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Angle of Attack (AOA)

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You are hand-flying an in-the-weather descent, power back, heading for the FAF. You start a 30 degree banked turn at your lead point to cross the FAF, when your passenger behind you gasps. Looking over your shoulder, you see he has spilled his drink into his lap…too bad for him! However, when you turn your head back to your panel, your inner ear tumbles and you see 45 degrees of bank, 15 degrees nose low, airspeed increasing.

Congratulations! You have managed to get distracted and sucked into an unusual attitude recovery. By the book, you should roll wings level, pull to the horizon, and adjust power as necessary to keep the airspeed within limits. In this scenario, if you had not experienced vertigo, you might have been able to roll to less than 30 degrees of bank, recover your turn, pull the nose up to less than the original descent attitude, pulled a bit of power to slow back to your desired penetration speed and then resumed your desired ground track. However, this would only be appropriate if you had full situational awareness as to the deviations caused by the look over your shoulder, plus full confidence that the moderate corrective actions would put you back on your desired flight path.

As a military aviator, I learned unusual attitude recoveries based upon hard maneuvering at extreme pitch and bank angles. In the hard-maneuvering environment, an unusual attitude could be 90 degrees straight up, airspeed decreasing below 120 kts…or 80 degrees nose low, 135 degrees of bank, airspeed increasing through 500 kts… etc. In these cases, understanding angle of attack, or AOA, is critical to maintaining controlled flight and returning to a normal attitude.

In an extreme nose-high attitude, a military aviator is trained to roll the aircraft to 90 degrees of bank, ease off the back-stick pressure to reduce AOA, add power as required, and allow the nose to slice back towards level, rolling to wings level as the nose approaches the horizon. If nose low, the recovery procedure is to roll rapidly, within asymmetric g limits, until wings level, then to pull at optimum g loading to recover to level flight. For the nose-low recovery, power was normally reduced until airspeed could be assessed and brought under control. However, when doing the nose-low pullout at 7-9 gs, pulling the power for too long would leave you much to slow to resume combat.

The AOA gauge on a fighter’s glare shield is a primary reference during hard maneuvering and for landing. The AOA for optimum maneuvering is 13 degrees, displayed as the green circle or “green donut” on the gauge. The red chevron on top represents a slow condition of 15 degrees or more and the yellow lower chevron represents 11 degrees or less.

For normal landing in the F-16C, the pilot slows to 220 kts and configures abeam the touchdown point while mentally computing the final approach airspeed of 136 kts plus 4 additional knots for each 1000 lbs of fuel. When rolling off the perch and flying the final turn, the pilot would usually only glance once at the airspeed once to ensure final turn airspeed of 180 kts while using the AOA sight gauge as the primary indicator of a best performance turn. As long as the AOA was green donut (13 degrees) or less, you would not stall. If on speed and 13 degrees wasn’t going to get you around the turn to line up with the runway, you knew you were going to overshoot. You never wanted to see the red chevron of 15 degrees or more as that meant you were too slow, pulling too hard, and in danger of building an un-recoverable sink rate!

Few GA aircraft are currently equipped with AOA indicators, though there are several after market devices available for retrofit. However, knowing the impact of AOA and how to manage it is vital to safe aviating, even without an AOA gauge. The bottom line is, as long as you don’t ask the wing to produce more angle of attack than it can handle, you won’t stall.

Practicing final turn stalls, to know what the wing feels like as you get too slow or pull too much on the controls, increasing AOA past the critical point, will keep you safe when you encounter that unexpected overshooting wind or you find yourself inadvertently on too tight of a downwind leg. Better to overshoot or take it around to try again, than to pull too hard and exceed critical AOA.


Mike Hostage is a retired USAF pilot with 37 years of experience, flying a wide variety of aircraft.  An instructor pilot for more than half of his 4800 flight hours, Mike is currently qualified in a Cirrus SR-22T and regularly flies his two homebuilt sailplanes.

Piper PA46 Maintenance Shops

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Sometimes, it’s hard to find a good shop that does quality work and communicates well without charging a fortune. Luckily for the PA46 owner, there are lots of good options. Here are the Texas Top Aviation recommended Piper PA46 maintenance shops.

Lubbock Aero (KLBB)/Abilene Aero (KABI)-Texas

Lubbock Aero and Abilene Aero are owned by the same company. Both are Piper service centers. I have had some Piper PA46 maintenance interactions with Chad at Lubbock Aero over the last year and have been impressed.

The folks at Lubbock Aero are friendly, knowledgeable, and keep the customer abreast of what’s going on with their airplane. I haven’t been to Abilene Aero, but I suspect that the same quality of service exists there as well.

Chuck’s Aircraft (KEDC)-Austin, TX

Chuck’s Aircraft has been a Cirrus Service Center for a number of years. Recently, Chuck’s put several mechanics through Kevin Mead’s M-Class which educates mechanics on the ins and outs of Piper PA46 maintenance. Chuck’s is a great, convenient spot to get your PA46 worked on.

First Line Aero (KJSO)-Jacksonville, TX

Located on the same airport as Casey Aviation, First Line Aero specializes in Piper PA46 maintenance. Walking up to their hangar, it’s loaded with Malibus, Mirages, JetProps, and Meridians. Charles Crossman, the owner, has been turning wrenches for a lot of years. Anyone recommended by Joe Casey has a stamp of approval in my book.

Midwest Malibu (KHUT)-Hutchinson, KS

One of 2 nationally renowned PA46 shops, owners bring their PA46s from all over the country to Midwest Malibu. Owner Tony Beauchamp has personally assisted multiple of my customers when they have gotten in AOG situations with their PA46s.

Des Moines Flying Service (KDSM)-Des Moines, IA

I have not had any direct interaction with Des Moines Flying Service, but I have several customers who have. The reviews have all indicated knowledgeable mechanics, good work, and good communication.

Malibu Aerospace (KANE)-Blaine, MN

Malibu Aerospace (the second nationally renowned Piper PA46 maintenance shop) has done many great things for the PA46 line of aircraft. From the M1 Cooling Mod that alters the lower cowl and add baffles for cooling air getting to where it needs to go, to the M5 TSIO 550C upgrade for the original PA46-310P, the Malibu Aerospace guys know what they are doing with the PA46.

Hetrick Aviation (KTOP)-Topeka, KS

I recently learned about Hetrick Aviation in Topeka. I met a customer there to pick up his plane where it was having a pre-buy and annual done. Keith Hetrick, the owner, has worked on a lot of PA46 airplanes and was very knowledgeable in my discussions with him. He is also a pilot, so he flies each airplane after maintenance is done to make sure no bugs are present when an owner picks it up.


Those are the Texas Top Aviation recommended PA46 shops. Have another one to add? Post in the comments below and we’ll get it added to the list.

AOPA Air Safety Institute: More Difficult Decisions

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The AOPA Air Safety Institute is making it’s annual loop through Texas this January. The topic for this Safety Seminar is “More Difficult Decisions: Choices & Consequences.”

The seminar is geared our the decision making process that we as pilots face on each flight. Some decisions are easy (what altitude should I pick?) while some have much greater consequences and should be taken very seriously.

This event will be interactive for the participants as several scenarios will be presented. The goal is to help pilots learn to think through each decision, weighing the consequences along the weigh to arrive at the safest outcome of the flight.

The first area seminar will be held on Tuesday, January 21st at the Stinson Field Airport (KSSF, 8535 Mission Road, San Antonio, TX 78214). The second area seminar will be held on Wednesday, January 22nd at the TXDOT office in Austin (200 E. Riverside Dr., Austin, TX 78704). WINGs credit is available for all attendees.

Learn more here.

Garmin Perspective Tips & Tricks

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The Garmin Perspective and Perspective + are awesome pieces of equipment.  There is so much a pilot can do with this system that it can sometimes get overwhelming. There are two very important features of the Garmin Perspective that all IFR pilots need to know, but are tricky to do if the correct buttons aren’t pushed.

The two features of the Garmin Perspective I want to focus on today are the “Load Airway” feature and the “Hold at Waypoint” feature.  The “Load Airway” feature is especially handy when flying IFR long distances with several airways as part of the clearance.  Here’s how to utilize both on the Garmin Perspective.

Load Airway

  • On your flight plan page, insert the waypoint where you will be joining the airway, or, if your clearance was radar vectors to join an airway, then insert the waypoint on the airway that begins the leg you will be joining on
  • Press the Menu key on the keypad
  • A menu will pop up. Scroll down to highlight Load Airway
  • Highlight the Airway you want from the next menu that pops up then press Enter
  • Then, a list of waypoints will display to exit the airway. Highlight the waypoint where you will be exiting the airway and Press Enter
  • The cursor will then move down to Load at the bottom of the menu. Press Enter to load the airway
  • The Airway and all the waypoints in between your entry and exit waypoints appear in your flight plan
  • If you are getting vectors to join the airway, you’ll need to use the Activate Leg function to activate the leg you will be joining the airway on
    • On the Flight Plan page, highlight the waypoint that ends the leg you want to activate
    • Look for the ACT LEG soft key on the lower right hand side of the MFD and press
    • This Activates the leg on the airway. Then, just simply fly the heading assigned by ATC until the CDI needle centers showing you are on the airway

Hold At Waypoint

The Garmin Perspective allows pilots to place a holding pattern at any waypoint that is in the Nav Database (or any user created waypoint).  Here’s how to do it.

  • On the Flight Plan page, highlight the Waypoint that you want to hold over and press Menu on the keypad
  • On the menu that pops up, highlight Hold At Waypoint and press Enter
  • On the next menu that pops up, input either the inbound or outbound course, right or left turns, leg time or distance, and the EFC time, then highlight Load and press Enter
  • You will see the hold now as a Waypoint in your flight plan

Piper PA46 Partnership in San Antonio

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A Piper PA46 partnership is being formed in the San Antonio area. Two to three partners are being sought to purchase either a Piper PA46-310P Malibu or a ’90s model Piper PA46-350P Mirage.

The Piper PA46 Malibu is the original Piper PA46 airframe. It is equipped with a Continental TSIO 520, 310HP engine (though many have been upgraded to the Continental TSIO 550C engine, which is a great upgrade), is complex, and pressurized (the best feature about the airplane!). The six seat airframe travels around 185-190 KTAS at FL200 on 16-17 GPH, giving an incredible range with 120 gallons of fuel.

The Piper Mirage is what Piper designated the PA46 when it switch to the Lycoming TIO 540 350HP engine in 1989. The airframe remained the same, but the engine eeks out a few more KTAS at 22-25 GPH depending on how high the cruise altitude is.

Both the Piper Malibu and the ’90s model Mirage are equipped with the KFC 150 autopilot. A lot of the Piper PA46 airframes still have a Garmin 530W/430W or dual 430Ws, but a large number have been upgraded to the Garmin GTN 750/650, while a few have opted for the Avidyne IFD 540/440 GPS units. There are a fair number still with steam gauges, while some have upgraded to Aspen units or the Garmin G500 or G500TXi.

If you are located in the San Antonio area and interested in a 3-4 way partnership on a Piper PA46, please Contact Us. The purchase price will be between $300,000-$450,000, so only interested parties that can afford a budget of $100,000-$150,000 please.

The plane will be based at Stinson Field (KSSF) or New Braunfels (KBAZ).