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Flight Service Station

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When is the last time you talked to the Flight Service Station?

Believe it or not, FSS is still in existence.  Over the past 10 years, they went from FAA run, the being bought by Lockheed Martin, to now being privately run by a company called Leidos. 1-800-WX Brief will get you connected with a weather briefer, but you’ll hear “Leidos Flight Service Station” now when the briefer picks up.

Since the advent of Foreflight, most pilots these days get their weather briefings digitally on the iPad. Foreflight has come a long way since it’s inception.  The briefing part of their Flights page is quite comprehensive, with lots of information, and counts as a legal weather briefing (which pilots are still required to get before a flight).

Why does a pilot even need to call Flight Service?  Well, when’s the last time you tried to interpret everything the Briefing on Foreflight told you?  As I said before, it’s a lot of information and a lot of it can be confusing.  Pilots are not fully trained on interpreting Prog Charts and getting an overall weather picture for a flight.  A weather briefer is.

I have over 5,000 hours and I still call a weather briefer before almost every flight.  On the way to the airport is a great opportunity to get a weather briefing.  I get a great picture of what’s going on in my area or over my route, frontal movement, bad weather areas, and whether or not it’s a good idea to even take off. Calling in the car alleviates the main complaint I hear about calling the Flight Service Station, which is it’s inconvenient and causes a delay since you have to call them on the phone.

I don’t do much private pilot training anymore, but when I do, I always teach my students how to get a weather briefing from the Flight Service Station.  I’ll show them how to get the briefing on Foreflight too, but usually their eyes bug out of their heads when they start trying to read everything.  A breathe of relief is released when I tell them there is a trained professional just a phone call away who can clear everything up.

The other thing that the Flight Service Station provides that is important to a lot of folks are PIREPs.  It’s vital in sketchy weather areas for the FSS to get a report of what’s actually going on in the air.  This helps other pilots out greatly as they are getting information about icing, cloud bases and tops, turbulence and a myriad of other things from airplanes who are actually in the conditions.

Finally, the most used portion of the Flight Service Station is the Clearance Delivery line (888-766-8267). At airports without a tower or a clearance delivery frequency, with IFR conditions present, the only way to get your IFR clearance is to call Clearance Delivery.  Yes, it can take a little time sometimes, but you will get a clearance every time, unlike taking off and trying to dodge the clouds without hitting anything, while trying to call Center on the radio (which isn’t safe or legal).

Been a while since you’ve talked to the Flight Service Station?  Give them a call, either on the phone or on the radio.  Odds are, they are bored and just wanting someone to talk to, just like you are on that long cross country flight!

Checkout 1800WXBrief.com to see all the cool stuff the Flight Service Station does.

PopSocket iPad Yoke Mount

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I was recently clued in to a really cool (and very cost efficient) iPad yoke mount.

It’s called a PopSocket and you won’t find it on any aviation website (I have to credit Joe Casey of Casey Aviation with this nifty find).

It’s very simple.  You take the mount (see right) and stick it to your yoke.  Then you pick one of a ton of designs from PopSocket and stick it to the back of your iPad (you can even create your own design!  B2 Bomber anyone?).

It’s low profile, doesn’t get in the way of anything, and is easily removable.  The PopSocket mounts are $10 apiece (depending on the size of your iPad, you may want to get 2).  The PopSocket is $10, so at the most, you’ll be in $40 plus tax and shipping.  Most mounts on Sporty’s are upwards of $50 and require a lot of installation, are big and bulky, and usually require lots of juggling to get the iPad in and out of the mount.

Give the PopSocket a try.

Pilatus Jet Nears Certification

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The Pilatus Jet, the PC-24 Super Versatile Jet, is nearing certification.  Pilatus expects the Pilatus Jet to receive European and US certification by December.  The first delivery may even take place before the end of the year.

In developing the PC-24 Pilatus Jet, Pilatus, based in Switzerland, has taken the same approach as they did with the PC-12, their insanely successful single engine turboprop.  Versatility is the key, with their mindset being to make the PC-24 Pilatus Jet the first flying Suburban jet.  Pilatus emphasized STOL  and unimproved strip operation in their design.

The huge cargo door so familiar on the PC-12 has been crafted into the PC-24 Pilatus Jet giving access to a massive cargo area.  According to Pilatus’ website, the jet has a takeoff distance of only 2,690 feet, which is unheard of for a a business jet.  There is seating for 11 + a pilot (yep, it’s a single pilot airplane!), so the whole family can come along.  With a max cruise of 425 knots and a range of almost 2,000 miles, it’s a get somewhere airplane.

The price tag for a new PC-24 Pilatus Jet will be $8.9 million, which is just under what a new Phenom 300 costs.  There is a 90 order wait list, so if you get on it now, you can get one faster than a Cirrus Vision Jet!

Beware of the Lunch Monster

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He prowls around, preying on innocent pilots.

He’s very sneaky, creeping unexpectedly and attacking after the propeller begins to turn.

He’s very cunning, veiling his intentions until, BOOM, he attacks.

Beware of the Lunch Monster!

Whenever I am doing a full day of training (which is usually how transition training courses are planned out, in full day sessions), I always plan a lunch stop.  My metabolism has the speed of a rocket ship, so I get hungry and need some sustenance in the middle of the day.  I have a running list of airports to stop at that have good lunch spots at them or nearby, so my customers and I usually end up at one of those airports.

Almost without fail, if a customer is having an excellent flying morning, nailing all the procedures, picking up all the techniques, and overall, flying pretty well, then eats lunch, the afternoon doesn’t go quite as well.  Doing some of the same things we did that morning, but the customer’s performance isn’t quite as good.  Most of the time, it’s just a brain lockup or landings aren’t quite as squeaky as they were in the morning.

Part of it is fatigue after flying for 2-3 hours in the morning.  The other part is what I call the Lunch Monster.  Eating a big lunch can sap away brain power and cause a person to lose energy around 2-3pm, leading to an afternoon lull (or the Lunch Monster attacking!).

According to Forbes.com:

Diet contributes to energy levels too. “Eating a lunch that is too big is the most common reason for feeling sleepy in the afternoon,” says Rebecca Solomon a nutritionist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. “All your energy goes into digesting the enormous meal.”

The goal is to keep the body’s Cortical and Cortisone levels even since they’re the hormones released by the body in reaction to stress–they produce the fight or flight response. Their levels are elevated when you have sugar, caffeine and processed food, so you feel awake and energetic. But a few hours later, when those levels drop, you’re sluggish.

Solomon recommends eating a meal that’s balanced with healthy fats (from olive oil or avocados, for instance) with protein and healthy carbohydrates (whole wheat bread or pasta). The portion will vary for people of different sizes, but a general rule is you should be hungry about four hours after the meal.

Another healthy eating habit: Consume small portions of foods throughout the day, including almonds, carrots and hummus and fruit. Enjoy lunch around 1:30 or 2 p.m., just before the time you normally feel fatigued.

Now, most of the stops on my list of restaurants don’t fit the bill of healthy fats and healthy carbohydrates (plenty of protein, though, especially the BBQ joints).  For those days, bringing along a snack like almonds or dried fruit is a great idea to munch on mid-afternoon.  Trimming down the amount eaten at lunch helps a lot too.

So, the next time you have a long day of flying or training, beware the lunch monster and prep some good snacks when your flight instructor says you’re stopping for BBQ!

When Pigs Fly

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What Will I Eat Tonight?

Pigs fly. Owning a pig is a sign of financial stability for many village residents. I regularly have passengers in my airplane who carry baby pigs in a hand-crocheted net bags. My name is Gregg, and I work in a developing region of Southeast Asia where aircraft are the only option for travel.

I had two flights that day. The first was an out-and-back to village ONE. The second flight to village TWO was supposed to be the same thing, but on the way home I could hear the passengers in the back yelling for Jesus. They weren’t dropping his name like a dirty word. No, they were genuinely scared and were praying for help. Our little 6-seat piston felt pretty small compared to the towering, dark storms above us.

Because of our latitude on the earth, we don’t get frontal weather. There’s plenty of heat and heaps of humidity, so most of the weather comes from afternoon buildups. Occasionally we are affected by the outflow from tropical storms. On this day, there was an unusual line of buildups ahead. I called a fellow pilot on the same route; he was 6,000 feet above me. There are no weather reports here, no radar, no TAFs. PIREPS are the best source of data. He said he was working his way through, and he recommended continuing.

I flew below the storms so I could navigate between the showers (about 2,500ft AGL). I didn’t scud-run, and I never once entered IFR conditions. The showers started to merge together into areas of rain. I couldn’t dodge them much longer. I could see sunlight to the East, so I deviated right of course. I made note of my heading and flew a straight course for a few miles. The air turned turbulent and that scared the passengers. I felt bad for my passengers. They were in no danger, but they sure felt like they were near death. So often we get scared in life, but God is right there saying, “Don’t worry, I got this.”

I tried to give them a re-assuring thumb’s up to say, “Don’t worry, I got this.” I didn’t help. The color of their skin was not the same color as when we left the village. They were terrified. The weather didn’t get any better on my new heading, and the sunlight was elusive. I turned around on the reciprocal heading and flew back out of the area. I returned to my original course line and then headed back to the village. I wasn’t going to make it home that night. I was going to spend the night in a village house.

I was a guest in their land. I had been there for a meal once before, and it was interesting. Previously, I had been served a pile of what looked like rubber cement — a mixture of water and dried pulp from a palm tree. It had no taste. When it hit my mouth it had the same properties as wet rubber; it could not be chewed, only swallowed. I was dreading the thought of trying to eat it in front of them and act as though I enjoyed it.

Mercifully, I was offered some cured pork cooked over an open fire, some rice, and corn on the cob (also fire cooked). The meat was tough, the rice bland, the corn burnt, but the seasoning on the meat was authentic and quite good. We sat at a dirty, rough cut wooden table under a battery powered light. It was so quiet you could hear a moths’ wings. There was every kind of flying roach, malaria carrying mosquito, and buzzing beetle flying around us. But to the humans living there, I was being treated like a king.

The next morning the village residents were thrilled! The status of their village had been elevated to “the place where the airplane slept.” They were so honored that I and my airplane had chosen to spend the night with them. We took off when the humid morning fog had lifted. Visibility was over 100 miles.

My advice: turn around if the weather’s bad and don’t worry about your dinner plans.

Gregg Daniels works as a pilot for a non-profit organization operating in Southeast Asia. He flies missionaries to ethnic people groups isolated by rough terrain and tropical jungles. Gregg holds an A&P mechanic certificate, an ATP Multi-Engine pilot certificate and a CFII Gold Seal flight instructor certificate. His favorite snack is summer sausage, and he believes God and St. Nicholas are not the same person.