Category Archives: Flying

Six aviation rules for the real world!

As everyone who knows me knows, I’m a stark, raving, aviation and flying addict. Fortunately, I have a “real world” job that enables me to indulge in my lunacy. So, while thinking about what to post next on this blog, I figured a post that connects my “hobby” and my real job is warranted.

So, read on, dear reader…

Always have a backup plan

One of the first things that pilots are taught is to always assume that every takeoff may result in an engine failure and, therefore, an emergency landing. One of the requirements that the FAA has for flights “away from the home airport” is for the pilot to plan for an alternative airport and to be prepared to divert there, if needed.

The takeaway is simple: Always have an alternative in mind and be ready to use that alternative, if the situation demands it.

You are (or should be) always learning

There is a saying in the aviation community that your pilot’s license is a “license to learn.” In fact, many pilot examiners will actually say this to a pilot who has just earned his/her wings. This is very true. Flying is about continually learning. The reality is that you embark upon the path of mastery of your “craft” only after you’ve actually earned your wings. You learn new, and more efficient ways of doing things; you learn how your fellow pilots perform certain maneuvers; you probably decide to do your instrument rating to learn how to fly through clouds; every two years, you go through a learning exercise to pass what’s called a “BFR” – a Biennial Flight Review.

In real life, too, it is imperative for a person to be continuously learning. New technologies come up, the world creates new ways of solving old problems; and even new urban slang is developed every day. A savvy person will ensure that he or she stays abreast of what is new and exciting in his or her chosen career path.

Know your limitations

A common phrase you will hear among pilots is “personal minimums”. While this can refer to the state of a pilot’s bank balance, it really refers to the fact that each pilot needs to understand his or her limitations and establish a set of criteria that they will meet before decided to take off. Very often, these “personal minimums” are more conservative than what the FAA prescribes and, more often than not, flying only after meeting these personal minimums is what has kept a pilot alive.

In real life, too, it is important, nay imperative, for a person to understand his or her limitations. While it is good to challenge oneself in order to grow, it is also important not to “bite off more than you can chew”. If a task is too challenging, remember that you can always ask for help, or assemble a team that has complimentary skills to yours so that you can, together, obtain a successful outcome.

It’s OK to ask for help. Or, “the man” isn’t evil

As a student pilot, you’re taught two simple words that ensure that every controller, in every air traffic control facility, falls over themselves to help you stay out of trouble – “Student Pilot”. All you do is to say “Student Pilot” and, miraculously, irate controllers start speaking to you like they would have to their 4 month toddler. Of course, I exaggerate, but you get the point, I hope!

Once you earn your pilot’s license, you no longer have the “Student Pilot” safety net to save you. You are now licensed, and are expected to know the rules and obey them. The sweet controller who was your ally as a student pilot has now become “the man” – one who is out to ensure that you follow the rules, or there will be hell to pay. Or so you’re told. I have heard of pilots who are so terrified of even talking to ATC that they fly without ATC (this is legal, BTW), or go to extreme lengths to avoid any ATC conversation.

As a pilot, I have found that the contrary is true… If you’re in trouble, there’s no one who will do their best to save your empennage (that’s the rear end of an airplane) than the controller with whom you’re in conversation. There may be consequences for you if you ended up in a sticky situation because you broke a rule, but at least you will live to tell the tale.

This is true in the real world too. When you have a problem, you probably have a better chance of solving it if you confide in others – maybe your peers, maybe your team or maybe your superior. If the problem was the result of something that you did wrong, you may have some consequences, but at least you would have solved the problem and lived to tell the tale.

Brevity is, often, a good thing

As a student pilot, your instructors will drill two things into your mind about radio communication. Firstly, radio time is expensive, and if you hog the airwaves, other pilots cannot even get a word in. And, as a corollary, think of what you are going to say before keying the microphone.

In real life, just as in flying, these two rules are very important. The first, and probably most important, rule of business communication is to know what you want to say, to whom you’re going to say it, and the context in which the recipient will read your message. A close second is to be clear and concise in your communications.

Checklists are mandatory

Aviation is full of checklists and mnemonics – strange sounding ones like “GOOSE A CAT” or “DEC A RAT” or “GUMPS”. On every practical test one of the areas of assessment is “checklist usage.” The idea is simple – no matter how well you know your aircraft, or how well you know to fly, it is always possible to forget something. When you do forget, the cost could be significant. So, it’s drilled into you – use a checklist, or else…

In real life, many of us are loathe to use checklists. If we’re new to business, we’re afraid that using a checklist will be judged as a sign of weakness. If we’re experienced, we worry that using a checklist may make our juniors feel that we’re either turning senile or that we are incompetent. There have been many occasions where a whole website has gone down because the release engineer (or DevOps for the “cool” people) forgot to push a file, or change a configuration setting. A simple checklist could have avoided the drama and, more importantly, the economic impact.

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French (not Death) Valley Flyout: March 31, 2013

Talk about the need to be flexible when flying – well, more than when flying a commercial airline, at least!

David Werntz, one of the instructors at the Caltech Aero Club, had tried to arrange a flyout to the Furnace Creek Airport (L06) in Death Valley, CA. Over the last few days, we had noticed that the weather in and around the SoCal area was steadily deteriorating, and last night we realized from the weather forecasts that not only was the cloud cover over SoCal going to make it difficult for us but that the winds in the desert were going to be picking up pretty bad. For example, current (at the time of this post) winds at Edwards Air Force Base are from the West-Southwest (240 degrees) 19 knots with gusts of up to 25 knots.

KEDW 312258Z 24019G25KT 80SM FEW040 SCT080 BKN250 20/08 A2999 RMK AO2A PK WND 22027/45 SLP145 T01960075

To make a long story short, most of us were uncomfortable with flying in such high winds and, potentially, the associated turbulence. So, this morning, we met up at El Monte to figure out what to do. Now, as any one who knows pilots will admit, when the best laid plans of pilots are defeated by weather pilots (akin to toddlers) are bound to sulk, mope and, in occasional cases, throw a tantrum – the primary objective being a flight somewhere 🙂

Thankfully, there were no tantrums this morning, but we all figured we should fly somewhere closer than Furnace Creek so that we could return to El Monte if the weather started taking a turn for the worse. After a little bit of discussion, consensus was arrived upon in favor of flying to French Valley Airport (F70) near Murietta. The airport restaurant was open and that’s all that we needed.

So, off we went – a crew of 16 club members in 5 aircraft – 3 C172s, a C152 and a Piper Archer.

Flying to French Valley was relatively uneventful. We headed east from El Monte, found the I-15 just southeast of Chino and followed it all the way to Murietta close to where it merges with the I-215. SoCal Approach informed us that the Lake Elsinore parachute drop zone was active and so we stayed east of the 15 freeway. On seeing so many aircraft heading from El Monte to French Valley the controller at March AFB approach (rather wistfully, in my opinion) asked us whether we were part of a flying club. I replied with the affirmative and that was that. Weather at French Valley was excellent – sunny skies, a little windy, but just amazing.

Here’s a picture of our flight path to French Valley.

KEMT-F70

Brunch at French Valley was excellent. I particularly loved my veggie burger, which seemed custom made as opposed to the Boca Burger junk that many restaurants seem to peddle.

Flying back from French Valley was not as uneventful as I’d hoped. The clouds were moving in from the west and the cloud base was at 5,000 feet on departure from French Valley. I wanted to go to 4,500 feet, but decided to only climb to 4,200 feet to avoid getting too close to the clouds. As we cleared Lake Matthews and started to have a better look at the LA Basin, we noticed the cloud base had dropped even further, with El Monte reporting cloud bases at 3,400 feet. We dropped to 2,500 feet near Chino airport, after letting SoCal Approach know. I followed the I-10 all the way back to Chino, was cleared left base for runway 19 and landed. Not my best landing, but as they say, “any landing that you can walk away from is a good landing :-)”

Here’s a picture of our flight path from French Valley.

F70-KEMT

All in all, it was an excellent flyout. A lot of fun and camaraderie with a bunch of great people.

I’m still sulking about not making it to Death Valley, but as all toddlers (and pilots) do, I’ll get over it 🙂

Happy Easter!

Night Flight to Chino and Ontario 3/30/2013

I had to get checked out in the Caltech Aero Club‘s C172 (N54678) and so, my instructor, Russell Thomas and I decided to do some night flying as part of the checkout. Since I had told Russ that I’ve never landed at Ontario, he figured why not do some pattern work at Ontario (KONT). What a trip!

We took off from El Monte (KEMT), headed east towards Chino (KCNO) and did one full stop landing at Chino. After a taxi back we took off from Chino, got an early frequency change to Ontario Tower and asked for clearance to land with the option.

Ontario Tower cleared us immediately to land on 26L (their shorter runway). Of course, as we headed in, there was an A320 coming in for landing on 26R and we were asked to do a left 360 for spacing in order to avoid wake turbulence. Once the A320 touched down, we were cleared to enter base and a short final later we were on 26L. Full stop. Taxi back for takeoff. We then asked for a couple of touch-and-go’s, but on the second approach, Russ asked me if I wanted to do the VOR-A approach to El Monte. How could I, in good conscience, say no 🙂

For quick reference, here is the VOR-A approach into KEMT. Russ worked the radios, and instructed while I flew the approach. A lot of fun.

Here’s a GPS track of my flight path (click on the image to go to the actual Google Map). Note the left 360 on the leg from Chino to Ontario. By the way, I use this really cool app called MotionX GPS for this flight track (more on apps in another post).

KEMT-KCNO-KONT-KEMT

Flight to Whiteman (KWHP): March 10, 2013

I decided to take a short flight to Whiteman Airport (KWHP) this last weekend. It’s been a long time since I actually did anything remotely resembling a cross-country flight on my own and, even though KWHP is only 20 miles from KEMT, I thought it would bring back some old memories. I was not mistaken 🙂

I decided not to use Flight Following so that I would get to do some good ol’ fashioned Class C transitions through Burbank. All in all a good plan.

Here’s a link to the flight plan on Skyvector.

My flight was at 2500 feet outbound and about 3000 feet inbound.

On taking off from KEMT, I called Burbank tower from the 210/134 interchange and asked for a transition through their Class C at 2500. Burbank tower cleared me right through to Whiteman. About 3 miles before Four Stacks, I was given a frequency change to Whiteman Tower and from that point on, it was just a simple left downwind arrival to Whiteman. On takeoff from Whiteman, I had asked the tower to coordinate Class C clearance (as I was used to doing at Chino), but Whiteman tower just was incapable of understanding my request, let alone getting me a coordinated clearance. So, I just asked Whiteman Tower for a frequency change and asked Burbank Tower for a Class C transition eastbound. I received the clearance with no issues and very soon was near the 210/134 interchange and handed off to El Monte Tower. Entry to base for 19 was the same as always – over the 210 freeway, and from there on it was a simple landing into El Monte.

Here are some pictures from my flight.

The Rose Bowl

The Rose Bowl

Burbank Airport from the Air!

Burbank Airport from the Air!

Updated Header Image and Site Title

In case you haven’t already noticed it, I just updated the header image and the site title. The header image is a screenshot from my flight sim (X-Plane) of an Embraer E-170 on a short final into LAX. And, what’s a “short final”? An aircraft is said to be on final when it’s lined up with the runway in the landing configuration (flaps deployed, wheels down). A “short” final is when the aircraft is really close to landing – say between 2 – 5 miles.

What’s with the strange header image?

Update: I changed the header image… So, now this post seems a little weird. I’m going to attach the image to this post so that you know what I’m talking about. Sorry!

Those of you who are unfamiliar with the aviation world might be wondering
what this header image is all about. So, let me explain.

The header image is a snippet from an aviation navigation chart called a
“Terminal Area Chart” or TAC. The snippet here shows the Chino airport
towards the bottom left of the chart (look for the black ‘+’ sign over the
green dot), the Ontario airport due north (i.e. towards the top of the
chart) of Chino and a bunch of navigational symbols.

For most airports, you will also see the approximate runway layout (Chino
has 2 runways running approximately east-west and 1 runway that runs at 30
degrees to them.) Do you see the runways now? Also, there is some basic
information about the airport that is mentioned.

See if you can identify these pieces of information about Chino airport in the image:

  • The name of the airport (Chino) and its code (CNO)
  • The communication frequency for its control tower (CT – 118.5). Chino’s
    tower receives and transmits at 118.5 MHz.
  • The frequency to receive automated weather, and other terminal, information (ATIS – 125.85).
    ATIS stands for “Automated Terminal Information Service.”
  • The altitude of the airport (650 feet above sea level).
  • The length of the longest runway in 100’s of feet. (Chino’s longest runway
    is approximately 7,000 feet long. So, what number should appear on the
    chart?)

There is more information about the airport on the chart, but that is the
subject of another (forthcoming) blog post.

The thick purple lines represent the lateral boundaries of specific airspace –
in this case the Ontario airport’s airspace and the fractions in purple (like
50/27) represent the vertical boundaries of that airspace rounded to the
nearest 100 feet. In this case, the outer area of Ontario’s airspace extends
from 2,700 feet up to 5,000 feet (you multiply the numbers by 100 to get the
actual height).

You also see a number of landmarks that can be used for navigation. For
example, the I–10 is marked clearly (notice the number “10” within the
traditional interstate highway “shield” towards the top of the chart?)

The pilot’s license that I have permits me to fly under what are called
“Visual Flight Rules” or VFR. This means that I’m supposed to fly only when
weather allows me certain visual clearances. In addition I primarily use
visual references to navigate. So, having a navigation chart that includes
specific visual references (such as highways, mountain peaks, factories,
etc.) is a requirement. Many visual way points are marked on these charts
with magenta flags. For example, you’ll notice the “Mira Loma Warehouse”
towards the center of the chart marked with a flag.

There are three kinds of charts that are used in VFR flying:
1. Sectional Charts
2. Terminal Area Charts
3. World Aeronautical Charts

The sectional chart is the most commonly used and is drawn to a scale of
1:500,000. The terminal area chart is drawn at half that scale
(1:250,000) and is made available for many densely populated areas in the
United States, such as the Los Angeles basin. Due to the higher resolution,
the TAC is invaluable when flying in such dense airspace. The world
aeronautical
chart is drawn to twice the scale of the sectional chart
(1:1,000,000).

Anyway, I hope that I’ve been able to demystify my choice of header image.
Leave me a comment to let me know what you think about my choice. Was it too
nerdy?

My Private Pilot Checkride – Part 1 of 3

As I mentioned earlier, I passed my Private Pilot checkride this week. I’m
really happy that the training that I started, with some trepidation, about
a year ago finally resulted in my getting a Private Pilot’s License (PPL).

While I was preparing for the checkride, I kept searching on the web for any
information about the checkride, and I found very little. So, this is my
attempt at trying to add to the rather small body of knowledge that exists
on the Internet about the Private Pilot checkride.

This is the first of a three-part series about my checkride. The
other two parts will be posted shortly.

What is a “Checkride”?

A “checkride” is just what it says 🙂 OK. That didn’t help much did it?
Alright here goes my definition of the term checkride.

Checkride
A practical test, administered by an FAA-Designated Pilot Examiner
(DPE), consisting of an oral test and a flight test, which is used to
certify a candidate for a pilot’s license.

With the definition out of the way, I’m going to talk a little more about
the checkride itself. In subsequent posts, I will blog more about the
preparation itself.

The Morning of the Checkride

As I mentioned above, the checkride typically consists of an oral portion
and a flight portion. My checkride had been scheduled for Tuesday, September
11, 2012 at 8:30AM in my flight school, DuBois Aviation.

I had called the DPE the previous day and he asked me to plan a
cross-country flight to Henderson Executive Airport (KHND) just south of
Las Vegas. I also took the opportunity to ask him how much he
weighed and if he would be bringing any baggage with him so that I
could get a head start on the weight and balance calculations.

On Monday night, I finished up my flight plan and the weight and
balance calculations for the flight. I tried to get enough sleep,
but all I could muster was about 3 hours (woefully inadequate for
the long day that was to come).

I woke up at 5:00AM, as I had planned, showered and at 6:00AM called
Flight Service (1–800-WX-BRIEF) for the weather briefing. I
remembered to write down the information they gave me to the best of
my ability, knowing fully well that the briefer was going to talk
really fast and that I would have to supplement the weather briefing
with data from DUAT.

The weather briefing made me fairly confident that I could fly this
route if I had to. VFR weather throughout the Southern California
and Southern Nevada regions. Some thunderstorm activity to the east
of KHND, no convective SIGMETs that were to be in effect. The only
TFRs were a fire fighting TFR over the San Gabriel mountains and a
TFR for September 12 over Las Vegas for President Obama’s visit.

I wrote this all down and then transcribed this information, along
with the data from DUAT into a weather briefing form that my
CFI had given me.

That completed the entire flight planning section of my pre-work.

I left home at 7:15AM to ensure I gave myself enough time to reach
DuBois Aviation and settle down for the oral exam. With
some traffic, I reached DuBois at 8:00AM – in good time for the DPE
to show up.

So, that’s it for this part. I will shortly post more about the oral
exam as well as the actual flight portion.

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