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.

MMOPA Spring Safety Standdown


MMOPA will be hosting it’s second Safety Standdown event at many locations across the country for Piper PA46 owners and pilots. The first iteration of MMOPA Safety Standdown in the fall of 2019 was a big hit. Each event was very well attended by MMOPA members.

What is Safety Standdown you ask? Safety Standdown was put together as a mid-year training event as part of the MMOPA Master Aviator program. It’s goal is to allow PA46 owners and pilots to fly in to a location at a reasonable time (the event starts at 10am local time), received some good quality ground training over relevant safety topics by highly experienced PA46 instructors, have a free lunch, then depart mid-afternoon to arrive back home before dark.

The event is free to all attendees. Lunch will be provided at each location. This event is not exclusive to MMOPA members, either. Any PA46 owner or pilot, or just anyone interested in the PA46 world, are invited to attend.

Texas Top Aviation is hosting the South Central Region Spring Safety Standdown at the Henrickson Jet Center at the Austin Executive Airport (KEDC). Hank Gibson and Pedro Vargas-Lebron will be presenting on the following topics:

  • MMOPA Operational Practices review and importance of stabilized approaches
  • Crosswind Takeoffs and Landings
  • High Density Altitude Operations
  • A discussion of thunderstorms, resources in the cockpit for weather avoidance, and accidents that have occurred involving thunderstorms

The MMOPA Spring Safety Standdown will take place on Saturday, April 18th, 2020. Registration is required for the event. The link for registration can be found here.

Come on out for some high quality training and free BBQ with 50 of your closest PA46 buddies!

Angle of Attack (AOA)


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


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.