July 25, 2014

Pilotage in a Digital Age

pilotage-scavenger-hunt.jpgWhen was the last time you were lost in a General Aviation aircraft? The thought of it is quite frightening. However, not too long ago it was not that uncommon to be "lost" or as I would prefer to say temporarily in an unidentified location. When I started flight training for my Private Pilot Certificate in 2004 I spent many flights trying to navigate from point A to point B with little else than a beat-up sectional. Often, I would be overly confident that I was right on target only to realize checkpoints were no longer matching up. I would then need to start to analyze my surroundings and try and reconfirm my location so I could adapt my route and get back on course. It was almost always fun.

With the advancement in technology it is harder and harder to get lost in a GA Aircraft. Many airplanes have the benefit of some advance moving map not to mention that many pilots are carrying an additional moving map on their iPad both of which can pinpoint your location to within a few feet.

It has probably been four or five years since I have flown a flight using Pilotage, the last reference to me flying by way of pilotage on this blog was back in 2006! Effectively, Pilotage is the use of fixed visual reference on the ground by means of sight to guide oneself to a destination. I was due up for a biennial flight review and my CFI, Al Waterloo, suggested we spend the first half of the flight on a pilotage scavenger hunt. Using Foreflight he selected a few random points on a sectional for me to fly to. The first was to find my way to a set of towers in Southern Wisconsin, then change course and find a small private grass strip airport after which we would continue on with the BFR flight. I have not owned a sectional in many years, kind of a sorry statement, so I had him send me the coordinates of the two locations which I loaded into my iPad before turning it to airplane mode.

sunset-on-the-wing.jpgIn the Archer we agreed we would keep Multifunction Flight Display (MFD) on the engine page so as not to have the benefit of the moving map. After take-off, I leveled off at 1,500 and I put the airplane on course to the first checkpoint along our route. The first checkpoint was easy to find but it arrived off the side of our airplane indicating that the wind was stronger than I had anticipated and I need to course correct to keep on track. As we moved north from Chicago towards the Wisconsin border I lost the benefit of the detailed Terminal Area Chart and there were fewer and fewer obvious landmarks. It was fun once again spending time looking out the window looking for things that might be depicted on the chart then trying to orient myself. You forget how roads, lakes and towns can look so similar. Sure enough though about 25 minutes later and countless power lines, train tracks, towns and airports used as references we flew right over the first landmark the stacks near Sullivan, WI. There was a gorgeous sunset taking place outside as we departed the first checkpoint.

From there I turned us south and followed a road, then train tracks and finally power lines which led me to the general area of the next spot on the scavenger hunt, Hacklander (PVT) just west of Janesville, that like the first landmark was identified without any challenges. As we were approaching Hacklander we started to take on some rain and see some disconcerting changes in colors in the clouds so we decided to sneak a peek at the MFD to check on the weather, but then again turned it back to the engine page so I could navigate to Kenosha International Airport via pilotage. Enroute to Kenosha we enjoyed watching a distant thunderstorm light up the early evening sky.

Growing up I always loved looking at maps and that has not changed. During my training I loved the night before a cross-country sitting at a table with sectionals spread-out and drawing my routes and noting landmarks for checkpoints. I realized on this flight how in this digital age we lose out on honing that skill and the fun that comes with it.

I encourage you to create your own pilotage scavenger hunts and test your pilotage skills. I am sure you will enjoy it, I know I did.


Posted at 7:30 AM | Post Category: Biennial Flight Review | Comments (179) | Save & Share This Story

July 19, 2014

Disney Planes: Fire and Rescue Review

disney_planes_fire_and_rescue.jpgAs a pilot and father to twin four year old's the opening weekend of Planes: Fire & Rescue, the second movie in the Planes Trilogy, was a day we have been looking forward to for some time to come. A year ago my family and my kids fell in love with Dusty, a loveable crop duster modeled after an AT-301 Air tractor. The first film, released in 2013, followed his journey of qualifying and then competing in the Wings Around the World Rally. After our first viewing, die-cast airplanes started to multiply in our household faster than a emergence of baby bunnies, I even bought a few for the kids.

At first I wondered if maybe my enthusiasm for airplanes was driving most the excitement but I soon learned the kids genuinely enjoyed the movie and its interesting cast of characters. The original film did well, grossing nearly $220 million in revenue, a drop in a bucket of what Frozen generated ($1.2 billion), but not bad for a film that was originally planned for direct to DVD.

Secretly, I was hoping the second film in the franchise might offer a brief respite from Frozen which seems to be on a continuous loop in our household. Much like the first film Planes: Fire and Rescue has received less than stellar reviews from movie critics. Though, I think critics often just get frustrated when they need to review animated films. However, I very much enjoyed this movie and the continuation of the Planes franchise, though I admit to being a certified aviation geek and may be a bit biased. Dusty makes his third career change having gone from crop duster to international racing sensation to learning the ropes of being an aerial fire fighter. This film benefited from a stronger cast, musical score and improved animation over the first film.

Dusty, voiced by Dane Cook, of course returns as do a few of the characters from the first film. Much of this film focuses on Dusty's new friends, an elite team of fire fighting aircraft. Dane Cook is joined by a strong cast including Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Curtis Armstrong, John Michael Higgins, and Hal Holbrook. After hearing Frozen's "Let it Go" nearly nonstop in our household over the past six months seeing my kids dancing in their chairs to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" was well worth the price of admission. I should note that although nearly the full version of Thunderstruck is played in the film, it does not appear on the Planes: Fire & Rescue soundtrack for the film. However, songs by Brad Paisley and Spencer Lee are. The animation seemed more advanced especially some beautifully powerful forest fire scenes. Pilots will like the accuracy of most of the aerial communications. Quite often aviation films are awful at their accurate portrayal of aviation. Iron Eagle IV being one of the worst offenders when they used an F-16 for Aerial shots and then an F-5 for the shots on the ground. So I was happily impressed that the Disney team continued to work with aviation consultants to give as accurate a portrayal of the flying as they could.

This movie is sure to entertain most kids and any parent that has a passion for aviation. I am hopeful these films might inspire some kids to fall in love with aviation as well. I was of course pleased when we returned home from the theater and I heard the kids running around the house with their Dusty's in hand as they doused imaginary flames with their newly learned aerial firefighting skills. To all the pilots out there, go support this film and bring your kids, nieces and nephews along too!


Posted at 9:46 PM | Post Category: General | Comments (65) | Save & Share This Story

July 2, 2014

Flight Training At Its Best: Al Waterloo

flight_training_at_its_best_al_waterloo.jpgIt seems every aviation site and magazine continues to discuss how Flight Training is broken. Travis Ammon of Simple Flight wrote an interesting post, "Lets Quit the Blame Game" earlier this year about how the industry needs to stop focusing on the blame for flight training woes and instead find solutions. I tend to be a glass half full kind of guy and could not agree more with Ammon. Instead of looking at what is wrong, let's look for what is right in aviation and use that to improve training and services within private aviation. Sure you can find sub-par flight training out there, in fact it may be the norm. But, there is also great training available for pilots of all levels in various forms: Instructors, peer training and online training. It is with that idea that I plan to publish a series of posts showcasing flight training at its best.

Pilots and students need to take responsibility for seeking out the type of training that will work best for them and walking away from inferior training options. I don't think enough students think about the option of firing a flight instructor or flight school if they are not receiving training that fits their needs.

I recently published an AOPA Pilot bio on Al Waterloo, a CFI who is doing it right and exemplifies flight training at its best. Waterloo adapts his training to each student based on their interests and needs. Before sharing the cockpit with a student he asks a simple question "What do you want to get out of aviation?" He uses the conversation that is sparked from that conversation to tailor his training. In the article I referenced a student of his, Jim Stone, who had yet to solo after 48 hours of instruction from various instructors. Prior to Waterloo's first lesson with Stone he asked his trademark question and used that learning to help devise a training curriculum that would help the student get over the current speed bump in his training. See the excerpt below from the May 2014 AOPA Pilot:

Turns out Stone did not have aviation career aspirations, but instead had visions of taking scenic flights along the Chicago lakefront with his wife. Waterloo suggested that Stone bring his wife on their next lesson, an evening flight in early July.

Waterloo timed it so the lesson ended with them coasting along the Lake Michigan shoreline as a flurry of fireworks erupted, giving Stone and his wife a new perspective on the Fourth of July--one reserved for aviators. While Stone and his wife enjoyed the show, Waterloo tuned the radio to O'Hare Approach and told his student that before capping off an already special flight, they were going to make a stop at O'Hare--giving Stone his first Class B airspace experience.

After that flight, Stone's interest in flying was re-energized and he could better envision the dream he was trying to realize. Just eight days later, Stone soloed and a few months later fulfilled his goal of more than 60 years to become a certificated pilot.

Al focused on what the student was trying to get out of aviation and used that to engage and inspire the student and built a fire in him to achieve this goal he had been pursuing for so long. Aviation needs more instructors with this kind of focus on helping students achieve their personal aviation goals.

Over the course of the next few months I plan to write a series of posts sharing examples of flight training at its best. Stay Tuned!


Posted at 7:52 AM | Post Category: Flight Training At Its Best | Comments (5) | Save & Share This Story