Testing Tuesday: IFR Lost Communication Procedures

Scary Headset

Losing communication capabilities is nerve-wracking in VFR conditions, but is relatively straight-forward if you can see where you are going, even if where you are going is controlled airspace - though under VFR you can very easily go to a non-towered airport without talking to anyone and no one would really even know the difference (you might annoy other pilots in the pattern, but you would be perfectly legal). Towered airports can still communicate with you via light signal - you do have those light signals memorized for the checkride right? And if you are post-checkride, you have a cheatsheet on your kneeboard or pasted to your instrument panel, correct?

That said, under IFR, lost communication is a situation that might require a change of underwear upon reaching your destination - how the heck are you supposed to know what you are expected to do if air traffic control can't give you vectors and altitudes?

This Testing Tuesday, we have a question that you will definitely hear on your IFR checkride's oral exam:

What are you expected to do on an instrument flight when two-way communications has been lost?

Click here to display the answer...

Andrew Hartley is a certificated flight instructor and commercial pilot in Columbus, Ohio.

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Testing Tuesday: Wake Turbulence

It's #TestingTuesday - prepare yourself and learn to fly smarter!

Wing Vortices

What wind condition prolongs the hazards of wake turbulence on a landing runway for the longest period of time?

  1. Direct headwind.
  2. Direct tailwind.
  3. Light quartering tailwind.

Click here to display the answer...

Andrew Hartley is a certificated flight instructor and commercial pilot in Columbus, Ohio.

ABOUT TESTING TUESDAY: Each Tuesday, Smart Flight Training will post a sample question that a pilot might expect to see on an FAA Knowledge Test or hear during the oral portion of a checkride. A little known secret to saving money and time during your flight training is PREPARATION! Hopefully Testing Tuesday post will be one small step in helping you live up to your side of learning to fly by being prepared when you meet with your flight instructor, saving you money and time! Good luck on the below question – click the link at the bottom to see the answer and explanation!

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Testing Tuesday: IFR Fuel Requirements

Each Tuesday, Smart Flight Training will post a sample question that a pilot could expect to see on an FAA Knowledge Test or hear during the oral portion of a checkride. A little known secret to saving money and time during your flight training: PREPARATION! Hopefully Testing Tuesday post will be one small step in helping you live up to your side of learning to fly by being prepared when you meet with your flight instructor, saving you money and time! Good luck on the below question – click the link at the bottom to see the answer and explanation!

IFR Approach

What are the minimum fuel requirements for airplanes in IFR conditions if the first airport of intended landing is forecast to have a 1,500-foot ceiling and 3 miles visibility at flight-planned ETA? Fuel to fly to the first airport of intended landing,

  1. and fly thereafter for 45 minutes at normal cruising speed.
  2. fly to the alternate, and fly thereafter for 45 minutes at normal cruising speed.
  3. fly to the alternate, and fly thereafter for 30 minutes at normal cruising speed.

Click here to display the answer...

I hope this Testing Tuesday question was helpful and thought-provoking, as usual! If you have any questions or concerns about this answer (or have a question that you would like to see on an upcoming Testing Tuesday post), contact us and let us know!

Andrew Hartley is a certificated flight instructor and commercial pilot in Columbus, Ohio. He wonders why his daughter's diaper holds nowhere near the 12-18 pounds it promises.

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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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