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Are Avgeeks Hurting the Growth of Aviation?

My brother, the healthcare IT expert, tweeted something a couple of days ago that has really got me thinking.  He said,

“I wonder how often the jargon we use prevents people that could benefit from joining our various communities.”

I am well aware of how much jargon I use when talking about aviation because the other people I work with are well versed in this jargon, and it is just easier to use it with them.  When I go out with my friends, and our spouses or non flying friends are with us, it is hard to not talk about flying because it is such a huge part of our life.  My wife has grown used to this and does a pretty good job at engaging other people so that she isn’t just as bored as they are.

I know this is an American MD-80 but that is about where my knowledge ends.

I know this is an American MD-80 but that is about where my knowledge ends.

I must admit that even I have been uncomfortable around certain groups of aviation experts because I felt that my avgeekyness was simply inadequate to be in their presence.  I am pretty good at identifying most commercial aircraft though I am far from polished when you get into all of the different variants.  I doubt I will ever know which engines are on which aircraft, and I guarantee I will never know seating configurations or other things like that.  I just don’t have the spare brain bytes for that right now, or probably ever.

If I can feel uncomfortable in that environment, then I can only imagine how someone with even less aviation knowledge would feel.  There are a lot of people putting forth a lot of effort to try to increase interest in aviation, but I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t the ones standing in our own way.

It is one thing to show awesome pictures and videos or to even share a flight together, but how often do we scare someone off because we just know too darn much?  If someone is new to aviation and you get talking about Lycoming engines, or even worse high-bypass turbofans, then it is entirely possible you could intimidate them.  Even talking about relatively simple terms like crosswind, downwind, base, and final could scare them off if they aren’t ready for it.  None of us like to admit we don’t know something.

Even a simple beauty like this Piper Cub could scare someone off if they don't know the right jargon.

Even a simple beauty like this Piper Cub could scare someone off if they don’t know the right jargon.

I’m not saying that we should insult their intelligence or oversimplify the truly complex nature of aviation, but I think it is important that we be very careful with how we respond to people who show interest in this amazing community.

Avgeeks can be some of the most inclusive and friendly people I have ever met.  I have stumbled across friends from Twitter at various airports and ended up spending the rest of the day with them enjoying the wonders of aviation together.  These are people who I had never met in person, but that I had an immediate connection with because of our love of planes.

As I previously mentioned, I have also been amongst groups that left me feeling inadequate because of their ability to rattle off all sorts of numbers and statistics.  This is likely in large part due to my own insecurities, but I can’t help but wonder if other people feel the same way, and have been scared away from aviation entirely.

Aviation jargon is an incredibly important part of aviation, maybe even more so than most industries because of the time sensitive nature of what we do and the efficiency that jargon can provide.  Let’s be honest, it is a lot of fun to sound cool when spouting off a clearance, or trying to impress a girl by knowing all the pertinent data on Boeing’s newest aircraft (if you find a girl who is impressed by that hold on to her and never let go), but it could also scare someone off that is just too timid to think they could ever be that cool.

I’m not saying we need to eliminate this jargon, or even minimize it, because if we can’t sound cool while we look cool around planes, then what is even the point?  Am I right?  What I am saying is that we need to be very cognizant of how we are using that jargon to ensure that we are using it in ways that will be inclusive rather than exclusive.  We avgeeks are the only ones that will be able to rejuvenate general aviation, and ensure that it has the booming future that it deserves, and I know that none of us would ever want to scare someone away.

When in doubt start them on the basics.

When in doubt start them on the basics.

So the next time you ask a girl if she fell out of a B-17, cause she’s the bomb (I love that movie), make sure she realizes you are talking about an amazing airplane and not the latest development in cancer research.

October 26, 2015 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Christmas in a Piper Cub

The first attempt to fly didn't get much past the hangar, but even there she sure is pretty.

The first attempt to fly didn’t get much past the hangar, but even there she sure is pretty.

It is amazing how much life can change in only one short year.  Last year at this time I was deployed to Afghanistan thousands of miles away from my family.  While not the worst Christmas I have had, it was certainly not where I wanted to be.

A year later I am back in Arkansas enjoying a break with my beautiful wife and kids.  On top of the much-needed family time, I was able to take part in an amazing experience this afternoon.

I have a friend that I work with that is the proud owner of both a Pitts and Piper Cub that he bought a couple of months ago.  I was thrilled to find out he had gotten a plane with a second seat because all I want to do is fly anytime, anywhere.  We tried to go flying a few weeks ago but it was just too dang windy to fly.  This really sucked because he is scheduled to deploy soon.

Few things bring me more joy than walking out to a plane to fly.

Few things bring me more joy than walking out to a plane to fly.

On Christmas Eve we were two of the roughly 10 people who showed up to work for some strange reason and he suggested that Christmas should be a good day to fly, so we agreed to get together in the afternoon after the traditional festivities.  Fortunately, the weatherman was right and it was a gorgeous day to fly.

By the time I got to the airport he was already up in the pattern getting a little work in and it got me super excited to actually get up in a small plane again.  He pulled into parking and I hopped in to begin an amazing hour and a half.

The awesomeness began with takeoff as with a slight headwind we were able to takeoff in only 200 feet.  While it was no zoom climb up thousands of feet, there is just something fun about taking off in less than the length of a football field with the wind blowing past the open door next to you.

While not really for those afraid of heights leaning out the side of a plane is just awesome.

While not really for those afraid of heights leaning out the side of a plane is just awesome.

That is one of the amazing things about the Cub, with the door open you gain a sense of freedom that really is like nothing else.

We casually flew our way down to the Arkansas river at about 1000 feet enjoying an extremely pleasant December day.  There were a handful of other people out enjoying the amazing Christmas weather which was nice to see.  Once we got to the river we followed it out to the West and my friend showed me some of his favorite spots to play around.

The first was a small island in the middle of the river with a nice open grassy area surrounded by leafless trees.  We came in low and dropped below tree level until the end of the island and then popped back up over the top of the trees.  With my weight added to the plane and the tail wind it just wasn’t a safe move to put it down there.

This is what freedom looks like from the air.

This is what freedom looks like from the air.

We then spent the next hour or so cruising up the river checking out sandbars, a small abandoned runway, and the newest airport in the area which just recently began IFR service. We never broke 1500 feet or 95 knots which may sound incredibly boring, but it was quite the opposite.

It was incredibly exhilarating to literally fly amongst the birds and enjoy the wind blowing through the plane.  It is something that truly must be experienced to fully appreciate.  I genuinely hope this is the first of many flights in not only the Cub but in any other old tail-dragger that reminds me of how much fun flying is supposed to be.  Planes like this are what bring the wonder to aviation in this modern age of technological bells and whistles.

There are few better ways to spend an afternoon than VFR flying with a friend.

There are few better ways to spend an afternoon than VFR flying with a friend.

One of the incredibly cool things about this experience was the landing.  At our local airport they have an agreement to keep the grass mowed down so those who want to can land on the grass next to the runway.  Just one more example of the fun that can be had in a plane like the Cub.

I am incredibly grateful to my friend Harrison and wish him the best of luck and safety during his deployment.  The world needs more true aviators like him that really understand what flying is all about.  I have already learned a lot from him and I look forward to continued adventures once he returns.

December 26, 2014 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Improving Aeronautical Charts Will Improve Safety

As a Navigator, most people really have no idea what I do when I fly.  I can’t say I blame them since there are almost no commercial aircraft that fly with a navigator, or engineer, anymore.  With the growth of GPS use there honestly isn’t much need for us most of the time.  Even the plane I currently fly on is being replaced by one that doesn’t need a navigator, or an engineer.

With that being said, a lot of the work I do outside of flying is important to the missions that all kinds of different aircraft do.  The vast majority of work that I have done for the last year or so is building charts for us to fly with.  I won’t bore you with the details of what that entails, but suffice it to say that it is essential to keeping our crews safe so they can effectively accomplish their missions.  As a navigator, utilizing my chart effectively is vital to getting us where we need to be and when we need to be there to drop off our cargo.

The rugged terrain of Alaska’s Mystic Pass, looking north. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

The rugged terrain of Alaska’s Mystic Pass, looking north. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Chart reading is a diminishing skill in this modern era of GPS, which is really a shame, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter how well you can read a chart if the chart is inaccurate.  The crazy thing is that many of the charts we use today were made as many as 50 years ago.  I’m sure it is not much of stretch to convince you that quite a bit has changed in the landscape in 50 years or so.

What’s awesome is that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), who is responsible for keeping those charts updated, is actively working to do just that.  The Washington Post has a great article about the details of that program and how it is slowly working to improve safety in the greatest frontier in the US, Alaska.  They wrote about how awesome this program can be better than I could, but there is one aspect of the story that I want to focus on.

These updated charts will drastically improve safety in all parts of the US, but most of all in Alaska where, according to the article, you are 36 times more likely to die than the average US worker.  That is just unacceptable when the ability exists to drastically improve safety.  Improved technologies like airborne lasers (lidar) and radar (ifsar) are capable of creating not just better paper maps, but collecting the data necessary to improve GPS and other new devices that can save these courageous pilots’ lives.

Unfortunately, the government’s inability to pass actual budgets has stalled the project and delayed the benefits that it can bring.  There is so much benefit to be realized that some of the contractors have continued working in the hope that the funding will ultimately materialize.  It is incredibly irresponsible of those in a position to make a difference to stand idly by while they could take action that will save lives.

The aforementioned article gets into some of the specific numbers but it is a relative pittance that would be needed to have significant financial improvements to go along with the safety benefits.  At this point we can only hope that those in a position to make this happen will get past the politics and take action so that they can make the money they so anxiously pursue, but more importantly save the lives of people who deserve the best information we can give them.

October 20, 2014 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Precision Makes All the Difference in the World When Flying

The C-130H generally flies with a crew of two pilots, a navigator, engineer, and two loadmasters.

The C-130H generally flies with a crew of two pilots, a navigator, engineer, and two loadmasters.

I have been actively flying in the Air Force for only a little over three years which makes me pretty much a baby in so many ways.  For that reason I have decided I need to start analyzing the things that happen on my flights and ensure that I am taking advantage of every opportunity I have to learn.

The reason I am writing these lessons here is that I am hoping to get feedback from others on lessons they may have learned in similar situations or maybe even totally different ones.  I have always thought that part of being an aviator is sharing thoughts and ideas to make us all better.  Conveniently, I had a good learning experience just last night to share.

So as the navigator on the C-130 it is my responsibility to ensure that the pilots take us to the right spot for us to kick a load out the back and fall where I want it on a drop zone.  In the real world this could be anything from heavy vehicles, people, ammunition, water, food, to pretty much anything that a warrior on the ground could need.

As you might imagine, it is critical that the load falls where it is needed so that it can be quickly retrieved and minimize the amount of time that the people on the ground are in danger.  While there are certain aspects of the process that are somewhat scientific, a lot of it is based on the experience and expertise of the navigator directing the plane where it needs to be at the right time.

With all of that being said, the C-130 is a crew aircraft and it takes all of us working together to get that load where it needs to be.

On a crew of 6 we had two females.  We need more of that.

On a crew of 6 we had two females. We need more of that.

So last night we executed a quality route to an airdrop which led to me calling for the drop at just the right time at which point the co-pilot is supposed to flip two switches, releasing the load so that it lands right on the desired point of impact in the center of the drop zone.

What actually happened was that the co-pilot flipped one switch and the load didn’t immediately go out.  As I said before though, I am on a crew aircraft, and the loadmaster did her job and released the load, albeit about 1.5 seconds later.  That may not seem like much, but when we received our score it was 150 yards past the point of impact.

That means that in a real-world situation the people on the ground would have had to travel about a football field and a half to get their supplies while possibly under fire from the enemy.  I think it’s pretty obvious to see why that is not ideal.

As with any time that I don’t get the score I am looking for (perfection) I began to analyze what had happened to correct it for the next drop.  Did the winds change?  Was the plane not in position?  Did I make the call late?  It could be any number of reasons, but in the end I am trying to learn and I really couldn’t come up with anything other than maybe I just called it a couple of seconds late.  So that was the adjustment I decided to make.

Unfortunately, neither the co-pilot nor the load master had told me what had happened so when the next drop came around I ended up dropping almost the same distance from the point of impact, but short instead of long.  It wasn’t until we landed an hour later that I found out what had happened, and it all came together in my mind.

Part of flying is enjoying the scenery, which you can't do if you aren't being precise.

Part of flying is enjoying the scenery, which you can’t do if you aren’t being precise.

So there are really two lessons that came from this experience, one of which I didn’t even think of until I started writing so I guess this whole idea is working for me.  The first lesson is something I have already written about in the past, crew resource management (CRM).  We talk about CRM before every single flight and this just reinforced to me how essential it is at all times.

The second lesson is how important it is to be precise at all times when flying.  In this situation it could mean a really long run for needed supplies.  During takeoff it could mean hitting a fence or tree because you didn’t climb fast enough.  On landing, it could mean you don’t quite make it to the runway which could have terrible results.

The point is not to scare anyone, but to re-emphasize how important it is to be precise in everything that you do as a flyer.  Don’t accept short cuts or a lack of precision from the people you fly with.  Set standards for yourself and when you don’t meet them analyze how you could have done better.  Ask for feedback from other people you fly with and apply it.

Being a true aviator means you never stop learning, and always work at improving yourself.

October 7, 2014 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Becoming a Licensed Pilot This Year

By the end of the year I will have one of these with my name on it.

By the end of the year I will have one of these with my name on it.

I know I say it all of the time, but I love planes and everything about them.  Most of you probably do too, and that is awesome.  I read about aviation all of the time, I write this blog, and I talk about it every chance I get, much to the dismay of the non-avgeeks I interact with.

Despite this passion, I have an admission to make, I don’t have my private pilot’s license.  I started it about six years ago, but the birth of my daughter and dozens of other excuses have since gotten in the way.  I currently have just over 22 hours in the C-172 and DA-20 aircraft which is roughly less than half of what I would need to finish.

However, the writings of others, namely Dan Pimentel and Brent Owens, has inspired me to commit to finishing my PPL this year.  I already shared Dan’s article about increasing the number of pilots on the FAA records to 1 million which is really where this all started for me.

Then last week Brent wrote about how if you really want to fly that you can find a way.  Pretty much all of us have things we could cut out of our lives that would allow us to spend more time/money on flying.  The reality is that if you want something bad enough, you will find a way, and after dreaming about being a licensed pilot for essentially my whole life I have decided now is as good of a time as any.

The reason that I am posting this is because I would greatly appreciate your support and encouragement as there are a few challenges in my way.  The difference is that I am trying to find ways to make it happen as opposed to just making the excuse and moving on.

The first challenge that I have is that I am in the middle of a Master’s degree program that I have to finish first.  I have to have it for professional reasons, and I am already financially invested so I can’t just set it aside.  There is no reason that I shouldn’t be able to finish it by the end of the year and still have time for the PPL though.

I think I know what my goal for next year is going to be already.

I think I know what my goal for next year is going to be already.

The second challenge is one that I have written about before, and the one that prevents so many of us from finishing, or even starting.  I have to have the money.  I still haven’t figured this one out yet, but I am determined to beg, steal, borrow, and cheat to get it done.  Okay, I’m not going to steal or cheat, but I am begging you to support me through visiting this blog as well as any other suggestions you may have.  Brent has provided me with quite a few ideas in his great eBook The Pilot’s Guide to Flying on a Budget, but I am always open to new suggestions.

The last challenge is a wife who doesn’t think it is possible.  However, if I can find a way to help her see the possibility I know she will be supportive because she always has been with the adventures we have taken together.

I intend to post occasionally about my progress for anyone that may be interested.

Lastly, I am looking for people who are also willing to commit to this challenge of mine.  I have found that I am more successful when I have people with the same goal as me where we can help encourage each other.  If you already have your PPL then by all means pick a different flying goal and let’s support each other in that.

If you are interested in working together, please leave a comment about what your goal is and how I can help you reach it.  You can also contact me on Twitter or Facebook.  I am always willing to help in any way that I can.  Maybe we can create a community of people that are committed to helping each other get there, and not just talk about it.

Then by the end of this year we can all celebrate reaching our goals, and make new ones for the next year.  I look forward to hearing about your goals and dreams.

January 4, 2014 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Twelve Days of Avgeek Christmas: Day 12 Airplane

The Global Express has long been my favorite corporate jet.

The Global Express has long been my favorite corporate jet.

The last day has finally arrived, and like I said earlier, I have saved the best for last.  For the twelfth and last day of Avgeek Christmas, I strongly recommend you buy your favorite avgeek an airplane.

But it can’t just be any airplane.  If you really love them a lot then you should buy them a Bombardier Global 5000.  That’s right, for the incredibly reasonable price of only $30,500,000 the beautiful plane to the left can be yours.  I mean is there really any question here. Just buy it, and thank me later. (If anyone does buy this plane I expect a finder’s fee.)

Okay, so maybe a Global Express is not the right plane for everyone, or most people actually.  If however it is in your price range, please send me an email with your contact information, we need to become friends.  For the rest of us, there are still quite a few options believe it or not.

sd-1-minisport

The SD-1 minisport is one of many LSA’s that really opens up flying to more people.

One option if you are looking to buy a new plane at a comparatively reasonable price is a Light Sport Aircraft (LSA).  Not only are they cheaper to buy, the training is simpler, and you don’t even need a special medical certificate.  There are quite a few out there now, but one that I found that looks like a lot of fun is the SD-1 Minisport by Skycraft Airplanes.

This LSA cruises at 120 knots with a range of just under 600 miles.  The engine is so efficient that it burns only 1.8 gallons per hour at cruise, and has an overall operating cost of only $12/hr.  It even has a glass display in the cockpit with GPS and wings that can be removed to transport it in a trailer if you want to.  All of this can be yours for the reasonable price of $55,000 and only a $2,000 deposit.

In the event that price is still a little to high for you might I suggest something in the used aircraft category.  As always there are tons of options depending on what you are looking for.  Sites like Browse the Ramp and Aviation Classifieds will give you plenty of fun stuff to browse through if you have a free afternoon.  Here are a couple I found recently.

The Piper CUB is an iconic aircraft that any avgeek would love to fly.

The Piper CUB is an iconic aircraft that any avgeek would love to fly.

Again in the LSA category, I found this Piper Cub for sale at only $33,000.  The Cub is one of those planes that just about every avgeek can admire.  Even people who are diehard followers of a certain company will often have a soft spot in the heart for the Cub.  I don’t even really know what it is, but they are just a fun little plane that hearkens back to the early days of aviation.

The second one I found is an experimental tail-dragger that you may run across at your local airshow because it is also fully aerobatic.  This Pitts S1S is simply stunning and according to aerial demonstrator Lauren Richardson, “They are the best fun you can have with your clothes on. Trust me!”  That right there is a pretty ringing endorsement if you ask me, and all of that fun can be yours for the rock bottom price of only $31,500.  If you think about it, I bet most people spent more on their last car, and I don’t think any car could be this much fun at that price.

Pitts

The Pitts S1S is a fully aerobatic plane that will take you for a trip every time you start it up.

I for one was surprised to find such nicely maintained planes at prices that low, but there is still no way I could buy a plane even at that price as I am sure most of you couldn’t either.  But that’s okay, there are still a few more options that I had never even really considered until just a couple of weeks ago.

If you read my blog very often, and I hope you will, then you probably saw my post titled, “Becoming a Pilot at a Discount”.  The post was mostly just my thoughts on how we could make flying cheaper, but the comments were what truly inspired me.  One person in particular, Jeff, left a string of comments about how restoring an older aircraft is possible for just about anyone who is willing to do the work.

The best advice that was given over and over was to find a mentor who can help you pick the right plane and get you through the process.  Another great resource is your local EAA chapter who is devoted to helping with experimental aircraft in particular, but any budding aircraft enthusiast.

A couple of other sites that were mentioned for finding aircraft were Barnstormers.com and eBayMotors.com.  In just a few minutes of searching on those sites I found dozens of aircraft for less than $20,000 and many below $10,000.  Obviously, the cheaper they are, the more work that may be involved, but that sounds like part of the fun to me.

One of my recent excitements that I hope to carry through the rest of my life is the desire to spread aviation to more people who have the interest but just don’t know where to start, or don’t think it is even possible for them.  I know those people are out there, it is just a matter of getting them involved.

I know I started this post with a ridiculous option that most of us couldn’t afford with our lifetime earnings, which is still fun to dream about.  However, I hope that I have shown you in some small way that owning your own plane is a very real possibility.  If I haven’t, go read through the comments from the post that I mentioned and maybe the great people who commented there can get you just as excited as I am.

My Christmas Day is coming to a close here on the other side of the world, and it has been a fine day with some good friends around some awesome aircraft.  I hope that you are able to enjoy this day doing something you love with the people that you love, because that is what these holidays are all about, people.

So whether it is Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, or whatever holiday you may celebrate.  My best wishes to you and your family, and lots of wonderful aviation adventures in the new year.

12 Days of Avgeek Christmas:

Day 1: Aircraft Models and RC Toys
Day 2: Aviation Books and Guides
Day 3: Aviation Apps and Flight Simulators
Day 4: Flight Lessons
Day 5: Headsets
Day 6: Bags and Kneeboards
Day 7: Sunglasses and Watches
Day 8: Handheld GPS
Day 9: Handheld Radio
Day 10: Cameras and Video Recorders
Day 11: Random Aviation Accessories
Day 12: Airplane

December 25, 2013 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Twelve Days of Avgeek Christmas: Day 8 Handheld GPS

The cheapest way to go is attaching a GPS receiver to your iPad, phone, or other device.

The cheapest way to go is attaching a GPS receiver to your iPad, phone, or other device.

You can have lots of flying with nothing more than old steam gauges in your cockpit.  In fact, sometimes all of the technology can bog us down from enjoying the actual flying itself.  That being said, there are a couple of pieces of equipment that can make your life easier in certain situations.  We’ll look at the second one tomorrow.

For the eighth day of Avgeek Christmas we will take a look at a couple of different GPS units available for flying.  I should mention that it is possible to buy an attachment for your favorite tablet, phone, or laptop and use that as a GPS device.  That is generally the cheapest choice, and in some ways the best because then you can have the GPS interact with any other flight related apps you may have also purchased.

When it comes to actual handheld devices there are two companies that essentially own the market, iFly from Adventure Pilot, and Garmin.  I’m sure many pilots will talk your ear off about why one is infinitely better than the other, but I would venture to guess, like most things, it is personal preference.  Garmin is definitely the more widely recognized name, as well as what I have the most experience on.

The iFly 720 sports a nice 7" touchscreen that is easy to read, but not bulky.

The iFly 720 sports a nice 7″ touchscreen that is easy to read, but not bulky.

Both systems offer many of the same features like aviation charts, terrain avoidance alerts, and airfield maps/directories. Some of them will even give you a map of the airport to help you taxi more effectively.

Both companies also offer the ability to use your GPS on the roads too, so once you land you can still figure out where you are going with turn by turn directions on some models.

The iFly system comes in both a 5″ and 7″ touchscreen model.  They are also somewhat cheaper than the Garmin models likely, because they are not as well-known.  The 5″ model starts out in the $450 range, and the 7″ comes in closer to $700.

The Garmin aera796 3-D view is almost like a flight-sim version of your plane, as you fly.

The Garmin aera796 3-D view is almost like a flight-sim version of your plane, as you fly.

There is also a subscription fee involved to keep your charts updated which comes in at $69 a year for the basic package, and an additional $40 a year for IFR charts.  Compared to buying all of that in paper that is a very reasonable deal.

Garmin on the other hand offers a whole range of shapes, sizes, and complexities that range anywhere from about $600 to $15,000 or more if you get some of the in-panel models.  Even some of the higher end handhelds will be in the thousands of dollars, but they do offer some pretty cool features.

One of the coolest features that is on some of the higher end models is the ability to look at a 3-D view of you flight.  In essence you can watch a little window on the screen that will give you a 3-D rendering of your plane in the airspace.  So you can essentially watch your 3-D plane land as the real one does.  Kind of cool, just don’t watch it instead of the real ground.  I could see that as being very reassuring in IFR conditions though.

ADS-B receivers will be mandatory in the US in 2020.

ADS-B receivers will be mandatory in the US in 2020.

I would go into the pricing for their update subscriptions, but let’s just say it is a 16 page document on their website, so I will spare you.  In simple terms, a single update will run you around $50, with yearly subscriptions starting in the low hundreds, and going up into the thousands for the higher end models.  Just keep that in mind as you are deciding what to buy.  A GPS receiver can be a great tool, but if it is out of date, it quickly becomes less valuable as accuracy is paramount in aviation.

The last thing I will mention is the upcoming need to have ADS-B in your aircraft.  I won’t get into what exactly it is capable of doing, but it is their to help make the airspace safer and more efficient.  It is also going to be a requirement in the not to distant future (2020 in the US).  So it might be worth considering a GPS unit that also has ADS-B capability.  There are a number of different units out there that do one or the other, or both.

12 Days of Avgeek Christmas:

Day 1: Aircraft Models and RC Toys
Day 2: Aviation Books and Guides
Day 3: Aviation Apps and Flight Simulators
Day 4: Flight Lessons
Day 5: Headsets
Day 6: Bags and Kneeboards
Day 7: Sunglasses and Watches
Day 8: Handheld GPS
Day 9: Handheld Radio
Day 10: Cameras and Video Recorders
Day 11: Random Aviation Accessories
Day 12: Airplane

December 22, 2013 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Twelve Days of Avgeek Christmas: Day 5 Headsets

The Sennheiser S1 Passive helps reduce outside noise.

The Sennheiser S1 Passive helps reduce outside noise.

Hopefully my last post inspired you to go out and take the first step to flying and you went and took a discovery flight.  If not, go back and read day 4 over and over until you, or the person holding you back, are convinced that you need to go fly.  For those of you that are now hooked on flying, you’re welcome.  Now you get to start spending all of your money, and hopefully other people’s money on flying and flying stuff.

For the fifth day of Avgeek Christmas, we are going to look at one of the first things that I am of the opinion you should buy if you intend to fly regularly: your own headset.  It is true that most flight schools have headsets you can borrow, and most other people who have a plane probably have them too, but a headset is just one of those things that you can get relatively inexpensively that will make the whole thing feel more real.

The Telex Stratus 30 has active noise reduction to help keep things quiet.

The Telex Stratus 30 has active noise reduction to help keep things quiet.

That being said, there is a wide range of cost when it comes to headsets, so I wouldn’t recommend going out and buying a top of the line headset right now, that can come later.  If you are already an experienced flyer, by all means get the upgrade as there are some pretty awesome new technologies out there that make headsets more comfortable and better to use.

At the very bottom of the price range there are a handful of headsets for $100-150 like this offering from Sigtronics.  While a headset like that will work just fine, I think it is worth just a little more money to get a significantly better headset.

For a little less than $200 you can get a headset from the most well-known aviation headset company in the world.  The David Clark H10-76 headset is the exact same headset that I use every time I fly in the Air Force.  While it is obviously not the top of the line, it serves me and the rest of my crew well.  Even with the four fans of freedom spinning outside we are all able to communicate without any issues.  They also take a pretty good beating from us and still continue to work.  I did just recently break my first pair after about 300 hours of flying all over the world, but David Clarks come with a warranty so that shouldn’t be an issue.

The Lghtspeed Sierra allows you to connect your phone to your headset through Bluetooth.

The Lghtspeed Sierra allows you to connect your phone to your headset through Bluetooth.

The next range of headsets comes in at around $250-350 dollars.  They offer things light headset bags, lighter weights, and better noise reduction.  While all of these things are nice, you really have to step up to the next level to start getting more features.

At this point you start getting into headsets that have a few more features that you may find desirable.  For example, the Sennheiser S1 Passive headset offers passive noise attenuation (think noise reduction) as well as a jack to plug-in an mp3 player or cell phone.  Don’t worry the headset automatically mutes the auxiliary port if there is a radio call.  At around $370 it is pretty reasonable if you plan on long flights where a little music might be nice.  It also comes with more ways to adjust the headset to customize the fit to you.

For just a little bit more, in the $400-500 range you start to add a feature that can really make difference for talking on the radio as well as saving your hearing.  Active Noise Reduction (ANR) is a feature that involves tiny speakers working to counteract outside noise like the sound of your engine.  It really is amazing how much of a difference it makes.  The Telex Stratus 30 for example offers ANR as well as the auxiliary port for that mp3 player or cell phone for only $479.  I should mention that ANR does require power through either batteries, or in some cases from the panel of the aircraft.

The David Clark DC Pro-X Hybrid allows you to use Bluetooth audio as well as your phone.

The David Clark DC Pro-X Hybrid allows you to use Bluetooth audio as well as your phone.

One of the newest features that is becoming increasingly popular is the ability to connect bluetooth devices to your headset.  The advantage of course is that now you don’t have more wires draped across the cockpit while you are trying to fly which could potentially cause a problem if you don’t control them well.  These headsets start out in the $600 range like the Lightspeed Sierra aviation headset.

At the lower end you will only be able to connect your cell phone to the headset, but other headsets like the David Clark DC Pro-X Hybrid allow you to connect audio devices as well so you and possibly your passengers can listen to music.  It comes in at just over $600.

The last feature that is just starting to hit the market with mixed reviews are wireless headset systems.  One example is the EQ-1 wireless system.  They claim to have been the first to perform an entirely wireless flight back in 2008.  While the technology is pretty cool, my experience has not been awesome with it.  I found it very difficult to hear our loadmaster who was using it in the back of the plane as well as it cutting in and out during the flight.

The Bose A20 Aviation headset is about as good as it gets.

The Bose A20 Aviation headset is about as good as it gets.

I am not sure which manufacturer it came from, or if it was just user error, but I was not impressed.  Now bear in mind I am talking about using it on a C-130 aircraft with crew members being as much as 40 feet away so that may have played into it as well.  It would likely work better in a small cockpit with everyone within 10 feet of each other.

While that pretty much sums it up in terms of features on an aviation headset, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one other company that is the pinnacle of aviation headsets, and really headsets in general.  Bose has become the best of the best when it comes to aviation headsets.  I have never actually worn them but from what I hear they are the most comfortable and functional aviation headset that you can buy.  They have all of the above features available, but they also come in at the highest price on the market.  Most of their headsets come in at around $1000 dollars, but from what I hear they are well worth it.

As you can see there is a pretty broad range of offerings when it comes to headsets, with a fair number of different features depending on what you are looking for.  The reality is that every pilot has their personal preference for a number of different reasons that you may or may not agree with.  There are tons of reviews out there for all of the different headsets available, but if you get stuck just go with what sounds good to you, and you will likely be just fine.

If you have a favorite headset, or company, by all means, share in the comments below and help all of us find that perfect headset.

12 Days of Avgeek Christmas:

Day 1: Aircraft Models and RC Toys
Day 2: Aviation Books and Guides
Day 3: Aviation Apps and Flight Simulators
Day 4: Flight Lessons
Day 5: Headsets
Day 6: Bags and Kneeboards
Day 7: Sunglasses and Watches
Day 8: Handheld GPS
Day 9: Handheld Radio
Day 10: Cameras and Video Recorders
Day 11: Random Aviation Accessories
Day 12: Airplane

December 18, 2013 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Twelve Days of Avgeek Christmas: Day 4 Flight Lessons

My first small aircraft flight was in this plane.

My first small aircraft flight was in this plane.

Day 4 of Avgeek Christmas this year is where the real fun starts as far as I am concerned.  There simply is nothing like flying in a small plane at the controls.  I have been on dozens of airliners and flown all over the country, and even half way around the world, but there is still nothing that compares to the first time I ever took the controls of a plane.

For me it was a Cessna 172 with the Garmin G1000 system, which was awesome.  I even remember the tail number still: N123VK.  It really doesn’t matter what type of plane it is though, it is still incredible.

Whether it is a Cessna, Cirrus, Mooney, or Stearman it will still change your life.  Okay, if it was a Stearman it might be even more life changing, but that is for another post.  The point is, there is nothing that compares to the hum of that engine, pushing up the throttle, and the feeling that you get when the gear leaves the ground, and for just an instant you feel totally empowered and peaceful all at the same time.

It truly is indescribable, but once you have felt it, you will never be the same.

In a lot of ways, flying is like the greatest drug ever.  It is totally legal, will eat up your money just as quickly, and lets you experience a high that simply cannot come in any other way.

The Mooney is the fastest of the single-engine aircraft, and a joy to fly from what I hear.

The Mooney is the fastest of the single-engine aircraft, and a joy to fly from what I hear.

The beautiful thing is that there are literally thousands of airports all across the country where you can take lessons.  You won’t find any links in this post because there is simply no way I could possibly link to even a fraction of a percent of the options out there.  If you know where the airport is just drive on out there and I would be willing to bet there is a flight school there, unless it is DFW, JFK, LAX or some other similarly sized airport.  Stick to the small airports for now.

That being said, all flight schools are not created equal.  Some of them have nicer aircraft which will carry a higher price.  You may want to learn on a tail-dragger and not all schools have those.  One of the most important aspects to consider is finding an instructor that you mesh well with.  There would be nothing sadder than committing all that time and money to something amazing just to grow to hate it because you hate your instructor.

Many schools offer discovery flights to new students which give you a chance to check out the school, the instructor, and the aircraft you will be working with generally at a decent discount.  This is a great opportunity to find just the right fit for you.  The key is to remember that this really is about you, and not the school or the instructor.  You need to be happy with what you are receiving, and if you aren’t then find somewhere else, because like I said, there are plenty of options.

Another great avenue to consider, that can also be less expensive, is finding a local flying club.  This is a great way to save a little money, as well as being part of a club that you can continue flying with after you attain that coveted PPL.  Once again, no links here because there are too many to even try.  A simple Google search of “flight club (your city)” will likely give you a great starting place.

The "Mighty Katana" or DA-20 is used by the Air Force for initial flight screening and is a blast to fly.

The “Mighty Katana” or DA-20 is used by the Air Force for initial flight screening and is a blast to fly.

The other great route to follow in finding just the right school or flying club is to talk to the people at the airport.  Talk to the students, talk to the instructors, the maintenance guys, possibly the FBO that houses the flight school, or even just fuels their planes.  People are what make aviation great, and for the most part we are all there to help other people out, especially new people.

If you come across a school or club that isn’t anxious to help you find exactly what you are looking for, then look elsewhere, because flying should be fun, and it is about you.  The moment that it stops being fun is the moment you need to change something, because it is supposed to be about having a great time.

As I write this post, there are no links that I have personally put up, but like I say all of the time, flying is about people, and helping others out, so if you have a flight school or a flying club that you would like to support or recommend then leave me a note in the comments and I will gladly put them up on the main post.

Flying is one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life.  It shapes the choices I make everyday and the career that I have decided to pursue.  It has become a part of me in a way that if I could never do it again I would never be quite the same.  If you or your favorite avgeek have even the slightest interest in learning to fly then please go out and take a discovery flight.  You may find that you would rather stick to the airliners, but you may also find the most incredible experience of your life, and you will never be the same.

“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”

-Leonardo da Vinci

12 Days of Avgeek Christmas:

Day 1: Aircraft Models and RC Toys
Day 2: Aviation Books and Guides
Day 3: Aviation Apps and Flight Simulators
Day 4: Flight Lessons
Day 5: Headsets
Day 6: Bags and Kneeboards
Day 7: Sunglasses and Watches
Day 8: Handheld GPS
Day 9: Handheld Radio
Day 10: Cameras and Video Recorders
Day 11: Random Aviation Accessories
Day 12: Airplane

December 17, 2013 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Congress Actually Getting Stuff Done…at Least in Aviation

Most small aircraft, including some twins, would fall under the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act.

Most small aircraft, including some twins, would fall under the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act.

It has been quite a productive couple of weeks for certain members of Congress.  Despite their complete inability to do anything related to the major issues, it is comforting to see that they can take care of at least some of the smaller ones.

Maybe I only noticed because these actions are related to a smaller area I care about, but either way it is great to see action being taken that should help out aviation.  I am glad to see that the General Aviation Caucus is doing their jobs to promote an industry that is essential to the people they represent.

Last month the Small Airplane Revitalization Act was signed into law.  As I understand it, this law will help make it easier, and thus cheaper, to bring new planes to market.  This is an important step in the direction of making flying cheaper and more accessible.  The law is designed to give manufacturers an incentive to develop new aircraft to bring to market that will include newer technologies, while not having so much red tape to gut through to get there.  The fact that the bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate says a lot about how badly this law was needed, and hopefully the impact for good that it will have.

The second piece of legislation, which was brought forward this week, is the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act which I have somewhat mixed feelings about.  On the surface, I think it is a great bill as it also aims to eliminate the some of the bureaucracy and general hoop jumping that the government seems to enjoy.

In short, the law would make it legal for a pilot to fly an aircraft weighing less than 6,000 pounds, with six seats or less, below 14,000 feet, and at speeds less than 250 knots as long as they possess a current state driver’s license and meet the medical standards involved in attaining that license.  It all sounds pretty reasonable to me.

In an article from AOPA, who initially petitioned for the law along with EAA, they make the comparison to driving a car, and that many large SUVs are in the same weight and passenger range so the risk should be viewed similarly.  I would generally agree, though I would say there are inherent risks of flying that make it more dangerous, or at least make it bear a little more scrutiny.  The act will be brought before Congress in January so it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

In keeping with my recent theme of growing the pilot population I can’t help but think that this will have a positive impact on that movement, however, I think it is still just another short-term fix.  This bill will definitely benefit much of the older pilot population who either is unable to obtain a Class III medical, or is just tired of the hassle of doing so, and that is great.

However, I don’t think it will really make that much of a difference for the young population, which is where we need to see the growth more than ever.  I haven’t talked to a single peer who said they didn’t fly because of obtaining, or retaining, their medical.  I am sure there are some out there, and it is great to be able to help them, but I just don’t see the long-term impact that it will have.

That being said, anything that we can do to reduce costs, and probably equally important, to reduce BS is good for the industry.  The young generation is not very patient and understanding, so streamlining all of the processes from aircraft certification to obtaining a medical certificate is going to help.

But the challenge still remains of getting them out to the airport and interested to get the whole thing started.

December 11, 2013 I Written By

I’m Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.