Author Archives: Mike

Things that help your check ride start off smoothly 

Usually, your CFI will contact me about your check ride. Sometimes your CFI will have you contact me directly, and I’m OK with that too. A phone call or an email will work fine. Once we start to firm up a date for your evaluation, I’ll send an email with three documents. One is a request for information such as name, email, phone number, type of rating requested, type of airplane, your FTN as well as a few other items. The FTN (file tracking number) is from IACRA ( which I use to get to your application. Except for unusual situations, IACRA is used to produce an application, and you will need to log into IACRA when we meet for your evaluation. The next document I’ll send is your scenario for the check ride, and the last is a copy of the privacy act and Pilot’s Bill of Rights. I’m required to ensure you have seen these documents, so I like to send them before the check ride day. The purpose of all of this is efficiency. Your time is valuable, and so is mine and preloading some of the administration requirements smooths the process. Before check ride day, I use your FTN to review your application. That way I can ensure you meet the requirements of your evaluation and that I’m qualified to do it. I can also check that your CFI has e-signed your application in IACRA and review your written test (if one is required). If possible, I would also like photos of your logbook endorsements sent via text. Just take a snapshot with your phone and send it to me as this is another area of check ride drama. If I see the endorsements in advance, we can fix any problem that might exist. The bottom line for endorsements is for the CFI to follow AC 61.65F (as of this post), don’t just use whatever is in the back of the logbook as the regulations may have changed since you purchased your logbook. I’m required to review the aircraft maintenance logbooks and documents to ensure the aircraft is airworthy. So tabbing the required inspections, ADs, etc. speeds up this process. Finally, read the Airman Certification Standards (ACS) or Practical Test Standards (PTS) for your check ride!! These documents tell you what I’m going to expect and they have handy checklists of the items you need to have for check ride day. Following these techniques will help us get off to a great start on the day of your check ride!


Rusty Pilot on 13 January 2018

Happy New Year!  I took a little time off with family and friends at the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  We have visited for about 15 years now, always in the off season and usually around the holidays.  It’s great fun but this year was colder than most.  I did run to the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk; very cool thing to do (no pun).  But now it’s time for another Rusty Pilot seminar!  This one is at the Bay Bridge Airport (W29) in Maryland (right across the bridge from Annapolis).  The 3-hour seminar starts at 9:00 and is being hosted by Chesapeake Sport pilot.  This seminar is a great review for anyone flying as a §91 pilot and the agenda includes regulations required to fly and be current, maintenance and equipment required for flight, weather, and airspace.  The seminar is free for AOPA members who can register here.  Not a member?  Join here!

Thoughts on ATC privatization

I purchased a DJI Phantom 4 drone this summer with the intent to use it commercially.  Out of the box the drone is easy to use but one thing has become frustrating; the near constant denials or restrictions on where I can fly.  Recently I was on a vacation at the Outer Banks, NC staying near the Wright Brothers memorial.  This entire area, including the beach and the house where I was staying was off limits to drones.  Apparently not to airplanes buzzing down the beach, but off limits to drones.  The DJI app on my phantom controller (viewed through my iPhone) pops up a message that states “you cannot take off” and that’s basically it; I’m toast – no flying here.  My son and his fiancé were going down to Jockey’s Ridge to take a hang gliding lesson. Hang gliding at Jockey’s Ridge is a popular attraction at the Outer Bank due to the history of the first powered flight.  Jockey’s Ridge is a state park and it is not on the DJI restricted flight areas site.  However, when I turned on the drone I got a message that I had to acknowledge that stated I was flying in an “enhanced warning zone”.  This zone apparently runs from Virginia Beach down south of where I was at Jockey’s Ridge.  That’s a diameter of over 60NM!  That is as big as the Washington D.C SFRA!  But I could unlock this code and fly the drone although there was some type of error with the DJI app that required a frustrating amount of work around.  That’s another story that involved some bad language. All of this drama with the drone restricted flight areas made me think about the current efforts to privatize the Air Traffic Control system for airplanes which goes hand in hand with the discussion of user fees.  I believe that if you want to see the future of the National Airspace System and user fees then take a look at the DJI Fly Safe map.  If you cannot fly drones in these areas then why should airplanes fly in these areas?  And if they do, why shouldn’t they pay.  You think this is crazy but I’m betting somewhere someone with the power (and need) to create fees, taxes, whatever is thinking exactly this thought.  Just putting my 2 cents out there…..

AOPA Rusty Pilot at IA24

I occasionally present AOPA Rusty Pilot seminars at various locations around the country.  I had a great group of 32 at the Green Castle Airport (IA24), IA on 16 December 2017.  Don Nelson is the 90 year old patriarch of the airfield and the Green Castle Aero Club.  Don and his wife built the small airport on their property and then started the Aero Club in 1993.  The goal was (and is) to keep flying safe, fun, and affordable.  Don is 90 years old, spry and sharp witted.  It was great to have spent a little time with this group of grass roots pilots and aviation enthusiasts.  If you would like to brush up on your knowledge of regulations, weather, the new “Basic Med”

program and other subjects you should consider attending a Rusty Pilot seminar.  These are free to AOPA members (which I highly recommend) and not just for “Rusty Pilots” but for any general aviation pilot and also could be useful for those folks flying drones these days.  If you happen to live near the New Garden Airport (south of Cedar Rapids, IA) you might want to check out the Aero Club.  The Green Castle has a C150, C-172, Piper Arrow, an Ercoupe, and an Aeronca Chief.

More check ride guidance

Here are some check ride problems that I’ve encountered recently.  The private pilot Airmen Certification Standards (FAA-S-ACS-6A w/chg 1 dated June 2017) states in skill element PA.II.D.S9 that the applicant “Use an airport diagram or taxi chart during taxi”. This is pretty clear; you must have a diagram out if one is available for your airport!  Also note the Knowledge task of PA.II.D.K6a.  “briefing the location of Hot Spots”.  Knowledge elements are tested in the knowledge test but you should note the hot spots if they apply to your airfield.  Not clear as to where to find these tasks?  Look at Appendix A (page A-6 on the current ACS):

Currently the Knowledge Test uses the old “Learning Codes” but will soon be upgraded to reference the ACS task elements.  This coding applies to all elements whether Knowledge, Risk, or Skill.  Appendix A also provides guidance to examiners (e.g. the DPE).  Note page A-8 states:

Again, this is pretty clear guidance and you and your CFI should review the ACS to ensure all areas are covered.  Another item to note in Appendix A (pages A-9 and 10) is unsatisfactory performance.  The last item on this list “Failure to exercise risk management”.  As previously discussed each Area of Operation in the ACS has three elements and one of these is Risk. Don’t forget to review the Risk elements of each task! I’ve referenced the Private Pilot ACS but this post applies to the other ACS (instrument and commercial) as well.  Here’s to a great check ride!

YouTube channel

Quick update.  I’ve created a YouTube channel.  My intent is to primarily post tailwheel flying videos that will be helpful to folks that wish to learn how to fly a tailwheel airplane.  I most certainly will post other aviation related videos that I produce.  I hope to have one before too long on landing at WV77.  Please subscribe to my channel (note the link) and stand by for videos!

New Addition to On Course Avn

I’ve been in the market for a tail dragger to add to On Course Aviation for a while.  The goal is to offer tail wheel training required for a licensed pilot to receive the tail wheel endorsement and also to offer IMG_0668sight seeing rides at WV77.  While I love a tandem such as a J3 Cub, I like to instruct in a side by side airplane.  I think I do a better job instructing when I can see what the student is doing and the student can see what I’m doing!  At first I was thinking of something like a Luscombe, Aeronca Chief, or a Cessna 140 but I came around the C-170 because it offers a little more horsepower and space.  Plus I’m a Cessna guy.  I didn’t really want the 180 hp Lycoming conversion.  The extra horsepower would be nice but it is also more gallons per hour and more weight.  Plus I first soloed in a 1950 C-150 with a Continental engine and I think they just sound better than a Lycoming and I think the little six cylinder on the C-170 is cool.  There were several C-170 authorized modifications (Supplemental Type Certificates) that I did want.  One was Cessna 180 landing gear, which is a little more stout and raises the nose somewhat, and a Scott tail wheel.  The Scott tail wheel is better than the original.  So N2266D is the now a member of On Course Aviation!

More Rusty Pilots

I’m presenting an AOPA Rusty Pilot Seminar at Weyers Cave, Virginia (KSHD) on 4 March 2017 starting at 9:00am.  I have another in Buffalo, NY on 18 March also at 9am.  These seminars have been a lot of fun and folks really seem to enjoy the presentation and the chance to gather with a bunch of “Rusty Pilots” who would like to get back into flying.  To register or find a location follow this link or go to AOPA > You can fly (located at the top of the web page) > Rusty Pilots.   The presentation provides a review of regulations and procedures and I’d like to think it would be a good review for anyone.  I also provide all the attendees with an endorsement for the ground portion of a §61.56 flight review.  So come on out!  And if you can’t make one of mine there are others at locations all around the country.  And did I mention that the seminar is free to AOPA members?

More on Rusty Pilot seminars

The Monadnock Aviation seminar at Keene, NH seemed to go very well.  A total of 34 Rusty Pilots showed up and I hope they will now come back into the flying arena.  Special thanks to Beth for hosting the Monadnock event.  I have two seminars coming up.  The first is hosted by Airborn Flight Services at Farmingdale, NY on 18 February and he second is at Weyers Cave, VA (Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport) on 4 March.  Please come out and join your fellow pilots.

AOPA Rusty Pilot seminars

I recently became a presenter for the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) Rusty Pilot Seminars.  These seminars provide training that meets the requirements for the ground portion of a §61.56 flight review and are intended to get pilots that have been out of flying for a while back into flying.  Many factors cause pilots to lapse in their flying; time, family requirements, and money are just a few.  Some have been away from flying for a few years while others many have been away for many.  I’m a member of a rather large flying club in Virginia.  In the last few years we have had several folks join the club who have been out of flying for quite a while.  One received his Private Rating in 1980 but family requirements soon caused flying to fall off the priority list.  I provided instruction to get him back into flying – many things had changed (GPS, Airspace, headsets!) but many things are the same (they are still airplanes after all).  He is now actively flying and having a blast.  These “Rusty Pilots” spoke of how they needed a “nudge” to get back into flying.  Where to start?  Who to talk to?  This is goal of AOPA’s Rusty Pilot program, to help get folks back into flying.  So, if you happen be a Rusty Pilot (or know of one) go to the AOPA web site to look for a presentation in your area.  My first presentation will be at Monadnock Aviation in Keene, NH (EEN) on the 21st of January, 2017.  Hope to see you there!

Finding Instrument Approach non-standard alternate minimums in ForeFlight.

It is authorized, legal, and just fine to use ForeFight for a pilot evaluation but you must know how to find the information you need for the flight.  An area that causes difficultly on Instrument check rides is finding non-standard Alternate minimums (also non-standard Take Off minimums).  These are noted on an approach plate with a “negative” T or A in the remarks section.  Note the “T” an “A” just below the WAAS section for the RNAV approach in Suffolk.approach-plate

To find this information (in this case non-standard Alternate Minimums) first go to the airports section and click on the tab for Procedures.


Next go to the Arrival section and select Alternate minimums.


This will take you to the non-standard Alternate minimums that would be in the front section of the hard copy Terminal Procedures (Approach Plate) publication.  These are all available online but I find that pilots are very familiar with getting the airport approach but are at a loss to find the non-standard alternate minimums.  BTW, non-standard take off minimums are in the departure section of the Procedures tab.  While this is a very simple task it is easily overlooked.



What color is 100LL and why do we use it?  100LL contains tetraethyl lead while you use unleaded fuel in your car.  Why? Lead prevents detonation and an applicant for a pilots certificate (license) should  have some knowledge of what detonation is and why we are concerned about it.  100LL is blue and Jet Fuel (commonly Jet A) is the color of straw.  I’m surprised that many folks  think the “Jet Fuel” is some super high octane fuel.  Jet fuel is basically kerosene and can be used in diesel engines.  If you put jet fuel in your piston engine airplane the engine will not run for long and this contamination has caused many serious accidents.  So your fuel is blue to help you determine if it has been contaminated, especially by jet fuel.  And the subject of fuel leads to engines.  You are not required to know how to build a piston engine for a private pilot check ride but you should have an idea of how it works, what makes it run, and what makes it not run.