Communication Procedures: An Introduction

It can take some time to get the hang of radio communications as a new pilot. However, according to Bob Gardner in his book The Complete Private Pilot, familiarization is key to developing a knack for radio procedures early on.

You will learn a lot just by listening on aircraft frequencies to hear how other pilots communicate with each other and with ground personnel. Be warned, however, that you may hear pilots use poor techniques and phraseology; just because you have heard someone say something on the radio does not mean that it is correct usage. Check with your instructor, the AIM, or my book, Say Again, Please for more. A visit to a flight service station, control tower, or a radar facility will convince you that everyone on the ground is prepared to help you have a safe flight and that having “mike fright” will just keep you from taking advantage of the many services available.

Always listen before transmitting, so that you do not interfere with a communication in progress, and listen to what is being said—in many cases you may hear information that makes your call unnecessary. If your airplane’s radio installation provides a switch so that you can transmit on either radio, be sure that you are using the correct radio before you transmit—this is a common mistake and you will hear it happen to the most grizzled old airline captains. Always begin your initial transmission with the name of the station that you are calling: “Logan Tower,” “Orlando Ground,” “Dallas Radio,” “Podunk UNICOM,” followed by your own identification (in full, if it is the initial contact): “Twin Cessna 2345X.” Be sure to include your callsign, full or abbreviated, as part of every transmission.

It is not necessary to wait for an acknowledgment that communication has been established if you are reasonably certain that your transmission has been received: “Seattle Tower, Piper 2345X six miles north with BRAVO, landing.” Be as brief as practicable without omitting necessary information, and always give your position when requesting a clearance from Air Traffic Control. Remember this sequence: WHO you are calling, WHO you are, WHERE you are, and WHAT your intentions are.

Be as brief as possible; every moment a controller spends listening to a long, drawn out transmission is time that cannot be devoted to other pilots. Omit unnecessary words. Compare these transmissions:

“Bigburg Ground Control, Cessna 1357X is at the south parking area with ATIS information FOXTROT. Request permission to taxi to the active runway. VFR to Littlefield.”

“Ground, Cessna 1357X, south parking, Foxtrot, taxi 13, VFR Littlefield.”

If you have the ATIS information, you know which runway is being used for departures; giving the ground controller your destination might result in the assignment of a more convenient runway or help the local controller direct your departure path more advantageously.

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CFI Brief: Density Altitude

Monday’s post introduced us into the subject of aircraft performance, focusing on how the environment we fly in, specifically the atmosphere and altitude, can affect the overall performance of the aircraft. Two very important altitudes were discussed; Pressure Altitude and Density Altitude both of which are significant when determining aircraft performance. Be particularly aware when your conditions are hot, high or heavy—all indications your density altitude is going to negatively impact your aircraft performance. If you take away one thing from that post remember this: Higher Density Altitude = Decreased Performance.

Understanding the effects of density altitude is one thing but knowing how to determine the density altitude at any given point is another, so today let’s cover how to determine your density altitude. The first step is obtaining the airport data and current weather information. For this example we will use Big Bear City Airport (L35). Using the AF/D I determined an airport elevation of 6,752 feet. This piece of information alone should start to raise some concerns regarding aircraft performance—this is pretty high. Next I will need the current METAR (assuming it’s a nice summer day in August):

METAR KL35 102055Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM CLR 25/01 A3025 RMK AO2

Airport Elevation: 6,752

With the given information above we can determine the density altitude with our CX-2 flight computer, as the video below will demonstrate.

The current density altitude at Big Bear is 9,019; this is more than 2,200 feet above the already high airport elevation.

Try a few calculations on your own and see how you do, these are questions you will likely see on your Private Pilot FAA Knowledge Exam. Answers posted on Monday.

1. (Refer to Figure 8.) What is the effect of a temperature increase from 25 to 50°F on the density altitude if the pressure altitude remains at 5,000 feet?
A—1,200-foot increase.
B—1,400-foot increase.
C—1,650-foot increase.

2. (Refer to Figure 8.) Determine the density altitude for these conditions:
Altimeter setting: 29.25
Runway temperature: + 81°F
Airport elevation: 5,250 ft MSL
A—4,600 feet MSL.
B—5,877 feet MSL.
C—8,500 feet MSL.

3. (Refer to Figure 8.) Determine the density altitude for these conditions:
Altimeter setting: 30.35
Runway temperature: +25°F
Airport elevation: 3,894 ft MSL
A—2,000 feet MSL.
B—2,900 feet MSL.
C—3,500 feet MSL.

CT-8080-2F Figure 8.

CT-8080-2F Figure 8. (Click to enlarge!)

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Aircraft Performance: Introduction to Performance Factors

For today’s post, we have adapted information from the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge to introduce the subject of aircraft performance. Matters of aircraft performance will always be subject to the guidelines of your specific aircraft outlined in the performance or operational information section of the Aircraft Flight Manual/Pilot’s Operating Handbook (AFM/POH). The use of this data in flying operations is mandatory for safe and efficient operation.

It must be emphasized that the manufacturers’ information and data furnished in the AFM/POH is not standardized. The performance data may be presented on the basis of standard atmospheric conditions, pressure altitude, or density altitude. The performance information in the AFM/POH has little or no value unless the user recognizes those variations and makes the necessary adjustments.

Performance is a term used to describe the ability of an aircraft to accomplish certain things that make it useful for certain purposes. For example, the ability of an aircraft to land and take off in a very short distance is an important factor for a pilot who operates in and out of short, unimproved airfields. The ability to carry heavy loads, fly at high altitudes a fast speeds, or travel long distances is essential performance for operators of airline and executive type aircraft.

The primary factors most affected by performance are takeoff and landing distance, rate of climb, ceiling, payload, range, speed, maneuverability, stability, and fuel economy. Some of these factors are often directly opposed: for example, high speed versus short landing distance, long range versus great payload, and high rate of climb versus fuel economy. It is the preeminence of one or more of these factors that dictates differences between aircraft and explains the high degree of specialization found in modern aircraft.

Since the characteristics of the atmosphere have a major effect on performance, it is necessary to review two dominant factors—pressure and temperature.

Atmospheric Pressure
Though there are various kinds of pressure, pilots are mainly concerned with atmospheric pressure. It is one of the basic factors in weather changes, helps to lift the aircraft, and actuates some of the most important flight instruments in the aircraft.

Though air is very light, it has mass and is affected by the attraction of gravity. Therefore, like any other substance, it has weight; because it has weight, it has force. Since it is a fluid substance, this force is exerted equally in all directions, and its effect on bodies within the air is called pressure. Under standard conditions at sea level, the average pressure exerted by the weight of the atmosphere is approximately 14.7 pounds per square inch (psi). The density of air has significant effects on the aircraft’s performance. As air becomes less dense, it reduces:
• Power, because the engine takes in less air.
• Thrust, because the propeller is less efficient in thin air.
• Lift, because the thin air exerts less force on the airfoils.

The pressure of the atmosphere varies with time and altitude. Due to the changing atmospheric pressure, a standard reference was developed. The standard atmosphere at sea level is a surface temperature of 59 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) or 15 degrees Celsius (°C) and a surface pressure of 29.92 inches of mercury (“Hg) or 1013.2 millibars (mb).

Standard sea level pressure.

Standard sea level pressure.

Pressure Altitude
Pressure altitude is the height above the standard datum plane (SDP). The aircraft altimeter is essentially a sensitive barometer calibrated to indicate altitude in the standard atmosphere. If the altimeter is set for 29.92 “Hg SDP, the altitude indicated is the pressure altitude—the altitude in the standard atmosphere corresponding to the sensed pressure.

The SDP is a theoretical level where the pressure of the atmosphere is 29.92 “Hg and the weight of air is 14.7 psi. As atmospheric pressure changes, the SDP may be below, at, or above sea level. Pressure altitude is important as a basis for determining aircraft performance, as well as for assigning flight levels to aircraft operating at above 18,000 feet.

The pressure altitude can be determined by either of two methods:
1. By setting the barometric scale of the altimeter to 29.92 “Hg and reading the indicated altitude, or
2. By applying a correction factor to the indicated altitude according to the reported “altimeter setting.”

Density Altitude
The more appropriate term for correlating aerodynamic performance in the nonstandard atmosphere is density altitude—the altitude in the standard atmosphere corresponding to a particular value of air density.

Density altitude is pressure altitude corrected for nonstandard temperature. As the density of the air increases (lower density altitude), aircraft performance increases. Conversely, as air density decreases (higher density altitude), aircraft performance decreases. A decrease in air density means a high density altitude; an increase in air density means a lower density altitude. Density altitude is used in calculating aircraft performance. Under standard atmospheric condition, air at each level in the atmosphere has a specific density; under standard conditions, pressure altitude and density altitude identify the same level. Density altitude, then, is the vertical distance above sea level in the standard atmosphere at which a given density is to be found.

The computation of density altitude must involve consideration of pressure (pressure altitude) and temperature. Since aircraft performance data at any level is based upon air density under standard day conditions, such performance data apply to air density levels that may not be identical to altimeter indications. Under conditions higher or lower than standard, these levels cannot be determined directly from the altimeter.

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KMYF 031742Z 14003KT 1 1/2SM -RA BR BKN008 OVC012 18/17 A3001 RMK AO2 RAB36 CIG 004V011 P0000 T01780167. Wait, don’t email us yet! I know what you must be thinking, massive typo in today’s blog post. But don’t fret, our editors are not on vacation, this is just an Aviation Routine Weather Report, affectionately known to pilots as a METAR. In Monday’s blog post we covered METARS; if you have not yet done so I would suggest going back and reading that here.

A METAR is one of the most common ways for a pilot to obtain weather information. It’s short, quick to read and provides a wealth of weather data. The report is not necessarily going to provide you with an in-depth analysis of what’s happening in that geographical region but it will provide you with weather information within the general vicinity of the reporting station. However the first task is learning how to decipher and interpret all the numbers and letters, so today let’s spend a little bit of time practicing. Let’s refer to the standard METAR above and work through it breaking down each section into the valuable information it’s providing.

KMYF = Location of the report noted by the station identifier; KMYF is Montgomery Field in San Diego, CA.

031742Z = Date and time of the report; in this case the 3rd of the month at 1742 Zulu.

14003KT = Wind and velocity in relation to true north; wind is coming from 140 degrees at 3 knots.

1 1/2SM = Visibility; 1 ½ statute miles.

-RA BR = Present weather conditions; RA indicates rain with a negative symbol this means light rain. BR is mist (or I like to think of it as baby rain). So the station is currently reporting light rain with mist.

BKN008 OVC012 =Sky condition; broken at 800 ft AGL overcast at 1,200 ft AGL.

18/17 = Temperature (18) and dew point (17) given in Celsius.

A3001 = Altimeter; 30.01.

RMK AO2 RAB36 CIG 004V011 P0000 T01780167 = Remarks section:

AO2 signifies this report comes from an automated station with a precipitation discriminator (this simply means the station is able to identify the type of precipitation, in the case of this METAR rain and mist).

RAB36, the RA stands for rain and the B stands for beginning. This remark is stating that rain began at 36 minutes past the hour.

CIG 004V011, Ceiling is variable between 400 feet and 1,100 feet.

P0000, inches of precipitation in the last hour zero.

T01780167, these numbers are just breaking down the temperature and dew point to a tenth of a degree; 17.8 Celsius temperature and 16.7 Celsius dew point. The two zeros are identifying the following temperatures as positive; if those zeros were one’s it would be identifying negative numbers. 0 means positive 1 means negative.

Now try a few on your own, see if you can answer each of the questions below as it relates to that particular METAR. If you need some additional help you can refer to Aviation Weather Services (FAA AC 00-45G) publication. Good luck, answers will be posted on Monday.

METAR KRDG 031854Z 17003KT 10SM BR OVC007 06/04 A2999 RMK AO2 RAB07E33 CIG 006V010 SLP163 P0000 T00610039

  1. What is the date and time of this report?
  2. What is the sky condition and ceiling?
  3. When did the rain stop?

METAR KMYL 031927Z AUTO 00000KT 1 1/4SM -SN BR SCT006 OVC020 M01/M02 A2990 RMK AO2 SNB04 P0001 T10111022

  1. What is the visibility at the time of the report?
  2. What current weather phenomenon is occurring?
  3. How much precipitation has fallen in the last hour?
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Weather Services: Observations and Forecasts

Weather information can be divided into two categories: observations, and forecasts. An observation is a snapshot of weather conditions at a stated time; its utility degrades over time. Some observations can be as much as an hour old when you first see them. If your planned trip is four to seven days in the future, you’ll use forecasts in your flight planning. This post, excerpted from Bob Gardner‘s The Complete Private Pilot, will introduce several of the weather services you’ll encounter as a private pilot

These answer the question “What’s going on at my departure airport, my destination, and at enroute airports?” Every reporting weather station issues an hourly observation called an aviation routine weather report, or METAR, which includes cloud cover and visibility, wind direction and velocity, altimeter setting, and remarks. If you see SPECI instead of METAR, that means something important has changed since the hourly METAR was issued…and it is usually a change for the worse. The figure below contains the key to interpreting METARs. Note: This key will not be available to you for your FAA Knowledge Exam, so learn to read and understand the information without the key.

TAF/METAR weather report code keys. Click to enlarge!

TAF/METAR weather report code keys. Click to enlarge!

Learning to read METARs is a basic pilot skill. The general format is: Station identifier, date-time group, wind, visibility, weather (obstructions to visibility), sky condition, temperature and dewpoint, altimeter setting, and remarks.

Satellite Images
While you are still in the “can I get there from here…and back?” stage of planning, the ADDS webpage gives you another easy reference to reported weather. On the ADDS page, click the Satellite tab and select either the Western U.S. or Eastern U.S. with overlay of color-coded LIFR, IFR, MVFR, and VFR station models. You will be able to see the cloud cover at the time the image was taken and get an overview of the reported cloud cover at each station…you obviously want to stay away from any station symbol colored red or pink and look for more information when the color is blue (marginal VFR). See the figure below.

Satellite visible/fog image with sky cover and aviation flight condition symbols. Click to enlarge!

Satellite visible/fog image with sky cover and aviation flight condition symbols. Click to enlarge!

Pilot Reports
The best resource available to the weather briefers is an observation made by a pilot in flight—a pilot report, or PIREP. There is no better way for the National Weather Service to fill in the gaps between reporting stations than by PIREPs, and they solicit your cooperation.

Forecasters rely on pilot reports to verify the accuracy of their forecasts; they need to know where forecast conditions do not exist just as much as they need reports of the weather conditions you encounter. The only way for a forecaster, who called for a broken layer at 5,000 feet, to know that the forecast is not accurate, is for some conscientious pilot to call a flight service station and report that the layer doesn’t exist (or that it appears to be at 10,000 feet). That PIREP ends up at the Aviation Weather Center in Kansas City, which passes it on to other interested parties, including researchers.

Pirep form. Click to enlarge!

Pirep form. Click to enlarge!

The figure above is a PIREP form, available in pads from your local FSS. You don’t need a form to make a report, however. Just call Flight Watch on 122.0 or contact a flight service station on its published frequency (you can’t go wrong by using 122.2). If you have the form available it will help you organize your report, but if not, the briefer knows what questions to ask.

Automated Weather Reporting Stations
Advances in sensor technology have made it possible for automated weather reporting stations to replace human observers in many locations. Some of these observations are incorporated in METARs, others are available by phone or radio, still others show up at the flight service station for use by the briefer. The Automated Weather Observing Station (AWOS), designed by the FAA, and the Automated Surface Observing Station (ASOS), designed by the NWS, are the most common. The NWS will have almost 2,000 ASOS installations in operation across the country when their program is complete. You’ll find a blue circle with a reversed “A” in the frequency box when an automatic sensor is used.

The ASOS has many advantages over the AWOS, but both measure cloud cover, visibility, barometric pressure, precipitation and wind. The difference lies in how these measurements are made and how the results are transmitted to the NWS. At those locations where a computerized voice transmits the readings over aviation radio frequencies, the necessary information will be on sectional charts.

Radar Summary Chart
This chart is based on observations; it is not a forecast. Radar will show only precipitation, not clouds or fog. The radar summary chart shows the location of radar echoes from precipitation, and the direction and speed of movement of lines of cells and individual cells. This is the only weather chart that shows this information.

Radar summary chart. Click to enlarge!

Radar summary chart. Click to enlarge!

Surface Analysis Chart
The NWS issues surface analysis charts eight times daily (every three hours). These charts reflect the observations of sky cover, visibility, surface wind direction and velocity, temperature, dewpoint, weather (obstructions to visibility), sea level pressure, and pressure trend.
Surface analysis chart. Click to enlarge!

Surface analysis chart. Click to enlarge!

A SIGMET (Significant Meteorological Information) contains warnings applicable to all aircraft, even airliners, and deserve your close attention. A SIGMET warning area covers at least 3,000 square miles; however, the weather event forecast might occur in only a small portion of this total area.

A SIGMET is issued when one of the following occurs or is forecast to occur:
• Severe icing not associated with thunderstorms.
• Severe or extreme turbulence not associated with thunderstorms.
• Dust storms or sandstorms lowering visibilities to below 3 miles.
• Volcanic ash.

An AIRMET (Airmen’s Meteorological Information) contains information about IFR, strong surface winds, mountain obscuration, turbulence, icing, and freezing levels. An airline pilot will take note of an AIRMET but will probably not cancel because of the forecast conditions. “Little airplane” pilots will take heed.

Aviation Area Forecast (FA)
The Area Forecast is your only direct source of information on expected turbulence, icing, and heights of cloud tops. It contains a synopsis of the weather to help you evaluate the potential for change. Watch for words like “unstable,” “low pressure,” and “front.” It also includes forecasts of potentially hazardous weather as “flight precautions.” Area forecasts are issued three times daily and are amended as required. The “Significant Clouds and Weather” portion is valid for 12 hours and contains an additional 6-hour outlook.

Winds Aloft Forecast (FB)
These forecasts (see the figure below) are issued twice daily and include a “valid time.” Heights are above sea level, and no forecast is available within 1,500 feet of the reporting station’s elevation. Wind direction and velocity are read just as they are in an hourly sequence, except that no gusts are forecast.

A major weakness of the FB is the 3,000-foot gap between altitudes and the lack of any relative humidity or dewpoint information. At best, it forces you to interpolate between values; at worst, it glosses over changes that might occur at intermediate altitudes. However, it is the forecast product used in knowledge exams and for that limited purpose you must live with it.

Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF)
Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts, or TAFs, are prepared four times daily: 0000Z, 0600Z, 1200Z, and 1800Z, for selected reporting stations. TAFs predict conditions for a 5-mile area surrounding the airport. Note that limited area! Many pilots think that they cover more area. Each forecast (with the exception of special forecasts) is valid for 24 hours.

A sample TAF.

A sample TAF.

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E6-B Video Tutorials

This week, take a look at our easy to follow E6-B video tutorials on our YouTube channel:




Check out ASA’s YouTube channel for more tutorials and training videos. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram and Twitter to get the latest information on new products and updates.

Please feel free to leave comments on any Learn to Fly Blog post. Send us your feedback and suggestions of topics you’d like to see covered on the Learn to Fly Blog to!

The Learn to Fly Blog will return next Monday with a new post on weather services. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


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CFI Brief: Runway Incursion

If you take a look in the Private Pilot Practical Test Standards you will note a section called “Special Emphasis Areas.” The section lists several areas in relation to aircraft operations that are considered critical to flight safety. It will be the examiners job during a practical test to place special emphasis on each listed area. Therefore, it will be your job to be very familiar with each of the special emphasis areas listed.

Excerpt from the Private Pilot PTS displaying the Special Emphasis Areas.

Excerpt from the Private Pilot PTS displaying the Special Emphasis Areas.

Runway incursion avoidance is one of the special emphasis areas listed in the Private Pilot PTS. Airports can be rather confusing, particularly those located in Class C or B airspace. Not all student pilots will get the opportunity to fly into one of these airports with their CFI simply because one may not be located close by. However, if you do get the chance it can be an invaluable learning experience.

An airport located in controlled airspace like C or B caters to a much higher volume of air traffic and aircraft that are much larger in size than your typical trainer or general aviation airplane. You will find the airport surface environments here to be a lot larger in size, consisting of larger runways and taxiways and possibly additional safety features like runway status lights. There will often be more complex intersections with multiple taxiways and converging runways. Navigating an unfamiliar airport can be challenging and stressful even for the most experienced pilots. Mistakes happen and may result in a runway incursion but it is our job as pilots to minimize the risk of this occurring. We do this through proper knowledge and planning.

Pilots learn about airport operations, signs, markings, and general safety practices during training, and while we may know how to read signs and markings it is often not enough to safely operate in a busy, unfamiliar airport environment. Airport diagrams and other helpful airport information can be found in the most current version of the Airport Facility Directory (AF/D) for a particular region. Before operating at an unfamiliar airport, it is important for a pilot to become familiar with that airport by reviewing an airport diagram. Areas on the airport found to be particularly complex and/or confusing will be labeled as HOT SPOTS. Many times accidents, incidents, or runway incursions have been known to occur in these areas and airport diagrams often point them out (see image below). The AF/D will also provide a textual description of each HOT SPOT area listed. Try to pre-plan your expected route to/from the runway and have a good idea of where your final destination is ahead of time. Never be afraid to ask ATC for help; request progressive taxi instructions from the tower and they will assist you with step by step instructions on where to go. ATC would rather spend 5 minutes assisting you to and from the runway than to run the risk of a runway incursion.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport diagram depicting 3 Hot Spot locations.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport diagram depicting 3 Hot Spot locations.

Here is a recreation of an actual runway incursion that took place at Charlotte International airport between a CRJ and PC12:

KCLT Runway Incursion Animation

What went wrong here? If you were the pilot of the PC12 what could you have done differently to prevent this from occurring? What resources were available to the pilot that that could have helped him? Let us know in the comments section.

You can also check out the latest issue of the CALLBACK newsletter from the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System. You will find some great information and report excerpts from actual events.

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Procedures and Airport Operations: The Airport

Today’s post comes from Bob Gardner‘s The Complete Private Pilot, an excellent resource for anyone working to earn their private pilot license.

At any airport, you will have to be able to identify the runway in use, taxi safely, be aware of wake turbulence hazards, deal with the line crew, know who (if anyone) controls your actions, interpret lights and markings, etc.

As your flying experience expands to include more airports, you will find some features that they all have in common. For instance, all runways are numbered according to their direction in relation to magnetic north, to the closest 10°. A runway laid out 078° from magnetic north would be numbered 8: rounded off to 080° and the zeros dropped. The opposite end of the runway would be numbered 26, the reciprocal (Figure 1). Some large airports have parallel runways which are identified as left, right, or center: runway 27R, runway 6L, etc. Be sure to set your heading indicator to agree with the runway number before takeoff.

Figure 1: Runway numbering.

Figure 1. Runway numbering.

You will normally take off and land into the wind; the wind indicator tells the direction the wind is blowing from. Every airport should have some form of wind indicator or landing direction indicator. Figure 2 shows several types of landing direction indicators: the tetrahedron, the windsock, and the wind tee. All of the indicators in the illustration indicate a wind from the west. Sport pilots must be especially sensitive to wind direction and velocity and the presence of gusts, because light sport aircraft must be flown all the way to the ground, unlike planes weighing more than 1,320 pounds that can “punch through” gusts.

Figure 2. Wind indications.

Figure 2. Wind indications.

At some airports, the tetrahedron or wind tee may be tied down to show the favored runway and will not accurately reflect wind conditions. Always observe what other pilots in the pattern are doing and conform with the pattern in use; if there are no other airplanes in the pattern it is your choice. Figures 3 and 4 show landing strip indicators and landing pattern indicators—the landing strip indicators parallel the runways and the landing pattern indicators show the direction traffic flows to and from the runways. Your pattern should conform with the traffic flow indicated for the runway in use. See Figure 4.

Figure 3. Landing strip and pattern indicators.

Figure 3. Landing strip and pattern indicators.

Figure 4. Pattern markings.

Figure 4. Pattern markings.

Although the standard traffic pattern uses a left-hand pattern, frequently terrain or the presence of a congested area dictate the use of a right-hand pattern. Figure 5 shows pattern indicators which keep traffic from overflying the area northwest of the water tank. Where there are no pattern indicators, the regulations require that all turns in the pattern be made to the left. When you fly over an unfamiliar airport and do not see a pattern indicator, you are safe in assuming a left-hand pattern. If an airport requires a right-hand pattern for any runway, the data block on the sectional chart will have a notation such as “RP 11 16,” indicating that runways 11 and 16 have right-hand patterns. If the notation includes an asterisk: *RP 12, the right-hand pattern is in effect only during certain hours—check the A/FD for details.

Figure 5. Traffic Pattern indicators.

Figure 5. Traffic Pattern indicators.

Figure 6 shows the FAA recommended standard left-hand traffic pattern with arrival and departure procedures (note the recommended—not required—45° entry to the downwind leg…but understand that almost everyone uses this entry). If the airport has an FAA required traffic pattern, you must use that pattern (few airports have such patterns —14 CFR Part 93 lists them). Don’t let courthouse lawyers tell you that the right turn onto the downwind leg shown at position 1 in Figure 6 is a violation of the left turn rule—you are not “in the pattern” until you have completed that turn. You should always be at pattern altitude when on the 45; never descend into the pattern.

Figure 6. Diagram from AC 90-66A.

Figure 6. Diagram from AC 90-66A.

Not illustrated but frequently used is the downwind departure. In the illustration, airplane #’s 5 and 6 are departing in the direction of takeoff…but what if their destination is in the opposite direction? Then they perform (or ask the tower for) a downwind departure. To avoid conflict with airplanes entering the pattern on the 45, pilots performing downwind departures should climb as indicated by plane #5 until well above pattern altitude before turning downwind.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that not all pilots observe recommended procedures. You must be alert to the possibility that another pilot is entering the pattern from a different direction, or straight in—instrument students almost always make straight-in approaches. The instrument runway might not be the one in use by VFR pilots. Listen carefully to the position reports by other pilots, and expect the unexpected.

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CFI Brief: VOR

On and around airports, or even driving out in the countryside in an open field, you may see what resembles a giant bowling pin type structure usually surrounded by a security fence. This structure you see is most likely what we in aviation refer to as a VOR. However, not always shaped like a bowling pin, VORs come in all forms and sizes, but the role they play in navigation is equally important. Here is an excerpt from the ASA 2015 Private Pilot Test Prep.

The VHF Omnidirectional Range (VOR) is the backbone of the National Airway System, and this radio aid to navigation (NAVAID) provides guidance to pilots operating under visual flight rules as well as those flying instruments.

On sectional aeronautical charts, VOR locations are shown by blue symbols centered in a blue compass rose which is oriented to Magnetic North. A blue identification box adjacent to the VOR symbol lists the name and frequency of the facility, its three-letter identifier and Morse Code equivalent, and other information as appropriate. For example: a small solid blue square in the bottom right hand corner indicates Hazardous Inflight Weather Advisory Service (HIWAS) are available. See the “Radio Aids to Navigation and Communications Box” information in FAA Legend 1.

Some VORs have a voice identification alternating with the Morse Code identifier. Absence of the identifier indicates the facility is unreliable or undergoing routine maintenance; in either case, it should not be used for navigation. Some VORs also transmit a T-E-S-T code when undergoing maintenance.

The VOR station continuously transmits navigation signals, providing 360 magnetic courses to or radials from the station. Courses are TO the station and radials are FROM the station.

TACAN, a military system which provides directional guidance, also informs the pilot of the aircraft’s distance from the TACAN Station. When a VOR and a TACAN are co-located, the facility is called a VORTAC. Civil pilots may receive both azimuth and distance information from a VORTAC.

At some VOR sites, additional equipment has been installed to provide pilots with distance information. Such an installation is termed a VOR/DME (for “distance measuring equipment”).

Click to enlarge!

Click to enlarge!

1. (Refer to the figure above.) On what course should the VOR receiver (OBS) be set to navigate direct from Hampton Varnville Airport (area 1) to Savannah VORTAC (area 3)?

2. (Refer to the figure above.) What is the approximate position of the aircraft if the VOR receivers indicate the 320° radial of Savannah VORTAC (area 3) and the 184° radial of Allendale VOR (area 1)?
A—Southeast of Guyton.
B—Town of Springfield.
C—3 miles east of Marlow.

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Navigation: Introduction

Navigation is the process of piloting an aircraft from one geographic position to another while monitoring one’s position as the flight progresses. It introduces the need for planning, which includes plotting the course on an aeronautical chart, selecting checkpoints, measuring distances, obtaining pertinent weather information, and computing flight time, headings, and fuel requirements. There are many methods of navigation used by pilots to reach their destination including pilotage, dead reckoning, radio navigation, and even celestial navigation. This brief introduction comes from the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.

Pilotage is navigation by reference to landmarks or checkpoints. It is a method of navigation that can be used on any course that has adequate checkpoints, but is more commonly used in conjunction with dead reckoning and VFR radio navigation.

The checkpoints selected should be prominent features common to the area of the flight. Choose checkpoints that can be readily identified by other features such as roads, rivers, railroad tracks, lakes, and power lines. If possible, select features that make useful boundaries or brackets on each side of the course, such as mountains. A pilot can keep from drifting too far off course by referring to and not crossing the selected brackets. Never place complete reliance on any single checkpoint. If one is missed, look for the next one while maintaining the heading.

Dead Reckoning
Dead reckoning is navigation solely by means of computations based on time, airspeed, distance, and direction. The products derived from these variables, when adjusted by wind speed and velocity, are heading and groundspeed. The predicted heading takes the aircraft along the intended path and the groundspeed establishes the time to arrive at each checkpoint and the destination. Except for flights over water, dead reckoning is usually used with pilotage for cross-country flying. The heading and groundspeed as calculated is constantly monitored and corrected by pilotage as observed from checkpoints.

Radio Navigation
Advances in navigational radio receivers installed in aircraft, the development of aeronautical charts which show the exact location of ground transmitting stations and their frequencies, along with refined flight deck instrumentation make it possible for pilots to navigate with precision to almost any point desired. Although precision in navigation is obtainable through proper use of this equipment, beginning pilots should use this equipment to supplement navigation by visual reference to the ground (pilotage). This method provides the pilot with an effective safeguard against disorientation in the event of radio malfunction.

A detailed introduction to navigation can be found in the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, a foundational FAA Handbook for anyone learning to fly.

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