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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Testing Tuesday: Special Use Airspace – MOAs

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 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!

What action should a pilot take when operating under VFR in a Military Operations Area (MOA)?

  1. Obtain a clearance from the controlling agency prior to entering the MOA.
  2. Operate only on the airways that transverse the MOA.
  3. Exercise extreme caution when military activity is being conducted.

Click here to display the answer...

Andrew Hartley is a certificated flight instructor and commercial pilot in Columbus, Ohio. He scoffs at gravity.

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Testing Tuesday: Traffic Avoidance

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!

During a night flight, you observe a steady white light and a flashing red light ahead and at the same altitude. What is the general direction of movement of the other aircraft?

  1. The other aircraft is crossing from the right to the left.
  2. The other aircraft is flying away from you.
  3. The other aircraft is crossing from the left to the right.

Click here to display the answer...

As always, I hope this Testing Tuesday question was helpful and thought-provoking! 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 likes when google answers his stupid questions because it means he's not the only one asking google stupid questions.

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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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My Most Memorable Flight

BarnstormingLast month, a pioneering group of formation bloggers launched an ambitious plan to blog monthly about something aviation related, each from their own perspective, for six days straight.  Our first series was about how we got into flying.

The first series was really an experiment to see whether it was something that we enjoyed and was worthwhile to all of our readers.  We decided that both the above were true.  So we made it a monthly series - we all post the first full week of each month on an aviation topic we all agree on.

The agreement part of the process is easier said than done, as there are many ideas of what to write about.  So after a little bit of back-and-forth, we decided that our second series should be about our most memorable flight.

Now, I have to admit, once this was decided, I started to run through my memory banks to try to pick one out, and I realized that with my 450 hours of total time, my inventory is smaller than all the rest of my venerable associates, who have thousands (or tens of thousands) of flight hours.

This is a little intimidating.

But the more I thought about my flying career, the more flights came to mind that are so vivid as to seem as if I am actually experiencing them again when I think about them.

Should I write about my first solo cross-country, or maybe my long solo cross country for my private?

Nah, personal solo memories are far too common.

What about my flight from Bolton Field (KTZR) in Columbus, Ohio to Peachtree-Dekalb (KPDK) in Atlanta, Georgia to go to a friend's 40th birthday party?  Or my commercial checkride, which I passed and then ironically got stuck on my way back home because the weather dropped and I was not instrument current?

Nope. Memorable, certainly. But not "most" memorable.

Finally, I landed (pun intended) on two flights that I recall most vividly - one in which I was piloting, and the other in which I was - interestingly - neither the pilot nor a passenger.  I hope when the rest of the formation bloggers read this that they don't bar me from the group for breaking the rules (I think they'll understand).

My most memorable flight as a pilot happened over a decade ago, while I was in college.  It starts slow, and actually seemed completely normal - just like any other flight - until "it" happened...

A fellow aviation management student (Greg*) and I flew out to Independence, Kansas to pick up a brand new Cessna 172SP from the factory and bring it back to Oakland/Troy Executive Airport (7D2 at the time; now KVLL).  A friend of the owners of the FBO on the field was buying a couple of them to lease back to the FBO as trainers, and the three of us flew out in his Beech Bonanza, stayed the night in a hotel, and flew back the next day.  He flew his bonanza back himself, and Greg and I flew the C172.  I was a recently minted private pilot, and Greg had recently obtained his instrument rating.

We planned the flight from Independence to Springfield, IL for fuel, then home to Troy, MI.  We did a quick acceptance flight around the pattern, signed a few papers, and then took off for Springfield, leaving a little (okay a lot) later than we had planned because we were offered a factory tour that we could not pass up (obviously).

I flew the first leg from Independence to Springfield, and we stayed low (like 500-feet AGL low) for the first hour or two.  Why, you ask?  Because we were college students, relatively new pilots, and we were in the (arguably) flattest area in the country (maybe world).  And did I mention we were college students (meaning we just didn't know any better)?  So, dodging towers and buzzing grazing cows, we made our way to Springfield, were cleared to land 30 miles out (it was a slow day, apparently), and got fuel and a bite to eat.

It was dusk by the time we got back in the plane, and Greg filed an instrument flight plan to Troy, even though it was a beautiful day and was forecast to remain so (and there was absolutely no reason to think that it would change for the worse).  So off we went into the darkening sky, talking to Chicago Center... we were at five or seven-thousand feet.  All was uneventful until the instrument panel lit up - like there was a 747 getting ready to land on top of us!  The top of the panel truly looked like someone was shining a 10 million candle-power spotlight from above us into the cockpit.  Greg and I immediately started looking for traffic above us, and as we scanned (frantically) to find the other aircraft we knew was about to make a perfect landing on our wings, we saw a fireball rip through the sky above us, going the same direction we were.  It looked as if it were only 1000 feet above us, and maybe a mile to our right.  Who knows whether it was actually that close (doubtful), but it sure seemed that way.  We watched it go all the way to the horizon and fizzle out.

We both looked at each other and said "Holy Sh*t!"

Greg later said he was glad I came along (I skipped classes to go and wasn't sure I was going to come until the last minute), because otherwise no one would ever believe that he actually saw what we saw.  I'm not convinced my testimony has ever helped - we know pilots are all crazy anyway, so what should you believe when any of us open our mouths - but we called Center and asked if anyone else had reported seeing anything like it.  They just responded that they were getting a few reports of meteor showers.

That flaming ball of, well, flame is not something I will ever forget.  I have to say that it is my most memorable flight, if only because it honestly seemed like if we had been only slightly higher and a little off course to the right, that meteorite would have had to put a C172 stencil under its canopy, because it would have shot us down.  I know that there is no way it was actually that low or that close, but try seeing it like we did and convince yourself of that at the time.


Now for the flight that is etched in my memory where I was not the pilot (nor a passenger) - this one is far more recent:

My first solo of a student!  Just a few weekends ago, I soloed my first student. We had been practicing landings for a long time, and for the last two lessons she had been nailing them.  The winds were perfect - light and right down the runway.  I got to watch her solo from the control tower of KOSU airport.

This story (and some of the others above) merits its own post, but suffice it to say that my first first solo student is ALSO a flight I'll never forget.  Even if I wasn't on the plane at all.

*Names changed to protect the innocent - though "Greg" probably wouldn't mind if I used his real name, I am writing this on procrastinator's time and can't confirm this before I post.  Greg, if you read this in the future, please accept my apologies.

Please check out the other five "Formation Bloggers"

Karlene Petitt - Flight to Success - karlenepetitt.blogspot.com
Eric Auxier 
- The Adventures of Cap'n Aux - capnaux.blogspot.com
Ron Rapp - House of Rapp - www.rapp.org
Dan Pimentel - Airplanista  - av8rdan.com
Brent Owens - Iflyblog - iflyblog.com

What is your most memorable flight? Remember it in perpetuity by telling us about it in the comments, and add to the blog formation with your own story!

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

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