Steep Turns

One of my favorite maneuvers when conducting a flight review is the steep turn. This innocuous looking maneuver provides a window into a pilot’s stick and rudder skill that allows me to quickly find areas of deficiency where the pilot being reviewed might need more work.

Please remember that the flight review is not a test and my goal is not to fail anybody. Rather, I want to find areas where the pilot is out of practice and try to give them a boost!

The steep turn requires a combination of just about all of the basic flying skills in one maneuver. It requires a pilot to: Continue reading “Steep Turns”

Finding Other Planes

Visually scanning for traffic is an important skill, and it is often overlooked in training.

To find other planes in the sky get used to a simple search pattern called a scan.

The core of the scan is looking in small 10 degree segments within your view. Choose a small area of the sky and focus your eyes there. How small of an area? Imagine a 172 about a mile away. You need to focus within 3 or so wingspans of the plane. By focusing your eyes in such a small area , your brain can look to infinity and pick out planes at much farther distances than normal.

You can try this on the ground. Find a place where you have a decent view towards the horizon. Almost anywhere will work if you aren’t facing tall trees or buildings. Take a lot of time and focus your eyes into the distance in a very small area. It helps if you look towards airports or cities. If you do this long enough, when a plane comes by you will see it where you otherwise might never have picked it out of the background.

Expanding the Search

It doesn’t really help if you are only looking for traffic in one part of the sky. So we need to scan in a pattern.

There are two basic patterns to use and it is up to your preference to decide which one you like.

  • Start looking to your left and scan each 10 degree section for 3 seconds or so before moving on to the next until you have scanned all the way left to right.
  • Start scanning in the center of your vision and then work your way out to both sides until you have scanned the whole area.

The important thing is to be looking for traffic. This will already put you ahead of many pilots who are not scanning!

Blind Spots

Flying high-wing aircraft? How do you see other planes while turning? You can’t! This means that you MUST lift the wing before beginning a turn. So when you are about to turn left, bank to the right about 15 degrees and look to the left. Then begin your turn to the left.

Look at your cockpit structure. If pieces of the frame are blocking your vision then lean around them to look outside.

You should normally be scanning an area of about 60 degrees in front of you. Be aware, however, that a plane can approach at a very shallow angle right next to you. Be sure to look to the sides occasionally and make sure another aircraft isn’t getting too close.

Eye Fatigue

Looking for other traffic can be tiring. You can reduce fatigue by maintaining an outside scan more than an inside scan because switching between looking near and far is one of the more fatiguing things to do to your eyes.

It is recommended that you spend one quarter or less of your time looking inside the cockpit.

Once you find traffic you need to react appropriately to avoid a collision.

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?

 

Flight Instruments: Directional Gyro

The directional gyro is a fairly simple instrument. It indicates the direction that the aircraft is heading. However, it does not sense the direction that the aircraft is heading.

How does the DG know which way the aircraft is heading?

The heading must be set in advance and the DG will keep track of whatever was set.

To keep track of the heading it uses a gyroscope. This method has some serious improvements over magnetic compasses, but a few drawbacks.

Source: FAA Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge

The DG does not have the acceleration and turning issues that a compass has, so it is much easier to turn to a given heading without having to think about the lead and lag of the compass.

The presentation is just plain nicer and easier to read, but it also allows for more advanced add-ons like a heading bug all the way up to a full HSI.

For these reasons, you will be very hard-pressed to find a plane without a DG, even though a magnetic compass is sufficient to determine your heading.

When do I need to set my DG?

The DG needs to be set before takeoff and sometimes in flight.

Look at the knob in the image above. If you push that knob in and turn it, the whole card will rotate left or right as you turn. The tiny airplane image stays fixed in place as the headings turn under it. This knob is how the DG is set. Usually, this is done before taxi and then checked again after the runup.

In order to set it, we need to know the plane’s current heading. Luckily, on the ground a magnetic compass works pretty well so we simply read the magnetic compass and then turn the knob until that heading is set at the top of the instrument.

The instrument can be wrong for a number of reasons. Simply put, once the gyro spools down (when the plane is off), there is nothing to hold the compass card rigid in space. It tends to naturally be off by a few degrees every time you start up.

Imagine if you shut down with the DG pointing to 050 (like in the image above). Then you hook up the tow bar and move the plane into a tie-down spot facing the opposite direction. You have just turned the plane all the way around. What will happen to the DG? You will get in the plane and start-up facing 230, but the DG will still show 050.

Checking that the DG matches the compass is critical to removing these errors and being able to rely on the DG.

But there’s more. You will also need to set the DG in flight. Over time, due to internal friction, the gyro will precess out of place a little and the heading will be off by a few degrees. Personally, I set this using a mixture of procedures and situational awareness.

If I am on a cross-country, travelling somewhere, it is good to do this periodically as part of a cruise checklist (which you should be doing every so often during cruise).

As for situational awareness, there are times when the heading doesn’t seem to make perfect sense, or some reference point on the ground is 10+ degrees from where you thought it would be. This is a great time to check the DG and see that it matches the compass.

To set the DG in flight make sure that the wings are level and the plane is not accelerating (or slowing down). Then simply set it like you would on the ground. That’s all there is to it.

Visual Flight Rules

Visual Flight Rules, commonly called VFR, are a set of rules that apply to planes flying by visual reference. This is in opposition to IFR (Instrument Flight Rules), flown without visual references.

This set of rules allows a pilot to fly in most airspace without a flight plan, clearance, or ATC communication.

VFR flying requires constant vigilance for other traffic and reliance on oneself for navigation.

When you are flying VFR you must be in VMC.

Of course, while flying VFR you may choose to use air traffic control services to:

  • Get help in an emergency
  • Get directions
  • Get traffic advisories
  • Get clearance through airspace or to land

How do I know if I’m flying VFR?

Did you file and open an instrument flight plan? If not, then you are flying VFR. You must comply with all VFR regulations including visibility and cloud clearance minimums.