Are you a pilot?

I saw this question on Facebook recently:

Do you call yourself a pilot after you have your PPL? I don’t do it but tried once recently during an interview as a kids aviation interest group instructor and she asked which airline I’m in. I said I’m not an airline pilot in which she replied, “Then you’re not a pilot!” Share your opinion.

Continue reading “Are you a pilot?”

Is Formation Flying Legal?

A student and I were practicing ground reference maneuvers near our local airport, minding our own business when I caught sight of some traffic approaching our area. I advised the student to turn to the South to get clear of the area so we could get back to maneuvers.

The other aircraft got closer and I recognized it as a Yak trainer out of one of the T-hangars from our airport.

As we turned South the Yak followed. Assuming this was coincidence I advised the student to make a 180 that would put us out of the way of the other plane.

Looking back I saw him working his way into formation with us. After a few more turns it was clear that he wanted to so some unarranged formation flying.

Flight instruction is not all fun and games, and we had work to do, so I called him on the radio, assuming he would still be on the CTAF of our local airport. I asked him to not follow us as we planned to do some maneuvers. He politely accepted and flew away. It would have been fun to fly in formation with this other plane, but was it legal? See below.

Formation Flying Regulations

§91.111 Operating near other aircraft.

(a) No person may operate an aircraft so close to another aircraft as to create a collision hazard.

(b) No person may operate an aircraft in formation flight except by arrangement with the pilot in command of each aircraft in the formation.

(c) No person may operate an aircraft, carrying passengers for hire, in formation flight.

The short answer is, yes, formation flying is legal. However, there several things to consider here. First, look at 91.111(b) above. In order to begin formation flying, you must have an “arrangement” in advance with each pilot.

Note that planes flying in formation with a lead aircraft are also flying in formation with each other, so really all of the pilots involved need to meet together at the same time to ensure that everybody is on the same page and has an “arrangement” with every other pilot.

91.111(a) is another interesting clause because it essentially washes the FAAs hands of any formation flying mishaps or problems. Just because you have made an arrangement to fly formation doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. You have a responsibility to stay far enough away to avoid a collision, but you also must be far enough away to avoid a collision hazard!

By now you can see that obviously, it was not legal for the Yak to enter formation flight with my plane. We did not arrange it in advance and he did not call me on the radio to let me know he wanted to fly formation, even though that might be a sufficient arrangement in advance.

If someone ever gets in formation with you, do what you can to get away from them until you have time to speak to them and work out the details.

 

 

 

How Much Fuel Do You Need?

When I got my private pilot license I did what many new pilots do. I took family and friends up for a ride.

On a clear day with calm winds I was preparing to fly a Cessna 152 with a friend of mine who had asked to go up. This was my third or fourth flight with a passenger.

During preflight, I found that the fuel tanks were not full but they appeared to be near the top. I did not use a fuel stick to measure the exact amount but I reasoned that it was enough. This was a big mistake. I considered asking for fuel but I didn’t want to bother the line service guys.

We departed and flew over our houses and to a nearby airport. Finally, we decided to return, although I very easily might have continued flying. Fuel was the farthest thing from my mind.

We landed and put the plane away. But that’s not the end of the story.

A few days later I was called into the Chief Flight Instructor’s office. He informed me that the fuel records showed that I had less than 20 minutes of fuel left when I landed.

Landing with this small reserve can happen on a well planned out flight if the winds change, but it was particularly dangerous in my case because I was not aware of the urgency of the situation!

Never Again

I learned a lot from that experience. I never flew again without knowing exactly how many gallons of fuel I had onboard.

In addition, I set personal minimums in excess of the legal minimums.

If you feel like you are bothering line service with a small fuel request then say something like “Hey, this might only take 2 or 3 gallons but I want to be totally sure.” If the line service technician isn’t a complete sociopath then they will understand and be more than happy to help you.

The Rules

The legal minimum amount of reserve fuel that you can depart with is enough to fly for 30 minutes after you reach your planned destination. If you are flying IFR or at night, then you need 45 minutes of reserve fuel.

I very strongly encourage you to use a safer personal minimum. The fuel gauges in many light aircraft are very bad and give you little idea of your current fuel quantity.

I use a personal minimum of 1 hour for day flying and for night or flight in IMC I want to have a lot more than that, sometimes double the required fuel.

Fuel exhaustion is the most common cause of engine failure. So by following a safe personal minimum and taking no chances with fuel, you can significantly decrease your odds of having to face this emergency.

Consider these questions:

  • Do you have a personal minimum for fuel?
  • Will line service really be “bothered” if you ask for more?
  • Did you verify the fuel level yourself after getting a top off?
  • Did you check that your fuel is clean and of the correct type?

 

Instrument Flight Rules

Instrument Flight Rules, commonly called IFR, are a set of rules that apply to planes flying by instrument reference. This is in opposition to VFR (Visual Flight Rules), flown by visual references. Basically, if you can see where you are going, then VFR is an option, but IFR is always an option.

This set of rules requires a pilot to have an instrument flight plan and follow a set of procedures that govern communication and navigation.

IFR flying requires constant communication with ATC and a mixture of visual traffic separation when you are in VMC and reliance on ATC for separation when you are in IMC.

How do I know if I’m flying IFR?

If you have to ask, you’re not flying IFR!

But seriously, to fly IFR you will need to file an IFR flight plan, get a clearance from air traffic control, and comply with that clearance. You can fly IFR in VMC, but you can only log IFR, or “flight by reference to instruments” time when you are flying in actual IMC.

Instrument Meteorological Conditions

Instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) exist when an aircraft is in weather conditions that are not within the VFR visibility and cloud clearance requirements.

This means that you are in IMC if:
• You are inside of a cloud
• The visibility is too low
• You are too close to a cloud

When you are in IMC you need to be flying an instrument flight plan. Flying VFR into IMC is very dangerous and there are a multitude of accidents that occur this way. Don’t be a statistic! Stay away from the clouds.

In fact, I recommend having personal minimums for visibility and cloud clearance that are even more restrictive than the rules.

Visual Meteorological Conditions

Visual Meteorological Conditions, or VMC, are a set of weather conditions that allow for flying VFR.

Generally, VMC means good weather, but it also technically means that you are far enough between the clouds to allow for safe VFR flying.

For example, when flying IFR you might be popping in and out of clouds every few minutes.

If ATC notifies you about traffic then you must try to find the other plane. However, this only applies if you are in visual conditions at that moment. If you happen to be inside of a cloud you just respond with “IMC”.

In addition, it is also possible that you are near clouds and you can’t see the other plane because he is in a cloud. I will always take a quick look but if there is a chance that I can’t see the other plane because there is a large cloud right where he should be, I will still say “IMC”.

I am letting the controller know that the conditions where I am flying are not sufficient for VFR, even though I may be outside of a cloud at that time.

How do you know if you are in VMC?

I’ve devised a set of easy rules to help you remember the cloud clearance and visibility requirements for VMC.

Anti-Authority

Do you ever resent the FAA for making so many rules? This is an anti-authority attitude. It can be very hazardous because it can lead to poor decision making out of spite.

It’s ok to question the FAA about their many rules and feel free to even publicly denounce their many rules…..but only while on the ground. When you are in the air, you must fight against your anti-authority tendencies and remember this:

The rules are written in blood!

Most of the rules are there because somebody died doing something that was legal at the time. The rules don’t guarantee your safety but they do provide a framework of general safety limits.

Signs of an Anti-Authority Attitude

If you find yourself thinking some of the thoughts below (in bold) then you are experiencing anti-authority to some degree.

  • “Don’t tell me what to do.” The rules are usually telling you what to avoid, and while this may be inconvenient, there is a usually a pretty good reason. Follow the rule for now and find out why that rule exists after you land.
  • “This is a stupid rule.” It very well may be a stupid rule but professionalism and strict adherence to rules and procedures greatly enhance your survival chances.
  • “These rules don’t apply to me because I’m a better pilot than those who died.” Incorrect, you are a worse pilot than those who died in many ways. For example, you are letting yourself succumb to a hazardous anti-authority attitude. Those pilots who died before this rule existed were significantly more professional than you are being right now. Put down your pride and be safe.

Anti-authority goes hand-in-hand with invulnerability and is particularly dangerous because it leads to some of the most dangerous activities. Pilots who fly VFR into IMC or break up the plane doing unscheduled aerobatics usually suffer from both of these two delusions.

The rules and safety

Are the rules safe enough? No.

As pilots, we need to have personal minimums that are more restrictive than the rules. This is a personal decision and it will be different for everyone. For example, you only need 1 statute mile of visibility to fly in class G airspace, during the day, under 10,000 feet.

However, sticking to a higher minimum like 3 miles is probably a good idea.

Have you ever heard the phrase “8 hours bottle to throttle”? It means that you need to leave 8 hours time between drinking alcohol and flying. A better personal minimum that many use is “24 hours bottle to throttle”.

Be well aware of this attitude and decide in advance that you will be a professional pilot who follows the rules, even if you disagree with them.

 

Cruising Altitude

When flying anywhere you need to climb, cruise, and then descend. But you must comply with the rules and fly at certain predetermined altitudes.

The Rules: Neodd and Sweven

When you are flying above 3000 feet AGL you must fly at an even-numbered thousand feet if you are traveling west. That is what sweven means. If you are traveling directly South, or on any Westerly heading then fly on the even-numbered thousands.

Conversely, if you are traveling East or directly North, fly at an odd thousand (neodd).

For IFR flights to the East you will fly at 5000 or 7000 or 9000 feet, etc….

For VFR flights you must be 500 feet above these altitudes. So a VFR flight to the West would cruise at 4500 or 6500 or 8500 feet, etc….

These rules are for cruising altitude, meaning that if you are flying up above 3000 to practice an emergency descent then you can just climb to whatever altitude you want.

Why is this rule in place?

This rule is a bit of a compromise between safety and simplicity.

When two planes approach head-on their closure speed, the speed at which they are approaching each other, is very high. Even a relatively slow 152 will approach another 152 at around 180 knots TAS if they are head-on. For faster planes like an arrow traveling at 150 knots the closure speed is 300 knots!

It is safer to fly at these altitudes because VFR planes flying East will always be 1000 feet vertically separated from VFR planes flying West. Furthermore, they will be separated by 500 feet from all IFR traffic.

This is great, but there is a problem! What if planes approach nearly head-on but both traveling East? One of them could be traveling 010 degrees (which is East of North) and the other could be flying at 170 (which is East of South).

This is where the compromise comes in. The rule could split the compass into 4 segments but then it would be more complicated and difficult to remember.

Always stay vigilant looking for traffic that might be climbing/descending, not following the rules, or might be at a near head-on angle.

How low can you fly?

How low can you legally go?

In very sparse areas, you can fly as low as you want but you must be high enough to make a safe emergency landing. 91.119(a)

If there is any kind of human presence, including people or property, then you must be at least 500 feet away from them or 500 feet above. This is pretty low. Use the ground elevation and your altimeter to determine your height above the ground. 91.119(c)

In most places there are people and structures spread out, so 500 feet above should be considered the limit. The 500 feet away rule really only applies over open water and truly empty areas of land. Continue reading “How low can you fly?”