Ask the CFI2021-02-04T21:49:57-06:00
What is the difference between ASOS and AWOS?2022-04-22T10:54:31-05:00

 

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

What are the differences between the various minima indicated for RNAV (GPS) approaches?2022-03-25T18:29:56-05:00

 

I’ve been flying area navigation (RNAV) approaches with a Garmin 430W for a few years now and one thing has always confused me. When I select the RNAV approach for an airport I’ve never been sure which level of minimums the unit is going to give me because it doesn’t necessarily match what is listed on the approach plate. 

For example, the briefing strip on the RNAV (GPS) RWY 11 approach plate for Burlington (BUU) indicates it is a WAAS approach, however, the only minimums listed are LP and LNAV (i.e. no vertical guidance). When I fly the approach my GPS indicates LP+V and I get a helpful glide slope on my HSI. I decided to dig into it a bit more to unravel the mystery.

One key thing I learned was that the WAAS system evaluates the lowest minimums available and displays the corresponding minimums in the approach mode annunciator. Here is an explanation of all the options you might see.

LNAV

LNAV is the most basic of the GPS options providing lateral navigation only and can be flown without WAAS. The lateral sensitivity of the CDI needle is 0.3nm all the way from the final approach fix (FAF) to the missed approach point (MAP.) You would fly this approach down to the MDA using your barometric altimeter. 

LP

Localizer performance (LP) is another lateral guidance only option but it is only available to WAAS-capable GPS units. LP uses the WAAS CDI sensitivity capability, which increases from 0.3nm at the FAF to 350 feet at the threshold. In this regard it works very similar to a localizer approach. You still fly this down to the MDA using your barometric altimeter but it can get you up to 60 feet closer to the runway than an LNAV approach.

LP+V or LNAV+V

If you see LP+V or LNAV+V in your GPS approach annunciator you will automatically receive advisory vertical guidance, similar to an ILS glide slope. This is a mathematically-calculated glide slope that provides a steady descent from the FAF to the visual descent point (VDP). It is important to be aware that that the advisory glide slope does not always ensure obstacle clearance and you must still use your barometric altimeter to meet all altitude restrictions (i.e. “step down” minimum altitudes). LP+V and LNAV+V are not listed on FAA approach plates but if you use Jeppesen charts they will indicate an advisory glide slope in the profile view.

LNAV/VNAV 

LNAV/VNAV minimums are designed for baro-aided GPS receivers that receive vertical guidance from a non-satellite navigation source, such as a pitot-static system. This provides both lateral and approved vertical guidance. This type of approach is flown down to a decision altitude (DA) instead of an MDA. You don’t need WAAS capability to fly LNAV/VNAV and the CDI sensitivity does not increase as the aircraft gets closer to the runway.

LPV

Localizer performance with vertical guidance (LPV) minimums are only available for WAAS-equipped GPS receivers and offer the lowest minimums of all the GPS options. With LPV the CDI needle becomes more sensitive the closer you get to the runway, just like a localizer. LPV also provides approved vertical guidance similar to an ILS glide slope down to a DA, sometimes as low as 200 feet AGL.

With or without a glide slope, all RNAV approaches are considered non-precision because they don’t meet the ICAO standards for a precision approach. However, for the purposes of a instrument rating practical test, LPV can be used to demonstrate precision approach proficiency if the DA is equal to or less than 300 feet height above touchdown (HAT).

For more information you can consult your GPS manual. But if you are really interested in learning more about GPS approaches I highly recommend Max Trescott’s GPS and WAAS Instrument Flying Handbook for GNS 430/430W, 530/530W, G1000, G900X, Perspective and GNS 480.

Beth Rehm, CFI

What is the difference between currency and proficiency?2022-02-21T15:24:58-06:00

 

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

How does density altitude affect aircraft performance in the traffic pattern in winter?2022-01-26T09:17:52-06:00

 

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

What happened to the Rockford VOR?2021-11-01T09:55:55-05:00

 

I have frequently used the Rockford VOR (RFD) for VOR training and as a navigation aid for cross country flying to the west, but I recently noticed it was mysteriously missing from the VFR and IFR sectional charts.

A bit of online research revealed that the RFD VOR was deactivated on October 7, 2021, as part of an FAA plan to discontinue 307 VORs across the U.S. national airspace by 2030.

Several other local VORs have been shut down in the past few years including Kenosha (ENW) in June 2017 and Burlington ( BUU) in November 2018. O’Hare also had a VOR until February 2019 and there was one in Kankakee until September 2020.

To date 114 VORs have been decommissioned leaving 782 currently active. This is part of an FAA strategy to repurpose the VOR network as a backup navigation service for potential Global Positioning System (GPS) outages. This backup infrastructure is being called the VOR Minimum Operational Network (MON).

You might be interested to know other VORs targeted for shut down in the Chicago area include Polo, IL (PLL), Janesville, WI (JVL), Roberts, IL (RBS), Pontiac, IL (PNT), and Peotone, IL (EON).

As far as I can tell, the Northbrook (OBK), DuPage (DPA), Badger (BAE) and Joliet (JOT) VORs will remain in service.

For more information and a complete list of VORs targeted for discontinuance go to this web page:
https://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ato/service_units/techops/navservices/gbng/vormon/

Beth Rehm, CFI

What does the phrase “clear of the active” mean at a non-towered airport?2021-11-01T09:50:45-05:00

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

What is the difference between CTAF, UNICOM and MULTICOM?2021-09-26T09:48:23-05:00

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

Can I still fly by myself if my flight review has expired?2021-08-28T17:05:35-05:00

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. If your flight review has expired you cannot even log the flight time as PIC during your next flight review.

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

How do you calculate a crosswind component?2021-07-26T17:20:46-05:00

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.
https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/handbooks_manuals/aviation/airplane_handbook/media/10_afh_ch8.pdf

What is pilot transition training?2021-07-06T14:22:48-05:00

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.

~Beth Rehm

What happens when an aircraft alternator fails?2021-07-06T15:22:45-05:00

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.

Practical tips for flying at night2021-04-30T20:03:47-05:00

Spring is finally here and not a moment too soon if you ask me. We are all tired of being cooped up in our houses and eager to get outside for some fun aviating with friends. To kick start the “flying season,” EAA Chapter 932 organized a fly out to Rochelle (RPJ), which was very well attended. They are now planning a second fly out from Galt (10C), this time to Prairie du Chien (PDC) for dinner at the fabulous Jones’ Black Angus Steakhouse, on May 15. The sun will set around 8:08 so you will be able to fly there in daylight and have a wonderful opportunity to get in a little bit of night flying on the way back.

A lot of pilots avoid flying at night, perhaps because the private pilot training only requires three hours of night flying and that is not enough to make most people feel comfortable and proficient. After passing the check ride pilots tend to fly mostly when the sun is shining because that is when most social activities take place and it’s what they most familiar with. Before long several years have passed and they find haven’t flown after sunset in all that time so now they are even less comfortable with the idea.

As with most aspects of flying, night piloting skills atrophy when not used for a while and it might take a little bit of effort to get up to speed on the particular regulations, techniques and systems you need to use at night. So, if you are one of those pilots who doesn’t regularly fly in the dark, here are a few tips on how to get ready for your next night flight:

  • If your night currency has expired and you intend to take passengers you will need to get current ahead of time. You can do this solo, but if has been a very long time since you last flew at night it might be a good idea to fly with your CFI to brush up on those night landings. For night currency, the FAA says you need three takeoffs and landings to a full stop and they all have to occur between one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise.
  • Your preflight preparation for every night flight should include a review of everything you would normally investigate for a day flight but also cover airport lighting systems, especially how to operate pilot-controlled lighting systems, if available, equipment required at night, a flight plan using well-lit landmarks, plan for a 45 minutes or more fuel reserve and a obtain a good understanding of terrain and obstacle clearances along your route of flight.
  • Additionally, you will want to pay special attention to the weather because conditions need to be significantly better to fly at night. For example, haze or low scattered cloud layers can easily obscure the horizon and flights over rural areas with few lights can also create dangerous conditions for VFR-only pilots.
  • When flying at night, protect your night vision by avoiding white lights and using only red lights in the cockpit. You will want to lower the brightness of your (and your passengers’) electronic devices and avoid using flash photography. Protect other pilots’ vision by not using your strobe lights during taxiing and don’t taxi towards other aircraft on the ground or landing traffic with all your landing and taxi lights lit up.
  • Remember to take at least two or more flashlights—you can never have too many flashlights—and plenty of spare batteries, and I highly recommend a headlamp with a red lens so that you can see and still have both hands free.

When you log your flight time as “night,” the FAA’s definition says night-time begins at the end of evening civil twilight, which is usually about thirty minutes after sunset. This means that on May 15th you will only be able to log time flown as “night-time” after 8:38 p.m.

If you needed a reason to fly at night, a group fly-out is just about the best opportunity there is to do that.

Does anyone still monitor the distress frequency 121.5 MHz?2021-03-29T21:46:49-05:00

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.2021-03-01T19:49:31-06:00

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

What does the term ʺstabilized approachʺ mean?2021-07-06T14:24:25-05:00

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?2021-02-04T21:47:07-06:00

“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 li􏰀le 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 pa􏰀ern. Just tell the controller you are going around and what you’d like to do next.

~Beth Rehm, CFI
JB Aviation Flight Training

What is the correct pattern altitude I should use when approaching an airport for landing?2021-02-04T21:43:30-06:00

The answer to this question is whatever is published in the Chart Supplement for any given airport, unless there is no specific traffic pa􏰀ern altitude (TPA) established for that airport. Contrary to popular belief, there is no standard 1,000 foot above ground level (AGL) pa􏰁ern 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 pa􏰀ern altitude.” However, this document also acknowledges that airport owners and operators, in conjunction with the FAA, are responsible for establishing the traffic pa􏰀ern 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 pa􏰀erns.
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 pa􏰀ern 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 pa􏰀ern 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 pa􏰀erns, 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 pa􏰀ern altitudes should be followed. According to the AC, light aircraft should use 1,000 feet AGL, heavy and turbine‐powered aircraft should fly the pa􏰀ern at 500 feet above the established traffic pa􏰀ern 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 pa􏰀ern 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 pa􏰀ern 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 pa􏰁ern and maintained until you are at least abeam the approach end of the landing runway.

~Beth Rehm, CFI
JB Aviation Flight Training

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