Introducing AlwaysNRST for iPad and iPhone

I’m pleased to report that Apple has approved my new aviation app, AlwaysNRST.

AlwaysNRST constantly displays airports near you, with Direct-To info to the nearest color-coded by glide-ability in the event of an engine-out. I think you’ll enjoy it. I put it through bona fide flight testing and it works as advertised, and its database of 34,000+ airports includes facilities worldwide.

Check it out now in the App Store!

Do you always know your nearest airport? You should! AlwaysNRST can help improve your situational awareness. Designed as a training aid for students and instructors alike, this utility will help keep your “ADM” (aeronautical decision making) skills sharp by continuously telling you the location of the nearest airport to yourself.

AlwaysNRST uses your device’s GPS to provide a realtime display of fixed-wing airports in your vicinity, along with continuously-updated Direct-To routing to the closest one. Input your aircraft’s glide ratio and AlwaysNRST will color-code the course line to indicate your probability of reaching that field in the event of an engine failure.

AlwaysNRST requires no network connection to operate – it has thousands of airports in its database, and can perform its functionality offline.

+ Nearly 34,000 WORLDWIDE fixed-wing airports included in the app
+ Realtime calculation of Direct-To routing to closest airport to you
+ Native iPhone AND iPad interfaces (universal app)
+ Color-coded course line indicates probability of reaching airport without power
+ “North Up” and “Heading Up” modes
+ No network required for airport display and direct-to calculation
+ Compatible with external GPS receivers like the Dual XGPS150
+ iOS 6 and iPhone 5 (large-display) compatible

It’s even used by the big boys…

I wrote Wild Blue Flight Tools to appeal to General Aviation pilots, so you’ll understand how pleased and proud I was to get a really fantastic email from a 747-400 First Officer, who noted:

Your app got tested in “my” 747-400 on my last trip. Most functions worked well! Plus it fits neatly above the gear handle.

He even included a couple of pictures of my app being used on the 747’s flight deck. I couldn’t be prouder!

I think 514 knots might be the current record for my app.

Introducing Wild Blue Flight Tools for iPad & iPhone

Click for a larger pic.

When I set out to write Wild Blue Flight Tools, it was, as they say, to “scratch an itch.” I wanted a solid, stable set of computerized tools to remove the drudge-work from everyday in-flight calculations and activities. I knew that this would help me be a better pilot, a more efficient pilot, and do my job with a higher degree of skill and professionalism. I wanted a tool to help me deliver solid PIREPs, a tool to help me plan long trips, and a tool to do tasks that the human mind can do (but shouldn’t have to).

I also had some ideas for features that were completely absent in the generic “E6-B” type tools that have proliferated in the iTunes App Store. I wanted a quick way to record important times like engine start, time off, and so on. I wanted a way to determine the best route between two points without needing network connectivity. I wanted a digital minutes/seconds approach timer that was big and easy to read. Wild Blue Flight Tools has the generic E6-B calculations that people expect, of course, but it has powerful original features too:

  • Route assistant
    Network-free, automatic optimal-route planning between FAA navaids and fixes…
  • Time recorder
    Tap to record important times such as Engine Start & Stop, Block Out & In, Takeoff, Landing, and so on…
  • Descent planner
    Let the tool plan your descent to a new altitude in FPM and nautical miles…
  • Density altitude
    Not just the usual “quickie” dry density altitude, but also an accurate humidity-corrected density altitude based on dewpoint…
  • Wind direction & velocity
    Actual wind direction and velocity, also separated into headwind/crosswind components…
  • Approach timer
    A minutes-seconds approach timer for IFR approaches…
  • International units
    Inches of mercury or millibars, feet or meters, knots or MPH, Celsius or Fahrenheit, you’re covered…
  • Other useful calculators
    Pressure altitude and true airspeed…

I sincerely want this application to be the very best set of flying tools available for iOS.

Here’s a link to the application home page:

Hey, is that kitchen timer TSO’d?

I saw this picture of the space shuttle Atlantis this morning, and it made me smile.

Chris Ferguson, STS-135 commander, is pictured on the flight deck, surrounded by sophisticated, highly techn… hey wait! That’s a kitchen timer!  Not just any kitchen timer, but the very one that we have in our own kitchen:

My personal jury’s still out on whether this is one small step for Atlantis, or one giant leap for CDN Kitchen Timer.

You should be proficient in these unusual IFR operations

“Unusual” is a subjective word, but there are many instrument-rated pilots who never encounter these types of operations. If you fly IFR irregularly, perhaps only from towered airport to towered airport, then having this knowledge and being proficient in its use will add to your IFR toolbelt and keep you prepared for different situations.

Getting out: the VFR departure

You may subscribe to the philosophy of always filing and flying IFR, even on perfectly clear VFR days. That’s smart, it keeps your skills sharp. Regardless of the weather, ATC must maintain IFR separation — so you might be disappointed to call for your clearance and be informed to expect a substantial delay because of the IFR departures ahead of you.

If conditions are VFR, you don’t have to wait. You can advise the controller that you will depart VFR and obtain your clearance in the air.
Read the rest of this story…

The best (and only) Excel-based VFR flight planner you’ll ever need

Screen shot of the planner with sample data filled in (click to zoom).

Even if you’re an IFR pilot there are times you just feel like flying a trip as VFR. There are many ways to digitally plan such a flight — AOPA has a very nice online flight planner for members — but my preference is to do it the old school way: waypoints, courses and distances plotted out on a sectional. I feel that this method gets me more in touch with the details of the route than any of the online planners, and I’ve come to enjoy the map work.

But if you’re comfortably beyond your student-pilot days, the last thing you should be doing is using your E6B to figure wind correction angles and groundspeeds; it’s far too time consuming. If you really know you know how to do this, then there’s no point in wasting that time; let a computer do it. (And if you don’t feel that confidence, get some practice.)

Read the rest of this story…

Cessna 177RG Cardinal for X-Plane

The mid-1970s Cardinal RG is just one sexy plane. 200 horsepower, retractable gear, sleek lines… it’s a beautiful machine.

It also makes a great platform for simulation. It’s fast, IFR capable, and offers the added bonus of sharpening your “complex aircraft” skills. FAR 61.31(e), you’ll remember, defines a complex airplane as one having retractable gear, flaps and a controllable pitch propeller. The Cardinal RG has these.

VFR panel (day)

I wanted a Cardinal to train in for X-Plane and found a really fantastic 1970 Cardinal 177B by Sonny Lacey. His Cardinal flies wonderfully but, being an earlier model, lacks the retractable gear and extra power of the later RG variant. Sonny graciously granted me permission to deviate from his non-modification license and to base my RG upon his B model. I deeply appreciate this and stress that credit for the foundation airframe and its modeling belong to Sonny; his is really well done.

Read the rest of this story…

Ten things I wish I had known before starting my instrument rating

This is a guest post by Matthew Stibbe. Matthew is editor of Golf Hotel Whiskey. He flies a Cirrus SR22 from Denham, England (EGLD) and has a CPL/IR with more than 700 hours total time. He completed his FAA instrument rating in 2004.

  1. The oral exam is tough. It was the hardest part of the test for me. In the UK, we don’t go in for oral exams and rely more on written exams. I didn’t study hard enough and I wasn’t relaxed or confident. When I did my CPL check ride, the story was much better.
  2. Don’t lose your revision notes. I lost all my flash cards two days before the check ride when I left them in a bagel shop. Idiot. Don’t do this. Flash cards are the secret to rote memorisation and rote memorisation is one of the ways you can go into the oral feeling more confident.
  3. Study the things you find difficult. The John and Martha King computer test prep is very chirpy and occasionally annoying but it is a good way to understand where you are weak. I spent too much time re-revising stuff I knew very well and not enough time chewing the gristle.
  4. Know your aircraft. I now know that US examiners like you to have a lot of data about your aircraft memorised. Specs and dimensions – that sort of thing. I breezed in with a detailed checklist and a reasonable knowledge of the SR22 but no data at my fingertips. Big mistake. When I took my CPL, I learned the PA28R specs upside down and back to front. I think it amused my examiner that I wanted to give her more data than she wanted – I had spent so much time learning it that I didn’t want to waste it.
  5. Double and triple check the requirements. It’s essential that you have all the previous flight experience and sign offs etc. I was okay on my IR check ride but I fell short in a few subtle ways on my first CPL check ride. D’oh! It’s much cheaper to check it yourself with your instructor in advance that pay an examiner for a check ride you don’t do.
  6. Read the rest of this story…

Foolproof and fast holding pattern entries

It’s just typical: you’re in hard IMC, doing five things at once, and suddenly Center radios you the dreaded holding instruction: “Skyhawk 1152Z, hold as published over the Paine VOR, maintain 4,000, expect further clearance 1530, time now 1510.” Not only are you incurring an unwelcome delay, but now you have one more task: figuring out the holding pattern and your entry.

I’ve heard of various tedious techniques to do this, including mathematical gimmicks, diagrams, odd little mnemonics, even a completely unnecessary clear-acetate template you can put over the Heading Indicator.  All these are overcomplicated and pointless.

Folks, you only need two things, and you’re unlikely to forget them at home: your two hands.  If you use your two hands, there’s really no need to overthink the entry for a holding pattern.

You’ll remember, of course, the typical book diagram for holding pattern entry:

Read the rest of this story, including examples…

Deciphering Winter NOTAMs

If you customarily fly in warm, sunny climes you may not be familiar with some of the winter-weather contractions found in NOTAMs.

Last night the Seattle area experienced moderate snow followed by steady rain. Today’s NOTAMs for KPAE included these entries:

RWY 16R VER MU 43/45/39. 12 JAN 15:10 2011 UNTIL UFN. CREATED: 12 JAN 15:31 2011
TWY C,W,G,F 2 IN SN. 12 JAN 14:51 2011 UNTIL UFN. CREATED: 12 JAN 14:52 2011
RWY 16R/34L THN PTCHY SLR. 12 JAN 14:52 2011 UNTIL UFN. CREATED: 12 JAN 14:532011

“THN PTCHY SLR” is easy enough: thin patchy slush on runway 16R/34L. Taxiways C,W,G and F have two inches of snow. The MU entry is slightly more involved. “Mu” is used to report the runway’s surface friction quantities, or more simply, how slippery the runway is.

Section 4.3.9 in the FAA AIM  explains this with more depth: a Mu of 0 is the lowest friction value, and 100 is the highest. Mu of 40 or lower indicates a level where braking and directional control deteriorate.

The first entry in “VER MU 43/45/39” denotes the type of recording equipment in use. You can reference page 5 of the FAA’s Winter NOTAM Reporting PDF to determine that VER stands for Vericom VC3000:

BOW	Bowmonk Decelerometer (Bowmonk Sales)
BRD	Brakementer-Dynometer
ERD	Electronic Recording Decelerometer (Bowmonk)
GRT	Griptester (Findlay, Irvine, LTD)
MUM	Mark 4 Mu Meter (Bison Instruments, Inc.)
RFT	Runway friction tester (K.J. LAW Engineers)
SFH	Surface friction tester (high pressure tire) (SAAB, Airport Surface Friction Tester AB)
SFL	Surface friction tester (low pressure tire) (SAAB, Airport Surface Friction Tester AB)
SKH	Skiddometer (high pressure tire)(AEC, Airport Equipment Co.)
SKL	Skiddometer (low pressure tire) (AEC, Airport Equipment Co.)
AP	Tapley Decelerometer (Tapley Sales)
VER	Vericom (VC3000)

The three separate numbers following the MU denote the friction values for the three thirds of the runway, or as the AIM says, “for each one-third zone…in the direction of takeoff and landing on the runway.” Thus 16R’s first third’s Mu is 43, the middle third’s Mu is 45, and the last third is 39.

The NOTAM information above would, in summary, indicate a runway with a fair amount of contamination having relatively significant impact to aircraft controllability and braking.

In addition to the Winter NOTAM PDF above, I recommend you download this PDF of Approved NOTAM Contractions for the days when you encounter unfamiliar contractions.