AOPA Indianapolis Fly-In Escapades

Me in a Corvalis

Last weekend, I flew with two of my students to the Indianapolis AOPA fly-in. It was the first large-scale fly-in that I have actually flown myself to.

My dad and I used to fly in to pancake breakfasts when I was little, but I don't really remember them well, and they were very small compared to these AOPA regional fly-ins.

But I knew, somewhat, what to expect. We were coming in from the east, and leaving Columbus, Ohio meant that navigation would be easy - turned out that the NOTAM said that incoming traffic from the east should arrive over Interstate 70 and follow it pretty much right to the downwind for runway 7, which happened to be the runway in use that day. It was also CAVU (ceiling and visibility unlimited) all day. Pretty much a perfect day for the fly-in to happen!

Aluminum Overcast

We flew out of Bolton Field (KTZR), one of the airports I instruct out of. Interstate 70 runs right through downtown Columbus, and you can pick it up upon departing Bolton almost immediately. So we did! We got flight following as soon as we had cleared Bolton's class D airspace, and climbed to 6,500 feet for our westbound trip to Indy Regional (KMQJ). I was a little on edge right from the start, knowing that we were flying in the morning of the fly-in, and that that would probably be the busiest time to arrive all day.

I told both of my students that I would need their eyes, and that traffic would be pretty heavy the closer we got to Indianapolis. I'm not sure they believed me at first... but by the time we got within a few miles of the airport they sure did! One sat in the back of the Cessna 172 we rented, and the other sat in the left seat, with me in the right. In the back, my student tapped me on the shoulder and raised the number of fingers of the planes she had in sight behind us in the "conga line" over I-70. I think she had up to four by the time we were entering downwind.

P-51 Mustang

KMQJ is a non-towered airport, so we were on our own from about 30 miles out when Columbus Approach said "Radar Contact terminated, squawk VFR." This was prior to reaching a rest area on I-70 just west of Richmond, IN. Which I thought was an interesting idea - I have a hard enough time not missing Rest Areas when I'm in the car and need to pee. Good luck identifying one from above when everyone else in the sky is also converging on the same spot at the same time - or so it felt like.

The CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) was pretty much lit up at all times from the time I switched over from Columbus Approach until we flipped the avionics master off for shutdown. I felt sorry for any other non-towered field that shared the frequency... they weren't getting a chance to say much that day. It was also hard to determine who was where any given time. I heard calls saying "I think I'm number 5 on final," and numerous "somebody on base cut off my final, going around" calls.

Organized chaos. Without as much organization as you would hope.

Nice and Shiny

The NOTAM called for anybody coming in from the east to turn right base upon reaching a "split" in I-70 about two miles from the approach end of runway 7. Which we did. And immediately upon doing so, saw a plan on final right in front of us. No problem - they'd be out of the way by the time we got to the extended centerline for final. We also noticed about 3 more planes ahead of that one. That's four (count 'em) planes on final within about 2 miles of the field. Busy.

But more importantly, we also saw at least three more planes BEHIND the one in front of us - "uhhh - I think I'm number 7 for the runway of the same number." Yikes. We couldn't find a gap to squeeze into, so I made a steep left turn and extended my downwind a little further, trying to communicate what I was doing at the same time.

Pilot Musicians Plane

We ultimately found a gap, made our turn, and ended up on final for 7. As we got closer, the S-Turns started. I had 10-degrees of flaps in, and started s-turning myself to make space, or at least not loase any space, between us and the plane in front of us - a low-wing something-or-other. Others behind us were s-turning as well, but we ultimately touched down behind the low-wing, who I thought was going to make the first turn-off (allowing me to land longer and give space to the plane behind me), but it didn't. It rolled right past, where, as I followed with my eyes, noticed there was at least one more plane on the runway in front of him. So by the time I touched down, there were three of us still on the active runway.

I know at Oshkosh they land three at a time on the same runway, but in my head I'm thinking "runway incursion." I'm also thinking - that guy behind me is probably close, too... and I had not added any more flaps - I was still at 10-degrees. So The lading was pretty good, until I decided I HAD TO MAKE THE FIRST TURNOFF and get off the runway ASAP - because of the guy in front of me who I thought should already be off, and also because someone was landing behind me and I wanted to clear the way.

BRAKES. SQUEAL. LEFT RUDDER. BACK ELEVATOR. TAXIWAY QUICKLY PASSING. And into the grass we went, right between to runway lights, JUST BARELY past the taxiway. Then slowly, embarassingly, taxiing back onto the taxiway, between two taxiway lights. Missed it by 10-15 feet at most. Never lost control of the aircraft at all, but definitely a bad judgement call to try to make that taxiway with everything else happening so quickly. But everything else happening so quickly was also WHY I made the call to try to make the first taxiway. A catch-22 if ever there was one.

Student in Corvalis

I take some solace in the fact that I was certainly not the only one to have a bit of an issue coming into the fly-in. I heard about a Cirrus landing nosewheel first and smoking the tire a good length of the runway, and somebody else locking up their mains with heavy braking upon touchdown. I actually saw someone level off on final and fly OVER the person landing in front of them, and then landing in front of them anyway instead of going around (WHAT!?!). Yeah - that happened. But this is a learning experience, right? That day, it was a learning experience even for the teacher - and I hope my students learned something, too. We talked about it even on the taxi to parking immediately after, and I knew before I even rolled into the grass that I should have braked straight ahead and let the folks behind me decide whether to land or go-around.

Heck - If I thought the plane in front of me was too close, *I* should have gone around. But hindsight is 20/20 - in the heat of the moment, it was get on the ground and get out of this mess of traffic up here. Alternatively, we could have gone to the alternate airport and taken the shuttle in to the fly-in. Which is what I HIGHLY suggest you do if you are flying in the morning of. I certainly will next time.

Student with plane

Other than a learning opportunity and some slightly bruised pride, the fly-in was a TON of fun. My students and I learned about unusual attitudes (code for aerobatics) and attended a session on communications with Air Traffic Control (ATC). We also got to see some incredible airplanes, meet some interesting people, and learn about some fantastic organizations. And we got to fly in. How cool is that?

Below are some more pictures from the day - me and my students, in and around airplanes. Just can't beat that.


Notice what the wingtips say:



Andrew Hartley is a certificated flight instructor and commercial pilot in Columbus, Ohio. This was his first (and hopefully last) excursion into the grass (other than at a soft field airport).

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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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Solo – A Blogging in Formation Post


What does it mean to solo?

14 CFR Part 61.51(d): ...a pilot may log as solo flight time only that flight time when the pilot is the sole occupant of the aircraft.

Like all of the Federal Aviation Regulations, the above is an incredbly dry statement. It defines when you may log solo flight, which is an important step to obtaining your pilot certificate.

There are lots of other regulations pertaining to solo, defining even further what solo flight means to the FAA, to your instructor, and to you:

61.51(e)(4)(ii) states that you must have a current solo flight endorsement (as laid out in part 61.87). Got that?  Good.

61.51(i)(2) lays out what you must carry with you when you solo as a student pilot during cross-country flights: your logbook and your student pilot certificate/medical (and any other record required by that section of the regulations).  Got them all?  Fantastic.

61.87 lays out all the things you must do before solo to even be eligible to solo in the first place:

  • demonstrate satisfactory knowledge on a knowledge test given by your instructor
  • review any incorrect answers from the test
  • receive and log training in certain maneuvers
    • surface operations including taxiing & runup
    • normal & crosswind takeoffs and landings
    • straight & level flight and turns in both directions
    • climbs & climbing turns
    • traffic pattern procedures, including entry & departure
    • collision avoidance, windshear avoidance, and wake turbulance avoidance
    • descents (turning & not turning) in high- and low-drag configurations
    • flight at various airspeeds
    • stall recognition, avoidance, and recovery
    • emergency procedures
    • ground reference maneuvers
    • approaches to landing with simulated engine malfunctions
    • slips to land
    • go-arounds
  • You must have received an endorsement on your student pilot certificate to solo the specific make and model of your aircraft from your instructor
  • You must have received an endorsement in your logbook to solo from an instructor who has given you the above instruction within the last 90 days
  • etc. etc. and on and on - you have to know these regulations, as they define precisely what solo flight is and when you can legally perform solo flight.

And that is that, right?  That's what solo flight is - a flight by a person who meets all the above criteria and is the sole occupant of an aircraft during flight.

But does that truly answer the question of what it MEANS to solo?

Aviation has a knack for knocking the wind out of its participants with all the limitations and restrictions and constraints and conditions that the regulations lay out for everyone who wants to set foot in an airplane and leave the ground.

But there's a reason, I think, that the word solo was chosen to be used for the first time a person flies sans instructor, and it is not simply because the dictionary defines it as "a thing done by one person unaccompanied, in particular;" which, of course, it is.

But solo also has a beautiful connotation in the arts - music and dance, in particular, where a dancer or musician or singer steps away from all the others who have been there alongside for that song, that concerto, that period, and - on their own - does something beautiful.


Notice I have not said "alone." A solo of a musician is not them alone, but is a piece of a larger composition. The solo stands out BECAUSE it is related to the rest of the dance or the song, not because it is separate from it.  The solo artist takes courage from the other artists who have helped support her up until that point, and she steps out on her own but not alone to add her voice, her motion, her music to the overall piece.

All the months and years of practice shape the artist to be ready and able to make that step - and so it is as a pilot.

The hours you have studied and practiced with your instructor have led you to this point, where you get to step out - on your own but not alone - and take flight.


And like the solo artist, you - the solo pilot - know the technical pieces (as the musician knows the fingering of his instrument or the dancer the placement of his limbs for balance, you know the power settings and sight picture of your instrument - the airplane). You play the throttle to get the hum of the engine you are familiar with, and set your pitch to get the perfect balance of airspeed and lift and hear the exact right tone of the wind over the wings.

You are an artist of the air, and while you know all the regulations that got you to this point, right now you are simply free, and flying, as it should be. The checklists run through your head, and the crosswind component for your runway is in your mind, and you're thinking "red over white" as you slide down the glidepath on final approach, but your heart is beating faster than ever, and you can't wipe the smile off your face, because this feeling is like nothing you've ever felt.  The safety net is gone, and you've never been more nervous, or scared, or READY for anything in your life.

And maybe you miss a note, or place your foot wrong and slip a little, or forget a word. But that bounced landing was YOUR landing - and whether you believed your instructor when she said "That was all you" is immaterial now, because that WAS all you, and whether it was bounced or beautiful, it was YOUR landing and no one can take it away from you. Because your supporting artists are all down there, and you are up here, on your own.


So I'll leave you with this, Captain:

Aviation loves to boast about the individualistic nature of its participants. Solo makes it sound like you finally got away from everyone else and did this thing alone. But that is as far from true as it gets.  You got here through the help of your instructor and other pilots who encouraged you, motivated you, and rooted for you (whether you knew it or not).

For all the independent, self-reliant, individualist image aviation puts out there, we really rely on one another, and want to see each other succeed.  We are an incredibly helpful and supportive family, we aviators.  You might be solo, but you're never alone.

Just unaccompanied - sometimes.


This is a Blogging in Formation post. Check out the rest of the Formation Bloggers in this month's series: "Solo."

April 1:
Andrew Hartley - Smart Flight TrainingBlogFormation_Wings
Karlene Petitt - Flight to Success - Near Midair!
April 2:
Rob Burgon - Tally One
Chip Shanle - Project 7 Alpha
April 3:
Eric Auxier - Adventures of Cap’n Aux
Ron Rapp - House of Rapp
April 4:
Brent Owens - iFLYblog
Mark L Berry - marklberry.com/blog

If you like what you see, share us with your friends: #blogformation


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MH370 – How do you LOSE a Boeing 777?

Malaysia 777

A Boeing 777 is not exactly a small aircraft.  I've been known to forget where I parked my car in the lot when I leave the grocery store and walk around like a fool until I find it.  I could somewhat understand that situation with a Cessna 172, as it is not much bigger than a car.

But a 777 is.  This kind of aircraft seats from 301 to 440 people (my car seats 5). So by that statistic alone, a 777 is equivalent to between 60 and 88 Volvo V70XCs.  A 777 holds 45,220 gallons of fuel - I regularly put 15 gallons of gas in the Volvo, so a 777 is equal to more than 3000 of them by that metric.  Last but not least, a 777 weighs up to 656,000 lbs. My Volvo, well, actually, sometimes I think my Volvo weighs that much, too, so this is probably not the best comparison.

I'd say that it ought to be impossible to "misplace" a Boeing 777, but I have seen firsthand that it is absolutely possible to "lose" large business jets. In the six years I worked at [large business jet company], I personally received calls from FBOs telling us one of our jets was "in the back of the hangar" and had been there for weeks (or months).  At a completely different airport than our top-of-the-line, proprietary software told us it was. So I know it is possible to lose a jet - probably even a 777.  But eventually they are found.

But let's get down to the meat of the MH370 mystery, shall we? A 777 on a filed flight plan and in fine weather suddenly turns off the planned route, then disappears off radar. All about 40 minutes into the flight. This is pretty much all we really know.

But what we know and what we speculate are mutually exclusive, aren't they?

Unfortunately, since the horrors that occurred on September 11, 2001, the first thing on everyone's mind is "terrorism." And that is not necessarily the worst thing.  The world changed on September 11, 2001, and we all have to look at events through that new frame. Karlene Petitt wrote an incredibly popular blog post about her speculation that the crew was compromised, possibly by the travelers using stolen passports, and that the captain or co-pilot heroically pushed the nose over and sacrificed the aircraft and all on board to the depths rather than allow MH370 to be used as a weapon.

This is not an uncommon thought, and very well might be the case.  But if, indeed, that were the case, why haven't we found the remains yet?  Wouldn't the pilot have done so as soon as he knew the terrorists were onboard and attempting to take control of the airplane? That would have been right around the time of the turn off course, and that area has been scoured already, hasn't it?

Another theory is Mark L. Berry's - who says he is "worried that the first terrorist-controlled weapon of mass destruction (maybe biological, maybe chemical, maybe nuclear) is now being married with the Boeing 777 in some remote airfield."  His theory is that the terrorists were successful in comandeering the aircraft, and that they flew it somewhere within seven hours or so to allow it to be loaded up with weapons of some sort so that the plane can be used as a weapon itself, a la 9/11/01, only with explosives on board instead of unwitting passengers, causing potentially much more destruction.

Eric Auxier (Cap'n Aux) uses Occam's Razor to come to another, less paranoid and more likely explanation: Lithium batteries now known to be on board being shipped overheat and catch fire in the forward cargo bay, burning the avionics bay and causing a mass communication/electronics failure, and possibly an explosive decompression and explaining the turn off course. In the end, he believes the plane flew on autopilot (until autopilot failed along the rest of the avionics), and the plane simply continued on that heading (approximately) until it ran out of fuel and ultimately crashed in the ocean.

I tend to lean toward the more likely mechanical failure, such as Cap'n Aux describes.  Some sort of fire engulfes the avionics and cockpit, incapacitating the pilots, who were able to start emergency procedures and turn toward the nearest safe haven (Palau Langkawi - a 13,000 foot runway with an approach over water and no significant obstacles) before being overcome with smoke or fire or both.  Regardless of the cause or source of the fire, the results are the same: electronic/avionics failures, and an airplane essentially flying itself until fuel ran out and it crashed.

Similar crashes, while not common, are certainly not unheard of.  The fairly recent (in aviation terms) crash of Payne Stewart's Learjet in October of 1999 comes to mind - the plane lost cabin pressurization, the crew was incapacitated due to hypoxia (for some reason, they did not - or were not able to - don their oxygen masks), and the plane flew on its last heading until running out of fuel and crashing.  In the case of the Lear in 1999, there was no fire so avionics remained functional, but think if there was a fire first - the first thing you do as a pilot if electrical fire is even suspected is TURN OFF ALL ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT!  Yes, this means comm, transponder, etc.  If, subsequently, cabin pressure is lost, now you really have two emergencies on your hands, with different checklists and different priorities, but neither more or less dangerous in your situation.  What do you do? With smoke, fire, or depressurization, you have a precious few seconds to get those masks on before you might not be functional - and with multiple emergencies, that slight confusion or pause to prioritize might have been all that was necessary to bring this situation to fruition.

Maybe it's my overriding hope and faith in humanity that makes me lean toward to the mechanical failure / fire possibility before I seriously consider terrorism - or maybe it's my fear of the latter as a possibility - but I hope it was simply a failure of systems in what is an incredibly, almost impossibly complex piece of equipment that is a Boeing 777, and not a conspiracy to hijack one of the largest airliners of the current day for use as a weapon (successfully or not), even though I know full well there are people in the world whose mission in life is to sow and breed fear in others.

Just the fact that our minds immediately consider that as a likely option means that the terrorists on September 11, 2001 have won in instilling that fear in our lives. At least a little. And that is not okay.



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My Most Memorable Passenger – A Blogging in Formation Post

This month's Blogging in Formation topic is "Dealing with Passengers."

As a flight instructor, most of my "passengers" are not passengers, at least not as that is normally defined. My passengers are actively learning to fly, and to - over time - become NOT passengers but pilots.

So I don't have as much experience with passengers as many of the other formation bloggers, but I do have a very memorable passenger who I would like to talk about in today's post: my daughter, Wynnie!

Airplane Kids

Wynnie is two and a half years old, and I was recently able to take her (and her two cousins) up for their first flight.

Her cousins are five and three, and all three of them really enjoyed their first flight!

It was a very simple flight - we took off from KOSU (The Ohio State University Airport), turned north, and flew circles low over the Columbus Zoo (one of the places all the kids love to visit).

All three of the kids loved the flight!

What was most interesting to me was that getting them in the plane was not just about their first flight and whether they would like it, but their reactions and behavior during the flight was eye-opening for me, as well!

Wynnie In Plane

It was very interesting to see Wynnie's personality emerge (or amplify) in her carseat in the back of the C172.

At first, on the way to the zoo, Wynnie was stoic. Looking straight ahead, there was no emotion on her face. When I turned around and asked her if she was having fun, her face lit up! "Yes!" she said, beaming.

Then her face went right back to the poker-face she had on before.

She looked out the window as we banked around the zoo and over the river, as did her cousins, whose reactions were no less telling then hers.  You could see the logic and passion and curiosity come alive in all three of them, in differing degrees.

Notwithstanding her stoicism, my wife and I joke that Wynnie is definitely my daughter, since the flying bug has bitten her as early and as strongly as it did me. She has the "pilot's curse" of having to look up and locate every aircraft we hear as it flies above.

Andrew and Kids

When we visited my father-in-law in Raleigh, North Carolina, we also went to visit a nearby airport in the hopes that we would fly in (in a couple hours) instead of driving in (about 10-hours on the road). When we got near the airport, a plane was holding short of the runway for takeoff, and Wynnie said "That's Daddy's airplane! I'm so excited!"

We talked to a few people and looked around at the amenities.  Wynnie and Granddad watched airplanes for a bit, and then we started to get in the car to go.

Wynnie didn't want to go, because she thought we were going to go for an airplane ride. And when I say she didn't want to go, I mean she REALLY didn't want to go.  We're talking TOTAL MELTDOWN.  It took both my wife and me holding her down in her carseat to get her strapped in so we could finally leave, while I promised her that we would take lots more airplane rides, just not today.

I know how she feels. A girl after my own heart!


Don't miss the rest of the Blogging in Formation posts:

BlogFormation_WingsMarch 1: Saturday:
Brent Owens -  iFLYblog
Mark L Berry - marklberry.com/blog

March 2: Sunday:
Andrew Hartley - Smart Flight Training
Rob Burgon - http://tallyone.com

March 3: Monday:
Karlene Petitt - Flight to Success
Chip Shanle - www.project7alpha.com

March 4: Tuesday:
Eric Auxier - Adventures of Cap’n Aux
Ron Rapp - House of Rapp

If you like what you see, share us with your friends: #blogformation

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