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Kit plane landing on a ship at sea

Foxbat lands on cargo ship

I recently watched the video of one of the most impressive landing and take off I have ever seen – a small plane landing on a ship at sea.  This is right up there with the video of the Piper Cub that landed and took off on a mountain ridge.

Aerobakt Foxbat. Image from wikipedia
Aerobakt Foxbat. Image from wikipedia

The pilot of an Aeroprakt A-22 Foxbat Xtreme, a British-registered kit plane, ident G-CWTD manoeuvres the plane over a landing strip of an aircraft carrier that is not more than 275 feet long.

The ship is an M2 Runner cargo ship.  It’s length overall is 92.9 meters – or 305 feet. The length between the towers at the front and back is 84 meters – only 275 feet! Have you done your short field specialty take off and landings, especially those with obstacle, you will know that you have to calculate the amount of runway you will need to take off and land, and use special procedures to maximize the runway. But this is ridiculous.   The Cessna 172 that I fly will require around 500 feet for the short field procedures.  How is this possible?

Well if you watch the video, you will notice that the ship is sailing. The stall speed of the Foxbat is only 28-30  knots.  The low stall speed means that the plane is able to fly quite slow before stalling. Compare this to the stall speed of a Cessna 172, which is around 47 knots (of course this will vary depending on weight, centre of gravity and so on).  The Foxbat will stall at almost 20 knots slower.

The M2 Runner, like the one used for the landing and takeoff.
The M2 Runner, like the one used for the landing and takeoff.

I don’t know much about cargo ships, but I researched that they generally cruise at speeds between 20-26 knots.  Thanks to the pilot of the Foxbat, who contacted me and corrected me that the speed of this ship was only 9 knots – and in good conditions, the maximum speed is 13 knots.  This means the plane will have to fly at least that fast, and obviously above it’s stall speed, to keep up with the ship.  If there was a strong headwind, this would help him as well.  Remember it’s not the actual speed of the aircraft will determine when the plane will stall.

So how is he able to fly like this?  So the ship is moving forward at 9 knots, and there is also a headwind, then depending on the strength of the headwind the Foxbat should be able to fly above stall speed and it will appear as if he is hovering over the runway.  He is obviously flying well within approach limits given the amount of control he has.

In the 172 we approach at 60 knots (with flaps) and 70 knots without flaps, and generally land at around 50 knots or so. Flaps will help him fly slower If we assume his approach but it doesn’t look like he is using them in this approach. When we perform a short field landing, we hit the brakes really hard. Because of the ships movement, the plane touching down will have the same affect as hitting the brakes.  Timing has to be perfect …  Take a look at the video:

At the last minute, the pilot veers in front of the ships tower in the back, lines up and bounces down on the ground. It looks like he still is able to land at the back half of of his “runway.”

The takeoff is even more impressive.  Spooling his engines, he has several people hold the plane down (as he is no doubt pressing on his brakes as hard as he can). Then he lifts off, and looks like he used only 50 feet of runway or so.

This is a very impressive display of extreme piloting. This guy is an excellent pilot, and also a bit of a daredevil. He is definitely taking a risk by demonstrating this procedure.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with the pilot, and though he said it was a dream come true, and things just came together to make this happen as the owner of the ship is a good friend of his – he wouldn’t do it again.

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Flying on instruments

Cessna 172 instrument panel

I’ve recently learned the basics of flying on instruments. First in the simulator and went on my first flight “under the hood” the other day.  It adds a whole new dimension of complexity to flying. Just when you start feeling you have a pretty good handle on things, on comes the hood, and you’ve lost reference to the ground – and you are feeling like your world is quite small in the cockpit, with only your six pack of instruments, compass, navigation equipment and other cockpit items in front of you.  No looking out your window … even if your instructor tries to tempt you, saying a 737 is passing overtop of you!

Why do private pilots need instrument time?

Transport Canada requires that private pilots receive 5 hours of instrument training, 3 of which may be in the simulator.  Why do they do this?  Getting a little bit of time “under the hood” can prepare you to deal with the worst should it ever happen to you. As VFR pilots with no night or instrument rating, we are not allowed to fly around in IMC (instrument meteorological conditions).  But sometimes the worst can happen and we may inadvertently enter cloud or get caught up in bad weather where we loose visual reference to the ground.

How to scan the instruments for different manoeuvres.
How to scan the instruments for different manoeuvres.

How do you fly on instruments?

The basics are explained very well in Transport Canada’s Flight Training Manual. In the airplane, we use a cover known as the “hood” and instrument flight is simulated with your instructor keeping an eye on the outside in VFR conditions. The main part has to do with understanding your control instruments and your performance instruments.

Attitude + Power = Performance

Your control instruments are Attitude Indicator (AI) and your tachometer (or Manifold Pressure Gauge). The combination of these two instruments will give us performance, measured by the performance instruments, shown in the Airspeeed Indicator (ASI), Turn and Bank Coordinator (TC), Heading Indicator, Altimeter and Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI).

The basic formula of attitude + power = performance stems from the relationship that any combination of different aircraft attitudes, coupled with a power setting will cause you to increase, maintain or reduce airspeed, altitude, turn and bank, heading and vertical speed.  These five instruments can be referenced as indicators, or outcomes of changes in power or attitude.  Some instruments are better than others to show these changes, and is known as the “scan”, which allows you to identify which instruments you should reference for what.

The attitude indicator is the heart of our scan. Because we have no outside reference to the horizon, it will tell us when we are flying straight and level and when we are banked, and reference it when we expect to be in a climb or descent.

To illustrate, recall that a nose down attitude coupled with a low power setting will cause a descent, (loss of altitude), a nose high and high power setting will create a climb, (gain in altitude).

To develop the procedures to refer to the proper instruments at the right time, always ask yourself the questions:

  • What information do I need?
  • Which instruments give me my needed information?
  • Is this information reliable?

Doing an instrument scan is how you use the technique.   There are a number of different scans depending on the information you need. For example:

Under the hood.  Just completed a simulated ILS approach for runway 35.
Under the hood. Just completed a simulated ILS approach for runway 35.

1. Straight and Level Flight: mainly attitude indicator, altimeter and heading indicator

2. Straight Climb: mainly attitude indicator, heading indicator and airspeed indicator

3.  Approaching desired altitude:  mainly attitude indicator, altimeter and heading indicator

4. Level, approaching desired airspeed: mainly attitude indicator, altimeter, heading indicator and airspeed indicator

What if our vacuum system fails? We will loose the vacuum-system (engine powered) instruments: the heading indicator and the attitude indicator. Since the attitude indicator is a very important instrument for us, we have to be very careful and apply the partial panel technique. Stay tuned for this in our next post.

Simulating an ILS Approach

When I went under the hood for the first time, my instructor asked me if I wanted to simulate an ILS approach for runway 35.  He helped me out and I flew the approach, simulating an approach in IFR conditions.  When he asked me to remove the hood, I was 200 AGL and the runway was just slightly to the right, about 1/4 nautical mile in front of us. I got us back on to centreline and did a nice, gentle landing. The ILS flying make me hyper aware and very sharp. It was a lot of fun!

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Wind and performance

At Springbank airport, we are very mountain effected and often have to deal with heavy winds.  Speaking of winds, we found the most amazing landing and takeoff video we have ever seen.  In this video, the brave Super Cub pilot, lands on the shoulder of a mountain in Central Nevada at 11,000 feet.  The landing on Bunker Mountain is spectacular, but the take off is even better.  You can see that his plane is equipped for rough ground landings given the large tundra tires.  These are large, low pressure tires to allow operation on rough terrain on light aircraft. And rough terrain it is, the pilot lands on a talus slope.

The description says that it was very windy on that mountain. No doubt, he was landing into the wind, which allowed a very short landing and takeoff roll.  The pilot is very skilled, you can see he dips his wing into the direction of the wind and returns to straight and level flight at the moment before touchdown.

Importance of winds to pilots

Winds are one of the most important things to understand when it comes to flying.  Pilots have a very intimate relationship with the wind, it governs our go-no go decision, most importantly in terms of our take off and landing considerations.

Why does wind affect performance? Because our aircraft relies on the difference in pressures between the lower wing and upper wing in order to obtain lift, and remember it is always the relative wind that matters. So if there is zero wind, your aircraft will require more ground roll to lift off then if there was an headwind component. Why? Because it’s the relative wind that matters. For example, recall the relationship between stalls and angle of attack.

Recall in your POH that when calculating take off distance, you reduce your ground roll according to the amount of headwind you have.  In the Cessna 172N, you decrease the ground roll by 10% for every 9 knots of headwind.  This is because the headwind adds to the flow of air over your wings, air flow that otherwise you would have to generate with power.

The high altitude would have made the take off and landing roll longer, but it appears as if the winds were sufficiently strong enough to allow a shorter roll. And I do mean short!

I found the relationship with the wind is also strong when you ride a motorcycle.  And it is a commonly known fact that many pilots do love motorcycles.

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Disney’s Planes – a great aviation movie – Movie Review

Disney's Planes movie

A true pilot geek, I couldn’t resist an invitation to head out and see Disney’s new movie “Planes” last weekend. Though I am not a fan of animation movies, this one is a bit different – and will be appreciated by aviation enthusiasts and pilots young and old.  It is a charmingly modest spin-off from Disney’s “Cars.”

The movie is a story of Dusty Crophopper, a tail dragger cropduster plane that has big dreams to fly in an international air race. Used to flying low and slow – which is what cropduster planes are built for, he has to learn advanced aerobatics and loose his fear of flying at high altitudes.  He is from the fictional town of Propwash Junction and has never flown above 1000′.  He is flying no higher than circuit altitude.

The character is based on the Air Tractor AT-301 cropduster, and also bears resemblance to the Cessna 188 and also the Polish-made PZL-Mielec M-18 Dromader.  In order to train for this race, Dusty enlists the help of Skipper Riley, a  Chance Vought F4U Corsair, a carrier-capable fighter aircraft.

Air Tractor AT-300
Air Tractor AT-300 was inspiration for Dusty Crophopper character in the movie. Image from wikipedia.
Chance Vought F4U Corsair. Image from
Chance Vought F4U Corsair. Image from

The story is about never giving up on your dreams and helping those in need. Though this may sound cliche, keep in mind it is a kid’s movie, but and in fact, due to the great challenges of flying, not giving up on your aviation dreams is actually a common theme and important advice. What I’m more interested in is how technically accurate the flying scenes and aircraft detail are, which is no coincidence since a long list of aviation consultants were involved, including flight supervisor Jason McKinley, among many other experts, who helped make the flight sequence scenes look real.

The background story  for the movie was an idea of executive producer John Lasseter, director Klay Hall and screenwriter Jeffrey Howard, through which the idea was born about some four and a half years ago.  During the first rounds of production, they thought that the planes looked like toys and not real aircraft.  It quickly became apparent that there had to be a strong focus on aviation realism.

Another expert consultant was flight and engineering specialist Sean Bautista. He oversaw that modifications to Dusty from a crop spraying plane to an air racer were realistic.   Little things were kept in mind, in fact, he advised that they don’t supercharge Dusty’s engine because this isn’t possible with the Pratt & Whitney PT6.  He also advised the model of wings that should be used to make him fly faster – Lockheed T-33.  Impressive attention to detail!

The authenticity of an actual air race and air park are based on research as well. The producers made trips to Reno Air Races to get a feel for what racing is like, among many other places.   The airplanes have a “pudgier” look to them to make them cuter and add character. As well, their canopies are higher so the eyes are visible.  The only plane which is based soley on one type of aircraft is the hilarious Mexican Casanova El Chupacabra, based on a Bee Gee.  The next authentic airplane is Skipper, based on the F4U Corsair.

Dusty is escorted by Bravo and Echo, based on F-18s used in Top Gun. Image from the Disney website.
Dusty is escorted by Bravo and Echo, based on F-18s used in Top Gun. Image from the Disney website.

One of my favorite recreations is the addition of Echo and Bravo, fighter jets based on F-18’s.  These supposed to emulate Iceman and Goose in Top Gun!  The jet fighters wear the same color helmets as the Top Gun characters, and Val Kilmer aka “Iceman” is behind the voice of Bravo, and Anthony Edwards, aka “Goose” is Echo.

I also noticed that great attention was paid to engine sounds.  The sounds of the actual airplanes was recorded to match the respective planes they were inspired by.  In addition to this, the movie was created in Disneytoon studios, which was a thriving and busy airport back in the early 1900s.  The taxiways in the hallway no doubt served as a sort of subliminal inspiration.

The movie is a delight to watch and is a lot of fun in 3D.  I was paying attention to the technical pilot stuff and probably missed a few other movie details, so I will catch it again when it comes out.

In the usual big movie studio style, Disney even made die-cast action figures, (planes) featuring all of the plane characters from the movie. Cute.  Know any kids that are interested in aviation?

Have you seen the movie in theatres or are you waiting to get the DVD? Or both?

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Rust Removal – The Challenges of Returning to the Air

Guest blog by Sylvia Fletcher

Read Sylvia’s account about getting back in the air and the challenges she encountered.

A control panel for a Cessna 152. Category: Images of Cessna aircraft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A control panel for a Cessna 152. Category: Images of Cessna aircraft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My flight test was done in a Cessna 152 last summer.  I continued to fly until rough winds and low ceilings came in the fall, and decided I would simply pick it up again in the spring, thinking this would be an easy task.  What I didn’t realize is that before I made this decision, I should have done some research and a little due diligence on what, exactly, it would require for me to be current again.

Before an airplane can be rented, a pilot must complete a practical and written test if that pilot has not either flown at that rental place before, or a significant amount of time has passed, (more than a few months), since the pilot’s last flight.  The testing is documented and signed off by an instructor before solo rental can take place.

When spring came, I called my school and was informed the 152 was in maintenance awaiting a new engine.  It was also scheduled to be painted.  I decided I would wait a few weeks, and inquire again.  By the time summer started, the paint was not dry and the plane was not ready to fly.  The new engine also had to have at least 30 hours cross country logged in order to break it in before releasing it for demanding student use.

I therefore decided I would get current in a C172.  Throughout my training in a 152, I flew a 172 occasionally, and have about two to three hours in a 172, and even though I knew I would have to get used to the differences in airspeed, attitude views, and just the general feel of a bigger plane, I suspected the practical flight exercises would be simple enough (sort of like riding a bike, so they say).  I also realized that along with doing the exercises themselves, I also had to become familiar with flying a 172 again.

I requested a booking in a 172 which was similar to the 152.  I wanted to eliminate as many differences as possible, in order to do the practical exercises, which would be stressful enough.

Four types of flaps. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes the instructor acts in the best interest of the school, rather than the student.  Sometimes, it’s the other way around.  Instructors that I tend to engage find the perfect balance.  In this case, the instructor booked me in a 172M, acting in the best interest of the school.  It was explained that in order for maintenance to occur on a regular basis with all the planes in the fleet, the students are often “bumped” into a different plane that what was booked, in order to accommodate the maintenance schedule.  They further explain that bumping makes one a better pilot.  When I realized this, I refused to fly the plane that I was bumped in to.  In my training I want and expect consistency.  I realize that adding items while learning to understand a particular maneuver, task, or exercise in a plane, is part of the graduated learning process.  Yet, familiarity breeds comfort, and purposeful bumping into an unfamiliar plane, in my view, adds unnecessary challenges.

On the pre-flight walk around, I realized the flap setting in a 172M is similar to a 150, in that an electric switch is activated, and held until the desired flap setting is achieved.  I did not realize that there was another 172 model with a flap setting similar to the 152; hence the booking I originally requested.  Why Cessna even came up with this idea to engage flaps by holding an electrical timed switch is a ridiculous notion, should be recalled, abolished and changed to a notched “set and forget” setting in all training planes!  I was then told that the 172N model has a notched “set and forget” flap switch, similar to the 152, but it was not available at the time of my booking.

I made a note to make my next booking in the ‘N’ model.

Amazingly, once up at 3,000′ in the practice area, I was successful with a slow flight demo, stall recovery and a forced landing exercise.  My instructor was not pleased on how I handled the overshoot, and said it was likely due to the added drag of 40 degree flaps, and hand to eye muscle coordination.  Little did he, at the time, or I realize how much difference my unfamiliarity with a timed flap setting would make.

I believed I had completed some of the upper air work exercises in the ‘M’, in order to get current, and that I was half way through getting my check ride signed off.  Unfortunately, I had not received the school’s Currency Check Ride List.

On the one hand, it resembles a flight test and can be quite intimidating.  I had no idea of the amount of items needed to be checked off on that list!  Things from tower light signals, comm failure, and soft field takeoff with obstacles.  Had I forgotten that much since my flight test?

On the other hand, the Current Check Ride List is a great way to review and remember forgotten items.  In my latest issue of Flying magazine, I read an article on one pilot’s decision to make a short, soft field landing, and took off without flaps only to crash through the top of trees at the end of the grass strip.  The article stated there was no accounting for the added Runway Friction Index (in Canada, “CRFI”), or that, according to the Pilot Operating Handbook for the accident plane, 10 degree flaps were required for a soft field takeoff with an obstacle.  The article states that no flaps were applied.  If they were perhaps the pilot would have cleared the trees.  This was a serious reminder that I have to know that grass will slow me down on takeoff.  I have to know that 10 degree flaps will give me better lift for a short field take off.  I have to know to always be diligent with my weight and balance calculations.

One of my Facebook pilot friends, Ed Bryce, a well-seasoned pilot, posted this check list used whenever getting into an unfamiliar plane.

1. How do you control the flaps?
2. How do you set the trim?
3. How is the fuel system controled?
4. Audio panel: how do you set it and hear/talk on which radio?
5. How do you set the radios?
6. Is there a PTT (push to talk) button or do you use the hand-held mike?
7. Are there any engine/navigation instrument that you’re unfamiliar with?
8. Are there any controls on the panel that you don’t recognize?
9. How do you prime the engine (some planes use a fuel pump rather than the hand control near the ignition switch)?
10.  Adjust seat for optimal attitude/panel view.

On short final
On short final

Perhaps my last two rides getting current and familiar with a 172, the instructors have expected more from me, and were intentionally passive, just to get a feel for where I was at.  Now that I have this checklist in hand, I am going to use it, and take a more active role in what I want covered, when and how.  I also have a copy of the Currency Check List, and will diligently review and go over each and every item with my instructor, checking the items off one at a time.


About the author: Sylvia has a recreational pilot’s license and blogs about her experience with flying.  Her blog features “chronicles of a passionate, enthusiastic female recently minted pilot, over the age of 50, who has come to appreciate that staying in ground effect and forward slips are the coolest thing.”

Check out her blog at PrimerMasterMags


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Stalls and angle of attack: a very important relationship

The relationship between stalls and airspeed is often misunderstood.   It is not actually the airspeed of the aircraft that will determine when the wing will stall, but rather the angle of attack.

Stall recognition is generally taught with reference to airspeed only.  Students are taught to pull up to stall the aircraft and continue doing so, watching the airspeed bleed off, watching the needle go from the green arc, through the white arc where this ends, and the airspeed at which that aircraft (in that particular configuration) is known to stall.  Instructors drill into us the importance of angle of attack, and that the aircraft can stall at almost any airspeed. In fact, my instructor and I stalled the aircraft at full power settings. It was surprising and intense, and very important to recognize that this can happen.

There is no instrument to show the relationship between angle of attack and airspeed determining stall due to the complex forces that determine when an aircraft will stall, including weight of aircraft, load factor, the aircraft’s center of gravity, and other factors such as altitude, temperature, aerofoil contamination (frost or ice on wings) and turbulence.   The airspeed indicator alone cannot measure when a stall will occour.

Your POH will give you stall speed with flaps up and flaps down configurations, for a certain weight. We learn in ground school that stall speed increases with weight forward center of gravity (which acts like an increase in aircraft weight), load factor (such as in a turn) and when there is surface contamination.  Once you know the basic stall speeds, it is up to you, the pilot, to be able to recognize when you are increasing or decreasing the stall speed.

It’s not the airspeed, it’s angle of attack

A typical lift curve, showing where lift angle is reached, which is about 16 degrees in this example. Image from
A typical lift curve, showing where lift angle is reached, which is about 16 degrees in this example. Image from

Angle of attack is the angle at which the relative airflow meets the wing. This is what determines when a wing will stall. It’s important to understand relative wind – this is the way the air flows over the wing – when this is disrupted, air can no longer flow the way it’s designed to over the wing, and lift decreases.  The critical angle of attack is reached when the maximum lift coefficient is obtained, after which lift will drop off when the angle is exceeded, and the aircraft will loose lift. After the critical angle of attack is reached, the aircraft is said to be approaching a stall.

The aircraft will always stall at the same angle of attack, called the critical angle. Many modern jets have an instrument that prevents the pilot from increasing the angle of attack past the critical angle, this is called the angle of attack limiter or alpha limiter.

Dangers of being low and slow

However this type of tool, or similar instrument is not in most general aviation planes. This leads to the pilot having to be very careful in making sure they don’t push their airplanes in into this flight envelope. When is a stall most dangerous? When you are low and slow.  Typically, the base to final turn can be very hazardous, and this is corroborated with the amount of stall-spin accidents that happen during this circuit sequence (for general aviation airplanes).  On this turn, you are low, and your airspeed is decreasing since you are on approach. When you turn, you increase the load on the aircraft, and if you push it into a stall (say, by executing a steep turn) you can enter a deadly stall-spin from which recovery is difficult due to the proximity of the ground.

ICON Aircraft GuageRecently I’ve discovered the aircraft manufacturer Icon Aircraft. This company has created an angle of attack instrument for general aviation airplanes.  This instrument measures angle of attack and presents it to the pilot showing when they are flying within the proper range.  This is a very interesting development that should go a long way into increasing safety.

I recommend watching the video about the concept below. Very cool!