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Weather: Clouds

Today we’ll review one of the fundamental concepts in aviation weather, understanding clouds. This post feature’s an excerpt from the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (8083-25B).

Clouds are visible indicators and are often indicative of future weather. For clouds to form, there must be adequate water vapor and condensation nuclei, as well as a method by which the air can be cooled. When the air cools and reaches its saturation point, the invisible water vapor changes into a visible state. Through the processes of deposition (also referred to as sublimation) and condensation, moisture condenses or sublimates onto miniscule particles of matter like dust, salt, and smoke known as condensation nuclei. The nuclei are important because they provide a means for the moisture to change from one state to another.

Cloud type is determined by its height, shape, and characteristics. They are classified according to the height of their bases as low, middle, or high clouds, as well as clouds with vertical development.

Basic cloud types

Low clouds are those that form near the Earth’s surface and extend up to about 6,500 feet AGL. They are made primarily of water droplets but can include supercooled water droplets that induce hazardous aircraft icing. Typical low clouds are stratus, stratocumulus, and nimbostratus. Fog is also classified as a type of low cloud formation. Clouds in this family create low ceilings, hamper visibility, and can change rapidly. Because of this, they influence flight planning and can make visual flight rules (VFR) flight impossible.

Middle clouds form around 6,500 feet AGL and extend up to 20,000 feet AGL. They are composed of water, ice crystals, and supercooled water droplets. Typical middle-level clouds include altostratus and altocumulus. These types of clouds may be encountered on cross-country flights at higher altitudes. Altostratus clouds can produce turbulence and may contain moderate icing. Altocumulus clouds, which usually form when altostratus clouds are breaking apart, also may contain light turbulence and icing.

High clouds form above 20,000 feet AGL and usually form only in stable air. They are made up of ice crystals and pose no real threat of turbulence or aircraft icing. Typical high level clouds are cirrus, cirrostratus, and cirrocumulus.

Clouds with extensive vertical development are cumulus clouds that build vertically into towering cumulus or cumulonimbus clouds. The bases of these clouds form in the low to middle cloud base region but can extend into high altitude cloud levels. Towering cumulus clouds indicate areas of instability in the atmosphere, and the air around and inside them is turbulent. These types of clouds often develop into cumulonimbus clouds or thunderstorms. Cumulonimbus clouds contain large amounts of moisture and unstable air and usually produce hazardous weather phenomena, such as lightning, hail, tornadoes, gusty winds, and wind shear. These extensive vertical clouds can be obscured by other cloud formations and are not always visible from the ground or while in flight. When this happens, these clouds are said to be embedded, hence the term, embedded thunderstorms.

To pilots, the cumulonimbus cloud is perhaps the most dangerous cloud type. It appears individually or in groups and is known as either an air mass or orographic thunderstorm. Heating of the air near the Earth’s surface creates an air mass thunderstorm; the upslope motion of air in the mountainous regions causes orographic thunderstorms. Cumulonimbus clouds that form in a continuous line are nonfrontal bands of thunderstorms or squall lines.

Since rising air currents cause cumulonimbus clouds, they are extremely turbulent and pose a significant hazard to flight safety. For example, if an aircraft enters a thunderstorm, the aircraft could experience updrafts and downdrafts that exceed 3,000 fpm. In addition, thunderstorms can produce large hailstones, damaging lightning, tornadoes, and large quantities of water, all of which are potentially hazardous to aircraft.

Cloud classification can be further broken down into specific cloud types according to the outward appearance and cloud composition. Knowing these terms can help a pilot identify visible clouds.

The following is a list of cloud classifications:

  • Cumulus—heaped or piled clouds
  • Stratus—formed in layers
  • Cirrus—ringlets, fibrous clouds, also high level clouds above 20,000 feet
  • Castellanus—common base with separate vertical development, castle-like
  • Lenticularus—lens-shaped, formed over mountains in strong winds
  • Nimbus—rain-bearing clouds
  • Fracto—ragged or broken
  • Alto—middle level clouds existing at 5,000 to 20,000 feet
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Ground Reference Maneuvers: Turns Around a Point

Today we’re featuring a follow-up to our recent post on the rectangular course with an excerpt from the Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-3B).

Turns around a point are a logical extension of both the rectangular course and S-turns across a road. The maneuver is a 360° constant radius turn around a single ground-based reference point. The principles are the same in any turning ground reference maneuver—higher groundspeeds require steeper banks and slower ground speeds require shallower banks. The objectives of turns around a point are as follows:

  • Maintaining a specific relationship between the airplane and the ground.
  • Dividing attention between the flightpath, groundbased references, manipulating of the flight controls, and scanning for outside hazards and instrument indications.
  • Adjusting the bank angle during turns to correct for groundspeed changes in order to maintain a constant radius turn; steeper bank angles for higher ground speeds, shallow bank angles for slower groundspeeds.
  • Improving competency in managing the quickly changing bank angles.
  • Establishing and adjusting the wind correction angle in order to maintain the track over the ground.
  • Developing the ability to compensate for drift in quickly changing orientations.
  • Developing further awareness that the radius of a turn is correlated to the bank angle.

Turns around a point.

To perform a turn around a point, the pilot must complete at least one 360° turn; however, to properly assess wind direction, velocity, bank required, and other factors related to turns in wind, the pilot should complete two or more turns. As in other ground reference maneuvers, when wind is present, the pilot must a constantly adjust the airplane’s bank and wind correction angle to maintain a constant radius turn around a point. In contrast to the ground reference maneuvers discussed previously in which turns were approximately limited to either 90° or 180°, turns around a point are consecutive 360° turns where, throughout the maneuver, the pilot must constantly adjust the bank angle and the resulting rate of turn in proportion to the groundspeed as the airplane sequences through the various wind directions. The pilot should make these adjustments by applying coordinated aileron and rudder pressure throughout the turn.

When performing a turn around a point, the pilot should select a prominent, ground-based reference that is easily distinguishable yet small enough to present a precise reference. The pilot should enter the maneuver downwind, where the groundspeed is at its fastest, at the appropriate radius of turn and distance from the selected ground-based reference point. In a high-wing airplane, the lowered wing may block the view of the ground reference point, especially in airplanes with side-by-side seating during a left turn (assuming that the pilot is flying from the left seat). To prevent this, the pilot may need to change the maneuvering altitude or the desired turn radius. The pilot should ensure that the reference point is visible at all times throughout the maneuver, even with the wing lowered in a bank.

Upon entering the maneuver, depending on the wind’s speed, it may be necessary to roll into the initial bank at a rapid rate so that the steepest bank is set quickly to prevent the airplane from drifting outside of the desired turn radius. This is best accomplished by repeated practice and assessing the required roll in rate. Thereafter, the pilot should gradually decrease the angle of bank until the airplane is headed directly upwind. As the upwind becomes a crosswind and then a downwind, the pilot should gradually steepen the bank to the steepest angle upon reaching the initial point of entry.

During the downwind half of the turn, the pilot should progressively adjust the airplane’s heading toward the inside of the turn. During the upwind half, the pilot should progressively adjust the airplane’s heading toward the outside of the turn. Recall from the previous discussion on wind correction angle that the airplane’s heading should be ahead of its position over the ground during the downwind half of the turn behind its position during the upwind half. Remember that the goal is to make a constant radius turn over the ground and, because the airplane is flying through a moving air mass, the pilot must constantly adjust the bank angle to achieve this goal.

The following are the most common errors in the performance of turns around a point:

  • Failure to adequately clear the area above, below, and on either side of the airplane for safety hazards, initially and throughout the maneuver.
  • Failure to establish a constant, level altitude prior to entering the maneuver.
  • Failure to maintain altitude during the maneuver.
  • Failure to properly assess wind direction.
  • Failure to properly execute constant radius turns.
  • Failure to manipulate the flight controls in a smooth and continuous manner.
  • Failure to establish the appropriate wind correction angle.
  • Failure to apply coordinated aileron and rudder pressure, resulting in slips or skids.
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CFI Brief: Airport Hot Spot

Ever heard of an airport hot spot, or wondered what that is? No, it’s not a scorching hot section of an airport, it’s more along the lines of the cool hip place to be at an airport. A hot spot is defined as a location on an airport movement area with a history of potential risk of collision or runway incursion, and where heightened attention by pilots and drivers is necessary.

These hot spot areas on the airport are found to be particularly complex and/or confusing and often times heavy traffic areas. Many times accidents, incidents, or runway incursions have been known to occur in these areas. The Chart Supplement U.S. will list a textual description of hot spots and a graphical depiction is shown on the Airport Diagram. Below is an example of a hot spot area for SUX airport labeled as HS-1. You can see that due to the crossing runways and taxiways this area could be rather confusing to a pilot not familiar with the airport.

By identifying hot spots, airport operators and air traffic controllers are able to plan for the safest possible movement of aircraft and vehicles operating on the movement area. As a pilot 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 and be aware of any hot spot areas which you might encounter. By making sure that aircraft surface movements are planned and properly coordinated with air traffic control, pilots add another layer of safety to their flight preparations.

Remember, the ultimate goal of hot spots is to prevent a ground based or runway incursion.

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Procedures and Airport Operations: Traffic Patterns

Today we’re featuring an excerpt from the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25B).

At airports without an operating control tower, a segmented circle visual indicator system, if installed, is designed to provide traffic pattern information. Usually located in a position affording maximum visibility to pilots in the air and on the ground and providing a centralized location for other elements of the system, the segmented circle consists of the following components: wind direction indicators, landing direction indicators, landing strip indicators, and traffic pattern indicators.

Segmented circle

A tetrahedron is installed to indicate the direction of landings and takeoffs when conditions at the airport warrant its use. It may be located at the center of a segmented circle and may be lighted for night operations. The small end of the tetrahedron points in the direction of landing. Pilots are cautioned against using a tetrahedron for any purpose other than as an indicator of landing direction. At airports with control towers, the tetrahedron should only be referenced when the control tower is not in operation. Tower instructions supersede tetrahedron indications.

Landing strip indicators are installed in pairs and are used to show the alignment of landing strips. Traffic pattern indicators are arranged in pairs in conjunction with landing strip indicators and used to indicate the direction of turns when there is a variation from the normal left traffic pattern. (If there is no segmented circle installed at the airport, traffic pattern indicators may be installed on or near the end of the runway.)

At most airports and military air bases, traffic pattern altitudes for propeller-driven aircraft generally extend from 600 feet to as high as 1,500 feet above ground level (AGL). Pilots can obtain the traffic pattern altitude for an airport from the Chart Supplement U.S. Also, traffic pattern altitudes for military turbojet aircraft sometimes extend up to 2,500 feet AGL. Therefore, pilots of en route aircraft should be constantly on alert for other aircraft in traffic patterns and avoid these areas whenever possible. When operating at an airport, traffic pattern altitudes should be maintained unless otherwise required by the applicable distance from cloud criteria according to 14 CFR §91.155. Additional information on airport traffic pattern operations can be found in Chapter 4, “Air Traffic Control,” of the AIM. Pilots can find traffic pattern information and restrictions, such as noise abatement in the Chart Supplement U.S.

Example: Key to Traffic Pattern Operations—Single Runway

  1. Enter pattern in level flight, abeam the midpoint of the runway, at pattern altitude. (1,000′ AGL is recommended pattern altitude unless otherwise established.)
  2. Maintain pattern altitude until abeam approach end of the landing runway on downwind leg.
  3. Complete turn to final at least ¼ mile from the runway.
  4. After takeoff or go-around, continue straight ahead until beyond departure end of runway.
  5. If remaining in the traffic pattern, commence turn to crosswind leg beyond the departure end of the runway within 300 feet of pattern altitude.
  6. If departing the traffic pattern, continue straight out, or exit with a 45° turn (to the left when in a left-hand traffic pattern; to the right when in a right-hand traffic pattern) beyond the departure end of the runway, after reaching pattern altitude.

Traffic pattern operations—single runway.

Example: Key to Traffic Pattern Operations—Parallel Runways

  1. Enter pattern in level flight, abeam the midpoint of the runway, at pattern altitude. (1,000′ AGL is recommended pattern altitude unless otherwise established.)
  2. Maintain pattern altitude until abeam approach end of the landing runway on downwind leg.
  3. Complete turn to final at least ¼ mile from the runway.
  4. Do not overshoot final or continue on a track that penetrates the final approach of the parallel runway
  5. After takeoff or go-around, continue straight ahead until beyond departure end of runway.
  6. If remaining in the traffic pattern, commence turn to crosswind leg beyond the departure end of the runway within 300 feet of pattern altitude.
  7. If departing the traffic pattern, continue straight out, or exit with a 45° turn (to the left when in a left-hand traffic pattern; to the right when in a right-hand traffic pattern) beyond the departure end of the runway, after reaching pattern altitude.
  8. Do not continue on a track that penetrates the departure path of the parallel runway.

Traffic pattern operation—parallel runways.

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Helicopters: Hovering

Today, we’ll introduce one of the aerodynamic fundamentals of helicopter flight, hovering, with an excerpt from the Helicopter Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-21A).

Hovering is the most challenging part of flying a helicopter. This is because a helicopter generates its own gusty air while in a hover, which acts against the fuselage and flight control surfaces. The end result is constant control inputs and corrections by the pilot to keep the helicopter where it is required to be. Despite the complexity of the task, the control inputs in a hover are simple. The cyclic is used to eliminate drift in the horizontal plane, controlling forward, backward, right and left movement or travel. The throttle, if not governor controlled, is used to control revolutions per minute (rpm). The collective is used to maintain altitude. The pedals are used to control nose direction or heading. It is the interaction of these controls that makes hovering difficult, since an adjustment in any one control requires an adjustment of the other two, creating a cycle of constant correction. During hovering flight, a helicopter maintains a constant position over a selected point, usually a few feet above the ground. The ability of the helicopter to hover comes from the both the lift component, which is the force developed by the main rotor(s) to overcome gravity and aircraft weight, and the thrust component, which acts horizontally to accelerate or decelerate the helicopter in the desired direction. Pilots direct the thrust of the rotor system by using the cyclic to change the tip-path plane as compared to the visible horizon to induce travel or compensate for the wind and hold a position. At a hover in a no-wind condition, all opposing forces (lift, thrust, drag, and weight) are in balance; they are equal and opposite. Therefore, lift and weight are equal, resulting in the helicopter remaining at a stationary hover.

To maintain a hover at a constant altitude, the lift must equal the weight of the helicopter. Thrust must equal any wind and tail rotor thrust to maintain position. The power must be sufficient to turn the rotors and overcome the various drags and frictions involved.

While hovering, the amount of main rotor thrust can be changed to maintain the desired hovering altitude. This is done by changing the angle of incidence (by moving the collective) of the rotor blades and hence the angle of attack (AOA) of the main rotor blades. Changing the AOA changes the drag on the rotor blades, and the power delivered by the engine must change as well to keep the rotor speed constant.

The weight that must be supported is the total weight of the helicopter and its occupants. If the amount of lift is greater than the actual weight, the helicopter accelerates upwards until the lift force equals the weight gain altitude; if thrust is less than weight, the helicopter accelerates downward. When operating near the ground, the effects of the proximity to the surface change this response.

The drag of a hovering helicopter is mainly induced drag incurred while the blades are producing lift. There is, however, some profile drag on the blades as they rotate through the air and a small amount of parasite drag from the non-lift-producing surfaces of the helicopter, such as the rotor hub, cowlings, and landing gear. Throughout the rest of this discussion, the term “drag” includes induced, profile and parasite drag.

An important consequence of producing thrust is torque. Remember Newton’s Third Law: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, as the engine turns the main rotor system in a counterclockwise direction, the helicopter fuselage wants to turn clockwise. The amount of torque is directly related to the amount of engine power being used to turn the main rotor system. Remember, as power changes, torque changes.

To counteract this torque-induced turning tendency, an antitorque rotor or tail rotor is incorporated into most helicopter designs. A pilot can vary the amount of thrust produced by the tail rotor in relation to the amount of torque produced by the engine. As the engine supplies more power to the main rotor, the tail rotor must produce more thrust to overcome the increased torque effect. This control change is accomplished through the use of antitorque pedals.

A tail rotor is designed to produce thrust in a direction opposite torque. The thrust produced by the tail rotor is sufficient to move the helicopter laterally.

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CFI Brief: Airport Signage

Airport signage is an extremely important concept that all pilots will need to have a thorough understanding of prior to earning any  pilot certificate, whether it’s Private Pilot, Sport Pilot, or even a Remote Pilot Certificate.

Right of the bat you should take note that as an airport layout grows in complexity so will the signage associated with that airport. For example an airport with multiple runways will consist of a lot more signage then say an airport with one small runway. The reason being is more runways will require more taxiways and the greater likelihood for a runway or ground based incursion to occur. A pilot will need to pay a lot more attention at signage when operating at complex airports. In addition you will often see different types of signage at a Part 139 airport conducting commercial operations then you might at a small rural airport with no commercial operations.

There are six types of signs that may be found at airports.

Mandatory instruction signs—red background with white inscription. These signs denote an entrance to a runway, critical area, or prohibited area.

Location signs—black with yellow inscription and a yellow border, no arrows. They are used to identify a taxiway or runway location, to identify the boundary of the runway, or identify an instrument landing system (ILS) critical area.

Direction signs—yellow background with black inscription. The inscription identifies the designation of the intersecting taxiway(s) leading out of an intersection.

Destination signs—yellow background with black inscription and arrows. These signs provide information on locating areas, such as runways, terminals, cargo areas, and civil aviation areas.

Information signs—yellow background with black inscription. These signs are used to provide the pilot with information on areas that cannot be seen from the control tower, applicable radio frequencies, and noise abatement procedures. The airport operator determines the need, size, and location of these signs.

Runway distance remaining signs—black background with white numbers. The numbers indicate the distance of the remaining runway in thousands of feet.

The image below are further examples along with their action or purpose of the six types of airport signage discussed above. For further information on airport signage you can refer to the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) 2-3-7 or the Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, Chapter 14 Airport Operations.

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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, which we’ll talk about today with an excerpt from the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25B).

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.

High performance airplane pressurization system.

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.

Standard atmospheric pressure chart.

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.

Cabin pressurization instruments. (Click to expand.)

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CFI Brief: February 2018 Test Roll

The FAA February test cycle resulted in few changes or updates to the FAA Airman Knowledge Tests. The FAA Aviation Exam Board continues to work to align questions within the context of a specific Area of Operation/Task as outlined in the various Airman Certification Standards publications. The goal of this boarding process is to ensure all test questions correlate to a knowledge, risk management or skill element. The FAA makes their intentions clear by the Frequently Asked Questions and What’s New documents which are posted each test cycle. The next test cycle update is expected June 11th 2018.

Below is a list of the most recent changes affecting all pilot knowledge test question banks.

  • The FAA expects to develop test questions on the new BasicMed regulation in the future. Third-class medical questions will remain, since BasicMed is an addition to the medical certification structure, not a replacement of the third-class medical.
  • New questions based on FAA Form 7233-4, International Flight Plan (ICAO format)— release date is TBD.
  • Student Pilot/Medical Certificate – New questions based on the Student Pilot Certificate rule that took effect on April 1, 2016 are being developed. We expect to add these questions to appropriate knowledge tests by June 11, 2018.

Instrument Rating Airplane (IRA), Airline Transport Pilot Multi-Engine (ATM), Aircraft Dispatcher (ADX)  – All VOR/DME RNAV questions have been removed from the question banks for these knowledge tests.

These changes have been noted by ASA and updates for Prepware Software, Prepware Online, and Test Prep books will be available shortly. If you would like to be notified when these updates have become available be sure to follow the link below and sign-up for notifications.

http://www.asa2fly.com/testupdate

 

Handbook and Advisory Circular Updates

New and cool from ASA!

 The Complete Remote Pilot – Available NOW

The Droner’s Manual – Available NOW

The Flight Instructors Manual – NEW Sixth Edition

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Procedures and Airport Operations: Short-Field Approach and Landing

Short-field approaches and landings require the use of procedures for approaches and landings at fields with a relatively short landing area or where an approach is made over obstacles that limit the available landing area.  Short-field operations require the pilot fly the airplane at one of its crucial performance capabilities while close to the ground in order to safely land within confined areas. This low-speed type of power-on approach is closely related to the performance of flight at minimum controllable airspeeds. Today’s post is an excerpt from the Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-8083-3B).

Landing over an obstacle.

Landing on a short-field.

To land within a short-field or a confined area, the pilot must have precise, positive control of the rate of descent and airspeed to produce an approach that clears any obstacles, result in little or no floating during the round out, and permit the airplane to be stopped in the shortest possible distance.

The procedures for landing in a short-field or for landing approaches over obstacles as recommended in the AFM/ POH should be used. A stabilized approach is essential. These procedures generally involve the use of full flaps and the final approach started from an altitude of at least 500 feet higher than the touchdown area. A wider than normal pattern is normally used so that the airplane can be properly configured and trimmed. In the absence of the manufacturer’s recommended approach speed, a speed of not more than 1.3 VSO is used. For example, in an airplane that stalls at 60 knots with power off, and flaps and landing gear extended, an approach speed no higher than 78 knots is used. In gusty air, no more than one-half the gust factor is added. An excessive amount of airspeed could result in a touchdown too far from the runway threshold or an after landing roll that exceeds the available landing area. After the landing gear and full flaps have been extended, simultaneously adjust the power and the pitch attitude to establish and maintain the proper descent angle and airspeed. A coordinated combination of both pitch and power adjustments is required. When this is done properly, very little change in the airplane’s pitch attitude and power setting is necessary to make corrections in the angle of descent and airspeed.

Stabilized approach.

Unstabilized approach.

The short-field approach and landing is in reality an accuracy approach to a spot landing. The procedures previously outlined in the section on the stabilized approach concept are used. If it appears that the obstacle clearance is excessive and touchdown occurs well beyond the desired spot leaving insufficient room to stop, power is reduced while lowering the pitch attitude to steepen the descent path and increase the rate of descent. If it appears that the descent angle does not ensure safe clearance of obstacles, power is increased while simultaneously raising the pitch attitude to shallow the descent path and decrease the rate of descent. Care must be taken to avoid an excessively low airspeed. If the speed is allowed to become too slow, an increase in pitch and application of full power may only result in a further rate of descent. This occurs when the AOA is so great and creating so much drag that the maximum available power is insufficient to overcome it. This is generally referred to as operating in the region of reversed command or operating on the back side of the power curve. When there is doubt regarding the outcome of the approach, make a go around and try again or divert to a more suitable landing area.

Because the final approach over obstacles is made at a relatively steep approach angle and close to the airplane’s stalling speed, the initiation of the round out or flare must be judged accurately to avoid flying into the ground or stalling prematurely and sinking rapidly. A lack of floating during the flare with sufficient control to touch down properly is verification that the approach speed was correct.

Touchdown should occur at the minimum controllable airspeed with the airplane in approximately the pitch attitude that results in a power-off stall when the throttle is closed. Care must be exercised to avoid closing the throttle too rapidly, as closing the throttle may result in an immediate increase in the rate of descent and a hard landing.

Upon touchdown, the airplane is held in this positive pitch attitude as long as the elevators remain effective. This provides aerodynamic braking to assist in deceleration. Immediately upon touchdown and closing the throttle, appropriate braking is applied to minimize the after-landing roll. The airplane is normally stopped within the shortest possible distance consistent with safety and controllability. If the proper approach speed has been maintained, resulting in minimum float during the round out and the touchdown made at minimum control speed, minimum braking is required.

Common errors in the performance of short-field approaches and landings are:

  • Failure to allow enough room on final to set up the approach, necessitating an overly steep approach and high sink rate
  • Unstable approach
  • Undue delay in initiating glide path corrections
  • Too low an airspeed on final resulting in inability to flare properly and landing hard
  • Too high an airspeed resulting in floating on round out
  • Prematurely reducing power to idle on round out resulting in hard landing
  • Touchdown with excessive airspeed
  • Excessive and/or unnecessary braking after touchdown
  • Failure to maintain directional control
  • Failure to recognize and abort a poor approach that cannot be completed safely
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