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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A month with David

Last month, I switched from my old Bose X headset to the David Clark DC PRO-X. Now that I've had them for a month, how are they performing?

Outstanding, in short.

The active noise reduction (ANR) is superb. The first time I turned it on was a bit disconcerting, as the noise level with the engines running dropped to quieter than the noise level with the plane shut down without the headset on!

While that was impressive, I really gained an appreciation for just how well the ANR works when the batteries finally died in flight. The noise level shot up so much so quickly that I was startled for a second or two as the sudden noise of rushing air (the noise the headset had been canceling) made me initially think we had lost pressurization.

My eyes shot to the pressurization display and it was holding at 0 FPM (meaning no change in cabin pressure), so I pulled one of the sides of my headset off my ear. There was no change, which meant the batteries had finally worn out. (I knew it was going to happen sometime soon because the battery indicator on the headset control had been blinking red instead of the normal green, which is a warning that the battery is low.) I intentionally was letting the battery run all the way out to see how long it would last, and I got about 25% more life out of it than I did with the old Bose X: 4 weeks instead of 3.

Before, at the end of every flight, as soon as the shutdown checklist was over I used to rip the Bose X headset off right away. I've noticed that there have been a couple of times that I've forgotten to take the PRO-X off until it was time to leave the plane because they are so much more comfortable that they're not constantly reminding me that they're sitting on my head. I also don't tend to try to readjust it one or more times a flight like I did with the Bose X. Once it's on my head, it doesn't slide forward or backward or need readjusted.

Some of that has to do with how much lighter the PRO-X is and how its design does a better job distributing the clamping force that keeps the headset over the ears. Much of that, however, has to do with how much more comfortable the ear cushions are. Since the PRO-X cushions are much smaller and only cover the ear opening instead of the entire ear, my ears are much cooler than they used to be.

Another factor in that is how much more comfortable the material used for the cushions is. The Bose used a cheap-feeling, thin layer of soft material over a large spongy material. In the summer, this outer layer would absorb sweat, get soggy, and start flaking off in a couple of months. Once enough of that material flaked off, the sweat would then wick into the thin fabric material behind it and eventually into the spongy material underneath. After a while, this would start to cause the cushions to smell like unwashed gym socks. (Yes, it is as unpleasant as it sounds.) Trying to get rid of that smell with Lysol wouldn't do much but make the headset smell like Lysol + gym socks, and it would cause what was left of the cushion to dry out and peel apart even faster. Alcohol wipes had the same result.

And if that wasn't enough, if the Bose headset didn't fit exactly perfectly on the head, meaning absolutely no angular displacement, once the cushions got soggy they would start to warp at an angle and at the same time start to gradually lose their sponginess.

Although it's only been a month, the ear cushions for the PRO-X still look brand new and have no evidence whatsoever of wear or loss of support. The leatherette material also feels less cheap and more like real leather.

One of the knocks I've heard about the PRO-X from those who considered it was that it feels and/or looks like it's not very rugged. I've compared it with the Bose X by tapping on it, and the plastic parts actually feel more solid on the DC than the Bose. I think one reason it may look a little flimsier is the matte finish DC uses on the magnesium parts makes the metal look dull like plastic. And the way the PRO-X folds up (which the Bose didn't) makes it sit in my case in a way that makes it less likely to be damaged.

Nothing is perfect, though. However, the only thing I've found so far that I don't like about the PRO-X is one that is easily remedied: the light that flashes to tell you it is on is obnoxiously bright. At night in a dark cockpit, the power light reflecting in the side windscreen is annoying. I solved that by simply placing a piece of electrical tape that covers half of the light.

After I did that, I found out that the DC has a feature that the Bose didn't: you can actually turn the power LED off without turning off the headset! By holding the Power + Bluetooth buttons down, you can turn off the blinking altogether! And as another nice touch, if the battery gets low, the power light will start blinking red to let you know even if you turned it off.


See you next Wednesday!


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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Three short but incredible videos

A while back, I posted a bunch of pictures with the title "The air flowing like water". Last week, a storm chaser posted this amazing time-lapse video that demonstrates that principle in motion. Since it's at sunset, you also get to see some vibrant color along the way. It's just over a minute long and is definitely worth watching:


The next one is a little less artistic, but also shows a lot in under a minute:


The final one may be some of the most incredible 25 seconds of video on all of YouTube:



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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Bye bye Bose, Hello again David

After having bought the wife a car for Valentine's Day, she repaid me by getting me a replacement headset for my birthday. My Bose X was nearing ten years old and after almost 4,000 hours of use was succumbing to the beatings of near-daily use. I'm sad to see it go, as it's seen me through almost every stage of my aviation growth, all the way from private pilot through airline captain. Nonetheless, like an old car that has fond memories associated with it but is getting too old to maintain reasonably, it is time to move on.

Since headset technology has advanced quite a bit in the decade since I got the Bose X, it was getting obsolete. It didn't have Bluetooth, as in 2007 Bluetooth was still an extra $350 option. However, what really made it obsolete for my use was the primitiveness of its active noise reduction. While good for its day, and while it did a great job canceling the lower-frequency noise during my days on the Dash-8 (and as an instructor in piston planes before that), it was totally useless at quieting the white noise in the jet cockpit. Not long after transitioning to the ERJ-145, I stopped even bothering to turn on the ANR (active noise reduction), since it didn't do anything.

I was happy with Bose as a company, but the last straw with the Bose X was when it got a loose wire going into the headset which would cause the microphone to crackle and/or cut out intermittently. Their products aren't the cheapest, but their customer service is outstanding, and they support the old models of their products for years after other companies would. Unfortunately, the cost to fix this loose wire would have been over $300, which is a pretty sizable chunk of what a brand new headset would cost.

I decided to take that money and put it toward a headset that wouldn't need something else fixed in a year or two due to its age. My short list came down to the Bose A20, the Lightspeed Zulu 3, the Clarity Aloft, a combination of a UFlyMike and an ANR headset of some kind, and the David Clark DC PRO-X.

Bose A20


The Bose A20 was on the list just because of my familiarity with their predecessor. However, this model itself is getting a little long in the tooth (it came out 6 years ago), and they are more expensive than everyone else. Sometimes Bose is more expensive because they are simply better—the Bose Companion 3 is by far the best 2.1 computer speaker I've ever had (it's much better than the high-end Klipsch 5.1 system it replaced), but they're 2-3x more expensive than most 2.1 systems. That said, sometimes Bose is like Apple in that they're more expensive just because of the name. I get the feeling that the A20 falls in the latter category.

Lightspeed Zulu 3


I've tried Lightspeeds on occasion before, and something about them just doesn't seem to fit on my ear quite correctly. Plus I'm trying to get away from the big "earmuff" style of headset. When you fly 5-8 hours a day, even the most comfortable headset gets tiring. I was looking to go with something lighter.

Clarity Aloft

For lightness reasons, I looked at Clarity Aloft's in-ear headsets. It would be hard to get lighter than an earpiece instead of an entire headset!

I've talked to a few pilots who use Clarity Aloft and they have good things to say about them. Nonetheless, I was still a bit skeptical about wearing an in-ear for several hours a day. I know that after a couple of hours at the gym, I'm ready to pull out my earbuds, and these aren't cheap plastic ones but SoundMAGIC E50S earbuds with extra-comfy eartips similar to the Comply eartips of the Clarity Alofts.

I didn't try them out, so I could be wrong, but reviews from professional pilots tended to say that while they are very comfortable, their noise reduction isn't very good and the sound quality is unimpressive. This ruled them out for me for two reasons.

First, while I don't fly pistons much at all (I don't have anything against them, but after 4-6 days in a cockpit, the last thing I want to do on a day off is to go to another airport), I still do occasionally give a flight review or ride along as a safety pilot. That means I still need something with good all-around noise reduction.

Second, one of the things I'd like to be able to do with any new headset is to also use it on deadheads or commute flights to listen to music while canceling out noise inside the cabin. This means that at least decent sound quality is a must.

UFlyMike + ANR headset


This is the closest I came to sold on anything but what I ended up getting. The combination of separate mic that can be used with a "normal", non-aviation headset was appealing, since I could choose which model of headset I liked best. Unfortunately, the price of the UFlyMike (around $300) combined with the price of a high-quality ANR headset (another $300) approaches or exceeds a dedicated aviation headset.

This in itself wasn't a deal-breaker, though. I'm willing to spend money on a quality tool that I use every day at work. And the "every day at work" thing was the problem. The people I've talked to who use this combination mentioned that while the microphone is tough enough, the headset itself needs replaced every year or two. Normal headsets aren't designed to constantly travel and be used for up to 9 hours a day. This means this route could end up being both more expensive and more annoying, because one of the things I hate is having to spend time fixing or replacing things, especially if the headset were to break on day 1 of a 5-day trip.

David Clark DC PRO-X


This one finally met all of my needs and at a nice price point as well. The thing that made me look at them when they first came out was the small size of the earpiece. Instead of being the size of big earmuffs, these were the size of a mini-donut. That means that instead of trapping the heat all around my ears, the back of my ears could breathe.

It's a unique size and shape, and one that definitely appealed to me. One of the nice things about the size is that I could use them in the cabin on flights to cancel noise and listen to music (or more likely to catch up on podcasts) without looking like a complete doofus.

Their price is nice. They're just over half as much as the Bose ($695 vs. $1095), but not because they're cheaply made. My first-ever headset was the very popular David Clark H10-13.4, which is built like a tank (and unfortunately is about as comfortable). David Clark's support is excellent, and you can send them in and have them rebuilt for a very reasonable cost, so I trust the company's confidence in their product.

Bluetooth was a must in a new headset. Not so much for the music but because now that I'm a captain, I need to use the phone occasionally to call Dispatch if there is a problem with the plane or we get a reroute, etc. It's much more convenient to stay plugged in while on the phone because then I can also listen to the communications radios at the same time and still be in the loop.

What sold me on the PRO-X was the reviews. Many of the Amazon reviews are by long-haul airline pilots: 777, 757, 767 pilots that wear them hour after hour and still like them. That was the biggest requirement for me, as I need something that will still be comfortable after 5-8 hours a day.

So after not having bought a David Clark in 11 years, I went with them again because of their great combination of price, comfort, durability, and features. I was lucky enough to get them the day before I left for a 4-day trip. I'm writing this after having used them for only a few days, and so far my reaction is one big WOW! They are an enormous upgrade over the old Bose X—and I liked my Bose!

Once I've had a chance to use them for a month, I'll write a more detailed review. Until then, I'll see you next Wednesday!

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A regulation nobody studies

I'm busy the next two weeks getting emergency after emergency thrown at me as I do my Captain upgrade simulator sessions, so here's a little bit of humor that's been going around the web. I don't know where it originated (it's not mine), but if you've ever found yourself bewildered while studying the FAR/AIM for a written examination, you might get a smile out of this:


FAA Regulation / Part 0, Section 000 (a) 1 (c)

Section I: No pilot or pilots, or person or persons acting on the direction or suggestion or supervision of a pilot or pilot may try, or attempt to try or make, or make attempt to try to comprehend or understand any or all, in whole or in part of the herein mentioned, Aviation Regulations, except as authorized by the administrator or an agent appointed by, or inspected by, the Administrator.

Section II: If a pilot, or group of associate pilots becomes aware of, or realized, or detects, or discovers, or finds that he or she, or they, are or have been beginning to understand the Aviation Regulations, they must immediately, within three (3) days notify, in writing, the Administrator.

Section III: Upon receipt of the above-mentioned notice of impending comprehension, the Administrator shall immediately rewrite the Aviation Regulations in such a manner as to eliminate any further comprehension hazards.

Section IV: The Administrator may, at his or her discretion, require the offending pilot or pilots to attend remedial instruction in Aviation Regulations until such time that the pilot is too confused to be capable of understanding anything.



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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Don't give yourself far to fall


In the near future, I'm going to be negotiating a part of our union's contract with our airline. To prepare, I've been studying negotiations. I began with a book that comes highly recommended from someone else: Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz.

Even if you're not going to be negotiating something, this is still an outstanding read. It is one of the best how-to books I've ever seen on anything, and even if you're not interested in negotiation, reading the stories in each chapter alone is worth it. Voss was the FBI's leading expert in international kidnapping negotiations, so lives quite literally depended on his negotiation skills, and he tells several of his war stories along the way.

One of the things he says in the book has application in almost everything in life: "When the pressure is on, you don't rise to the occasion—you fall to your highest level of preparation."

As it happens, I am also on my way to my upgrade simulator training, the last step in becoming a captain. This "falling to the level of your preparation" philosophy is the core of why we do so much sim training (both initial and recurrent training). When the ship hits the sand, you can't just try to make it up as you go and rise to the occasion with some miraculous piloting skills. You develop those skills ahead of time in preparation, in the hopes you'll never need them.

We do all sorts of preparation, from normal approaches to missed approaches to fires and engine failures at V1, the worst possible time for an engine to fail. By the time we're done, we do so many of them that the horrible is the routine, and in the event that something bad does happen in real life, the reaction to it will be automatic. In other words, "falling to the highest level of preparation" means there's not much of a fall after all.

You can do the same thing in your own flying. When was the last time you tried to recite the bold items in your POH from memory? When was the last time you flew a go-around? If the big fan in front stops cooling you off, you need to automatically think, "Fuel, air, and spark" and be automatically setting yourself up for best glide speed (which you do have memorized, right?). You don't want to fall to a level of preparation that has you fall out of the sky just because somebody started taxiing onto the runway when you were about to land and you botched a go-around.

As the old saying goes, the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war. Spend a few minutes reviewing your emergency or abnormal procedures, mentally fly a go-around (visualize the "power up, pitch up, clean up, and speak up" sequence), or refresh yourself on your aircraft's important speeds and numbers today.

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Bob Ross, CFI

I recently came across a Netflix series of Bob Ross episodes called "Beauty is Everywhere", and the wife and I have been working through them for the last several months. (Since I'm away flying so much, we get to watch one or perhaps two episodes a week together, so it takes a while to make it through a couple dozen of them.) For those who may not recognize him by name, he is the "Happy little trees" painting guy with the calm voice and the big fishbowl of hair.


In the past, the only time I would get to see him is if I happened to be channel surfing and a PBS station was playing a rerun of his show--which ended over 20 years ago. I would usually stop and watch the rest of the episode, hypnotized by his almost magical ability to create an amazing painting from scratch in only 22 minutes.

As I've watched through his work systematically, something jumps out at me about him: Bob Ross would have made an incredible flight instructor. One of the things that made Ross so popular and addicting to watch was not just his masterful artwork or how good he was at creating something amazing, but that he made you feel like you could be good at it, too.

Neil Peart, another master of his craft as the Hall of Fame drummer for Rush, said in Work in Progress that "the apprentice takes something easy and makes it look difficult, while the master takes the impossible and makes it look easy." As the best rock drummer in history, Peart would know. (His title for Work in Progress refers to his own continual, daily effort to get better at the thing he's already the best ever at. That continual strive for perfection--or at least continuous improvement--is also the hallmark of a good aviator.)

Peart said that in the context of how sometimes less is more in a song. One of the things that Bob Ross does so well is to create something that looks complex while using only incredibly simple techniques. He will paint trees that look intricately detailed, as if each tree must have taken hours to fill out. In fact, each of them takes less than a minute to make by doing nothing more complex than poking the canvas several times with the end of the brush, then adding highlights the same way with a smaller brush.

In one episode, he had less than two minutes left and a large part at the bottom of the canvas was still unfinished. He said he was going to put a lake there. I thought, "There is no possible way he has time to do that." But with a few downstrokes of a painting knife, he had a lake from nowhere in seven seconds and a full, beautiful canvas!

I believe that it a poor master who cannot pass along their skill. Ross's encouraging attitude creates a fertile ground for learning. Not only is he good, but he can make you good, too, which is purpose of an instructor. He is known (as the meme at the beginning of this post refers to) for saying, "There are no mistakes when you're painting. There are just happy little accidents." This encourages you to try something new and if it doesn't turn out well, you can gain from the experience anyway having learned a new way not to do it.

I used to tell my flight students when it came time to start pattern work that we'd be spending the next several hours finding 50 different ways not to land an airplane. Finally, we'll find one way that works for you. Bob Ross's attitude toward teaching others to paint was similar. Maybe along the way you'll find a way that fits better with your style than his would. Maybe you won't. But either way, you won't know unless you find out for yourself.

Many of Ross's qualities are qualities you should look for in your flight instructor. (Well, maybe not the hair. Most cockpits don't have enough room for all that hair.) A good instructor should be able to take a complex subject like flying and break it into chunks that you can put into your palette. Then they should let you use that palette. In other words, they should allow you to try out your own way of doing things if it's not working for you, within the bounds of reason and safety. A good flight instructor should have enough mastery of their craft that they are willing to let you paint right up to the edges of the canvas, if necessary, while still keeping you in a safe, productive, encouraging environment.

Most importantly, a good instructor should make you feel like you can be an artful aviator too, because you can be! See you next Wednesday!

P.S.: Just for fun, here's Bob Ross remixed:


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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Be like Bob

The pilot community, by and large, is a very good community of very good folks. The best of those was Bob Hoover; not just as a pilot but as a person. The way he lived his life, the way he stayed humble even though he was the best there ever was, and the way he shared his "secret" of success (which really was just finding something you wanted to do and busting your butt to get better and better at it every day) was a lifelong lesson on grace.

Unfortunately, not everyone is Bob Hoover. There is a sizable percentage out there that will comment negatively on almost any story, especially ones where the pilot admits a mistake or unfortunately isn't around to talk about a mistake that led to an accident. This is not something that is just a pilot thing; it exists in every single field of human endeavor. Nevertheless, since it does sometimes discourage people who would otherwise want to learn to fly and even chases some others away totally, it is something that needs to be addressed.

Different places are better or worse about this. For instance, the online magazine Air Facts tends to have a small number of negative commenters, and those are very quickly put in their place and corrected by a large contingent of commenters who are quite experienced pilots. This seems to have something to do with the make-up of their readership, which in general self-selects for people who want to spend the time reading quality articles that will help them become better pilots.

At the complete opposite of the spectrum are a few places who shall remain nameless, although if you have even a slight interest in flying you've almost certainly come across them. Due to their more popular interest, their forums or comment sections tend to have a lot more amateurs or non-pilots. As the infamous Dunning-Kruger Effect shows, the less you know, the better you think you are, since you're not good enough at it to know how bad you are.

The absolute worst is YouTube. Yes, I have a YouTube channel, but I do not comment on anything on the site. (Except for comments on my own videos, which even then I am unfortunately much slower at replying to than I'd like to be because I am always busy doing something.) I basically gave up after politely explaining the proper way to fly a DME arc to someone who demonstrated it incorrectly. Their intent was good, and they tried hard in the video, but you can't really teach something you don't actually do. I pointed out that their technique was incorrect and got the reply that their brother is a pilot so they know how to do it. Since I try to take my own advice, I don't drop the "I'm a 4000-hour type rated ATP/CFII" line on people unless severely provoked, so I just decided to stop commenting altogether. If you're trying to learn to fly, I highly recommend you don't even bother to look at the comments on flying videos. The great thing about the internet is that anyone can use it to become an expert on anything, given enough time and practice. The terrible thing about the internet is that everyone thinks they're an expert on everything.

In the non-electronic world, there are also people who will act like they're better than you. The pilot community is an exclusive one due to the barriers to entry: the cost, the time it takes for lessons, and the willpower to continue studying for however long it takes to achieve the goal of becoming a pilot does tend to shake out those without motivation. It is not particularly difficult to become a pilot—I've said many times and that almost anyone can (and should!) become a pilot. Nonetheless, 99% of people don't even try.

Unfortunately, there are people who enjoy being in that exclusive club and want to keep it exclusive. Some people think that if others join the club, then that makes them that much less special. Nothing could be further from the truth. A pleasure shared is a pleasure doubled, and flying is a pleasure that few people experience.

The more people who do get that experience, however, the better it is for all of us. A large community is a strong community, so the way to make aviation even better is to welcome even more people into it. There is no reason to look down on any other pilot, and there is especially no such thing as "just" a student pilot or "just" a private pilot or "just" a whatever. We are all pilots, and we should encourage all pilots.

In fact, if you do think you're the Ace of the Base, that means that you have more of a responsibility toward those who are learning or want to learn. The more experience you have, the more you can help mentor new pilots. Every hour in your logbook is an hour that you learned something that you can now teach to someone else.

My response to the question, "How many hours do you have?" has become just, "Hopefully not my last one!" I think Bob Hoover himself would approve of that answer, and I hope we all can learn from his example as not just the best pilot who ever lived, but as one of the finest gentlemen aviation has ever had as well.

Next week, I'll talk about another Bob we can all learn from. This one is not a pilot, and it is definitely not who you might expect. See you next Wednesday!

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

It takes hours of work to bring each Keyboard & Rudder post to you. If you've found it useful, please consider making an easy one-time or recurring donation via PayPal in any amount you choose.