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Top ten reasons why you should never learn how to fly

Flying? Boring! Why would I ever want to do it? Aside from being expensive and time consuming,  it’s also pointless. Why would I want to shoot around the sky in a metal tube?  It just seems like a poor use of time. Seriously, only those with poor judgement would consider getting a pilots’ license.  There are just so many reasons why you should never do it, but here are the top ten that I could think of.

1.  The view sucks.  Why would I want to see the world from 3000 AGL?  I have such a hard time picking out my house from the plane, it’s so much easier if I’m driving around in my car.  The world just looks so big from the air and it’s really not that interesting.  I’m just not interested in seeing the bigger picture.

These guys are always bossing us pilots around. You'd think they own the airspace or something.
These guys are always bossing us pilots around. You’d think they own the airspace or something.

2.  Airports are boring.  Nothing interesting happens at airports. Seriously, flight schools talk about teaching you soft field landings and precautionary/forced landings, but never actually let you do them, always forcing you to return to the airport. How about some danger? I’ve seen Top Gun – I’m ready!

3.  Air Traffic Controllers are bossy.  They constantly tell you what to do and they talk so fast that you can barely understand them most of the time.  And they always tell you to switch frequencies and get upset if you don’t call them.

4.  Too many calculations. You really have to learn how to flight plan to learn how tedious and pointless it is.  Just point the airplane in the direction you want to go – how much harder does it have to be, people? Fuel, schmuel. I’ll just keep an eye on the fuel gauge like I do when I drive. What could possibly go wrong?

5.  No in-flight entertainment.  Unless you count your instructor, there is no real source of entertainment when you’re flying.  No movies, TV, music or anything. No hot coffee. The service stinks.  Why would I want to sit in an old uncomfortable 30 year old Cessna when I can comfortably stretch my legs out on the couch like a human being.  When I stretch my legs out in the Cessna I just end up hitting the rudder pedals, which causes yaw and I have to do more work to correct it.  Can’t relax in the thing for a second.

6.  Flight instructors are annoying.  They are always telling you what to do and bossing you around. It’s worse than ATC because you can’t really get away from them.  Once you leave the control zone you are free of the claws of terminal control but you can’t get rid of your instructor once you let them in the plane with you.  They really don’t know that much … How much can there possibly be to know??

7. Too much safety emphasis.   Do you know how long it takes to prepare to actually go on a flight that lasts less than an hour? About two hours. Checklists, meetings, briefings, log books, journey log books, sheesh. So much paperwork and so many safety checks. I mean, did you know when you’re at the hold short line that you have to check your engine is operating? It started, so why do you need to check it again? Obviously it’s working and the plane is ready to go.  If it wasn’t it wouldn’t start. Obviously.

8.  Trainer planes are old.   Trainer planes are so old, I think they must have been built when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  They are loud and uncomfortable.

9.  It’s too hard.  The instrument panel in your car has only a few sources of information: speed, fuel quantity, engine temperatures and some have a tachometer.  The most basic airplane panel has six highly confusing instruments which are really hard to understand, ever mind all the other engine instruments, radios, direction finding equipment, navigation tools, approach systems, and the little floaty thing on the dash.  There are so many maneuvers, attitudes and movements too learn, it’s just seems like way to much work.

10.  It’s scary.  The whole concept of flying just seems like a bad idea.  There are just too many planes of movement.  It’s not that rewarding, and not really fun to be in control of the thing.   Constant briefings, meetings, exams, preparations, paperwork and safety checks.  Soaring through the air?  Make a career out of it? Seriously why bother. I’d rather just sit on the couch eating chips.

We hope you had a good laugh reading this.

Sarcasm aside, ever try to talk yourself out of getting a license?  So many reasons. The fact is that flying is hard, committing wonderful and very rewarding.  Like many things in life, if it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be worth doing.   Challenge yourself and don’t give up.  Search your soul and if you discover flying is right for you, you will have the time of your life and you will not regret it!



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The high key – low key landing procedure

The high key - low key landing procedure. Image courtesy of Transport Canada (Flight Training Manual)

This procedure is used to plan a forced approach in the event of an engine failure.

When we have an engine out emergency, our goal is the extend our glide as far as we can. The longer we can glide, the more time we have to evaluate our landing options and plan an approach.

Once we have established our glide and picked our field, we want to start turning into this field and planning an approach as fast as possible.  This may mean we are turning towards our field when planning which way we are going to land,  land into the wind if possible and avoid obstacles.  We are also likely doing our engine restart checks as we do this turn. This is explained in detail in the forced landing article.

Calgary VFR Navigation Chart
Calgary VFR Navigation Chart

We should note our altitude above ground level. This means we should note the altitude on our map. In the area where I am flying is near Cremona, Alberta, the elevation is around 4000 feet.  When I start the procedure, I am at 6000 feet.  I have 2000 feet of altitude to plan my approach and landing.  Of course this is just a simulation, so when I am up with my instructor we do get within a few hundred feet of the ground, but when  practice on my own I don’t go below 500 feet above ground, which is 4500 feet.

The procedure calls to start the high key abeam the threshold where we have chosen our landing spot. The altitude we should be above this threshold is calculated from whatever gives us a two-minute turn to our left in our aircraft and our rate of descent. The turn and bank coordinator and vertical speed indicator gives us this information.  In the Cessna 172, the two-minute turn gives us approximately 700 feet of altitude per minute.  This means in two minutes we can descend 1400 feet if we use the information supplied in the turn coordinator for a two-minute turn. The FTM suggests that we use this altitude plus 200 feet of “fudge factor” to plan our altitude, meaning that we should be at 1400 + 200 = 1600 feet above ground at our “high key” position.  Where I am flying, I am planning to be at the high key at 5600 feet.

This gives me about 400 feet to reach my high key position when I am flying at 6000 feet.

The low key position will be halfway around the turn, about a minute after entering the high key turn.  My altitude should be 800 feet above ground or around 4800 feet ASL on my altimeter.

A two-minute turn shown on the Turn coordinator. Image courtesy of
A two-minute turn shown on the Turn coordinator. Image courtesy of

A good trick is to pick a landmark where you estimate will be your low key position. Look to your left when you are starting your high key. Is there a landmark that is approximately 1.5 miles from your high key spot? You should aim to be over that spot in your low key, and this will give you an indication whether or not you are in the proper spot in your sequence.

Our “final key” will be around 500  feet.  Next we are at short final where we can decide if we are too high – and hopefully we are not too low!

Some things to note: be careful of the winds, these can affect your pattern and blow you off course.  Also if you think that you are way too high, do a turning slip to loose altitude before adding flaps. This will allow you to loose more altitude.  Remember, it is always better to be too high than too low. There are ways to loose altitude – such as a slip or using flaps – but there are no ways to gain it when we have no power. Also, the reason we turn left is because we are in the left seat we have better visibility of our landing spot on the left hand side.

The high key – low key landing procedure is only one way of planning the approach. It may sometimes be that we don’t need to do the key procedure, and can just do a series of turns to bleed off altitude, fly a “bow-tie” patten, or whatever system we think is best to get us on the intended landing spot safely. This means landing into the wind when possible, avoiding obstacles, and picking as smooth of a surface as possible.

This procedure is very difficult to do even when we are planning to do it in a simulation! I can imagine that when really loose engine power the situation becomes very real very fast, and coupled with the stress of knowing you have to put your plane in a field is very intense.  This is why practicing the procedure again and again is so important: your response is automatic and you know what steps you need to go through in a real engine-out emergency.


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The Soft Field Procedure

Before I learned precautionary and forced approaches, I learned about soft field landings.  Here my account of the experience, and why soft fields are important and should be practiced regularly.

When will we use a soft field landing?

If we are planning to land on an unprepared surface. We also need to know the technique if we need to make a precautionary or forced landing, and have to put our airplane down in a field.

Like the short field procedure, the soft field is a lot of fun.  It is used when taking off and/or landing on an unprepared surface. The can be a grass strip or turf runway, or a completely unprepared runway.  One of the main goals is to protect your propeller and engine in the sequence. This means we try to keep it from being struck by flying debris and damaged, and to keep dirt and debris from being sucked into the engine.   It also is to keep the nose gear from diving into a hole – since it is an unprepared surface there may be lots of surface irregularities.  A small dip and we could wheelbarrow the plane.  We keep the nose high throughout the procedure as long as we can.

It starts during the taxi

Can I land my airplane in that field?
Can I land my airplane in that field, and what is the technique?

In fact, when we taxi on the unprepared runway we keep our control column full aft.  So when we pull up to line up on our runway we are pulling back as far as we can on the control column.  When we add power, we push forward slightly on the column until the airplane is ready to fly.  We rotate at about 46 knots with 10 degrees of flap in the 172 N model.

We fly in ground effect until we have built up enough airspeed to climb.  This is about 60 knots, so when we reach 60 knots, we pull up and climb out.  At 200′ AGL we announce that we have “two positive rates”

(1) altimeter increasing (showing a gain in altitude), and

2) vertical speed indicator increasing, and we retract the flaps and climb out normally at 70 knots.

Hold off on the landing

The airplanes POH will show us what speed to approach for our soft field landing.  In the 172, we use 61 knots.  The idea on the flare is try to hold off landing even longer than usual to keep the airplane nose high.  So after we flare and we feel the first “sink”, we add a bit of power, around 100 RPM or so and try to keep the airplane from touching down. We do so until we have run out of altitude, and the airplane will touch down very softly.  We keep the nose high to protect the propeller and keep from nose gear from running into rough terrain.

Soft field touch and go’s are probably the most fun of all – we do not push the nose down, and take off right away in a nose high attitude.  That means we stay off the nose wheel and just do a “wheelie” down the runway, and take off! In my solo I managed to make this happen a few times.

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The Forced Approach and Landing

Forced Landing of TACA Airlines Flight 110. Image Courtesy of

So now that we know about the precautionary procedure, what happens if we have NO engine power?

We plan a forced landing! The image above shows an actual forced landing of a Boeing 737 jet. TACA Airlines Flight 110 lost power in both engines and successfully glided and landed on an unprepared, makeshift field (image courtesy of

Is planning a forced landing possible?

For those who believe that a successful forced landing is difficult or impossible to achieve, Transport Canada’s “Flight Training Manual” (FTM) reminds us that for glider pilots every landing must be a successful forced landing. Hence, it is not only possible that it can be done, it can be done well.

Yesterday I went through the basics again with my instructor.  Each instructor has a different way of teaching, so the method will vary slightly for everyone.  The basics are more or less the same.

Famous Forced Landing: The ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River. Image Source:
Famous Forced Landing: The ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River. Image Courtesy of

The most successful recent emergency forced landing was US Airways flight 1549: a ditching in the Hudson River. After multiple bird strikes into the engines caused dual engine flameout,  the gliding Airbus A320, which didn’t have enough altitude to return to the airport, was successfully ditched in the Hudson River. Like all pilots, trained in forced approaches, he captain used the same line of thinking that we are taught when learning how to execute a forced approach and landing.

We are flying along – and – we’ve lost engine power! What is the first thing we do? We fly the plane.

(1) Best Glide Speed

We have to establish our aircraft in “best glide speed.”  For the Cessna 172, this is 65 knots. The best glide speed provides the maximum “lift to drag” ratio and allows the airplane to glide as as long as possible.

(2) Best Field

Now we have to look outside and quickly locate the best field where we will put our aircraft.  We locate this field, and turn towards it.  Look for indicators of wind direction on the ground, and make your best efforts to land into the wind. If in doubt of wind direction, simply plan to land in the same direction that you took off from the airport.

Make sure to do a good check of the suitability of the area for landing. This means: check for civilization, obstacles, wind, field length, and landing surface – abbreviated the COWLS check.

(3) Fault

Now that we have our field chosen and have established our glide, we have some time to do some quick engine checks to try to determine the cause of engine failure. Often, with carburetor equipped aircraft such as the Cessna 172 the engine can die due to carb icing.  Or if we descend from a higher altitude and we fail to richen the mixture. These quit simple steps will attempt to reestablish engine power and will not cause us to loose too much time and altitude.

Fuel Selector Valve: Both

Mixture: Full Rich

Carb Heat: On

Ignition: Both

If it doesn’t start, we simply shutdown the engine using the same steps as above:

Fuel Selector Valve: Off

Mixture: Idle cut off

Carb Heat: Off

Ignition: Off.

The above three steps should take us about 500′ of elevation loss to do. Since this is a simulation … we do an engine warm up by adding 200 or so RPM.

(4) Mayday Call

Before we get too low we make the Mayday call. We say “Mayday” three times and our aircraft identifier three times (just like in the case of a precautionary landing).  Broadcast your location, your intentions of where you plan to put the aircraft, the nature of your emergency, and the number of people aboard.

(5) Passenger Brief

Let your passengers know: to put their seat back, stay clear of flight controls, put away all sharp objects, and so on.  You can let them know where the ELT and fire extinguisher are.  Also, it is important to ask them to unlatch the door prior to touchdown.

If this landing is on an unprepared surface, your landing will be a soft field landing.

Make sure to assess how the prevailing winds will affect your approach and landing. What are the upper winds doing?  Also state that you intend to touch down on the first third of the field.  For the Cessna 172, we touch down slightly tail low and turn off the electrical as instructed in the POH.

Successful Forced landings

Another example of a very successful forced approach is in the case of Taca Airlines Flight 110 on May 24, 1988. After flying through severe thunderstorms, the jet lost both engines that the pilots were not able to restart.  In the perfect moment the captain found a grass field and pointed the giant gliding 737 towards it. He was able to land successfully with no loss of life and minimal aircraft damage. In fact, Boeing engineers were able to do the necessary repair work on the spot and the aircraft was flown from the very spot where it was landed! Watch the video of the incident below.

Read details of how to plan your approach and land in your desired touchdown spot. This is the low key / high key planning procedure.

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Precautionary Landings

Starting Point for Precautionary Landing. Image Courtesy of Langley Flying School.

Preparing for a precautionary landing

My next series of flights gets me out of the circuit and back into the practice area where I am learning how to do a precautionary landing.

Why do we need to learn this?

There are a number of reasons.  You may have a sick passenger on board, the weather may be a cause of concern.   There may be something that you are concerned with, such as an engine that is acting up, you may be getting low on fuel and think you may not make it much further. In any case, the landing is done to avoid a potentially worsening situation and is done so while engine power is available.  The sooner the landing area is selected the better once a precautionary landing has been decided.  Quite simply, a precautionary landing is completed in two basic steps:

1)  A low pass flown like a circuit over the potential landing area, this is done to inspect the surface for suitability, and

2) A normal circuit flown to end in a safe landing.

There are two basic procedures, one for a controlled airport and one for an uncontrolled airport. In the case where a field is selected, this is obviously uncontrolled.  This is what I have been practicing on.  When we arrive at the practice area, which is the Cremona area just north of Springbank,  we broadcast our intentions for the exercise then proceed to look for a field we can “land” on.

Starting Point for Precautionary Landing. Image Courtesy of Langley Flying School.
Starting Point for Precautionary Landing. Image Courtesy of Langley Flying School.

We find a field and enter a normal circuit approach. The goal is to make two passes: a high pass and a low pass to judge the suitability of the field for landing.

In an uncontrolled field, such as a farmer’s field, we make a high pass at 1000′ AGL and in a controlled field like an aerodrome we do this at 1500′.   Our high pass is done at cruise settings, 90 knots in the 172.  We fly the normal circuit at 1000′ and then overshoot.

Then we do the “3 Ps“:

(1) Pan Pan call: alert traffic in the area that we are preparing for a precautionary landing.  We say “Pan Pan” three times and say our aircraft identifier (for example, FIAH, GSKF, and so on) three times.

(2) Passenger brief. Let your passengers know what you will be doing, to stay calm, to put their hands free of the controls, and to move their seat back (if sitting in the front).  Then:

(3) We do our Pre-landing checks.

Then we do the low pass. This is done 500′ AGL or whatever altitude is best for inspecting the landing area. In the 172, we fly at 60 knots with 20 degree flap.   The slower speed will allow for better inspection of the field, and the flaps will allow for better forward visibility. The speed is also not too slow – that is it’s not in the slow flight range – which will allow the pilot to focus on observing the field rather than maneuvering the airplane. We also want to prevent getting close to a stall.

Precautionary Landing Procedure. Image Courtesy of
Precautionary Landing Procedure. Image Courtesy of

On our observation of the field, we want to do our “COWLS” check, for suitability in landing:

C = Civilization: are there homes, buildings, or people nearby?

O = Obstacles: are there any obstacles that need to be cleared, such as powerlines, or trees?

W = Wind: always try to land into the wind if possible. Look for indicators on the ground: direction of smoke, direction of long grass, trees, etc.  Is smoke trailing upwards (calm winds), being blown slightly (gentle winds) or rapidly breaking off (strong winds)?

L = Length: once we are abeam the threshold, we count how many seconds it takes us to fly the length of the field. This is why we use 60 knots at 20 degree flap in the 172: if we count the seconds it takes to fly that length, we can estimate the approximate length of the field.

On the low pass, 500′ AGL, abeam the threshold, we start the timer. If it’s 20 seconds, the length is 2000′, (20 * 100); if it takes 33 seconds, the length is 3300′, (33 * 100)  and so on.

S = Surface: Check the suitability of the surface for landing. For example, are there ruts in the ground, or is the surface smooth? Is the surface grass or dirt?

Once our high and low passes are completed, we establish for a normal approach with full flaps.

Next read about the forced approach and see where it actually happened in real life!