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PIREP: IFR Clearances at Uncontrolled Airports

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There is great news coming for all IFR pilots who utilize the multitude of uncontrolled airports across the US.

From the beginning of aviation time, the process of getting an IFR clearance at an uncontrolled airport has been arduous. For airports under Center controlled airspace, you had to dial the Clearance Delivery line, which ported you to Flight Service. Then you sat on hold till someone picked up, gave them your information, then sat on hold again while they called the Center. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the briefer came back with your clearance and departure instructions.

On a busy day, this could take ten to fifteen minutes, which can be really annoying when a pilot is trying to take off and get somewhere.

In my opinion, this also led to a lot of unsafe (and probably illegal) VFR departures when conditions were either clearly IFR or unsafe if buzzing around at low altitudes and high speeds in Class G airspace.

RCO’s (Remote Communications Outlet, 2nd column, halfway down) and Clearance Delivery Frequencies are in place at some airports, but by and large, the above process was how you got your clearance.

Departing from a TRACON controlled airport usually was easier and quicker. The TRACON has a direct line that is available for pilots to call to speak directly with a controller, but not all these phone numbers are published.

As of June 20th, the FAA is implementing this at all uncontrolled airports. On the chart supplement for all IFR charts across the US (not including Alaska), the FAA will publish the Center phone numbers and remaining TRACON phone numbers for pilots to call directly to receive their IFR clearances and departure instructions, and to cancel their IFR flight plans (A lot of TRACONs already have their phone number published).

Flight Service will no longer be taking IFR flight plan cancellations. Pilots will still be able to cancel with Center or TRACON in the air, but will now need to call the number on the chart supplement on the ground for cancellation.

Now that the FAA is modernizing this process, hopefully more pilots will decide to call on the ground for their clearance on a MVFR or IFR day instead of taking off and trying to pick it up in the air.

Finding the Chart Supplement on Foreflight

Where is the Chart Supplement? I’m so glad you asked.

Before iPads, everyone carried around the green book, officially known as the Airport/Facilities Directory, or A/FD. With the advent of Foreflight & Garmin Pilot & others, all the information in the A/FD is now easily accessible in each of the Apps.

Foreflight may integrate the clearance delivery phone number for each airport into their airport information page, but in the meantime, here is how to find the Chart Supplement.

On Foreflight, go to Documents along the bottom of the App. In the Catalog on the left, tap FAA. Chart Supplement will be about 1/3 of the way down the page. Tap that, then tap the region you need and it will download into your Documents Library.

Once it is downloaded, check the Table of Contents for FAA Telephone Numbers and NWS. Go to that page and scroll through to find the Center or TRACON you are needing, then dial the number.

Happy Flying!

Guardian Seven Trauma

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First Aid Kit on Steroids

We have all seen the little first aid kits that a pilot can get to carry in an airplane. It usually has some bandaids, maybe some gauze, and some antibiotic ointment. Very helpful in the even that your paper VFR chart cuts your finger when you are unrolling it.

What happens if you crash in a harsh environment and you have some actual injuries to take care of?

Enter the Guardian Seven Trauma G7-Alpha Trauma and Egress Kit. It literally is a First Aid Kit on steroids.

Guardian Seven Trauma has put together a kit that contains just about anything you need to take care of an injury from an airplane crash. Plus, the kit only weighs less than 2 pounds. It easily mounts in an aircraft and can be opened with only one hand.

The kit contains:

  • CAT Tourniquet
  • Quick Clot Z Hold Hemostatic Gauze
  • 4″ Emergency Trauma Dressing
  • Nasal Airway
  • ARS Needle
  • HyFin Chest Seal Twin Pack
  • (4) 3″ Gauze Rolls
  • Triangle Bandage
  • Mylar Blanket
  • Leatherman Z Rex Tool (for emergency egress)
  • Trauma Shears
  • Roll of Medical Tape
  • Bear Claw Glove Kit
  • Permanent Marker
  • Multi Purpose Paracord Handle
  • Nylon Straps with Buckles (2)
  • Medical Patch

Want to upgrade your first aid kit? Visit Guardian Seven’s website to order the G7-Alpha kit.

Setting Standards

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Type Clubs Lead By Example with Standard Operating Practices

This article appeared in the May 2019 edition of EAA’s Sport Aviation Magazine. It is used with permission. For other articles by Charlie Precourt, please visit EAA.org and join for a full subscription.

Imagine a year when there are no fatal accidents in general aviation. Does that seem impossible? The airlines achieved that many years ago, and so can we if we focus on the right things in our safety pro- grams. In fact, the overall trend in GA accident rates over the last few years is very encouraging. AOPA’s Air Safety Institute published its annual GA Accident Scorecard recently (see www.EAA.org/ extras), revealing fatal accidents from 2008 to 2017 are down more than 30 percent. Nevertheless, there were 185 fatal accidents in 2017, so we still have a long way to go. But, there are many developments in safety programs across GA that can keep the trend going.

One such development that I’ve advocated through a couple of type clubs is establishing standard operating practices (SOP). When I flew for both the U.S. Air Force and NASA, we had what we called standard operating procedures. They were the law for our flying. That is, we had to follow them procedurally because the folks that paid our salaries said so. The objective was to ensure we all used the same playbook, minimizing the risk that one of us might develop a bad in-flight habit that increased risk to the organization.

One way to think about SOPs is to recognize the difference between procedure and technique. For example, you have to follow the manufacturer’s pilot’s operating handbook (procedure)where it says to lower the landing gear before landing. If you don’t, you are in for a bad day. However, it does not tell you exactly when to lower the gear; that’s left to technique.

In the middle, between procedure and technique, is a best practice. In this example, lowering the gear just before the final approach fix is a “standard practice.” It is the generally accepted “best” place to lower the gear. In GA, however, aircraft owners don’t generally answer to a boss, so I prefer the term practices instead of procedures.

However, whether or not someone is paying us to fly, following best practices just makes sense. If you have a good set of practices, they enable you to do things the same way every time, leaving lots of brain cells to manage the unusual, the things that might go wrong. The safest approach to accomplishing a flight task is one that leverages consistency. On the other hand, if you are inconsistent, doing flight tasks differently each time, you’ll always be struggling to keep up. So, in my involvement with the safety committees for both the Malibu Mirage Owners and Pilots Association and the Citation Jet Pilots Association, there has been broad acceptance of recently developed standard operating practices.

The good news in this development is that a culture of safety is growing broadly across most sectors of GA through these type club initiatives. Perhaps more importantly, there is much to learn from each other about the effectiveness of these various initiatives. EAA has seen a four-year drop of 47 percent in fatal accidents among homebuilts! So, there must be something right going on there — a major focus on appropriate transition training before flying a new homebuilt (as a standard operating practice) is paying off.

So, what is covered in the SOPs these type clubs have developed? The following outlines the kinds of standard practices other type clubs have set up and represent SOPs you could establish for yourself regardless of the type of aircraft you fly. You just have to fill in the blanks for your particular type and commit to sticking to them in your flying. These are notional and are practices (not mandatory procedures). They don’t tell you how to fly your aircraft; they give you things to think about when you do. If you take a bit of time to set your own SOPs and then stick with them, you’ll be a far safer pilot. Here are some ideas:

Duty Day

Set the maximum number of hours of flight time during a calendar day and rest hours off between flying days. One example is a maximum of eight hours in the air and a minimum of 10 hours off until flying again.

Cargo

Establish best practices for what you will carry as cargo. One example is no lithium batteries in the baggage compartment.

Flight Planning and Preparation

What are your limitations for the types of flight you’ll take on? Consider SOPs such as designating a suitable alternate airport for all flights. Another might be for first flights after significant maintenance, such as no flight at night or in IMC until a day-VMC functional check flight has been done.

Runway Field Length Guidelines

Establish an appropriate minimum field length for your aircraft and commit to not going into shorter fields. Consider sea level operations and high-altitude airports as well.

Surface Operations

What should be your maximum wind conditions for taxi, takeoff, or landing? Maximum acceptable crosswinds on landing? Set them in your SOP and stick to them.

En Route

Consider establishing practices like no non-operationally necessary conversation below 10,000 feet MSL, during any segment of an approach procedure, or during the last 1,000 feet before leveloff during climb or descent. Also consider declaring “minimum fuel” when the fuel state becomes less than fuel to destination plus 45 minutes at current burn, even if flying day VFR.

Approach and Landing

Consider establishing personal minimums in your SOPs for things like visual approaches. Perhaps use a 1,500-foot ceiling and 3 miles’ visibility for day and 5 miles for night, even though these exceed the FAA’s requirements.

Pilot Limitations, Training, & Currency

FAR Part 91 rules allow us to fly with pretty marginal levels of currency. Consider setting your own SOP to something more appropriate for the kind of aircraft you fly and the kind of flying you do in it. For example, consider these ideas as SOPs:

  • If you have less than 100 hours of time-in-type or have not flown at least 15 hours as pilot in command in the last 90 days, use a minimum planned fuel reserve of one hour.
  • Also, if flying IFR in this situation, use a minimum visibility for takeoff of 1 mile.
  • On instrument approaches, increase the published minimums by one- half mile visibility and add 200 feet to the decision altitude or minimum descent altitude.
  • Perform landings at a weight that allows a full stop in 60 percent of available runway length.
  • Consider an SOP that establishes you will fly with a CFI on a refresher flight before flying as pilot in command if you have not logged at least an hour of flight time and one takeoff and landing in an aircraft of the same type within the preceding 45 days.

Maneuver Standards

Wherever there are “techniques” associated with things like takeoffs and climbs, cruise, use of autopilot, power settings, and approaches and landings, you can write down your preferred technique as your own SOP. Describe each maneuver in enough detail (speeds, altitudes, power settings, configurations, etc.) to define a routine you will use each time. This ensures you fly consistently each flight and leverage the power of the standard operating practice, that is, to give you the bandwidth you need should you encounter an unexpected event or an emergency.

SOPs are among the exciting concepts underway to make safety programs work for us. Hats off to type clubs like MMOPA and CJP and many others that are taking the initiative. But even if you’re not in this kind of group, you can still set up your own SOPs. Let’s all look forward to our first year in GA without a fatal accident — and let’s make it soon!
Fly safe!


Charlie Precourt is a former NASA chief astronaut, space shuttle commander, and Air Force test pilot. He built a VariEze, owns a Piper JetPROP, and is a member of the EAA board of directors.

Checking The Stall Warning Horn

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When a pilot first glances at the title of this article, the first thought that probably goes through that pilot’s head is, well that’s easy.

And it is, if you are flying a high wing Cessna. On other airplanes, there are a few tricks to checking the stall warning horn. If you get them wrong, you’re liable to get a bill from your maintenance shop for an hour of labor for a problem they couldn’t duplicate.

Cirrus SR22

Let’s start with the Cirrus. On the pre-FIKI Cirrus aircraft, there was a small little hole in the wing that contained a diaphragm. That diaphragm sensed a change in airflow at a certain angle of attack just below the critical angle of attack and set off the stall warning horn. Unfortunately, the only way to check that is to suck on the hole during pre-flight.

I don’t. I verify the hole is clear and that’s about it.

On the FIKI Cirrus aircraft, there is actually a stall warning vane. It looks like a high wing Cessna vane, but if you turn the batteries on and try and get it to come on during your light and pitot heat check, nada.

Here’s the trick, and the checklist doesn’t do a good job of describing this.

  • Turn on the Avionics Master
  • Turn on the speaker
  • Put the flaps to full
  • Then move the stall warning vane and you’ll hear the horn

The speaker and the Avionics Master are so you can actually hear the horn (if you had the headset on while you were doing this, the speaker would be unnecessary). The flaps have to be full because the pitch attitude for the critical angle of attack is lower with the flaps down, so the horn goes off when at a different angle. You then don’t have to use as much force to push the vane.

Piper PA46

The early -310P Malibus are pretty simple and straight forward. Move the vane, get the horn.

In the -350P, you can’t get the horn to come on by moving the vane. So, Piper put a stall test button that’s hidden underneath the upper left side of the instrument panel. Push that to test the horn. On the G1000 PA46, it is located directly above the PFD. On the Avidyne, it’s below and to the left of the pilot’s yoke.


Testing the stall warning horn is a very important part of pre-flight. A pilot needs to know if the aircraft is close to a stall. The advent of Angle of Attack indicators in small, GA aircraft, have added a greater awareness to the angle of attack during all phases of flight to avoid those stall spins.

If the stall warning horn goes off or the AOA shows yellow, lower that nose immediately.

Stephanie Mertz Joins Texas Top Aviation

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Texas Top Aviation has added a new member to our instructing team. Stephanie Mertz was hired in March 2019 and will be specializing in G1000 & Instrument instruction.

Stephanie graduated from LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas with a degree in Aeronautical Science, earning her commercial single and multi ratings while there. She began her aviation career in Ontario, California flying a Pilatus PC-12 for charter and medical trips. While operating the PC-12, she gained valuable experience flying all over the US and Mexico.

In 2013, Stephanie moved back to East Texas with her husband where she worked as a contract pilot flying a variety of Citations as well as a Falcon 10. A few years later, she became involved in her local Ninety-Nines chapter and joined their mentorship program.

After earning her CFI, CFII, and MEI, Stephanie returned to her alma mater to pass on her flying passions to college students through flight instructing. After a year of teaching at LeTourneau, she and her husband, with their first baby in tow, moved to the Austin area. Now she is instructing with Texas Top Aviation while acting as a mentor for other women working on achieving their flying dreams.