Weather: Wind Shear

Wind shear is a sudden, drastic change in wind speed and/or direction over a very small area. Wind shear can subject an aircraft to violent updrafts and downdrafts, as well as abrupt changes to the horizontal movement of the aircraft. Today, we’ll go over the basics of this common weather phenomena, with excerpts from the new edition of the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.

While wind shear can occur at any altitude, low-level wind shear is especially hazardous due to the proximity of an aircraft to the ground. Low-level wind shear is commonly associated with passing frontal systems, thunderstorms, temperature inversions, and strong upper level winds (greater than 25 knots).

Wind shear is dangerous to an aircraft. It can rapidly change the performance of the aircraft and disrupt the normal flight attitude. For example, a tailwind quickly changing to a headwind causes an increase in airspeed and performance. Conversely, a headwind changing to a tailwind causes a decrease in airspeed and performance. In either case, a pilot must be prepared to react immediately to these changes to maintain control of the aircraft.

The most severe type of low-level wind shear, a microburst, is associated with convective precipitation into dry air at cloud base. Microburst activity may be indicated by an intense rain shaft at the surface but virga at cloud base and a ring of blowing dust is often the only visible clue. A typical microburst has a horizontal diameter of 1–2 miles and a nominal depth of 1,000 feet. The lifespan of a microburst is about 5–15 minutes during which time it can produce downdrafts of up to 6,000 feet per minute (fpm) and headwind losses of 30–90 knots, seriously degrading performance. It can also produce strong turbulence and hazardous wind direction changes. Consider the figure below: During an inadvertent takeoff into a microburst, the plane may first experiences a performance-increasing headwind (1), followed by performance-decreasing downdrafts (2), followed by a rapidly increasing tailwind (3). This can result in terrain impact or flight dangerously close to the ground (4). An encounter during approach involves the same sequence of wind changes and could force the plane to the ground short of the runway.


The FAA has made a substantial investment in microburst accident prevention. The totally redesigned LLWAS-NE, the TDWR, and the ASR-9 WSP are skillful microburst alerting systems installed at major airports. These three systems were extensively evaluated over a 3-year period. Each was seen to issue very few false alerts and to detect microbursts well above the 90 percent detection requirement established by Congress. Many flights involve airports that lack microburst alert equipment, so the FAA has also prepared wind shear training material: Advisory Circular (AC) 00-54, FAA Pilot Wind Shear Guide. Included is information on how to recognize the risk of a microburst encounter, how to avoid an encounter, and the best flight strategy for successful escape should an encounter occur.

It is important to remember that wind shear can affect any flight and any pilot at any altitude. While wind shear may be reported, it often remains undetected and is a silent danger to aviation. Always be alert to the possibility of wind shear, especially when flying in and around thunderstorms and frontal systems.

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CFI Brief: Earning a Remote Pilot Certificate (Drone)

Drone operation is one of the most popular topics in the world of aviation right now. It has taken off over the last few years and is growing at an astounding pace. The FAA has been playing catch up with regulating this growing Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) industry. The recently released Part 107 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which details the rules and regulations governing sUAS. Most notable is the addition of the Remote Pilot Certificate. Beginning August 29, 2016, these rules and regulations will go into effect essentially requiring anybody intending to use sUAS for commercial operations to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate. I have received a lot of questions from individuals lately wondering the process of obtaining a remote pilot certificate and whether or not they actually will need one, because remember it’s only required for commercial operators. I have put together the below flow chart which will help you determine whether or not you need a Remote Pilot Certificate, and if you do how you may obtain one.

Drone Chart

If you went down the left side of this flowchart you are in good shape. Any individual operating a sUAS (drone) just for fun will not be required to hold a Remote Pilot Certificate. However, you are still required to adhere to certain safety guidelines as outlined in the chart above.

Moving down the right side of the flow chart you have deemed yourself to be a commercial operator of an sUAS. You have one of two paths to take at this point: are you a first-time pilot or an existing pilot? An existing pilot means you already have a pilot certificate issued under Title 14 CFR Part 61 that is something other than a student pilot certificate.

FIRST TIME PILOTS: You are required to take the FAA Aeronautical Knowledge Exam for sUAS. This is a 60 questions test in which you will have two hours to complete and must pass with a score of 70% or higher. The test will be available nationwide beginning August 29th 2016. 14 CFR §107.73(a) outlines the knowledge areas in which you will be tested on.

§107.73(a) An initial aeronautical knowledge test covers the following areas of knowledge:
(1) Applicable regulations relating to small unmanned aircraft system rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation;
(2) Airspace classification, operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small unmanned aircraft operation;
(3) Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small unmanned aircraft performance;
(4) Small unmanned aircraft loading;
(5) Emergency procedures;
(6) Crew resource management;
(7) Radio communication procedures;
(8) Determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft;
(9) Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol;
(10) Aeronautical decision-making and judgment;
(11) Airport operations; and
(12) Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures.

To find your local testing center visit or both official FAA testing providers. I encourage you to sign up early as slots to take the exam are filling up quickly. For more on how to study, keep reading.

EXISTING PILOTS: You actually have two options. One, you can take the above outlined sUAS knowledge test, or you may simply take the FREE online training course (ALC-451) at The online training course takes roughly 2-3 hours and concludes with a short quiz. Since you are already a certificated pilot, the training course covers more specific information as it relates to sUAS operations. 14 CFR §107.74(a) outlines this knowledge content which will be covered in the course.

§107.74 (a) An initial training course covers the following areas of knowledge:
(1) Applicable regulations relating to small unmanned aircraft system rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation;
(2) Effects of weather on small unmanned aircraft performance;
(3) Small unmanned aircraft loading;
(4) Emergency procedures;
(5) Crew resource management;
(6) Determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft; and
(7) Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures.

Once you have completed either the FAA knowledge exam or the free online training course you will need to complete an FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application (Form 8710-13) to apply for your remote pilot certificate. Beginning early September, you will be able to complete this process through IACRA:

Study. Not a word everyone likes to hear, but both the online course and knowledge test will require some in depth studying from the applicant. Lucky for you ASA has got you covered with Remote Pilot (sUAS) Test Prep Material. Our Test Prep material is designed to get you ready for the FAA Knowledge Exam as well as the free online course.


For a complete description and in-depth step by step process on earning a Remote Pilot Certificate check out the FAA webpage Becoming a UAS Pilot.

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Procedures and Airport Operations: Wake Turbulence

You’re probably familiar with wake trailing boats. Larger vessels generate more wake, and it’s very easy to see when you’re in the water. Airplanes generate wake too, and the wake trailing larger airplanes is something to be aware of. Today, we’ll introduce wake turbulence with words and pictures from the new edition of the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25B).

All aircraft generate wake turbulence during flight. This disturbance is caused by a pair of counter-rotating vortices trailing from the wingtips. The vortices from larger aircraft pose problems to encountering aircraft. The wake of these aircraft can impose rolling moments exceeding the rollcontrol authority of the encountering aircraft. Also, the turbulence generated within the vortices can damage aircraft components and equipment if encountered at close range. For this reason, a pilot must envision the location of the vortex wake and adjust the flight path accordingly.

Vortex Generation
Lift is generated by the creation of a pressure differential over the wing surface. The lowest pressure occurs over the upper wing surface and the highest pressure under the wing. This pressure differential triggers the rollup of the airflow aft of the wing resulting in swirling air masses trailing downstream of the wingtips. After the rollup is completed, the wake consists of two counter rotating cylindrical vortices. Most of the energy lies within a few feet of the center of each vortex.
Terminal Area
Wake turbulence has historically been thought of as only a function of aircraft weight, but recent research considers additional parameters, such as speed, aspects of the wing, wake decay rates, and aircraft resistance to wake, just to name a few. The vortex characteristics of any aircraft will be changed with the extension of flaps or other wing configuration devices, as well as changing speed. However, as the basic factors are weight and speed, the vortex strength increases proportionately with an increase in aircraft operating weight or decrease in aircraft speed. The greatest vortex strength occurs when the generating aircraft is heavy, slow, and clean, since the turbulence from a “dirty” aircraft configuration hastens wake decay.

En Route
En route wake turbulence events have been influenced by changes to the aircraft fleet mix that have more “Super” (A380) and “Heavy” (B-747, B-777, A340, etc.) aircraft operating in the NAS. There have been wake turbulence events in excess of 30NM and 2000 feet lower than the wake generating aircraft. Air density is also a factor in wake strength. Even though the speeds are higher in cruise at high altitude, the reduced air density may result in wake strength comparable to that in the terminal area. In addition, for a given separation distance, the higher speeds in cruise result in less time for the wake to decay before being encountered by a trailing aircraft.

Vortex Behavior
Trailing vortices have certain behavioral characteristics that can help a pilot visualize the wake location and take avoidance precautions. Vortices are generated from the moment an aircraft leaves the ground (until it touches down), since trailing vortices are the byproduct of wing lift. The vortex circulation is outward, upward, and around the wingtips when viewed from either ahead or behind the aircraft. Tests with large  aircraft have shown that vortices remain spaced a bit less than a wingspan apart, drifting with the wind, at altitudes greater than a wingspan from the ground. Tests have also shown that the vortices sink at a rate of several hundred feet per minute, slowing their descent and diminishing in strength with time and distance behind the generating aircraft.
When the vortices of larger aircraft sink close to the ground (within 100 to 200 feet), they tend to move laterally over the ground at a speed of 2–3 knots. A crosswind decreases the lateral movement of the upwind vortex and increases the movement of the downwind vortex. A light quartering tailwind presents the worst case scenario as the wake vortices could be all present along a significant portion of the final approach and extended centerline and not just in the touchdown zone as typically expected.

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CFI Brief: Angle of Attack as it relates to the Lift Coefficient

Monday’s post contained an excerpt from the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge discussing newly outlined content in regards to Angle of Attack indicators. What I hope you were able to gain from reading the earlier post was the correlation between Angle of Attack and a stall. The Dictionary of Aeronautical Terms defines angle of attack as the acute angle formed between the chord line of an airfoil and the direction of the air that strikes the airfoil. The image below will help you to visualize this.

Wing Cross-Section

Wing Cross-Section


As the angle of attack is increased (to increase lift), the air will no longer flow smoothly over the upper wing surface but instead will become turbulent or “burble” near the trailing edge. A further increase in the angle of attack will cause the turbulent area to expand forward. At an angle of attack of approximately 18° to 20° (for most wings in training aircraft), turbulence over the upper wing surface decreases lift so drastically that flight cannot be sustained and the wing stalls. This angle is known as the critical angle of attack and is better defined in the Dictionary of Aeronautical Terms as the highest angle of attack at which air passes over an airfoil in a smooth flow. At angles of attack greater than the critical angle, the air burbles, or flows in a disturbed pattern, and lift is lost. The critical angle of attack is sometimes called the stalling angle of attack.


An airplane can stall at any airspeed or any attitude, but will always stall at the same critical angle of attack. The indicated airspeed at which a given airplane will stall in a particular configuration, however, will remain the same regardless of altitude. Because air density decreases with an increase in altitude, the airplane has to be flown faster at higher altitudes to cause the same pressure difference between pitot impact pressure and static pressure.

An additional term you may hear as you progress through the more advanced stages of training is the lift coefficient. This is a dimensionless number used to solve a lift equation. For an aircraft to maintain level flight it must counteract weight and maintain lift. Based on factors like weight, wing area, and speed you can use the lift equation to solve for the lift coefficient. Without actually doing the math and getting too deep into this stuff let’s say a 2,300 lb. aircraft with a 160 sq. ft. wing area is cruising along at 80 knots. Using these values I can solve the lift equation to determine a lift coefficient of 0.60. Looking at the chart below I can determine the wing will be required to maintain an angle of attack of approximately 2° for level flight. Now let’s say everything remains the same except I pull the throttle back and slow to 60 knots. Again plugging in all the same values but now with a velocity of 60 knots I can determine a lift coefficient of 1.0. You can see from looking at the chart my angle of attack has tripled to 6°. As I continue to slow, this angle with become greater and greater. The angle at which I reach my maximum lift coefficient is also known as my critical angle of attack, the point at which the aircraft will begin to stall. This is shown on the chart by a downward curve; weight has now become greater than lift.

I want to point out again though that no matter the speed, weight, or even center of gravity of the aircraft the wing will always stall at the same critical angle of attack. There will always be that specific angle at which the wing is no longer able to produce lift due to the turbulent flow of air over the upper chamber of the wing. To learn more about the lift coefficient and other aerodynamic principals I recommend you pick up a copy of Aerodynamics for Aviators, Second Edition.

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Flight Instruments: Angle of Attack Indicators

Today’s post on flight instruments comes from the brand-new Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25B)!

The purpose of an angle of attack (AOA) indicator is to give the pilot better situational awareness pertaining to the aerodynamic health of the airfoil. This can also be referred to as stall margin awareness. More simply explained, it is the margin that exists between the current AOA that the airfoil is operating at, and the AOA at which the airfoil will stall (critical AOA).

Speed by itself is not a reliable parameter to avoid a stall. An airplane can stall at any speed. Angle of attack is a better parameter to use to avoid a stall. For a given configuration, the airplane always stalls at the same AOA, referred to as the critical AOA. This critical AOA does not change with:

  • Weight
  • Bank Angle
  • Temperature
  • Density Altitude
  • Center of Gravity

An AOA indicator can have several benefits when installed in General Aviation aircraft, not the least of which is increased situational awareness. Without an AOA indicator, the AOA is “invisible” to pilots. These devices measure several parameters simultaneously and determine the current AOA providing a visual image to the pilot of the current AOA along with representations of the proximity to the critical AOA. These devices can give a visual representation of the energy management state of the airplane. The energy state of an airplane is the balance between airspeed, altitude, drag, and thrust and represents how efficiently the airfoil is operating.

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CFI Brief: FAA Handbooks

Time to update your aviation library! ASA has just taken delivery of newly published editions of the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25B) and Aircraft Weight and Balance Handbook (FAA-H-8083-1B). Both FAA Handbooks have been revised and edited to include more relevant and meaningful information with regards to today’s flight environment.

The Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge also referred to as the PHAK is the go-to reference for pilots of all levels covering a broad range of aeronautical knowledge areas. This 2016 edition reflects the latest aviation industry procedures, equipment, techniques, regulations, including unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and is a key reference in the FAA Airman Certification Standards (ACS). Complete with chapter summaries and illustrated throughout with detailed, full-color drawings and photographs, this handbook functions like an “aviation encyclopedia” to expand pilots’ knowledge of their field.


The Aircraft Weight and Balance Handbook is another excellent reference to have within arm’s reach. This 2016 edition reflects the latest aviation industry procedures, equipment, techniques, regulations, and, like the PHAK, is a key reference in the FAA Airman Certification Standards (ACS). Illustrated throughout with detailed, full-color drawings, and includes a glossary and index.


If you are not yet fully familiar with the ACS document, each task contains a references section. Many of the references include either one or both of the above handbooks. As a student, if you do not fully understand the elements outlined within the ACS task, refer to the references section to determine where to learn more about those specific elements.

FAA Handbooks are some of the best reference documents available and a valuable tool to have at your disposal. Although as an instructor I like to caution both students and instructors in the use of FAA Handbooks. It is important to understand the difference between a handbook versus a textbook or manual. A handbook like the PHAK is a topically organized book of references on a certain field of knowledge, in this case aeronautical knowledge. As the saying goes it’s like drinking from a firehose, an overwhelming amount of information coming at you all at once. A textbook (or manual) differs in the sense that it is put together in a way where it becomes a formal manual of instruction in a specific subject. Simply put textbooks follow an outline that is geared to teach the information in smaller chunks or building blocks. Examples of student pilot textbooks include the Pilot’s Manual: Ground School, The Complete Private Pilot by Bob Gardner, and The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual, by William Kershner.

So what is the proper way to use FAA Handbooks as a student or instructor?

Initial instruction and learning should be accomplished through a structured textbook following an approved syllabus of study. Once the initial learning takes place it can be expanded upon with the use of the many handbooks published by the FAA. These handbooks often will provide greater detail into particular subject matter, making for much safer competent pilots.


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Weather: Dew Point

As we’ve talked about before, being aware of the weather at takeoff, at your destination, and en route is a key part of flight planning and flying safety. By now you know which models to check before you leave, but an understanding of the basic elements of weather and atmosphere can help you anticipate changes in the weather and in turn make you a better aviator. Today we’ll cover dew point. Here’s how Bob Gardner explains it in the twelfth edition of his textbook The Complete Private Pilot.

To understand and anticipate weather changes, you must be aware of pressure systems and their movement. To know what might happen with cloud formations and obstructions to visibility you must consider the moisture content of the air. All air contains moisture in the form of water vapor; the amount of water a given volume of air can hold is dependent on the temperature of the air. As a volume of air is heated, the amount of moisture it can hold in invisible form increases: a temperature increase of 20°F (11°C) doubles the air’s capacity to hold moisture. Conversely, cooling the air reduces the amount of water vapor that can be hidden from sight. When the air contains 100% of the moisture it can hold invisibly, the moisture becomes visible in the form of clouds, fog, or precipitation. The moisture condenses into droplets which can be seen, and which restrict your ability to see.

Moisture can be added to the atmosphere through evaporation or sublimation. Evaporation can be from a body of water, a field of snow, or from rainfall; sublimation occurs when water changes state from solid to vapor without a liquid phase. In your future, when you are instrument rated and pick up a trace of ice in a cloud, you will see it slowly disappear even though the outside temperature is below freezing…this is an example of sublimation.

The temperature at which the air becomes saturated and can contain no more moisture, without that moisture getting you wet, is called the dew point. You have heard the television weather person report “The temperature is 65°, the dew point is 48°”—under those conditions, if the air suddenly cools 17° it will be saturated, and any further cooling or addition of moisture to the air will result in fog or rain. What the weather reporter calls relative humidity is simply how close the air is to being saturated. The illustration below uses a cup of liquid (representing the atmosphere) at different temperatures to show how the percentage of moisture content increases from 50% to 100%. A good example of high relative humidity is a hot July day when the air is full of moisture but there isn’t a cloud in the sky. You feel uncomfortable because perspiration on your body cannot evaporate into air already full of moisture. Take a cold can out of a soft drink dispenser on a clear July day and watch beads of water form on its sides. Where do you think that water comes from?


The measure of relative humidity is the spread between temperature and dew point. If that spread is reported to be less than 5°F, you should investigate further to determine the potential for a reduction in visibility. Is the sun rising, or setting? The answer can help you predict the temperature trend and whether the temperature/dew point spread will increase or decrease. Is the wind blowing from over water or from over land? Moisture can be added to the air by evaporation from rain or bodies of water. Moisture being added to the air can tip the balance toward saturation. If your investigation shows the potential for a decrease in the difference between temperature and dew point for any reason, you must consider the possibility that you will not be able to complete the trip under visual conditions.

Knowledge of the temperature/dew point relationship is valuable in estimating the height of cloud bases. When rising air currents are evidenced by the formation of cumulus clouds, the air is cooling at the rate of approximately 4.4°F per 1,000 feet. For example, if the temperature at the surface is 78°F and the dew point is 62°F, the difference is 16° ÷ 4.4 x 1,000 = 3,600 feet above the surface. This is where you would expect cloud bases to be, under the conditions stated. For height of cloud bases above sea level, you must add the elevation of the station at which the observations were made.

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CFI Brief: LIVE from Oshkosh!

Things are in full swing here at EAA Airventure 2016! It’s been a great first couple of days, crowds have been amazing, and the weather seems to be holding out. Be sure to swing by the ASA booth in Hanger B and check out some of our latest products, including hot off the printing press Airman Certification Standards for both Private and Instrument Pilot Airplane. I have an ASA Standard Pilot hat and ACS to giveaway, first one to mention today’s post wins both!

Private and Instrument Pilot Airplane ACS available at the ASA booth!

Private and Instrument Pilot Airplane ACS available at the ASA booth!

Here are a few pictures from our week so far, from the big, to the small and everything in between.

Worlds biggest water bomber, the Martin Mars.

Worlds biggest water bomber, the Martin Mars.

The Mini.

The Mini.

airshow 1airshow 2airshow 3

Lockheed C-5 Galaxy.

Lockheed C-5 Galaxy.

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Editor’s Picks: Summer Reading

Looking to up your skills or just relax with a book at your campsite at EAA AirVenture? Today we’ll share a few summer reading suggestions for the aviator. And speaking of AirVenture, be sure to come visit us this week in Hangar B, Aisle D!

Logging Flight Time
by William K. Kershner

A fantastic collection of articles written by famed aviator Bill Kershner during his more than fifty years of flying. In these stories, Kershner details some of the more humorous, humiliating and helpful things he has seen and readers are sure to find them amusing and entertaining. Those who are pilots themselves may find some incidents all too familiar. Mostly chronological, these stories begin with Kershner’s first flying experiences, through his career as a Navy fight pilot and then on to the later years as a corporate pilot and instructor.

Cockpit Procedures: Effective Routines for Pilots and Virtual Aviators
by Chris R. Burger

DPE and CFI Chris Burger examines the nitty gritty of both airplane and helicopter operation. Cockpit Procedures is written as a guide to proper airmanship with an emphasis on developing good habits as a PIC. This includes workflow management, using checklists, priorities and thinking during abnormal and emergency procedures, understanding and using POHs, practical tips for normal flight, and maintaining a healthy balance of caution and confidence. Though written for brand-new pilots, we recommend this book to aviators of all skill levels.

The Golden Years of Flying: As We Remember
by Captain Tex Searle

From 1946 to 1986, Frontier Airlines flew the Rocky Mountain region, where their pilots achieved the best safety record in civil aviation. In the early days, crews hand-flew DC-3s through “tornado alley” without radar, and in and out of small airports hidden deep in mountain canyons, with approaches often referred to as “black holes” due to their almost ominous darkness and lack of reliable visual references. Tex Searle shares his and other Frontier Airlines captains’ stories in this collection of tales from a remarkable period in aviation history.

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CFI Brief: Flying into EAA AirVenture 2016?

Flying to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin this year? Well if so you will be just one of the more than 10,000 landings that will take place at Whitman Regional Airport over the week. Insane yes, but don’t let that high number deter you from flying in, it’s almost a rite of passage and will end up being a highlight you look back on for years to come.

If this will be your first time flying in, you should note that because of the increase of traffic at and around the airport, typical procedures are not in effect. Things can get a little different, so don’t be surprised if ATC assigns you a colored dot as your touch down point. It’s just one of those things that will make this fly-in experience a highlight in your logbook.

Runway Pink Dot

Every year a special Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) is issued. This NOTAM is available as a free 32-page publication containing a wealth of pertinent information including arrival/departure procedures, radio frequencies, and various other airport information. It’s a must that you conduct a thorough preflight plan that includes reading through and understanding the information contained within this NOTAM. As the pilot in command, this will ensure your safety, as well as those around you. You can download a free copy by clicking on the image below. Also be sure to check out additional information on the EAA Fly In page:

NOTAM Oshkosh

I will not be flying myself in this year, but rather kicking back in row 11 of a 737 eating peanuts. But I will be there along with the rest of the ASA crew! Be sure to come by and check us out in Hanger B isle D taking up just about half the row! We will have a ton of pilot supplies and training materials onsite – old favorites and brand new titles. So if you’re looking to start a new rating or certificate and need training content we’ve got you covered. Or if you’re getting ready to fill up your logbook and need a new one, we will have a bunch to choose from, including pink!

See you at EAA AirVenture 2016!


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