Category Archives: Maneuvers

Kneeboard Notes: The Traffic Pattern

Hello everyone!

I’m working on developing some easy-to-use resources for pilots that I’m calling “Kneeboard Notes”.  These simple resources allow students to personalize the information covered in ground school to their particular airport and situation. 

This first installment of Kneeboard Notes concerns the traffic pattern.  It helps students think through not only the idea of what a traffic pattern is, but prompts them to think of the altitudes and settings needed in their aircraft, at their airport. 

I hope you find it helpful.  If you have feedback on this or if you have ideas for future Kneeboard Notes, please drop me a line at:

Download “Kneeboard Notes- The Pattern”


Pinch Hitting

Melissa and I pose for the camera after our flight.

Last Saturday I had the privilege of doing the first part of a “Pinch Hitter’s Course” with a friend of mine’s wife.  This type of instruction is for those who are not pilots but who fly frequently with family or friends who are pilots.  They may not want to take lessons or earn their license, but they would like to learn to satisfy their own curiosity and do what needs to be done “in a pinch”.  In many ways knowledge is power, or in this case knowledge is peace.  Understanding the basics of the plane’s operation and systems gives a good bit of peace to these frequent fliers.

Melissa, my friend’s wife, has been flying with her husband but always experienced a good bit of anxiety.  It’s not his flying, I’ve flown with him and he’s a very good pilot.  He’s proficient, safe, and methodical.   But as I talked with them both, it seemed that what she really needed was an instructor to talk her through the basics and give her the information and experience of seeing for herself what flying was all about.

I spent some time in the cockpit with her going over the basics of the instruments and the radios.  We took off and the first thing I demonstrated was stability.  A trimmed-out airplane is remarkably stable and when I removed my hands from the controls she seemed concerned for just a moment.  Then I saw it register with her that the plane was doing just fine, flying along quite nicely.  I then demonstrated how even if I push on the yoke, the plane will try to return to level flight (dynamic stability).   And it did.

At that point I showed her straight and level flying and basic turns.  That was the last time I flew the plane!   She flew it for the remainder of the flight until we came back into the pattern for landing.  It was exciting to see her go from being reluctant to touch the controls to holding straight and level and making turns to headings on her own!

The next day her husband sent me an email which said:

“We’ve created a monster.  Melissa is actually excited to go up again and start phase 2 of her pinch hitter course.  You are a great teacher and have the right level of patience to feed information at an appropriate rate. She’s definitely  going up again (her words).”

That’s what it’s all about  –sharing the gift of flight!  I can’t wait to fly with Melissa again and see her grow more and more comfortable with flying.   It is great to see how this ‘flying family’ can really share the joy of flying together.


Planning Your Descent

In this month’s Flight Training Magazine (1/2011) there’s an easily overlooked tip that I think many people would find helpful.  When teaching new pilots (or even working with some experienced ones) I often find that there is some confusion in knowing how to plan a descent.  This results often in arriving high into the airport area and having to dive into the pattern –which we don’t want to do!

So what’s a good way to plan your descent?

Use the “Rule of Three”!

To do this, multiply the number of feet you have to lose by three.

If you are cruising at 6,500 feet and you have to descend to a traffic pattern that is 1,500 feet, you need to lose 5,000 feet.  Now multiply 5 x 3 and you get 15…start your descent 15 miles out.

Now what should be your rate of descent?

The folks at Flight Training Magazine recommend taking half your groundspeed and multiplying by 10.   So if you are cruising along at 120 knots GS, divide by 2 (=60) and multiply by 10 which gives you 600 feet per minute.

A little number crunching can make for a much more comfortable and pleasant ride into an airport traffic pattern!

MyFlightCoach Podcast | Episode 2

This week’s podcast features a encouragement to fly in 2011! If you’ve been out of flying, get back in! If you need to knock out a Flight Review and gain your currency back, then make that your goal. If you are looking at simply getting started, then there’s no better time than the present!

I recount a recent Discovery Flight with an old friend (I’ve known her since she was in 5th grade –makes me the old one) and I review some of the aviation headlines of 2010 and talk about the FlightPrep lawsuit fiasco adn why we need to think about takeoff techniques.

Listen Online:

Direct Download

Resources from this week’s show:

Lisa’s Discovery Flight Video (may have to maunally select HD)


National Association of Flight Instructors

Jill Tallman’s Best and Worst of 2010

John & Martha King’s reflections on their detainment

Nate Duehr’s Article on the FlightPrep Fiasco

Key’s to Better Takeoffs

Set Yourself Up for a Great Landing!

Learning to land is one of the greatest thrills in flying.  In fact, I think most pilots, even if they have been flying for years, still love the challenge of making a great landing.  It  is a common misconception (particularly among students) to think that the main thing we have concentrate on is the round-out and flare.   Certainly these are important, but a great landing really begins in the pattern, specifically on the downwind leg.

In most trainers, when we are abeam our touchdown point, we reduce the power, add our first flap setting, and establish an appropriate descent.   Learning to establish this configuration enables us to arrive at the roundout and flare in a condition that allows for a great landing.

Many students are reluctant to allow the plane to descend on the downwind, therefore they are high on final approach.  Others stay much too fast and carry excess airspeed into the roundout.  They float and float down the runway waiting for the plane to settle.  Others make the opposite mistake –they are low and drag the plane in over the trees and plop it onto the threshold.

Landing is all about energy management –airspeed and altitude.  If we set up the airplane the same way every time we practice landings (winds/weather permitting) then we develop our skills at establishing a solid final approach which will lead us to a much better chance at that smooth landing.

I had one pilot I flew with who was very frustrated that his landings were all long –using up 2/3 of the runway.  After one trip around the pattern I saw that he was high in the pattern, didn’t use a consistent flap setting, and was trying to land 15 knots over the recommended approach speed.  That will make you land long every time.

After a few more trips around and a review of the recommended speeds, his landings were 100% better.

So don’t neglect the importance of flying a proper pattern.  It’s a great help in the quest for that perfect landing.

Fly On!


Why We Practice Procedures: A Cautionary Tale

by Chris Findley, CFI

It started out as a routine training flight.  I met my student at the airport and, after reviewing the procedures we’d be working on in the air, we went out to preflight the airplane.  Preflight was normal.  As he is a new student on his 2nd lesson, I walked through the preflight with him.  He did fine and soon we were starting and beginning our taxi.

I noticed that the engine seemed to run a bit rough below 1000RPM, but not excessively so.  At 1000RPM it smoothed out.  Run up was normal.  The only thing I noticed was that the suction gauge was reading a little low.  Again, nothing that would cause alarm on a VFR flight, just something to tell the mechanics when we returned.  We taxied out to the runway and began our takeoff roll.

My routine is to have the student call out, “Engine Instruments, in the green” once at full power, and then “Airspeed alive” when the airspeed indicator begins to register.  Everything appears normal.  At 55KIAS, the 172 lifts off, new student doing fine.  At about 300′ AGL things begin to get, well, interesting.  That’s when we both heard and felt the shuddering of the engine.  It started out simply like rough running.  I quickly check the fuel selector, mixture, throttle, carb heat, mags, master, primer.  All ok.  The roughness starts increasing to what I would call “moderate”.   This all of this happens in about 5-7 seconds.

Sensing that Murphy is about to become a third passenger, I pitch us up to Vx and tell him simply, “Climb” We still have power, rough and weak though it is, and we’re way too low to turn back.  I want pattern altitude and more options.  I realize there are not a lot of places to set down in front of me.

As we turn crosswind, I hear another plane call base.  I mentally note it.  I may have to butt in line…

I held my breath and prayed for pattern altitude, 1600 feet.  Good.  Got it.  “Level here.  Leave the power alone.”

So we gain speed and about midfield, I give the OK to ease back on the throttle. I am hesitant to change power settings, sometimes that’s when more problems begin to show themselves.  I was right, because as  he eased back a few hundred RPMs…

WHAM!  The engine bangs, then coughs, and sputters and catches again.

“I’ve got it,” I say.  Keying the mic I announce a precautionary landing and ask my friend (I happened to know him) in the other plane now on final to break it off.  He gladly does as I reduce the power to idle.  The vibrations diminish.  Luckily now I have altitude and options.  Since I’m past mid-field this becomes simply a power off approach. Except I know it’s real.

I want to turn base early but fight the urge, “Too high. Fly it RIGHT” I mutter to myself.   I wait a few more seconds and turn base.  I have the field made and begin working in the flaps.   Turn to final. Crap.  I’m high.  I begin a forward slip and the glide path begins to look better.  I keep the slip in until the very end.  The airspeed is on the money.  Round out and flare are just the way I want them to be.   It was good to be on terra firma.  As my father-in-law is prone to say, “The more firma, the less terra”  (Get it?  “The more firmer, the less terror”…he’s a pun guy, what can I say?)

I recount this because it shows us why the fundamentals are so important.  Sometimes students (and maybe instructors too) feel a little bored by the basic maneuvers.  But look at the basic skills used in this flight:

Maintaining Vy then Vx.  Flying a precise pattern.  Understanding the “key” position.  Judging glide path.  The forward slip.  Radio procedures.  “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate” A memorized checklist.

I don’t know what’s up with the engine.  Things could have been a lot worse if all power had been lost at 300′.  I feel lucky.  Fortunate.  Blessed.  All of the above.  But I’m really thankful for my instructors who taught me many years ago to stay calm, work the problem, and fly the plane.

Be a Great Pilot

by Bill Cox, Plane and Pilot Magazine

The sheer enormity of the subject is a little intimidating. You probably could name several thousand characteristics of a “good pilot.” But how do you summarize those attributes in 2,000 words? You can’t. Entire books have been written on the subject; I won’t try to describe those efforts here. Over the years, however, I’ve known or interviewed many folks who I’ve considered indisputably “good,” some with names you’d recognize (Chuck Yeager, Bob Hoover, Patty Wagstaff, Duane Cole, Rod Machado), and many others you probably never heard of. Someone once said (or should have), “You’re always either the beneficiary or the victim of your sources,” and I consider these sources to be impeccable. On reflection, their suggestions often were far from conventional, more typically the result of experience than formal training. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the benefit of such excellent tutelage. Here are a few of their comments for various levels of flight. Make no mistake—these are only a very small sampling of the procedures practiced by “good” pilots.

Flight Planning

With the extraordinary proliferation of GPS, pilots often consider flight planning to be little more than jumping into the airplane, pressing the “Go To” or “Direct” button, entering the destination’s identifier and committing aviation. While it’s true the shortest distance between two points is a great circle (unless you happen to own an earth-boring machine), intelligent planning may demand other considerations. If the terrain below is especially intimidating and you’re flying a piston single, you might consider routing above a major interstate highway, if one is available. If you’re flying over mountains, should you plan to cross the low passes rather than fly direct?

Similarly, pilots tempted to use GPS as the ultimate shortcut should consider restricted airspace. While the GPS probably will warn you of possible incursions, it’s smarter to plan around them in the first place. MOAs also are a factor in flight planning, especially when flying on a weekday. You can fly through them, but you’d be wise to route around them if possible, or at least plan to check on their use before entering.

Preflight Plus
Too often, it seems pilots consider that only the airplane needs a preflight inspection. All aviators have had preflight procedures drilled into them since their student pilot days, but how many appreciate that the pilot and passengers also need a certain amount of attention?

Pilots should be especially aware of their own physical state, particularly regarding anything that affects the sinuses. A partially blocked sinus can cause a major distraction during descents, and the demands of piloting an airplane should include a minimum of distractions. Hypoglycemia (i.e., low blood sugar) is another major concern for some pilots. I once flew in a new airplane with a check pilot who complained that he really needed to eat something, then proceeded to pass out halfway through the flight. Fortunately, he came around before we landed, I fed him lunch and he was fine. Passengers deserve the same attention. A nervous passenger might best be seated in the copilot’s seat where he or she can watch what the pilot is doing (in turn, the pilot can more easily observe the passenger’s reaction).

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