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Simplify Flying: it’s attitude plus power equals performance

I’ve had the pleasure of flying with a retired airline pilot who really made me think about flying in an entirely different way. His view demystifies flying into it’s basic, component parts to understand a complex task and achieve a certain goal. Attitude plus power equals performance.

He maintains that after over 20 years of airline flying, he found there are two very important concepts in flying airplanes. Once these concepts are understood, will help you understand aviation and flying at it’s core. The most important concepts in aviation are ones we have all heard before, and it’s impossible not to overstate their importance. They are:

  1. Aviate, Navigate Communicate; and
  2. Attitude plus Power equals Performance.

Think about what flight training is trying to achieve. Yes, you are trying to pass your flight test, at a minimum, but you can certainly do better than that. You can be a great pilot. Why practice stalls and spins? To avoid entry, to recognize if one should occour, and how to recover. 

Let’s relate it to a few examples. 

Once our wheels are off the ground, we are in a ‘risky environment’ where it’s important to keep vigilant.  When we are airborne, our one and only task is no minimize the risk, using all of our knowledge and resources. So break it down into what you have to achieve once you’re wheels up.

Remember clearing turns? We do them so we can be safe and check for conflicting traffic, and not just because they are a flight test item. Risk mitigation is also why we have standardized procedures for uncontrolled aerodromes.

On takeoff, after rotation, the airplane is just passing through a very slow speed at a low altitude. On the 172 we rotate at 55 knots, so after we rotate it’s close enough to stall speed to warrant extreme attention, particularly given our proximity to the ground. When you rotate, will you pull the nose up excessively? No, of course not, you can easily enter a stall that way, a departure stall, and you won’t have the leisure of altitude to recover.

So when we depart, we use the combination of attitude and power to produce the desired performance that we want: a climb. When we recover from a stall is it necessary to push the nose down excessively? Not really, and if you think about what stall practice is meant to achieve, we really should avoid pushing the nose down too much.  If it works on a take-off, it should work on stall recovery. If we push the nose down too much, we’ll loose altitude, and if we stall close to the ground that can be dangerous.

The purpose of stall practice

Stalls are a great case in point. Stall recovery has no practical application in everyday flight like short field, soft field landings, navigation, circuits and so on. We only learn them so we can avoid them, learn to recognize when we are in one, and know how to get out of them. Licensed pilots who don’t fly professionally will find stall recovery skills atrophy after awhile, because unless flight training, stalls are something we want to avoid. 

What produces a stall? A high nose attitude where the angle of attack of our airplane can no longer sustain flight. Your attitude is nose high, the airplane will automatically drop the nose because it wants to fly.  A nose down attitude will break the stall, and the application of power will allow you to return to a normal flight attitude. Attitude plus power equals performance. Aviate: break the stall, return to normal flight, navigate: establish where you are; communicate: this includes communicate with your airplane. Why did it stall?  

How about the forced approach?

The forced approach is a good example. With an engine failure, we’ve got to: (1) aviate: establish the best glide speed, establish a controlled approach and landing; (2) navigate by deciding which is the best field to land our airplane at; and (3) communicate, make a mayday call on 121.5 and give our passengers, if any, a full off-airport emergency safety landing briefing.  For the forced approach, we use best glide speed, a combination of attitude and power (in this case, lack of power), that produces a level of performance: the descending glide.

cessna 172 lake view
cessna 172 lake view

A heap of metal

Remember the airplane is just a “thing.”

The airplane is not alive. Many things on the flight test and flying itself can cause confusion, and above all, anxiety, which can take the fun out of flying. When learning to calm anxieties, it’s helpful to think about the airplane having no feelings or malicious intent. It’s just a heap of metal that you control and has no goal or agenda of it’s own. It’s simply a tool, a tool that you, the pilot, control.  You are flying the airplane and the airplane is not flying you.

A blend of two important factors, attitude and power, will produce the environment that we can control. Like a car, the airplane is a predictable thing. When given certain parameters it will always do the same thing. Nose up? Airspeed will decrease. Nose down? Airspeed will increase. No power? It will enter a descent. Full power? It will climb. Winds will push the airplane in known directions, crosswinds will have a known effect on approach paths, and so on. 

It’s all well within our control.

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Uncontrolled airport procedures

There are a very large number of uncontrolled aerodromes in Canada where no control tower operates. Also, some controlled aerodromes are uncontrolled at certain hours, if tower closes. For example the CFS may indicate the control tower is closed from 0000 to 0600 daily, so you’ll have to follow uncontrolled procedures during that time period. If you’re not being directed by air traffic control (ATC), you’ll need to know how to plan your approach. It’s important to think of the approach procedure in advance, visualizing it before you go.  Make sure you do this. Try visualizing using “chair flying” at home before you head out.   

At some uncontrolled aerodromes with an appreciable amount of traffic, Transport Canada may assign a Mandatory Frequency (MF) or Aerodrome Traffic Frequency (ATF) that you must use. Make sure you have these frequencies ready when you plan to land at one of these uncontrolled airports. When an MF or ATF is designated, it applies to an area with about a 5 NM radius, so when you’re in that radius, make sure you’re active and listening on that frequency. Also, it’s illegal to operate NORDO (with no radio) in an area with an ATF or MF.  I’m not sure why someone would want to fly without a radio anyhow, it sort of makes me nervous! 

Unless otherwise indicated, assume all circuits are left-hand and plan for those accordingly.

How to plan your approach

First, you must exchange communication through one of these frequencies, ATF or MF if applicable, if not, a Flight Service Station (FSS) or through the Universal Communications frequency (UNICOM). You’ll need to check your Canada Flight Supplement (CFS) and Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) for current requirements. 

You’ll need to make five radio calls:

  1. Report 5 minutes out your location, approach procedure, and estimated time over the field;
  2. Report when crossing midfield (this is done 500 feet over circuit altitude, generally 1500 AGL). This is to inspect the runway to ensure it’s suitable for landing and do a wind sock check to choose the appropriate runway direction. This is know what type of landing you need to plan, and try to have as much headwind as possible, or if you need to plan a cross wind landing;
  3. Report when joining downwind leg;
  4. On final,
  5. Then lastly, report when clear of active runway after landing.

This image, from Transport Canada, outlines it nicely: 

Circuit procedures for uncontrolled airspace
Circuit procedures for uncontrolled airspace


Also see VFR procedures at uncontrolled airports diagram by Transport Canada, it’s very helpful. 

Departure procedures

Departure procedures are simple. You’ll also need to broadcast your intentions, of course, and climb to circuit altitude, typically 1000′ AGL, before making any turns. 

Did you know?

CARS, Canadian Aviation Regulations state you’re not allowed to overfly an aerodrome less than 2000 feet above that aerodrome. Just something to note when planning cross country flights. 

I fly out of a very busy airport, Springbank (CYBW), near Calgary, which is usually number 6 or 7 busiest in Canada for aircraft movements. To fly out of Springbank, you’ll need to talk to ground, inner tower, outer tower, then Calgary Terminal, before being cleared enroute. So, flying into a much quieter uncontrolled aerodrome is strangely quiet, and takes some getting used to. 

Do you prefer towered or non-towered airports, and why? Comment below.

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How Noise-Cancelling Headsets work

On final approach, wearing the headset.

If you are a pilot, you likely know about noise cancelling headsets and why you would want to own one. However, do you know how they work?

Noise cancelling headsets, also known as ANR or active noise reduction have a built in microphone that identifies noise created by an external source, such as the noise generated by an aircraft engine and neutralizes it, and the resulting “sound” is silence.  This little graphic helps illustrate.

How noise cancelling headsets work. Image from
How noise cancelling headsets work. Image from

Noise cancelling headsets were conceived of in a 1978 flight to Europe by Amar Bose – the founder of Bose corporation.  The first noise cancelling headset was introduced 10 years later.  They have been very popular ever since and prove indispensable in noisy cockpit environments.  All mid to high end aviation headsets use this technology.

How they work

First, all attempts are made to comfortably block noise passively – this means using a good ear seal to block noise from entering your ears.  A microphone placed inside the ear cup “listens” to external sounds that cannot be blocked passively.  Then, noise cancelling circuitry (electronics) which are also placed in the ear cup, sense the input from the microphone and generate a unique fingerprint of the noise, noting the frequency and amplitude of the incoming wave. Then they create a new wave that is 180 degrees out of phase with the waves associated with the noise.

Next is the “speaker” phase. The “anti-sound” created by the noise-cancelling circuitry is fed into the headphones’ speakers along with the normal audio.  The anti-sound erases the noise by destructive interference, but does not affect the desired sound waves in the normal audio. The term “active” refers to the fact that energy must be added to the system to produce the noise-cancelling effect. The source of that energy is a rechargeable battery.

Most headsets can reduce ambient noise by about 70%.  However, they do more than just reduce noise – they reduce fatigue, which is incredibly important in flight training, cross country trips, and really to maximize comfort and mental alertness in any flight in a loud environment.

ANR headsets are available in the Powder Puff ANR headset, the Bose A20, The Sennheiser S1 Digital and the Lightspeed Zulu.

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Planning a flight from Canada to the U.S.

Planning a Flight from Canada to The United States – a Brief Guide for Canadian Private Pilots 

Ever thought about flying to the U.S. once you are done your license? Or are you thinking about flying to the U.S. and don’t know where to start?  Find out what you need to do in this guest post by John Maxwell from Golden Horseshoe Aviation!

Disclaimer: This post should not be used in lieu of a briefing from a qualified instructor or as the sole source of information, as rules and regulations are subject to change over time.

Start planning early

While there are a few extra steps involved in flying into US airspace, some procedures of flight planning are consistent with flying within Canada. As with any flight preparation, it is critical start flight planning a few days before take-off.  There are several good online resources to help with the planning process, including COPA[1] and SkyVector [2]

Learn about US airspace before you go. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Learn about US airspace before you go. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

1.  Ensure that your documentation is in order (airworthiness certificate, registration, etc.).

2.  Obtain charts and airport directories prior to taking flight and have these onboard when leaving, When flying to the US, ensure that you have current copies of both the US airport/facility directory (A/FD) [3] and The Canada Flight Supplement on board.

  • Using a GPS and flight following will add extra layers of safety.
  • Be aware that when you reach US airspace the flight watch frequency that reports weather and other flight related information changes from 126.7 to 122.0.

3.  Call 1-800-WX BRIEF to check Notice To Airmen (NOTAM) advisories as well as Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR), These restrictions can move and change on a day-to-day basis, so ensure that you recheck them again shortly before your departure.

  • Just as you should check TFR, you should read charts to become familiar with military operating areas. Take note of their dimensions and floors. You may need special clearance to fly through these areas or you may be able to fly beneath their floors.

4. Register your flight plan with the US Department of Homeland Security and submit your manifest to eAPIS (Electronic Advance Passenger Information System).

  • NOTE: simply filing with eAPIS alone is not enough. You also must provide advance notification to Customs by phone.[4] Moreover, you will be required to purchase a US Customs and Border Protection Decal and display it on the outside of the aircraft to demonstrate your free has been paid.[5] Remember that you must be in a plane with Canadian registration, unless you have a FAA license, in which case you can fly a plane registered with the USA.

Circuit procedures at uncontrolled airports

Perhaps the most notable difference when flying in the US is the circuit joining pattern at uncontrolled airports. When crossing the border either into Canada or into the USA pilots need to be on a flight plan and need to be in contact with ATC and your landing airport. The landing airport must have border services.

Open your flight plan!

While flight plans in Canada are automatically opened according to the proposed departure time, in the US they are not. Therefore, if you do not contact your ATC (or flight watch) directly to have your flight plan opened, your landing will technically be “illegal” as you will have flown without an opened flight plan. You can either call your ATC or flight watch or radio them to have the plan opened.

While most cross border flights are uneventful, it is prudent to consult a certified instructor and review the latest regulations during flight planning.

About the author:

John Maxwell
John Maxwell

John Maxwell is the Chief Flight Instructor for Golden Horseshoe Aviation in Hamilton, Ontario CYHM.  He has developed and delivered both private and commercial ground school training programs. He is a seasoned Transport Canada Commercial Pilot, Class II Instructor, Multi Engine as well as an FAA Commercial Pilot, Multi IFR, ATP written. He has over 3300 total hours flight time including 170 night, 100 instrument and 28 Multi Engine. He has provided over 2400 hours dual flight instruction.

John is a career instructor. While many instructors are building time to move on to ‘get a job as a real pilot’, John enjoys people and teaching them to fly airplanes. John’s collaborative style enables him to build lasting and meaningful relationships with his students.

As GHA’s CFI and Chief Operations Officer John is responsible for all operational aspects of Golden Horseshoe Aviation.

Thanks to John for his article!

Helpful Resources:



[3] The A/FD can be ordered from

[4] U.S. to Canada (CANPASS at 888-226-7277). Canada to U.S (call CBP office at Airport of Entry)

[5] Decals are available for purchase here

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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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Crosswind takeoffs

What about the take-off?

Since the take-off comes before the landing, shouldn’t we know how to take-off in a crosswind before we learn how to land in one?  Well, yes, but there is a big difference in consequences between the two.  We can always abort a takeoff (choose not to go flying that day) if we feel the conditions are not right, but once we are flying, we can’t choose not to land. Though it’s true that we can choose an alternate airport if winds are too strong to land in, and we absolutely should if we don’t feel it’s safe to land, but we should be able to land in a crosswind with proficiency if the situation arises.  It is a normal part of flying and should be practiced until it presents no difficulty.

During the takeoff, directional control is maintained with rudder, just as in a normal takeoff.  Depending on the strength of the wind, you may need more rudder than normal.   Ailerons are deflected into the wind, which counters the tendency for the upwind wing to be lifted by the wing and rise.

To take off in a crosswind, recall that when we taxi in a crosswind we use wind inputs.  As you add power, keep these inputs in all the way, and remember to add right rudder.  As your aircraft accelerates slowly neutralize the ailerons and release the wind inputs you need on the ground.   Anticipate adding your wind inputs as you get airborne to keep from blowing off the runway.

Remember, you want your runway directly behind you.  Enter into a slip, the same as when approaching in a crosswind.  Aileron into the wind – upwind wing dipped into the wind – and enough rudder to keep the longitudinal of the axis straight and aligned with your track on the ground.