OpenAirplane Shuts Down

OpenAirplane, the operation that attempted to make renting general aviation aircraft as simple as renting a car, is shutting down. I’ve completed two Universal Checkouts in the OpenAirplane system, but like many pilots, I never exercised the privileges.

I’ve been a follower of Rod Rakic for some time, and I’m sorry to see his endeavor didn’t make it:

General aviation is a bit like teenage sex. Lots of people talk about it, even when few are doing it. Survey data is not anywhere close to being as valuable as being in the market and following real money. Consumers are fickle, and humans are terrible at estimating utilization. Long before we launched OpenAirplane, we surveyed thousands of pilots. They told us they would fly an average of 10 hours a year more than they do today. That did not come to pass. Demonstrating to us at least that surveys are a terrible way to capture intent. While the idea of OpenAirplane won us praise, fans, and even super fans, the reality is that too few pilots took to the skies to make the operation sustainable.

If there’s one thing that we learned the hard way, it is that it’s tough to get pilots off the couch and into the cockpit.

To add to that, it’s getting harder to justify $!50+ per rental hour to fly. The GA industry needs to allow for innovation if it’s going to survive.

via Contact Ground, Point Niner – Rod Rakic – Medium

A Little More Than a Year Ago I Went Home

YouTube recently reminded me that it’s been about a year since Lauren and I returned to Champaign-Urbana and took a 172 out over the city. We visited one of my favorite teachers, and also had dinner with the parents of one of my very best friends from childhood. We walked the rows of apple trees at Curtis Orchard and watched the staff at Prairie Gardens begin to unpack Christmas decorations.

Via Aerial Tour of Champaign-Urbana from Frasca Field – Michael Castellon – YouTube

WWII Air Combat Techniques

The American Volunteer Groups –– or Flying Tigers –– were volunteer air combat units organized by the United States government to assist China against Japan in the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Erik Shilling, a former Flying Tiger, describes the air combat techniques required to engage with Japanese fighter aircraft:

We used to listen to Tokyo Rose quite frequently. On several of her broadcasts, she called the Flying Tigers cowards because we refused to stay and fight, then challenged us to stop running away. We thought this was quite humurous, and at the same time, knew our tactics were hurting.

Also on some of Tokyo Rose’s broadcasts, the number of AVG aircraft that the Japanese claimed to have shot down, was the exact number Japaese aircraft that we had destroyed. (We only lost 4 pilots in aerial combat.) This was the figure I used in giving our kill ratios. It had no bearing on the number of aircraft we or they destroy. Even [Daniel] Ford has said that we killed approximately 400 air crew.

To show a couple examples of attacking enemy fighters: If you attack head on, which the enemy was reluctant to do, because our guns outranged the fighters, they would normally pull up. (If he started turning away, he would already be at a disadvantage.) You started firing at Max range, and then dive away, under these conditions we didn’t turn and tangle with a Jap fighters.

Attacking the enemy from a 3 to 6 o’clock position.

Why roll rate was important, is that one must remember that all maneuvers, except for a loop, started with a roll. The slower the roll rate the longer it took before the turn began.

1. If he turned away, he set you up on his six. A most undesirable position for him, because he would be a dead duck.

2. The enemy invariably turned toward you which was normal and anticipated. With his slower roll rate, you could beat him into the turn, get a deflection shot at him, and when you slowed down to where he started gaining on you in the circle, you rolled and dove away before you were in his sights. If you haven’t tried it don’t knock it.

via AVG Flying Tigers combat tactics (Erik Shilling)

Is Becoming a Pilot Difficult?

Becoming a good one is. It’s a complex journey, one for which there is no straight line. It takes real work to maintain proficiency. There are no shortcuts around the experiences that sharpen the blades of aptitude and competence.

But with this struggle comes reward.

After I earned my private pilot certificate in 2012, I spent years flying my wife and friends to and from small airports for lunch, to the beach or over the city’s skyline. The novel freedom of these experiences helped me connect not just with myself but with others.

I have sat in rush-hour traffic for more than an hour on the way to the airport to spend another 20 minutes pre-flighting an aircraft in my work clothes only to cancel the flight due to unexpected weather, absentee instructors or mechanical failures.

I’ve experienced the sputter of a partial engine failure at night over absolute darkness, and have seen the pulsating lights of emergency vehicles staged near the runway as they awaited the outcome of my landing.

But I’ve also flown over Napa vineyards and the Golden Gate Bridge as it sat shrouded in low-level stratus.

I’ve logged landings at the small midwestern airport where I first became captivated by airplanes back when my hands were no larger than tangerines that clutched at my father’s pinky.

All of these experiences are intertwined into something resembling pride, passion, agony and nostalgia.

I continue to work at this state of being good.

I’ve navigated the hills and valleys of the instrument rating and have logged dozens of hours flying with view-limiting devices over my eyes. I’ve spent parts of an Italian vacation flipping through written exam questions and studying electrical schematics. I continue to sit in rush hour traffic on my way to the airport when I’d rather be at home or doing anything else.

It’s something pilot just do.

Overall, becoming a pilot is a simple path. The FAA publishes its set of requirements and subject areas that students must master throughout their training. Students are subjected to a written exam, and later, a private pilot checkride with an examiner. 

Training can be punishing if you find yourself with a difficult instructor or flight school. Some students become frustrated to learn that “real world” flying is not as it appears in movies and other media. The vast majority of student pilots who start training –– about 80 percent, according to some estimates –– will not finish. 

Accordingly, successful completion of private pilot training is a highly rewarding accomplishment for those who push through and commit. After this state of becoming, though, comes the state of being.

 

IFR Oral Exam / Checkride Study Guide

Here’s my quick and dirty guide to studying for the Instrument Rating-Airplane oral exam. 

Draw an ILS approach and its components and explain how it operates

Draw a pitot static system and explain how it operates

Draw a vacuum system and explain how it operates

Draw your airplane’s electrical schematics and explain how it operated

Describe human illusions in instrument flight –– Coriolis illusion, the leans, somatogravic illusion, elevator illusion, inversion illusion.

Describe compass errors

Describe pitot/static errors

Describe an airport’s alternate minimums and takeoff minimums

Describe weather charts – area charts, prognostic charts, convective outlook charts, winds aloft forecasts.

Describe the types of VOR checks. For how long is a VOR check valid?

Describe the methods of entering a hold

Describe protocols for lost communications

What are the types of AIRMETS? Describe Airmets Sierra, Tango and Zulu

What are the three types of notams?

Describe the types of in-flight weather advisories that are available?

What are the types of fog?

What are the four basic cloud groups?

What are the stages of a thunderstorm?

Describe the requirements for maintaining currency?

Describe the types of precision vs. nonprecision approaches

Describe each segment of an instrument approach

What is a standard rate turn vs. a half-standard rate turn?

What equipment is required for IFR flight?

What inspections are required for our aircraft?

What are the required ATC readbacks?

What are the mandatory ATC reports?

What are IFR fuel requirements?

Describe reverse sensing.

What airspeed restrictions exist in a holding pattern?

What preflight checks are required for an IFR flight?

Describe the types of icing?

What anti-ice equipment do we have onboard our aircraft?

When is an instrument rating required?

Define: indicated airspeed, calibrated airspeed, true airspeed.

Describe how our gyroscopic instruments work

How many degrees of variation for a single dot represent on a receiver for an ILS approach? For a GPS approach? VOR?

Describe VOR service volumes

How can you tell when a VOR is undergoing maintenance? How do we know it’s operational?

Describe the cone of confusion

When is DME required?

What are the differences between VOR, VORTAC and TACAN?

How does GPS work?

What is WAAS?

What is the useable range of a glideslope?

Describe Obstacle Departure Procedures vs. Standard Instrument Departures

What information should be included in a position report?

Describe a contact approach vs. visual approach

Describe the difference between a Minimum Descent Altitude (MDA) and Decision Altitured (DA)

ForeFlight Acquired by Boeing

It’s hard to measure the impact that ForeFlight has had on the general aviation community. I’m a better pilot because of it.

ForeFlight is based in Texas, so I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and even flying with their staff. I’m left hoping that the acquisition by Boeing, a corporation that has relatively no interest general aviation, doesn’t smother innovation or leave the GA community behind entirely.

Flying Fredericksburg

 

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Training toward my instrument rating has been time consuming and challenging. Flying hasn’t been either fun or casual for a number of months. To remedy this, Lauren and I went to the airport on a cool, sunny Sunday morning and departed west for Fredericksburg, Texas.

The Gillespie County Municipal Airport in Fredericksburg is a popular destination for many pilots. The airport is home to an onsite diner and World War II-themed hotel. I’ve been flying out here since I was a student pilot; its still one of my favorite flying destinations.

The flight from Austin, which takes about an hour, tracks over downtown Austin. The corridor between Austin and Fredericksburg can be hectic. I always request flight following on this route, and today it pays off. Our en route altitude of 6,500 MLS puts us between eastbound aircraft that are cruising or transitioning between altitudes in our area. On this trip an air traffic controller would clear me to climb, then moments later would issue a traffic alert and tell me to descend as an eastbound aircraft would pass about 1,000 feet overhead.

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Our route tracks along the Pedernales River and over the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park and “Texas White House.” The LBJ Ranch house and private airstrip is highly visible from above and indicated on VFR sectional charts. I like to make note of the ranch when I’m in the vicinity as it would make for an appealing option during an emergency around otherwise unforgiving terrain.

I navigate using the Stonewall VOR, and the onboard GPS and Foreflight serve as secondary reference. Arriving into Fredericksburg is an unpredictable adventure. Because Gillespie County is a destination airport, I often find myself sharing airspace with a variety of aircraft and pilots of all experience levels. I give frequent and specific position reports beginning about 12 miles out. Today, a flight of four Beechcraft Barons overtakes me near the airport. Meanwhile, two other aircraft are maneuvering in the pattern. I do a 360 turn a few miles east of the airport to create some distance between myself and other aircraft then proceed toward the airport for a solid landing on Runway 32.

We take an Uber from the airport to downtown Fredericksburg and spend a few hours for lunch and shopping. We walk through the Japanese Garden of Peace at the National Museum of Pacific War and catch a ride back to the airport. Gentle winds prevail as we arrive back at Austin.

Regaining Night Currency

I’ve logged very little night flying since I earned my private pilot certificate in 2012. A few years ago I experienced a sensory illusion while returning from a local airport after sunset, and the experience startled me enough that I decided to refrain from night flying until I could log more instrument training and build more pronounced situational awareness.

To refresh my night currency I went flying with David, my instrument instructor, over the weekend. We did a quick round robin of local airports to acquire the three full-stop night landings as required by FAR §61.57.

We departed Austin-Bergstrom and made a very short hop of 13nm north to Austin Executive Airport. Prior to starting our approach we briefed obstacles in the area, including a set of unlighted towers south of the airport. We were cleared to land on Runway 13, and I made a slow and methodical approach. My landing wasn’t anything to brag about. We bought fuel at Executive and did a quick walkthrough of the impressive facility, which includes a large media room, a theater and “quiet rooms.”

Next we departed Austin Executive and headed 18nm northwest to Georgetown Municipal Airport. The airport was difficult to see coming from the west, but we tracked a VOR and monitored GPS coordinates that took us directly to the field. I was cleared for a stop-and-go landing on Runway 18 and made a much better landing. I brought the plane to a full stop with about 2,000 feet of runway to spare. We did a short field takeoff and used 10 degrees of flaps for a rapid climb out of the traffic pattern.

From there we headed 29nm south to Austin, where David had me fly the ILS to Austin-Bergstrom’s Runway 17L. We identified the approach fixes using our number 2 VOR. Several miles out, David covered my airspeed indicator and had me fly the glide slope down to the threshold. The simulated failure really demonstrated how useful the localizer, glide slope and power setting are in such a situation. My final landing of the night was much more precise.

Although I’m now legal to carry passengers for night flight, I don’t yet feel especially proficient. I look forward to logging more time in both the simulator and in the aircraft to really hone proficiency.