101 Things to do with your Private Pilot’s License

I’ve been grounded for the last few days with maxillary sinusitis, which gave me time to finish this book. It is divided into 53 small chapters, and is written for the newly minted private pilot looking for the next steps to take with the certificate. The book presents a breadth of topics, with chapters on low-level flying, operating from grass strips, VFR radio communications, flying the four seasons, aeronautical decision making, and joining a flying club, to name a few. The book’s final section serves as an introduction to various ratings beyond the fixed wing single engine land, covering gliders, helicopters, the instrument rating, sea planes, multi-engine airplanes, and the commercial and ATP ratings.

The book technically does have a list of 101 things you can do with your private pilot’s license, although some of the “things” are stretching it if you ask me, e.g. “Reporting postflight squawks”, “Buying Insurance”, and “Reporting Accidents”. The title is a little misleading in the sense that the intent of the book is to improve a pilot’s existing skills and fill in any gaps that may have been omitted or forgotten from the private pilot curriculum. In all likelihood as a pilot you’re probably already aware of the 101 things you can do with your license. But the book’s purpose seems to be to impart the wisdom of an experienced pilot to the inexperienced, covering topics that every pilot should know. The book is written clearly, interesting, and I think well worth the time spent reading it.

There’s a site called that provides free access to scanned aeronautical sectional charts through a user interface similar to google maps. The maps also overlay routine weather observations (METAR) and provide detailed airport/runway information.

But here’s the cool part–they’ve recently added the ability to compute course headings and distances between points on the sectional chart and assemble a flight plan from the points. You just right-click anywhere on the sectional chart, select a waypoint, and repeat until you’ve created a list of waypoints defining your flight plan.

SkyVector Flight Planning Feature

*A disclaimer indicates that the feature is “not for navigation.” Nevertheless it is still a useful tool for rough high-level planning, as it is much more convenient than a plotter for getting an idea of how much distance the flight will cover. I’ll continue to use my flight planning software and the paper sectionals for my actual planning and navigation, but it does seem that is moving their service in the direction of a software package fit for actual flight planning.

VFR Over The Top

June 13th, 2007

This evening I rented 3555L with the intention of flying over a solid layer of clouds for the first time, and my sweetie accompanied me. Flying over a layer of clouds under visual flight rules is called “VFR Over the Top”, and it’s perfectly legal for a private pilot in the U.S., although in some countries (e.g. Canada) you need a rating for it. We stayed local to mitigate the risk of getting lost, and we always kept a “hole” in sight in case we needed to find a way back to the ground in a hurry. Over Hillsboro at takeoff the clouds were broken (5/8ths to 7/8ths sky coverage) at 4,900 feet above ground level, but we could see a solid overcast layer over the coastal range. We climbed to 9,500 feet and flew back and forth across the area between Southeast Portland and McMinville, then descended to 8,500 over the coastal mountains to witness a gorgeous sunset.

Beautiful Sunset over the Oregon Coastal Range

Cloud Deck Over the NoseSunlit Clouds over the Coastal RangeA Gorgeous Sunset, VFR over the topOvercast Clouds After Sunset

We initiated our descent south of Haag Lake, called Hillsboro Tower when we were over Forest Grove, and landed smoothly on Runway 30 with a perfectly-aligned 10 knot wind. It was definitely an amazing experience flying above the clouds, and I think we had the perfect weather for it, too!

Clouds Near Sunset, Flying over the Coastal RangeMcGuire ReservoirMt Hood Over the CloudsThe Sunset Under the Right WingLanding on Runway 30

Marcware Weight and Balance Calculation Screen - Outside of Limits!
Marcware Weight and Balance Limit Entry Screen
Marcware Weight and Balance Fuel Calculator
Marcware Weight and Balance Station Entry Screen

I finally got around to packaging up my Weight and Balance program for the Pocket PC, and it is now available for download. The product page describes the program and has a few screen shots. I recently added a fuel calculator feature to the program which allows you to specify how many gallons of fuel you’ll have at takeoff, how many gallons will be consumed en route, and it will calculate the takeoff and landing fuel weights. I have been using it before all of my flights to compute the takeoff and landing weight and balance figures so it has undergone some real-world testing. Although it does have pretty decent unit test coverage I certainly make no claim that it is defect-free, so exercise caution and common sense when using this program for actual calculations. Let me know if you discover any problems, or have any requests for additional features.

Update: Marcware W&B has been reviewed on! See the review here.

Today I finished reading the FAA’s Instrument Flying Handbook. It is available from the FAA’s web site in PDF format, but I read the hard copy. The handbook describes the physiology of sensory illusions, details the inner workings of the flight instruments, and covers the techniques for attitude instrument flying. The book’s home stretch covers navigation systems, procedures, and air traffic control’s role in IFR arrivals, approaches, and departures, followed by a short chapter on in-flight emergencies.

Instrument Flying Handbook

It’s a detailed book, and from it I gained an appreciation of the sheer size of the body of knowledge required for IFR flight. The handbook is a tough read at times, and in hindsight it may not have been the most appropriate book for introducing me to instrument flying. However, the material is concise and well organized, so I am certain I’ll consult it throughout my instrument training, very much the same way I consulted the Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge throughout my private pilot training.

One minor quibble I had with the book was that it makes heavy use of computer-generated graphics of flight instruments instead of real photos. While this may have reduced the book’s production costs, many of the images look blurry and pixelated, but worse some are inaccurate representations of the actual instruments.

Weird Attitude Indicators

For example, the chapter on attitude instrument flying contains several images of Attitude Indicators in impossible configurations, with the “ball” of the miniature airplane well above or below the wings. On an actual Attitude Indicator the wings and the ball are connected and aligned, and both remain stationary as the artificial horizon moves around the miniature airplane.

While I’m sure this book is a valid tool for covering the concepts of instrument flight, I’m also sure it is not the most approachable or interesting material available. It is clear that the Instrument Flying Handbook is not intended to serve as a gentle introduction to IFR operations, but rather it is intended to provide comprehensive coverage of the material required for the instrument rating when used in conjunction with the Instrument Procedures Handbook.

Today at 2:00 I set out with my girlfriend on a flight to Tacoma Narrows Airport, 109 nautical miles from Hillsboro. We used Air Traffic Control’s Flight Following service to receive traffic advisories and altimeter settings en route to add an extra degree of safety to the flight. I planned a checkpoint in Olympia in order to avoid the restricted airspace over Fort Lewis.

The Tacoma Narrows ATIS reported the winds from 210 at 10 knots with gusts up to 14, and runway 17 was in use; a 40-degree, 7-10 knot crosswind. Tacoma Tower instructed us to enter right downwind for runway 17, and to report when we were 2 miles out on the 45.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge and Airport

Short final was pretty bumpy, so I held my hand on the throttle and prepared to initiate a go-around if it started looking iffy. I put in a side slip to compensate for the crosswind, and we were aligned with the centerline as the airplane entered ground effect, so I put it down on the runway. There was a tiny bounce on the touchdown, but it was under control and perfectly safe. It did get my heart beating a bit, though!

The goal of the flight was to eat dinner at the restaurant that sits directly on the general aviation ramp, but we discovered after landing that it closes at 3pm on Sunday! So instead we visited the pilot shop at the FBO, grabbed a couple of sodas, enjoyed the sun and the warm breeze for a few minutes, and hopped back in N478ER. We used Flight Following on the way back too, and received three traffic advisories. I fear that someday Flight Following may become a paid service (“user fees”), and the result would be that pilots would be discouraged from using ATC services intended for safety as a means to reduce the cost of flying.

Tammy took the controls for a good portion of the return flight, so although I acted as Pilot in Command for 2.9 hours (the entire flight), I only logged 2.4 hours of PIC time. See, you can only log PIC time for the time you are the sole manipulator of the flight controls. She did pretty good–we oscillated between 5400 and 5600 feet until we got to Longview, at which point she got it trimmed for level flight at 5500. I had her initiate the descent over Scappoose, enrichen the mixture, and level off at traffic pattern altitude in Hillsboro’s airspace. I took over the controls to fly the pattern and landed on runway 20 with a 4-knot crosswind.

Hillsboro Airport After Takeoff to KTIWInstruments in Cruise Flight to KTIWTrain Running Through ChehalisWeird Yellow Flower FieldInlets Near TacomaMore Inlets Near TacomaLooking Down Near the Shore of the InletsDream Houses Near TacomaSweetie at the Controls on the Return FlightSmog over Portland

After all that we were hungry, so we stuffed ourselves full of Indian food on the way home!

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