CFI Brief: Attitude Instrument Flying

The attitude of an aircraft is controlled by movement around its lateral (pitch), longitudinal (roll), and vertical (yaw) axes. In instrument flying, attitude requirements are determined by correctly interpreting the flight instruments. Instruments are grouped as to how they relate to control, function and aircraft performance. Attitude control is discussed in terms of pitch, bank, and power control. The three pitot-static instruments, the three gyroscopic instruments, and the tachometer or manifold pressure gauge are grouped into the following categories:

Pitch Instruments:
• Attitude Indicator
• Altimeter
• Airspeed Indicator
• Vertical Speed Indicator

Bank Instruments:
• Attitude Indicator
• Heading Indicator
• Turn Coordinator

Power Instruments:
• Manifold Pressure Gauge
• Tachometer
• Airspeed Indicator


When climbing and descending, it is necessary to begin level-off in enough time to avoid overshooting the desired altitude. The amount of lead to level-off from a climb varies with the rate of climb and pilot technique. If the aircraft is climbing at 1,000 feet per minute, it will continue to climb at a descending rate throughout the transition to level flight. An effective practice is to lead the altitude by 10% of the vertical speed (500 fpm would have a 50 foot lead; 1,000 fpm would have a 100 foot lead).

The amount of lead to level-off from a descent also depends upon the rate of descent and control technique. To level-off from a descent at descent airspeed, lead the desired altitude by approximately 10%. For level-off at an airspeed higher than descending airspeed, lead the level-off by approximately 25%.

When making initial pitch attitude corrections to maintain altitude during straight-and-level flight, the changes of attitude should be small and smoothly applied. As a rule-of-thumb for airplanes, use a half-bar-width correction for errors of less than 100 feet and a full-bar-width correction for errors in excess of 100 feet.

These are the types of attitude instrument flying questions you can expect to see on an instrument knowledge test. Using the information above you should be able to easily answer each of the three questions.

1. Which instruments, in addition to the attitude indicator, are pitch instruments?
A—Altimeter and airspeed only.
B—Altimeter and VSI only.
C—Altimeter, airspeed indicator, and vertical speed indicator.

2. Which instruments should be used to make a pitch correction when you have deviated from your assigned altitude?
A—Altimeter and VSI.
B—Manifold pressure gauge and VSI.
C—Attitude indicator, altimeter, and VSI.

3. For maintaining level flight at constant thrust, which instrument would be the least appropriate for determining the need for a pitch change?
C—Attitude indicator.


The answer to all three questions is C.

For additional sample FAA Knowledge Test questions pick up a copy of the ASA Test Prep or Prepware Software for Instrument Rating.

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CFI Brief: 300+ Drones (sUAS)!

If you watched the Super Bowl over the weekend you may have noticed the more than 300 drones during the halftime show. Yes those were really drones in the sky, however they were not actually flying during the halftime show. The entire drone sequence was filmed earlier in the week because of FAA flight-over-people restrictions and a 34.5 mile radius temporary flight restriction (TFR) that was placed over NRG stadium (where the Super Bowl was played). Regardless, it came across on TV as pretty spectacular.



You may be wondering: 300 drones? Does that mean 300 plus remote pilot operators flying these? Fortunately no, that was not these case, as I am sure you can imagine the confusion that would take place. These small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) were computer programed and all 300 operated by only a handful of people under special FAA exemption. Regardless, the aerial drone show and operation did require at least one Remote Pilot in Command (Remote PIC) to assume over-all authority.

Remote PIC: A person who holds a remote pilot certificate with an sUAS rating and has the final authority and responsibility for the operation and safety of an sUAS operation conducted under part 107.


If your dream or goal is to one day commercially operate 300+ drones (or even just one), the first step is to obtain your Remote Pilot Certificate. Below is an excerpt from the regulations chapter of the ASA UAS Remote Pilot Test Prep Book. This specific book will prepare you for the FAA Knowledge Exam required to earn a Remote Pilot Certificate with Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS).

Remote Pilot Privileges

The remote PIC is directly responsible for and is the final authority as to the operation of the sUAS conducted under 14 CFR Part 107. He or she must:

  • Be designated before each flight (but can change during the flight).
  • Ensure that the operation poses no undue hazard to people, aircraft, or property in the event of a loss of control of the aircraft for any reason.
  • Operate the small unmanned aircraft to ensure compliance with all applicable provisions and regulations.

Being able to safely operate the sUAS relies on, among other things, the physical and mental capabilities of the remote PIC, person manipulating the controls, visual observer (VO), and any other direct participant in the sUAS operation. While the person manipulating the controls of an sUAS and the VO are not required to obtain an airman medical certificate, they may not participate in the operation of an sUAS if they know or have reason to know that they have a physical or mental condition that could interfere with the safe operation of the sUAS.

A person may not operate or act as a remote PIC or VO in the operation of more than one unmanned aircraft (UA) at the same time. Additionally, Part 107 allows transfer of control of an sUAS between certificated remote pilots. Two or more certificated remote pilots transferring operational control (i.e., the remote PIC designation) to each other may do so only if they are both capable of maintaining visual line of sight (VLOS) of the UA and without loss of control (LOC). For example, one remote pilot may be designated the remote PIC at the beginning of the operation, and then at some point in the operation another remote pilot may take over as remote PIC by positively communicating that he or she is doing so. As the person responsible for the safe operation of the UAS, any remote pilot who will assume remote PIC duties should meet all of the requirements of Part 107, including awareness of factors that could affect the flight.

Supporting Crew Roles

A person who does not hold a remote pilot certificate or a remote pilot that that has not met the recurrent testing/training requirements of Part 107 may operate the flight controls of an sUAS under Part 107, as long as he or she is directly supervised by a remote PIC and the remote PIC has the ability to immediately take direct control of the sUAS. This ability is necessary to ensure that the remote PIC can quickly address any hazardous situation before an accident occurs.

The remote PIC can take over the flight controls by using a number of different methods. For example, the operation could involve a “buddy box” type of system that uses two control stations (CS): one for the person manipulating the flight controls, and one for the remote PIC that allows the remote PIC to override the other CS and immediately take direct control of the small UA. Another method involves the remote PIC standing close enough to the person manipulating the flight controls to be able to physically take over the CS from that person. A third method could employ the use of an automation system whereby the remote PIC could immediately engage that system to put the small UA in a pre-programmed “safe” mode (such as in a hover, in a holding pattern, or “return home”).

An autonomous operation is when the autopilot onboard the UA performs certain functions without direct pilot input. For example, the remote pilot can input a flight route into the CS, which then sends it to the autopilot that is installed in the small UA. During autonomous flight, flight control inputs are made by components onboard the aircraft, not from a CS. Thus, the remote PIC could lose the control link to the small UA and the aircraft would still continue to fly the programmed mission and/or return home to land.

When the UA is flying autonomously, the remote PIC also must have the ability to change routing or altitude, or to command the aircraft to land immediately. The ability to direct the small UA may be through manual manipulation of the flight controls or through commands using automation. The remote PIC must retain the ability to direct the small UA to ensure compliance with the requirements of Part 107. There are different methods a remote PIC may utilize to direct the small UA to ensure compliance with Part 107. For example, the remote PIC may transmit a command for the autonomous aircraft to climb, descend, land now, proceed to a new waypoint, enter an orbit pattern, or return to home. Any of these methods may be used to satisfactorily avoid a hazard or give right-of-way. The use of automation does not allow a person to simultaneously operate more than one small UA.

The role of visual observers (VOs) is to alert the rest of the crew about potential hazards during sUAS operations. The use of VOs is optional. However, the remote PIC may use one or more VOs to supplement situational awareness and VLOS responsibilities while the remote PIC is conducting other mission-critical duties (such as checking displays). The remote PIC must make certain that all VOs are:

  • Positioned in a location where they are able to see the sUAS continuously and sufficiently to maintain VLOS.
  • Possess a means to effectively communicate the sUAS position and the position of other aircraft to the remote PIC and person manipulating the controls.

If you are interested in operating drones for fun or commercial endeavors, you can use much of your manned-aircraft knowledge to help you prepare for the Remote Pilot FAA Knowledge Exam. You don’t need an endorsement to take this test and upon successful completion (score of 70% or better) you simply complete the online application form to receive your new Remote Pilot certificate. Learn more by checking these Remote Pilot resources:

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CFI Brief: Thunderstorms

An important aspect of becoming a private pilot is having an understanding of weather. Even more important is having a thorough understanding of weather that could pose a potential risk to flight. The goal of this understanding is so you can identify and avoid these hazardous conditions as part of your preflight preparations and inflight decision-making.

Thunderstorms are one such risk you should know and understand. Monday’s post went over this weather hazard in depth. Today, I will recap some of the more important information that the FAA Private Pilot Knowledge Exam tests.

Thunderstorms present many hazards to flying. Three conditions are necessary to the formation of a thunderstorm:

  1. Sufficient water vapor;
  2. An unstable lapse rate; and
  3. An initial upward boost (lifting).

The initial upward boost can be caused by heating from below, frontal lifting, or by mechanical lifting (wind blowing air upslope on a mountain).

There are three stages of a thunderstorm: the cumulus, mature, and dissipating stages. See the figure below.


The cumulus stage is characterized by continuous updrafts, and these updrafts create low-pressure areas. Thunderstorms reach their greatest intensity during the mature stage which is characterized by updrafts and downdrafts inside the cloud. Precipitation inside the cloud aids in the development of these downdrafts, and the start of rain from the base of the cloud signals the beginning of the mature stage. The precipitation that evaporates before it reaches the ground is called virga. The dissipating stage of a thunderstorm is characterized predominantly by downdrafts.

Lightning is always associated with a thunderstorm.

Hail is formed inside thunderstorms by the constant freezing, melting, and refreezing of water as it is carried about by the up- and downdrafts.

A pilot should always expect the hazardous and invisible atmospheric phenomena called wind shear turbulence when operating anywhere near a thunderstorm (within 20 NM).

Thunderstorms that generally produce the most intense hazard to aircraft are called squall-line thunderstorms. These non-frontal, narrow bands of thunderstorms often develop ahead of a cold front. Embedded thunderstorms are those that are obscured by massive cloud layers and cannot be seen.

Using the knowledge learned in this week’s weather posts on Thunderstorms, see if you can accurately answer the four sample knowledge test questions below.

1. What conditions are necessary for the formation of thunderstorms?
A—High humidity, lifting force, and unstable conditions.
B—High humidity, high temperature, and cumulus clouds.
C—Lifting force, moist air, and extensive cloud cover.

2. Thunderstorms reach their greatest intensity during the
A—mature stage.
B—downdraft stage.
C—cumulus stage.

3. Thunderstorms which generally produce the most intense hazard to aircraft are
A—squall line thunderstorms.
B—steady-state thunderstorms.
C—warm front thunderstorms.

4. A nonfrontal, narrow band of active thunderstorms that often develop ahead of a cold front is known as a
A—prefrontal system.
B—squall line.
C—dry line.

Answers and Explanations. 

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Weather: Operational Factors of Thunderstorms and Microbursts

Icing, reduced visibility from fog or particulates, turbulence, windshear, thunderstorms, and microbursts are all types of weather that pose significant operational challenges. We’ve already discussed the weather theory behind thunderstorms and other related weather events, so today we’ll focus on the things to keep in mind should you ever find yourself operating in the vicinity of such an event. Today’s advice comes from the latest edition of The Pilot’s Manual: Ground School (PM-2C).

Do not land or take off if there is an active thunderstorm approaching the airport. Sudden wind changes, severe turbulence and windshear are possible. Avoid thunderstorms in flight by at least 10 miles and, in severe situations, by 20 miles. If you are passing downwind of them, you should perhaps increase this distance even further. Use your weather radar, if available, otherwise detour visually, making use of heavy rain showers, towering clouds, lightning and roll clouds as indicators of where mature storm cells are likely to be.

Remember that embedded thunderstorms may be obscured from sight by the general cloud layers, so avoid areas where embedded cumulonimbus clouds are forecast, unless you are equipped with serviceable thunderstorm detection equipment. Also avoid areas with six-tenths or more of thunderstorm coverage. Any thunderstorm with tops of 35,000 feet or higher should be regarded as extremely hazardous. When flying in the area of thunderstorms:

  • fasten the seat belts and shoulder harnesses, and secure any loose objects;
  • turn up the cockpit lights at night to lessen the danger of temporary blindness from nearby lightning; and
  • do not fly under thunderstorms, because you may experience severe turbulence, strong downdrafts, microbursts, heavy hail and windshear.

If you cannot avoid flying through or near a thunderstorm:

  • plan a course that will take minimum time through the hazardous area;
  • establish a power setting for the recommended turbulence penetration speed;
  • turn on pitot heat (to avoid loss of airspeed indication), carburetor heat or jet-engine anti-ice (to avoid power loss) and other anti-icing equipment (to avoid airframe icing). The most critical icing band within a cloud is from the freezing level (0°C) up to an altitude where the temperature is about –20°C, which is the temperature band where supercooled water drops are most likely. However, supercooled water drops have been observed in thunderstorms down to much lower temperatures, possibly as low as –40°C;
  • maintain your heading by keeping the wings level with ailerons, and do not make sudden changes in pitch attitude with the elevators because sudden changes in pitch attitude may overstress the airplane structure. It may be advisable to disconnect the autopilot, or at least its altitude-hold and speed-hold functions, to avoid the autopilot making sudden changes in pitch attitude (causing additional structural stress) and sudden changes in power (increasing the risk of a power loss);
  • avoid turns if possible, as this increases g-loading—continue heading straight ahead and avoid turning back once you have penetrated the storm, as a turn will increase stress on the airframe and also increase the stall speed. Maintaining the heading will most likely get you through the storm in minimum time;
  • allow the airspeed to fluctuate in the turbulence, avoiding rapid power changes;
  • monitor the flight and engine instruments, avoiding looking out of the cockpit too much to reduce the risk of temporary blindness from lightning; and
  • use thunderstorm detection equipment. If the equipment is weather radar, manage the antenna tilt effectively so as not to over-scan or under-scan thunderstorm activity at other levels.

You may sometimes experience St. Elmo’s fire, a spectacular static electricity discharge across the windshield, or from sharp edges or points on the airplane’s structure, especially at night. St. Elmo’s fire is not dangerous.

An aircraft entering the area of a microburst within 1,000–3,000 feet AGL will first encounter an increasing headwind. The aircraft will initially maintain its inertial speed over the ground (its groundspeed) and the increased headwind will cause it to have a higher airspeed, therefore increased performance. It will tend to fly above the original flight path. Then the aircraft will enter the downburst shaft and will be carried earthward in the strong downward air current—a dramatic loss of performance.

As the aircraft flies out of the downburst shaft (hopefully), the situation is not greatly improved. It will fly into an area of increasing tailwind. As the aircraft will tend to maintain its inertial groundspeed initially, the increasing tailwind will cause the airspeed to decay—a reduced airspeed, resulting in reduced aircraft performance.

Even with the addition of full power and suitable adjustments to pitch attitude by the pilot, the airplane may struggle to maintain a safe airspeed and flight path. Traversing some small, strong microbursts safely may be beyond the performance capabilities of any aircraft. The following figures depict the likely effect on an aircraft encountering a microburst under a thunderstorm on approach and after takeoff.
The dangers of a microburst on approach to land.
The dangers of a microburst after takeoff.

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CFI Brief: Breathing and Oxygen

Did you know the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere is a constant 21% regardless of altitude? Well it’s true! So you may be wondering why then that it gets harder to breath as you increase in altitude. The simple answer is quantity and pressure. As you increase in altitude, the quantity and pressure of atmosphere decreases.

The atmosphere around earth is comprised of gases: 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% various other gases like argon and carbon dioxide. We commonly refer to all these gases that make up the atmosphere as air, fresh crisp air! Out of all these gases, oxygen is the most important to the human body and is vital to all living things. Without the correct amount of oxygen in the human body a person will become sluggish, both physically and mentally, and eventually lose consciousness. We refer to this as hypoxia.


So why is it hard to breathe the higher we go? As altitude increases, the total quantity of each gas reduces; however, the proportions remain the same. This is true up to about 50 miles above the surface. You may have learned in you flight training that as altitude increases, pressure decreases. You can see this by doing a simple experiment with a bag of chips. If you were to bring a bag of chips with you over a mountain pass or on an airplane you will notice that as you go up the bag begins to expand. The bag is not expanding because it is filling up with more air but rather because there is less pressure allowing the air already inside the sealed bag to expand, and yes it will eventually pop if you go high enough. The table below depicts the pressure per square inch at particular altitudes.


The human body takes in oxygen through the lungs, which in turn saturates the blood. From the table above you can see that at sea level (0 feet) the amount of pressure is 3.08 pounds per square inch (psi). This corresponds directly to the pressure within our lungs and is sufficient enough to saturate the blood allowing us to function normally. As we climb, the pressure within the lungs will eventually reach a point that no longer allows for proper saturation of oxygen into the blood stream leading to hypoxia.

For most people, altitudes below 7,000 feet MSL will provide sufficient oxygen quantities and pressure for sufficient saturation. Once we get above 7,000 feet MSL, quantities and pressure become increasingly insufficient and at 10,000 feet MSL oxygen saturation of the blood is at 90% normal. The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) recommends using supplemental oxygen above 5,000 feet when flying at night. This recommendation is because decreased oxygen levels will tend to affect your night vision at a greater capacity then vision during daylight hours.

The FAA has established strict regulations for the requirement of supplemental oxygen. As long as you remain healthy and use supplemental oxygen as mandated in 14 CFR Part 91 you should have nothing to worry about.

If you have some free time, you can Google or YouTube oxygen deprivation chambers and get an idea of what happens to the body when deprived of oxygen. You may find some comical videos but in reality it is extremely serious and sometimes a fatal situation for pilots.

Quick recap on why it becomes harder to breath as altitude increases:

  1. Quantity of oxygen in the atmosphere decreases with altitude.
  2. Pressure decreases as altitude increases, making it harder for oxygen to be delivered into the bloodstream.
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Aircraft Systems: Pressurized Aircraft

Aircraft are flown at high altitudes for two reasons. First, an aircraft flown at high altitude consumes less fuel for a given airspeed than it does for the same speed at a lower altitude because the aircraft is more efficient at a high altitude. Second, bad weather and turbulence may be avoided by flying in relatively smooth air above the storms. Many modern aircraft are being designed to operate at high altitudes, taking advantage of that environment. In order to fly at higher altitudes, the aircraft must be pressurized or suitable supplemental oxygen must be provided for each occupant. It is important for pilots who fly these aircraft to be familiar with the basic operating principles. Today, we’ll discuss aircraft pressurization with excerpts from the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.

In a typical pressurization system, the cabin, flight compartment, and baggage compartments are incorporated into a sealed unit capable of containing air under a pressure higher than outside atmospheric pressure. On aircraft powered by turbine engines, bleed air from the engine compressor section is used to pressurize the cabin. Superchargers may be used on older model turbine-powered aircraft to pump air into the sealed fuselage. Piston-powered aircraft may use air supplied from each engine turbocharger through a sonic venturi (flow limiter). Air is released from the fuselage by a device called an outflow valve. By regulating the air exit, the outflow valve allows for a constant inflow of air to the pressurized area.
A cabin pressurization system typically maintains a cabin pressure altitude of approximately 8,000 feet at the maximum designed cruising altitude of an aircraft. This prevents rapid changes of cabin altitude that may be uncomfortable or cause injury to passengers and crew. In addition, the pressurization system permits a reasonably fast exchange of air from the inside to the outside of the cabin. This is necessary to eliminate odors and to remove stale air.
Pressurization of the aircraft cabin is necessary in order to protect occupants against hypoxia. Within a pressurized cabin, occupants can be transported comfortably and safely for long periods of time, particularly if the cabin altitude is maintained at 8,000 feet or below, where the use of oxygen equipment is not required. The flight crew in this type of aircraft must be aware of the danger of accidental loss of cabin pressure and be prepared to deal with such an emergency whenever it occurs.

The following terms will aid in understanding the operating principles of pressurization and air conditioning systems:

  • Aircraft altitude—the actual height above sea level at which the aircraft is flying.
  • Ambient temperature—the temperature in the area immediately surrounding the aircraft.
  • Ambient pressure—the pressure in the area immediately surrounding the aircraft.
  • Cabin altitude—cabin pressure in terms of equivalent altitude above sea level.
  • Differential pressure—the difference in pressure between the pressure acting on one side of a wall and the pressure acting on the other side of the wall. In aircraft air-conditioning and pressurizing systems, it is the difference between cabin pressure and atmospheric pressure.

The cabin pressure control system provides cabin pressure regulation, pressure relief, vacuum relief, and the means for selecting the desired cabin altitude in the isobaric and differential range. In addition, dumping of the cabin pressure is a function of the pressure control system. A cabin pressure regulator, an outflow valve, and a safety valve are used to accomplish these functions.

The cabin pressure regulator controls cabin pressure to a selected value in the isobaric range and limits cabin pressure to a preset differential value in the differential range. When an aircraft reaches the altitude at which the difference between the pressure inside and outside the cabin is equal to the highest differential pressure for which the fuselage structure is designed, a further increase in aircraft altitude will result in a corresponding increase in cabin altitude. Differential control is used to prevent the maximum differential pressure, for which the fuselage was designed, from being exceeded. This differential pressure is determined by the structural strength of the cabin and often by the relationship of the cabin size to the probable areas of rupture, such as window areas and doors.

The cabin air pressure safety valve is a combination pressure relief, vacuum relief, and dump valve. The pressure relief valve prevents cabin pressure from exceeding a predetermined differential pressure above ambient pressure. The vacuum relief prevents ambient pressure from exceeding cabin pressure by allowing external air to enter the cabin when ambient pressure exceeds cabin pressure. The flight deck control switch actuates the dump valve. When this switch is positioned to ram, a solenoid valve opens, causing the valve to dump cabin air into the atmosphere.

The degree of pressurization and the operating altitude of the aircraft are limited by several critical design factors. Primarily, the fuselage is designed to withstand a particular maximum cabin differential pressure.

Several instruments are used in conjunction with the pressurization controller. The cabin differential pressure gauge indicates the difference between inside and outside pressure. This gauge should be monitored to assure that the cabin does not exceed the maximum allowable differential pressure. A cabin altimeter is also provided as a check on the performance of the system. In some cases, these two instruments are combined into one. A third instrument indicates the cabin rate of climb or descent. A cabin rate-of-climb instrument and a cabin altimeter are illustrated in the figure below.

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CFI Brief: Minimum Equipment – CFR §91.205

Tomatoflames, gooseacat, flaps, apes, grabcard, decarat… My spellcheck is going wild right now with red squiggly lines. Spellcheck settle down, I understand these are not words nor did I misspell them. The aforementioned are actually aviation mnemonics to help pilots remember the minimum instruments and equipment required for flight.




As the pilot-in-command, it will be your pre-flight responsibility to determine that the aircraft you intend to fly contains all the required instruments and equipment for the type of operation you will be conducting. Think of this as a list of stuff the airplane needs to have installed and working for the airplane to be legal to fly.

You can break the type of operation down into three main categories: visual flight rules (VFR), VFR at night, and instrument flight rules (IFR)—each containing its own list of instruments and equipment and each list building on the other. For example, if you were to conduct an IFR flight, you would require all the minimum instruments and equipment for VFR, VFR at night, and IFR. You can find this outlined in 14 CFR §91.205, available in the ASA FAR/AIM.

To help remember the minimum list of instruments and equipment for VFR day operations, I like to use the mnemonic TOMATOFLAMES.

Oil pressure
Manifold pressure
Temperature gauge (for each liquid cooled engine)
Oil temperature (for each air cooled engine)
Fuel gauge
Landing gear position indictor (for retractable gear aircraft)
Airspeed indicator
Magnetic compass

If you intend to conduct VFR flight at night you will need TOMATOFLAMES as well as remember FLAPS.

Fuses (spares) or circuit breakers
Landing light (if for hire)
Anticollision lights
Position lights
Source of electricity

Lastly, if you are an instrument-rated pilot and conducting a flight under IFR you need to have TOMATOFLAMES, FLAPS, and GRABCARD for your list of required instruments and equipment.

Attitude indicator
Adjustable altimeter
Rate of turn indicator
Directional gyro

Now remember these are just basic mnemonics to help jog your memory of what will be required. Some of the items on the above lists include additional information and it’s best to be completely familiar with 14 CFR §91.205 which describes in detail the minimum instruments and equipment for each type of operation.

You may also note some additional types of operations in 14 CFR §91.205, like flight above FL240, category II and III operations, and operations conducted using night vision goggles. These are not so important to you at this point in your training but understand that they are there.

GOOSEACAT (VFR), APES (VFR at night), and DECARAT (IFR) are also commonly used mnemonics you might hear.

To help study, write down each mnemonic vertically on a piece of paper and see if you can fill in what each and every letter stands for.

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IFR: Preparation for Flight

Careful planning for a flight on instruments is important. Besides satisfying normal IFR requirements, an instrument pilot flying in clouds or at night must be conscious of high terrain or obstacles that cannot be seen, and ensure that a safe altitude above them is maintained. You must be aware of the danger of icing (both airframe and carburetor icing) and take appropriate precautions; you must have an alternate airport in mind in case a diversion becomes necessary; and you must have sufficient fuel to get there, and still have a safety margin remaining in the tanks on arrival.

The best time to organize these things is prior to flight.

Today, we’ll discuss preflight considerations for an IFR flight with excerpts from our textbook The Pilot’s Manual: Instrument Flying (PM-3C).

Preflight considerations, which are all logical, include:

  • Am I properly qualified (instrument rated and qualified for this airplane, instrument current)?
  • Am I medically fit today?
  • Is the airplane suitably equipped (serviceable radios, anti-icing equipment, lighting, etc.)?
  • What is the weather? Are changes expected?
  • Is the departure airport suitable for my operation?
  • Is the destination airport suitable for my operation?
  • Is an alternate airport required (or more than one)?
  • What routes are suitable in terms of terrain, weather and available en route NAVAIDs?
  • Are there any relevant NOTAMs (FDC, Class I, Class II)?
  • Are there any Terminal Flight Restrictions (TFRs) for my planned route of flight?
  • Prepare charts (DPs, en route charts, instrument approach charts, VFR sectionals, etc.).
  • Compile a flight log with courses, distances, times, MEAs and cruising altitudes calculated.
  • Compile a fuel log, with adequate fuel reserves.
  • File an IFR flight plan.
  • Prepare the airplane.
  • Organize the cockpit for flight—select charts, ensure that a flashlight is kept handy for night flying, etc.
  • Brief passengers.

To operate in controlled airspace (Classes A–E) under IFR, you are required to:

  • file an IFR flight plan (usually done in person or by telephone to FSS or ATC on the ground at least 30 minutes prior to the flight); and
  • obtain an air traffic clearance (usually requested by radio immediately prior to departure or entering controlled airspace).

The 30 minutes is required to allow time for ATC to process your flight data and (hopefully) avoid delays to your flight. The preferred methods of filing a flight plan are: in person by telephone or by DUATs — by radio is permitted, but discouraged because of the time it takes. Closing a flight plan by radio is typical because it takes just a few seconds.

Closing an IFR flight plan is automatically done by ATC at tower-controlled airports after landing. At an airport without an active control tower, you must close the flight plan with FSS or ATC by radio or telephone. Do this within 30 minutes of the latest advised ETA, otherwise search and rescue (SAR) procedures will begin.

  • An IFR flight plan is required in both IMC and VMC in Class A airspace, and in IMC conditions in Classes B, C, D and E (controlled) airspace (and also in VMC, if you want to practice);
  • An IFR flight plan is not required in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace.

To assist you in completing the flight plan and performing the flight, you should compile a navigation log, calculating time intervals and fuel requirements. A typical navigation log is shown in figure 1, and a typical flight plan form is shown in figure 2.
Figure 1. Click for full-size.
Figure 2. Click for full-size.

Important navigation log items to be inserted on the flight plan include:

  • the planned route;
  • the initial cruise altitude or flight level (later altitudes or flight levels can be requested in flight);
  • the estimated time en route (ETE), in hours and minutes, from departure to touchdown at the first point of intended landing;
  • the total usable fuel on board at takeoff, converted to endurance in hours and minutes.

If you wish to fly part of the route according to IFR procedures and part according to VFR procedures, you can file a composite flight plan, signified by you checking both IFR and VFR in the Item 1 box on the flight plan form. You should also indicate the clearance limit fix in the flight-planned route box, to show where you plan to transition from IFR to VFR.

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CFI Brief: BasicMed

Hot off the presses from the FAA, Tuesday January 10th 2017 :

FAA Issues General Aviation Medical Rule

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today issued a final rule (PDF) that allows general aviation pilots to fly without holding an FAA medical certificate as long as they meet certain requirements outlined in Congressional legislation.

“The United States has the world’s most robust general aviation community, and we’re committed to continuing to make it safer and more efficient to become a private pilot,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “The BasicMed rule will keep our pilots safe but will simplify our regulations and keep general aviation flying affordable.”

Until now, the FAA has required private, recreational, and student pilots, as well as flight instructors, to meet the requirements of and hold a third class medical certificate. They are required to complete an online application and undergo a physical examination with an FAA-designated Aviation Medical Examiner. A medical certificate is valid for five years for pilots under age 40 and two years for pilots age 40 and over.

Beginning on May 1, pilots may take advantage of the regulatory relief in the BasicMed rule or opt to continue to use their FAA medical certificate. Under BasicMed, a pilot will be required to complete a medical education course, undergo a medical examination every four years, and comply with aircraft and operating restrictions.  For example, pilots using BasicMed cannot operate an aircraft with more than six people onboard and the aircraft must not weigh more than 6,000 pounds. A pilot flying under the BasicMed rule must:

  • possess a valid driver’s license;
  • have held a medical certificate at any time after July 15, 2006;
  • have not had the most recently held medical certificate revoked, suspended, or withdrawn;
  • have not had the most recent application for airman medical certification completed and denied;
  • have taken a medical education course within the past 24 calendar months;
  • have completed a comprehensive medical examination with a physician within the past 48 months;
  • be under the care of a physician for certain medical conditions;
  • have been found eligible for special issuance of a medical certificate for certain specified mental health, neurological, or cardiovascular conditions, when applicable;
  • consent to a National Driver Register check;
  • fly only certain small aircraft, at a limited altitude and speed, and only within the United States; and
  • not fly for compensation or hire.

The July 15, 2016 FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 directed the FAA to issue or revise regulations by January 10, 2017, to ensure that an individual may operate as pilot in command of a certain aircraft without having to undergo the medical certification process under Part 67 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, if the pilot and aircraft meet certain prescribed conditions outlined in the Act.

The FAA and the general aviation community have a strong track record of collaboration. The agency is working with nonprofit organizations and the not-for-profit general aviation stakeholder groups to develop online medical courses that meet the requirements of the Act.


The final rule and regulatory changes were published in Wednesdays January 11th, 2017 Federal Register and is available for public viewing here. ASA will be issuing updates to our 2017 FAR/AIM series shortly to include these regulatory changes. To be notified immediately upon any and all updates visit this link:

For additional information the FAA has issued Advisory Circular 68-1, Alternative Pilot Physical Examination and Education Requirements.


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Human Factors: The Blind Spot

Of all the senses, vision is the most important for safe flight. Most of the things perceived while flying are visual or heavily supplemented by vision. As remarkable and vital as it is, vision is subject to limitations, such as illusions and blind spots. The more a pilot understands about the eyes and how they function, the easier it is to use vision effectively and compensate for potential problems. Today’s post is excerpted from the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.

The area where the optic nerve connects to the retina in the back of each eye is known as the optic disk. There is a total absence of cones and rods in this area, and consequently, each eye is completely blind in this spot. As a result, it is referred to as the blind spot that everyone has in each eye. Under normal binocular vision conditions (both eyes are used together), this is not a problem because an object cannot be in the blind spot of both eyes at the same time. On the other hand, where the field of vision of one eye is obstructed by an object (windshield divider or another aircraft), a visual target could fall in the blind spot of the other eye and remain undetected.


The figure below provides a dramatic example of the eye’s blind spot.

  1. Print the figure below. Hold this page at an arm’s length.
  2. Completely cover your left eye (without closing or pressing on it) using your hand or other flat object.
  3. With your right eye, stare directly at the airplane on the left side of the picture page.In your periphery, you will notice the black X on the right side of the picture.
  4. Slowly move the page closer to you while continuing to stare at the airplane.
  5. When the page is about 16–18 inches from you, the black X should disappear completely because it has been imaged onto the blind spot of your right eye. (Resist the temptation to move your right eye while the black X is gone or else it reappears. Keep staring at the airplane.)
  6. As you continue to look at the airplane, keep moving the page closer to you a few more inches, and the black X will come back into view.
  7. There is an interval where you are able to move the page a few inches backward and forward, and the black X will be gone. This demonstrates to you the extent of your blind spot.
  8. You can try the same thing again, except this time with your right eye covered stare at the black X with your left eye. Move the page in closer and the airplane will disappear.


Another way to check your blind spot is to do a similar test outside at night when there is a full moon. Cover your left eye, looking at the full moon with your right eye. Gradually move your right eye to the left (and maybe slightly up or down). Before long, all you will be able to see is the large halo around the full moon; the entire moon itself will seem to have disappeared.

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