Quantcast

Solo – A Blogging in Formation Post

Tailwheel

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.

Unaccompanied.

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.

Unaccompanied.

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.

Unaccompanied.

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

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutubeby feather
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Phraseology: Make Short Approach

So you're flying into a towered airport. You've been listening to other traffic and their clearances, and you hear that there is another aircraft on an 8-mile final, and you are abeam the numbers on downwind.

What are you thinking? Are you going to have to extend your downwind? Man, that will put you WAY out farther then you normally like for flying the pattern... Can the guy on final do a 360 to give you space? SOMETHING has to give, or you'll end up trying to share the same space at the same time - never a good thing.

Just then, you hear tower: "November two-one-six-five papa, cleared to land runway one-two, make short approach."

What!?!

"Make short approach" simply means that tower wants you to cut your downwind short and turn early for your base leg (see our traffic patterns post for more information). Air traffic control generally assumes that you will cut your normal distance between the numbers and your base leg in half, but depending on your aircraft, the runway length, etc, you could "make short approach" immediately abeam the numbers or even further down the runway.

You might hear ATC ask you to "tighten your approach" instead of saying "make short approach." Also, a non-standard statement, but still one you might hear, is "direct to the numbers." ALternatively (or in addition to) any of the above phrases, ATC may also ask you to "keep your speed up," which is self-explanatory, and is another way for ATC to keep safe spacing between aircraft on approach.

The important things to keep in mind when you are asked by air traffic control to make short approach are:

  1. you will need to descend at a steeper angle than normal, meaning that your airspeed will be higher than you'd like if you are not prepared and planning ahead for that (get power out and flaps in earlier than normal to compensate).
  2. you may need more runway than you normally use
    • because of your higher airspeed from a steeper descent (see above)
    • because you may touch down further down the runway than normal
  3. there is traffic behind you, probably only within a few miles, so you'll want to clear the runway as soon as possible - don't loiter!

Above all, ALWAYS keep in mind that you are the pilot in command (PIC) - if you don't believe that you can do what ATC is asking you to do safely, don't do it! Tell them you are unable, and that you would rather do a 360, or a 270 to base, or extend your downwind. Never, ever put yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable or unsafe, even if ATC has requested it of you.

Think of the radio as an inflight, electronic suggestion box... but not the boss. That would be you. Act like it.

Start the below video at about 1:37 to really see the "approach" being shortened...


Have you ever been asked to make short approach? How did you handle it? Did you do it? Did you request an amended clearance from ATC? What do you think about short approaches in general?

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

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutubeby feather
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Fundamentals: Airport Traffic Patterns

Highway Traffic ImageYou're in your car, getting ready to merge on to the freeway.  You accelerate, turn on your blinker, check your mirrors and blind spot, adjust your speed to fit in when someone makes a gap for you (if you're lucky), and merge.  Now on the freeway, you find yourself behind a slower-moving vehicle.  You merge left and pass on that side, and then back to the right lane when you are done.

Traffic patterns on the road are pretty predictable.  You might have one-way streets or two-way streets, probably speed limit signs and speed bumps, stop signs, stop lights, yield signs, construction barrels, lane markings, and on and on.  You know these rules because you studied them and have experience with them.

This is no different from the rules of flight, only there aren't lines painted in the sky (on the airport is a completely different story), nor are there speed limit signs or lights up there.

But there ARE rules to follow - and sometimes just "suggestions" (or what folks in the business world might call "best practices").

Let's discuss airport traffic patterns.  On the road, you know generally what to expect of other drivers - where they are apt to be, what speed they are probably going, and what they are most likely going to do next.  This is all good information to know, as you can base YOUR next move on what you know and expect others are doing.

The same thing applies in the air.

Did you know that most mid-air collisions occur in the vicinity of an airport?  It's true.  This is why it is critical to understand what is (or should be) happening around airports when you are arriving or departing from one.

Using the airport runway as a guide, there are six possible "legs" that planes might be flying around the runway.

"But wait!" you say, "How can there be six legs when a runway only has four sides?  Shouldn't there only be four legs around a runway?"  Correct you are; but part of a traffic pattern at an airport has to do with altitude (or at least how altitude is changing and what the pilot aims to do on that leg). Bear with me:

Chapter 4, section 3 of the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) discusses traffic patterns:

  • Upwind leg. A flight path parallel to the landing runway in the direction of landing.
  • Crosswind leg. A flight path at right angles to the landing runway off its takeoff end.
  • Downwind leg. A flight path parallel to the landing runway in the opposite direction of landing.
  • Base leg. A flight path at right angles to the landing runway off its approach end and extending from the downwind leg to the intersection of the extended runway centerline.
  • Final approach. A flight path in the direction of landing along the extended runway centerline from the base leg to the runway.
  • Departure leg. The flight path which begins after takeoff and continues straight ahead along the extended runway centerline. The departure climb continues until reaching a point at least 1/2 mile beyond the departure end of the runway and within 300 feet of the traffic pattern altitude.

Airport Traffic Pattern

In the image above, you can see a standard traffic pattern - which means the airplane is making left hand turns, and is landing (and taking off) from left to right as you see it here on the page.  The blue color lines mean the plane is at a constant altitude, green means the plane is climbing, and red means the plane is descending. The only exception to these color patterns would be if a plane went from upwind to crosswind (then all of the crosswind leg would be maintaining altitude), versus from departure to crosswind (in which case the aircraft would be climbing in crosswind).

You can see why upwind, downwind, and crosswind are named such, knowing that aircraft always take off and land into, or against, the wind (upwind).  I like to think that base leg is called "base" because it is really the foundation of your landing (the "base" of a house is its foundation - and if it isn't right, the whole house will never be right) - if the base leg isn't right, your whole landing will suffer for it.  Final approach is just that - final.  It's your last chance to get the approach together before you touch down.

If you use the same lines, but imagine the plane going the opposite direction, you can imagine a "right-hand" pattern.  This is technically "non-standard," but that does not mean that it happens less.  In fact, many airports use "right traffic" as their pattern (you might even see right traffic when taking off in one direction, and left traffic when taking off in the opposite direction) - so it pays to do your research before you go to a new airport!


Do you have anything to add to this discussion of airport traffic patterns? Take your turn in the comments!


Andrew Hartley is a Certificated Flight Instructor in Columbus, Ohio

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutubeby feather
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
s2Member®
%d bloggers like this:
Skip to toolbar