Ramblings about flying for fun and profit.

Category: Reviews Page 1 of 4

Reviews of books on aviation, flying, flight training courses or other aviation-related subjects.

All Set for Another 2 Years

Piper Cherokee similar to the one I flew for the Flight Review. Photo Credit: Lau Svensson, Flickr:CC

Piper Cherokee similar to the one I flew for the Flight Review. Photo Credit: Lau Svensson, Flickr:CC

I managed to check off all the required boxes for another two years.  With a fresh eye exam and two new pair of glasses I headed to the AME for my FAA Class III medical. That went smoothly – with the admonition that I need to get off my butt and get more exercise. That was not at all unexpected.

I mentioned in my last post that I had purchased the Sporty’s Flight Review iPad app for my review. I completed it – an hour and 40 minutes of short videos covering the required ground items. It was OK, but not something I will do in the future. It was much too easy to let my mind wander while the videos played – putting in the time, but not really having the information sink in. I guess it depends upon your motivation/dedication to complete the review – and if it’s really a review or seems like new information.

I also said that I was going to try the FAA online course again. I did do that ( Course ALC-25 at FAASafety.gov ). It is a free, self-paced course with a quiz at the end. Successful completion of the course material and quiz permits you to print out a completion certificate and earns you an hour of ground training in the FAA Wings Program.  Since the course is self-paced you can complete it as quickly as you want. The time it takes is directly related to how much of the supplemental material you access and study. There are multiple links in each section to relevant online Regulations, sections of the AIM and other manuals/advisory circulars. I actually enjoyed this course more than the iPad version – mainly because I could easily access and study more relevant information if I desired – which, as usual, led to links to more information that sounded interesting, etc, etc. Rabbit holes everywhere…

After running through the two courses I was able to arrange to spend enough time with an instructor to assure him that I know enough to fly competently and safely. The ground part of the official Flight Review was pretty straight forward though I have one area that always irritates me.


Students are taught (and flight reviews reinforce) the memorization of what in my opinion is aviation trivia. Things like the daytime VFR visibility and cloud clearances in Class E airspace above 1200′ AGL and below 10,000′ MSL. Every student can spout those numbers and virtually every CFI asks the question on each Flight Review.  Can anyone gauge accurately those distances while in flight traveling at 2 or 3 miles a minute?  Does anyone address the fact that those are the absolute minimums that are specified by the FAA and that if you are flying VFR in those conditions it does not register a very high score in the judgement block?  Just because those numbers are published  does not mean that you should be flying by them. Yes, I’ve flown VFR at, and probably below, the published minimums because of my errors in judgement. I have been lucky and survived without hurting myself or an airplane but the experience has taught me that there is no reason to do it again. You have a pilot certificate – set your own VFR minimums according to your abilities and the capabilities of the aircraft you are flying. Is it legal to take off VFR from your home airport in Class G airspace with 1 mile visibility? Yes. Is it smart? Not even close.  I know, you have to know the numbers to pass the written and oral exams for the various pilot certificates. There has to be a knowledge starting point of some sort that can be evaluated. But the general aviation accident rate doesn’t relate to rote memory of trivia, it relates to poor aeronautical judgement – judgement that says that one mile visibility is legal so I can go ahead and take off.


I chose to do the flying part of my Flight Review in the instructor’s airplane for a change of pace from my normal flying. He has a Piper PA-28-180 in the form of a Cherokee Challenger based in Carson City (KCXP). Yeah, I had to look that one up, too. It is the predecessor to the Piper Archer – four-place, fixed gear, Hershey-bar wing. It is a nice-flying, stable aircraft even if it does have the little wheel on the wrong end. We accomplished all the standard Flight Review maneuvers and then for fun flew over to Reno and requested vectors to the ILS for Runway 32 at Stead. A Garmin 430 had been installed in the plane recently and it was a good way to check it out. There is also a basic autopilot installed in the plane but I elected to hand-fly the approach for practice and because my philosophy has always been that if you don’t know exactly how the autopilot works you shouldn’t be using it. Having an autopilot do something that you are not expecting and then trying to figure out what is going on is an excellent way to totally screw up an instrument approach.  The approach went well (in perfect VFR conditions) and the experience got me interested in getting my IFR currency back again. Going through the hoops of passing an IPC would probably be a fun challenge. The hitch would then be in trying to maintain the currency.  My Swift only has a communicaitons radio and a transponder so maintaining IFR currency would require renting another plane – an added expense that is not in the budget. I might reconsider should I elect to upgrade the panel enough to comply with the ADS-B mandate in 2020 but that is a long way (and three physicals) in the future. Who knows what will happen by then…

Lost in Shangri La – Book Review

I admit it, I’m a sucker for a book with an airplane on the cover – especially if it’s an antique or WWII vintage airplane. I can’t remember where I first saw this particular book, but do I remember making a mental note to buy it. Last week I had breakfast with a friend and he handed me a copy saying I’d probably enjoy the read. He had bought it, finished it and was passing it along. It’s nice to have friends like that…

Mitchell Zuckoff, the author, is a professor of journalism at Boston University. In this book he has produced a work of narrative nonfiction that is fast-paced, easy to read and an amazing story that takes place near the end of WWII in Dutch New Guinea.

On May 13, 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and WACs boarded a transport plane for a sightseeing trip over the jungle-covered mountains of Dutch New Guinea. Unlike the peaceful Tibetan monks of James Hilton’s best-selling novel Lost Horizon, this Shangri-La was home to spear-carrying tribesman, warriors rumored to be cannibals.

The flight was made in a C-47 named the Gremlin Special. It wasn’t a difficult flight but enroute to the valley it was necessary pass over a mountain range or two with peaks reaching as high as 15,000 feet. At that time the inner portion of New Guinea was uncharted – a blank area of jungles and mountains on maps, populated by island natives and pockets of Japanese soldiers still remaining after American forces recaptured the island. The valley that had become known as Shangri-La with its large population of natives had been only recently discovered by air and there appeared to be no navigable land routes in or out.

The sightseeing flight was, unfortunately, a short one that ended abruptly against the side of a mountain at the edge of the valley. Lost in Shangri-La is the story of the survivors of the crash and their efforts to remain alive long enough to be rescued. Zuckoff used interviews, personal photos and mementos, survivor’s diaries and journals and declassified U.S.Army documents to recount the amazing adventure.

This book is well worth reading, it’s a great story. It is available at Amazon.com through the affiliate link shown here.

Mission: Dawn Patrol – DVD Review

I received this DVD free as a volunteer to try products and write reviews for EAA’s Sport Aviation Magazine.

The DVD runs 62 minutes and is narrated by Hugh Downs a legendary broadcaster with multi-engine and balloon ratings.

Mission: Dawn Patrol is a video account of three pilots who flew aircraft of the Vintage Aero Flying Museum in Hudson, CO to the Dawn Patrol Rendezvous of WWI aircraft at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, OH.

The photography is excellent and the story is punctuated with actual clips of the planes in action and biographies of the pilots who flew them in WWI.

The pilots in the DVD and the airplanes that they flew are:

  1. Fokker DR-1 (Triplane) – Mark Holiday
  2. Fokker D-VII – Dan Murray
  3. Fokker D-VIII – Andrew King

These planes, WWI fighting machines, were designed to fly sorties about an hour long. This effort was to fly them 1100 miles to Dayton – and back. They had a chase plane and two vans following them with parts and mechanics. It was a monumental effort that has been documented beautifully – even the unfortunate landing accident.

If the DVD only documented the effort to take the planes to Dayton and back it would be worth your time to watch – with great air-to-air photography, comments by the pilot, and the addition of actual WWI movie footage, interviews and pilot biographies make it a valuable aviation history lesson.

I recommend this DVD to anybody who is an advocate of sport aviation and/or antique aircraft.  The link above is an affiliate link to purchase the DVD from Amazon.

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