Regulations: Recent Flight Experience

One regulation you need to be aware of as a new pilot is 14 CFR §61.57, “Recent Flight Experience – Pilot in command”. Here’s how Bob Gardner summarizes this regulation in The Complete Private Pilot:

14 CFR 61.57 Recent flight experience: Pilot-in-command. You may not carry passengers unless you have current experience, and that means 3 takeoffs and landings within the preceding 90 days in an aircraft of the same category and class as that in which you plan to carry passengers. You may fly solo to make those three takeoffs and landings, of course. If you are going to carry passengers in a tailwheel airplane, your 3 takeoffs and landings must have been in a taildragger, and to a full stop—no touch-and goes permitted. Touch-and-goes are approved for tricycle gear airplanes. To carry passengers at night you must, within the preceding 90 days, have made 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop in an aircraft of the same category and class during the period from one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise. The Part 1 definition of “night” is that period between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight. If you really want them, you can find twilight times at That means that if you are current at night in single-engine landplanes, for instance, your night currency does not extend to multi-engine landplanes, and you must do the 3 full-stop landings at night before carrying passengers in a twin at night. You must be sole manipulator of the controls when regaining currency—you cannot carry passengers, but you could do your night landings with a pilot who is current acting as pilot-in-command.

A current pilot is one who meets the requirement for 3 takeoffs and landings within 90 days, and who also has accomplished a satisfactory flight review within 24 months.

Our office will be closed this Thursday (11/26) and Friday (11/27) for the Thanksgiving holiday, but we will have a special Thanksgiving-themed CFI Brief for you on Thursday!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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CFI Brief: Checking the accuracy of your VOR

14 CFR 91.171, “VOR Equipment check for IFR Operations”—a friendly reminder on this week’s Learn to Fly Blog to check the accuracy of your VOR equipment per §91.171! Sometimes in the excitement of getting wheels up and on to your destination a VOR accuracy check can often be overlooked. Even if you plan on operating on a VFR flight plan it is always a good idea to adhere to this regulation as you never know when you might find yourself in instrument meteorological condition.

VOR Receiver

VOR Receiver

91.171 VOR equipment check for IFR operations.
(a) No person may operate a civil aircraft under IFR using the VOR system of radio navigation unless the VOR equipment of that aircraft—
(1) Is maintained, checked, and inspected under an approved procedure; or
(2) Has been operationally checked within the preceding 30 days, and was found to be within the limits of the permissible indicated bearing error set forth in paragraph (b) or (c) of this section.

VOR accuracy may be checked by means of a VOR Test Facility (VOT), ground or airborne checkpoints, or by checking dual VORs against each other. A VOT location and frequency can be found in the Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD). To use the VOT, tune to the appropriate frequency and center the CDI. The omni-bearing selector should read 0° with a FROM indication, or 180° with a TO indication. The allowable error is ±4°. VOR receiver checkpoints are listed in the A/FD. With the appropriate frequency tuned and the OBS set to the published certified radial, the CDI should center with a FROM indication when the aircraft is over the designated check point. Allowable accuracy is ±4° for a ground check, and ±6° for an airborne check. If the aircraft is equipped with dual VORs, they may be checked against each other. The maximum permissible variation when tuned to the same VOR is ±4°.

A/FD VOR Receiver Check. Can be found in the back pages of your A/FD.

A/FD VOR Receiver Check. Can be found in the back pages of your AF/D.

The pilot must log the results of the VOR accuracy test in the aircraft logbook or other record. The log must include the date, place, bearing error, if any, and a signature. Most rental aircraft keep a separate log in a dispatch binder or in the aircraft for pilots to easily determine when the last inspection was conducted.


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Navigation: VFR Waypoints

We’ve covered a lot of navigation topics so far, but this week we’ll be reviewing VFR waypoints.

VFR waypoints provide VFR pilots with a supplementary tool to assist with position awareness while navigating visually in aircraft equipped with area navigation receivers. VFR waypoints should be used as a tool to supplement current navigation procedures. The uses of VFR waypoints include providing navigational aids for pilots unfamiliar with an area, waypoint definition of existing reporting points, enhanced navigation in and around Class B and Class C airspace, and enhanced navigation around Special Use Airspace. VFR pilots should rely on appropriate and current aeronautical charts published specifically for visual navigation. If operating in a terminal area, pilots should take advantage of the Terminal Area Chart available for that area, if published. The use of VFR waypoints does not relieve the pilot of any responsibility to comply with the operational requirements of 14 CFR part 91.

VFR waypoint names (for computer entry and flight plans) consist of five letters beginning with the letters “VP” and are retrievable from navigation databases. The VFR waypoint names are not intended to be pronounceable, and they are not for use in ATC communications. On VFR charts, a stand-alone VFR waypoint is portrayed using the same four-point star symbol used for IFR waypoints. VFR waypoint collocated with a visual checkpoint on the chart is identified by a small magenta flag symbol. A VFR waypoint collocated with a visual checkpoint is pronounceable based on the name of the visual checkpoint and may be used for ATC communications. Each VFR waypoint name appears in parentheses adjacent to the geographic location on the chart. Latitude/longitude data for all established VFR waypoints may be found in the appropriate regional A/FD.

When filing VFR flight plans, use the five-letter identifier as a waypoint in the route of flight section if there is an intended course change at that point or if used to describe the planned route of flight. This VFR fi ling would be similar to VOR use in a route of flight. Pilots must use the VFR waypoints only when operating under VFR conditions.

Any VFR waypoints intended for use during a flight should be loaded into the receiver while on the ground and prior to departure. Once airborne, pilots should avoid programming routes or VFR waypoint chains into their receivers.

Pilots should be especially vigilant for other traffic while operating near VFR waypoints. The same effort to see and avoid other aircraft near VFR waypoints is necessary, as is the case when operating near VORs and NDBs. In fact, the increased accuracy of navigation through the use of GPS demands even greater vigilance, as off-course deviations among different pilots and receivers is less.

When operating near a VFR waypoint, use whatever ATC services are available, even if outside a class of airspace where communications are required. Regardless of the class of airspace, monitor the available ATC frequency closely for information on other aircraft operating in the vicinity. It is also a good idea to turn on landing light(s) when operating near a VFR waypoint to make the aircraft more conspicuous to other pilots, especially when visibility is reduced.

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CFI Brief: Icing Systems

Temperatures have started dropping up here in the Northwest and the leaves have all but fallen off the trees. With the official start to winter a little more than a month away, what better time than to have a quick Brief on ice, particularly those systems which prevent us from falling to earth looking like a giant ice cube.

There are two main systems to discuss in terms of equipment, anti-ice and deicing systems. It says it all in the name; anti-ice equipment is used to PREVENT the formation of ice while deicing equipment is designed to REMOVE the buildup of ice once it has accumulated. The majority of light training aircraft in which you will be flying as a student pilot have a very limited amount of equipment to deal with icing, typically just pitot heat. Usually part of your pre-flight inspection includes turning the pitot heat on and feeling the pitot tube to make sure the heating element is functioning (careful it can get hot!).

Once you get into flying some higher performance aircraft and or light twins, you will start to see different types of icing equipment installed on the various aircraft. As a pilot it’s important to familiarize yourself with this equipment and the operation of it as well as the limitations. Some commonplace anti-ice/deice equipment include inflatable deicing boots. These are leading edge devices made of rubber that with the help of an engine driven pneumatic pump can inflate, cracking the ice causing it to fall free. The inflation of the boots is controlled from the cockpit by the pilot. An alternative to boots is a thermal anti-ice system which uses hot bleed-air from the engine to heat the leading edges of the aircraft and provide icing protecting. This type of system is usually found on larger commercial passenger aircraft and corporate jets. Another system you may encounter is the weeping-wing; an anti-freeze solution known as TKS is pumped out of (or “weeps”) from little holes in the leading edges of the aircraft. The solution in a sense “unsticks” the ice from the leading edges allowing aerodynamic forces to remove the ice.

Cross section of a deicing boot. Uninflated (top) Inflated (bottom).

Cross section of a deicing boot. Uninflated (top) Inflated (bottom).

Some other areas in which icing can occur include the windscreen and propeller. There are two main anti-ice systems to protect these areas: an alcohol system and a heating system.

Just like your pitot tube there are several other important external elements on an aircraft that need to be protected from ice including static ports, stall-warning sensors, and even fuel vents. These devices are also protected like the pitot tube by an electrically heated anti-icing systems.

Even with all these protecting systems available aircraft are still not intended to be flown in icing conditions for sustained periods of time. Some aircraft are not authorized or certified to be flown into known icing conditions at all.

NASA has a really good comprehensive course on in-flight icing that’s worth checking out:

Get out there and have fun in the sky this winter, but use good judgement and save the ice for your lemonade this summer.

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Aircraft Systems: Oil Systems

We’re staying warm this week, but we’ll be talking about ways to keep your engine cool. Today’s post is on your aircraft’s engine oil system. Look for follow up Ground School posts in the coming weeks about your engine’s cooling and exhaust systems. And be sure to check out what we’ve already covered in regards to your aircraft’s systems! This week’s post is excerpted from the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.

The engine oil system performs several important functions:

  • Lubrication of the engine’s moving parts
  • Cooling of the engine by reducing friction
  • Removing heat from the cylinders
  • Providing a seal between the cylinder walls and pistons
  • Carrying away contaminants

Reciprocating engines use either a wet-sump or a dry-sump oil system. In a wet-sump system, the oil is located in a sump, which is an integral part of the engine. In a dry-sump system, the oil is contained in a separate tank, and circulated through the engine by pumps.

Wet-sump oil system

Wet-sump oil system (click to enlarge)

The main component of a wet-sump system is the oil pump, which draws oil from the sump and routes it to the engine. After the oil passes through the engine, it returns to the sump. In some engines, additional lubrication is supplied by the rotating crankshaft, which splashes oil onto portions of the engine.

An oil pump also supplies oil pressure in a dry-sump system, but the source of the oil is located external to the engine in a separate oil tank. After oil is routed through the engine, it is pumped from the various locations in the engine back to the oil tank by scavenge pumps. Dry-sump systems allow for a greater volume of oil to be supplied to the engine, which makes them more suitable for very large reciprocating engines.

The oil pressure gauge provides a direct indication of the oil system operation. It ensures the pressure in pounds per square inch (psi) of the oil supplied to the engine. Green indicates the normal operating range, while red indicates the minimum and maximum pressures. There should be an indication of oil pressure during engine start. Refer to the AFM/POH for manufacturer limitations.

The oil temperature gauge measures the temperature of oil. A green area shows the normal operating range and the red line indicates the maximum allowable temperature. Unlike oil pressure, changes in oil temperature occur more slowly. This is particularly noticeable after starting a cold engine, when it may take several minutes or longer for the gauge to show any increase in oil temperature.

Check oil temperature periodically during flight especially when operating in high or low ambient air temperature. High oil temperature indications may signal a plugged oil line, a low oil quantity, a blocked oil cooler, or a defective temperature gauge. Low oil temperature indications may signal improper oil viscosity during cold weather operations.

The oil filler cap and dipstick (for measuring the oil quantity) are usually accessible through a panel in the engine cowling. If the quantity does not meet the manufacturer’s recommended operating levels, oil should be added. The AFM/POH or placards near the access panel provide information about the correct oil type and weight, as well as the minimum and maximum oil quantity.

Always check the engine oil level during the preflight inspection.

Always check the engine oil level during the preflight inspection.

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CFI Brief: Ground Effect, Pop Quiz!

I sure hope you read Monday’s post on ground effect because today I’m throwing a pop quiz at you!

Remember that ground effect occurs when flying within one wingspan or less above the surface. The airflow around the wing and wing tip is modified and the resulting pattern reduces the downwash which reduces the induced drag. These changes can result in an aircraft either becoming airborne before reaching recommended takeoff speed or floating during an approach to land.

An airplane leaving ground effect after takeoff will require an increase in angle of attack to maintain the same lift coefficient, which in turn will cause an increase in induced drag and therefore, require increased thrust.

Ground Effect

Alright, lets see if you can score 100% and remember these are similar question to what you might see on an FAA Knowledge exam.

1. What is ground effect?
A—The result of the interference of the surface of the Earth with the airflow patterns about an airplane.
B—The result of an alteration in airflow patterns increasing induced drag about the wings of an airplane.
C—The result of the disruption of the airflow patterns about the wings of an airplane to the point where the wings will no longer support the airplane in flight.

2. Floating caused by the phenomenon of ground effect will be most realized during an approach to land when at
A—less than the length of the wingspan above the surface.
B—twice the length of the wingspan above the surface.
C—a higher-than-normal angle of attack.

3. What must a pilot be aware of as a result of ground effect?
A—Wingtip vortices increase creating wake turbulence problems for arriving and departing aircraft.
B—Induced drag decreases; therefore, any excess speed at the point of flare may cause considerable floating.
C—A full stall landing will require less up elevator deflection than would a full stall when done free of ground effect.

4. Ground effect is most likely to result in which problem?
A—Settling to the surface abruptly during landing.
B—Becoming airborne before reaching recommended takeoff speed.
C—Inability to get airborne even though airspeed is sufficient for normal takeoff needs.

Bonus rotorcraft question!
5. Which is a result of the phenomenon of ground effect?
A—The induced angle of attack of each rotor blade is increased.
B—The lift vector becomes more horizontal.
C—The angle of attack generating lift is increased.

Click here for the answers!

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Aerodynamics: Ground Effect

Thinking about your takeoff technique? Today we’ll consider the role of ground effect. Simply put, ground effect is the reaction of the airflow against the ground surface. Today’s post comes from our foundational flying textbook The Pilot’s Manual 1: Flight School. Here’s a basic overview:

The cushioning of ground effect when the airplane is flying close to the ground allows flight at lower speeds than when the airplane is well clear of the ground. It is important that the airplane accelerates to the correct climbing speed soon after liftoff to avoid sink.

Birds know all about ground effect, and it is quite common to se large birds flying leisurely just above a water surface. They may not understand the physics of ground effect, but they certainly know how to use it! Ground effect is the interference of the airflow around the airplane by the ground surface. It cushions the air beneath the wings of an airplane when it is close to the ground, within an altitude equal to about one wingspan.

Ground effect enables an airplane to fly more easily. The runway surface restricts the upwash and the downwash of the airflow around the wings, causing more lift. It also restricts the formation of wing-tip and line vortices, thereby reducing drag.

Ground effect occurs close to the surface.

Ground effect occurs close to the surface.

When the airplane climbs out of ground effect, its performance decreases slightly; there is a decrease in lift and an increase in drag. In an extreme case, it is possible for a poorly performing airplane to fly in ground effect but be unable to climb out of it because of having insufficient power, insufficient airspeed, or excessive weight or drag.

We’ll see you again on Thursday.

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CFI Brief: Traffic Alerts

Cessna 1 – 2 – Alpha – Sierra – Alpha traffic 1 o’clock in three miles same altitude southbound. What, traffic? I’m pretty sure traffic doesn’t start till like 5 o’clock—3 mile backup, maybe there’s an accident? Well there’s no accident, but there’s a good chance there will be if you have no idea what the air traffic controller just told you.

Often times when operating under flight following and when in controlled airspace ATC will provide you with traffic advisories. These advisories are given for the obvious reasons: to prevent a midair collision and maintain separation. When a controller refers to a direction in relation to a time (12 o’clock, 6 o’clock) they are basing that direction off a standard 12-hour clock. With 12 o’clock being directly in front of you and 6 o’clock being directly behind you.


It’s important to remember though on a radar screen a controller can only see your ground track or true course. The controller has no idea in which direction the nose of your aircraft is actually pointing. A controller might report an aircraft at your 12 o’clock but it might actually be more towards your 1 o’clock if you had a 20 degree left wind correction angle. If a traffic advisory is given it is the pilots responsibility to acknowledge receipt of advisory and inform the controller if traffic in sight. An example of acknowledgement could be, “…traffic in sight will maintain visual separation, Cessna Alpha-Sierra-Alpha.”

Part of maintaining visual separation from other aircraft is a full and complete understanding of right-of-way rules. Much like in a car where the right-of-way is given to the vehicle to the right the same theory of rules exists for aircraft and is outlined in 14 CFR §91.113.

§91.113 Right-of-way rules: Except water operations.

(a) Inapplicability. This section does not apply to the operation of an aircraft on water.

(b) General. When weather conditions permit, regardless of whether an operation is conducted under instrument flight rules or visual flight rules, vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft. When a rule of this section gives another aircraft the right-of-way, the pilot shall give way to that aircraft and may not pass over, under, or ahead of it unless well clear.

(c) In distress. An aircraft in distress has the right-of-way over all other air traffic.

(d) Converging. When aircraft of the same category are converging at approximately the same altitude (except head-on, or nearly so), the aircraft to the other’s right has the right-of-way. If the aircraft are of different categories—

(1) A balloon has the right-of-way over any other category of aircraft;

(2) A glider has the right-of-way over an airship, powered parachute, weight-shift-control aircraft, airplane, or rotorcraft.

(3) An airship has the right-of-way over a powered parachute, weight-shift-control aircraft, airplane, or rotorcraft.

However, an aircraft towing or refueling other aircraft has the right-of-way over all other engine-driven aircraft.

(e) Approaching head-on. When aircraft are approaching each other head-on, or nearly so, each pilot of each aircraft shall alter course to the right.

(f) Overtaking. Each aircraft that is being overtaken has the right-of-way and each pilot of an overtaking aircraft shall alter course to the right to pass well clear.

(g) Landing. Aircraft, while on final approach to land or while landing, have the right-of-way over other aircraft in flight or operating on the surface, except that they shall not take advantage of this rule to force an aircraft off the runway surface which has already landed and is attempting to make way for an aircraft on final approach. When two or more aircraft are approaching an airport for the purpose of landing, the aircraft at the lower altitude has the right-of-way, but it shall not take advantage of this rule to cut in front of another which is on final approach to land or to overtake that aircraft.


Scenario: Converging Head-on, Turn Right


Scenario: Converging paths, Give way to Right

Let’s look at a few example of right-of-way rules.

An airplane and an airship are converging. If the airship is left of the airplane’s position, which aircraft has the right-of-way?

An airship has the right-of-way over an airplane or rotorcraft. 91.113(d)(3).

Which aircraft has the right-of-way over all other air traffic, an airship, an aircraft in distress, or an aircraft on final approach to land?

An aircraft in distress has the right-of-way over all other air traffic. 91.113(c).


So getting back to the first sentence, at this point you should be able to interpret from ATC’s traffic advisory that an aircraft is heading in our general direction. It is in our best interest to identify that traffic and take any necessary action to avoid and maintain separation. Remember flying in visual meteorological conditions (VMC) it is always the pilots responsibility to see and avoid, this holds true even if operating under instrument flight rules (IFR).

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Communication Procedures: the Transponder

Today we’re talking communication procedures, specifically your airplane’s transponder. This post comes to us from Bob Gardner‘s The Complete Private Pilot.

Although the transponder has no microphone or speaker, it is a means of communication with ground radar facilities. Interrogation signals transmitted from the ground are received by your transponder, and it replies with a coded signal which the controller can read on the radar scope. Each time the transponder reply light flickers, it has responded to an interrogation. In congested areas the transponder will be replying to interrogation from several radars, while in remote areas it may receive only an occasional interrogation. Always set the four numbers on your transponder to 1200 when flying VFR. Otherwise, enter a specific code as directed by a radar controller while receiving radar services. The regulations require that all transponder-equipped airplanes must have them turned on while in flight. Be careful when setting your transponder—some codes have special meanings. Code 7700, for instance, is the emergency transponder code, used only to alert ground personnel that you are in distress. Code 7500 is the hijacking code, and code 7600 is used by instrument pilots in case of communications failure. Code 7777 belongs to the military. If a controller asks you to change codes, always acknowledge by reading the new code back to the controller.

A typical transponder.

A typical transponder.

Push your transponder’s IDENT button only when told to do so by the controller. This feature causes your radar return to intensify on the controller’s scope for exact identification, and when pushed it will stay activated for about 20 seconds. “Identing” when not directed to do so might result in a mis-identification by the controller. When the transponder function switch is ON, you are in Mode A (indicating your position) only, and with the function switch in the ALT (Mode C) position, the transponder will also transmit altitude information to the ground (if an encoding altimeter is installed in the airplane).

A transponder with Mode C capability is required for operation in Class B or C airspace or when flying in controlled airspace above 10,000 feet. You can request a waiver of these requirements if you give ATC one hour’s notice. Additionally, Mode C is required if you fly within 30 nautical miles of the Class B airspace’s primary airport and from the surface to 10,000 feet msl.

Almost all radar facilities require a transponder return for tracking. At those facilities with the most modern equipment, the controller does not see an actual target generated by your airplane but a computer-generated target based on your transponder.

That is why you will occasionally see airplanes visually that have not been called to your attention by the controller; if they don’t have a transponder (or if their transponder is off), they don’t show up on the radar.

A newer type of transponder, Mode S, transmits your airplane’s tail number in addition to position and altitude. These transponders make it possible for users to participate in the Traffic Identification System and Automatic Dependent Surveillance (ADS-B) programs. They are more expensive than Mode A/C transponders but enhance safety.

More on communication procedures from our CFI on Thursday. Thanks for following the Learn to Fly Blog!

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CFI Brief: Four-Stroke Piston Engine

The majority of general aviation aircraft use what’s referred to as a reciprocating engine. Mechanical energy is created through the back and forth movement (hence the name reciprocating) of pistons located in each cylinder which in turn drive a crankshaft that is directly connected to the propeller creating the required thrust. In the figure below you can see the major components of your typical reciprocating engine.

Major Components

Major Components

A spark ignition four-stroke piston engine is the most common variant of the reciprocating engine that you will find in training aircraft. Four-stroke refers to a complete engine cycle, all four stokes must be accomplished in order to turn chemical energy (fuel) into mechanical energy (thrust). The four strokes are: Intake, Compression, Power, and Exhaust.

As the piston starts a downward travel it allows the intake valve to open inducing the fuel and air mixture into the top of the cylinder. You can essentially think of this as the piston sucking in the fuel/air mixture.


As the piston begins it journey back upwards the intake valves close and the piston compresses the fuel and air mixture in the cylinder. This increases the pressure and temperature of the mixture which will in turn create a higher energy output in the next step.


The now compressed fuel/air mixture is ignited by the spark plugs causing a controlled burning in the cylinder. The burning creates an enormous increase in pressure abruptly forcing the piston back in a downwards motion. This is what creates the immense power to turn the crankshaft.


This final stroke is used to purge the cylinder of the burned gasses within. As the piston begins its final journey back upwards to the cylinder head the exhaust valve opens allowing the burned gasses to escape out of the cylinder.


And the process begins all over again. To allow for smoother operation and continuous power output the engine contains a number of cylinders where the above cycle takes place. The power stroke of each cylinder is timed to occur at different positions then the others; therefore not every cylinder is timed where the power stroke occurs at the same moment. As the transfer of power is more evenly spread out the engine is much more capable of running smoother with less vibration.

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