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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Aviator's Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, and out on the ramp,
Not an airplane was stirring, not even a Champ.
The aircraft were fastened to tie downs with care,
In hopes that  come morning, they all would be there.

The fuel trucks were nestled, all snug in their spots,
With gusts from two-forty at 39 knots.
I slumped at the fuel desk, now finally caught up,
And settled down comfortably, resting my butt.

When the radio lit up with noise and with chatter,
I turned up the scanner to see what was the matter.
A voice clearly heard over static and snow,
Called for clearance to land at the airport below.

He barked his transmission so lively and quick,
I'd have sworn that the call sign he used was "St. Nick."
I ran to the panel to turn up the lights,
The better to welcome this magical flight.

He called his position, no room for denial,
"St. Nicholas One, turnin' left onto final."
And what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a Rutan-built sleigh, with eight Rotax Reindeer!

With vectors to final, down the glideslope he came,
As he passed all fixes, he called them by name:
"Now Ringo! Now Tolga! Now Trini and Bacun!
On Comet! On Cupid!" What pills was he takin'?

While controllers were sittin', and scratchin' their heads,
They phoned to my office, and I heard it with dread,
The message they left was both urgent and dour:
"When Santa pulls in, have him please call the tower."

He landed like silk, with the sled runners sparking,
Then I heard, "Left at Charlie," and, "Taxi to parking."
He slowed to a taxi, turned off of three-oh,
And stopped on the ramp with a "Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho!"

He stepped out of the sleigh, but before he could talk,
I ran out to meet him with my best set of chocks.
His red helmet and goggles were covered with frost,
And his beard was all blackened from reindeer exhaust.

His breath smelled like peppermint, gone slightly stale,
And he puffed on a pipe, but he didn't inhale.
His cheeks were all rosy and jiggled like jelly,
His boots were as black as a cropduster's belly.

He was chubby and plump, in his suit of bright red,
And he asked me to "fill it, with hundred low-lead."
He came dashing in from the snow-covered pump,
I knew he was anxious for drainin' the sump.

I spoke not a word, but went straight to my work,
And I filled up the sleigh, but I spilled like a jerk.
He came out of the restroom, and sighed in relief,
Then he picked up a phone for a Flight Service brief.

And I thought as he silently scribed in his log,
These reindeer could land in an eighth-mile fog.
He completed his pre-flight, from the front to the rear,
Then he put on his headset, and I heard him yell, "Clear!"

And laying a finger on his push-to-talk,
He called up the tower for clearance and squawk.
"Take taxiway Charlie, the southbound direction,
Turn right three-two-zero at pilot's discretion"

He sped down the runway, the best of the best,
"Your traffic's a Grumman, inbound from the west."
Then I heard him proclaim, as he climbed through the night,
"Merry Christmas to all! I have traffic in sight!"


The best of the season to you and yours! See you next year!

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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 29, 2017

Flying the Mississippi: Preface


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Each of the legs in this adventure begins with the basic information about what is coming up in a "briefing strip" that looks like this:

Start time:
Starting fuel: %
Takeoff runway:
Leg length:
Distance traveled so far:
Distance to go:
Here's more about those pieces of information.

Start time: Flight Simulator X will keep having you start at the same time over and over. To have the feel of the real passage of time, you will have to adjust the time manually before your flight. You can either simply start the next leg at the time the last one ended, look at the logbook to see the amount of time the last flight took (if you click "Details..." on a particular entry, it will tell you what time you took off), or add some custom amount of time to the last flight.

As an example of that last option, when I land, I usually add 15-30 minutes to the end of the last flight. That's my way of simulating getting out of the aircraft, walking around and checking out the airport and its nearby surroundings, and starting back up. If I land between noon and 1:00 p.m., I'll add 60-90 minutes to simulate going into town for lunch. If there's something there that I would like to see, I'll even set the start time for the next leg at 8:00 a.m. the following day to simulate staying overnight. (I do this, for example, at Little Falls/Morrison County to simulate visiting the birthplace of Charles Lindbergh.)

Starting fuel: If you like more realism, you can keep track of the fuel burned and set the next leg to start with how much you ended with last time. Subtract 1-2% for startup, taxi, and run-up if you prefer starting at the end of the runway. I use a ballpark figure of 2% for every .1 hour in the logbook.

In Microsoft Flight Simulator X you can use Shift-Z, Shift-Z, Shift-Z (press "Shift-Z" three times) to display the fuel status in percent. If you need to adjust it, open up the "Fuel and Payload" menu from the main start screen.

Takeoff runway: This is only a suggestion. If you're using no weather (in other words, every day is a clear blue, calm wind, "clear and a million" day), this is usually the runway that will put you closest to getting back to the river the fastest.

If you are more advanced and are using real weather or conditions you set up yourself, this may not match the runway you would actually use under those conditions. Feel free to change this to match the runway that would be appropriate for your weather conditions.

Leg length: These are given direct. You'll end up flying approximately 20% more due to following the terrain, going to airports that aren't right on the river banks, etc.

Distance traveled so far: Oh, how far we've come!

Distance to go: How much is left until we land in the "Big Easy", New Orleans.

Customizing your experience


Weather

If you prefer real-world weather, then feel free to use it. Because real world weather will vary from person to person depending on when you may be flying this, I have the weather set on the "Fair Weather" weather theme for all of these flights. This allows for some standardization and predictability throughout the journey, since the runway to use will never change when the wind is always calm.

In fact, if you want to make a second fly-though or more, I'd highly recommend turning on the real-world weather feature. This will give you experience in making go-no decisions, dealing with weather en route, figuring out which runway to use, and many other factors that real pilots have to consider on every trip, whether it be 15 miles to the $100 hamburger or 1500 miles along the Mississippi.

FSRecorder

There is an add-on for Microsoft Flight Simulator X called FSRecorder that will allow you to record the path your airplane took. It does not record video; it only records your flight track. This is useful if you want to review your flight. It may or may not work with the Steam Edition.

Other flight simulators have this functionality built in.

Loading/saving your own flights

If you want to fly this trip seamlessly, you can save your flight at the end of your session. When you come back and load it, everything will be restored to the way it was when you saved it. Your aircraft will be in the same location at the same time of day with the same amount of fuel, etc.

Although I give suggested times and fuel amounts, these are intended to be a guide and not a set-in-stone rule. It's your trip, so you can and should change these to suit your goals and style. Saving your flights allows you to start off with an exact figure instead of the estimates provided. Whether you save or not has no impact on the overall course of the trip.

Aircraft

This flight was designed and flown with the stock Cessna 172 with a plain vanilla installation. I chose this aircraft because it requires no special installation of software or add-ons. You naturally can feel free to use any aircraft you like: there is nothing about this flight that is aircraft-specific, with the exception of some shorter grass fields, which you may want to avoid landing at in a bigger aircraft.

In fact, in real life, I'd love to do this flight in a Piper Cub, another aircraft that comes with Flight Simulator X. You can go along as slow as an AirCreation Trike Ultralight, build up some multi-engine time in a Beech Baron, fly the river on floats in a Beaver, or even combine the last two by flying it in a Grumman Goose. In fact, if you're one of those people who prefers that the wings be going faster than the rest of the aircraft, you can do this whole journey just fine in a helicopter. If you want to speed up the trip a bit but still get almost all of the fun, the Mooney is a good choice.

The Learjet can give you the 30,000-foot view at 500 MPH if you're not into "low and slow".
 Optional airports

There are several airports that don't add much to the trip, but are included solely to break up the journey into smaller chunks and to give you a chance to add an airport to your logbook. These airports can be skipped with no loss of fun, so if you're into speed-running, I have marked these airports with * in front of their name.

I have avoided putting lessons or flying tips into these legs, so you won't miss anything important if you choose to skip over them. Instead, in many cases I've put interesting bits of historical or geographical knowledge into those, so you can merely read those segments and still get the experience.

Time of year

I chose to start my flight in mid-November in order to experience the change in scenery from snowy up north and greener as I progressed southward. Fall is another beautiful time to fly, and I highly recommend starting the trip any time between October 1st and October 20th if you want to enjoy hundreds of miles of changing leaves. It's up to you, and the time of year has no effect in Flight Simulator X besides a change of scenery textures.

Autumn leaves can make for great scenery along your adventure.

Flight Simulator X downloads the current weather regardless of what date you have selected as the virtual calendar. As noted earlier, I have the weather permanently set to “Fair Weather” during this trip in order to standardize the legs, as it is impossible for me to write in every condition you might have otherwise. However, using real-world weather is a great experience that will give you practice in making go/no-go decisions, figuring out what altitudes and routes you may have to adjust, etc. You might even “get” to experience the feeling of being stuck on the ground for several days in the middle of nowhere waiting for the weather to pass.

Other tips


In Flight Simulator X, Shift-Z is extremely useful, especially if you like to use the spot plane view to make it easier to look around and check out the scenery. Pressing Shift-Z once places a small information line at the top left of the screen that gives you your latitude and longitude, altitude, magnetic heading, airspeed, and winds. Pressing Shift-Z again gives you your frame rate, how many Gs you're pulling, and your fuel in percent. Pressing Shift-Z again gives you both of the first two lines at the same time. Pressing Shift-Z again makes them go away, which is useful if you want to take a screen shot without the clutter. Don't worry: you can bring the information right back by pressing Shift-Z again.


Early on in the journey, when the river is still small enough to be somewhat difficult to see from the air, don't try to follow every bend; you'll go crazier than a Mark Twain plot. Just stay within a mile or so of it, keeping it in sight. Odds are that if it bends hard to the right, it will probably bend back hard to the left not long after.

The most efficient course is easier to see by the time you're a couple hundred miles downriver.
If it's too hard to spot the river at the beginning and you're getting frustrated, the journey is just as fun in reverse. Try flying upriver instead, because the mighty Mississippi is easy to spot when it's extremely wide. However, there are some lessons early on about how to use the GPS and equipment, so if you want to fly the "other" way, I suggest reading through from start to finish first.

I like to fly with the autogen scenery objects cranked up to maximum. That makes finding the river a challenge at the beginning, just like in real life. Even moderately large real rivers are surprisingly hard to see from the air. In real life, it's often easier to see the trees that line the river instead of looking for the river itself. That's not as useful in Microsoft Flight Simulator X.

For that reason, in the first leg I included a GPS flight plan with custom waypoints you can follow instead of getting lost trying to keep up with the tiny trickle that hasn't become the Mighty Mississippi yet. These waypoints follow the real river, so at times the flight may not match up perfectly with the river. They'll keep you close the whole way, though.

Optional Airports

It's your flight simulator and your journey! If you want to fly at 5,000 feet instead of 2,500, have at it! If you don't want to land at every airport (or even hardly any airports), don't! If you just want to fly along with the autopilot on going from airport to airport without even following the river closely, do it! The flight plan follows the river closely enough that you should be able to enjoy it no matter how you decide to do it. That's what flying is all about, isn't it?

There are many, many small legs, so it's quite possible that you might not want to land at every single airport. I've put them in the flight plan to help the GPS trace the river better, to help you navigate, and as suggested places you can land if you're an airport collector or going for the next “Landings at X airports” badge in Microsoft Flight Simulator X.

So many places to land does tend to break up the flow, so it would be understandable if you skipped landing at one or several of them. Another advantage of having them close together is that if you only have a few minutes available, you can still squeeze in one more leg.

I don't taxi in Microsoft Flight Simulator X (after all, it's a flight simulator, not a driving around on the ground simulator), so all the flights start on the runway. I also tend not to follow standard traffic patterns, but make a straight-in on most occasions. Just as I encourage you to make your own modifications to these flights to suit yourself, I do, too. In real life, I'd be listening to the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) for the airport 10-15 miles out, and I'd know if there was traffic in the pattern, and I'd have a plan to fit myself into the flow of the traffic pattern.

X-Plane or other flight simulators

One of the major reasons I limited this flight to almost entirely airports that are on a sectional is to make it easy to use X-Plane, FlightGear, or any other major flight simulator with almost no adjustment. The keyboard commands you use and the visuals you see may differ if you're not using Microsoft Flight Simulator X, but the journey will be the same.

Ready? Let's go!


See the Table of Contents here.

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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 15, 2017

Flying the Mississippi: Real-world flight plan

When I fly this in real life, I certainly don't plan on breaking it into almost 70 legs. I will be doing it over five days. That will give me a good balance between amount of flying per day and time to check out the locales.

Day 1: Lake Itasca to Little Falls (KLXL)


Sky Manor (MN86) -> N47 14 04 W95 11 59 -> KBJI -> KPGZ -> 2MN2 -> KAIT -> KBRD -> KLXL
187 nm, 2.1 hours

Start by flying over the source of the Mighty Mississippi and finish the day in Charles Lindbergh's childhood hometown.

Day 2: Little Falls to Quad Cities (KDVN)


KLXL -> KSTC -> KSTP -> KONA -> 7WI0 -> C74 -> KSFY -> KDVN
340 nm, 3.8 hours

I've never been to the Quad Cities area, and 4 hours in a prop plane is enough for one day's flying. I also would like to check out John Deere's headquarters building, since it was designed by the world-famous architect Eero Saarinen. He also designed Washington-Dulles International Airport, which I am in every day at work, and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

Day 3: Quad Cities to St. Louis (KCPS)


KDVN -> KMUT -> KBRL -> KEOK -> KHAE -> KSET -> KALN -> KCPS
237 nm, 2.6 hours

Although I've spent several weeks in St. Louis while getting my EMB-145 type rating and during Captain upgrade, there are still many things here left to check out. The first time I was there, I got a bottle of water from where the Missouri River meets the Mississippi.

Day 4: St. Louis to Memphis (M01)


KCPS -> KFES -> 12LL -> KCGI -> KCIR -> 0M2 -> 7M4 - M01
244 nm, 2.7 hours

It's not hard to find a reason to stop in Memphis for a day!

Day 5: Memphis to New Orleans (KNEW)


M01 -> KHEE -> 0AR7 -> M32 -> KVKS -> 0R4 -> KHZR -> KREG -> KNEW
391 nm, 4.3 hours


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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 1, 2017

Flying the Mississippi: Introduction

From the book-in-progress, Flying the Mississippi.

Introduction


This is the sort of flight I'd want to take, so I'm simply writing the kind of book that I'd want to read. That's why the flight plan is pretty close to something you could use to make a real-life flight: it actually comes right from the preliminary planning I do when preparing for a journey like this. It is the prequel to an even larger book: one which goes all the way around the world in FSX. No avgas to buy, no hotel rooms to pay for, no hours ticking on the Hobbs meter: just get in the virtual plane and have a blast!

There are several books on the market already that use FSX as a “training tool”. The problem with most of them it that they tend to be more like dry, dusty workbooks than useful, enjoyable tools. With the exception of “FSX for Pilots: Real World Training” by Jeff van West and Kevin Lane-Cummings, which is one of the few enjoyable textbook-style books that doesn't treat FSX as the redheaded stepchild of aviation, most of these focus too much on drill and repetition of isolated skills.

A recent trend in training is “Scenario-Based Training” (SBT). This is a promising concept, as instead of isolating a specific skill or maneuver and then practicing that without context, SBT's goal is to package many factors and skills together and place them in a scenario that reflects more closely the kind of situations a pilot may face in real life.

However, even the books that follow the trendy scenario model of training tend to lack imagination. Not here. Instead of a bunch of variations on “To grandmother's house we go” flights, you'll be flying the ultimate scenario: an immense voyage down one of the world's longest rivers. You'll see more of the Mississippi than Lewis and Clark did, you'll face serious challenges that will test your piloting skills to the limit (and possibly beyond), and by the time you're done you'll be able to boast of having accomplished something few people ever have.

This book takes an entirely different approach than almost any of the ones out there today. Instead of lecturing you about everything you'll ever need to know and lots you won't before you ever get to touch the controls, you'll learn by having fun. My goal is that you'll be too busy having fun to realize you're learning. No one remembers a dull lecture, but everyone remembers that one time they did such-and-such. This book is just a string of such-and-such.

I assume only a basic familiarity with whatever flight simulator you choose to use. There are many references to Microsoft Flight Simulator X, but only because that is the flight simulator with the largest installation base. It would be impossible to write one with such specific references for all of the major flight simulators on the market today. However, I have put effort into ensuring that it is just as possible to do this flight in any of the others with minor adjustments. For example, I reference the FSX GPS, but your flight simulator will almost definitely have a GPS of its own. The commands to make it do certain things may vary slightly, but they probably do the same basic things.

You should know the basics of how to fly whatever flight simulator you choose, but you don't need to be an expert at all. As long as you know how to go up/down, left/right, and can land on a mile of runway, you have all the skills you need. The goal is that by the end of the book, you'll be a great pilot. If you're already a pilot, this journey should make you even better.

Hernando de Soto "discovering" the Mississippi River. Image from Wikipedia.

This isn't just a trip of 1500 miles. It is a trip through time, both on a human scale and a geologic scale. The Mississippi is a dynamic, living creature, and just as people have whims and layers of history of their own, so does the river.

It is alive on a daily basis, as barges push up and down the waters. It lives on a yearly basis in its floods, which after decades and decades of engineering are much tamer than they used to be, but still not entirely eliminated. It lives on a millennial scale in the layers of sediments that are a mix of new material deposited through its innumerable floods and old layers that date back millions of years to when it was an enormous bay.

Along the way, you'll encounter some of the human history that has taken place along its banks, and see how the laws of man are no match for the moods of the Mississippi. If you've ever wondered why rivers are so winding instead of taking the simpler, straighter route, you'll finally have your answer, and you'll see the traces left over that are evidence that rivers really do take the straighter course at times.

You'll also discover that river banks and airplane wings have something in common, and the Mississippi has had an impact on aviation in its own way. The travelers on the first steamboat to traverse the Mississippi, the New Orleans, were nervous by the high speed of the new boat: 8-10 miles per hour! You will go over ten times that fast as you travel along the river where the only thing constant is change.

See the table of contents for the rest of the book.

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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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Flying the Mississippi: Table of Contents

Flying the Mississippi posts

If it has a hyperlink, then that chapter been published. If it doesn't, then it's coming soon.

An exciting announcement!: A description of what the book will be like, who it's for, and all the fun stuff that will be in it.

Introduction: Many non-fiction books have introductions. This one does, too.

Preface: Tips for flying this adventure, getting set up, and how to get the most out of the lessons and flight simulator.

Real-world flight plan: A five-leg version of this that I would use when I fly this in real life.

Note: Legs with a * in them are optional. They are there to break the flight up into smaller chunks so you don't have to sit at your computer for an hour or more at any time.

Leg 1: Sky Manor (MN86) to Bemidji Regional (KBJI)
Leg 2: Bemidji Regional (KBJI) to Grand Rapids/Itasca County-Newstrom (KGPZ)
Leg 3: Grand Rapids/Itasca County-Newstrom (KGPZ) to *Dreamcatcher (2MN2)
Leg 4: *Dreamcatcher (2MN2) to Aitkin-Kurtz (KAIT)
Leg 5: Aitkin-Kurtz (KAIT) to Brainerd Lakes Regional (KBRD)
Leg 6: Brainerd Lakes Regional (KBRD) to Holmes Private Airfield (MN16)
Leg 7:  Holmes Private Airfield (MN16) to Little Falls/Morrison County-Charles A. Lindbergh (KLXL)
Leg 8: Little Falls/Morrison County-Charles A. Lindbergh (KLXL) to *Fussy (2MN7)
Leg 9: *Fussy (2MN7) to Leaders Clear Lake (8Y6)
Leg 10: Leaders Clear Lake (8Y6) to Meadowvale (MN40)
Leg 11: Meadowvale (MN40) to St. Paul Downtown-Holman (KSTP)
Leg 12: St. Paul Downtown-Holman (KSTP) to *Sky Meadow (MN58)
Leg 13: *Sky Meadow (MN58) to Red Wing Regional (KRGK)
Leg 14: Red Wing Regional (KRGK) to Winona-Conrad (KONA)
Leg 15: Winona-Conrad (KONA) to La Crosse (KLSE)
Leg 16: La Crosse (KLSE) to *Turkey Bluff (7WI0)
Leg 17: *Turkey Bluff (7WI0) to Prairie Du Chien (KPDC)
Leg 18: Prairie Du Chien (KPDC) to *GAA (IA23)
Leg 19: *GAA (IA23) to Cassville (C74)
Leg 20: Cassville (C74) to Rigdon (WI81) or Briggs Brothers (77LL)
Leg 21: Rigdon (WI81) or Briggs Brothers (77LL) to Merkle Airport (3IS4)
Leg 22: Merkle Airport (3IS4) to Tri-Township (KSFY)
Leg 23: Tri-Township (KSFY) to Clinton (KCWI)
Leg 24: Clinton (KCWI) to Mc Neal's (2IL3)
Leg 25: Mc Neal's (2IL3) to Muscatine (KMUT)
Leg 26: Muscatine (KMUT) to *Meyer (LL23)
Leg 27: *Meyer (LL23) to Southeast Iowa Regional (KBRL)
Leg 28: Southeast Iowa Regional (KBRL) to Keokuk (KEOK)
Leg 29: Keokuk (KEOK) to *Blickhan (88IS)
Leg 30: *Blickhan (88IS) to Hannibal Regional (KHAE)
Leg 31: Hannibal Regional (KHAE) to *Twain Airpark (4MO6)
Leg 32: *Twain Airpark (4MO6) to Low and Slow (2IL6)
Leg 33: Low and Slow (2IL6) to Waldmeister Farm (45MO)
Leg 34: Waldmeister Farm (45MO) to *St. Charles County-Smartt (KSET)
Leg 35: *St. Charles County-Smartt (KSET) to St. Louis Regional (KALN)
Leg 36: St. Louis Regional (KALN) to St. Louis Downtown (KCPS)
Leg 37: St. Louis Downtown (KCPS) to *Sullivan (27LL)
Leg 38: *Sullivan (27LL) to Festus Memorial (KFES)
Leg 39: Festus Memorial (KFES) to *Ste Genevieve Flying Club Airport (6MO2)
Leg 40: *Ste Genevieve Flying Club Airport (6MO2) to Perryville (K02)
Leg 41: Perryville (K02) to *Lambdins (12LL)
Leg 42: *Lambdins (12LL) to Cape Girardeau Regional (KCGI)
Leg 43: Cape Girardeau Regional (KCGI) to Cairo Regional (KCIR)
Leg 44: Cairo Regional (KCIR) to Reelfoot Lake (0M2)
Leg 45: Reelfoot Lake (0M2) to County Memorial (KEIW)
Leg 46: County Memorial (KEIW) to Mid-Continent (M28)
Leg 47: Mid-Continent (M28) to Arkansas International (KBYH)
Leg 48: Arkansas International (KBYH) to General Dewitt Spain (M01)
Leg 49: General Dewitt Spain (M01) to Delta Flying Service (MS65)
Leg 50: Delta Flying Service (MS65) to *Dawson's (15AR)
Leg 51: *Dawson's (15AR) to Thompson-Robbins (KHEE)
Leg 52: Thompson-Robbins (KHEE) to Griffin Ag Airport (24AR)
Leg 53: Griffin Ag Airport (24AR) to Yancopin (0AR7)
Leg 54: Yancopin (0AR7) to *West Bolivar Flying Service (MS37)
Leg 55: *West Bolivar Flying Service (MS37) to Lake Village (M32)
Leg 56: Lake Village (M32) to *Cottonwood (6LA1)
Leg 57: *Cottonwood (6LA1) to Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional (KTVR)
Leg 58: Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional (KTVR) to Tensas Parish (L33)
Leg 59: Tensas Parish (L33) to Concordia Parish (0R4)
Leg 60: Concordia Parish (0R4) to *Braughton (LA40)
Leg 61: *Braughton (LA40) to False River Regional (KHZR)
Leg 62: False River Regional (KHZR) to Omni (LA46)
Leg 63: Omni (LA46) to Wilbert (LA15)
Leg 64: Wilbert (LA15) to Louisiana Regional (L38)
Leg 65: Louisiana Regional (L38) to St. John the Baptist Parish (1L0)
Leg 66 and final: St. John the Baptist Parish (1L0) to Lakefront (KNEW)
Leg 67: Bonus leg: Lakefront (KNEW) to Birdwin (7LA1)



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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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An exciting announcement!

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), where whoever wants to can try to write a 50,000-word novel in just one month. Many try, but only a few succeed, in large part because 50,000 words is an extremely daunting goal. (By comparison, this entire blog is "only" about 190,000 words, and I've been writing it for over five years.)

I won't be writing a novel, but I'll still be taking part in my own way. For the last several years, I've been writing a book called Flying the Mississippi. It has been a work in progress for quite a while now, as my real flying job, the return to school for graduate work, beating the 100 Workout Challenge, self-experimenting with learning research by attempting to master chess, the hours of work per month into this blog, and occasionally getting to spend an hour or two with the wife and dog has left little time to take it from the rough draft that it is to the polished, high-quality work it would have to be for me to admit to having anything to do with it.

It is a "learn by doing" book. In it, we fly together from the very start of the Mighty Mississippi at Lake Itasca all the way down to its unofficial end in New Orleans. Along the way, each leg has either a lesson in flying technique and/or the history and geology of the river. Everything from steamboat stories to short field landings is thrown in.

As you watch one of the most powerful rivers in the world grow from a small creek to a mile-wide monster, you'll fly over
  • Paul Bunyan country
  • Charles Lindbergh's hometown and land at the airport that bears his name
  • Maiden's Rock, the site of an old Native American legend of unlucky lovers
  • the "battlefield" of a war you probably didn't learn about in history class: the "Honey War"
  • Mark Twain's childhood home
  • an airport owned by the Busch family, makers of Budweiser
  • the beginning of the historic Lewis & Clark Expedition
  • the site of the most powerful earthquake in US history, which was so powerful the river "ran backward" for a time
  • an odd bit of geography where Kentucky isn't surrounded by more Kentucky
  • an old pirate lair
  • a pyramid that isn't in Egypt
  • the birthplace of blues and jazz and the home of Elvis
  • the alleged burial site of Hernando de Soto, the explorer who was on the old $500 bill
  • the location of Charles Lindbergh's first night flight
  • Vicksburg, which played a major role in the Civil War
  • the tallest capitol in the country
  • the home of Mardi Gras

Along the way, you'll learn and/or perfect short and soft field landings and all forms of navigation from the old-fashioned or obsolete to the most modern: dead reckoning, pilotage, VORs, ADF, and GPS. You'll become a master at reading sectional charts, and even perhaps understand what that mysterious "magnetic variation" is all about.

You'll even experience an engine failure over a particularly-treacherous part of the Mississippi. I actually already turned this into a video a while back on the Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel:


This adventure takes place in Microsoft Flight Simulator X, and was designed to be flown with nothing more complicated than its stock Cessna 172 with a plain vanilla installation. I chose this aircraft because it requires no special installation of software or add-ons, so it will work even if you're an X-Plane or Prepar3d user. The 172 also lets you use it as a guide if you're lucky enough to take this trip in real life!

Starting this month until it's done, roughly every other post will be a chapter from the book! (It might be a while, since there are 66 legs.) You'll get to watch the work in progress and even make comments and/or suggestions before the final book is published!

I'll keep up a table of contents as the series progresses. The next post will be the book's introduction. See you there!


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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, October 25, 2017

Heroes on the Potomac

Twenty-seven years before there was Sully on the Hudson, there was Lenny on the Potomac.

On a cold, snowy January afternoon in 1982, afternoon traffic is struggling to get out of Washington, DC. Six inches of snow has fallen on the area and downtown is almost paralyzed. Washington National—which wouldn't be named after Reagan for another 16 years, since Reagan was only finishing his first year as President at the time—was barely functional.

In the icy mess, Air Florida Flight 90 reaches the end of a chain of weak links. Unbeknownst to the crew or anyone else, one of the deicing teams' fluid wasn't the proper mixture, so one of the 737's wings didn't get the protection from the bitter elements it was supposed to be getting. The crew had little experience in harsh winter conditions, since they worked for a Florida airline.

As they push the thrust levers forward, the final nail is pounded into their coffin: the iced-up engine probes relay false information about the power the engines are putting out, making them think they are at takeoff power when they are actually well below it. All of the holes in Reason's Swiss cheese model have lined up, and barely 90 seconds later, they crash into the 14th Street Bridge.
Diagram from the official NTSB report.

Only six people on board survive the impact. They would cling to the wreckage for over twenty minutes as a U.S. Park Police helicopter scrambles to locate them in the wintry weather. One of them would end up succumbing to the icy water and drown before they could be rescued. Three of them manage to fight off hypothermia just long enough to hold on to the rescue rope and be brought on the chopper.

"The other two survivors required hands-on rescue," the NTSB report noted. "[O]ne was pulled aboard the helicopter skid by the helicopter crewman, the other was rescued by a civilian bystander who swam out and pulled her ashore."

That civilian bystander was a man by the name of Lenny Skutnik. Shortly afterward, Ronald Reagan would give his first State of the Union address as President, and would mention him in it:
Just 2 weeks ago, in the midst of a terrible tragedy on the Potomac, we saw again the spirit of American heroism at its finest—the heroism of dedicated rescue workers saving crash victims from icy waters. And we saw the heroism of one of our young government employees, Lenny Skutnik, who, when he saw a woman lose her grip on the helicopter line, dived into the water and dragged her to safety.
Yes, that is Nancy Reagan applauding for him.
(Screenshot from C-SPAN's video of the speech. His mention starts at 57:40.)
This Presidential mention would create a quasi-tradition of its own, as Reagan and some of the presidents to follow would at times single out a particular American as a representative of the best of the country. These people would be called "Lenny Skutniks", leading to one of the stranger titles for a Wikipedia page: the "List of Lenny Skutniks".

But he was not the only hero on the Potomac that deadly day. The person I mentioned above that drowned before they could be rescued was Arland D. Williams, Jr., who selflessly helped the other survivors get rescued first. In his honor, the 14th Street Bridge that was the scene of the crash and the heroism afterward would be renamed the Arland D. Williams Memorial Bridge three years later.

Next week, I have a HUGE announcement about a new series that will become a book! 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, October 18, 2017

The Weather Capital of the World

When you think of the weather capital of the world, what do you think of? Maybe the National Weather Service HQ in Silver Spring, MD? The Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma City? Maybe even the Met Office in England where weather forecasting itself was born?

Having already visited the NWS office in Cleveland, I went to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the city that calls itself "The Weather Capital of the World".
Although there actually was a "Groundhog Day Gale of 1976", which gives some tangential weather relation:
Image from Wikipedia.
That's not what their claim to Weather Capital of the World is based on, however. Instead, Punxsutawney is the site of the famous Groundhog Day event that goes all the way back to 1886. According to it, if Phil sees his shadow, there allegedly will be six more weeks of winter to come:

This goes back even further, and one of the forms of the legend is summed up in a short poem:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
I'm more inclined to believe the billion-dollar supercomputers that predict weather than I am a rodent, even one that has a place in weather lore. Although the flight benefits that come along with being an airline pilot mean the wife and I can go anywhere in the world we want to on vacation, the last thing I really want to do on vacation is get on yet another airline flight. So a large part the trip was just to enjoy a nice, unhurried, barely-scheduled drive through the fall foliage.

Besides, Groundhog Day is one of Shannon's favorite movies, and since it's her vacation too, I thought it would be fun for us to visit where it was set (even though it was actually filmed in Illinois) and—as Bill Murray's character put it in the movie—"to worship a rat":

That rat is Punxsutawney Phil, the guy whose shadow is supposed to foretell the end of winter. (Well, that's a picture of a picture of Phil.) However, the real guy actually is on display in the town square, and you can walk right up to his burrow and see him:

While you can't pet the real Phil, you can pet a likeness of him:

It is impossible not to come across him many times more, though, such as this groundhog in front of the McDonalds:

It wouldn't be the last one we came across, though. In fact, there are 32 different Phils scattered throughout town, each one with a different theme:

Clockwise from upper left, here are four of them:
  1. Weather prognosticator Phil next to his burrow in the town square
  2. Rural Phil, which celebrates the farming and Amish country that surrounds "Punxsy", as the locals call it
  3. Bagpiper Phil
  4. Coal miner Phil, which calls back to the area's former mining heritage
We stayed at the Barclay Bed & Breakfast, which is a quaint, pretty place right on the town square. It's run by a great lady by the name of Lisa, who makes a good breakfast and conversation, and is extremely helpful. (She even took the time to ship us the things we accidentally left there afterward.) I'd absolutely recommend staying there if you're in town, and I enjoyed her sense of humor with the menu, which my wife Shannon pretended to cook:


One of the interesting things we came across that wasn't a Phil statue was in a small park down by the creek, just a couple blocks from the town square. They have concrete chess tables, complete with concrete chairs:
While in the movie Groundhog Day, the action takes place in the town square, the actual "Does he see his shadow or not?" event takes place at Gobbler's Knob, a few minutes out of town.


Shannon politely knocked on Phil's door:
Not getting any response to her "knock knock" joke, I took the podium and then tried to wake him up:

On the way home, we stopped at Venango Regional Airport to have lunch at Primo Barone's, a decent Italian restaurant right on the field. I'd been there several times several times with students back in the instructing days, but always on cross-country flights for a touch-and-go without stopping. It would be nice to see more on-airport restaurants to make people more comfortable with visiting their local airport.

When we finally got back in Ohio, we came across this amazing view as we drove across Mosquito Lake:

That was on the way to Punderson State Park to walk along the boardwalk that extends out into the lake. We also discovered that it has an allegedly-haunted manor.


That's all for this week. Now it's back to the grind. Next week, I get in to the story of one of Wikipedia's stranger page names, the "List of Lenny Skutniks". See you next Wednesday!


Like Larry the Flying Guy on Facebook:





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, October 11, 2017

Off to see the groundhog!

I'm on vacation this week. With my travel benefits, I could go anywhere in the world.

Then again, since I spend day after day flying as my day job, the last thing I want to do on vacation is to fly somewhere. Instead, the wife and I will spend the week driving a 500-mile loop and checking out fall foliage.

In the middle of this trip, we'll spend a couple of days in the self-proclaimed "Weather Capital of the World" and pay a visit to the Grand Prognosticator himself: Punxatawney Phil.

Next week: pictures. See you next Wednesday!


Like Larry the Flying Guy on Facebook:





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.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"Apparently we have caused quite a stir."

"Comrades," [Sergey Korolev, the Soviet Union's chief rocket designer] cried, rousing his sleepy colleagues. "You can't imagine what's happening. The whole world is talking about our little satellite. Apparently we have caused quite a stir."
—Matthew Brzezinski, Red Moon Rising, 199
Today (October 4) is the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the world's first baby steps into space. To observe this anniversary, last week I read Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries That Ignited the Space Age. This is an impressively-written history that almost reads like a good novel rather than just dry facts.

One of the most interesting things about the book is that it doesn't just go "this happened, then this happened, then this happened, and so on." Brzezinski gets into the personalities driving this technological leap: the leaders Khrushchev vs. Eisenhower and their respective rocket scientists, Sergey Korolev vs. Werner von Braun; the head of the Army's ballistic missile research at Redstone vs. the Air Force and Navy's projects.

When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the Soviets actually didn't think much of it at the time. (The quotation at the beginning of this post is an expression of real surprise.) To them, it was just a way of demonstrating that they had the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead without using the huge fleet of bombers that the US had massed in the 1950s. However, the Western world went ballistic (OK, that's probably a bad pun). The US had felt relatively safe from nuclear attack until then, since our bombers were superior both in quality and quantity.

Sputnik shattered that complacency, and Brzezinski quotes the historian Asif A. Siddiqi: "With only a ball of metal, the Soviets had managed to achieve what they were unable to convey with decades of rhetoric." Ironically, it also had a bigger impact on advancing the US's technological development than it did on the Soviet Union's, since it awoke the sleeping dragon out of its post-WWII self-satisfaction and spurred it into a large research effort to catch up in the new, scary "missile gap".

The Soviet Union launched Laika the space dog only a month later to send the message that they could keep lobbing these things over our heads any time they wanted. At the time, no one realized that this was a bluff, since they had expended their last rocket on that stunt, but it was a huge kick in the rear for the US.

Many of the things we take for granted today and that seem like they have been around forever are actually direct descendants of the influence Sputnik had on us those tense months in late 1957: the federal student loan program was created in 1958 to encourage Americans to go to college to study math and engineering; the Internet you're reading this on was developed by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was a small government agency before then and was increased immensely in size the year after Sputnik, and the satellites of our own that we rely on for GPS navigation and weather forecasting.

As a pilot, I used satellite technology twice just today on the job: I shot a GPS approach into Albany and used ACARS (a satellite-based communications system) to communicate with dispatch. Since I'm based at Washington-Dulles, I have another little reminder of Sputnik every day at work: the airport is named after John Foster Dulles, who was Eisenhower's Secretary of State when it was launched, and is a major character in the book.

As the Soviet Union developed surface-to-air missile technology that made the US's U-2 spy plane vulnerable and obsolete, the CIA pushed for a satellite program of our own even before Sputnik. At the time, they thought this wouldn't be possible until the mid-to-late 1970s. Once Sputnik was launched, this was pushed forward all the way up to 1959, almost two decades ahead of schedule!

Weather satellites that pilots and airline operations centers use every hour of the day are a direct civilian relative of these early spy satellites: after all, if you can create a satellite that can take detailed pictures of military targets on the ground, you can easily create one that can take pictures of the large-scale weather fronts that are responsible for hurricanes, blizzards, and thunderstorms, and so on.

Today, we can flick on the cable TV (usually delivered to the cable provider by satellite and then piped to your house by a cable) and watch the Weather Channel show the latest hurricane path predictions, whose impressive accuracy is only possible due to the constellation of weather satellites in orbit. The Delta rescue flight into Hurricane Irma last month wouldn't have been possible without satellite data. You can thank a little 134-pound aluminum beachball that was launched 60 years ago yesterday for over 80% of the weather forecasting you probably take for granted today.

Brzezinski even has a humorous bit about the aftermath of the first Vanguard rocket, our counterpunch to take on the Rooskies, embarrassingly blowing up on the pad on world-wide TV:
Hope had been dashed, Vanguard Fries had been stricken from the nation's menus, replaced by Sputnik Cocktails—one part vodka, two parts sour grapes—and the vengeful media, having angrily crowned Vanguard "our worst humiliation since Custer's last stand," were searching for scapegoats. Already, the Glenn L. Martin Company, Vanguard's general contractor, had been punished. Its stock had taken such a beating that it had been forced to suspend trading. [242]
 
Time Magazine would eloquently sum up this historic year in its end-of-the-year issue:
The symbols of 1957 were two pale, clear streaks of light that slashed across the world's night skies and a Vanguard rocket toppling into a roiling mass of flame on a Florida beach.... On any score 1957 was a year of retreat and disarray for the West. In 1957, under the orbits of a horned sphere and a half-ton tomb for a dead dog, the world's balance of power lurched and swung toward the free world's enemies. Unquestionably, in the deadly give and take of the cold war, the high score of the year belongs to Russia. And, unquestionably, the Man of the Year was Russia's stubby and bald, garrulous and brilliant ruler: Nikita Khrushchev. [257]

If you like cold war history, politics, and/or space, you'll probably like Red Moon Rising. See you next Wednesday!


Like Larry the Flying Guy on Facebook:





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.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Gear Down and Welded

This week over on the Larry the Flying Guy channel on YouTube, I got a comment on this video implying that it's not necessary to check for gear down on a 172.


It may seem silly, since the 172 is a fixed gear aircraft, but checking it has two important purposes:

1. Building the habit for when you move up to a complex airplane.
2. In the stress of an emergency, we tend to fall back on ingrained habits.

Both of these points are related to the Law of Primacy: what we learn first we learn best. If you learn to check gear down from the beginning, it will be second nature to you when you learn to fly a retractable. If you don't learn to check gear down from the beginning, it makes it much more likely that you'll forget to check when you aren't in a 172 anymore. It takes no effort to "check" the gear in a 172 and it builds an extremely useful habit from the very beginning.

During the pre-landing GUMPS check (Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Props, Pumps, Switches—although there are dozens of variations on this that pilots will fight about endlessly, so don't get caught up in the specifics of my personal version), the callouts would sound something like this in a 172:

"Gas: Both."
"Undercarriage: Down and welded."
"Mixture: Full forward."
"Props: Full not there."
"Pumps: On."
"Switches: Landing light on."

Personally, I would even point next to the empty space next to the mixture control while saying, "Props: Full not there" because that's where the prop control would be in a plane that had one. That's for the same reason as the "Down and welded" callout for the landing gear: it builds the habit of checking.

Why "Down and welded?" Because the callout in a retractable would be "Down and locked." I'm being a bit humorous with the "welded" bit. If you want it to remain standardized, you can say, "Down and locked" even in a 172. (In that case, I would also change "Props: Full not there" to "Props: Full forward" too.)

In fact, that's what we do at my airline. When I was on the Dash-8, we had two variants. One had a specific indicator light and the other didn't. Nonetheless, the Before Start checklist intentionally still included that light and the required response was the same on both—even the one that didn't have the light.

In an emergency, the law of primacy also lays the foundation for your performance during stress. In a high workload situation, the brain falls back on what is most deeply ingrained in order to free up mental resources to deal with the other pressures. If you're in a retractable, you'll be glad your gear checks are deeply ingrained. Many, many gear up landings are caused because the pilot is preoccupied with something else and doesn't have "Gear: Down and locked" so burned into their mind that it is automatic.

I use automaticity in the ERJ-145 too: in visual conditions, I try to consistently be at 200 knots at glideslope intercept. That way I can say, "Gear down, flaps 22" all at once. The extension speed for 22 degrees of flaps is 200 knots, and if we lower the gear and put the flaps in at the same time, I don't have to remember that the gear is down but the flaps aren't yet. The less I have to fiddle around with configuration changes on final the better.

(It also works out nicely because when the autopilot lowers the nose to start following the glideslope down, the extra drag of the gear and flaps keeps it from picking up speed. At the right power setting, it even slows the plane down at just the right rate to be at Flaps 45 speed at just the right time. I try to be as lazy as possible because the secret to good airmanship often is doing less, not more. The less you do, the less you can screw up.)

If your instructor isn't teaching you to check the gear in any airplane, they're doing you a disservice for your future learning. Ask them why they don't, and tell them "Because you don't have to" is not the right answer.

See you next Wednesday!

Like Larry the Flying Guy on Facebook:





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.