Aviation’s “King for a Day” – a “Blogging in Formation” post


This month has been a whirlwind of great posts during "Blogging in Formation's" 5th month, and our theme is "If I had One Wish for Aviation" (or "If I were in charge").

Please check out the other Formation Bloggers as well:

Sept 1: House of Rapp - Ron Rapp
Sept 2: iFlyBlog - Brent Owens
Sept 3: Adventures of Cap’n Aux - Eric Auxier
Sept 4: Flight to Success - Karlene Petitt
Sept 5: Smart Flight Training - Andrew Hartley
Sept 6: Airplanista - Dan Pimentel

So with that out of the way - let's discuss what I would like to see change about the aviation industry...

There are just SO MANY things to pick from. As an industry, aviation is as imperfect as it gets. That said, I don't really know of another industry that commands so much passion and interest from both its members and its non-members alike!

So I'm going to come at this from the perspective I know best: that of a flight student and a flight instructor.

I have flown with hoards of people (more every day); from those just wanting to scratch "fly in a little airplane" off their bucket list, to others who are committed to getting their pilot certificate and flying professionally, and everything in between (including engineers and doctors who own their own plane and are getting current - some after 2 years, some after 30 years, some fly regularly and just need that check mark checked in their logbook).

And I always thought that most people - at least those who know they want to commit to getting their pilot license - come to aviation through a family member or friend who flies. But what I have found (and my experience may not be typical) is that many of these people don't know anyone who flies. They just thought it sounded interesting and fun (which, as we know, it is), and they thought they would like to do it.

These people astound and humble me. And here's why:

Flight schools are generally NOT customer friendly. For such a social industry, I'm always a little amazed at the suspicion in which we hold people who don't fly (yet). I imagine my students walking into a flight school or airport, knowing no one, knowing nothing about the industry or flight training at all, not really knowing what it is going to take to become a pilot, and not getting any help or greeting from the person at the "front desk." They just get completely ignored.

And yet, they push through and get out of their comfort zone and ASK. Someone. Anyone. And at some point, they get to the right person, who sets them up with an instructor. And then the instructor meets them... maybe cordially, maybe not, and so it goes.

I'm beginning to think that aviation self-selects people who are decision-makers and risk-takers not because flying requires it (it does), but because people who do not have these qualities won't make it past the front door! I know that I wouldn't have, if I had not already had an aviation background.

But I'm disturbed and saddened by the HUGE number of people who possibly just need that one bit of information - the right person to talk to at the airport - to get into the left seat of a small plane and start the process of learning to fly. If they could just get that far... just take that ONE EXTRA LITTLE STEP and ask the question, this entire aviation world of wonder would open up for them! But they might be too shy or too afraid to step out of their comfort zone that one little extra bit. And it's AVIATION'S loss, not just their own.

I was recently in San Diego for my "normal life" job, and the office I was in has a view of both San Diego Brown Field and of the Tijuana International Airport. So I'm not sure how much work I actually accomplished. But I DID go to Brown Field more than once after the work day was over, and the situation I described above was EXACTLY the scenario. I walked in to a completely silent terminal building (other than the jukebox in the airport bar at the end of the hall), and there was no indication of where to go if I wanted to talk to an instructor; no signs, no flyers, no balloons, not even little airplane stickies on the floor to mark my path to the person or place where I can ask about learning to fly. Aviation (especially flight training) needs a good shot of customer service and marketing.

Which leads me to my "King for a Day" declaration - newbies and strangers to aviation should be celebrated, not shunned. Maybe that's too harsh - there are great programs out there to get people interested, like EAA's Young Eagles program which introduces children to flight. As I write this, I am sitting at an airport in northern Alabama, looking at a local program called "Fantastic Flight" which is an elementary school program using kids' natural interest in flight and outer space. I have no idea if it is still active, but it sounds fantastic (as the name would suggest).

I know that AOPA and NBAA and EAA and all the other alphabet groups are hemming and hawing over the declining interest in learning to fly. And they are pushing flight clubs and experimental homebuilt aircraft and alternative fuels and efficiency and numerous other ideas to bring the cost of flying down, in the hopes that that alone will revitalize the industry (even our own Formation Bloggers Ron and Brent discuss the cost issue in this very series!). And certainly cost is a factor.

But people spend exorbitant amounts of money on things that they want - even if none of these items will ever pay them back a penny in any way. That boat won't make you money - it will cost you for the entire time you own it. That big screen TV won't, either... it will, in fact, cost you time you could be spending enjoying the world. At least your boat makes you happy - when you have time to use it after you have worked the extra hours to pay the bank and the registration and the dock fees and on and on and on.

Becoming a pilot, on the other hand, will cost money, yes. But it will actually pay you back in so many ways. You will have done something that less than one-half of one percent (0.005) of the population of the world has ever done - become a pilot. So it pays you back in pride.

You can save more time than you ever thought possible... try going from Columbus, Ohio to Fort Payne, Alabama and back (including several hours of productive work on the ground in Alabama) in one day by car. Not gonna happen. If you value your time, aviation may have the best return on investment of any other business expense you could make.

You might even get paid back in money. Yes! Show me the Benjamins! Become a commercial pilot or flight instructor yourself and the money you spend on this journey will, indeed, come trickling back into your pocket (albeit slowly).

So let's get on it, aviation industry! As your King for the Day, I command you - get creative; get serious; and get customer service-y! Make it EASY for people to start learning to fly, and make it fun, and the entire aviation industry will reap the rewards!

Thanks for reading the Smart Flight Training blog – I am truly honored and humbled that you are spending YOUR TIME to read this blog. Please leave your comments telling us what you would decree if you were King of Aviation for the day! Tailwinds, and have a great week!

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

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Ground reference maneuvers – rectangular course

Rectangular Course














Today on Smart Flight Training we'll discuss the final Private level ground reference maneuver - The Rectangular Course.

Previously, we've discussed the other two Private Pilot level ground reference maneuvers - turns around a point and s-turns.

The Rectangular Course is meant to simulate the legs of a traffic pattern: crosswind, downwind, base, and final/upwind, as well as the entry into the pattern: a 45-degree leg to downwind.

As with the other ground reference maneuvers, this one can be broken down into a number of important points.

You'll need to find an appropriate location to do this maneuver, which often will be a field, but can be anything that gives you a good, visible rectangle to fly around.  Make sure you have a good option for a place to land in case it becomes necessary (this is actually part of the evaluation of your performance of the maneuvers on your checkride).

As with all flight training maneuvers (stalls, steep turns, slow flight, anything), before entering this maneuver, clear the area using clearing turns, then enter the downwind at a 45-degree angle (point 1 on the above image).

You will start this maneuver a certain distance from the field you have chosen (or the quarry, or the pattern of roads, really anything that creates a rectangle large enough to fly around that allows you to have a period of level flight between the turns).  The distance you should be is generally between 1/2 a mile and 1-mile, depending on the strength of the wind.  Your goal is to remain the same distance from all sides of the field, correcting for the wind's effect on the airplane's course over the ground.

Below are descriptions of each point in a good rectangular course:

Point 1) Entry to the maneuver - a 45-degree entry to the downwind

Point 2) Turn from downwind to crosswind - because your groundspeed is highest on downwind, you will start this turn with the steepest bank (not a "steep turn," just the steepest turn compared to all the other turns you will do during the maneuver).  You will then slowly reduce the bank to a medium bank.  Additionally, you will turn more than 90-degrees, because you need to set up a crab angle into the wind so your ground track parallels the edge of the field on the "base" leg.

Point 3) Base Leg - here you are maintaining the distance from the field by crabbing the aircraft into the wind.  Adjust the crab angle if you find that you are getting closer or further away from the edge of the field.

Point 4) Turn from base to "final / upwind" - start this turn at a medium bank, and reduce the bank to shallow to maintain your distance from the field.  You'll turn less than 90-degrees, because you are already crabbed into the wind.  You bank becomes shallower during this turn because your groundspeed is slowing to it's slowest speed of the maneuver during the upwind leg.

Point 5) Upwind Leg - this is the leg with the slowest groundspeed, as you are flying directly into the wind. There is also no need for a crab since your nose is pointed directly into the wind; however, small corrections can be made to maintain your distance from the field if your turn into this leg was not perfect.

Point 6) Turn from upwind to crosswind - Due to your slow groundspeed on upwind, this turn starts shallow and gradually increases to a medium bank as you reach a parallel ground course.  Don't forget about the wind!  The turn will be less than 90-degrees, because you need to crab into the wind.

Point 7) Crosswind Leg - Your nose will be pointed away from the field so your ground track remains parallel to the edge of the field.  Again, adjust your crab angle if you find that you are getting further away or closer to the edge of the field.

Point 8) Turn from crosswind to downwind - This turn starts at a medium bank and increases to a relatively steep bank as your groundspeed increases, again so that you maintain the correct distance from the field for the downwind leg.

Point 9) Downwind Leg - because the wind is now directly behind you, your groundspeed is the fastest it will be during this leg of the maneuver.  No crab angle is needed.

You will be expected to be able to perform this maneuver (and all ground reference maneuvers) making both left turns and right turns, so you'll practice both directions.

Also, keep in mind that these maneuvers are not about perfection, but about recognition and correction of deviation.  In other words, if you find that you need to change your crab angle or steepen or lessen your bank to maintain your distance from the field, do it!  Your examiner will prefer that you correct any issues as soon as possible rather then let them continue and hope s/he doesn't notice.  Trust me, s/he will!

The other criteria for this maneuver, just like the other ground reference maneuvers, is to maintain a constant airspeed and altitude as well.  Your altitude should be between 600 to 1000 feet above ground level (AGL), and should be held within 150 feet.  Airspeed should be appropriate for your aircraft (shoot for a safe airspeed at or below maneuvering speed (Va)), and be held within 10 knots indicated airspeed (IAS).

If it has not been obvious from the above discussion, this maneuver is getting you ready to fly airport traffic patterns safely and consistently.  Practice makes perfect, and this is a maneuver that you will want to get right, because the ability to correct for the wind and fly a good pattern will directly affect your landings - which is generally what you will work on immediately after learning these maneuvers!


Please comment and tell us about your experience learning to fly the rectangular course. Do you have any tips or tricks to make it simple and consistent? Do you have any horror stories about it?

Andrew Hartley is a certificated flight instructor in Columbus, Ohio. Follow Smart Flight Training on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+!

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Ground reference maneuvers: s-turns

S-turns are a ground reference maneuver that, like turns-around-a-point, teach you to fly the airplane at a specific altitude and make wind corrections to keep the plane on a specific ground track.  The difference is that s-turns force you to do so while changing your direction of turn halfway through the maneuver, while turns-around-a-point use the same direction of turn the whole time.

An s-turn looks, from above, like an "S" laying on its side on the ground (or a "$", since you'll generally use a road or something to mark when to start and end your turns).  This sounds simple enough, but the point is to carve that S shape so that both sides are equidistant from some points on the road, such that when you cross the road and change the direction of your turn, you are equidistant from your first point (let's say for your left turn), and your second point (for your turn the other direction).  This is a little easier to picture when you look at - well, a picture.  See below:


In this maneuver, there are 5 critical points (in the above example, points 3 & 4 can be considered together). Just like doing turns-around-a-point, this maneuver is really about finesse and a constantly changing bank angle and wind correction.  If you understand what each of the critical points should look like and why, the rest of this maneuver will fall together pretty easily.

So let’s take a look at those critical points.  Reference the image above:

Point 1: This is the beginning, or “entry” to the maneuver.  It is “downwind,” meaning the wind is directly behind you, pushing you.  You’ll choose a point to use, and then when the plane is directly above the road, you begin your turn.  The reason this maneuver is generally started on the downwind leg is because your “ground speed” (actual speed over the ground) is fastest when you are downwind, so your rate of turn needs to be highest to maintain your distance from the point.  This also (and most importantly) means that your bank angle will be steepest here.  Keep in mind that “steepest” in regard to bank angle is relative – all this means is that your bank for the rest of the maneuver will never be steeper than at this point.  It does not mean that you will be in a “steep turn,” which is a totally different maneuver!


Point 2: The next point is 90 degrees from the starting point, and is a direct crosswind.  Here, your ground speed is slower than at point 1, and faster than it will be at point 3 / 4, so you will have a “medium” bank here, and you will have the airplane “crabbed” into the wind to maintain the track of the "S." You should have been slowly changing your bank and your crab angle the whole time from point 1 to point 2, and you will continue to slowly change them between point 2 and points 3 / 4.


Point 3 / 4: At point 3, you are 180 degrees from where you started, which means you are now pointed directly “upwind” (or into the wind).  This means you will have the slowest ground speed, and commensurately, the “shallowest” bank angle relative to the rest of the maneuver.  Also, notice that during upwind – point 3 /4 – (and downwind – points 1 / 6), you have no “crab angle” like you do at points 2 & 5.  This is because there is no crosswind at these points for you to correct for – you are flying directly into (or directly with) the wind.  Point 3 / 4 is like the opposite of points 1 / 6 as far as ground speed and bank angle are concerned (points 1 / 6 = highest ground speed & steepest bank; point 3 / 4 = lowest ground speed & shallowest bank). This point puts you directly over the road again, and your goal is to reach this point so that your wings (your lateral axis) are parallel to the road at the time you cross. You will change your direction of bank here (in our example image, from right to left).


Point 5: At point 5 you have nearly completed the maneuver – you are again in a direct crosswind, so your ground speed will be faster than at point 3 / 4 (but still slower than points 1 / 6), meaning you will be in a medium bank here.  You will also be crabbed into the wind here, similar to point 2.  Notice that at point 2, however, you were crabbed toward the inside of the "S," but at point 5 you are crabbed toward the outside of the "S."  Your crab angle will always point the nose of the plane into the wind.


Point 6: Point 6 is exactly the same as point 1, only instead of just starting your s-turn maneuver, you will be ending it. Just like at point 1, you will have brought the plane back to its steepest bank, and just like at point 3 / 4, your goal is to reach this point with your wings (the lateral axis of your plane) parallel with the road. Quickly and firmly roll out of the bank as you cross the road, bringing you back to level flight.

Notice that you are maintaining a constant radius in this maneuver, just like in turns-around-a-point. In the below picture, I've added red, dashed lines to the basic s-turn image, to show that your radius should be fixed as you do this manuever:

s-turns with radius

In fact, you can think of this maneuver as turns-around-a-point, split in half, and twisted around so that you don't end up in the same place over the ground, but that you end up going the same direction as when you started, just further down the road from where you started.

Just as in the turns-around-a-point maneuver, the main thing to remember is that your bank and crab angles are constantly changing to do this maneuver correctly… you don’t hold your steepest bank until you reach point 2, then change to a medium bank and add crab, then hold that until point 3 / 4, etc.  Essentially, you will be thinking ahead of the plane and making slight, minute adjustments to get you from the configuration you need at point 1 to the configuration you know you will need at point 2, and so on.

There also is no “secret recipe” to getting this maneuver perfect every time.  Each day you fly, the winds will be a little different – they may be higher or lower speed than they were last time, or they might be gusty, or you might be in a different plane than you were in last time you did turns around a point… the moral of the story is, you’re the pilot!  You’ll need to estimate and correct to get it right – so if you find that the bank angle or crab angle you choose is too much or not enough, make the change and fix it!

Indeed, a good way to think about this maneuver is that you are "timing" the turn to allow you to cross the road with your wings parallel each time you cross the road, and then adjust your bank and crab angles to keep you as close to the "right" distance as possible, and also to get your wings lined up correctly for your "crosses" at those critical points!

Do you have any tricks or suggestions on how to execute a perfect s-turn every time? Let your fellow pilots know how YOU perfected this maneuver in the comments, below!

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

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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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Learn to Fly: What it Looks Like – Aileron

Smart Flight Training's goal is to take the mystery out of aviation for those who want to learn to fly by discussing flight training terms and showing pictures and video where we can.

We hope that reading about, seeing, and watching aviation in action will help you learn to fly more efficiently - saving you money at your flight school and during all of your flight training!

This Wednesday, we will take a look at one of the "control surfaces" of you flight training aircraft, the aileron.


An aileron (French for "little wing") is a movable flap on the wing of an airplane used to control the plane's side-to-side movements. Ailerons cause one wing tip to move up and the other wing tip to move down, helping a plane turn. To bank to the left, a pilot must raise the left aileron and lower the right aileron. Ailerons are located on the back of the wing (known as the "trailing edge") and near the wing tips.

Aileron Image

All ailerons work the same way, whether you are a student learning to fly a light sport aircraft or an airline pilot flying a Boeing 747.

As you continue to learn to fly, you'll find out more than you ever thought you would want to know about ailerons, including their effect on the yaw of an aircraft in addition to the roll, and what you can do if you lose the ability to control the ailerons in flight.

But all of that is for a future flight training post! Until then, enjoy this YouTube video of ailerons at work... Notice that the ailerons do not have to move very much to do their job!

Learn to fly faster and smarter with Smart Flight Training: join our mailing list and get involved in the community by leaving a comment below!

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