief, there is no standard 1,000 foot above ground level (AGL) paern altitude that applies to all airports or all aircraft.
Some confusion may have arisen from the FAA advisory circular AC 90‐66B dated February 2019 in which the FAA recommended that “airplanes observe a 1,000 foot above ground level (AGL) traffic paern altitude.” However, this document also acknowledges that airport owners and operators, in conjunction with the FAA, are responsible for establishing the traffic paern at any given airport. The AC encourages airport owners and operators to adopt the recommendations contained in the AC, but there is no rule that forces airports to update their traffic paerns.
Pilots should be familiar with 14 CFR §91.103 ‐ Preflight Action, which requires pilots in command to become familiar with all available information concerning the flight before they fly. AC 90‐66B reminds pilots to check appropriate publications, such as the Chart Supplement, where they will find information about traffic paern altitudes for their intended destination airports.
A brief search of the Chart Supplement reveals that most airports (including Class D airports) do not actually specify any TPA, and when they do, they are generally not TPAs that align with the FAA’s recommended 1,000 feet AGL. Pilots flying out of Galt should know that the 10C published traffic paern altitude is 800 feet AGL. But did you know that Brookfield Capitol Drive (02C), Schaumburg Regional (06C) and Grayslake/Campbell (C81) are all other local airports with 800 foot AGL traffic paerns, Bolingbrook’s Clow International (1C5) has a TPA of 830 feet AGL and the TPA at Harvard/Dacy (0C0) is only 600 feet AGL.
When there is no published TPA for an airport is when the FAA’s recommendations on paern altitudes should be followed. According to the AC, light aircraft should use 1,000 feet AGL, heavy and turbine‐powered aircraft should fly the paern at 500 feet above the established traffic paern altitude, and ultralights should operate no higher than 500 feet below the powered aircraft TPA.
If you use the flight planning tool ForeFlight, you might have noticed that for some airports there is a designation of “est.” after the paern altitude value and an arrow symbol you can click on for a drop down list. This means there is no published TPA and the list shows the various altitudes for different types of aircraft estimated by using the field elevation and applying the FAA’s recommendations.
There is one other situation when it is appropriate to fly at a different altitude in the paern and that is when you are performing an IFR circling approach. Many airports have instrument approaches to only one runway or an approach that is not aligned with any runway. For example, the only instrument approach procedure to Galt is the RNAV (GPS)‐B which is straight in for runway 27, but if the winds favor landing on runway 09 aircraft must “circle” the airport to get there. It is necessary for the circling altitude to be lower than the usual TPA, and in some cases it varies for different categories of aircraft. At Galt, the circling altitude is 1,480 feet MSL (605 feet AGL) for all aircraft categories. VFR traffic will most likely never see anyone do this except for instrument training flights.
One last recommendation from AC 90‐66B which applies at all airports. Once you have identified the correct TPA for your destination airport remember that this altitude must be established before entering the traffic paern and maintained until you are at least abeam the approach end of the landing runway.
~Beth Rehm, CFI
JB Aviation Flight Training