Convention: Pilot Companion Ground School
Peter Morse, ICS #16012
This document is a textural version of the
material presented at the 2012 ICS Convention in Baltimore. The intended
audience was the non-pilot flight companions of ICS members. Those
attending received a handout of the material contained below, and
participated in a series of PowerPoint slide presentations illustrating
the process. The images contained in this document are from those
The material is presented to provide an insight
to the process of planning and executing a typical flight in a Piper
Comanche. The point of view is that of the pilot and the thought process
and actions the pilot goes through for each flight. The intent is to
give you, the non-pilot, an understanding of this process, and to
encourage you to become involved in the process in some way - to move
from just being a passenger to becoming a true pilot companion. It is
not our intent to make you a pilot - merely reading this material cannot
do that - but to provide a knowledge background, which will encourage
your active participation in all phases of the flight. We hope that, in
this way, your next flight will be like watching your favorite movie one
more time. You already know the plot to the story, you can almost recite
the dialogue, and you can appreciate all the tiny nuances as the story
Comanche PA-24 Single
Comanche PA-30 Twin
First, let us talk
about some basic principles of flight.
The four forces of
flight are lift, thrust, weight and drag. To maintain flight, all four
need to be in balance.
The wing is an
airfoil, which, once a critical speed is reached, provides sufficient
lift to maintain the aircraft above the ground. In simple terms, the
more speed the more lift is available.
The propeller is
also an airfoil, providing thrust or lift in the forward direction.
Many factors contribute to the amount of thrust available the speed or
RPM and the blade angle being two. When you provide an excess of thrust
the aircraft will climb. When you decrease the thrust the aircraft will
Drag is the result
of moving the aircraft through the air. While the shape of the aircraft
works to minimize this drag, every little extension contributes a
little. The very action of creating lift over the wings creates drag due
to the disrupted air.
Weight is, of
course, the action of gravity, which must be overcome by creating lift.
However, with enough thrust to overcome drag and to create lift, the
aircraft will fly. When all these forces are in balance you will have
The angle of attack
is critical to producing lift. This is the angle formed by the
centerline of the airfoils leading to trailing edge and the relative
wind or air it is passing through. As the wing moves, it separates the
air, causing it to go over and underneath. The air passing over the wing
must go faster to rejoin at the trailing edge. This increase in speed
results in lower pressure above the wing, creating lift. A certain
amount of lift is also produced beneath the wing by the wedge effect of
the angle of attack. At higher speeds lift is produced at a low angle of
attack and the airflow is smooth. As speed is reduced, more and more
angle is required to produce sufficient lift to maintain flight. At some
point the angle of attack becomes so great that the airflow becomes
disrupted, and separates from the upper surface of the wing. The amount
of lift being produced can no longer support the aircraft, a condition
known as aerodynamic stall. The wing simply stops flying and the
aircraft falls. Recovery requires lowering the nose and increasing
thrust to reduce the angle of attack and increase speed.
Next we will look at
the various parts of the control panel the flight instruments, radio
communications, and the power quadrant.
The flight instruments, often referred to as the
6-pack, are located in the panel directly in front of the pilot. They
consist of the airspeed indicator, artificial horizon, altitude
indicator, turn and bank coordinator, directional gyro, and vertical
The altitude indicator
(upper right) has a knob to set the local atmospheric pressure, ensuring accurate
readings of the altitude above sea level. The local altimeter setting
can be obtained from ATC or from nearby AWOS or ATIS broadcasts.
The directional gyro
(bottom center) has a knob to adjust the readout to match the magnetic compass heading.
This is done periodically to correct any drift due to gyro wear. There
may also be a second knob to adjust the heading bug, a colored arrow
indicating your desired course heading. If the autopilot is in use the
aircraft will now turn to the new heading.
This photo shows a typical radio stack as found
in an older Comanche panel. At the top is a communication panel that
provides a cabin intercom as well as access to the various radio
communications. The three buttons left of center select the active radio
for communication. The top row buttons allow monitoring of additional
sources at the same time. Currently Com1 is selected. The top buttons
right of center allow monitoring of the navigation channel(s) for their
identifier or other broadcast information. The lower right buttons
select where the audio is sent, to certain headphones or the cabin
speaker. The large knobs control the volume and squelch, the left for
the pilot and the right for the rest of the cabin.
Below that is a GPS unit. In this model the large
knob on the right accesses the various display pages and selects the
input information. The displays provide textural information as well as
a graphical map of the flight path. The current desired heading can be
directed to the VOR indicator as well as to the auto pilot.
Next, in the middle of the stack, is the
Com1/Nav1 radio. The left side shows the current and next radio
frequencies. The next one is set using the large knob, and switched
using the white flip-flop button. The right side are the navigation
frequencies, current and next. These can be set for VORs or approach
guidance frequencies, and are connected to the VOR indicator.
This stack has a second radio Com2/Nav2 again
with the radio frequencies in the top display and the navigation
frequencies in the bottom display. The active Nav/Com, 1 or 2, is
selected using the communication panel at the top of the stack.
The power quadrant is located in the lower center
of the panel, and consists of the mixture control, the throttle, and the
propeller RPM control. In the photo the engine status gauges are shown
just above the power quadrant. The red mixture control sets the amount
of fuel available for the fuel/air ratio. Generally the knob is pushed
in for maximum fuel available when near the ground, such as for takeoff
and landing. This provides maximum power without overheating. As the
altitude increases a reduced mixture, a process called leaning, allows
the engine to run hotter and therefore more efficiently. The throttle
control adjusts the amount of air to the engine, thereby controlling the
power. Pushing it in gives more power, and pulling it out provides less.
Movement of the throttle shows up directly on the manifold pressure
gauge, which can be used to achieve a particular power setting. The
propeller control adjusts the governor, which in turn adjusts the angle
of the propeller blades. At full power prop control all the way in
the blade angle is relatively low and the RPM high at full power,
providing maximum thrust for takeoff and climb. As the propeller control
is pulled out the blade angle is increased, taking a bigger bite of air
as the blades turn. This requires more power from the engine and results
in lower RPM. Lower RPM means less fuel being consumed for a given
airspeed and better economy. Adjusting the mixture to bring the
combustion temperatures up further improves efficiency.
Part 1: Flight Planning
Thoughtful flight planning is the key to an enjoyable flight
experience, both for the pilot and for the passengers. While not every
action in the following paragraphs is required for every flight, all of
them need to be considered and checked off.
First is the flight objective. Is this to be a daytime flight
out and back to some point of interest, or a more extensive flight with
intermediate stops and possible hours of darkness? Are there any
constraints on the flight, such as a reservation or meeting with someone
at the destination, bringing other passengers, or a need to be back home
by a certain time? For the time frame of your planned flight, are there
any typical weather conditions you may see, such as reduced visibility
due to morning fog or daytime haze? Will seasonal daylight time or
temperatures impact your flight? Can you truly go whenever you are
ready, or even decide to not go?
marking flight path
Next is the aircraft and pilot. How long since the aircrafts
last inspection? Is it in top shape? Have there been any recent problems
(squawks)? Are the charts and the GPS database current? If your trip
will involve flight over water, do you have adequate flotation equipment
on board for all passengers? Will you need chocks or tie-downs to secure
the aircraft at your destination? What recent experience does the pilot
have in this aircraft? Is the pilot current per the regulations
(landings, night, IFR)?
Now make a plan for the route of flight. Lay out the required
chart(s) on a large surface (a table, a bed, or even the floor) and
locate the departure and destination points. Scan the direct route of
flight for any obstacles or areas you wish to avoid such as high
elevations or controlled airspace (Class B or C airports, Warning or
Restricted areas), and possible TFRs. Choose a cruising altitude using
the hemispherical rule (even thousands westbound, odd thousands
eastbound, plus 500 feet if VFR). Consider flying high where the air is
cooler and smoother, the aircraft performance (speed) is better, and
obstacles are far below.
Draw the planned route on the chart (pencil line,
highlighter, or even a piece of string and tape). Mark your navigation
waypoints with circles or small post-it notes. Visual waypoints like
rivers or nearby airports can also be marked. List your waypoints by
their identifier and related frequency on a flight plan form. Using your
sectional scale, determine the distances between waypoints and the
magnetic headings to follow, adding these to the form. Total up the
distances to calculate the flight time and fuel required based on your
cruise speed and fuel burn rate.
Fill in the route of flight block on your flight plan form.
This defines your flight when talking to a briefer or calling up DUAT.
When possible, use the Victor airways to define entire segments in a
simple way. For example, a flight from Danielson, Ct, (KLZD) to
Frederick, Md. (KFDK) involves flying to HFD, CMK, SAX, ETX, LRP, VINNY,
and EMI. This route description is shortened to HFD, CMK, v-39, LRP,
v-457, EMI. As an extreme example, flying from Poughkeepsie, NY to Sun
N Fun at Lakeland, Fl can be defined as IGN (Kingston, NY VOR), v-157,
LAL (Lakeland, Fl VOR). All of the waypoints down the east coast are
then filled in automatically.
Now that you have your plan ready, open your favorite
computer program and store it for future reference. Once in place in the
AOPA flight planner, FltPlan.com, or in your DUAT account, you can
reload it with simple mouse clicks to see the current weather and NOTAMs
along your route as part of your pre-flight briefing.
Now you can let your finger do the walking. Follow the flight
path with your finger from start to finish. Note any airports within two
finger widths (~8 miles) to the right or left as check points along the
route and possible landing sites should you need to divert. In
particular note airports with published ATIS or AWOS frequencies as
sources for enroute weather. Note any restricted areas you will pass, such as P-40, and check for details on the chart margin. Also note
any posted Approach frequencies to be used when nearing controlled
In the days leading up to your flight pay attention to the area weather patterns. The Weather
Channel website is a good source for this information. Choose locations
near your flight path and click on the extended forecasts 5 day, 10
day, weekend paying particular attention to the area forecast maps.
Understanding the movement of the forecast weather cells can help you
with a go / no go decision for your flight, or to modify your departure
If at any point something just doesnt look or feel right,
consider modifying your plan for the flight. Maybe it just is not a good
day to fly.
Do a quick weight and balance calculation for the flight,
using your planned fuel loading and the approximate weights of your
passengers and baggage. Dont forget the stuff you always carry like
tie-downs, chocks, extra oil and your flight bag. Calculate your landing
CG after subtracting the expected fuel burn.
Part 2: Pre-Flight activities
Before the flight, consider the possibility that you may not
complete the flight as planned, perhaps landing at a different airport
or delaying your return overnight. Pack an overnight bag with basic
toiletries and at least one days supply of any required medication. You
could also bring a basic change of clothes. Include a list of contacts
and the charger for your cell phone.
Gather together all the materials (paperwork, charts,
hand-held radio, spare batteries etc.) that you will need in the cockpit
for the flight. Review the flight plan and open the charts to the
appropriate places. Starting from the destination, work your way
backwards to the departure point, folding and/or flipping the chart(s)
as needed. You will end up with the first chart on top, and a fresh look
at the route.
Preflight yourselves. [IMSAFE:
Illness Medication Stress Alcohol Fatigue Emotion] Are you
feeling okay? Are you well rested? Are there any medication issues? Do
you have a clear picture of the flight you have planned, and a
preplanned list of options in case things dont go as planned? Do you
need to adjust your personal weight and balance (youve had how many
cups of coffee?)? Your flight requires an hour of reserve fuel to be
safe - do you have that extra hour too?
Part 3: Startup and Taxi
Every aircraft has its own idiosyncrasies when it comes to
starting the engine. The pilot/ owner will be adept at coaxing the
engine(s) to life. The POH gives specifics as to priming the fuel,
setting the mixture etc.
When ready, set the parking brake or stand on the
toe brakes, and clear the area. Once the engine is running turn on the
electronics. Verify that the rotating beacon is on and operating. Set
the radio and navigation frequencies for the flight while the engine is
warming up. Listen to the local ATIS or AWOS for departure information
(this also confirms radio reception). Set the altimeter to the broadcast
setting and confirm that the readout matches the airport elevation. If
you are parked parallel to a runway you can set the directional gyro
(DG) to that heading. Otherwise set it to the magnetic compass heading.
Enter, or call up, your GPS flight plan if you intend to use one, or
simply enter your first GPS waypoint. Sweep the panel visually to be
sure that all switches are on that should be on, and that the engine
readouts are good. Confirm that the fuel gauge reading(s) agree with
your known fuel quantities. Note the engine start time for fuel
When you are ready, call ground control for your taxi
clearance. Tell them who you are, where you are, and what you want to
do. Write the instructions down and then follow the route with your
finger on the airport diagram as you taxi. Taxi calls are a good idea at
non-towered airports too. Again, broadcast who you are and what you are
going to do.
While you taxi, pay attention to the flight instruments. As
you change direction, the DG should change to match your current
heading. So should the magnetic compass after settling down from its
lead / lag activity. If the airspeed indicator comes alive you are
taxiing way too fast! Keep your eyes outside the cockpit. Do not tune
radios or organize charts while taxiing.
Pull over in the run-up area, or when you are nearing the
entrance to the active runway, to do a power check on your engine. As
per the POH, bring the power up to the desired RPM and confirm that the
engine gauges (fuel pressure, oil pressure and temperature, amp meter,
vacuum) are reading correctly. Perform the magneto checks - left then
right to confirm operation. A slight drop in RPM is expected. A
significant drop or rough engine sound may indicate a fouled plug. This
may be cleared by running for a time with the mixture leaned. If the
rough running does not clear up, takeoff is not advised. Cycle the
propeller control a couple of times to confirm the operation of the
governor. You should hear the engine slow down, see the RPM needle move,
and also see a drop in the vacuum or manifold pressure.
If you are departing on an IFR flight plan, now is the time
to call for your clearance. Some pilots call before they do the run-up
knowing that there will be a delay in ATC clearance delivery. At any
rate, be ready to copy down your clearance when they do call back, even
if you must interrupt your present activity.
You are now ready to
depart. Brief your passengers on the departure plan and remind them of
the sterile cockpit concept. One more scan of the panel, stow the taxi
diagram, and call the tower for permission to enter the runway for
Part 4: Departure
Part 5: Cruise Flight
Part 6: Approach
Part 8: Taxi and Shutdown
Part 9: Meet the POH
comfortable armchair and become familiar with the contents of your POH.
Then stow it the aircraft, in a location handy to the pilot, for that
occasion when you need an answer quickly.
Part 10: What else can go wrong?
have presented a lot of information so far, much of it needing attention
to conduct flight safely. But what about those other times when
something unexpected comes up? What do we do? Where do we go for help?
What about weather issues? If you have a source of in-cockpit weather
information (an Ipad, XM weather, storm scope or radar) use it to adjust
your flight path. If talking to ATC (IFR flight plan or VFR Flight
Following), ask them what they see and ask for suggestion or vectors
around it. For the big picture of what lies ahead contact Flight Watch
on 122.0. Their specialty is flight weather. Just remember that you are
the Pilot in Command (PIC) if you dont like what you are seeing out
the front window, then change what the aircraft is pointing at. Remember
to tell ATC what you are doing and why.
What if you need to divert to change where you intend to go for a
specific reason? This is why you have been following your flight path on
the chart. Pick a convenient airport and go there, always working it out
with ATC if you are talking to them. You may need to divert because of
weather ahead, or low fuel, or for personal comfort needs. The GPS
nearest button can provide a lot of information about your new
What if you become lost? This can happen surprisingly easily,
particularly at night, or when you are paying attention to things inside
the aircraft while changing direction and lose touch with the view
outside. First, align your world inside the cockpit with the one outside
position your sectional map so that up is your current heading. Then
look for the big landmarks rivers, lakes, highways, cities, and other
charted features. Look both ahead and off to each side. If you still are
not sure, try climbing for a wider view. Refer to your GPS to identify
nearby airports. Remember that the GPS shows you the current course line
and the ground track you are flying. This may not match where the nose
is pointed as this is affected by the crosswind component of the air you
are in. This correction factor becomes more obvious when you are looking
for your destination airport straight ahead, when it is actually 5 or
even 10 degrees to the left or right of the nose due to the winds. If
you are not talking to ATC, give them a call. Tell them where you think
you are, that you are not sure, and where you would like to go. They
will give you a transponder (squawk) code, identify you on radar, and
assist you in any way they can. If you cant use the local controllers,
try Flight Watch on 122.0.
And what about the big items engine power loss, electrical failure,
loss of flight or navigation instruments, or fire in the aircraft?
First, make a plan to deal with your problem, and then declare an
emergency. If talking to ATC, stay with them; if not, switch to the
emergency frequency of 121.5. Broadcast Mayday, Mayday, Mayday!
followed by who you are (aircraft identifier), where you are, what has
happened, and what you are doing about it. Fly the plane, and then
answer any questions ATC has. If you have a loss of electrical power and
the engine is still operational it can run just fine without
electrical power maintain your altitude and heading and try to reset
the affected circuits. If you cannot continue your flight safely, find a
nearby airport and land there. If you loose your radios communication
and navigation switch your transponder code to 7600 lost com to
make ATC aware of your problem, then land at the first opportunity.
And what if (OMG!) you lose your pilot? The material presented above can
give you a much better understanding of the art of flying an aircraft
controls, communications, and procedures but is no substitute for real
hands-on experience. At every opportunity, with your pilots guidance,
take part in the flight activities. Preset the radio and navigation
frequencies. Program the GPS. Handle some of the communication. Control
the aircraft on the ground or in flight, adjusting the power or trim as
needed. Track the flight on charts, picking out landing options as they
come along. Take the opportunity to view the AOPA Pinch Hitter course
on line it presents much of the above material and then sign up with
a flight instructor to go fly in your aircraft, learning how to bring it
in for a safe, controlled landing.
Once you have accomplished all of these things, give yourself a great
big pat on the back. You are now unique among aviators. So, now, where
will you go on YOUR next flight?
Click here for the
Temporary Co-Pilot Checklist as adapted from the ICS "Comanche Tips"
Glossary of Terms
MASTER turns on
electrical power (battery)
alternator for charging battery
FUEL PUMP turns
on electric fuel pump
MAGS connect /
select magnetos 1, 2 or both (key)
controls amount of air to engine
ratio of fuel to air
PROP / RPM
adjusts governor to control propeller RPM
lift and drag for slow flight
to raise / lower wing for turns
to raise / lower nose for altitude
ailerons and elevator
rudder (nose wheel steering on ground)
BRAKE (toe or
hand) control speed on ground
holds brake setting
ATC (Air Traffic
Control) towered airport arrival
Control) towered airport departure
ATC verbal description of your flight
Delivery) provides your clearance
controls runway(s) for landing or departure
Control) controls taxiways for ground movement
Traffic Advisory Frequency) for non-towered airports
non-movement area for aircraft parking
area and gates for commercial traffic
FBO (Fixed Base
Operator) point of contact for GA aircraft
(Universal Communication frequency) used by FBO
listed source of weather information
recording of current weather and operational procedures
Weather Observation System) conditions updated every minute
VFR - (Visual
Flight Rules) visual (self) separation from other traffic.
MVFR - (Marginal
VFR) greater than 1 mi visibility, clear of clouds, visual (self)
separation from other traffic.
IFR - (Instrument
Flight Rules) no visual traffic separation, ATC control.
VMC - (Visual
Metrological Conditions) 3 mi or more visibility, able to maintain 500
ft above, 1000 ft below clouds.
IMC - (Instrument
Metrological Conditions) less than 1-mile visibility, visual separation
or MPH) speed relative to the surrounding air
(Knots or MPH) speed relative to the ground
critical speeds (Velocities) for your aircraft see POH
AOA (Angle of
Attack) the angle between the wing cord line and the relative wind
STALL speed or
angle of attack at which the wing is no longer producing lift
direction the aircraft is pointing
assigned by ATC
height above mean sea level (MSL)
Ground Level) your height above the surface
indicates correct altitude when set to local barometric pressure
path to fly when landing on a runway
direction of turns in the pattern, left turns standard
Pattern Altitude) typically 1000 ft AGL
straight ahead on departure to TPA
90 degrees from departure at TPA
parallel to runway in opposite direction at TPA
BASE path 90
degrees to final, descending from TPA
descent path in line with runway
rejected landing, continue departure to traffic pattern
COMM 1- main radio
NAV 1 main radio
VOR (Very high
frequency Omni directional Radio beacon) ground-based navigation system
beam from VOR
source for flight notices and weather
NOTAM (Notice to
Airmen) warning of risk or changes
Flight Restriction) may appear with short notice
(122.0 Hz) access to FSS while airborne
Hz) monitored 24/ 7 by ATC
sends code and altitude for radar identification
transponder code assigned by ATC for your flight (1200 = VFR)
Positioning System) satellite-based navigation
entered in GPS, automatic sequence to next waypoint
progressive locations along your route of flight