VFR Flight Following

VFR Flight Following

Flight following is an essential safety precaution when flying cross-country flights, and I find it to be a convenience when flying around the Minneapolis class bravo airspace. VFR flight following is formally known as Radar Traffic Information Service in which ATC provides enhanced traffic awareness. Many pilots make flight following harder than it has to be and can sometimes be daunting when contacting departure as many airliners and IFR traffic is talking on the same frequency. When picking up flight following, ATC provides you with two vital pieces of information which are a departure frequency, and a squawk code. The Squawk code is a unique four digit code that you enter into the transponder on the airplane so that ARTCC (Air Route Traffic Control Center) can see you on the radar scope. A flight following clearance is similar to an IFR clearance, but much more basic. Not only does flight following aid in the separation of other aircraft, but it also provides safety alerts like terrain or obstruction awareness. Now, the real question is, how do I pick up my flight following, and when does it terminate?
For example, I will use a departure out of KFCM (Flying Cloud Airport, Eden Prairie MN) and request KSTC (St. Cloud, MN) as the destination.

Something you must never forget is that when you are VFR, you are VFR! Visual Flight Rules still apply and must be taken into consideration at ALL times!

I generally start out my flight by doing everything that I normally do…  Preflight, start-up, pick up the ATIS or AWOS weather information, and get the aircraft into takeoff configuration. Once you are ready to taxi, when contacting ground control, simply add a little more information to your request instead of providing a basic departure direction of flight.

“Flying Cloud Ground, Cessna 739BN is at Elliott, would like Flight Following to St. Cloud with Golf.”

ATC will either give you the departure frequency and squawk code immediately, or provide taxi instructions and will have you copy it down prior to departing.

“739BN, Flying Cloud Ground, remain outside the bravo airspace until cleared to enter, departure frequency is 134.7, squawk 4526”

Once the information is received, put the departure frequency (134.7) into the standby COM and also input the squawk code (4526) into the transponder. (VFR flights always maintain the squawk code 1200, so 4526 is a unique code for ATC to recognize your specific aircraft)Aircraft-Aviation-Transponder Once you get cleared to takeoff, tower will generally tell you when to swap frequencies and move over to the departure frequency where you will swap and provide ATC with some essential information. The information that you will provide is rather simple; tell them who you are, your altitude and selected cruise altitude, along with your intentions.

“Minneapolis Departure, Cessna 739BN is climbing through 1,200′ for 3,500′, direct St. Cloud.”

Odds are, the departure frequency could be busy with other traffic, including airliners operating out of the international airport nearby. DO NOT lose your confidence, there is nothing daunting or scary about speaking with these controllers as they are generally pretty patient and helpful if any mistakes happen to be made. (Everybody makes mistakes sometimes when talking on the radio, we are only human…) Finally, once ATC responds, they will most likely ask you to “ident,” in which you push the ident button on the transponder. (By pushing the ident button, the radar tag showing your aircraft blinks aiding the controllers in locating your aircraft and verifying that it is you)

“Cessna 739BN, Minneapolis Departure, ident.”
**(After pushing ident…)**
“Cessna 739BN, Radar Services acknowledged, cleared into the bravo airspace, maintain VFR direct St. Cloud.”

When using flight following enroute, sometimes ATC will hand you off to a different frequency and controller, simply comply and swap frequencies then announce to the new controller that you have swapped and are now with them. Upon approaching the destination, the controller will say that radar services are terminated, or hand you off to the tower.

Using Flight following is great, and I recommend it to anybody that doesn’t normally use radar services as it makes your flight a little bit more entertaining while keeping the duration of the flight much more safe and efficient!

If anybody has specific questions or would like to know more information about using flight following, please post a comment or add me on facebook and ask away!

Calm Winds and Blue Skies for all!

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Reading Approach Plates

Reading Approach Plates

Good morning aviation enthusiasts!  I understand that in many of my past blogs, I have provided pictures of approach plates for both precision and non-precision instrument approaches.  I would like to briefly describe the processes involved in reading and understanding what information approach plates provide to pilots, and how we use it to safely get the wheels back onto the ground.  First of all, instrument approaches come in two types:  Precision (allows the pilot to fly the aircraft down to a lower set of minimums and providing more wiggle room when the weather minimums are also very low)  Non-precision (Minimums are not quite as low as they are on precision approaches, but still allow pilots to make an attempt to land whether it be a straight-in approach, or circling.).

Approach plates are constantly being updated with new information and new editions must be obtained regularly by pilots to ensure the minimums and initial approach fixes haven’t changed or are being affected by NOTAMS.  I prefer to get my plates off of the Forefight application on the Ipad Mini mostly due to the fact that when charts expire, I simply delete the old and download the new, saving lots of time and money!  The plate that I will be referencing today is the ILS approach into Runway 10R at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, MN.  This approach is considered a precision approach and features minimums right down to about two-hundred feet off the ground.

First Step:  Find the plate that you plan on using BEFORE you get in the airplane and takeoff so that you aren’t struggling to keep up with the workload and have already briefly glanced at the procedures required during the approach.  (Also, setting up some sort of clip or place to hang the approach plate, whether it be a mount for the Ipad or a paperclip, it definitely helps NOT having it in your lap!)

Step Two:  Initial brief of the information depicted on the approach plate.  Approach plates are always read top-to-bottom and left to right.  We start with the localizer frequency and start programming things into the airplane while enroute so that when we get to an initial approach fix we are ready to perform the procedure.  Next, enter the approach course into the Localizer/Glideslope for our final approach course towards the runway numbers.  Finally, visualize the Runway landing distances, Touchdown Elevation, and Airport Elevation to ensure the altimeter matches up with the airplane’s configuration.

Step Three:  Read the notes that are usually listed underneath the very top line, these notes include any NOTAMS, inoperative equipment, alternate minimums if the aircraft isn’t equipped with specific items, and also states alternate minimums for weather requirements.  Between the notes column and Missed approach box is the lighting that will be in effect for the specified approach such as runway strobes and center/sideline lighting. (in this case, the lighting is MALSR.)  One of the most important things to read off the plate and remember, is the missed approach procedures.  These instructions tell us what to do in the event that when we fly the aircraft all the way down to two-hundred feet off the ground and still are stuck inside the clouds.  (Something that I always do just to help myself remember the missed instructions is writing them down on a post-it note and sticking it to the dash.)

Step Four:  Input all of the frequencies into the COM and NAV radios so that a simple swap over to tower can be done adding less of a shuffle when performing crucial configuration steps controlling the airplane on approach.  Tuning the Localizer frequency in this specific case and identifying using the code depicted for that frequency will allow the pilot to verify that they have the proper frequency.

Step Five:  Understanding the information depicted on overall approach diagram and what types of procedure turns or initial approach fixes that are available is important so that you know which direction you will start the procedure and generally what steps to take and what headings to expect once being vectored or direct to a specific point in the approach.  (A common setup for this approach into RWY 10R is being vectored by ATC to the IAF STUBR)  During this step in the plate brief, additional information can be gathered towards any additional NAV aids in the case that something were to fail and a backup is needed.

Step Six:  This is one of the most important steps as it is the approach view and list of minimums based on the type of aircraft being flown and the average approach speed being used by that specific aircraft.  In the Cessna 172R, we generally use the A column and have a speed somewhere around 90 knots on final.  We also look at the diagram located underneath the approach view so that we can see that by the time we get to STUBR (The final approach fix) we MUST be at 2600′ MSL before we start descending down to the listed minimum altitude of 1,105′.  We noticed that the TDZE listed on the very top of the chart was 905′, so that leaves us precisely 200′ off the ground giving us PLENTY of time to break out through the clouds given that we have a decent amount of visibility to work with.

Step Seven:  Verify that all the information briefed on the chart is accurate and was properly entered into the GPS or Navigational instruments.  I always like to include my final approach minimums (1,105′) on the sticky note I made for the missed approach procedure just so that it is one less thing I have to search for and will most likely not forget.

Thanks for reading this blog and look forwards to more of them this week!  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to add me on facebook or comment on this blog for an answer to the best of my current knowledge.  

As always, gnarly crosswinds and safe landings to all!

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I have included the ILS or LOC RWY 10R approach plate in reference to how we read these procedures and the order in which each bit of information is processed and entered into the airplane to ensure a safe and reliable approach.

Precision Mistakes

Precision Mistakes

Welcome back for another daily blog! I am going to walkthrough the flight I embarked on yesterday evening with my CFII Matt Danicker.  I left my house around 1545 on the 22 Mile journey towards KMIC (Crystal, MN) that took well over an hour to complete since   I managed to hit every bit of construction and accidents during rush hour. Arriving about five minutes late, I quickly dispatched my aircraft which was a fuel injected Cessna 172N (N2436W). After doing a thorough preflight, I realized that my Ipad was on 4% Battery..   However, no need to rely on modern technology when we have the Bendix King! (Very sarcastic).  100LL-fuelThe preflight procedure on this C172N wasn’t too different from the preflight I have done on any other Cessna and generally only takes around ten to fifteen minutes to complete in a precise manner. The only things that vary are the amount of fuel sumps located under the wings and nose. Inflight Pilot Trainings aircraft generally have only one sump per side underneath the wing while Thunderbirds have thirteen… yep…                                                                                                                                                                           Thirteen…….

I grabbed some popcorn and a bottle of water before Matt and I hopped into the airplane and got things going. Once the airplane was in takeoff configuration we got our ground clearance using Runway 06R via Alpha, Echo. We did the run-up real quick and experienced a bit of roughness when checking the magnetos, but after playing with the fuel mixture it smoothened out. We lined up and waited on Runway 06R which is a grass strip marked out by cones. Soft-field takeoffs and landings are always really enjoyable to me as they are very forgiving, unlike concrete or asphalt runways. After reaching 400′ AGL, we turned right towards the west and climbed up to 3,000′. (Foggles ON) I initially
started out by doing a few partial-panel maneuvers (Matt covered my directional gyro and attitude indicator) which required the usage of a little calculation towards how long to stay in a timed standard-rate turn based off what my current compass heading was and cross-checked by my turn coordinator. I performed all of the turns very well and was only off by a maximum of about ten degrees off the desired course.

This is where the flight got very interesting and I experienced a bit of induced spatial disorientation. Earlier in my flight training, unusual attitudes were always set-up by the CFI and I would recover after closing my eyes for a good amount of time. Matt had me shut my eyes and fly the airplane based upon my kinesthetic responses and believe it or not, this was NOT easy!I did fairly well throughout thespin recoveryturns and surprisingly only lost 100′ of altitude throughout the entire maneuver. Who says you can’t fly completely blind?! After having a little bit of fun for a while trying to get the gyro to precess by doing some very aggressive lazy eights (It never did precess… maybe another time.)  I entered a direct flight path towards the Gopher (GEP) VOR to initiate a procedure turn on the VOR-A approach into KMIC.

Crystal, KMIC, GPS – A Approach Plate

I was shocked with how much I still remembered about instrument flying and how precise my flying abilities were in a sense that I hardly let the altimeter needle move off the 3,000′ indication. After turning inbound towards GEP, I descended down to 2,500′ where I proceeded to get the TO/FROM indication on my VOR and a DME (Distance Measuring Equipment) starting to increase in distance rather than decrease.  (We call this the “flip.”) I shot the approach all the way down to minimums at 1,310′ circling to land. We were cleared to land on Runway 14R, but for some unknown reason, I was fixated on the fact that we were going to land on the grass again and started to make my downwind turn towards a short base for Runway 6R. It was at this point that tower was a bit confused and said, “36W are you still taking 14R? Cleared to land?”.  Mid-transmission from the tower, Matt pulled the power and took a steep 60 degree bank, lining us up on the approach for 14R that should have been a super simple straight-in to begin with. At this point, tower was probably head in hands… “ummmm…”. We floated about 1200′ of runway before touching down and finally coming to a slow roll at the numbers on the opposite end 32L.  I am sure we all make mistakes, but I try my best to fix them before they become uncorrectable. Honestly, mistakes are what allow us to learn quickly and efficiently as long as they aren’t TOO bad.  Of course, we are all human which mistakes should come naturally.  Finally, after a quick taxi into Thunderbird and a sweet park job right on the yellow lines in a fairly tight corner, I shut the airplane down and cleaned everything up. Overall, I thought this flight was very valuable to my education as partial-panel work is always a good thing to practice and understand just in case an actual emergency were to develop.

Hopefully everybody is doing well and enjoys reading these blogs! Please share and comment with any questions or aviation related material! Add
me on Facebook to receive notifications on when new blogs will be posted! Look forwards to more blogs coming soon!

“To most people the sky’s the limit, to aviation enthusiasts, the sky is home.”

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Another aviation blog!  Today I planned on discussing the difference in flying using Visual Flight Rules versus flying under Instrument Flight Rules. There are a big number of reasons why it is worthwhile to go the extra mile by getting the rating.  As a private pilot, your options are essentially limitless towards where you can fly and when, but what happens when the sky develops and overcast layer 1000′ off the airport and you NEED to get to your destination? Well… Your screwed… Unless… You have an instrument rating!

Instrument Flying allows pilots to get into an airport while weather conditions are less than favorable by using precision           and non-precision approaches.                     

With an instrument rating, you can file a more precise flight plan via radar vectors or through a well-planned and thought-out route allowing you to get where you’re going!  Flying into the clouds, or entering IMC conditions as a VFR pilot has proven deadly as many “visual” signs of movement can cause spatial disorientation.  Spatial disorientation as a pilot is something that with training can be overcome, but even experienced pilots with lots of flight time still encounter this phenomenon.  Being spatially disoriented doesn’t mean spiraling at Vne through the clouds, well… It could lead to that, but mostly it is a condition where your instruments say you are straight and level, but your body says otherwise.

Spatial disorientation can occur quickly unless a proper instrument cross check is used and relied upon to navigate the aircraft.

By having a good cross-check (instrument scan), interpretation of what the airplane is doing can be accomplished very easily and becomes natural.  Once the basic understanding of how to scan the instruments panel properly while also knowing to push those “by the seat of your pants” feelings aside, flying under IFR even in clear skies weather is the most practical and efficient way to fly.  Problems with flying in visible moisture include icing, convective weather, and traffic separation.

6 pack
A good cross-check is important to precise and safe flight under IFR/IMC conditions.

However, all of these things can be addressed in a variety of features implemented into the airplane.  The precision of Instrument flight extends into live radar feed on a display to allow the pilot to make decisions to find better routing around weather, and overall fly safer flights with reduced pilot workload.  I will go into more depth in some future Blogs discussing the different avionics commonly used in instrument flight, including the Bendix King GPS currently equipped on the Cessna’s I fly.

As always, thanks for reading. Be sure to share and comment anything related to aviation!  Live the aviation dream and expect more blogs to come soon!

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Updates and Good Weather!

What’s up aviation enthusiasts!  Well… maybe not everybody is as into aviation as myself and reading this Blog, but nonetheless I figured I would at least update everybody on my current flight training status and how things are going.  As many know, I have been attending Utah Valley University for Aviation and doing my flight training Part 61 paying out-of-pocket.  As many, many student pilots and pilots alike have experienced, money, or lack of money becomes an issue at some point if you are a full-time college student and work full-time.

Money is good and all for flight training, but flying itself is priceless.

Yep, I came to the point in my flight training, unfortunately the end of my instrument training where I had to think long and hard about what I really want to do to continue my education in aviation as a professional pilot and what would be in my best interest towards doing such.  I decided to switch to a Part 141 flight school where I got a private loan that is primarily for educational expenses like flight training.  I switched to Academy College located in Bloomington, MN where I continue to take classes both in attendance and online.  I still rent and fly through Inflight Pilot Training located at KFCM (Eden Prairie, MN), but all of my flight training is now done over at KMIC (Crystal, MN) in a couple Cessna 172N’s.

Check out http://www.inflightpilottraining.com for affordable training and rentals!

Having the capability of being able to fly and not worry about how I am going to pay for the weeks groceries expense just gives me more stability in making sure I get the proper education and allocated time for homework.  I made the transition from flying Cessna 172’s equipped with Garmin 430’s and 650’s to a prehistoric Bendix King GPS unit.  Believe it or not, the integration of the menu’s is very similar on the Bendix King when comparing it to a 430, but good LORD is it a pain not having the moving map display and other procedural things that the 430 is good for.

Bendix King GPS   One of the few GPS’s designed without implementing a single user-friendly feature!  Nice!


(Garmin 430)   With its convenience and sleek integration of features.

Something else that I am transitioning into is learning NDB’s and ADF procedures for holding and such as the aircraft at Inflight are not equipped with such outdated technology and aren’t required when taking an instrument checkride without them.  Flying a fuel injected aircraft is very similar to a carbureted airplane, but there are subtle differences making it out of the ordinary, such as starting with the fuel mixture at idle/cutoff and pushing the mixture to full rich once it breathes some life.  Joe Harbison, my prior flight instructor has moved onto bigger and badder airplanes at his new job with Endeavor Airlines.  Joe and I have made remarkable flights together and there wasn’t a single flight where I didn’t enjoy his presence as a CFII.  In the aviation world, many people move on when they qualify for upgrades or more complex job positions.  I wish him the best of luck and hope he continues to succeed in everything that comes his way.  Finally, weather has prevailed and given us a tease of what summer will bring with about a week of beautiful sunshine and 80 degree temps.  Now that the icing levels in the clouds has moved away, we still have the issues involving bad visibility and low-level IFR cloud clearance, but I am definitely looking forwards to completing some flights and approaches with my new CFII Matt through Thunderbird Aviation.  Anyways guys, I apologize for the lack of posting and will strive to post more Blogs and lead up to at least two to three posts per week!  I hope everybody is doing well and please share any fun experiences involving aviation or related subject matter in the comments!

Until next time, V1, V2, Rotate, Positive Rate, Gear Up!

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