How does one enter the traffic pattern when a 45 to downwind is not convenient?

Fly directly over the runway, heading toward the downwind at least 1000ft above the traffic pattern altitude. This way, you’ll have a great view of the airport and approaching aircraft.
 Once clear of the downwind leg, you can start a descending turn and set up for a 45 degree entry to a midfield downwind.
Ensure that you’re at pattern altitude before you enter the downwind. This will help ensure that you don’t descent on aircraft in the pattern. Always be aware of any arriving aircraft.
Just because you don’t hear anyone in the pattern, that doesn’t mean that a pilot in a J-3 Cub – without a radio – isn’t trying to land, too. Always fly the standard traffic pattern. Don’t rationalize some other method. That only adds to pattern confusion. Be a solution and not a problem.

Flying the standard pattern published in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) will standardize pilot expectations!
Of course, at towered airports, comply with the controllers instructions!”



It’s up to You and Me!

ONE-A-DAY – In the 50s, 60s and 70s, commercial aviation didn’t have a very good safety record. News of airline accidents frightened my mother and rightly so.  However, in June, 1971, I was graduating from USAF pilot training, and my mother wanted to pin pilot wings on her boy’s chest. So, with my father holding her hand, she took a deep breath and boarded a Frontier Airlines Prop Jet, and flew from Salt Lake City to Denver and then on to Enid, Oklahoma. Today, things are quite different. The last fatal airline crash was Colgan Air flight 3407 in 2009, killing 50 people near Buffalo, New York. In sharp contrast, private-plane crashes have killed over 1,500 people since 2009 – 30 times as many as the Colgan Air Crash. That’s a rate of a little over one death per day!

WHAT CHANGED? – Advances in technology created the Angle of Attack indicator, GPWS (Ground Proximity Warning System), the onboard Wind Shear Alerting System, TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System), advanced color weather radar, and a myriad of other gee whiz devices to improve safety.  The airlines, following FAA mandates, installed all of ‘em and greatly enhanced their recurrent training programs. Today, commercial airline crashes due to icing, inadvertently hitting the ground, mid-air collisions, wind shear and other causes have been almost wiped out. The Commercial Jetliner accident rate has dropped 85% since 2000. Conversely, the private-pilot crash rate has increased 20%. (Reference: U.S. National Transportation Safety Board).  Accidents involving private pilots in their own or rented planes, mostly small, single-engine aircraft, averaged about 12 per 100,000 flight hours from 2007 through 2010. Private-flight crashes were 12 times higher than the average rate for other types of general-aviation flying. More disturbing is the rate of deadly wrecks in the world of private flying. It’s growing faster than the accident rate and deaths are up 25 percent since 2000.

THE MISTAKES JUST KEEP COMIN’ – Pilots have overloaded planes, failed to check weather reports, and made flying mistakes that caused planes to lose lift (stall) or go out of control. Pilots can’t seem to stop flying into rising terrain or weather when on a VFR flight. In an average week, three GA aircraft crash due to fuel starvation (Reference AOPA’s Safety Institute).  Pilots seem to be oblivious to the lessons that could be could be learned previous accidents.

MISTAKES LIKE: VFR to IMC – In 2005, the NTSB issued a study focusing on the role of weather as a common cause of small-plane accidents. In May 20, 2011, a Beechcraft Bonanza crashed in Taos, NM, after the pilot chose to fly into a cloud and slammed into a mountainside. Investigators found that the pilot, who died, hadn’t checked weather reports for the route he flew.

LOSS OF CONTROL AND THE “AFFORDABLE” BUT NOT MANDATED, AOA – The largest category of accidents are those in which pilots lose control during flight, said Bruce Landsberg, President of the AOPA Foundation.  An NTSB safety panel, which met in June 2012, has endorsed working with the FAA to make it cheaper for small planes to install an Angle of Attack Indicator or AOA which will warn pilots when wings are in danger of losing lift. AOPA installed an AOA in the Air Safety Institute’s Archer. However, pilots are not interested in using the Archer’s AOA because they are more comfortable with the “old, unreliable airspeed [indicator] because that’s what they had lived with since they began flying.” (AOPA Pilot, August 2012, page 20). Landsberg lamented that, “AOAs will only be of value to a generation of pilots who are exposed to it at the beginning of training.”

IF YOU’RE YELLING “YAHOO!”, IT’S PROBABLY NOT GOING TO END WELL I confess, I’ve been caught up in a juvenile stunt or two; even yelled “Yahoo!” Yes, the number one cause of accidents is still PILOT ERROR. Pilots can be trained ad nauseum, (“until the cows come home”), but they are still human and sometimes make bad choices. The following accident is particularly tragic. On Feb. 15, 2010, a Cessna T337G twin-engine plane crashed near Monmouth County Executive Airport in Farmingdale, New Jersey, as family members of those on board watched. The three adults and two children on the plane died.  The NTSB found that after buzzing the airfield at high speed, the plane pulled into a climb and a section of the right wing separated from the aircraft. The plane was overloaded and flying too fast for such a maneuver.

THE WINGS PROGRAM – Strapping yourself and friends/family into your aircraft is serious stuff. It’s not a hobby. Flying radio controlled airplanes is a hobby with, I might add, a better safety record than GA. The FAA’s Wings Program was developed to increase a pilot’s exposure to aviation safety courses and enhance flight proficiency. After signing up for “Wings” at , pilots complete three Safety Courses a year and fly with a CFI three times year. That’s six flights in 24 months versus one in the BFR program. However, fuel and instructors aren’t free and “Wings” takes more time. So, the “Wings” participation level is very low. At the end of 2009, there were 234 recreational pilots, 3,248 sport pilots, 211,619 private pilots, 125,738 commercial pilots and 144,600 airline transport pilots. Yet, this year, only 14,745 pilots have earned at least one phase in the WINGS – Pilot Proficiency Program. (Reference That’s just 4% of the Private, Recreational, Sport and Commercial pilots in the US. Is it ignorance or apathy? Apparently, many pilots don’t seem to know, or care.

IT’S UP TO US! –The accident rate is not going to get better until something changes. Mandatory continuation training would rejuvenate flight schools and invigorate Pilot Proficiency Programs and companies like Flight Safety, Inc. But, for now, it’s up to each pilot to be as professional as possible! At least take the AOPA and courses. Friends and family who fly with you believe that you are outstanding, professional and proficient pilot; otherwise, they wouldn’t get in your airplane. I contend that pilots should be as proficient and competent as their family and passengers think that they are. Until something changes, we can count on one thing: Somewhere in America – TODAY – at least one life will be lost in a GA accident.

To read more, see Bloomberg Newsweek, Deadly Private-Plane Crashes Prompt U.S. Call for Basics, by Alan Levin on June 19, 2012

I Beat the Night Flying Boogie Man!

When I was a USAF student pilot, (1969-70), my T-38 instructor, Mike Alley and I flew cross country to Hill AFB, Utah. I flew an ILS approach, and then cancelled IFR and flew towards my home town of Tooele (Too-Ella), 35 nm SSE of Hill. I buzzed Main Street at a legal 1,000 feet AGL and soon we were in Tooele’s foothills. Mike told me to be careful. I assured him that I was “raised in these hills” and he replied, “Yes, but you weren’t raised here going 300 knots!” That was a sobering admonition. We likewise should exercise care when flying our Mooneys at night. We’re going fast, we can’t see very much, and it’s such a rare event, because 95% of the average pilot’s flying is logged during the day. Some pilots don’t like to fly at night. I get it. Statistically, night flying increases the accident risk by a factor of 5 and that alone can play with our emotions. Nobody wants to do something risky. However, I contend that with proper training, attention to detail and adequate planning, pilots can be as confident at night as they are in the day. Pilots can change the odds in their favor. The Night Flying Boogie Man is still there, but his influence can be diminished significantly!

I love to fly at night, but I do a lot of study before I do it. I especially enjoy it during the summer, because I can avoid turbulence. Furthermore, the views are spectacular, especially around well lit cities, and the sky is less crowded. However, all the romance of night flying comes with some dangers. It’s hard to see weather and that’s why half of all the VFR into IMC (non-VFR weather) accidents have occurred at night.

The moon can be a nice illuminator, but even a full moon only gives 1/500,000,000 the light that the sun gives. Some moons are less helpful than others. For instance, a half moon gives 10% of a full moon’s light and a crescent offers a mere 1%. If the moon is low, there is even less light. With little to no light, it’s hard to see mountains and other obstacles. TV/Radio antennae, although topped by a red or white light flashing light, can be hard to see and their guy wires are invisible!

What Can You do to Mitigate Possible Dangers • Be sure that your charts are current and always check NOTAMs before flying. • Pick a high cruising altitude. This will give you more time to troubleshoot and a greater gliding distance, possibly to an airport. • Choose a route which takes you over or near several other airports along the way, even if it means the route is a little longer. If the engine should fail, you’ll have an airport underneath you or within gliding distance. • Use VFR flight following or go IFR, even if in VFR conditions. In case of engine of an emergency, ATC will be a monumental help, vectoring you to a good landing spot. • If airfields are scarce, file the “other” IFR – “I Follow Roads” and let the headlights illuminate the highway. A pilot flying in New Mexico at night, safely landed his Cessna on I-10 between DMN and LRU.

If the Engine Fails The FAA recommends that if you know the condition of the terrain, aim for the unlighted portion.  If you know there is a nice level field underneath you, by all means use it. What happens if you don’t know the condition? You may be aiming for a forest, when a perfectly lit street is close by and a better choice. Landing close to public access is important because you may needed medical help after landing. Some say, that “If you’re ever faced with a forced landing at night, turn the landing lights on to see the landing area. If you don’t like what you see, turn’ em back off.” Seriously, if you do see obstacles, you may be able to avoid them.

Fly the Airplane! Never give up and continue to fly the airplane. Bob Hoover said, “If you’re faced with a forced landing, fly the thing as far into the crash as possible.” Maintain a good margin of safely above stall speed all the way to the ground. Bob Martens, aviation speaker, consultant and safety expert, added, “I’ve been to many aircraft accident scenes.  I’ve evaluated hundreds and hundreds of accidents, and pilots are not killed when they fly their airplane to the ground under control. They are killed when they stall an airplane into the ground.”

Positive Stories

July 13, 1999. A single engine plane rests on a green after an emergency landing on the golf course at the Boca Raton Resort and Golf Course in Boca Raton, Fla., Tuesday night,. The plane landed between two sand traps. Pilot Carlos Claudio, 37, of Coconut Creek, Fla., walked away from the 8:45 p.m. crash with minor injuries. (Sun Sentenial)

A Columbia 400 with a blown engine landed safely at Altoona, Pennsylvania’s airport at night. Hear the story HERE. Hoping things will work out is not an alternative! Know the challenges in your local area and have a plan before you leave the ground. Always consider alternatives with guaranteed outcomes. Remember that “hoping” things will work out is not an alternative! No doubt about it, night flight requires more care and planning. Develop your own strategies for night flight and enjoy the view!

Learn more about Night Flying and Test your Knowledge AOPA – Night Flying | AOPA SAFETY QUIZ – Night Operations | AOPA SAFETY QUIZ – Airport Lighting, VFR | AOPA SAFETY QUIZ – Airport Lighting, IFR

My Wife isn’t Evil Knievel

After I earned my pilot’s license in 1970, I took my cousin flying in a Cessna 172. After arriving at cruise altitude, I leaned the engine until the engine ran a little rough, and then enriched the fuel; normal procedure. To this day, she claims that I shut the engine down and refuses to fly in a small aircraft again. That’s my fault. I should have explained in layman’s language, what I was doing. Instead, I had said nothing.

While on an IFR flight with my wife, I took, what was to me, a reasonable risk and ended up with a small amount of ice on my windscreen, wings, etc. After the flight, my wife Gerry gave me fair warning, “If you ever scare me again, I’ll never fly with you.” I love flying with my wife and I can’t imagine a flight without her. So, even if something seems reasonable, I always consider how my non-pilot wife is feeling.

I have a pilot friend who, while flying with his wife, almost ran out of fuel because if he had landed to refuel, he would have added an extra half hour to his total flight time. Another friend told me that although he did not have an Instrument License, he had flown through a great deal of weather – again with his wife in the right seat.

The wives of these pilots told me, well before these stories were related, that although they had once been willing flying partners, now they won’t fly with their husbands.

I have another friend who had never personally done anything to scare his wife while flying. However, their close pilot friend, considered by many to be a wonderful pilot, had lived through two serious crashes. He did not survive his third crash.  And so, she reasoned that so called wonderful pilots eventually die in a crash. Ergo, she won’t fly in a “little airplane”.

What can you do? You can earn your flying partner’s respect by remembering:

  • Assuming your partner is not Evil Knievel, fly conservatively; don’t take unnecessary chances.
  • Be a communicator and tell your partner about your plan to safely avoid the weather ahead and explain why that “red light” just came on.
  • Don’t be a condescending jerk. Encourage questions and seek your partner’s input. Explain, explain, explain!
  • Stay out of the ice and well clear of convective weather.
  • Fly in the cool of the morning when the air is smooth. Nobody likes turbulence.

When you ask your spouse, “Who’s the best pilot you know?”

I hope the reply is, “You are honey . . .  you are!”