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Saturday, May 31, 2014

A successful failure

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(Note: it wasn't until long after I wrote this post that I found out that Apollo 13 was also given the same nickname. This post is about a training flight that "failed" in many rewarding ways, not astronauts that survived despite incredible odds.)

This month, the FAA launched an initiative called "Got Weather?" to help pilots get better at evaluating weather and its hazards on their own. Each month has a separate topic, and May's is turbulence.

It's no secret that weather is one of my favorite things about aviation, so to contribute to their initiative, I'm capping off my May schedule of posts with a little story that blends turbulence, equipment failures, a failed forecast, and a failed landing attempt into an extremely successful flight.

It was a dark and stormy night.... Well, actually, it was a clear blue day. Slightly on the breezy side, but not horribly so. The winds were a steady 14 knots, about 70 degrees off the runway. A little outside the comfort zone for the person I was flying with, but sometimes you have to get outside of that nice comfy spot to expand your skills. The key is to get out of that comfort zone safely, and since 14 knots is both within the 172's maximum demonstrated crosswind component and my own proficiency and currency envelope since I fly this particular aircraft several times a week, this instructional flight should be a... breeze.

One of the flights I always have my students do is a trip from Lorain County to Carroll County to Burke-Lakefront and back to Lorain County. This is a busy flight, since it hits Class B, C, and D all in one shot. (Because there's so much going on in it, it is the basis for one part of the final project my AVIA 111 students do, too.) People who learn to fly with me don't get to duck under airspace or shy away from talking to controllers. Once you get used to talking to them, you'll quickly learn that they are one of your best resources. Use everything in the cockpit, and the radio is in the cockpit, right? The reward is that once you make it to Carroll County, you can eat the best pie in the state of Ohio.


So, the plan for what we're going to do is done. The preflight is done. One part of the preflight preparation was the TAF, which was calling for winds lighter than the actual ones. They were supposed to be 10 knots, increasing to 15G25 right around the time we would be returning. That's something to make a note of, because that often means that the weather is going to end up worse than forecast. But that was just an opportunity for a nice crosswind takeoff.

One of the first parts of the plan was to contact Cleveland Approach and get cleared through their Class B. The frequency was already in standby before takeoff, so a simple switchover and callout was all that was necessary. It went like any other, until the controller couldn't make radar contact. We reset the transponder and tried again. No luck. It looked like either our transponder was dead or his system was having issues. We finally agreed to just stay under his Class B shelf and continue on course.

Once we started getting close to Akron-Canton's airspace, we tried again. This time it was the same failure to make radar contact, except that the controller said that he was getting a transponder code of 7777 instead of what he had assigned us. (That's really bad because only the military guys get to use that squawk code.) Again we reset the transponder and again it didn't work. Now the problem was definitely with us. We agreed to circumnavigate his Class C and continue on our way.

While we were working with Akron-Canton Approach, we started getting some bumps. There were no airmets for turbulence along our route, although there was one well to the east of where we would be. There were also no pireps of turbulence in the entire state of Ohio; the only scattered ones were in the area that had moderate turbulence forecast, and those reports were 1 light, 2 light-moderate, and 1 moderate. (I only include those pireps from about 10,000 or below, since our 172 won't make it into the flight levels without being strapped to an SSME.)

Naturally, neither forecasts nor pireps are solid-gold indicators of the absence of turbulence. Pireps are especially non-reflective, since they're only given by those who know how (which is actually pretty simple: just tell ATC you want to give a pirep and then say what it's like up there), aren't too lazy to, and aren't too busy fighting to keep the shiny side up in turbulence.

This, unfortunately, was one of those times when no news was not good news. The closer we got to the destination, the worse the bumps got. By 10 miles out, there were a few that definitely would have made a good moderate turbulence pirep for ATC. I have a rather high tolerance for getting bumped around a cockpit, so when even I'm starting to get a little irritated, it's at least moderate.

Now comes the time when a lot of metal gets bent: at the end of a cross country flight, so close to the airport that it calls to you like a Homeric Siren. The AWOS was reporting winds 80 degrees off the runway at 21 knots gusting to 27. You have the airport in sight. What do you do?

Discretion is the better part of valor. The wise pilot knows when to say when. These conditions were pushing up against my own skill level. I let him fly the pattern and try to land, with my hand right by the yoke ready to jump in if necessary, as I fully expected us to not even be able to touch asphalt.

We managed, after an approach that wouldn't win any trophies for precision, to land. Many times, the natural instinct after feeling wheels touch pavement in conditions like that, is to breathe a sigh of relief and be glad it's over. However, especially in a crosswind, the landing isn't over until the plane is in a hangar. As soon as the upwind aileron was released, the wind got under the wing and raised the plane up a bit on that side, pushing it toward the side of the runway.

It's never too late to go around, so power up, pitch up, clean up, and speak up. That's what we did and decided to skip the next leg and head for home instead, where it was a little saner—or at least it was when we took off. There wasn't even a thought of going back in the pattern and making a second chance at a landing.

On the way back, we were getting beat up again, so we used the time to see how well the wing leveler on the autopilot works. Use all the resources in the cockpit, which includes the autopilot when necessary. It did a passable job keeping the shiny side up until we got back to the home patch.

Back home, the winds had picked up to 17 gusting to 24 and at a right angle to the runway. However, this pattern and approach went much more smoothly, and the landing was a very nice one without me even touching the controls. As we taxied back to the hangar, I thought about the sentiment that Ernie Gann and Bob Buck expressed about how sometimes 1 hour of time in the cockpit is worth 100 hours in a logbook. This was one of those flights.

Why? How could I be so pleased after coming home with an empty belly?

Look at all the things experienced on just one flight:

  • A real (not simulated) equipment failure and working with ATC about it
  • A real (not simulated) in-flight change of plans because of it
  • A first encounter with real turbulence
  • An approach that shows why it's better to bug out than bend metal
  • Why textbooks (and instructors) say to keep that aileron down all the way through rollout. It's no longer just ink on a page but a real experience.
  • A real (not simulated) go around in tough conditions
  • A real (not simulated) decision to abandon the original goal
  • A real (not simulated) diversion because of that decision
  • A real (not simulated) need to use the autopilot to reduce workload. Autopilots are excellent tools if you use them as a workload reducer, not a brain replacer
  •  A confidence-building nice crosswind landing back at the home drome—and the yoke stayed fully deflected the whole time after that learning experience at Carroll County
If every flight "failed" this successfully, we'd all be aces in no time.

Got a "So there I was..." story? Leave a comment and share it.

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. 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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Saturday, May 24, 2014

It's Discover Aviation Days 2014 time!

Every year in May, Lorain County Regional Airport plays host to Discover Aviation Days. Every year, it gets bigger, and this year is no exception.

In four years, it has grown from a small static display of a few aircraft for a few hours on Saturday to an all-weekend affair with large exhibits, Young Eagles flights, B-25 bomber rides, and an actual airshow with professional performers on both days, plus a night airshow starting at dusk on Saturday. There's even camping for those who want to stay both days.

Discover Aviation Days is organized by the Discover Aviation Center, led by the improbably-energetic Paul Koziol. With some help, in November he also created the Discover Aviation Center Flying Club, of which I am Secretary. As part of my communications role, I've finally managed to roll out the first issue of the club's newsletter, which you can read here.

Want to see how much it's grown in just three years? Check out the picture from 2011 on page 9!

Monday, May 19, 2014

What happens to hopelessly lost luggage?

It's extremely rare that I devote a post to someone else's material. After all, one of the big reasons I devote much of my time to writing Keyboard & Rudder is to bring you my own personal, peculiar take on learning to fly in a fun, offbeat way. Instead of simply rehashing the same old, dry, academic topics in the same old, dry, academic ways you can find a hundred places elsewhere, I try to cover either something you won't find anywhere else (like extraterrestrial airports) or to cover a topic in a way no one else does (like actually admitting when I make a mistake so we can learn from it).

Dan Lewis has had an outstanding newsletter called Now I Know for quite some time. (In fact, I linked to one of his stories in #10 of my post "Ten for 110: Ten things you might not know about the Wright Brothers".) Although it's not an aviation newsletter, he covers an offbeat range of things in an engaging way. Occasionally, the odd and the overhead line up, as in "Where the Bags Go," an extremely interesting post on what happens to luggage that gets hopelessly lost.

While you're there reading that, you can sign up for his free newsletter to get more like that in your inbox. (You'll probably want to!) In fact, his newsletter is so good that he's turned it into a book, which is where the article originally comes from:


(If you use that link to buy it, you help support this site with a small commission at no cost to you, you help support his newsletter with a sale, and you get a fascinating book... everybody wins!)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Before Disney's Planes, things were crazy

Many of the things we take for granted today are actually less than a century old. For the majority of people alive today, jets have always been around, making the world smaller, and Disney has always been around, trying to take over that world.

However, it was 86 years ago today (May 15th, 1928) that Mickey Mouse, a character known throughout the world, got a companion: Minnie Mouse. And what did he do to try to impress her? The same thing all pilots do—take her for a flight, of course!

Obviously, aircraft engines have evolved a little bit from the days of wind-up animals inside a box, but that is one of the things that makes this video interesting from a historical perspective: it was made only 25 years after the Wright Brothers made their first flight! Another bit of neat history comes early on when Mickey idolizes a picture of Charles Lindbergh. Although it is hard to find someone more famous than Mickey now, "Lucky Lindy" was as world-famous back when this was made as Mickey Mouse is today.

Just how much more famous than Mickey was Lindy? Infinitely more, because Mickey didn't exist before this cartoon! This was his first time on film, and his test screening went so underwhelmingly that it didn't even get picked up for distribution. Mickey is officially said to have been created in "Steamboat Willie", but that actually came out after "Plane Crazy". However, it was "Steamboat Willie" that launched Mickey to fame, leading to the re-release of his original film that almost no one had heard of.

From black & white cartoons of Mickey Mouse, Disney has advanced all the way to computer-generated, high-quality animation with Planes. It's a fun story about Dusty Crophopper and his ambitions to leave the routine world of cropdusting and make his way in the world as a racing champion. I enjoyed it, and I'm not a fan of animation or Disney. Pick up a copy here and see for yourself:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Weather Machine

I spend a lot of time writing about the weather, which makes sense because pilots spend a lot of time worrying about the weather. Two of the most popular posts I've written so far have been about the weather, and two of the most popular of my YouTube videos are plain weather charts showing the gears of the weather machine in motion.

While the weather is a deadly serious topic for pilots, it can be a lot of fun, too. One of the things I like best about flying is being up in the sky where the weather happens, watching the gears of the weather machine churn (from a safe distance, of course).

The residents of Portland, Oregon have their own fun with the weather, and their very own "Weather Machine" too. It's not a weather machine like we're accustomed to, with its fronts and pressure centers and how they clash and mesh to create the weather. Instead, their weather machine has metal gears, lights, and even trumpets, as this moderately-short Wikipedia article sums up.

Photo by Cacophony.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

BGI, AGI, IGI, why O why?

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Three of the questions asked most often about ground instructor certificates are:

1. Why get one?

2. Is the AGI a BGI + IGI?

3. What is the difference between the BGI and AGI?

The answers are
1. "It's probably worth it."
2. "Absolutely, positively, NO."
3. "The BGI is narrower in scope than an AGI."


Although I'm a CFI, CFII, and an MEI, I also have an AGI and IGI certificate. Why bother spending the time and money considering that ground instruction privileges are included with a flight instructor certificate?

There are two reasons I got them, a third good reason I discovered afterward, and a fourth minor reason to have one:

First, when I was working on my initial CFI, I knew I might want to get a gold seal someday. One of the prerequisites is either an AGI or an IGI. Might as well just take the written (or if you're an overachiever, both writtens) while the information is fresh in the brain. After all, the AGI is a lot like the commercial/flight instructor written and the IGI is basically identical to the CFII written.

Second, if you hold a ground instructor certificate, your examiner can reduce the amount you'll be asked from the FOI topics during the oral part of your CFI checkride. My oral was five hours long (even with an AGI and IGI, it stared just after 0700 and ended just before noon), so if you can make yours shorter with some extra effort, that's worth the extra time and money beforehand. It doesn't mean you won't be asked questions about the fundamentals of instruction because you can be asked about anything you're required to know in the Practical Test Standards (to quote the PTS, "At the discretion of the examiner, the applicant's competence in any AREAS OF OPERATION may be evaluated"), but it means the examiner doesn't have to ask about anything specific other than Area 1, Task F (Flight Instructor Characteristics and Responsibilities). Examiners don't like sitting through hours-long oral examinations any more than you do, so by making their life easier you tend to make yours easier.

(Note: this does not mean you're exempted from preparing a preflight lesson on a maneuver. That is in a different area of operation all by itself, so don't think that by doing a ground instructor certificate you don't have to create your lesson plan binder.)

Third, the recordkeeping requirements for ground instructors are much lower than for flight instructors. If you sign someone off for a written with your flight instructor certificate, 61.189(b)(2) states that you must follow up and keep a record of whether they passed or failed. If you sign the same person off with your ground instructor certificate instead, you have no such obligation. This is extremely convenient for me when teaching the private pilot ground school at LCCC because I can print out my students' completion certificates signed off with my AGI certificate and I don't have to ask them to contact me with their results when they take their written.

Fourth, you don't need a medical to give ground instruction, and a ground instructor certificate never needs renewal as long as you have given some ground instruction in the previous 12 months. If you haven't, you can either complete a FIRC or get an instructor's signoff.

You don't have to have a commercial certificate to become a ground instructor. (Legally, you don't have to even be a pilot to become a ground instructor, but that's a bit like becoming a dance instructor by reading the little footstep diagrams out of books.) This means that if you'd like to see if instructing is for you without committing a lot of time and resources to something you might not like, this might not be a bad way to go.


It is an extremely common misconception that an AGI is a BGI with instrument privileges. This is not true. I can tell you with 100% certainty and based on information from the FAA's top office in Oklahoma City that the AGI and IGI are two entirely different animals.

How can I be so sure? Well, this misconception is so prevalent that when I went to get my AGI and IGI (since I did them both at the same time), the inspector at the FSDO took my paperwork and came back a few minutes later with my AGI certificate. I told him I also needed an IGI. He disagreed and said that the AGI includes the IGI. I showed him 14 CFR 61.215, and he decided to call up Oklahoma City to settle the matter. I was right.

(To be fair, this was his first week on the job. In fact, he was so new that he didn't even have a computer login yet. Getting both an AGI and IGI at the same time is pretty rare, so it's not that he was incompetent; no one knows everything their first week, especially when something like this comes up. For the most part, the people at your local FSDO are highly skilled, very knowledgeable, and dedicated individuals. Their leaders, on the other hand....)

It's not that I'm a legal wizard; instead, 61.215(b)(1) makes this distinction quite clear (italics mine):
(b) A person who holds an advanced ground instructor rating is authorized to provide:
(1) Ground training on the aeronautical knowledge areas required for the issuance of any certificate or rating under this part except for the aeronautical knowledge areas required for an instrument rating.


A BGI lets you give ground instruction at the sport, recreational, or private pilot levels. An AGI lets you give ground instruction at any level all the way up to and including ATP. The requirements for either are actually almost identical except that the AGI also includes 61.125 and 61.155. What's in those two? The commercial and ATP knowledge areas.

When you took your written(s) for your sport, private, or whatever level certificate you have, you took one that was specific to one category of aircraft. For example, you probably took the Private Pilot Airplane (PAR) written or, if you don't think it's unusual for your wings to be moving faster than your fuselage, the Private Pilot Helicopter (PRH).

The AGI has no such distinction, and you can be asked questions from all categories. On mine, I remember at least two questions were on helicopters, one was an airship question, one was a balloon question, and one was on gliders.

Either one of them requires you to have taken the FOI exam. If you're already a flight instructor and just want to add a _GI, you already took the FOI as part of that process, so you don't have to take it again. You can find that exemption codified in 61.213(b)(1).

I hope this has helped clarify things for you, but if you have a question I didn't cover, as always feel free to leave a comment!

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. 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.