Experience Multiplier Turns A Flyout Into Something So Much More

What pilot doesn’t enjoy heading out to the airport, firing up an airplane and flying out somewhere for a $100 burger? A fly-out is a great experience that can be enjoyed by pilots weekend after weekend, allowing us to really seize the value offered by a pilot’s license. When you inject a flying club into a fly-out, the reasons flying clubs represent an experience multiplier to the pilot community become quickly evident. I realized this firsthand when we piled 15 fellow members from the Leading Edge Flying Club (LEFC) into four aircraft and met individuals from several other Wisconsin and Iowa flying clubs at Kealy’s Kafe at Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport (KJVL) for breakfast, socializing and, of course, hangar flying. Over a few hours, here are some of the things I got out of my experience…

A fellow LEFC member and I intended to fly the club’s Sky Arrow to and from KJVL. The Sky Arrow is a great airplane for tooling around the Chicago area or making short cross-country trips, as was the case here. The Sky Arrow is a two-person, tandem seat pusher that offers incredible views with a bubble canopy configuration. Due to a low battery, complicated by the frigid January temperature, the Sky Arrow did not start. Thankfully, two of the other aircraft going on the fly-out had held back to ensure everyone got off of the ground, and we were able to quickly hop in and depart only a few minutes behind schedule. Had we planned to fly on our own, the trip would have been over before it had begun.

cirrus1Further proof that a flying club can turn an aircraft maintenance issue into an opportunity: a few minutes after walking away from the Sky Arrow, I found myself in a club member’s Cirrus SR20. This being my first time in a Cirrus, I was blown away by the experience and how seemingly no details were overlooked during the aircraft’s design process. Riding in the back seat gave me the opportunity to peer around and take in the experience over the shoulder of the PIC, while also exploring the cabin details.

My fellow passenger from the Sky Arrow was able to hitch a ride in the back of a Cessna 310 – the turn of events worked out nicely for him as well. With over 30 pilots arriving in a variety of airplanes, including an LSA, a taildragger, and several Cessnas, the fly-out was a pilot-rich environment. All attendees took full advantage of this experience. Name tags were distributed, and the whole event was like a grown-up version of musical chairs. There was a constant buzz to the atmosphere, and conversations covered the entire gamut of aviation. Even pilots not originally part of the contingent, but who happened to otherwise be at KJVL for breakfast, joined in on the fun. One of the culminating events of the day came in the form of a remix of Frank Sinatra’s Come Fly With Me, which can be viewed (at your own risk) here.

gps_mapBuilding upon the musical chairs theme introduced above, there was a lot of aircraft shuffling on the tarmac of KJVL before kicking off the return leg to KPWK. I settled into the left seat of the LEFC Archer and logged some cross-country PIC time with a fellow club member. It was fun to be at a different airport and hear so many familiar voices and tail numbers over the radio. We ultimately lifted off just as the Leading Edge SR22 fired up. As a testament to the speed of the SR22, we landed at KPWK only immediately prior to the SR22 (and had watched it gain ground on us the entire time on the Avidyne multi-function display). The journey, though, offered a great opportunity to share different piloting techniques, aerial waypoints and provided another set of trained eyes to look for others taking advantage of the perfect flying conditions. Once back at KPWK, all participants gathered in our flying club’s common area to debrief on all of the fun and settle the financial details. Total cost per person came in at just under $93, proving that the $100 burger (or breakfast, in our case) still has a pulse!!!

For me, going on the fly-out to KJVL provided firsthand evidence of how a flying club can be an experience multiplier. Had I planned to go up to KJVL for breakfast on my own, I would have been grounded for mechanical reasons. Instead, through the community of a flying club, I ended up making the trip, logging PIC time in a different type of aircraft than I had originally planned, spent a few hours with a great group of fellow pilots and rode in a Cirrus for the first time – all for under $100. When are we doing this again?

By |March 6th, 2013|Fly Outs|0 Comments

Flying Clubs – Making Your Go / No-Go Decision Fun

flyingclub_panoramaEvery time a pilot climbs into the cockpit before a flight, he or she is faced with a critical go / no-go decision. In making such a decision, the prevailing and expected weather, the state of the aircraft, and the condition of the pilot must all be considered. How does the dynamic of a personal go / no-go decision change when multiple pilots assemble for a planned cross-country and the weather doesn’t cooperate? I recently found out first-hand.

In mid-November, a group of friends / fellow members of Leading Edge Flying Club and I planned a cross-country trip to Central County Airport (68C) in Iola, Wisconsin to experience the annual holiday party held at the airfield. The event at 68C is not just any holiday party; it is grassroots flying at its finest – a congregation of pilots with an overabundance of food (nearly ten turkeys and ten hams) and aviation cheer. For all participants, the motivation to make the trip was high, as it offered a chance to fulfill many aviation objectives: landing at a grass strip; logging extended cross-country time; and, most importantly, bonding with fellow members of the flying club.

On the day of our adventure, we each arrived at KPWK early in the morning desperate for the scud of clouds and mist to dissipate by the time of our intended departure. Given the distance to our destination, coupled with the noon serving time of the turkeys and ham, we needed to be airborne by a certain time. As Todd McClamroch described in his post, Lunch With the Pilots, the six pilots (and one prospective pilot) present maximized the collaboration potential offered by a flying club and engaged in a technology-fueled discussion utilizing ForeFlight to determine our options. While designated pilots-in-command had been established for the first leg of the trip, everyone maintained an ownership interest in the critical go / no-go decision. Each of us weighed in on the current and anticipated weather conditions along our planned route with the most recently-issued terminal aerodome forecasts at hand. This process evolved into a discussion about the different airspace classes and the legal flying limitations of each. It was a great way to intertwine flight planning and refreshing our brains with some of the concepts that often fade after getting a private pilot license.

After weighing all of the available information, we collectively made the right call not to launch. By making our decision in a flying club environment, we engaged in a much more comprehensive process than we would likely otherwise have had had we been faced with the same challenge individually. Rather than simply cancelling the flight or launching with a case of get-there- itis, we determined that we had a weather problem and held an open forum to discuss the potential solutions. Where could we divert along different points of the route? Would the instrument-rated pilots feel comfortable taking the lead? Could we fly west first, where the ceilings were reported to be higher, and then turn north? What would we do if we arrived at our destination and field conditions were not ideal? These are all questions we should ask ourselves when planning a flight on our own, but as I found out this past weekend, planning a flight with a group of other pilots / flying club members helps ensure no stone goes unturned. In the end, everyone felt comfortable with the decision that was made and all of us walked away better, safer pilots.

To get more out of aviation, pilots should not just cancel a flight after a quick read of the existing or forecasted weather conditions. Weather conditions change, and the forecast is not always accurate. Being in a flying club and flying with fellow members enhances the go / no-go decision process by making it collaborative and fostering an environment in which pilots challenge each other. If the weather is bad, you should get to the same decision, but the journey along the way becomes much more meaningful.

By |February 12th, 2013|Fly Outs|0 Comments

The Buddy System

In my last post, I spoke about the value of CFI membership in a flying club provides to the rest of the members. Besides CFIs, another pool of aviation knowledge readily available to flying club members is the application of the buddy system. When flying buddies are in a cockpit together, they should challenge each other throughout an entire flight to make it a mutually beneficial learning experience.

Starting with the preflight briefing and aircraft checks, a great flying buddy is someone who, while not acting as pilot-in-command (“PIC”) for a particular flight, prepares as if he or she will be PIC. This mentality forces the PIC to critically think through the different aspects of preparing for a flight, rather than just going through the motions. A flying buddy’s presence could result in a reminder to the PIC that the oil dipstick is not fully in and locked or to engage in a discussion about the particulars of prevailing conditions when the forecast calls for something other than ceilings and visibility unlimited. When I fly with buddies, I like to find out what tools they use to obtain all available information prior to a flight. As opposed to a one-off conversation, I get the most value through real-world experience before we take to the skies. It is through this type of interaction that I’ve recently expanded my ForeFlight knowledge base. What better way is there to learn how to maximize the utility of ForeFlight than through talking through the entire profile of a forthcoming flight?

Once airborne, the learning potential of having a flying buddy onboard really takes off. We as pilots should strive to leverage the past learning experiences of our flying buddies to make ourselves better pilots. One such aspect of learning is the use of technology. Aircraft systems have become increasingly complex over the past several years, and most pilots have developed knowledge of these complicated systems to varying degrees. A non-instrument-rated pilot, for instance, may only be familiar with the direct-to-function in a Garmin GTN 650. An instrument-rated flying buddy may be able to pass along tips to more effectively use the system to navigate through complicated airspace (for example, Chicago’s airspace, complete with areas of Class B, Class C and Class D-controlled airspace). On a recent flight, one of my flying buddies showed me how to extend the display of runway centerlines on the screen when approaching an unfamiliar airport at night. If I had been flying solo in the same scenario, I may have figured out how to use the functionality, but I would have wasted valuable time and concentration in doing so.

At the conclusion of a flight, there is always potential for a good debrief when another pilot came along for the ride. In the scenarios I discussed above, I portrayed the PIC as the one doing the learning. Obviously, this is not always the case. I previously mentioned that the buddy pilot should prepare as if he or she will be PIC. This mindset should carry through the entire flight. The buddy pilot should be observing, reacting and thinking about the flight as it transpires and consider how he or she would react in each situation. The post-flight discussion could be a great forum to talk through any particular aspects that may differ and hopefully results in some great takeaways for both pilots.

Now how does this relate to flying clubs? Couldn’t a pilot go out and find his or her own flying buddy? Of course, but the potential for linking multiple aviators through the social forum of a flying club is much greater than the other means available to pilots. A flying club, when operating as designed, brings pilots together. Through flying club interactions, it quickly becomes obvious that an empty seat in an aircraft is a wasted seat. While cost sharing may be a catalyst to creating flying buddy bonds, making better pilots is certainly be one of the favorable byproducts.



By |December 14th, 2012|News|0 Comments

Flying Clubs Amplify Your License to Learn

If you were asked to list the reasons to start or join a flying club, you would likely place the most emphasis on the social potential and / or cost benefits. I completely agree, but I think there is also incredible value in all of the learning that takes place when a group of pilots come together. It takes commitment to build an environment conducive to making the skies a safer place, but this environment is certainly achievable. Over the course of my membership in a flying club, I’ve had countless formal and informal experiences that have resulted in growth to my aviation toolbox. Through a series of posts, I will highlight some of the learning aspects of flying club membership that I’ve found to be particularly meaningful.

To attract new members and keep current members engaged, a flying club that includes certified flight instructors (“CFIs”) among its ranks (or allows certain CFIs to instruct in club aircraft) is definitely on the right track. With ongoing CFI-pilot dialogue through various forms of club interaction, everyone wins. In such an environment, you see members stopping and engaging CFIs in discussions regarding recent experiences when members see them in the hangar or a member sitting in on a ground school session for another student. By participating in this type of ongoing dialogue, the flying club CFI is investing in a longer-term relationship that is likely to see that club member / student coming back for recurring training, biennial flight reviews or even the next rating along the aviation journey. From the club member’s perspective, the recurring interaction encourages an environment of openness and continuous learning, in which the club member pilot feels comfortable bringing questions to his or her CFI as they arise (even outside of a normal training cycle).

To support this point, last year I was planning an overnight cross-country to an airport where I would be required to stake and tie the airplane down in the grass. I had not previously done this in practice, and because it had been several years since I last talked about how to apply a double-hitch knot, a little CFI interaction the night before my flight was a no-brainer. It was a perfect night for flying so of course there were several fellow club members at the airport when I arrived for my training session. Shortly after the CFI walked in, a large debate ensued about the strengths and weaknesses of the various types of tie-down methods one can use to ensure the plane is where it should be the next day. Not only did I walk away prepared to secure the airplane down for whatever Mother Nature could throw at me, but the other pilots present for the instruction got a great dose of continuing education.

In my club, another type of CFI-pilot interaction that has been particularly useful is formal group recurring instruction sessions. These sessions, which have been quite successful, involve a CFI and another club member getting together to plan a two-to-three-hour presentation that touches on some of the areas that fade over time in the minds of us regular pilots. A VFR refresher course held during early spring when club flying hours are about to ramp up is a great way to get pilots back in the right frame of mind. Chart reading, non-towered airport operations and thunderstorms are examples of topics that can gather dust when you aren’t able to stretch your wings as much as you’d like to due to the evils of snow and ice. It just takes a little effort and collaboration between the membership and CFIs, and everyone gets a little smarter and safer.

In my mind, CFI involvement in a flying club provides all sorts of benefits. As pilots, we always need to recognize that the privilege of flying requires us to treat each flight as a learning opportunity. Forming bonds with CFIs that extend beyond the normal training cycle is a great conductor to achieving that objective.

By |November 21st, 2012|News|0 Comments