Are you a Pilotaster?

Catch Me if You CanMy wife is an English teacher - but even if she weren't I'd still be a language and grammar nerd (I'll be honest).

I subscribe to Dictionary.com's Word of the Day, and I recently got a very interesting word: "poetaster."  Here's the definition:


po·et·as·ter [poh-it-as-ter] noun
an inferior poet; a writer of indifferent verse.

Essentially, a poetaster is an imposter poet.

And I thought about my flying and other pilots I have flown and worked with in the past - and I realized that many pilots, once they "finish" training, become "pilotasters" - indifferent, inferior, imposter pilots!

How do you know if you are a pilotaster?

  • Do you rush your preflight, and miss things in the process (like visually checking your fuel)?
  • Do you try to "save" a bad landing instead of going around and trying again?
  • Do you skip checking weather (DUATS or 1-800-WX-BRIEF) because you're "just staying in the pattern" or only going to the practice area?
    • Do you have a hard time believing what is actually happening with the weather because "it's not what the forecast said" or "not what the METAR / ATIS said?"
  • Do you fly lower than necessary or "buzz" your friends' or family's houses?
  • Do you "stretch your fuel" and pass up perfectly good refueling spots on cross-countries,even though you might have a stronger headwind (or weaker tailwind) than anticipated (or for some other reason you are burning fuel more rapidly than you originally planned)?
    • Related: Do you even pay attention to your ACTUAL fuel burn and your time between checkpoints on your cross-country flights?
    • Do you note the time you takeoff on your cross-country flights so you can actually keep track of how long you have been in the air?
  • Do you forget to lean, or lean improperly (or maybe were never taught to lean your plan and then never took the time to learn it on your own)?
  • Do you regularly forget to untie or un-chock the airplane?
  • Do you accidentally leave the parking brake set as you start your taxi (or even all the way through takeoff, and maybe even landing)?
  • Do you review your Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) regularly to refresh your knowledge of your V-Speeds and emergency procedures?
  • Do you play "what if" every chance you get, and actually pick out a good emergency landing spot "just in case" something happens and you need it? Do you keep that always in mind as you fly?

I'm sure you can think of more items to add (so tell us in the comments what you think should - or should not) be on this list.

I'd also like to point out that I don't think that anyone always "is" or "is not" a pilotaster. I, myself have been guilty of just about every item on the above list at one time or another (never all at the same time, but sometimes more than one at a time) - I think that we all have days when we are pilotasters and days when we are not. My goal is to not be a pilotaster most days - to minimize the flights where I would have to consider myself as a pilotaster after the fact.

So I strive to avoid these situations by doing my absolute best, absolutely every time I step up to an airplane. I hope you can say the same!

Thanks for reading the Smart Flight Training blog – I hope you enjoyed this post, and please add to the list above if you have things that you - ahem - know other pilots do that might bite them someday! Tailwinds, and have a great week!

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

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Weather Cancellations

You just have to love social media - the weather was stormy and ugly yesterday and my student and I decided that it was no good for a flight lesson we had scheduled. We discussed and cancelled the lesson.

Later, on Facebook, I saw she had posted this:

Student Facebook Post



































I felt the very same way!



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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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Loss of Control (towers)?

Airport Control Tower at Sunset

Photo credit: NeallePage

Okay, so I may be a little late to this party, but mainly it was because I had my boots on the ground, actaully doing some politics about it instead of posting about it here, but I think I have mostly done all that I can on the subject for now, and can take a minute to post about the situation...Did you know that many airport control towers are not FAA-run control towers?  It's true.  Many control towers around the USA are "contract" control towers, meaning that the FAA does not run them, nor are the controllers FAA employees.

"So what?" you may ask.

Here's what - due to the "sequester" (and I'm not about to get into the politics of left vs. right, Democrat vs. Republican, conservative vs. liberal - all have had a hand in this SNAFU, thank you very much), the FAA is being asked (forced) to cut over $600 million (something like $637,000,000.00).  So as part of that mandate, they are planning on closing 149 contract towers across the country.

If you are a part of (or even just interested in) aviation, these control tower closures affect you - they are all over the US, including two airports in my neck of the woods - KOSU (Don Scott Field - Ohio State University Airport) and KTZR (Bolton Field).  Want to know which airports will be affected where you are?  Click here for a list of towers to be closed.

In a nutshell, airports in 38 states will be affected by the control tower closures.  Here's the breakdown by state:

  • Alabama - 2
  • Arkansas - 2
  • Arizona - 4
  • California - 11
  • Connecticut - 6
  • Florida - 14
  • Georgia - 5
  • Iowa - 1
  • Idaho - 4
  • Illinois - 5
  • Indiana - 2
  • Kansas - 5
  • Kentucky - 2
  • Louisiana - 1
  • Massachusetts - 5
  • Maryland - 5
  • Michigan - 3
  • Minnesota - 2
  • Missouri - 2
  • Mississippi - 5
  • Montana - 1
  • North Carolina - 5
  • New Hampshire - 1
  • New Jersey - 1
  • New Mexico - 2
  • New York - 2
  • Ohio - 3
  • Oklahoma - 4
  • Oregon - 4
  • Pennsylvania - 3
  • South Carolina - 3
  • Tennesee - 2
  • Texas - 13
  • Utah - 2
  • Virginia - 1
  • Washington - 5
  • Wisconsin - 8
  • West Virginia - 3

Let me give you the backstory:

In early March 2013, the FAA stated that they were going to close 173 contract towers across the country, and gave less than a month for airports and affected citizens to voice their opinions.  MANY of the airports on the list, and many pilots and other aviation aficianados submitted concerns - not only to the FAA, but also to their representatives in congress.  I, myself, emailed my own congressperson, and also the two who represent the OSU airport area, as they (and their constituents) would be directly affected by the control tower closures.

I got a response back from one of them, as of this writing.  It was pretty "form letter" and didn't say much.  Pretty much what I've come to expect from any of our "representatives."  So who knows whether it did any good, but I certainly felt better having done it.

These towers were scheduled to start closing on April 7th, 2013, and as that date drew closer, the number of towers scheduled to close started to shrink, and ultimately landed at 149 (which is where it still sits today).

On April 5th (the Friday before the closures were scheduled to start, the FAA announced that they would "delay" the closures until June 15th.

And welcome to the present day - in a little over a month, all of the airports above, which currently have control towers at least part-time, will no longer have control towers, making all of the airports "non-towered" fields.

Now, this sounds scary, but it isn't in general.  Many (if not most) of the airports on the above list are probably non-towered fields part of the time anyway (Bolton Field in Columbus, Ohio, for instance, only has tower service from 7:30am to 7:30pm).  Additionally, a large number of them are probably single-runway, making them easy to understand and use with no assistance from Air Traffic Control (again, Bolton comes to mind).  Pilots are trained to communicate, use staandard procedures, and be vigilant for other aircraft both on the ground and in the air at non-towered fields anyway.  We all know how to operate into and out of these kind of fields safely.

That said, many (if not all) of these airports are used as "relievers" for larger, busier airports (both Bolton and Don Scott (OSU) are relievers for Port Columbus, and Cuyahoga County is a reliver for Cleveland Hopkins).  Without  a control tower, some pilots may choose to go to the larger airport so that they can get ATC service all the way to the ground (and even on the ground from ground control). Some of this might be simply for convenience, but in other cases it may be that these airports will lose some instrument approaches due to the tower no longer providing service, meaning in inclement weather, pilots may HAVE to go to the busier airports - at best causing more congestion; at worst causing safety issues due to the mix of aircraft capability and pilot experience!

Additionally, I would guess that at least a few of these airports are just simply too complicated to safely be used as a non-towered airport - I'll point to OSU airport.  This airport has 4 runways (meaning aircraft can take off and land in as many as 8 different directions).  Pick any one of these runways, and it intersects with a minimum of two of the other runways (two of the runways intersect with all three of the others!).  I can't speak for other pilots, but given the choice of other airports, I would go elsewhere.  Unfortunately, as an instructor out of this airport, I may not have any choice in the matter!

So what can we do?  Just sit and wait for the FAA to shut these towers down?

Absolutely not!  If you are concerned about this, or are directly affected, or just want to make people aware, write your representative(s)!  Call your local news station (radio, TV, or both)!  Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper(s)!  Join (or get more directly involved in) an aviation interest group like EAA or AOPA (among others).  Make your voice heard!  Get more people involved in aviation - take a friend or a family member flying.  Not a pilot?  Start taking lessons, or go on an intro flight, or call up your pilot friend and give him/her a reason to go up with you!  Go get a $100 hamburger (maybe take a reporter with you, or your representative)!  There are a million ways to support aviation, not the least of which is to be active in the industry - even if it is just to take your kids to watch the planes take off and land.

Let Michael P. Huerta (the FAA Administrator) know how you feel about the tower closures.  Write him a letter personally:

FAA Headquarters
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20591

I'm not a wild-eyed revolutionary by any means (at least not anymore), and I understand the concern about our spending here in the United States.  I know that there is a LOT of waste in the government.  But any kind of forced cutting of programs and departments without really looking at the consequences is a bad move, in my opinion.  It means knee-jerk reactions that will have unintended, possibly disastrous results.  And I'm not just talking about the FAA, but in all other aspects of our government as well - military, social, environmental, business, etc.  This kind of thing takes planning and research, and a "time-bomb" such as the sequester is completely the wrong way to go about it.  Unfortunately, reality doesn't win elections - exaggerated issues and posturing do.  Let's change THAT, right after we get this control tower thing figured out...

Andrew Hartley is a certificated flight instructor in Columbus, Ohio - and he WILL delete any strictly political comments that do not add value to the discussion. You've been warned.

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Weather Terminology: Winds

windsockHere's something dumb - "direction-erly" winds.

Have you ever heard someone say the winds are easterly today, and wondered what that meant? I always assumed that easterly winds meant that the winds were going towards the east (like an easterly facing wall, or a boat moving in an easterly direction).

But when it comes to winds, easterly actually means "from the east," - so the winds are actually moving from east to west.


I actually discovered this because of an aviation quiz question in a magazine - probably AOPA Pilot or Flying Magazine.

I got the answer wrong, so I googled the term so I would understand it if I heard it or saw it again.  Personally, I think it is dumb.  But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

Here's why:

Winds in aviation are always reported using the compass direction they are coming from and then their velocity, in knots.

An example of this is on a METAR:

KCMH 021551Z 33011KT 10SM BKN042 07/M03 A2995 RMK AO2 SLP147 T00671028

In bold, above, this METAR says that winds at Port Columbus airport in Columbus, Ohio, are from 330 degrees (from the northwest) at 11 knots.

Another example of this is when you listen to ATIS or get your departure clearance from the tower - they will almost always give you the current winds in degrees and speed, just like the METAR above does.

In summary, since all other aviation winds are reported as "from" some direction, it makes sense that "westerly" winds would be "from the west."

So, below, I offer a handy "key" to direction-erly winds:

easterly = from the east

westerly = from the west

northerly = from the north

southerly = from the south

You can apply this as well, if you like, for non-cardinal directions - like north-westerly winds in the METAR example above.

Just don't try to tell the tower or your instructor that the winds are 330 degreeserly.

Anybody else out there who struggled with this kind of seeming inconsistency? Tell us about it in the comments. Erly.

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

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