General Flying

Stratos 716X


Cirrus Vision Jet, meet your competition.

In July, Stratos Aircraft completed the first test flight of the single engine Stratos 716X personal jet. Stratos, based in Redmond, OR, is taking a page out of Epic Aircraft’s book in how the company is planning on bringing the Stratos 716X to market.

Epic Aircraft first released the Epic LT composite single engine turboprop in the early 2000s as an experimental. The first kit was completed and flying in 2005. Epic’s goal was to bring the airplane to market as a certified aircraft, a feat that took them almost 20 years to do, achieving full certification earlier this year.

Stratos Aircraft is hoping to learn a lot from their Bend, OR neighbors. The 716X is going to start off as a limited release experimental kit, while the company is working on achieving certification for the airplane. Once the plane is certified, it will be dubbed the Stratos 716. The 716X experimental kits will be assembled through a factory builder assist program (no garage built single engine jets here!). The kit will cost $2.5 million assembled, while the expected cost of the certified Stratos 716 will be $3.5 million.

Now, let’s talk about the airplane. 400 KTAS. One engine.

That’s right, you did hear correctly. The Stratos 716X is expected to cruise at 400 KTAS on only one engine. Compared to the Cirrus Vision Jet, that’s 100 knots faster. Think, “I’ll be relaxing at the hotel pool with a drink in hand when you are landing” type speeds. The fuel burn of the Pratt & Whitney JT15D-5 engine (3,000 lbs of thrust) is about 25 GPH more than the Vision Jet (the Stratos 716X will burn about 98 GPH of Jet A while the Vision Jet averages about 75 GPH of Jet A).

Comparing the two engines, the above numbers start to make sense. The Williams FJ33 engine on the Vision Jet only puts out 1,850 lbs of thrust, significantly less than the 3,000 lbs of thrust that the Stratos 716X Pratt & Whitney JT15D-5 puts out.

What does that mean to the pilot? In the Stratos 716X, it means less takeoff roll, better climb rate, faster cruise (as evidence by the 400 KTAS expected cruise speed), and a better payload. More power = more weight carrying capacity. And, the 716X is expected to have a service ceiling of 41,000 feet. I probably wouldn’t want to go that high single pilot with one engine, but I’d be very happy with that speed in the mid-30s.

The cabin, based on the pictures I’ve seen, looks very comfortable. The Stratos 716X seats 6 and can be configured in several different ways. Baggage is no problem as Stratos Aircraft stretched the fuselage from their original 714 Proof of Concept aircraft, adding a very roomy baggage compartment above the engine compartment. The passenger compartment is as big as a Phenom 100, providing more leg and head room than the Vision Jet. The front seats have plenty of legroom too, as Stratos has opted for a side stick instead of a yoke.

The avionics for the Stratos 716X are expected to be the Garmin G3X Touch for the panel which will be driven by a Garmin GTN 750 GPS. Autopilot will be integrated within the G3X. I would imagine that once the plane is certified, the panel will be switched to a Garmin G1000 NXi and a GFC 700 will be installed.

The genius of the design of the Stratos 716X is the aerodynamics of the engine placement. Instead of hanging the engine out in the slip stream and going with a drag inducing V-Tail like Cirrus did, Stratos took some notes from the myriad of single engine military fighter jets out there, placing the engine inside the fuselage. The fuselage is then built around the engine with two air scoops for intake directly in front of the wings. With two intakes instead of one, that leads to more air flow, which again, means more power. The Vision Jet has only one.

I’m going to keep tabs on the Stratos 716X (as I kept tabs on the Epic E1000). I’m hoping Stratos gets several flying soon (the company expects to do 3 kits a year till the airplane gets certified) and certification comes quickly after.

I got to stick my head in the mockup of the Stratos 716X when I went to Osh Kosh in 2018. I was very impressed and was excited to see the airplane was finally airborne this summer.

For more information about the Stratos 716X, check out the Stratos website.

Santa Fe Fly In Canceled


Sadly, Texas Top Aviation is having to cancel it’s 2020 Santa Fe Fly In due to COVID. New Mexico has continued to implement travel restrictions, making it difficult for Texas Top Aviation to complete the event.

Mark your calendars now, though, as Texas Top Aviation has scheduled is 2021 Fly In. We are returning to the Lajitas Golf Resort in the Big Bend area of Texas. The event will be March 24th-26th, 2021. Stay tuned for more information. We hope to see you there!

Contact Approaches


Almost all IFR pilots are familiar with visual approaches and what the requirements are in order to fly a visual approach. As a refresher, the Instrument Procedures Handbook defines a Visual Approach as “an ATC authorization for an aircraft on an IFR flight plan to proceed visually to the airport of intended landing; it is not an [Instrument Approach Procedure]” (page 4-56).

For ATC to issue a Visual Approach, the pilot must have the airport or the traffic to follow in sight. Once the pilot reports the airport or the traffic in sight, ATC can clear the aircraft for a visual approach.

A limiting factor for a visual approach is ATC’s Minimum Vectoring Altitude. “This altitude, based on terrain and obstruction clearance, provides controllers with minimum altitudes to vector aircraft in and around a particular location” (Instrument Procedures Handbook page 1-42). ATC has to restrict aircraft to these MVAs, which can sometimes be quite high due to terrain or obstacles in the vicinity of the airport.

Every pilot has been in a situation with a high MVA that ATC can’t get them below, but it’s solidly MVFR or VFR at the destination airport. The MVA keeps the pilot in the clouds, so a visual approach isn’t possible since the pilot can’t see the airport or the traffic to follow. This can lead to extra time to go out and fly an approach.

Enter a Contact Approach. A Contact Approach is different then a Visual Approach. “The main differences between a visual approach and a contact approach are: a pilot must request a contact approach, while a visual approach may be assigned by ATC or requested by the pilot; and a contact approach may be approved with 1sm visibility if the flight can remain clear of clouds, while a visual approach requires the pilot to have the airport in sight, or a preceding aircraft to be followed, and the ceiling must be at least 1,000 feet AGL with at least 3sm visibility” [Instrument Procedures Handbook page 4-57].

Here’s the simplified explanation: A pilot does not have to have the airport in sight to request a contact approach. All that is required is for the airport to be reporting at least 1sm visibility and for the pilot to remain clear of clouds.

When would this be helpful for an IFR pilot? Good question. Here’s a scenario.

Pilot Smalls is about 20 minutes from his destination, which is an uncontrolled airport with only one approach to runway 17. He is approaching from the south and the initial approach fix for the approach to 17 is about 15 miles north of the airport. The airport is under Center control. When he has arrived at this destination in the past, Center usually could only vector him down to 4,000 AGL. He is very familiar with this airport and the surrounding area as he comes to this destination at least 2-3 times a month for business.

Pilot Smalls listens to the AWOS, which is reporting a 2500 foot scattered layer and 10 miles visibility. He knows it is right traffic for 17 since there is a 2,000 foot antenna on the east side of the field. There is some hilly terrain around, but all the terrain is well below pattern altitude and doesn’t cause a safety issue.

Looking out at the clouds, Pilot Smalls observes that the cloud layer is scattered to broken, but more scattered on the west side of the airport, with several large openings that he can see the ground through. Center asks for his approach request and Pilot Smalls requests a visual approach. Center gives him a descent to 4,000 AGL, their MVA for the area. They tell him to report the airport in sight for the visual approach.

At 4,000 AGL, Pilot Smalls is going through the scattered layer of clouds, but can see the ground in between the clouds and deems he has room to maneuver safely between the clouds and stay clear of them. He can’t see the airport, so a visual approach seems unlikely. He can’t cancel IFR because then he would have to keep the VFR cloud clearance and visibility requirements in Class E airspace (1,000 feet above, 500 below and 2sm horizontally), which isn’t possible in this case.

5 miles from the airport, ATC states, “N12345, I’m going to have to send you out for the approach since you don’t have the airport in sight.” Pilot Smalls then requests a Contact Approach. ATC clears him for the Contact Approach to his destination, so Pilot Smalls descends through a break in the clouds, remaining clear of clouds, until he gets below the base of the ceiling. He maneuvers onto the right downwind, lands and cancels IFR.

Contact approaches can be useful at controlled and uncontrolled airports. The first time you request one, do so with a higher ceiling and some room to maneuver to keep your safety margins. After you’ve done a few, you can determine what your personal minimums are for a Contact Approach.

I would not recommend doing a Contact Approach at an airport you are unfamiliar with. It’s vital to know what obstacles are around since on a Contact Approach, the pilot is now responsible for traffic avoidance and terrain avoidance, whereas on a visual approach, ATC resumes that responsibility.

For more reading on Contact Approaches and another good scenario, check out Bold Method’s article on Contact Approaches.

Flight Training Deemed Essential Business


There have been lots of changes in all parts of our lives with the coming of COVID-19. All of our lives have been affected in one way or another. We hope and pray that none of your families have been directly affected by the illness.

A lot of us have been living under Shelter in Place orders for several weeks now, only going out for groceries and making sure to keep our distance from people. We have to take a different mindset when we go out now. Even meeting new people is different since we can’t shake hands.

Flying has been an afterthought for a lot of pilots. There have been multiple ATC facilities where controllers have been afflicted with the virus and have had to shut down for hours or days. Airspace can change pretty quickly, going from what we all know as normal, to an ATC-ZERO scenario. This was the case for New York Center several times over the last two weeks.

There was some uncertainty regarding flight training under the shelter in place orders and Texas Top Aviation has been asked several questions about it over the last week. Yesterday, the Flight School Association of North America (FSANA) announced that flight instruction was indeed an essential business.

In an article on, the website quoted a memorandum of understanding written by attorney George Winton on March 24th. Winton was a senior attorney for the FAA and U.S. Department of Justice, and now operates The Aviation Law Firm in Annapolis, Maryland.

“This memorandum affirms the statement that…flight training would be included as a critical infrastructure activity. Those engaged in the provision of and receipt of flight training who work to provide enhanced compliance with CDC recommendations for limiting potential COVID-19 exposure and spread would be considered exempt from travel limitations imposed by local authorities.”

Winton’s memo was sent to the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). In the memo, Winton stated:

“CISA listed Other Community-Based Government Operations And Essential Functions as follows: Workers who support necessary credentialing, vetting and licensing operations for transportation workers.”

“The aviation sub-sector stakeholders involved with operation of recreational aircraft and flight schools, who employ Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers from the Transportation Sector, support necessary credentialing, vetting and licensing operations for transportation workers seeking pilot certification by the Federal Aviation Administration. Since CISA intended to be overly inclusive to reflect the diversity of industries, the aviation mode stakeholders understand that essential employees involved with the operation of recreational aircraft and flight schools continue to be identified as Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers from the Transportation Sector. Accordingly, the aviation sub-sector stakeholders who employ Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers from the Transportation Sector will continue to operate recreational aircraft and flight schools, appropriately modified to account for CDC workforce and customer protection guidance, based upon the CISA memorandum dated March 19, 2020.”

Based on the above guidance, Texas Top Aviation will continue to operate flight training in all of it’s normal capacities, while maintaining vigilance concerning sanitation, cleanliness, and health. Our company will keep it’s customer’s up to date on instructor health and wellness and won’t hesitate to cancel if there is any kind of health concern. We ask our customers to do the same.

If you are scheduled to train with Texas Top Aviation, please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns you might have.

To read the entire memo from George Winton, you can find it here.

Concerning the 2020 Texas Top Aviation Santa Fe Golf Fly In scheduled for June 5th-7th, that event is currently being re-scheduled for September 2020. Dates will be announced by the end of April. We look forward to seeing you in Santa Fe in September!

Utilizing Personal Minimums


The FAA defines personal minimums “as an individual pilot’s set of procedures, rules, criteria, and guidelines for deciding whether and under what conditions to operate (or continue operating) in the National Airspace System.” Have you actually given thought as to why we choose the personal minimums we do? From the beginning of initial pilot training, weather minimums were established for day-to-day training and during solo flight. I didn’t realize it at first, but I later learned these limits were not just an insurance mandate, but these minimums were set at the time to safely operate an aircraft based on my “then” current experience.

So here’s the question: what are your personal minimums and WHY do YOU have them? Do you ever lower or raise your minimums? Are your minimums based solely on your overall experience level or do they take into account other variables such as advanced avionics? For pilots that fly multiple aircraft like I do, can and do your minimums change in regard to category or type of aircraft you are flying? It’s a judgment decision on how you chose your minimums. However, it’s important that time is taken before you strap into the cockpit for each flight to critically think about the different risk factors and variables which may affect your decision for the minimums you choose.

To guide us, let’s try briefly apply the FAA’s Personal Minimums Checklist to see how risk factors might shape what personal minimums or decisions we make for the day. Remember, just because you have been flying with a certain set of minimums one day, doesn’t mean you can’t adjust your minimums to a higher value given an ever-changing situation.

The acronym most pilots have heard is PAVE:

Pilot– We all should be familiar with the acronym IMSAFE associated with this. It addresses variables such as Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue, and Emotion. But how do you adjust your personal minimums using this guideline? Have you ever thought about raising your minimums for a training flight if you only got 4-6 hours of sleep, instead of 8? Or if you anticipate a hard IFR flight with a long day, maybe taking a safety pilot to mitigate the chance of a mistake if you’re forecasting having to shoot an approach to your weather planning minimums.

Aircraft– Personally, this is a really important factor for me when deciding what minimums to apply. I often spend a large majority of my time asking myself; is this aircraft properly equipped for the flight? This question goes beyond just looking at the logbook for a properly equipped and legal aircraft. A professional pilot should think further. Am I flying a traditional 6-pack “steam gauge” layout, non-slaved compass card, with a separate OBS gauge for course guidance? What if the aircraft doesn’t have an auto-pilot? What if I’m flying an aircraft equipped with a dual auto-pilot, dual GPS with an integrated glass cockpit? I can comfortably say my personal minimums change depending on the equipment I have available.

A pilot should also look at his/her recency with the aircraft. For example, if you are qualified to fly both airplanes and helicopters, maybe you should choose to have higher personal minimums in one particular airframe or if you haven’t flown that airframe within 30, 60 or 90 days. This is a very important factor for the owner/pilot.

EnVironment– Most of the time, when we think of environment, we ask ourselves, is the weather legal for me to take off and, more importantly, can I conduct this flight safely? Basic flight planning should have taught us to take into consideration crosswind limits, day versus night, and the type of airspace the flight is conducted in. Thought should also be given to how you set your personal minimums in regards to the particular type of environment you might rarely encounter. Flying an approach to your minimums in the flat plains of Texas during the day is one thing, but how would you adjust your weather minimums flying to a new airport, at night, with no moon illumination, in the mountains of Colorado? Could you reduce the risk and adjust your minimums in this scenario with two pilots?

External Pressures – What external pressures are affecting your flight? Passengers, the owner, “get-there-it is”, the desire to impress someone? Although external pressures should never be a factor when conducting a flight, they almost always play a role in your decision whether to conduct the flight or not. For example, a professional pilot gets hired to do a flight and the weather is below their personal minimums. The pilot could be tempted to lower their minimums by 100 feet to take the flight for a paying customer. This scenario plays out every day across the country whether it’s a professional pilot or owner/pilot. It would be foolish not to consider this type of pressure. Always make sure you have a plan if and when you encounter this situation. Planning your flight and having a plan to deal with these potential scenarios ahead of time ensures you stick to your minimums. It can be as simple as telling your passengers, or the owner, well ahead of your flight what your personal minimums are to accept the flight, and to ensure they, or you, have a back-up plan!

Most pilots will never break a hard limitation such as an airframe cross wind limitation, or engine limit, but the chances of breaking a personal minimum are realistic. Think about the last time you went on a diet and broke your plan because you were tempted by your friends or family during an outing. Self-imposed personal minimums can be hard to enforce and we need to acknowledge this as humans. Here are a few techniques that you can use to assist in making a decision using personal minimums and help reduce the influence of external pressures.

Step 1: Sit down with your CFI/CFII and fill out a personal minimums worksheet. Filling one out by yourself is a good start but having an outside objective view will help in making sure your personal minimums are realistic. Remember, it is easy to convince ourselves that we can do something even though we have set personal minimums. Talk with other pilots to see if you have set realistic expectations.

Step 2: Preflight planning must start a few days in advanced. It can be as easy as checking what the forecast might be and looking at the projected route, near-by alternate airports, and various approaches. This can be done quickly and will give you a heads up on whether the flight can be safely conducted or not. By alerting the passengers or owner early enough, alternate plans can be developed. An extra pilot can be added, the passengers can fly commercial, bring along a CFI, or cancel the trip altogether and seek alternate transportation. The main point is the decision was made well ahead of the flight when conditions didn’t look favorable. This helps in removing external pressures and ensures you don’t go below your personal minimums.

Step 3: Never be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Part 135 operators have set procedures for conducting flights which assist the pilots in making decisions. These set procedures help remove external pressures by allowing the pilot to say, “The rules don’t allow for this, or this is how we will conduct the flight!” However, under Part 91, the pilot has to take ownership for all phases of the flight. This is where talking it out with another pilot helps with mitigating external factors and the environment. Ideally, this person should have more experience and be able to talk through the situation. For instance, if I’m flying to a new destination, I often seek the advice from another pilot who’s familiar with the area. They may have key insights into weather patterns, preferred approaches, or hazards to avoid. In certain situations, asking for another pilot’s opinion might be what influences your go/no-go decision! You’ll be amazed how much you can learn just from talking to other pilots.

Step 4: Continue to build your experience and knowledge base. Building experience requires us to push our abilities, and sometimes this may be to the limit. However, this can be done in a controlled training environment or just going out and experiencing it. Get a new license, fly regularly with a CFI/CFII, and always try and take advantage of training opportunities. For example on your next flight from point A to point B, practice hand flying an approach, do a short field landing, a quick steep turn, etc. Quality flight time is always better than quantity. Continue to challenge yourself and try not to become complacent.

Personal minimums are a tool to assist in every pilot’s aeronautical decision making process. Use your personal minimums to guide your final go/no-go decision and remember to stick to the plan. I encourage you to review the FAA’s Risk Management Handbook (FAA-H-8083-2). Appendix B has Sample Risk Management Scenarios and reviewing them will give a better understanding how to apply the techniques discussed to your everyday flying.

Pedro Vargas-Lebron is a King Air 200 and uH-60 Blackhawk Instructor pilot with the Texas Army National Guard. Pedro is a CFI/CFII/MEI both in airplanes and helicopters with over 4000 hours of flight time, half as an instructor pilot.