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Chair Flying May be the Best Free Thing You Can Do to Be a Better Pilot

Who would have guessed that something so simple could be one of your greatest assets toward becoming a better pilot?

Who would have guessed that something so simple could be one of your greatest assets toward becoming a better pilot?

Learning to fly is expensive.

I say that a lot, and so do a lot of other people who are associated with flying because it really is.  In the never-ending effort to reduce the cost of becoming a pilot there is something that anyone can do that I promise will save you time and in turn money.

Chair flying is a learning tool that is utilized by pilots in all stages of flying that has an incredible impact on your abilities as a pilot.  It is an amazing way to learn flows, checklists, improve your radio communications, and everything else it takes to be a pilot.  Something that can be that beneficial must be some complicated system that you have to pay a bunch of money for, right?  Wrong.

Let me take you through the simplest form of chair flying.

You sit in a chair and go through every single step of a flight in your mind.  The end.

At its heart, it really is that simple, but it can be more effective with a few basic tweaks.  Find somewhere quiet where you aren’t going to be distracted by a TV or other conversations.  Have your checklist, kneeboard, or whatever other things you fly with close at hand.  You may even put on your headset to block out the noise and make it feel more real.  Another asset that can really improve the experience is a printout of the cockpit in which you will be flying.  Even pulling an image up on your computer screen can be beneficial.

Then simply go through every step of your flight from beginning to end.  That means start from the moment you walk up to the airplane and go through how you will untie it, or get it out of the hangar, and do your external inspection.  Think about opening the door and where you will put everything (commonly referred to as building your nest) and how you will set everything up to get ready to fly.  Think through each step of the pre-flight including any radio calls or systems checks you would do if you were actually flying.

Go through engine start actually touching each of the switches and dials on your printout or computer screen that you will be manipulating or monitoring including in your mind what you expect to see from all of the gauges.  Make the radio call to ground when ready to taxi and lift your feet to release the brakes moving your hand forward to increase the throttle.  Look left and right to clear for traffic and adjust the throttle as necessary.

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.  Even just writing this out got me in the mindset of flying and each of the steps that I go through every single time I fly.  It helps in building that muscle memory, and maybe more importantly, a mental memory of repeating those tasks over and over again until it just becomes second nature.  That way when you get in the plane you will have an even better understanding of what you will be doing and you should feel less stressed.

This is exactly why we have crew briefings in the military.  We go through every step of each mission thoroughly to make sure that we are all on the same page.  Some things are covered multiple times in separate briefings to reinforce their importance.  For more complex missions we often spend days going over the mission to ensure that every crew member fully understands their role.

Now flying a 172 into a small airport after an hour is not as complex as a multi-ship formation flight that can cover many hours, but the principle is equally effective no matter what you are flying.  One of the best parts about it, is that it is 100% free.  If you know you are struggling with a certain task, say stalls, then while you are eating your breakfast walk through each of the steps in your mind considering how your hands and feet will move, what you will hear, and what you will see.  After doing it right in your mind, do it again and again until it just becomes second nature.

Becoming a good pilot is a never-ending process of learning and growth that requires dedication to that improvement.  It is not always feasible to get out and fly everyday for 3-4 hours, unfortunately, but it is possible to spend time every day going through the motions in your mind so that you will be ready when you do finally get to slip the surly bonds of the earth and take flight.

February 13, 2016 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.

Discipline and Positivity Will Help Improve the Pilot Population as Much as Anything

Conditions are often not ideal, but when you work amongst positive people you can do amazing things.

Conditions are often not ideal, but when you work amongst positive people you can do amazing things.

There is an article I have seen circulating on social media about the pilot shortage and how airlines have largely brought it upon themselves through the way they treat their pilots.  While I don’t doubt that the airlines couldn’t treat all of their employees better (what company outside of Google couldn’t?), I found the article to be mostly a bunch of whining with a whole lot of contradiction.

The one area that I wholeheartedly agree with is that flying is becoming too darn expensive for the vast majority of people to pursue.  A select few may be able to secure scholarships, have rich parents, or survive a career in the military before going to an airline, but for the rest it will be a massive financial sacrifice to secure a good job flying planes.  No matter how much pride or excitement someone has for flying, if you can’t afford it, it will never happen.  That is the real challenge when it comes to people not becoming pilots.  I know it has been for me.

It all went downhill from there.

She goes on to mention how airline executives talked a lot about discipline in last week’s IATA conference and how that translates into cutting costs and charging passengers more.  However, the definition of discipline she provided was, “requiring punishment for bad behavior…”  So who exactly behaved badly here, the passengers who are being punished with increased fares and fees, or…yeah, I don’t see anybody else mentioned in the following paragraphs except for employees.  That is the real focus of the rest of the article.

I find it interesting that she chose to use that definition of discipline since she followed that up with plenty of examples of employees that could use a little discipline of the type she mentioned.  She also states that, “discipline is something you force, not something you earn.”  Which I completely disagree with because of the definition of discipline that I feel is far more applicable in this situation.  I prefer, “willing behavior in accord with rules of conduct.”  This likely stems from my military background and how I have seen both good and poor discipline affect outcomes. 

"Just a few people with a positive ideology can change the world."

“Just a few people with a positive ideology can change the world.”

When personal discipline is present amazing things can be accomplished and the organization as a whole functions more efficiently, and with higher morale.  The exact opposite occurs when a lack of discipline is exhibited, which is when her definition of discipline comes into play.  Personal discipline is in fact earned through hard work and determination to do your very best against all odds.  It is exactly the type of discipline that allows the diligent pilot to wade through all of the crap the article mentions to get to that cockpit they dreamed about their whole life. 

If that discipline then fades away because of the actions of an employer, that is an indictment of the individual, not the employer.  So you don’t make a ton of money at first, neither do most people coming out of college with mountains of student loan debt.  You have to spend time away from your family?  So does every military member in the world, and I’m not just talking about deployments.  But that was part of the job I signed up for and I knew what I was getting into.  If you didn’t take the time to understand the demands of the industry you are entering then once again, that is your problem, not your employer’s.

A story is then shared about having a vacation cut short by the company that was scheduled by the company at the expense of the author.  That really sucks, and if I was there when you had to cut your vacation short I would empathize with you, and probably agree with your complaints, and then go about doing my job the right way, because that is the kind of discipline that makes a successful company from the bottom to the top.  Instead she proceeds to describe how she regularly wasted company resources such as fuel by extending flights, provided poor customer service because “why should I care about the passenger who will miss the connection…”, and brags about how, “there are things I could and did do which cost the company thousands…”.

She submits that employees “aren’t doing anything wrong” when they act in these ways but therein lies the problem.  Just because you haven’t technically broken any rules does not mean you didn’t do anything wrong.  In fact the greatest contradiction in the article came right before that last quote, and it was easy to spot because it included the word “but”, “I was proud of my position, and I have a deep appreciation for my comrades, so I would never do anything to harm my professionalism, but there are things I could and did do which cost the company thousands…”

You are not proud of your position when you reject your own personal discipline in favor of petty retaliation that has no impact on the person that upset you.  There is no professionalism in admittedly costing your company thousands of dollars because you didn’t like the way you were treated.  We all have aspects of our jobs that suck, but you deal with it if it means enough to you, or you find a new profession.  Discipline is not just punishment, it is a willingness and determination to do your best and to do the right thing because that is who YOU are, not because everyone else gives you what you want, or what you think you deserve.  That is what true pride in your position entails, standing tall because you did your absolute best despite the challenges you faced.

We live in a world right now where people call foul when everything doesn’t go quite their way, even when they signed up for it.  Many people are quick to point out the shortfalls of an industry or company or person, and want to place the blame for everything squarely on somebody else’s shoulders.  Nobody wants to take accountability for the role they played in the situation no matter how minor.  It is no wonder that we see this in our leaders because so many of us exhibit it ourselves.

Fortunately, she actually provided the answer to her own contradictions near the very end of the article, and I could not agree more with the assessment.  “Just a few people with a positive ideology can change the world.”  WOW!  Those are powerful words that could not be more true.

The only way the next generation will be as passionate about aviation as we are is if we exhibited pride in our profession and discipline in our actions.

The only way the next generation will be as passionate about aviation as we are is if we exhibit pride in our profession and discipline in our actions.

If you stop and think for a minute, almost all of us can think of at least one person, if not many, that had a positive influence on our life that changed our world.  Maybe it was a teacher, coach, or family member, but their “positive ideology” inspired us to set and achieve goals that we never thought possible.  We saw the impact they had on us and we wanted to be like them.

We wanted to have an impact for good, but somewhere along the way many of us lost sight of that.  Instead we focus on the things that suck and how we were wronged by this person, or that stupid supervisor, or some company that screwed us over, and that is the ideology we have chosen to sell to anyone that will listen.  The relative anonymity of the internet has allowed us to project that negativity in ways never before possible, but there is absolutely no reason we can’t turn the tables  back in the other direction.

We can look at people like Ron Rapp who is quick to call out the FAA and other organizations when they damage the industry he has such a passion for, but also immediately follows that up with a solution that will meet the intent of proposed changes while at the same time improving the industry as a whole.

Or Eric Auxier who actively promotes the wonders of aviation to anyone that will listen.  He acknowledges the challenges he has faced, and continues to face, but chooses to have a positive outlook and focus on the good.

To quote something attributed to Abraham Lincoln in the movie Pollyanna , “If you look for the good, you will surely find it.”  That is true of everything in life, but is something that can be a great challenge if you never look for it.  It takes a concerted effort to get past all of the crap that happens and choose to focus on the good.

It bears repeating what the author said near the end of her article because it is the message she should have shared instead of the paragraphs of complaining and negativity that she chose to focus on.  I will be the first to admit that I struggle with this same challenge, which is maybe why I was so quick to recognize it, but all of us would be a lot happier, and our industry would be a lot more appealing if each of us would commit to the following phrase:

“Just a few people with a positive ideology can change the world.”

June 17, 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.

Lessons Learned: Flying for Others Can be Better than Flying for Yourself

Flying is an interesting hobby as it is generally one that is limited in how many people you can include, but at the same time is an incredibly tight-knit, and large, community.

Unless you have the means to own a private jet or even a large twin, you are really limited to only about 2-3 other people coming along in your plane, if that.  However, fly-ins can bring together dozens, or even hundreds, of people who are passionate about flying.  Look at events like AirVenture in OshKosh where tens of thousands gather every year and it is clear that aviation is really a giant family.

Given the time of year, there have been a number of great articles talking about organizations that utilize planes to do good for others.  Ron Rapp wrote a great piece about avgeeks who are “the best” because of the charitable work that they perform using their aircraft.  Cap’n Aux also gave us a great look at individuals who opened their hearts to support others who may have personal struggles through the wonder that is aviation.

Both of these stories are great examples of the huge hearts that aviators have, and their amazing willingness to help other people.  It made me wish that I was in a better position to help in the ways that these great men have.  But the more I thought about it the more I realized that I have done at least a little good.

Just last weekend I spent about 15 hours flying during which I got essentially no training, but facilitated the training of 18 aeromedical personnel.  I have performed three such trips in the last year including one which included returning 7 wounded military members to their home states.

This week I am at Ft. Benning, GA supporting the Basic Airborne Course (look for more on this next week) which will provide the training for about 400 soldiers to get their jump wings.  This is the third time I have done that this year.

I don’t say all of this to toot my own horn, but to point out that we often overlook the good that we are doing because we consider it to be insignificant.  All I did last weekend was get the plane where we needed to go, but that allowed for training that could not have been received on the ground.

I was also the beneficiary of a generous pilot this weekend when my friend took me up in his Piper Cub for a little fun VFR flying.  It proved to be a short trip because of high winds, but it was some of the most fun flying I have ever done, and it further deepened my commitment to getting my PPL during the first of next year so that I can help others to enjoy the liberating feeling of small aircraft VFR flying.

It was a small thing to my friend, but it was a big deal to me.  Each of us avgeeks has the ability to do these great things, and I am sure most of us do them without even realizing it.

Much has been written about aviators asking others to go with them and have some fun flying, but I would like to turn the tables just a little.  I would strongly encourage anyone that is longing to get up and fly to ask any pilot you know to take you up the next time they go.  If you don’t know a pilot then head down to your local FBO and hang around for a little while.  You will inevitably make a few new friends and get that ride you have been longing for.

As I mentioned before, we aviators are really just one big family that is anxious to help our fellow aviators in any way we can.  Most pilots would love a little company when they go flying if you will only ask.  Don’t be afraid to ask because as most flyers will tell you, the stories are so much more fun when they are stories that you have shared with someone else.

November 30, 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.

The Many Faces of a Flying Career

Weather can affect your flying in unexpected ways so learn how to deal with it.

Weather can affect your flying in unexpected ways so learn how to deal with it.

I think most of us grow up dreaming about flying fighter jets or jumbo jets high in the sky, or fast through the mountains.  That is exactly the way it works out for some people, and for other people it works out for them flying smaller planes in remote destinations that they love more than they ever expected.

I know my aviation career hasn’t followed the path that I thought it would, and I’m okay with that.  In fact, it wasn’t until about a year ago that I realized how much I actually loved aviation.

I’ve worked in aviation for about 7 years now in a number of different roles, and there has been good and bad in all of them.  Working at an FBO provided an opportunity to see some incredible planes, meet some famous people, and becoming friends with people who changed my life.

In my four years in the Air Force I have met some incredible people, visited some incredible locations, and experienced some incredible struggles.  That is the part of a career in aviation that most people don’t tell you about.

Before I go any further let me be totally clear that I feel it is completely worth it, but there are some aspects that I had never anticipated.

I have spent far more time in a classroom than I have a cockpit.  Now maybe that is more of a factor in the military flying community, but either way you have to be ready to do a lot of learning.  That learning also never really stops.  Whether you are a weekend flyer, or a 747 pilot, if you want to be good at what you do then you can’t ever stop learning about flying.

There is also a lot more to learn about than just stick and rudder skills.  In fact, there is more to learn about flying than just flying.  There are all kinds of other areas that you can learn about to make you a true aviator rather than just a pilot.

Safety is one of the biggest topics you need to spend time learning about.  Read accident reports and learn as much as you can from others’ mistakes.  I know some pilots are intimidated by those types of things, but it can only make you better.

The reason this is on my mind right now is I am currently attending a two-week power point fest that makes me fall asleep just thinking about it.  However, it is an essential part of my career that will open doors that would otherwise be inaccessible.

It is entirely possible that something I learn during this training could save my crew’s lives someday.  Hopefully, I will never have to use any of it and we will remain safe anyways, but it is reassuring to me to know that the knowledge will be there in case I ever need it.

I guess what I am trying to say is to not be afraid of the many aspects of becoming an aviator, but to embrace those opportunities to learn.  With any luck you will never have to use it, but just ask Capt Sullenberger’s passengers if they are glad he took some extra training.

July 15, 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 6 Bags and Kneeboards

Even a simple kneeboard can provide great value.

Even a simple kneeboard can provide great value.

After the somewhat pricey headsets that we looked at yesterday I figured some cheaper options might be a little better for today.  As a pilot, there are lots of things you have to remember, and a fair amount of it is on the spot.  However, a good pilot will write much of it down rather than trying to just remember it all.  Things like clearances, frequencies for ground, tower, and approach control, routing, and the list goes on and on. As you start to fly regularly in the same area you will likely memorize much of this information, and may even create a little cheat sheet for things like frequencies and such.  But very few of us get into flying just to hang out in the same area.  We want to go out and explore new areas and new airports.  In those situations there will be plenty of need to write things down. That is where a good kneeboard comes in handy.

This kneeboard is incredibly popular amongst Air Force pilots.

This kneeboard is incredibly popular amongst Air Force pilots.

Just like everything else in aviation there are lots of different options out there depending on what you are looking for.  The simplest version I have used is a girl’s hair band that I just wrapped around my leg.  While it works for simply securing something to your leg it is less useful when it comes to actually writing things down.  With that in mind you can always just get a simple kneeboard that is nothing more than a small metal clipboard with a strap to attach it to your leg. Most kneeboards have some basic information on them like the phonetic alphabet, basic light gun signals, and the information needed for a basic flight plan.  In the case of kneeboards designed to support IFR flight it includes information like mandatory reporting points, IFR equipment codes, and airspace requirements. For those looking for something a little more than just a clipboard, this kneeboard from Flyboys is probably the most commonly used kneeboard by Air Force pilots, at least the ones I have seen.  It has a clear sheet to cover your approach plates, rings for attaching stuff like checklists, as well as the obviously important pen/pencil holder.  The info section on its page says you may want one for each leg, and while I have seen it, most civilian flying really doesn’t warrant the need for two.

Tri-folds are great for storing charts and extra paperwork.

Tri-folds are great for storing charts and extra paperwork.

There are also tri-fold options out there for storing things like maps and approach plates.  This can become incredibly useful for longer flights that may include multiple charts, or extra approach plates.  I used one of these for a while and found it useful, but I now have a whole desk where I fly so space is not quite the issue it once was. The last group that is becoming increasingly popular is kneeboards that hold an iPad or similar tablet.  With the increasing functionality of these devices, they are becoming the cheaper/simpler option to expensive avionics upgrades in aircraft.  They are even capable of supporting ADS-B devices which will be mandatory in the not too distant future.  If you already have an iPad it would be worth it to see if you like flying with it and purchasing a kneeboard to works well with it.

Having an iPad conveniently placed can be vary useful.

Having an iPad conveniently placed can be vary useful.

Whatever kneeboard you decide to purchase, the one major recommendation I would make is to make sure it is a good size for you.  I had a kneeboard once that was so large I couldn’t properly manipulate the controls.  I had used it in a different aircraft with no problem, but it just didn’t fit in this cockpit.  So just make sure you understand how it will interact in your particular cockpit. As you can see, you will start to accumulate a decent amount of stuff that you fly with, and it can get a little annoying having to carry it all out to the plane, which is where of course a good quality flight bag comes in.  You could always just carry any backpack or duffel with you on a flight, but you may also find that bags designed specifically for the purpose are far more useful.

A bag like this has all the pockets you could ever want.

A bag like this has all the pockets you could ever want.

You can get a simple flight bag for around $30 or less.  They will have various pockets for all of the fun little crap you will start to acquire, but they will also have room for your headset, kneeboard, and charts. If you want to go with something that has even more “bells and whistles” you can always go for a bag that has detachable pockets for things like headsets, GPS receivers, and transceivers.  They can also have adjustable dividers in the main pocket as well as mesh pockets for small items like keys.  If you live somewhere with a lot of rain you may want to make sure the bag is at least water-resistant. Now for those of you who are looking for a high quality bag that will make a statement every time you fly I have a recommendation for you.  This bag is one of the nicest pieces of equipment that I have ever seen.  The Classic Flight Bag is an all leather bag that hearkens back to the early days of flying.  The rustic leather look reminds me of an old war movie where the pilot climbs out of the plane with his goggles and leather jacket with the fur lining carrying a bag just like this.

The Classic Flight Bag will make a statement every time you fly.

The Classic Flight Bag will make a statement every time you fly.

It received raved reviews from the Airplanista himself Dan Pimentel.  I could never do it the justice that Dan does, so I highly recommend you check out his review of the bag.  That alone should say something as Dan rarely does a review.  While I am not as eloquent as Dan I will say that a bag like this truly does make a statement while being incredibly functional at the same time.  Especially with all of the technology available today there is no reason to need a large suitcase for all of your flight gear.  A simple yet elegant bag like this will not only serve you well, it will do so for a very very long time. It is clearly a high-end bag at about $500, but if you sign up for their mailing list they will give you $50 off, and the shipping is free.  Each of these bags is handmade so unfortunately it is too late to get it on time for Christmas, but just wrap up a picture of this bag and your avgeek will be more excited about what will be coming after Christmas than anything else they get that day. Of all of the things I have researched for this series of posts the Classic Flight Bag is hands down my favorite. All of these items will aid in your organization while flying, and I can’t emphasize enough how important that really is.  It is amazing how much simpler and more enjoyable a flight is when you have everything right where you need it when you need it.

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 20, 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.