Blogging in Formation – Consider Ownership

For this month's Blogging in Formation series, we formation bloggers are guest-posting on each other's blogs, just to shake things up a little.  Smart Flight Training has the honor of hosting iFlyBlog's Brent Owens.  Enjoy the read... I certainly did!


Ercoupe Co-Ownership

photo of the author sitting in his 1946 Ercoupe with his partners (1994)

Here we are at the beginning of May and winter has finally released its firm grip and we can really focus on getting out there and enjoying our passion of flying.

I love May because it ushers in the air show and fly-in season for much of the Northern Hemisphere. From this point forth there will be a lot of folks burning AvGas from now until late fall.

So with that in mind, it might be time to think about abandoning the rental game and become a full-fledged airplane owner.

It might seem like a daunting task, but it’s really not rocket science. It comes down to a few simple questions and a little bit of homework.

Let’s walk through it.

The first and most important step is to know what you plan to do with the airplane. You need to be really honest with yourself on this. Do you just fly locally or do you need a full-IFR cross country family wagon? Do you want to do aerobatics? Do love going fast or does low-n-slow sound more appealing?

Your budget will drive some of this decision-making. You might really want a fast XC machine, but if the budget won’t allow you might shift gears go a completely different direction. If the budget is a concern you can also consider partnerships. Co-ownership can really make the cost of ownership a lot easier to swallow.

So with mission and budget settled, the fun part begins. This is the hunt for the machine that fits these two parameters.

I could spend hours (or days) looking through Trade-a-Plane or Barnstormers.com. As you narrow in on what you want, you need to get forensic with your research. This will keep you from purchasing a lemon.

After you have settled on the Make/Model and you know what to look for and what to ask, it’s time to get serious and create a short list of airplanes for sale that you’ll actually inquire about.

That list will vet down to less than a half dozen final candidates that you might go see in person.

If you are pretty sure you are going to purchase a particular airplane, it gets more detailed. You need to do a pre-purchase inspection (including all the aircraft documentation), do final negotiations on price, draw up a sales contract (optional), complete the bill-of-sale, arrange for getting it home, register the airplane with the FAA and your home state, and get trained to fly it. AOPA has an excellent guide with all the details here: https://www.aopa.org/Pilot-Resources/Aircraft-Ownership/Tips-on-Buying-Used-Aircraft.aspx

Seems like a lot of stuff, but it’s not as hard as it looks.

Wouldn’t you love to start out the summer right with a nice airplane at the airport waiting for you to jump in at a whim and go flying?

Have a great flying season!

By Brent Owens


Brent: Thanks for the great post! I know I have considered getting together a small group of pilots and buying something like a Cherokee 180 or Cessna Skylane - a good training platform for private & instrument, but also something that can be used for long weekend trips. It's been a dream of mine for a long time to own a plane - even if it means I have to share it!

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The Three Axes of an Airplane

Three axes of an airplaneAn airplane has three (3) axes about / around which it can move in flight.

In the image above, you are seeing all three of these axes:
Longitudinal axis: from the nose to the tail of the airplane
Lateral axis: from wingtip to wingtip
Vertical axis: from the bottom of the airplane to the top of the airplane

Each of these three axes meet at the center of gravity (CG) of the plane. The CG is the point at which the airplane would balance if you could lift it up by an imaginary string that attached at that exact point. You can think of the CG also as a kind of fulcrum (like on a teeter-totter) that the plane rolls and pitches around.

Anyway, back to the axes of the plane. Here's what you need to know about them and why they are important.

The Longitudinal axis (the one that runs the length of the plane from nose to tail) is the axis that stays fixed when the airplane "rolls" or "banks" - such as in a turn. In this case, the plane is rotating "about" or "around" the longitudinal axis. This is caused by the airplane's ailerons, which change the camber of the wing and increase its lift on one side,making the wing climb, and spoil the lift on the other side, making the wing drop.

The Lateral axis (the one that runs from wingtip to wingtip) stays fixed when the plane "pitches" - raising or lowering the nose (such as for a climb or a descent). The plane pitches about the lateral axis. This is done using the airplane's elevators. The elevators change the shape of the horizontal stabilizer, causing it to decrease lift (tail goes down, nose goes up) or increase lift (tail goes up, nose goes down). Some aircraft have "stabilators," where the entire horizontal surface moves instead of just the elevator, but the concept (and result) is still the same.

The last one is the Vertical axis, which runs vertically (up and down) through the fuselage. This one stays fixed when the airplane "yaws" - meaning the nose moves left or right. When the plane yaws, it is turning about the vertical axis. This is like turning a car (the car doesn't roll or pitch, it just turns, or "yaws"). This can be done by moving the rudder, which is the movable control surface on the vertical stabilizer (the upright portion of the tail). Moving the rudder right puts it into the airflow and pushes the tail to the left (and the nose to the right). Generally, the rudder is used in tandem with the ailerons to coordinate an airplane's turns, because when an airplane banks, there is a change in drag, making the nose want to move away from the turn initially. the rudder is used to "yaw" the nose the right way and keep the whole plane moving in the direction the pilot (you) want it to go.

It is possible to move an airplane about all three axes at one time, and rarely does an airplane move about just one at a time. You, as the pilot in command, will use all the control surfaces to move the plane about all of its axes and make it do what you want it to do.

Do you have any questions about the three axes of an airplane, or do you have any hints or tricks or stories to share that relate to them? Leave a comment and tell us all about it!

Andrew Hartley is a Certificated Flight Instructor in Columbus, Ohio.

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Preflight: Step 3 – Fuel

Fuel Pumps

Kiril Havezov

Preflighting an airplane is the only way you can be reasonably sure that the plane is safe to fly.  One of the critical things that must be checked before you climb into an airplane to fly is the fuel.

There is one obvious reason to check the fuel - to find out if there IS any! Have you ever run out of gas in your car?  That's always a bummer.  It is decidedly more inconvenient in an airplane, since there is no way to just "pull off the road."  So one of the first things we did when we walked out to the airplane and started our preflight in the first place was to take a look in the fuel tanks on the wings and see if we needed fuel.  That way, if we did need the tanks filled, we could call for the fuel truck, and that could all be happening while we did the rest of our preflight.

Here's the thing about fuel level for flying: According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), an average of two accidents PER WEEK happen due to fuel mismanagement.  This is absolutely unacceptable, because it is completely preventable! know how much fuel you have on board, how much time that give you (yes, TIME, not distance), and plan on twice the reserve the FAA requires.  For goodness sake, people, this one is EASY.

Setting down my soapbox on fuel exhaustion for a moment, there are a couple other reasons and ways that we check the fuel on an airplane, and the amount of fuel on board is only one of these reasons.

Reason number two is to make sure there aren't any contaminants in the fuel that could clog up the system or otherwise cause fuel starvation. Fuel starvation is a situation when there is fuel in the tanks, but it can't get to the engine for some reason.

And then reason number three to check your fuel is to make sure that the correct fuel is in the tanks!  In your car, this is not really thought about much - most cars run on unleaded gasoline, and as long as that is what you put in it, the octane or additives don't really matter much.  Not so in a plane.

So let's walk through this a step at a time:

  1. Fuel Amount
  2. Fuel Quality
  3. Fuel Type

Fuel amount is easy, simply open the lid to the fuel tank and peek in, right?  Kind of.  If your tanks are completely full, you'll easily see this, but what if they aren't?  There are a couple of ways you can find out.  Some airplanes have a "fuel tab" or "collar" that indicates a certain amount of fuel in the tank.  Your Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) will tell you if this is the case for your airplane, as well as how much fuel you have if your tanks are filled to this tab or collar.

Another - better - way to tell how much fuel is on board is to have a simple tool that will tell you how many gallons of fuel you have on board.  These tools are made for specific aircraft types and models, and are easy to use - in fact, they operate on a principle that you've been using since you were a kid, when you put your finger on top of your straw and pulled it out of your drink.  The level of drink in your straw stayed in there - and if you use one of these, so will your fuel level.  The markings on the tube tell you exactly how much gas is in the tank.  Add together the amounts in each tank and you have your total amount of fuel currently on board.  They make a universal one that you can calibrate for pretty much any plane. Just don't drop them in the tank!  No, seriously, don't.

Speaking of dropping things in the fuel tank - let's talk about fuel quality now.  Using other tools, like this GATS Jar or some other fuel testing device, you will sump the fuel tanks to see if your fuel has "floaties" or water in it.  I hate it when I have floaties in my drink when I go out to dinner (it always seems to happen to me).  I hate it worse when I have floaties in my fuel tank. Depending on the plane you fly, you'll have anywhere from 1 or 2 up to 13 or more sump locations to check.  Sump enough fuel to make sure that there are no contaminants or water from each sump. If the fuel is clean (and you have the above mentioned GATS Jar), you can put the fuel back in the tank - saving you hundreds or thousands of dollars over time.  If there are contaminants, though, dispose of the fuel.

How will you be able to tell if there is water in the tank?  Well, aviation fuel is colored (we'll talk about that presently when we talk about fuel type), so if you sump clear fluid from the tank, it's not fuel.  Or at least not the right fuel. Keep sumping.  If you see clear at the bottom and a color above (in two layers), that's water at the bottom.  Dump the fuel and sump again until there is no more water coming out of the tank.  If you keep sumping and sumping and it feels like the water or contaminants are never going to end, it's time for a mechanic... the tank may need to be drained and the source of the water or other contaminants needs to be found. Don't fly!

Now, let's talk about fuel type.  For aviation, there are four main types of fuel:

  1. 80/87 Octane
  2. 100/130 Octane
  3. 100LL (low-lead)
  4. Jet A

Each of these fuels is color-coded:

  1. 80/87 is colored RED
  2. 100/130 is colored GREEN
  3. 100LL is colored BLUE
  4. Jet A is "straw-colored"

It is critical to know what kind of fuel your airplane uses, and NEVER use a lower octane fuel in your tanks.

Today, you are very unlikely to ever see anything except 100LL and Jet A at any airport you fly out of. You can always burn higher octane fuel (so if your plane calls for 80/87, you can use 100LL), but never lower, and NEVER use Jet A (or any other jet fuel) in an engine that calls for gasoline. Believe it or not, Jet A is lower octane than all the others.  It is essentially kerosene, though cleaner and better refined.

By the way - 100LL (or any of the other non-jet fuels above) is referred to as "Av-Gas."  Some aircraft are allowed (through a process of approval by the FAA called Supplemental Type Certification (STC)) to burn regular automotive gasoline (called "Mo-Gas" in aviation parlance).  Again - know your airplane.  Mo-Gas will not be colored like Av-Gas is.

So that is pretty much your preflight!  If you started with us late in the series, there is a list below of the entire process, 3 steps (over 5 posts) walking through the walk-around and preflight process.  Hopefully this series has been helpful for you - I know it always helps me to get it out of my head and written somewhere!

Do you have anything to add to the fuel part of the preflight series? Drain your brain in the comments to tell us anything I might have missed or tips and tricks you've picked up along the way!

Andrew Hartley is a Certificated Flight Instructor in Columbus, Ohio.

Preflight Series:
Preflight Step 1: The Cockpit Check
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Wing)
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Tail)
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Engine)
Preflight Step 3: Fuel

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Preflight: Step 2 – Exterior (Engine)

Engine Cowling & Propeller

Last post, we left you finishing the preflight of the tail, or empennage, section of the plane. We checked the vertical and horizontal stabilizers as well as the rudder, elevators, trim tab, and all the hinge bolts.  We also checked the antennaes, and then moved forward on the right side of the plane to check the right wing, the same as we did when we preflighted the left wing.  This puts us at the front of the plane, ready to check the cowling, engine, and propeller.

NOTE: the specifics in this series apply to Cessna 172 aircraft, as that is what I instruct in most – in any case, always use the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) for your aircraft to confirm that you have not missed anything on your preflight!

Now for the right side of the engine cowling and the front of the plane.

On the right side of the cowling, there is an access door where you can check the engine's oil level - open this up and unscrew the dipstick. Different engines have different oil capacities, so check with an instructor and read the POH for your particular plane. Add oil if necessary - make sure you add the right oil type. Check with your instructor or a mechanic if you are unsure.  While you are in here, take a look at the hoses and wires you can see, and make sure a mechanic didn't accidentally leave a tool or rag in there somewhere!

Duck down at this point to look at the nose gear. You should see a few inches of silver on the strut - too little brings the propeller too close to the ground and is dangerous. I tell my students to look for 3-4 finger-widths of strut to be showing. Look also at the shimmy-dampener (this looks like a small shock absorber mounted sideways), and look at the strut's "scissors" and collar for cracks or broken bolts. If these look broken, the plane should not be flown.  While under here, do you see any fresh oil on the ground? If so, the engine may be leaking - that's a no-go situation.

Moving to the front of the plane, run your hand along the edge of the propeller, looking for any dings or cracks that could weaken the prop. Grab the propeller at the base (near the middle, on both sides of the spinner) and tug. There should be no give. Check the crews in the spinner itself for any missing ones. Look inside the cowling at the engine itself - are the cooling vanes broken? Are there plates in front of the engine that are cracked and loose, or do they all look secure? Has a bird built a nest in the front of the cowling? Look for the alternator belt and reach in and tug lightly on it - it should give just a little, but be pretty taut in general, and not be worn or frayed.  You should also be looking here for tools or rags that may have been left inadvertently if the plane came out of maintenance recently.

The air filter (bottom front of the cowling) should be relatively clean and not blocked by anything.

Look at the nose gear from the front to get a different perspective on it.  Again, check the collars and scissors from this angle for cracks.

Now move back to the right side of the cowling (where we started). Take another look at the static port (it never hurts to check twice), and then look at the nose gear from this side as well for issues with the collars and scissors and bolts.

If all is well, the exterior check should only take a few minutes. 10-15 minutes is not unreasonable when you are learning a new airplane, but you'll get faster as you get more familiar with the make and model of plane you are flying.

Once the exterior preflight is complete, we can move on to checking the fuel quality.  This is the last step before you fire up the engine and show gravity who's boss!

Do you do anything different on this part of the preflight? Add your tips to the comments!

Andrew Hartley is a Certificated Flight Instructor in Columbus, Ohio.

Preflight Series:
Preflight Step 1: The Cockpit Check
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Wing)
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Tail)
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Engine)
Preflight Step 3: Fuel

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Preflight: Step 2 – Exterior (Tail)

Small Airplane Tail

Last post, we began working through the exterior part of the preflight, and we had checked the glareshield, static port, and left wing including the leading edge, trailing edge, aileron, and flap, and the  left main gear and brake.  This left us under the wing, ready to move on to the tail.

NOTE: the specifics in this series apply to Cessna 172 aircraft, as that is what I instruct in most – in any case, always use the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) for your aircraft to confirm that you have not missed anything on your preflight!

From under the wing, after checking the left main gear, lightly knock on the fuselage as you make your way to the tail. When you get to the cargo door, check to make sure it is closed, latched, and locked. Keep knocking the rest of the way back. You are listening for a rattling noise that would indicate a loose screw or rivet. If a rivet starts coming loose it might start vibrating and creating aluminum dust, which trails back as the plane moves through the air, making it look like smoke is coming from the rivet; this is known as a "smoking rivet" and is a good reason NOT to fly a plane. Also watch for missing access panels.

Once you have reached the tail, look for dents and issues on its leading edge and on top, as well as missing or smoking rivets or lost access panels, and move around to the back where you can lift the elevator. Lift the elevator up on the left side, and check the elevator on the right side - it should also go up. Check the yokes (if possible) - they should move toward the back of the plane (aft) when the elevator is up, and toward the front of the plane (forward) when the elevator moves down. With the elevator down, check the hinge bolts to make sure they are secure and have safety wire.

To check the rudder, lift the elevator, and push the rudder away from you and pull it toward you, and take a look at the cables that pull the rudder for secure bolts and safety wire. You can also see the cables and bolts that move the elevator from this vantage point, so check them here as well. Also check any of the rudder hinge bolts you can reach (bottom and middle, most likely).

The right side of the tail has all the same checks as the left side with one major difference - the elevator trim tab is on this side of the elevator. Lift the elevator, and check the trim tab does not move very much. Check the bolt and safety wire on the trim tab pushrod. Then check the rudder from the right side and all the other elevator checks on the right elevator.

Once done with the tail itself, it is a good time to take a look at the antennae on the plane. You will probably see two antennae on the top of the vertical stabilizer, sticking out of each side of the tail at an angle, looking like the letter "V" laying on its back. These are the VOR antennae.

You will probably also see one or two antennae on the top of the wings, at an angle leaning toward the rear of the plane. These are communication antennae. You might see a "hockey puck" like antenna above the cockpit, near the comm antennae - this is a GPS antenna.

On the top of the fuselage is a thin, wiry antenna, just behind the rear window of the cabin - this is the antenna for the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT). You might see a "clothesline" wire from the top of the tail to above the cockpit. This is a Non-Directional Beacon (NDB) antenna (also called "Automatic Direction Finder" or ADF).

Under the fuselage are "fin" type antennae - these are antennae that belong to the transponder.

Move forward on the right side, knocking lightly on the fuselage, toward the wing, pretty much in reverse from what you did on the left side of the plane (see Preflight: Exterior - Part 2 (Wing) for a reminder!). Check the right wing just like you did the left wing, starting with the flap, then the aileron, wingtip, and leading edge. Once done, check the right main gear, just as you did the left main gear.

Once you've completed the right wing, it's time to check out the engine area and propeller - which we'll do in the next post!

Do you have anything to add to this part of the preflight? Add your tips to the comments!

Andrew Hartley is a Certificated Flight Instructor in Columbus, Ohio.

Preflight Series:
Preflight Step 1: The Cockpit Check
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Wing)
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Tail)
Preflight Step 2: Exterior (Engine)
Preflight Step 3: Fuel

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