Tips From the Pros: How High is High?

By Bob Turner

MCFI San Diego

I remember when GPS just got going good.  A buddy had the magic Garmin 295 and showed me how wonderful it was – it even had accurate altitude.  He could now be assured of being at the correct altitude no matter what.

I tactfully offered that maybe it was better to be at the altitude that everybody else was expecting him to be, and maybe that was different from the honest-to-gosh correct altitude measured by the GPS system.  Indeed, the way we select cruising altitudes in airplanes is by using matching instruments that may or may not know the actual altitude at which they are currently operating.  We get away with that because all airplanes in the vicinity are using equally inaccurate altimeters.

When you are cruising IFR and the center gives you an altimeter setting, it is probably not a perfect setting for where you are.  In fact, it is almost guaranteed to be accurate only at one point in the sector, maybe right outside the radar room.  You get the picture – everybody is using the same semi-accurate setting, regardless of the actual pressure at any given location, and separation is maintained – except for the occasional person who cruises around with a GPS altitude.

I think I gently convinced him to go back to the altimeter for his cruising altitudes.  

Today one of my students complained that his aircraft had a bad encoder.  It had a bad encoder two years ago, too, and we had it adjusted.  We had the transponder guy bump the reported altitude up a bit.  Turns out that the student had been cruising at the altitude on the face of the transponder, and not according to the altimeter.  The transponder is one of those fancy Garmin units with liquid crystal displays, and it reads pressure altitude right there on the face. 

And of course, since the controllers were still squawking after we re-set it, he assumed the transponder was sending a signal to the ground that was not matching the readout on the transponder.

The transponder was probably working just fine, except for the possible bump we put in two years ago. The transponder/encoder setup is designed to transmit the aircraft’s pressure altitude. In fact, the radar controller’s equipment is designed to apply a correction to the raw data from responding aircraft, commensurate with the altimeter setting the controller has selected for a given sector.

Pressure altitude, loosely speaking, is the altitude your altimeter reads when you set it to 2992.  If your reporting station is calling the altimeter setting 2992, you can be pretty sure the altitude your encoder is sending out is in fact the altitude shown on your altimeter.  But 2992 is a rare altimeter setting – it is usually a good bit higher or lower than that.

For instance, an altimeter setting of, say, 3012 will have the altimeter off by 200 feet from the altitude reported by the encoder, and that is enough, these days, to get a controller quite upset with you.  That is, if you cruise at 4,500 feet on the transponder readout, and the controller says the altimeter is 3012, assuming your equipment is working perfectly you will be 200 feet off your assigned altitude on the radar scope, and you will get fussed at (that’s how my Texas buddies phrase it).  

As an example, today the altimeter setting is 3024 - not unusual for sunny Southern California.  If I put that in my Kollsman window I read 420 feet – field elevation.  If I then put 2992 in the window, I get airport pressure altitude, which is 140 feet.  The 280-foot difference is enough to start alarm bells at a radar facility. Add the 100 foot error we erroneously introduced in my friend’s encoder, and there is the possibility of a violation under IFR or a class B transit.

Here is how you do it:  get your transponder/encoder checked every two years, which costs around $75, and it is required by FAR.  Then, use your altimeter for cruising altitudes, with the setting given you by the last controller.  Ignore your GPS altitude, and above all, ignore the altitude your transponder is giving you.  If you use that little number on the transponder, and you are on an IFR clearance, you could be impacting safety and you surely will be getting some heat from the radar specialist.

In Flight USA encourages GA Pro’s to submit their tips to share with our readers. Please send submissions to


Tips from the Pros - July 2012

Apply Professional Acrobatic Skills to Your Safety Practices

Tip provided by Julie Clark

You might think of flying the professional aerobatic circuit as an extreme sport where pilots fly outrageously fast, 500 feet above a crowd while they perform seemingly outrageous maneuvers and play with G-forces like a yo-yo. One second they are in the middle of an Immelmann maneuver with a slow roll out to a half reverse Cuban eight and the next moment they seem to be plummeting towards earth in a hammerhead stall. It’s almost magic, the aircraft’s movement seems choreographed to the music and pyrotechnics often illuminate the sky. It appears as though such performers are blessed with daring, incredible skills, split second timing and a lot of luck.

But there is more to it than just glitz and excitement. The airshow performer’s life depends on the competent combination their pilot skills, their ground crew professionalism, the theatrical choreographers’ and, in Julie Clark’s show, the skills of pyrotechnic technicians. Running the business of a serious aerobatic performer requires so much more than just great flying ability. Julie Clark can attest to these realities. Julie’s insight and experience has earned important recognition such as the; 2007 Woman of the Year, California Senate District 1, 2006 and 2007 Airport Journals “Top 40 Living Legends in Aviation,” Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame, multiple awards as the “Performer of the Year, recipient of the Art School Memorial Showmanship award, and the Bill Barber Award for Showmanship. Julie was honored in 2008 by the NAA as the recipient of the Katharine and Marjorie Stinson Award which recognizes living woman for an outstanding and enduring contribution, a meritorious flight, or a singular technical development in the field of aviation, aeronautics, space or related sciences. In 2011, Julie was inducted into the ICAS Foundation Air Show Hall of Fame that honors the great aerobatic performers of all time.

So what can we “contemporary” aviators learn from a pro like Julie, especially considering the approaching 2012 EAA AirVenture program which creatures the most crowded airspace in America? Let’s see what Julie has to say;

“With many folks heading for AirVenture 2012 this summer, I’d like to reflect upon 10 safety tips that have really helped me along the way with respect to safely operating my airshow company, crew, vehicles and airplane, etc. This certainly could be applied to airshow folks, business folks and for attendees all heading to Wittman Field this year in July.”

Julie continues, “Of course, personal safety and the safety of my team is paramount, but I must also consider the reputation of my sponsors. I have yet to meet the aviation sponsor who is not a strong proponent of safety.  When I personally reviewed these ten tenets of safety, I realize they could apply to anyone running most any kind of business. They certainly mirror my beliefs and have helped me advance in the business. If one prefers a shortlist, think about infusing these ten points into two guiding principles: “Do it safely, or not at all” and “There is always time to do it right.” These principles are base beliefs to both a global company, and anyone running any size of company, or just the folk who might be converging on an aviation site – for the biggest aviation event in the world, held for one week.”

Take a look at the list Julie provided. Most would agree that considering these well thought out points will place on the correct side of the “safety power curve.” Here are those reminders, and as read back one, think about how it can apply to you!

  1. Always operate within design and environmental limits.
  2. Always operate in a safe and controlled condition.
  3. Always ensure safety devices are in place and functioning.
  4. Always follow safe work practices and procedures.
  5. Always meet or exceed customers’ requirements.
  6. Always maintain integrity of dedicated systems.
  7. Always comply with all applicable rules and regulations.
  8. Always address abnormal conditions.
  9. Always follow written procedures for high risk or unusual situations.
  10. 10.  Always involve the right people in decisions that affect procedures and equipment.

Julie concludes, “Recognize that flying is the ultimate management of risk, and following the safety suggestions I personally use prior to every performance will help you move that risk factor down to zero.  Fly often, be safe and most of all, have fun!”


Tips from the Pros - March 2012

Upgrading to Jets

By Mitchell Ange

President, Arizona Type Ratings

More and more, we see private owners of light jets deciding to upgrade their personal flying skills and obtain the training and ratings needed to operate their jet aircraft personally. Doing so allows them to lower operating cost and enhance schedule flexibility.  But, what is it like to move up to these high performance, turbine aircraft.  Let’s take a quick look at speed control.

One jet characteristic that takes getting used to is the amount of thrust lever movement required to effect a significant airspeed change. Pilots transitioning from anything with propellers, whether piston or turbine powered, are accustomed to gently “tweaking” thrust levers, with the correct expectation of being rewarded with a rapid response. This gentle thrust lever movement makes the flying experience in propeller-driven airplanes smooth and comfortable. In turbocharged piston-powered aircraft, being smooth with power changes is desirable from a maintenance point of view as well, reducing shock-cooling concerns. In addition, the cabin altitude of many pressurized piston aircraft responds uncomfortably to brisk thrust lever movement. None of these “comfort” concerns apply to small, modern, civilian jets. But speed changes in a jet may require significant movement of the thrust levers.  Fortunately resulting acceleration or deceleration will be gentle and comfortable.  Don’t be afraid to aggressively move the thrust levers on a small jet, nothing bad will happen.

Power changes result in other “jet peculiar” phenomena. Jets will frequently accelerate and decelerate for a significant period of time after thrust changes are made. When you add or reduce thrust, a gentle change in airspeed will commence that may continue for several minutes. This is not a bad thing; it’s just something you will need to monitor. This characteristic, plus the fact that many jets don’t sound or feel much different at 150 kts than at 250 kts, can result in the airplane getting very slow or fast, undetected. You can’t rely on sound or feel as indicators of airspeed, as you may have been able to in your propeller driven aircraft. You will need to monitor the airspeed indicator religiously while getting accustomed to these airplanes. You will typically be provided with some “target power settings” to help you deal with these characteristics. These thrust settings are expressed either in pounds-per-hour fuel burn or in N1 percent rpm. Regardless of the index used, memorizing these numbers will greatly simplify your energy management task.

Since the “rotary speed brakes” offered by propellers are missing on pure turbojet engines, you can pick up a lot of speed in the descent. Free airspeed while descending in the en route environment is not a problem as long as aircraft speed limitations or ATC speed restrictions are not exceeded. In the terminal and approach environments however, excess airspeed can become a problem. We suggest you always have a target airspeed in mind and make the airplane fly that airspeed. Consequently, “flight idle” thrust will frequently be suggested during step-downs on approaches in order to prevent undesirable increases in airspeed. And keep in mind that you will then need to return thrust levers to that target power setting after leveling off to prevent the airplane from getting too slow. Again, get comfortable moving thrust levers more often and more aggressively in these light jets.

A new term will present itself as you transition from light propeller driven aircraft to the light jet – that being “V-Speeds.” There are many of them but only a few are applicable to routine jet operations. Approximations of some of these “V-Speeds” are frequently presented on the airspeed indicator of most light twins, but these colorful markings are at a given weight, temperature and altitude. In jets, these speeds are precisely computed under current, existing conditions and referred to during takeoff and landing.

Let’s look at V1 (sometimes called “decision speed”), the speed after which takeoff should be continued in the event of an abnormality during the takeoff roll. At V1, your right hand should be moved from the thrust levers to the yoke, as we are going flying. V1 is provided by the manufacturer and will vary with altitude, temperature and weight.  Consult charts in the Normal Procedures Checklist and Aircraft Flight Manual (AFM) and set the airspeed “bug” on the copilot’s airspeed indicator if operating crew, and on the captain’s airspeed indicator if operating single pilot. With an Electronic Flight Information System (EFIS) equipped jet, this airspeed index will appear on both the pilot’s and copilot’s airspeed indicators. You might ask, “Why not stop the airplane if I still have useable runway ahead of me?” Statistically, high-speed aborted takeoffs are very dangerous. Tire traction, directional control and predictable braking action are poor. At V1, speed is adequate to safely fly the airplane and return to the departing airport or some other airport if desired. Again, we are committed to fly at V1.

Closely following V1 is Vr (rotate speed). Frequently, V1 and Vr may even be the same speed. If you rotate to the published initial pitch angle at Vr, the airplane will climb through 35 feet above the runway, with one engine not operating, within your published takeoff distance. In the vast majority of departures, you will have several times this published takeoff distance available and fortunately both engines are running. Consequently, we frequently rotate at Vr plus a few knots as a “long runway” procedure. This improves overall performance and handling.

V2 follows Vr, which is of consequence to us only in the event of an engine failure after V1. V2 is normally “bug’d” on the captain’s airspeed indicator and should be maintained after gear retraction. V2 is similar to best angle of climb speed with one engine inoperative. V2 should be flown to the altitude specified in the AFM, typically either 400 or 1,500 feet AGL. Upon reaching the specified altitude, the pitch angle should be reduced as is necessary to accelerate the aircraft without descending. As you accelerate through V2+10 kts, departure flaps are to be retracted. The last departure V speed to be targeted is Venr or Vyse. This speed is similar to best rate of climb speed with one engine inoperative. This speed would be flown if further single engine climb is required.

Two approach “V” speeds come into play, Vref and possibly Vapp. These speeds are a function of weight only. Vref is 1.3 stall speed in landing configuration and Vapp is 1.3 stall speed in the approach flaps configuration. This assumes we are not maneuvering the airplane and wings are level. These are minimum “approaching the threshold” speeds. Typical target speeds will be significantly higher away from the airport. 

Flying the light jet is not that different from flying a light piston or turboprop twin, and completely within the skill capabilities of a well trained private owner. Approach speeds are similar and there are few operational differences. Be prepared to move thrust levers more aggressively, be aware of airspeed trends and know your power settings. Have a target airspeed in mind. Be prepared to set and fly specific airspeeds that apply precisely to current conditions. Finally, the right hand does not stay on the throttles until there is no useable runway left, as is the case in the light twin. Anything you do to the thrust levers after V1 will be wrong, so remove your hand and remove the temptation. On this class of airplane, we are going flying at V1.










Tips From the Pros - December 2011

Aviators Helping Aviators

By Doug Combs

The Luscombe Endowment, Inc.

Those of us who own airplanes and fly them for recreation find the fleet is generally 30 to 70 years old.  Few mechanics nowadays are familiar with these old birds, and many shops will turn away maintenance on these vintage airplanes unless that owner can provide the mechanic with reasonable technical data or parts support. This is where we find aviators helping aviators through organizations called “Type Clubs.” 

Type clubs usually offer newsletters and shared owner/mechanic technical expertise. They often have rare or lost manuals needed for maintenance, or they have a tribal knowledge of problem areas in different “types” of vintage airplanes. Some have websites and blogs where one can access help in a timely fashion. A thorough listing of such organizations can be found at

The Luscombe Endowment, is a type club, an IRS 501(C) 3, non-profit organization, and we provide the benefits of technical support to Luscombe owners on their airplanes as well as assistance in sourcing hard to find parts, a blog, and online articles. We also help other airplane types by maintaining a good stock and selection of vintage mechanical brake parts and replacement specialty ball bearing pulleys for those vintage airplanes. The Luscombe Endowment provides manuals and parts for the Goodyear disk brakes, Cleveland drum brakes, as well as the Shinn and Firestone drum brakes that were used on Aeroncas, Swifts, Taylorcraft, Interstate, Funk and others.

Knowing where to source these parts, manuals, and technical data, makes a type club an invaluable resource to the owner wanting to ‘do it right;’ yet the cost of membership is often less than $40 per year.

The Luscombe Endowment posts much technical information on its website at, but we also offer membership subscriptions to the Luscombe Association for whom we write expert technical articles on a bi-monthly basis. (One can call us at 480/917-0969 for membership subscriptions or other questions, or order online.)

The Experienced Luscombe Endowment crew has restored more than 125 Luscombes and the author has personally been involved with vintage airplanes since before 1975. Our website, support network and parts exchange has been supported by the donations of airplanes, parts, cash, and especially by the Luscombe WIN ME raffle tickets sold on a fully restored Luscombe airplane.

The Luscombe Endowment has restored and raffled 13 of these airplanes since 1993. Our 2011 WIN ME Luscombe is a fully restored 8E, with extended baggage, an O-200 engine, lightweight accessories, transponder, encoder, radio, hydraulic brakes and many other improvements.

We only sell 3,000 tickets, and fewer than 700 remain for sale. Information on our fundraiser raffle can be found at Your support of the Luscombe Endowment’s preservation efforts is very much appreciated.

Having this kind of support makes the proper care, maintenance, and feeding of these older airplanes possible, and it improves operational safety for individual operators, as well as the fleet generally. Please take the time to investigate type club support for your airplane and learn of the wonderful assistance available to you. For more details on type clubs visit



Tips from the Pros - August 2011

When is the “Truth” a “Bad Habit?

By Mitchell Ange, President

Arizona Type Ratings

So you’ve been flying your single engine Cessna, Piper or Beech for a few years and consider yourself a pretty good pilot. You’ve earned your instrument rating and then your multiengine rating in the Seminole or other light twin-engine trainer with several hundred hours total time logged. Now you’re looking for a new challenge, perhaps to advance your flying skills or even move into a new career. Many small businesses are discovering that ownership or time-share of a small business jet makes a lot of sense in today’s environment of hostile airline travel.

Ever wondered what it’s like to fly a jet? What pilot hasn’t? “But,” you may ask yourself, “is the flying experience I have in that Cessna or Piper really applicable to flying a jet?”  Well, the answer is “yes and no.” Of course there are differences, but not as many as you might have been led to believe. And those differences are manageable with a reasonable amount of training. Let’s take a look at a few of the new skills you will learn as a jet pilot.

One obvious difference between a light twin and jet is overall performance, especially in the climb. Instead of initial climb rates of 1000+ fpm, light jets may be climbing at 3000 to 4000 fpm, some even faster. This is an exciting characteristic to get accustomed to but it does make it easy to overshoot your assigned altitude during climb-out.  Remember, light jets typically operate above FL 180, meaning that you are flying IFR in Positive Control Airspace, even if the weather is severe clear.  Altitude discipline is important. Depending on your rate of climb, you’ll need to begin leveling off several hundred feet or possibly a thousand or so feet before your target altitude, especially down low where these airplanes have lots of excess performance. You will have to compensate for this newfound performance by looking a little further past the nose of the airplane than you may be accustomed. You will need to anticipate that altitude you are approaching at a rate of a couple thousand feet per minute and begin your level off accordingly. Your passengers should never feel light in their seats as you level off. If they do, you waited too late to begin leveling off.

Another difference between jets and propeller driven airplanes is the absence of prop effects. A significant pitch change accompanies throttle movement in all light propeller airplanes I have flown. This is due to a number of factors, one of the most obvious being the location of the propeller(s). Adding thrust to a propeller driven airplane will temporarily increase the velocity of the slipstream of air behind the propeller. This slightly increases lift produced by the wing and significantly increases down-force produced by the horizontal stabilizer. As a result, the tail pitches down pivoting the nose up, causing the airplane to climb. The reverse is true when the power of a propeller driven airplane is reduced.  This is not a bad thing, especially in small airplanes since we almost always combine an increase in the angle of attack with an addition of power to initiate a climb.  Many general aviation pilots were brought up with the “truism” that power controls altitude and pitch controls speed.  This “truism” is, in fact, vigorously defended in the classic aviation book Stick and Rudder and alluded to in the FAA publication Airplane Flying Handbook.

Unfortunately, this basic “Truism” gives birth to a “bad habit” when trying to achieve attitude and speed consistency with jet thrust. In this writer’s experience, using the “power to altitude” and “pitch to speed” will get you into trouble with a jet. Well designed jets with engines mounted on the tail are nearly pitch neutral over a wide range of thrust settings. They do exactly what they are supposed to when you change power. If you add power, they speed up. If you reduce power, they slow down. If you want the airplane to descend, you will need to pitch down. If you want the airplane to climb, you’ll have to pitch up. This seems intuitive to this writer, almost an unnecessary thing to have to say, but old habits are hard to brake. Nevertheless, I can’t tell you how many times I have informed a student that we are below our assigned altitude or below glide slope only to have him add power! Not only does that response not fix the problem in our jet, it creates another one, we are now too fast!

Does this sound like “new” thinking?  Not to jet pilots!  Practice controlling airspeed in your small airplane with thrust and control altitude with pitch. It is the correct way to fly, especially if you want to graduate into small jets. Apply the “power to speed” and “pitch to altitude (or glide path)” the next time you are shooting a precision spot landing in your Cessna or Piper.  You may be amazed at the increase precision you have.  Obviously, if the airplane gets slower than you prefer in the climb (or flying up to the glide slope), you may need to add power. Likewise, if it gets too fast in the descent (or flying down to the glide slope), you may have to reduce power.  Just be aware that you are making these adjustments in power to control airspeed, not to climb or descend. Remember the basics, the elevator makes an airplane go up or down, thrust levers make the airplane go fast or slow.  Try it!  You’ll like it!








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