Archive for private pilot

So you want to become a pilot …

Posted in airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airlines, airport, flight, flight training with tags , , , , , , on July 3, 2015 by Chris Manno


So, you’ve decided that being a pilot might suit you and you’re embarking on flying lessons. Good for you. Here are some off-the-books lessons I’ll share with you based on my 20,000 hours as a pilot. You probably won’t read these elsewhere because they’re not the typical media hype nor the hobbyist pilot bravado. But these lessons are fundamental to your understanding of the pilot world you propose enter.

1. Expect resistance, both from within and without. First, from without: your family and friends are concerned about you and any risks you might take. They probably haven’t considered flying as you have, evaluating the risks and benefits, and many have either never thought about becoming a pilot themselves, or did think about it and decided against learning to fly. Also, there’s the expense, in both dollars and time.

Flying lessons require a lot of both and those around you may resist losing that time with you, plus they may be negative about you committing to flying the time and budget that will necessarily limit your ability to do things like go out or vacation with them (are YOU ready to switch your budget priorities?) and also, force you to rearrange your free time schedule.

Parents and partners particularly may worry about the risks (remember, they haven’t been educated about the admirable safety record of general aviation as you have) as well as the expense, which is significant, especially given that you don’t know yourself yet if flying really suits you.


All of that external resistance is understandable and rather than becoming frustrated, become an educator: explain the safety record of such faithful and timeless standards as the Cessna 150 or 172 or whatever you’re flying. Describe the incremental steps of a flight training syllabus with a qualified instructor. Yes, there’s a significant financial commitment required and no, you’re not certain that the cost will be borne out by a lifetime in aviation. Nonetheless, you’re now at a point where finding out makes sense, and you can simply walk away at any point if you find that flying doesn’t suit you.

Internal resistance? That’s YOU. How good are you at the disciplined pursuit of a longterm goal, which proficiency as a pilot certainly requires for as long as you intend to fly? Recurring, never-ending demands of ratings, physicals, and training lie ahead–is that a challenge you typically embrace? Do you follow through on your plans, especially those requiring the consistent grunt work being a decent pilot demands?

There’s more. Physically, your body is entering a foreign environment of new challenges, from new and unfamiliar motor requirements of three dimensional movement to the vestibular sensations of movement in three axes. As one of my profs at the USC Flight Safety Center liked to say, no matter what cosmic jet we fly, we’re still just a “basic two mile per hour human,” physically evolved to walk on land–not fly.

Don’t let that stop you, or even slow you down: you’ll likely feel inept, maybe klutzy, your first few hours at the controls but that’s normal–we all go through that because you’re transcending the thousands of years of evolution and learning new reflexes and unnatural physical response. Give yourself a break. Don’t judge the entire pilot experience by the early struggles because they will smooth out with time.


2. Once you start flying, DON’T fly in your head. Let me explain: do your headwork BEFORE flight–learn the procedures and subjects pertinent to your aircraft and area. In flight, GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD and fly, period. The knowledge is still there for you to call upon, but the more important lessons are to be had physically: pay attention to the flight, what is actually happening versus what you expected or what you were told.

We don’t fly in books, tapes, sim programs or DVDs–we do it in the sky, in the weather, the wind and ambient conditions. That’s where your air sense is forged.

Don’t get me wrong: be obsessive about your preflight prep–devour pertinent training materials, study, memorize and review. In USAF Flight School, we called it “chair flying:” we’d physically talk through and do the hand motions required to effect each maneuver on the syllabus for a particular flight. That’s to forge patterned thinking and muscle memory, two things key to the physical performance required in the air. Sounds silly? Did you know the USAF Thunderbirds do exactly that as a group, in their preflight briefing room? That’s because muscle memory is key to successful flight maneuvers. This will boost your learning as well as your performance. Reinforce this concept on the ground, study, learn, review, practice.

In the air–fly. Get out of your head, trusting that if you’ve studied and reviewed hard enough beforehand, it’s all still crammed onto your cerebral hard drive, ready to be called on from the background. In the foreground: FTFA (Fly The F*cking Airplane) which simple as it sounds, is not always easy to focus on. Which brings me to point #3.


3. The aircraft is your best teacher. Sure, you’ve read the materials, studied, and you have an instructor talking in your ear through every new maneuver. Still, what’s the airplane telling you through your hands, feet, and its response? If you try to correct things based on books or talk, even from your instructor, give priority to what the aircraft is telling and showing you. I didn’t say ignore the rest, just prioritize the actual flight results.

Even now as a captain with thirty years at the world’s largest airline, I see copilots mystified by why some formula they use for descent or intercepts is not working out in realtime. I have only one answer: FTFA. Because I don’t know or care what component of the complex mix of time, speed, distance and altitude is screwing any formula, because again, we don’t fly on paper–we fly in the living, breathing, ever-changing sky in a unique aircraft that resists the one-size-fits-all mentality of formulas and gouges.

Same with your flight training: know the procedures and processes cold (study, review ON THE GROUND), listen to your instructor, but first and foremost, FTFA–feel what it’s telling you, then you fly IT, not vice versa–whatever it takes, aileron, rudder, elevator–DO IT.

4. Finally, a word about consistency. In an undertaking like flight lessons, DO NOT underestimate the powerful force of consistency in all matters, from the aircraft to instructor to airport, environment and even flight time. Minimize changes to all of these key factors in order to maximize your learning and developmental skills. As important, minimize training gaps, especially when you’re just developing the required physical adaptation and muscle memory flight training demands. Even now, if I take a two week vacation, I’m a little rusty on my first flight back. When you’re just learning, training gaps will only add to your frustration and slow your learning.


My T-38 instructor pilot told me the Air Force could teach a monkey to fly if they had enough bananas. His point was, they don’t–and neither do you: flying is expensive in both dollars and time. Keep the above points in mind to get the most out of your flight training and to make the endeavor as smooth and enjoyable as possible. Your family and friends will come around, accepting your flight endeavors as you successfully solo and progress steadily toward your pilot rating.

The rest is up to you. Welcome to the pilot world–and as we say to each other, fly safe and, I always add, fly smart.
✈️ Chris Manno


Midair Collision? You bet your life.

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, jet, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2010 by Chris Manno

The near mid-air collision between a jumbo jet and a light aircraft near San Francisco International Airport last week should be a wake-up call for the FAA and passengers alike. Sadly, it wasn’t for either–and so the imminent risk of a midair collision remains.

Sweep aside the usual hot-button issues of “free access to the skies” and other light aircraft lobby specialties. Here’s the bottom line: slow, light aircraft with hobbyists at the controls mixing with high-speed, heavy jet traffic promises disaster.

144 people died in the worst air disaster in California history When PSA flight 182 collided with a Cessna 172 and crashed into North Park.

A major risk is the overly simplistic rules of separation between aircraft: see and avoid.  That’s it.

When a jetliner is in the airport traffic pattern either taking off or landing, often controllers are able to use “visual separation” rules. That is, if the visibility is deemed minimally adequate, an air traffic controller can issue a traffic warning that holds a pilot responsible for avoiding another aircraft if the pilot can confirm that they have visual contact with the aircraft being pointed out.

There’s the roots of a disaster that will happen: when there are multiple aircraft in question, it’s very difficult to be sure as a pilot that you are looking at the one the controller is trying to point out.

Radar snapshot of the Atlanta Airport Terminal Area.

If you are looking at the wrong aircraft–and there are many at all points of the compass and at various altitudes–you cannot assure the clearance you just promised to maintain.

According to a recent study produced by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, air traffic at major hubs has increased exponentially in the past ten years. And even after 30+ years and over 17,000 flight hours, I find myself more often than ever when given a “see and avoid” clearance, telling air traffic controllers, unable to accept that clearance– I do not have visual contact with that aircraft.


Because with the multiple targets (i.e., other aircraft large and small) in the terminal area, I won’t gamble your safety on the bet that I’m seeing the correct aircraft.

And what about that other aircraft? The fact is, that aircraft may not even be flown by a licensed pilot.

Students with minimal hours are allowed to fly solo in the same airspace as your jetliner. And when the air traffic controller points out your jetliner to this student pilot–or weekend hobbyist pilot–what are the chances that he’ll do better than I would? Because my point is, I often refuse the visual separation clearance.

The result?

The air traffic controller must maintain positive radar separation between our jetliner and the other aircraft. This may mean slightly longer vectors, maybe a minute or two of extra flying in order to sequence our aircraft safely into the mix of flights in the terminal area. I personally can find no downside in that for you and me at a mile or two up flying at a couple hundred miles per hour.

Where do the air traffic controllers stand in this squeeze play of airspace users and managers? Tireless advocates for airline safety through appropriate air traffic control manning and airspace management, controllers have long warned of shortages of radar monitoring and manpower in critical terminal areas.

But the FAA and private plane owners may often prioritize workload and operating costs respectively above my (and your) priorities in the same situation and unfortunately, the same airspace. Both have resisted attempt by safety groups to exclude student pilots or even low-time private pilots from crowded airways and airports.

With increased pressure on the FAA to move air traffic in and out of airports as quickly as possible (see again the Wharton report), “see-and-avoid” clearances allow Air Traffic Control to increase the flow rates of an ever-increasing traffic load.

Light aircraft owners have a powerful lobby group that opposes all efforts to limit their airspace access.

This powerful lobby group is supported by an even more powerful and financially vulnerable group, the manufacturers of light aircraft whose sales depend upon users’ access to airspace.

Add up those factors, throw in ever-increasing air traffic congestion, airspace demands and private pilot owners’ “rights” to free flight and you have the a volatile mix that sooner or later will erupt in disaster–again.

Because when it comes to “see and avoid” in today’s complex mix of air traffic and inexperienced pilots at every major airport, I can sum up the risk of a midair collision in four words:

“You bet your life.”



%d bloggers like this: