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Flight in a B-17 Bomber

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B-17

This past weekend I had the pleasure of taking a ride in the EAA’s restored B-17 bomber the “Aluminum Overcast”. It was an amazing experience. A rare look into what our WWII Soldier’s, Airmen, and Marines experienced. The restoration only allowed for a few additional seats (for tour flights) and upgraded electronics.  Other than that it is the way it was off the line.

B-17 History

The B-17 is a Boeing aircraft first produced in 1935. The B in the designation stands for Boeing, not bomber as is often guessed. It went through several iterations over the production years and finished with the -G model.

Though it failed and fatally crashed its demonstration flight for the Army in 1935, the US Army Air Corps (USAAC), which became the US Army Air Force (USAAF) was still significantly impressed that they ordered 13 for testing in a service environment. The crash was attributed to a gust lock that was left in place.

A reporter during the test flight exclaimed “Wow, its a flying fortress”. Capable of brandishing 13 .50 caliber machine guns for defense of the plane, the bigger firepower was the bombs they were carrying. Each machine gun only had 1 belt of bullets as they were not the primary offensive weapon of the war bird. Boeing was quick to capitalize on the compliment and ran with the name Flying Fortress.

During the 10 year production run of the B-17 over 12,000 were made. While only 13 were originally ordered, the request for more bombers quickly increased. The demand was more than Boeing could keep up with so they subcontracted out a portion of the planes to what is now Lockheed Martin.

One of the reasons for the success of the plane was the technological advances on board. The then-secret Norden Bombsight was an analog computer designed to calculate when to release the bombs to hit the desired target. This was very effective during the super secret test flights around 17,000 feet. However, the accuracy of the bombing missions went down during actual operations around 30,000+ feet. The technology was advanced for the time, but certainly not as accurate as we have today.

The fate of the more than 12,000 B-17’s is rather sad. 4,735 were lost to combat missions. With the advent of the jet age many B-17s were scrapped after the war in favor of the faster, stealthier planes. To date, there are only about 100 B-17 air frames that remain with much fewer than that in an airworthy condition. In fact, less than 15 are still capable of taking to the skies.

Wartime Workhorse

The reputation of the B-17 had it eventually operating in almost every combat zone of World War II.

During the war, the USAAF deployed the B-17 to Europe to bomb strategic German Industrial and Military targets. A hearty plane, it had a reputation to take a beating and still get the troops back home. It was also a work horse in the air. The B-17 is credited with the most bombs dropped during the war than any other type of aircraft. A little more than 1/3’d the total tonnage of bombs dropped during the war was from the B-17 model aircraft.

The 19th Bombardment group, which was operating out of the Philippines lost half of their B-17 fleet during the attack on Pearl Harbor. They were on a refueling and rearming stop and couldn’t become airborne fast enough.

The B-17 wasn’t as effective in the Pacific as it was over Europe. With such battles as the Battle of Midway and the Battle of Coral Sea the B-17 was hitting their targets about 1% of the time. Due to the nature of the fighting the order came to replace the Flying Fortress with a more capable bomber once the B-24 was made available.

EAA Aluminum Overcast

This beauty is a 1945 B-17G-VE. Delivered to the Army Air Force too late for the war it never saw combat, however it has been a great many things in its life.

It was purchased as army surplus in 1946 for $750. Talk about a real bargan for the buyer and a sucker punch to the tax payer. It was used as a cargo hauler, aerial mapper and forest duster as a few of its jobs.

It was bought by a B-17 restoration group in 1978 and they worked to restore it to its military glory. The cost of such an undertaking was overwhelming. They decided to donate it to the EAA in the hopes that the organization could finish what was started.

The Aluminum Overcast got its name one day while it was flying and a photographer was taking pictures in a plane underneath it. I think it was the pilot of the photography plane that was talking about an aluminum overcast layer as the B-17 blocked the sun for most of the trip. True or not that makes for a good naming story.

Flight Experience

The Aluminum Overcast is making several stops around the country. You can book a flight an the EAA’s website or even request a stop to be added.

The crew requests that you are at the flight location for check-in an hour early.  This allows you to get all the paperwork finalized and finish up payment as needed.  As well as plenty of time for your flight breifing and pictures.

You recieve a token plane ticket for your memorabilia box and a copy of the history of the Aluminmum Overcast as well as a copy of your flight briefing. After all, how many times can you say your flight’s emergency exits include the bomb bay doors?

After both a crew brief and then the pilot’s brief we were loaded up.

I was lucky to have the extra jump seat in the cockpit as my seat for the ride.

Once we were airborne our lead crew member allowed everyone to unbuckle and move about the plane. This was the best time to craw into the nose gunner’s pit.

Walk through the bomb area.

And see the view from the side machine guns.

After approximately 30 minutes of flight we were instructed to return to our seats as we headed back for the touchdown and taxi back to parking.

Boeing had one heck of a plane built and it was worth every penny to take a flight in such a historic plane.

11 Practical uses of an Aviation Kneeboard

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aviation kneeboard

Kneeboards are a personal subject for many aviators that I have met in my short career. Some people swear by them and others swear when talking about them.  It seems to be a love-hate relationship. You either love them and use them for every flight, or you hate them and have no need for them in your plane.

I’m in the camp of I use one for most phases of flight, but I will ditch mine when I’m established in the pattern so I can focus on landing safely and not have to worry about the kneeboard getting in the way.

Now, if you are still on the fence or you’ve never flown with a kneeboard, here are 13 practical uses for a kneeboard in the cockpit.

Keeps Charts/iPad in place

This is one of the main reasons I use the kneeboard.  A good one will have a strap that can wrap around your leg and will keep your paper charts or your iPad right where you need it to be.

Provides a quick place to store important flight information

Need to keep your checklist handy while you start your plane? What about your paper flight plan? Maybe you want to keep your E6B either analog or digital close to you should you need to make quick calculations. Having a kneeboard that has pockets, or a clip is a very convenient way to have your important information close at hand.

If you are used to flying with all your important flight info in the passenger seat things can get buried. Also, you may find you are out of sorts if you fly with a passenger.

Quick Reminder of Basic Flight Information

If you’re flying VFR do you remember what the light signals mean when you are on the ground? Or in the air for that matter? Can you remember what the proper altitude you should be flying based on your direction?

Most kneeboards have either important VFR or IFR information screen printed directly on them. It’s a good way to have the data close at hand without having to rack your brain for it or go looking for the information in your flight bag while you are in the air.

Frees your Hands for Flying

When I was going on my pre-check checkride with a different instructor, to make sure I was ready for my checkride, I was fumbling with charts and other tools. I remember juggling my local chart, my flight plan, the protractor and the checklist all freely sitting on my lap.  This worked fine until my focus moved from flying and controlling the plane to trying to keep all this junk in my lap instead of down at my feet.

As most of us pilots learned to drive first, the cardinal rule of driving is don’t let things fall down by your feet. And that followed me into the cockpit. Unfortunately during that flight I was more focused on what the papers were doing in my lap than on flying the plane.

The good news was that while I found a flaw in my design, I also learned that I can hand all that crap to my passenger if I needed to.

Assists with Organization In the Cockpit

All flight has flow. You need certain information at certain times of flight. If your papers, or EFB or whatever you use is ordered and on your knee you can easily find what you are looking for when you need it. However, the pile of papers in the passenger seat next to you means you waste valuable time searching for what you need.

Picture this, you’re finishing up your IFR flight and you are going to run the ILS into KABQ. You know you need that plate handy. However, it’s sitting on the seat next to you under the chart you placed there from finishing your cruise portion. Now you have to go digging for the plate before you can brief it. Once you find it you’re already behind the plane and the rest of the approach feels rushed.

While this scenario may only apply to new instrument pilots, knowing exactly where your plate is and easily being able to flip to in on your kneeboard ensures you don’t have to deal with that additional adrenaline.

Frisbee

OK, this one is for all you kneeboard haters. You can always see how aerodynamic your kneeboards really are. Do you need to kill a few minutes with your other pilot friends as you wait for the fuel truck to show up? What about a moment of play for any furry friends you brought with you on your flight? If you find that a kneeboard is causing you more chaos in the plane you can always send it for it’s own maiden voyage. If you do, I want pictures!

Protects iPad

For you non EFB fliers this doesn’t really apply to you. However, if you do have an iPad or other electronic flight bag a good kneeboard will double as a protector for your investment. I keep my iPad in my kneeboard all the time. It helps me ensure that I can find my board and my iPad when I need them. As well as keeps that additional layer of protection when my 3 year old gets into my stuff.

Keeps Pencils and Pens close at hand

Let me start out by saying that I’m left handed. So, all those great shirts with the pen pockets are useless for me. And trying to keep a pen hooked to my shirt collar only works for so long. I end up fighting with the stupid clip on the pen before I try and stuff it under my leg so I don’t lose it.

My kneeboard has a nice place for a pen/pencil or, more regularly, I end up putting it under the clip. That way it is where I last placed it. I didn’t have to fight to get it there. And even when I move my kneebaord from my leg to the passenger seat for landing I don’t have to find my pen for writing down my taxi clearance.

If you’ve ever had to ‘remember a clearance’ because your last pen/pencil has rolled under your seat you’ll appreciate having such a handy location.

Serves as a Pilot Desk

GA planes are small and cramped. There is very little room to add a flat surface that you can easily write on for recording your clearances. Kneeboards solve this problem. Most boards have a two flat parts that fold together for easy storage while giving you two flat surfaces across your knee to write on.

I don’t know about you, but everytime I try to write on a piece of paper using my leg as the ‘hard surface’ results in papers being ripped or writing that I can’t read when I need to.

Stores Printed Diagrams Easily

Much like charts, your printed taxi diagrams and approach plates are easily held by the clip on your kneeboard. I tend to print out the taxi diagrams of each airport I intend to land at. This give me a large, readable version at my fingertips. Even when using an EFB I choose to print out this information. It helps me to know exactly where I am on the airport. Keeping this additional paperwork accessible is another reason I like my kneeboard.

Airplane Chock

Yeah I know, this one is a stretch. However, if you are at a remote airstrip or in a field you may want something that can keep your wheels in place. Simply open the kneeboard in an ‘A’ style and place it in front of one of your main gears. Suggested use: 1 time only and don’t rely on the ability of the ‘chock’ to actually hold your plane. Actually, file this under bad ideas…

Love them or hate them there are valid reasons to use an aviation kneeboard in the cockpit. Even if it’s to hold all the old charts you’ll never pull out. I’m sure you can find something to do with a kneeboard if a family member gets you one.

Do you have any other practical uses for a kneeboard? Did I hit all the uses that you’ve tried or found helpful? What were some of the ways you disposed of kneeboards you either didn’t like or just plain didn’t want?

Year In Review and Looking Ahead

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It’s that time of the year where we reflect on what we’ve accomplished in the current year and set goals for the coming year. I didn’t get as much flying done this year as I would have liked but I imagine that is the case for anyone who has a hobby. We’d almost always like to do it more.

year in review

Year in Review

  • 13 total flights
  • 22.3 hours logged this year
  • 121.7 total flight time
  • Most fun flight: The trip to Farmington and back
  • 5.5 ground school hours
  • 4 flight related events attended

This year wasn’t my best for flying but the opportunities to meet people in the flying community were amazing. While my log book didn’t get many entries my commitment to flying and passion for learning and improving is still there.

I joined the NM Pilots association this year as well as the local chapter of EAA. I would like to be more involved in these organizations and events they put on next year.

This year I participated in more aviation events than I ever have before.  Belonging to wonderful organizations such as the 99s, EAA and the NM Pilots association I am learning how ‘small’ the aviation community actually is. This is a good thing. The more involved I become in aviation the more opportunities that present themselves.

It’s interesting to me how many pilots and aviation enthusiasts come out of the wood works since I’ve gotten my license.

2017 Goals

  • Double total time logged for a total of 243.4 by Dec 31, 2017.
  • Achieve Instrument Rating by June 2017
  • Participate in the Women of Aviation Week (March 2017)
  • Fly to Dallas to visit family by May 2017
  • Fly to Denver to say I did by August 2017
  • Fly to Phoenix to round out the surrounding states by Dec 2017
  • Compete in the Air Race Classic (either as PIC or Co-Pilot)
  • Use the GoPro to start logging flights. Both for record and honest review.
  • Publish a blog post at least once a week
  • Attend 12 flight related events averaging one per month
  • Introduce 15 new people to the joy of flying

Next year my goal is to significantly increase my flying time. A very wise person once told me that the goal of doubling something is attainable and achievable, so I’ll start there. There are a few things in the works that will help me reach that goal as well as provide additional opportunities for me. For instance, I’m much more free with my time to focus on aviation in 2017 so I should be able to meet an average of 10 flight hours per month.

With a blog comes the need to write. I need to write more. I want to pass on knowledge I’ve learned and continue to learn. All this requires me to get it out of my head and into this blog. I need to take more pictures and actually use the beautiful GoPro I got for Christmas a few years back. With such a sporadic start to my blog I want to aim for a new post at least once a week. This is quite the stretch goal for me. I never saw myself as a writer, but I’ve certainly enjoyed it for the few articles I’ve written so far.

As far as the GoPro is concerned, I got a very nice Christmas gift of the GoPro aviation package from Sporty’s.  This includes a prop filter, an audio cable to plug into the radios and a suction cup mount so I can easily add the camera to any plane I may be flying.

Not so public goals for 2017

There are also two goals that I have that are on this list but I’m not ready to make them public yet. I have them in my head and when it comes time I’ll lay them out here. For some level of accountability I will say one is a business related opportunity and the other will help with more flight opportunities.

Be sure to keep checking back to find out what I’m doing next and how well I meet some of my goals for next year.

Beyond 2017 Goals

  • Fly a GA plane in all 50 states (1 of 50 Accomplished)
  • Complete a coast to coast cross country
  • Pilot a plane outside the country (either Mexico or Canada)
  • Attain Commercial certificate
  • Attain CFI and start teaching others to fly

Keeping long range goals in mind help to ensure that I always have something to look forward to. It also helps keep me focused on what I want to achieve.  As you can see from my current year review, a lack of focus can really slow and impede any progress.

Final thoughts

My personal life is changing at the beginning of 2017. This will provide some more time for aviation and all that comes with it. Next year should be an interesting year for me and hopefully you, my readers. Stay tuned for more adventures, more flying, more breakdowns of different topics in aviation and everything else that I may want to talk about.

Flying The Class Mascot

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School age children always have projects. These projects range from science projects to writing projects and everything in between. For my oldest, the latest project was bringing home the class mascot for a weekend and write about your adventures together.

What better adventure to give a 7 year old boy (and his class by proxy) than to take both him and his class mascot flying!

Prepping for our flight

I have been trying to find out what motivates my son outside of TV and video games. I know that every parent out there feels my struggle. However, flying and learning to fly seems to be one thing that’s cool enough for him to show interest in. In the spirit of keeping an interest alive I had him work on a little pre-flight planning for our adventure.

flying the class mascot

Both him and the mascot, Piper the Honey Badger, checked the weather for our flight the following morning. I told him what the weather was saying and what that should mean for our flight. Based on the forecast it was shaping up to be a very beautiful, smooth ride.

I also began to introduce him to the aviation alphabet. I started by showing him how to spell his name and Piper’s name.

Afterwards, Piper was showing his enthusiasm to get in the cockpit and take a flight.

Checkout and Walk Around

The next morning we were headed to the airport for an early flight. Piper checked out the plane for us and made sure everything was good to go.

Now, I have taken my son up in the plane before and he knew that I had to check the plane before we could take it out so he followed along as I told him what I was doing. He asked a few questions and patiently waited for his favorite part of the walk around….when the plane pees. He thinks it’s the funniest thing when I check the fuel strainer in the engine, making it look like the plane is going to the bathroom.

Ah, the joy of having boys!

After a successful pre-flight we hopped into the plane for a quick photo op, and started on our journey.

Air Time

We flew up to the north west practice area and I showed him how the plane moves. We circled my office since it’s conveniently right near the practice area and it’s something he can easily recognize from the air. I let him pick a direction and we went that way until he wanted to turn again.

All this fun and basic learning is one of the many reasons I chose to learn to fly. Sharing the joy of aviation with my family brings me immense pleasure. Not to mention the ear to ear smile he had from wheels up to wheels down.

His favorite part of being in the air was the “toy cars” he saw below and when the plane turns in the air.

Back on the Ground

After a fun flight it was time to get more pictures. The obligatory mascot on the head in front of the plane picture was my favorite.

I fly a Cessna, and while it didn’t occur to me at the time, the operation I fly out of has Piper aircraft too. So we went back out with one of their awesome employees and took a picture of Piper the Honey Badger on a Piper airplane. While the awesomeness of this may be lost on both my son and his class I was completely geeking out on such a simple coincidence.

All in all it was a great flight. I had fun sharing something I enjoy with my oldest son, got to log some flight time and was able to fuel his interest in flying a little more.

My son wrote up his adventures in the scrap book that came home with the class mascot and we added some of our pictures to the book. And while I would never say it to any of his class mates or their parents, I think we may have had the coolest adventure with Piper.

13 Easy VFR Flight Plan Tips

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If you have ever flown a plane, you’ve filled a VFR flight plan. Understanding what you need to put on the plan is one thing, and gathering all the data you need is another. With all the information you have rolling around your head it’s easy to forget the simplest of tasks. Here are some of my tips that help me plan my VFR trips and filling out a VFR flight plan.

vfr flight plan

Filling out a VFR flight plan isn’t terribly difficult. Each tip, when it directly relates to a section of the flight plan will reference the block you put that information into.

Check the Weather

Pilots live and breathe weather. If we can’t understand at least the basics of weather than we will have a much harder time flying. There are several resources I use to check weather both as a lead up to my flight date and for flight planning. USAirNet is one of the resources I use as well as 1800wxbrief.com. Knowing the weather is crucial to making a safe flying plan.

Determine the most direct route first

Let’s plan a flight from my home airport of Albuquerque (KABQ) to Roswell (KROW). The straight line route takes me directly over the 10,000′ mountain to the east of Albuquerque. While I won’t fly this direct route it gives me some useful information to see the direct path.

vfr_flight_plan_tips-_1

  • Distance between the two points (this is great for determining if an airport is far enough to be called a cross country)
  • Determine potential obstacles to flight (our next tip)
  • Quick look at altitude and terrain along flight path
  • First look at the time enroute

You shouldn’t make any quick judgments on a flight before you see the direct route.  After all, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line!

For now, my Route of Flight is KABQ direct to KROW

Deviate based on airspace (or terrain)

Once you’ve see whats in your path on the direct route you can change your plan as needed. For example in our sample flight plan I want to divert around the mountain. If you’ve ever tried to fly a 172 at altitude, you would avoid the mountain too!

Bonus Tip: Set your points to a known Airport, Nav or Waypoint to have ATC better understand where you are going.

vfr_flight_plan_tips-_4

Using Foreflight, or other flight planning software you can drag and drop your route to avoid something on your map. This will then bring up a window showing the nearest known point. If there is a known point within a few miles from your chosen spot pick that one.  It will help when you fill out the Route section on the flight plan.

vfr_flight_plan_tips-_2

On our sample flight I will go to LZZRD and then down to Roswell.  However, the direct path from LZZRD to KROW takes me over Restricted airspace and an MOA (Military Operation Area). I don’t have any intention of being intercepted so I’ll change my flight to head to the Corona VOR and then down to Roswell. Yes, I know that there are times when such airspace isn’t active and I can fly through it, however, I can simply avoid it and not add too much time or distance to my flight.

vfr_flight_plan_tips-_3

My new Route of Flight (for section 8) is KABQ -> LZZRD -> CNX -> KROW

Check for TFRs

Temporary Flight Restrictions pop up every now and then and for various different reasons. However, breaking a TFR will get you a visit or a phone call from the FAA. Not something I want to willingly do. So, I will check, and avoid, the TFRs.

Where can you find active TFRs? I’m glad you asked. I check foreflight, ask during my weather brief, or check the FAA listing of TFR sites.

As always, a TFR on or near your intended flight path will require a re-route of your intended course. This is easily done the same way I adjusted the sample flight path in the last tip.

Determine Altitude

My rule of thumb is 2,000 ft AGL minimum, adjusting for VFR altitude rules. As I’m sure you know, 0-179* is odd + 500′ and 180-359* is even + 500′. Below is a handy image to help visualize this.

vfr_flight_plan_5

Now, in the sample flight the first part of our flight is in the 5,000′ ground level and it finishes in the 4,000′ ground level map colors.

Using my rule of thumb I would start my trip out at 7,500′, which I would add to block 7, and I’d likely stay at that altitude for the whole trip, since I’m not sure I want to fly at 5,500 for the last part of my trip. That’s personal preference however, and really no good reason other than being a low time pilot and wanting more time should something go wrong.

Check Winds Aloft

Now that I have the intended route, and my chosen altitude I can check my sources for the winds aloft forecast. Again, this can be done using your favorite flight planning software, any FAA approved weather briefing site or calling 1800wxbrief.

Note, you may find after a quick check of the winds aloft that you have a headwind at the proposed altitude, but higher or lower may give you a tailwind.

An example of this would be if the winds at 7,000′ are our of the south but the winds at 9,000′ are from the north west then I may change my intended altitude to 9,500′ to try and catch the more favorable winds.

Calculate Fuel Consumption

If you are like me, you know on average what your plane’s fuel consumption is.  For the 172’s that I fly that’s about 8 gallons an hour. On a short flight, like some pattern work that’s not really going to come into play but for a longer cross country it might. Do you have extended range tanks like one of the planes I fly? Or do you have the regular tanks, like the other one I fly? Which plane did I book for this flight?

These questions are a real struggle for those of us that rent from one operation or another. However, calculating your fuel properly will help you figure out both the minimums to your destination as well as how much fuel to really have onboard. While the old addage is “you never wish for more in the tank”, in my area of the country “you never fly with more fuel than you need”.  This helps performance and weight and balance pretty significantly.

Weight and Balance

Speaking of weight and balance, did you actually calculate it? For example, one flight I did had 4 grown men in my 172 in the summer. While I had calculated how much fuel we needed my FBO was reluctant to drain the fuel out of the plane so I could be within W&B. Now, I made that flight, but (as it should have been) the FBO changed their rules to state that the 172 is a 3 pax plane, unless you are carrying children.

It’s very important to do a W&B every time you fly. Especially when you are a new pilot in a plane you are not intimately familiar with. The more you can fly with an understanding of how the plane is centered the better (and safer) your flying will be.

Remember Plane Performance

As well as weight and balance, the performance of the plane is important to consider. Flying at 7 – 10,000 ft in a Cessna 172 is an exercise in flying a plane a bare bones performance. Think for a minute, if you will, what it’s like to climb at 200 – 300 ft / minute. That can be really scary if there is that mythical ’50 foot object’ at the end of the runway.

Not only is climb performance something to take into consideration, but runway distance is important as well. The hotter it is outside, the less performance your plane will have. So, while it may be able to land on the runway, it may not be able to take off.

Now, most of us general aviation pilots don’t ‘usually’ have to worry about it except for extreme cases. However, as you progress in your planes you may have to add runway length to your normal calculations. Especially as you travel to some of the more exotic areas of the world.

Lastly in this category, you will want to consider cruise performance. How fast will your plane fly over the ground. This can and will be affected by not only the ability of the plane to perform but external facts such as wind direction. If you don’t calculate this properly you may not have enough fuel to get you to the destination you were originally planning.

Points of Interest

If you are carrying passengers, you may want to search for points of interest along your route.  For example, if you are flying from Albuquerque to San Francisco you may want to point out the Grand Canyon to your visitors as you fly over it.

On a much less grand scale, there are many points of interest for your passengers to look at on any flight. Take the time to show them and they will enjoy the flight that much more.

Interesting things and landmarks you can point out:

  • Canyons
  • Caves
  • Lakes/Rivers
  • Towns
  • Local Roads
  • “Hey can you see the train from up here?”
  • Buildings of note
  • Local Landmarks

The more you can point out to your passengers the more enjoyable their flight will be.  If they have seen something on the ground, seeing it from the air will make it that much more memorable.

When I last took my sister up in the air I was careful to mention what I was seeing, and what she might recognize during our flight. It helped to keep her engaged while the flight was taking it’s sweet time.

Weather Brief

I’ve mentioned weather before, but now is the time that you add the weather brief to your flight planning routine. The more often you call for a weather brief the better you will get at it. Also, the more likely you are to question what they say.

Let me be clear, if you don’t understand what the briefer is saying you should have them clarify their statement to you. Ask them questions and make the brief about you, not about an FAA statistic.

Really listen to what the briefer says. Don’t put them on hold, or ignore them, or assume that because you called you are safe. There are times when the briefer is the only thing between you and a nasty weather system. Listen to them. Engage with them and you will get the best briefing that both money and experience can buy.

After you have gotten your briefing, make sure you adjust your flight plans, specifically around the time en-route based on what you hear from your briefer.

Flight Planning Software

Doing a VFR flight plan by hand, on paper, is a great exercise. And VERY useful if you are getting ready to take your written. However, there are other ways to file your flight plan. My two favorites are:

  • Foreflight
  • 1800wxbrief

A caveat for calling 1800wxbrief is you may want to have it written out by hand so you can give the information to the briefer properly.  However, the times I call and don’t have anything written in front of me the briefer asks the questions they need to know to properly file the flight plan.

There is other flight planning software out there. While I cannot speak to their ease of use I will list them. Not all of them are for filing your flight plan, but they all have use for the actual PLANNING of your flight and the flight plan. I may decide to try them in the future and provide feedback at that time. In no particular order:

If you have used any of the above, or thing I need to add additional ones let me know in the comments.

Any Plan Can Be Changed

This is the catch all tip. Everything can change in an instant.

Your boss calls and cancels your vacation, the weather is too ugly to fly, you don’t have the money to make the flight like you planned. The fact is you went through the process like you should have. You got the experience you needed on paper.

However, there are times when the plans change in the air. You missed a TFR and flight watch is diverting you. No one predicted the massive thunderstorm building in front of you requiring a deviation from your main course.

In life as in aviation, plans change. The more fluid you are to those changes the better life will end up being for you.

Keep in contact with Flight Following, or update ATC as needed when your plans change. But always remember, you are the pilot in command. Your job is the safety of the flight. It is up to you to make sure you make the best decision with the information on hand. If ATC directs you otherwise, you may tell them no if the safety of your flight is compromised.

What tips do you use when planning your VFR flight? Let me know in the comments.

How Long To Get Your Private Pilots License

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TL;DR: While each person has a different experience the “average” is 65-75 hours and 4-6 months. Personally, I did it in 71.4 hours over 5 months and 23 days.

If you are a pilot you have been asked this question several times. “How long did it take to get your pilot’s license?” If you are anything like me you can give them the amount of time both dollar wise and down to the hour, but let’s find a reasonable answer we can give the masses.

private pilots license

Honestly, the answer really is “it depends, on several factors.” Now, rather than leave you with that I will do my best to fill in the gap and give you the best answer possible.

How Often Can You Train?

This is probably the single most important question you can ask yourself. Whether time or money dependent answering this question will give you an idea to the length (and ultimate cost) of training.

For example, I averaged 2 scheduled flights per week and from first discovery flight to date of check ride was exactly: 5 months and 23 days. And a total of 71.4 hours.

Now, even for me, some factors applied to that. I work a normal full-time job and I am the mother of 2 wonderful boys, so I couldn’t devote all my time to aviation. However, I spent many a night after my kids went to bed studying what was required.

Enough about me, more about you. The more often you train, the less you will have to repeat for the next flight. Simple as that.

There are programs out there that boast that you can have your PPL in as little as 2 weeks.  However, your life for those 2 weeks are aviation. Not that that is a bad thing, just something to know about. I’m trying to give you all the information so you can make an informed decision.

What Is The National Average?

The legal minimum according to FAR part 61.109 for an Airplane, Single Engine Rating:

"a person who applies for a private pilot certificate with an airplane 
category and single-engine class rating must log at least 40 hours of 
flight time that includes at least 20 hours of flight training from an 
authorized instructor and 10 hours of solo flight training..."

40 hours. The minimum requirement. Now, there are some who can do it in that amount of time, but your situation may vary. A quick google search will give you answers ranging from 55- 85 hours is the national average.

Here’s what I would say… screw the numbers!

Fly as long or as little as you need to get your license. Your time is your time. If you feel you need more than take more. If you can confidently pass the check ride at the minimums than do that. Flying is a privilege that only few will ever have in their lifetime. Take as long as you need to join the rank of pilot.

What Kind Of Plane Can You Rent?

private_pilots_license

Now we are getting into cost as much as time. For me, I was in a piper Cherokee PA28-140. A two-seater plane that was a little less than the Cessna 172 so I took that option. This plane was an analog cockpit with minimum fuel burn and VERY minimum electronics.

If your option is to learn to fly in a Cirrus SR20 or a Piper Cub you may have a steeper learning curve to begin with. However, as you can see, this is only one of several equations that determine how long and how much a license costs.

Realistically, the more primitive the plane (ie: the closer to the first flying days) the less curve you have to learn. If you have to figure out a Garmin G1000 on Day 3 of flight you may take longer to get your license. And when it comes to a glass cockpit, your ‘potential ability to lose power’ can extend your training requirements for safety.

Now, this stat is skewed based on the complexities of the national airspace as well. The Wright Brother’s didn’t have to worry about airspace complexities when they took their first flight.

Is It Worth Buying A Plane?

Again, let’s look at the numbers. Another quick google search will provide you with many answers to this question. The general consensus is as follows:

  • Buying a Plane during initial training can have a cost savings. HOWEVER, the added requirement of keeping your plane in flying condition while learning to fly can be very overwhelming.
  • Buying a Plan AFTER initial training is best justified by additional questions of use and amount of time spent in a plane.
  • If you are going to knock out your training in 2 – 7 months and you buy a trainer airplane (a Cessna 152 or Piper Cherokee) with the idea of selling or upgrading when you have your certificate then buying can be a significant cost savings.

Personally, I rented. This gave me the opportunity to focus on learning to fly instead of learning to fly AND learning to own a plane.  However, I am very quickly realizing the benefits of owning a plane now that I have my license.

By the numbers

When breaking down my final cost to learn to fly most of it went into the cost of the plane. When you figure that based on current prices at my FBO you can rent the Cherokee for around $120 per hour and the instructor is about $50 you can see how the costs can add up. At $170 per hour and a minimum of 40 hours required flight time you spend about $6,800 solely on flight time. I was closer to $12,000 at that rate.

If you are lucky enough to have someone who will teach you for $20-$30 per hour in a plane that you own with an average cost of $100 per hour you can see how your costs can go down. In this scenario you have about $130 per hour. The minimum 40 hours runs you $5,200 and my total time would have been $9,200.

So, in an expensive hobby if you can find a good teacher who will train you in your own plane you can save a couple thousand dollars. However, the added stress of it being your plane and keeping it in flying condition may be more than some can handle.

Aviation Scholarships

Speaking of the expense side of learning to fly there are many different ways to get funded for your flight training. While my list below is in no way exhaustive it is a great representation of what is available out there for pilots of all levels.

As with everything else we have discussed today there are categories of scholarships that depend on different qualifying information.

For Non-Collegiate Pilot Training

  • AOPA. Known as the leading organization for pilots and pilot rights, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has several scholarships they award every year for those learning to fly.
  • EAA Young Eagles. Members of the Experimental Aircraft Association Young Eagles program can apply for scholarships for either flight training or aviation school tuition.
  • Women In Aviation. While the name of the organization can be a little misleading, the Women In Aviation scholarship is available to both men and women who meet the criteria set by the scholarship sponsor. Their scholarships are for all types of training from inital to ATP.
  • Leroy Homer Jr. Foundation. If you are working towards obtaining your pilots license, not any advanced training, and are a citizen of the U.S. and between the ages of 16 and 23, and not enrolled in a collegiate aviation path you are eligable to apply for this scholarship.

For Collegiate Pilot Training

  • Aviation Distributors and Manufactures Association. ADMA awards at least one scholarship to deserving third and fourth year college students in a business aviation management or pilot program.
  • National Business Aviation Association. The NBAA is more focused on the business side of aviation degrees. However, an aspiring pilot is not excluded from applying for the scholarship.
  • Boeing. For obvious reasons Boeing is involved in the future of pilots and aviation. Check out their page and contact them for the opportunities they have available.

For Minorities

  • Women In Aviation. While mentioned earlier, Women in Aviation award the highest amount of scholarships to women who are learning to fly.
  • The 99s. One of the most premiere women’s pilots groups (and the only one you are required to be a women pilot or student pilot to join) offers several yearly scholarships for women in various stages of training. Scholarships are limited to members and require a chapter to nominate you.
  • National Gay Pilot Association. Scholarship funds are designed for training beyond the private pilot license. While it is not required to be part of the LGBT community to be awarded this scholarship it is offered to those who demonstrate support for the community.
  • Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals. Similar to the 99s, the OBAP requires membership to be eligible for their scholarship. Scholarship monies are only valid on post PPL training.
  • Aeroism Flight Academy Veterans Scholarship. A scholarship provided to any member of the service honorably discharged. A copy of your DD214 needs to be submitted with the essay.

Others

  • Local Scholarships. This would be something that is local to your area. In my state there is the New Mexico Agricultural Aviation Association that has a scholarship. You can find these by doing a quick google search of your state + aviation scholarship.
  • Business Scholarships/Flying Clubs. For example, I worked for Boeing for a time. While I wasn’t actively involved in trying to get my license back then, there were programs available to me to help reduce the cost of learning to fly. The same for when I worked at Intel. So, check with your boss and see if there are any programs through work you can take advantage of.

As you can see, finding ways to offset your training costs are out there, you just have to look for them. However, no matter where you get the money for training it will still take time and dedication to complete. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you wont be given the keys to the sky in a week either.

What did I miss? Is there anything you would add to the conversation on how long to get your private pilots license? Let me know in the comments.

How to Calculate Density Altitude

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Many pilots in the continental United States have only thought about density altitude when they are preparing for a written or oral test for a checkride. However, those of us that live or fly in the mountains are very familiar with the concept.

Now, I must admit. Although I am very familiar with density altitude I can be a little non chalant about it.  Yes, it effects almost every aspect of my flying, but I just assume that the plane is going to perform less than optimal all the time. So in effect, I’m giving density altitude MORE credit than it deserves and that can be just as detrimental to flying as underestimating density altitude.

how to calculate density altitude

What is Density Altitude?

The textbook definition is: “Density Altitude is pressure altitude adjusted for non-standard temperature”. But what does that mean?

There are several different ways that pilots and planes can talk about altitude or feel the effect of altitude. I’ll go more indepth about the different types of altitudes in another article but for now we need to know about pressure altitude and density altitude.

Standard Atmosphere

As a beginning pilot you learn about the standard datum plane and standard temperature. These values were chosen to create a baseline for all other calculations.

Baselines are created to help us understand abstract concepts. For example, if I say “it’s 3 away”, unless you have some more context that statement means very little to you. Without both a reference point and an understanding of the number 0 you would never be able to fully understand what I’m trying to say.

But I digress. The standard datum plane is measured in barometric pressure. And is 29.92 Hg, or “inches of Mercury”. This is not a fully scientific blog, but if you want to understand barometric pressure a little more check out this article form wikipedia. The standard temperature at sea level is 15*C.

What’s important here is that these measurements are standard AT SEA LEVEL. Now, for density altitude it is important to also understand the adiabatic lapse rate of 2*C per 1,000 feet. We’ll get more into this a little later.

These numbers, and the delta between them, are very important when figuring out your altitude.

Why is Density Altitude Important?

Density altitude is where your plane “thinks” it’s flying. It determines the performance of your airplane!

For example, if you are flying at sea level and your plane “feels” like it’s flying at sea level your climb rate is going to be at peak performance, your engine is going to be at peak performance and your ability to generate lift is going to be at it’s peak performance.  This is because the air at sea level is the most “dense”. The collection of molecules are closer (usually) here and a plane doesn’t have to work as hard to get the best results.

Imagine, if you will, a human who is breathing at sea level. It’s easy and effortless to because the air is rich with oxygen.  However, at the top of a mountain a human has a much harder time. The air is described as being “thinner” and breathing is not as easy. You feel as though you must take shorter breaths to get the same amount of oxygen.

Now, imagine that you add heat to this equation! Have you ever walked into a sauna and tried to breathe? Heat warms up molecules and they tend to move much more rapidly and expand much quicker making it harder and harder to breathe.

It’s the same concept for a plane.  It has to breathe the air too and the closer to “sea level standard atmosphere” it is, the better it performs.

What does Density Altitude Affect?

Performance. Take off roll, landing, climb out, lift component, reduced thrust, the list goes on. The less air, or rather the less molecules in a defined space of air, the more that a plane has to work to achieve results.

Have you ever tried to swim in steam? It doesn’t work all that well. The denser the air, the more you can pull through it to propel yourself forward. This is what a propeller does. It cuts through the air and creates tension around the plane that rockets the plane forward.

A carburateor deals with the fuel to air mixture. If the number of molecules are different depending on the altitude, then you can send too much gas into the engine and flood it. However, if there is too much density of air and you send too little gas you are also going to be having a bad day.

Calculating Pressure Altitude

calcuate_density_altitude_2

There are two things we need to calculate density altitude:

  1. Pressure Altitude
  2. Temperature

Pressure altitude is simply calculated by the deviation from standard temperature * 1000. This number is then added to your current elevation.

pressure altitude = ((standard pressure – current pressure) * 1000 ) + field elevation

So, let’s take my home airport of KABQ with a field elevation of 5354 ft. AND we will use a METAR from earlier this summer (which is when density altitude really matters).

KABQ 261800Z 34006KT 10SM CLR 32/29 A3027 RMK AO2 SLP195 T01670056

We now have enough to determine pressure altitude.

  • pressure altitude = (( 29.92 – 30.27 ) * 1000 ) + 5354.
  • pressure altitude = (( -0.35 ) * 1000 ) + 5354
  • pressure altitude = ( -350 ) + 5354
  • pressure altitude = 5,004 ft.

Yes, it’s possible to have a negative pressure altitude. Also, if you are in the plane, you can find pressure altitude by simply setting your pressure to 29.92 in the Kollsman window of your altimeter and reading the output. But where’s the fun in that!?

Now that we have the temperature from the METAR and pressure altitude from our calculation we can calculate density altitude.

How To Calculate Density Altitude

We have all that we need to calculate density altitude.

  1. Pressure Altitude = 5,004 ft.
  2. Temperature = 32*C

Now, it’s important to note that we are at 5,000 ft above sea level here, so standard temperature is adjusted for altitude. In fact, it’s about -2*C per 1,000 ft. so at 5,000 ft our standard temperature is 15*C – 10*C = 5*C

Now, on to what you came for; calculating density altitude.

The formula is density altitude = pressure altitude + [120 x (OAT – ISA Temp)]

What does that mean in English? OAT is ‘Outside Air Temp’ or the Thermometer reading in Celsius and ISA Temp is the International Standard Atmosphere Temp.

In our example we get the following:

  • density altitude = 5,004 + ( 120 * (32 – 5) )
  • density altitude = 5,004 + ( 120 * ( 27 ) )
  • density altitude = 5,004 + ( 3,240 )
  • density altitude =  8,244

8,244 feet. When was the last time as a non-desert, non-mountain flying pilot you flew at that altitude?

Conclusion

As you can see from my example density altitude is incredibly important when you are flying. A plane that sits physically at 5,000 ft can feel like it’s at 8,000 ft.  That is HUGE when it comes to performance; think take off data and climb performance.

So, while I stand by my earlier statement of “I am non-chalant” about it, it’s because it is part of EVERYTHING I do. I am so familiar with the statement “A Cessna 172 doesn’t have the climb performance” that I can repeat it in my sleep. Density Altitude is THE REASON that I don’t fly in the afternoons of summer here.

While it was fun to think of myself as a ‘test pilot’ during training (a piper cherokee’s charts don’t show take off data for above 7,000 feet density altitude) density altitude is very much on my brain. It should be on yours if you want to be an informed, serious, and safe pilot.

Would you add anything to this article? What do you want to know about how to calculate density altitude that I didn’t touch on? Have you ever suffered because of density altitude? Let me know if the comments!

How to Remember VFR Weather Minimums

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If you’re anything like me, as a new private pilot, I only fly in “good” weather and when I want to. However, that alone severely limits my ability to get hours. Good weather for me is calm to about 10 kts winds, no hint of rain and at best, small cumulus clouds in the sky.

This, while slightly exaggerated, means that I only fly in “perfect” conditions. I have that flexibility as a private pilot who flies for fun. But if I want to expand my skill as a pilot there is more weather that I can fly in.

As a VFR pilot we need to know the rules and regulations out there. The FAA has established the minimum conditions a VFR pilot may fly.

14 CFR part 91.155

Thankfully the weather minimums reside in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) title 14 (Federal Aviation Administration) part 91.155. VFR or Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) are split up by airspace.

The table below shows the minimums as the regs state.

vfr weather minimums

This is a lot of numbers and specifics to remember so let’s make it a little easier and break it down by airspace. Also, to help us remember the order of distance we will use ABH, or “Always Be Hunting” as in searching for clouds. That is Above, Below, Horizontal.

Class A

This is most likely the easiest to remember. No VFR in Class A airspace. Nadda, zip, zilch, none. While this may be easy to answer I promise you, if you are going for your interview with an airline they may try and trick you with this question. It’s not one to forget.

Remember: Class A, NO VFR.

Class B

This is our first airspace where we have minimums.  They are both easy to remember, and very easy to fly. 3 statute miles and Clear of Clouds. The statute miles can be dropped (as all visibility numbers are statute miles) and Clear of Clouds is abbreviated to CoC.

What does clear of clouds mean? Simply don’t touch them. You can be darn close to them, but touching them breaks your minimums rule.

Remember: 3, CoC

Class C / Class D

Both of these classes can be easily remembered with a simple mnemonic. Almost everyone knows the Cessna 152. It is one of the most requested training airplanes the world over. And it will forever make history as a weather minimum mnemonic. 3 statue miles is shortened to 3 and clouds in the ABH format is 1,000 feet above, 500 feet below and 2,000 feet horizontal or 152.

Remember: 3, 152’s

Class E

This is the first class that has altitude requirements added to it. The altitudes are noted in MSL or Mean Sea Level or “True Altitude”. There are two specifications, below 10,000 feet MSL and at and above 10,000 feet MSL.  Rather than remembering 9,999 feet or below it is easier to remember the 10,000 foot marker.

Since most small general aviation planes fly below 10,000 feet MSL for the most part the regs for Class E are the same as Class C/D. 3 statute miles and 1,000 feet above, 500 feet below and 2,000 feet horizontally.

Some of the faster, more advanced planes will fly above 10,000 feet MSL while not being on an IFR flight plan.  For those planes the following are their minimums: 5 statute miles, 1,000 feet above, 1,000 feet below and 1 statue mile between.

Remember: BELOW 10,000 ft: 3, 152’s, 10,000 ft +: 5, 111

Class G

This is truly uncontrolled airspace. When you understand that, the minimums (and the corresponding altitudes) make sense. This is for your crop dusters, your powered gliders and the uncontrolled airports around the country.

It is the most complex airspace for weather minimums as it not only has 3 altitudes it also has day/night minimums. Our mnemonics are going to be very helpful here.

First, let’s start with the altitude. We mix and match AGL (Above ground level) and MSL (mean sea level) for this airspace. So pay great attention of the qualifier of the altitude.

1,200 feet AGL or less, broken up by day and night. Above 1,200 feet AGL but LESS THAN 10,000 ft MSL is also broken up by day and night. At or above 10,000 ft MSL is one classification.

Here is a handy drawing to help with the breakout of both day/night and the altitudes.

vfr_weather_minimums_3

Remember:

1,2000 or below DAY: 1, CoC
1,2000 or below NIGHT: 3, 152’s
1,2000+ below 10,000 DAY: 1, 152
1,2000+ below 10,000 NIGHT: 3, 152’s
10,000 + 5, 111

Recap

Each progressively less controlled airspace has more and more restrictions. Unfortunatly, the task is on you to explicitly memorize each of these for your test. To help with that I’ve created a stripped down, mnemonic of each airspace and it’s corresponding vfr weather minimums.

vfr_weather_minimums_2

Actually, after looking at this I think we can make this easier:

  • Class A – NO VFR
  • Class B – 3, CoC
  • Class C/D/E below 10K/G below 10K at night: 3, 152/s
  • Class G 1,200 or less day: 1, CoC
  • Class G 1,200+ below 10K day: 1, 152
  • Class G/E 10K+: 5, 111

Special VFR

Since we’re talking weather and the FAA recognized minimums let’s take a moment and talk about special VFR. This is a condition that the FAA loves to test on during the private pilot exam. While I can’t guarantee that you will have a question pertaining to special VFR, I would prep for it.

If you find yourself in a pickle as the weather is closing in, but you can see the runway ahead of you, the special VFR may be the way to land. This is not something that a VFR pilot should rely on, however, it is useful to know about.

Requesting a special VFR clearance has the following restrictions:

  • ATC clearance must be obtained before entering controlled airspace
  • The VFR pilot MUST REQUEST A SPECIAL VFR. The controller cannot give it without the initial request from the pilot.
  • 1 statute mile, clear of clouds
  • Special VFR not permitted in some Class B airports.

I’m always one for safety, and if you need to invoke special VFR then do it, however, I believe that a flight is never worth your life. I also subscribe to the “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” mantra.

Please use your best judgement before relying on the use of special VFR.

Test your knowledge

Now that you’ve seen the minimums, test your knowledge on a few general questions that may be on your private pilot test.

  1. What is the minimum weather conditions for airplanes operating under Special VFR conditions is Class D airspace?
  2. The basic VFR minimums for operating in Class B airspace are?
  3. What are the minimum weather requirements for airplanes operating in Class G airspace under 1,200 ft AGL?

Finding different test banks will give you a variety of questions that you may find on the written exam. The more prepared you are, the less this question will trip you up.

Conclusion

In conclusion, VFR clearances can be boiled down to 152’s, 111’s or CoC’s. Anything after that is a qualifier. The clearances need to be memorized. It’s not fun, but it needs to be done. Somethings are best committed to memory. However, this is one of those knowledge components that can turn ugly really quick if you are not aware of the legal minimums.

Hopefully I’ve given you a new way of looking at them with a decent explanation and memorization technique. As some pilot (probably a CFI) said at one point in time: “It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing you were on the ground”.

I’d love to hear what you think. What did your CFI tell you to help remember the minimums? Do you know who originally said the quote? Leave me a comment and tell me all about it.

 

Sharing the Joy of Aviation

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to share my love of aviation with a small group of young women. A junior in High School reached out to Del Sol Aviation wanting to put together a joy of aviation seminar for her Girl Scout gold badge.

I have never been one to turn down the Girl Scouts. Or miss an opportunity to talk aviation with anyone willing to listen. So I jumped at the call when I was asked to speak to these young women as a female pilot.

We had 8 young ladies join us for this event. Most were in high school, but a few were still in middle school. We even had a few MCJROTC girls. A great age for them to be introduced to what’s possible for them!

Sportys Pilot Shop Review

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Any Pilot will tell you that this is an expensive hobby. Not only is their flight time and instructor time to pay for, there are also gadgets that are required to fly safe. On top of that, there is the matter of apparel. Pilots love the gear they can wear to show off the fact they are a pilot. There is also the matter of gifts for you and your pilot friends.

Google pilot stuff or pilot gear and you are graced with millions of results. Where is the best place to buy pilot things? Which company will treat you right? Who has that unique gift that you can buy your pilot friend (or yourself)?

For me, and many other pilots that answer is Sporty’s Pilot Shop.

Company Info

sportys pilot shop review
Photo From Sportys.com

Sporty’s website says they are the world’s largest pilot shop and judging by their website and products offered I don’t doubt it.

They have a brick and mortar building they encourage you to visit located at the Clermont county airport (I69). You can locate them just outside Cincinnati Ohio. From FBO services to their Saturday cookout the Sporty’s team has created a unique experience for pilots.

I need to add them to my flying destination bucket list.

Sporty’s has been around for over 50 years and their dedication to pilots shows that they may have learned a thing or two in those years. Most of their products are either created by them or tested by their knowledgeable staff.

Selection

sportys pilot shop review

The number of items on Sporty’s website is impressive. They have every type of training manual and video available and do-dads for your plane.  Their apparel section ranges the gamut from Tees to Jackets and throwing in some undergarments for good luck.

You can’t scoff at an incredible selection of headsets and accessories for your iPad/Android deices and avionic radios. Their flight bags and teaching gadgets are top notch too.

Rounding out their main categories you have kneeboards and charts and gifts for any pilot or lover of aviation.

Honestly, I think I have purchased at least one thing from every main category they have, and I’m working my way through all the sub categories too.

Their 50 years in the business has provided them the opportunity to really understand what pilots need and want and they have the largest selection of any other store I’ve checked out.

Quality

Almost everything I have bought there is still in use. I have one product, a kneeboard, that I’m having some issues with. It is not a Sporty’s product, but one they sell. In their current defense I have not reached out to them about the issue so it’s a non-starter in my book until I determine I want to do something about it.

They have a 30 day guarantee of all products and a 1 year warranty on their products as well. A reasonable expectation of a company that stands behind the products they sell.

I haven’t looked to see if the manufactures of different items have longer warranties but really, I’ve not needed it for most of the stuff I buy.

I’ll go into more detail on some of the products I’ve bought from them in future post. Their products are some of the best I’ve had the pleasure of putting to the test in my short piloting career.

Ease of Ordering

With full disclosure, I am not an affiliate for Sporty’s. However, I have spent a pretty penny on their stores and apps.

Much like any e-commerce site in this day and age they have a cart system that allows you to add items you like to your cart and adjust quantities as needed.

Their continue shopping button on the cart wisely takes you back to the page you were browsing before unlike some I’ve seen around the web.

The actual checkout process has 6 steps to it which I think is a bit overkill in the “micro commitment” department.

The good news is if you have purchased with them before you can login to your account and you don’t have to input all your data again. You can simply select which of the options that you added before, or create a new one if needed.

Customer Account

After making a purchase, or several purchases like I have done, its nice to be able to login to your account and see your order history.

From there you can add a review to your products, order more of the things you’ve ordered and set up subscriptions. They really did a great job thinking through the customer experience and tried to make it easy for everyone to enjoy using their website.

I also enjoy their wish list link.  It allows me to window shop and save the item for later without having to trudge through a whole bunch of products. I am notorious at adding watches to my list, but I have a thing for watches.

You can also share your wish list so you can give it to your significant other and let them pay for your flying habit.

Chart Subscriptions

Speaking of subscriptions, one of the more awesome things they do is you can set up chart subscriptions. Now you don’t have to remember when your charts expire. Sporty’s will charge your card on file and send you a new chart so that it arrives at your house right before your current chart expires.

You reduce the potential for forgetting to renew your charts and get a constant reminder that you need to get out and fly all at one time!

Wright Brother’s Collection

The last thing I’m going to talk about for Sporty’s is the Wright Brother’s Collection. Designed as more of a gift shop there is plenty for all pilots on this section of the website.

Ranging from propellers to recreated and orignial aviation signs the Wright Brother’s collection is just what an aviation enthusiast needs; another reason to spend money on cool aviation things.

Coupon Codes

Being a woman I feel somewhat naturally inclined to try and find the best price on something. However, it is very difficult to find any coupon codes for Sportys.

My catalog comes with a code on the back that they want me to use to help with marketing and tracking effectiveness but that’s not a coupon.

Even searching some of the more well known coupon code sites doesn’t dig up much in the way of discounts or deals either.

This is one area that I think they can really improve on. Coupon codes don’t have to be much to be effective. Sometimes we only want to “feel” like we got a bargain

Catalogs, Emails and other Communication

Now any review would be amiss if it didn’t mention the after sale communication. Sporty’s does a great job of touching the customer just the right amount of times. I get a catalog once a month and with every order I purchase. Since I have bought from both the main store and the wright brother’s collection I will occasionally get two sporty’s catalogs although they are from the different collections.

Email’s are not overwhelming either. I get the usual confirmation emails for my initial order and to let me know that it’s shipped. Sometimes they will email because another customer had a question about a product I purchased. Sporty’s would rather have another customer answer the question first giving the social proof of the product.

I don’t get a ton of promotional emails which is really appreciated by my inbox, which seems to always have more emails than I care to read.

However, they are good at their marketing as they will send a reminder email to your inbox if you have left a cart with items in it. Again, no coupon code but it’s a slick reminder that I intended to pay for a product but haven’t yet.

Conclusion

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Sporty’s has been very capable of separating me from my money.

In a good way.

I am a huge fan of this company and will continue to send my business there. Not only are they fun / cool / interesting products but they are tested by pilots. This ensures they meet the needs of you as a pilot. If you haven’t checked them out already take some time to do so. There is an amazing number of products available.

Have you bought anything from Sporty’s? Have anything to add to my review? Leave me a comment and let me know.

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