Author Archives: Pilot One

Cessna Pilot Center Companion App Lets Pilots Download and Complete Lessons Offline on iPads

Cessna iPad App

The Cessna App view of the Main Menu of the Cessna Sport/Private Pilot Course

Cessna Pilot Center Seminar, San Diego, CA, June 23, 2016—Cessna Pilot Centers’ use of the latest technology gives pilots convenient access to their online courses on an iPad even when they are offline. The CPC Companion app, a free download from the Apple App Store, allows pilots to download lessons from their courses to their iPad.

The next time the pilot is online their course progress is automatically synchronized with the servers, allowing them to move seamlessly among their iPad and computer. Then when they resume their course, either offline or online, all the progress they made offline will be displayed on their menu.

“The great thing about our iPad Companion app is that customers are not locked into choosing between using their iPad or a computer,” commented Cessna Pilot Center Business Leader Christopher Crow. “The ability to work offline on an iPad and then sync their progress with the servers gives learning pilots the option to continue their course from anywhere, connected or not,” he noted.

Cessna Instrument Rating course for iPad.

View of the Main Menu for the Cessna Instrument Rating Course as seen on the Cessna Companion App for iPad.

Pilots learning at Cessna Pilot Centers have lifetime free upgrades to their courses. “Every time a pilot connects with the servers, their course is automatically updated,” said Crow. “The courses have already been upgraded to reflect the new Airman Certification Standards (ACS). Plus we’ve expanded the digital library. There are now more than 100 reference manuals, Cessna aircraft PIMs, and books.”

The Cessna Pilot Center Sport/Private Pilot training kits now come in a custom-made flight bag from MyGoFlight. Says Crow, “The new pilot bag looks great, and has room for an iPad, headset, flashlight, and other materials. In each Sport/Private Pilot and Instrument Rating kit there is also a free one-year subscription for Garmin Pilot VFR or IFR that has a value of $129 or $149, and the Sport/Private kit also includes a 20% discount card for any MyGoFlight product.”

For more information visit the Apple App Store on your iPad and search for “Cessna Companion”.



The New King ACS Course Now Available!

It has been personal. It has been passionate. It has taken a long time. Many caring, competent members of the aviation training community have given countless hours of their time, traveling many thousands of miles. Every one of them has been stirred by needless accidents, where lives might have been saved if only those pilots had known how to effectively manage risk. The lost pilots and their passengers were a constant presence and motivation. But it’s now here.

Starting in June, pilots taking the Private Pilot and Instrument Rating checkrides have been using the Airman Certification Standards (ACS) instead of the Practical Test Standards (PTS)—ensuring that future pilots will have the risk management tools they need.  We have put together an ACS information page that we hope you will find useful Click Here – ACS information page.

ACS checkride, PTS checkride

Mary Schu , Designated Pilot Examiner, and John King preflight a Cessna 172.

King Schools has released a new version of our “Private Pilot Practical Test (Oral Exam & Flight Test)” course with new video to cover every ACS task.  It contains over 5 hours of oral and in-flight HD video.  It features a simulated ACS checkride.  Mary Schu is the DPE (Designated Pilot Examiner) and joined John and me on camera to demonstrate complete check rides from first to last handshake in this brand-new course.

You will find these new ACS Practical Test courses useful whether you are an applicant, a flight instructor, or a designated examiner.

The process that led to the ACS started with an Airman Testing Standards and Training Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), which determined the need for change. Next was the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC) Airmen Certification Systems Working Group, which made it all happen. The group members came from aviation associations, universities, manufacturers, pilot unions, course developers, and training providers—all collaborating and cooperating with the FAA. King Schools supplied two members of each group: John King and John “Mac” McWhinney. It was a privilege and a big responsibility for everyone who participated.

Martha KIng, Mary Schu and John King on set during the shooting of the newly released Private Pilot Practical Test (Oral Exam & Flight Test) course.

Martha KIng, Mary Schu and John King on set during the shooting of the newly released Private Pilot Practical Test (Oral Exam & Flight Test) course.

As a result, the checkrides (Practical Tests) will ensure pilots understand how knowledge, risk management, and skill work together. Using the ACS for training and testing will fashion the habit of thinking systematically about what’s happening now, what bad thing might happen if you don’t do something about it, and what you can do now to prevent it from happening. The ACS provides the standards for what a pilot is expected to demonstrate on both the knowledge test and practical test. The tests will now be relevant to a pilot’s ability to get utility from the aircraft, and to identify and mitigate the risks of flight. No longer will a pilot be tested on the trivial and obscure.

We hope you enjoy our new course.

Happy Flying,


When You Declare an Emergency

Staying in Command

Article appeared in Flying Magazine March, 2016 by John King –

The light on the panel said “OIL1.” It was telling us we had low oil pressure in the left engine. We didn’t believe it.
In 14 years of flying our old Falcon 10 we had never seen an “OIL” light come on. We looked down at the oil pressure gauge to reassure ourselves that there was nothing wrong with the engine.

To our shock the gauge confirmed the low oil pressure. It was hard to believe this extraordinarily reliable airplane was letting us down.

Each of us knew what we needed to do. It was Martha’s job as captain and designated pilot-flying, to fly the airplane. As co-pilot and pilot-monitoring, it was my job to run the checklists and take care of the problem. We both knew the very first checklist was going to tell us to shut the engine down. We just wanted to do it right so we didn’t create more problems for ourselves.
O-ring gap
Shutting down an engine in this airplane should be no big deal. It can climb at 1,000 ft./min. on one engine. Also, we practice single-engine landings every time we go to FlightSafety for simulator training. But this was for real. In the simulator you have nothing at risk except for maybe embarrassment. Now we were at risk of, in the worst case, botching a single-engine landing and suffering grievous harm, and at the minimum, trashing an engine because we didn’t shut it down soon enough. I was nervous.

The checklist for low oil pressure is very handy. Like every light on the panel, it has an easy-to-find checklist associated with it. As we anticipated, the checklist associated with the “OIL1” light said to shut the engine down, which requires the shutdown checklist. Martha had already pulled the power lever back to idle.

The first step on the shutdown checklist, I was sure, would be to pull the power lever past the detent to idle cutoff. I wanted us to go ahead and do that, but Martha asserted her authority as captain to insist I find and refer to the shutdown checklist before we do anything that might be difficult to undo. Within maybe a couple of minutes, which seemed like an eternity, we had followed the checklist to put the engine into idle cutoff, and completed the rest of the items on the list.

We hadn’t said anything to ATC yet because there wasn’t anything they could do for us. Moreover, we didn’t want the distraction of explaining our situation to them until we had the engine shut down and secured. However, we now wanted to abandon our Las Vegas destination and reverse course to land at San Diego’s Gillespie Field where our maintenance shop is located. I explained to Los Angeles Center that we had shut one engine down and wanted to head to Gillespie. The controller immediately gave us the clearance I asked for.
Dipstick and o-ring
“Do you want to declare an emergency?” he asked. I knew that if I did so, it would start a whole new conversation which we weren’t yet ready for. Along with the engine, we had lost a generator and a hydraulic pump. We still needed to minimize our electrical load, consider the hydraulic implications, and deal with the imbalance caused by burning fuel out of only one side. We needed time to deal with the checklists for those issues.

Nevertheless, the controller was concerned. “Do you need any assistance? Is there anything we can do for you?” “No,” I explained, “The airplane flies fine on one engine and we are in no rush. We just need to take time to run some checklists.”

Controllers are in a real bind when a pilot reports a problem. They know their questions can be a distraction. But every controller is rightfully concerned when you have a problem. The last thing they would want to do is fail to give a pilot with a problem the help or information that could have prevented a catastrophe.

Plus, controllers are accustomed to being in charge of things. After all, they aren’t called “controllers” for nothing. And the hardest thing in the world for a competent, controlling person to do is nothing, even when nothing is the right thing to do. So every time we were handed off to a new controller, we understandably went through the same questions.

Getting the fuel balanced was a priority for us. Having a fuel imbalance on landing would make the landing trickier. The longer we burned fuel out of one side, the bigger imbalance we needed to correct for, and the more time it would take. Correcting for a fuel imbalance in our Falcon 10 is complicated and offers plenty of opportunity to screw it up and make things worse. We really needed to concentrate on running the checklist. The questions were truly a distraction.

As we approached the San Diego area on this magnificently beautiful San Diego day we realized that everybody and his brother was out flying. Our traffic collision advisory system showed numerous airplanes between us and the airport. We now wanted priority from ATC in the hope of avoiding a diversion or a go-around. There is plenty of power for a go-around but it is all on one side. Every power change requires coordination with a lot of rudder pressure. It is very easy to get dangerously destabilized. It would be much simpler if we didn’t have to go around.

Since we had caught up with all the checklists we decided it was time to declare an emergency. Of course, as we knew would happen, the controller asked us the required questions. “Say souls on board and remaining fuel, and do you need any assistance?”

Declaring an emergency did pay off. We could hear aircraft being vectored away from our path as we made our uninterrupted straight-in approach to the airport. Martha made a beautiful landing right on the centerline of the runway. As we turned on to the taxiway we noticed a firetruck was accompanying us on the adjacent road.

When we landed at Gillespie Field and had a chance to investigate, the cause of our problem became obvious. There was oil all over the left side of the airplane. Further exploration revealed that the left oil filler/dipstick cap had developed a gap in the O-ring, allowing the engine oil to escape. When the O-ring was replaced and the oil replenished, the engine didn’t leak oil and ran fine. The next day, without any problems, we made the trip we had started earlier.

A little less than a week later we got a message from an inspector at the local FAA district office, “At your convenience please email me a statement describing the events that led you to declare the emergency.”

At first I was very disappointed to have received this message. I like to tell pilots that you don’t get into trouble for declaring an emergency, and that you shouldn’t let fear of repercussions from the FAA deter you from doing so. Then Martha countered that if people are having to shut engines down due to something as simple as O-ring failure, the FAA needs to know about it. “How else would the problem get fixed?” she asked.

The experience re-affirmed our belief in the necessity in an emergency to manage your communications with ATC to minimize distractions from flying the airplane. There is no rush to tell someone about a problem unless they can help you somehow. Once you tell ATC about your problem, in their concern to make sure they give you all the assistance and information you need, they will inevitably start asking you questions.

When you decide you do need help, like priority handling or search and rescue, and are ready to answer the questions, it is time to share your problem. The “souls on board” question is pretty easy to answer, but knowing fuel remaining in hours can take a little figuring. You can lower your stress level if you make the calculation before you declare the emergency.

All in all, we were very satisfied with the way things worked out. The situation did require a competent performance on our part. But we had much more than that going for us. We had caring and capable air traffic controllers who continuously monitored our progress and were standing by, ready to help in any way possible including arranging for emergency vehicles to be there when we landed. We were very well looked after.

Rich Martindell, VP at King Schools Awarded a 2016 General Aviation Award

General Aviation Award winner 2016, Rich Martindell

Rich, pictured here in his King Schools office has been named the FAA 2016 Safety Team Representative of the Year.

FAA’s 50 plus year tradition recognizes aviation professionals for their contributions to general aviation

San Diego – Richard Martindell, King School’s VP of Course Content and Experience has been named FAA 2016 Safety Team Representative of the Year.

Every year for more than 50 years, the General Aviation Awards program and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have recognized aviation professionals for their contributions to general aviation in the fields of flight instruction, aviation maintenance/avionics, and safety.

The FAA will recognize Rich’s accomplishment in July during EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. His name will be added to the large perpetual plaque located in the lobby of the EAA AirVenture Museum. “These awards highlight the important role played by these individuals in promoting aviation education and flight safety,” said GA Awards board chairman Arlynn McMahon, “The awards program sponsors are pleased that these outstanding aviation professionals will receive the recognition they so richly deserve before their peers in Oshkosh.”

Rich Martindell - 1

Rich was a USAF fighter pilot and instructor in both the F-4 and F-15. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, five Meritorious Service Medals, eleven Air Medals, and three Combat Readiness Medals.

In his capacity as VP of Course Content and Experience, Rich works with his team to create and maintain over 90 courses from Sport Pilot to Airline Transport Pilot including ground school, practical test preparation, Flight Instructor refresher courses, professional pilot courses and numerous topical flight training courses. Rich formerly served as a USAF fighter pilot and instructor in both the F-4 and F-15. He retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, having earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, five Meritorious Service Medals, eleven Air Medals, and three Combat Readiness Medals. He flew 323 combat sorties in the F-4 in Thailand, and has been stationed at bases around the world.

As Lead Representative of the FAA Safety Team in San Diego, Rich works with and trains many other representatives. He often speaks throughout the region at EAA chapters, flight schools, flying clubs, and airport businesses. Rich excels in teaching leading-edge aviation topics from ADS-B to Unmanned Aerial Systems to the redesign of the Multiplex Airspace System in Southern California. He writes newsletter articles and maintains an online blog titled “Let’s Go Flying“.

Rich is member of the San Diego Airports Aviation Advisory Committee that advises the mayor and city council on airport issues. He regularly teaches Private Pilot ground school courses for the San Diego Air & Space Museum at the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems campus. He is an active pilot and instrument flight instructor, and a trained aviation accident investigator frequently called upon by local media to comment on aviation mishaps. Rich also teaches formation flying in war birds to pilots interested in learning this challenging skill.

Rich holds Airline Transport Pilot, Instrument Flight Instructor, and Advanced Instrument Ground School Instructor certificates. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Transportation and Public Utilities from the University of Arizona, and an MBA from Golden Gate University, He graduated from the Safety Program Management and Aircraft Accident Investigation programs at the University of Southern California.

A Sporting Chance

Up Close and Personal with the Military

Article appeared in Flying Magazine February, 2016 by Martha King –Martha_04

“You just flew through a Military Training Route.” The controller was agitated. Since whatever had happened had happened, and we were already within 10 miles of Thermal’s non-towered airport, John told the controller we were leaving his frequency to get airport advisories. John then switched our transponder to 1200, the VFR squawk, and changed frequencies.

As captain of our two-pilot crew, I had earlier asked John to cancel IFR so we could switch to the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency. When John cancelled, the controller said, “Keep the same squawk code and stay with me for advisories.” It wasn’t what we wanted, but the controller was so busy there wasn’t time to talk to him about it.

The controller obviously had a different view of the risks of a mid-air collision than we, and had wanted to keep us with him to give us advisories. Maybe he was concerned about the Military Training Route, but he didn’t tell us about it until we were past it. Plus, we had a traffic collision avoidance system and it didn’t show any traffic in our immediate area.

In our view the biggest risk of a collision was with traffic at the airport and the risk was increasing geometrically as we got closer to it. Our concern was heightened because we were flying our old Falcon Jet and even at our slowest, we would still overtake most airplanes around the airport. It was high time to change frequencies. We had no obligation to stay with the controller and it was, we thought, better risk management to be monitoring the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency and announcing our position.

When we got on the ground, the fixed based operator came running out with a message for us to call Los Angeles Center. This was not good news. We were on our way to the Flying Aviation Expo and this was not a promising start to what was supposed to be a fun weekend.

Being a well-trained co-pilot, John offered to make the call. The person on the other end of the line at Center wanted to know why he was calling. Frankly, John didn’t really know. Apparently the controller had missed our call saying we were leaving the frequency, and even though we had changed to the VFR squawk he wanted to make it clear to us he felt we should have waited for his acknowledgement before leaving the frequency. Plus, I had the suspicion that his annoyance had something to do with our not taking the time to discuss the Military Training Route.

To add to my feelings of guilt about the incident, neither John nor I knew about the Military Training Route. Had we not surveyed the trip adequately? Had we taken an unreasonable risk without even being aware of it?

When I looked on a sectional chart I discovered that, sure enough, there was a Military Training Route just about 10 miles south of the airport, and we had crossed over the top of it. It was labeled with a 4-digit number indicating it was limited to 1,500 feet AGL and below. We were considerably higher than that when we crossed the route, but it was disturbing that we hadn’t even known about it.

Military Training Routes

It was also labeled “VR,” which meant that military operations were restricted to visual conditions. Since it was a VR route, the military pilots would provide their own separation from other aircraft simply by looking out the windscreen—a neat trick at the speeds for which they are authorized, of up to 480 knots.

Why didn’t we know about this route? Well, except for the last dozen or so miles to the airport our flight was on instruments. We were using Jeppesen IFR charts, which don’t show Military Training Routes.

When I checked the government IFR Enroute Low Altitude Chart, I found that the routes are not shown there either, unless they are IR routes or VR routes that can have operations above 1,500 feet AGL. Military pilots on IR routes can fly in instrument conditions and they receive normal ATC separation services. There was an IR route close to but not on our flight path and this may be the one that was actually concerning the controller.

Still, the Military Training Routes caught us by surprise. Should we have checked for them on a sectional chart as part of our pre-flight briefing? Well possibly, but since we were going IFR we’d be above the VR routes and military pilots on the IR routes would be talking to ATC. In retrospect I believe we hadn’t taken an unreasonable risk.

However, I did realize something new. When you fly at 1,500 feet AGL and below, where virtually all VR Military Training Routes are flown, they are a real risk. Plus, IR routes are a risk at higher altitudes if you are not talking with ATC. In those cases, checking out the chart to see if you will be crossing any and checking out their expected status seems like a good idea.

But it isn’t easy. There are many hundreds of these routes all over the country. They are shown on the sectional chart in light gray, and are easy to overlook. Plus, on a trip of any reasonable length you will likely cross several. For instance, on the 106-mile flight from Blythe, California to Kingman, Arizona you will cross 8 Military Training Routes.

If you get your weather briefing by phone from 1-800-wxbrief, the briefer can tell you which of the Military Training Routes on your course are scheduled to be used. You can get the same information online at–if you have Internet Explorer 10, or Firefox.

But a planned route doesn’t become active until the military pilot activates it while airborne. On VR routes military pilots call Flight Service when they enter the route, and then again when they leave the route. If they can’t reach Flight Service at the time, a friend who is retired Air Force tells me they fly it anyway.

Although on IR routes the military pilots do talk to ATC, on VR routes they do not. Our best hope of knowing the real-time status of a VR route in the air is to call Flight Service—if both we and the military pilot are able to reach them. So calling Flight Service can load the odds in our favor. It would be very difficult to spot a jet in camouflage doing 480 knots.

Over the years there have been on Military Training Routes some instances of collisions, and damage to general aviation aircraft due to wake turbulence, but, surprisingly, not many. I guess you can attribute that to the big sky, little airplane effect away from airports.

When these incidents happen, the National Transportation Safety Board report invariably faults the general aviation pilot for inadequate pre-flight action. There have been no mentions of the fact the military aircraft were vastly exceeding the 250-knot speed limit that is considered to be the maximum safe speed for everyone else below 10,000 feet.

Even a pilot who calls Flight Service to learn that there is a jet on the route, and then exercises the recommended “extreme vigilance,” would seem to have a slim chance of actually being able to evade one traveling at 480 knots. It appears to be an elaborate and burdensome, but ineffective, risk management system.

The low number of accidents seems to confirm that the probability of mishap is very low. On the other hand, the consequences are terrible. I wonder if the system would be made more effective by having military pilots on VR routes announce their presence to ATC rather than Flight Service. This would at least provide real-time, rather than delayed, information to general aviation pilots. It might give us more of a sporting chance.

All this has given me an increased awareness of the risks from Military Training Routes when I’m flying 1,500 feet AGL and below. Plus, I now realize that the current system of checking with Flight Service doesn’t seem to provide much actual risk mitigation. I hate to say it, but this is yet another reason to fly at least above 1,500 feet AGL and to maintain contact with ATC. This makes me a little sad. Flying low over unpopulated areas and surveying the ground below in silence is one of the great sinful joys of general aviation flying.

King Schools Reaches Agreement with VisionSafe Corporation

King Schools to Host the Emergency Vision Assurance System (EVAS®) Training Course on their Online Learning Platform

tri illustration2

April 19, 2016 San Diego, California

VisionSafe Corporation, the creator of the Emergency Vision Assurance System, (EVAS®) has reached an agreement with King Schools to host their EVAS Training Course on the King Schools online learning platform, iLearn.

The EVAS course is available for purchase through the King Schools website and purchasers of the EVAS product will receive 2 free course keys with each unit. The web-based course can be accessed on any online device. It is also “AppAble” with the KING Companion App, allowing you to download your lessons to iPads and iPhones for offline access. The Companion is available from the App Store.

The EVAS (Emergency Vision Assurance System) is a self-contained system that includes a battery powered blower which draws smoky air in through a filter, removing visible particles, and venting to a flexible air duct, which is connected to an inflatable transparent envelope, called the “Inflatable Vision Unit” (IVU). The entire EVAS system is contained in an aluminum container that is about the size of a Jeppeson manual, and weighs approximately 6 pounds. The system provides a clear area so a pilot can see flight instruments during a smoke in the cockpit incident. Training is required.

“We are thrilled to work with VisionSafe to provide easy access the training that professional pilots need when flying EVAS equipped aircraft,” said John King. “Many professional pilots already rely on the iLearn environment for their training needs, so hosting this important training for VisionSafe was a natural fit,” concluded Martha King.
For more information:

About King Schools
For over 40 years, students and pilots at all levels have enjoyed King Schools´ clear, simple and fun video courses. King Schools estimates that over 50% of the pilots flying in the U.S. today have learned with King. The company is also a leader in on-line pilot certification and avionics training for pilots of high-performance and turbine aircraft. To find out more, please visit or call (800)-854-1001. For worldwide (858) 541-2200.

About VisionSafe
VisionSafe Corporation was formed to explore various new ways to provide vision in vision impaired conditions for individuals in common land and air environments as well as marine, submarine, and scuba diving environments. In the process, the company developed and patented the EVAS® system for pilots to see to safely control and land when confronted with dense, blinding smoke in the cockpit. The system has been certified by the Federal Aviation Administration since 2001. To learn more about the product, please visit
3840 Calle Fortunada • San Diego, CA 92123
Toll-Free (800) 854-1001
Worldwide (858)-541-2200
FAX (858) 541-2201
Attn: John Dowd

Off-Airport Adventures

How to Mitigate Risks on Your Own

Article appeared in Flying Magazine January, 2016 by John King –

“It’s that lake right…there,” he said. When he removed his finger from the chart, all I could see was a mass of hundreds of lakes.


Float planes in Alaska, one of our favorite places in the world to fly.

It was to be our briefing for the flying adventure of a lifetime, but it was occurring in a restaurant bar and it was clear that by the time we got there our briefers were ahead of us on having a good time.

We were to land a Cessna185 on floats on a little lake on the North Slope of Alaska to retrieve a couple who had been camping and fishing. Our briefers were full of warnings. “Watch out for that lake. It’s just barely long enough.” “And be careful of that submerged rock. There have been a couple of airplanes that have lost floats on it.” “Brown bears are all over the place.” “Don’t try to go through the pass in too low of weather.” “You can get trapped up there for weeks.” “Have a fun trip.”

Our plan was to take off from the Chena River in Fairbanks. We would then land and pick up fuel stashed at another lake north of the Arctic Circle, called Long Lake. Then we were to cross the Brooks Range through a pass to the North Slope, and without VOR coverage and in the days before GPS, find our particular lake out of hundreds in the area, and miss the submerged rock while landing. Then repeat the sequence going south.

The first time we tried it after we picked up some of our stashed gas, we couldn’t make it through the pass. We returned to Long Lake and hunkered down in a little plywood cabin.

Two days later we decided to try it again. This time we just made it through the pass. After Martha deftly avoided the submerged rock on landing, I pointed out the brown bears on the shore as we water-taxied over to pick up the couple. They scurried about their little plywood cabin gathering everything up.

We were all eager to leave as soon as possible. The couple in particular didn’t relish being trapped there any longer. On the return trip as we approached the pass, we could see that, once again, we were going to barely make it through.

Just as we were starting into the pass the wife exclaimed, “Oh! I forgot my ring! It’s back in the cabin.” I felt like a heel, but I said, “I’m sorry, we can’t go back for it. I don’t know whether we will be able to get through the pass the next time we try. We can’t afford to use fuel going back and forth. The next people there will bring it back for you.” In spite of leaving the ring behind, the couple was glad for the experience—and equally glad to be back in Fairbanks.

The trip was exciting for all of us in different ways. For Martha and me it was a wonderful exercise in bush and off-airport operations. It did help illustrate the additional planning and thoughtfulness required to mitigate the risks involved.

The biggest concern lurking behind everything we did was fuel. The alternates were very far apart, and because our landing areas had no IFR approaches, we were restricted to VFR. VFR through the pass was obviously iffy. Our success ratio in getting though the pass on the outbound leg was one out of two. We had no idea how many attempts, and how much fuel, it was going to take on the way back. The routine of getting gas at every opportunity was critical.

There is a plethora of things you don’t know when you are operating off airport. Of course, neither one of our remote landing areas had weather reporting or communications. It was just a case of flying there to see what we would have. When we arrived, we had to figure out the wind for landing on our own. In the case of a lake it is pretty easy. The waves are perpendicular to the wind, and the shore with the smooth water is upwind.

It’s harder to figure out the wind when you’re operating off-airport on land. Of course you can still look at the wave pattern on a lake if there is one nearby. Otherwise you can look for dust, smoke, and the way vegetation is blowing. As a last resort you can fly a rectangular pattern around a landing area and look at your crab angle on each leg.

When Martha and I were flying a blimp regularly, we realized that the pilots who were picked to fly the blimp all had significant experience in flying that required high sensitivity to the wind—and were proud of it. One of the more fun pilots also flew as a copilot for an airline. There is the story that one day on final the pilots could see the waves on a nearby lake, and the smoke trailing away from a smokestack. When the captain told our buddy to call for a wind check he replied, “I am not going to embarrass this airline by asking for a wind check under these circumstances.” I don’t know how long he kept that job.

Another risk of operating off-airport is that there is so much you don’t know about the landing area. In some cases you don’t even know for sure how long the landing area is. Martha and I used to fly over lakes we were thinking about landing on, and record the time it took us to fly the length both upwind and downwind at 60 knots. The average number of minutes gave us the length of the landing area in nautical miles.

When you are landing on an airport, folks have gone out of their way to make sure you have clear approaches and departures. Off-airport you are on your own. We were taught that to check the area before landing, we should first do a high reconnaissance and then do a low reconnaissance of the landing area.

We became true believers in that concept after one time in a helicopter, I decided on an impromptu basis to do a landing and some hover work in a field for practice. We noted some power lines crossing the valley and I told Martha that my plan for departure was to fly over the top of a power pole on the theory that the line would not be higher than the top of the pole.

As we approached the pole Martha started hollering urgently, “Pull up! Pull up!” I found this annoying since I had already explained my plan. But something about the urgency in her voice made me pull up anyway, to discover that I had just barely cleared a line that had skipped that particular pole. It wasn’t fair. Lines are never supposed to be higher than the tops of the poles! A high reconnaissance would have prevented all the fuss.

The low reconnaissance also helps check the surface area. In a helicopter we always think about whether dust will blow up and effectively blind us, or whether mud could grab a skid and cause the rotor lift to roll us over. For landing a ski-plane on a frozen lake, we were taught to first make a pass in which we drug the skis slightly, and then come back to check if there was water in the tracks—a sign of weak ice, and a bad thing if you are landing on a supposedly frozen lake.

At airports the operators usually make a sincere effort to have the area clear of hazards, like for instance, bears. Conversely, we didn’t get that help when we used to land routinely on the Kenai River in the 185 on floats. Not only did we have the problem of rough water from all the boat wakes, but we also had the problem of boaters in a party mood who thought it was cool to race a 185 on floats. We never knew what they were going to do next.

Off-airport operations can take you places and give you experiences that are unparalleled. They also can be very risky. They require considerable thought on how you are going to mitigate those risks. It is wise to build up to it very gradually and get mentoring along the way. In the process you’ll be come a more skilled and situationally-aware pilot in all of your flying—and have a lot of fun!

Why Some Pilots Are Bad Risk Managers

When Goals Get in the Way of Smart Decision-Making

Article appeared in Flying Magazine December, 2015 by Martha King –Martha_04

“You can’t teach judgment.” “…I’m afraid no amount of ’risk management’ training is going to change your attitude.” These comments were in response to John’s May column “Double Trouble at Denver.” John had revealed our incredible series of risk management failures on a trip in the early 70’s—getting caught in a snowstorm in two separate airplanes with mechanical problems. John then expressed our fond hope that other pilots could learn from our mistakes and practice the habit of risk management.

Then here in the pages of Flying, another columnist opined, “I am rather skeptical about whether risk management (judgment) is something that can be taught and tested…” The readers and the columnist are to be excused. A lot of people confuse risk management with judgment and attitude.

Actually, the practice of risk management, as John and I see it, has two main components. The first is a habit of maintaining situational awareness by systematically thinking about risks. The second is coming up with mitigation strategies for the risks you have thought of. On our trip to Denver John and I clearly failed at both.

Regarding situational awareness, we were in the category of “fat, dumb, and happy.” As we were approaching Denver from the east, the weather was forecast to be good. We didn’t have any concerns.

Suddenly the weather got worse, with abundant snow and ice. We had been caught by the fickle system known as an “upslope condition.” We had never heard of an upslope condition. We were very surprised.

We had, of course, been taught about counterclockwise circulation around lows (in the Northern Hemisphere) and orographic lift. What we had not been taught was where the topside of a low might combine with rising terrain to create orographic lift with copious snow and ice. That “where” is in eastern Colorado.

Many pilots who get into trouble in their flying are, like us, the most surprised people on earth. The problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know. In many cases regarding risk management, we are sent out the door as we leave flight training with, “Y’all be careful, hear?”, but no systematic training on how to identify and mitigate risks.

An ideal way for a learning pilot to develop the habit of maintaining situational awareness is with scenario-based training during which they develop the habit of active risk identification. Much of our aviation knowledge, like counterclockwise flow around a low (in the Northern Hemisphere) and orographic lift, is an abstraction until we apply it in a practical scenario.

A lot of flight instruction is about learning to develop habits like meticulously inspecting our aircraft before taking it into the air, using checklists, fastening seat belts, and many, many more. Risk management is just another one of those habits that, once learned, will serve us well for the rest of our flying.

These habits are often supported with memory aids and sayings like ”GUMP,” ”CIGAR TIPS,” and “Black square–you’re there.” Pilots find them helpful.

Risk management comes with its own memory aids. There’s PAVE for putting risks into the categories of Pilot, Aircraft, enVironment, and External/internal pressures. Plus, there’s C-CARE for Changes, Consequences, Alternatives, Reality, and External/internal pressures.

The cure to the “fat, dumb and happy” status, like John and I were in on the way to Denver, is relatively simple—learn to use habit patterns and tools to help maintain situational awareness and identify risks.

The cure to the risk mitigation component is more complicated. Many pilots are, like John and I previously were, resistant to mitigating the risks.

We’ve all seen pilots who came to grief after continuing in the face of one mounting risk after another. You had to ask, “What were they thinking?” What made them accept risks that, in retrospect at least, were unacceptable to everyone else?

When other pilots see this they tend to call the offending pilot names like “idiot,” “stupid,” “arrogant.” But that response is not an adequate explanation, or helpful in understanding their behavior. The answer, I believe, lies in the last ”E” in both PAVE and C-CARE. It stands for the external and internal pressures that impinge on pilots. Those pressures and how they affect pilots vary with the individual, but they fall into at least two identifiable groups.

The first group is, fortunately, relatively small. It is the Big-Shot/Show-Off/Thrill-Seeker group. They step into risk. Taking risk is a part of the fun of flying for them. This group knows they are taking risks, but are sure they can get away with it.

They think risk-taking makes them look like superior pilots. There is a tendency for these pilots to keep on enjoying risk-taking until they, and their passengers, pay the ultimate price.

A pilot who lost his pilot’s license twice, first for buzzing the Santa Monica Pier and later for illegally selling rides to the public, was eventually killed along with his very unfortunate passenger while attempting to touch his aircraft’s tires on the water to produce a water-skiing effect for a video.

A Baron pilot killed himself and four passengers attempting the aerobatics he saw performed in a Twin-Beech at Sun ‘n Fun. He had attempted to do the same maneuvers on an earlier flight, but a pilot-passenger in the front seat had prevented him.

These show-off pilots see professionals do things and think they can do them too. They fail to understand that the professionals have worked up to a high level after years of very careful training and practice. Plus, professional show pilots are keenly aware of the risks, and see risk mitigation as integral to what they do for a living. The best hope for the show-off/thrill-seeker is for them to realize that to be anything less than equally focused on risk management is a sign of a rank amateur.

The second group potentially includes most pilots including, I believe, John and me in the 70s. We all became pilots because we were willing to take on a very tough challenge over an extended period of time. We studied a body of knowledge and then submitted to a test on it. We learned difficult skills that we weren’t certain, in the beginning, we could master. Nearly every learning pilot says at one time or another, ”You know, I’m not sure I am going to be able to do this.” Then we soloed and took our lives into our own hands thousands of feet above the ground. We persisted, presented ourselves for evaluation, and became certificated pilots.

Flying self-selects people who are willing to do all this. They are good at almost everything they do. They are the movers and shakers of every community they belong to. They are hard-wired to complete what they set out to do. This goal-orientation is a wonderful characteristic in almost all of life, but as a pilot it can be a risk factor. It tends to make us want to keep on going when good risk mitigation says we should change our plan.

An Episcopalian priest who took one of our classes in the 70s was also a physician. He died on a solo cross country after being begged by the FBO to come in to talk before he turned around and flew the second leg in worsening weather. He had to get back in time to give a speech to a large crowd.

A friend of ours who owned a ski resort was leaving the resort in the evening in his Cardinal when he became disoriented and flew back into the ground. He was late for a meeting back in town.

And of course John and I continued into worsening weather to maintain our schedule into Denver. We weren’t courting risk or showing off. We were simply hard-wired to complete what we set out to do, and resistant to anything that reduced the utility of our flying.

Like the show-offs, the goal-oriented pilots know they are taking some risk, but they think they can get away with it and they hate to give up on goals.

After we had our subsequent accident, John and I spent considerable time reflecting on what it was that made us in particular resistant to mitigating risk. As a result, we came to terms with the concept that while in GA we don’t want or need to be as rigid as the airlines, we have to accept reasonable limitations on our utility. We consider our introspection on the subject time well spent. We highly recommend it to anyone who flies.

Risky Business

How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Flying with Passengers

Article appeared in Flying Magazine November, 2015 by John King – John_05

Iliamna is a great fly-in fishing destination in Southwestern Alaska. In early summer, however, it often has rain, with low ceilings and visibilities. The day of our departure was no exception. As we prepared for our IFR departure, the mountains all around were in the clouds. There is no radar at the airport, and missing the mountains meant we would have to very carefully follow the complicated departure procedure found in the front of the terminal procedures book.

Martha and I were briefing it one more time just before engine start when a passenger in back cupped his hands and hollered, “Do you have a flight plan?” It was a bad time to be distracted.

Frankly, my first reaction was annoyance. Of course we had a flight plan—it was clearly going to be an IFR departure. This passenger was a retired fighter pilot and test pilot and should know that. Then I realized it was a playful gesture, intended to be fun. Still, it took me a beat to figure out how to answer. Then I hollered back, “Hell no. We don’t need no stinking flight plan!” Our passenger was pleased.

The distraction was only momentary and we successfully completed our briefing and departure with no problem. However, it did serve to remind us that distraction from passengers at critical times can be a real risk factor.

To mitigate that risk we brief our passengers to limit conversations with us to safety issues until we are in cruise. But unlike in the airlines where pilots are shielded from their passengers before and during a flight, passengers in general aviation have free access to the pilot or pilots and very often forget the rule.

General aviation pilots are the functional equivalent of the gate agent, ramp agent and cabin flight attendant as well as being the pilot. As a result, passenger distraction can interfere with your concentration even before you get in the airplane.

We try to get to the airplane before our passengers arrive. This allows us to do a careful pre-departure briefing with each other as well as our pre-flight inspection of the aircraft. Our plans are often foiled by passengers who politely want to make sure they don’t delay things, and also arrive early.

The first thing they will say is, “How can I help?” While we are inclined to say, “Let us concentrate for a bit,” we have found that it works much better if we give them something to do. We show passengers who will fly with us frequently how to load and secure the baggage compartments. This allows us to resume our briefing and do the aircraft inspection, which in our plane has some unusual items—like horizontal stabilizer jack screw position, tricky fuel door latches, and nose-wheel steering pin—that require special attention.

Besides distraction, another risk from passengers can come from the pressure they may put on you to complete a trip. We learned how powerful this pressure can be on another Alaska trip, this time in our Cessna 340. The left engine’s turbocharger wasn’t behaving properly, and we made an unscheduled landing at Sitka to sort things out. The mechanic at Sitka wasn’t familiar with turbochargers, so we called our home shop and got a list of things for the Sitka mechanic to do.

After he went through the list, the engine ran fine. So Martha and I got everyone on board and I taxied out to the runway. In the run-up area I realized that I didn’t know for sure what the problem with the engine had been, so I couldn’t have 100% percent confidence in it. And we were about to head off at night on a trip near the range limit of the airplane, over an area with very few alternatives—all of which had high minimums. Plus, Martha was coming down with something and was feverish, and I was becoming aware that I was exhausted.

I taxied back to the ramp, shut the engines down, and announced we were going to spend the night in Sitka. One of our passengers was livid about the sudden change in plans. He pointed out the inordinately high cost of Sitka hotel accommodations, his urgent need to get to his destination for business, the loss of time with his family, and every other objection he could think of. We really like this person, and I felt incredible pressure. We did spend the night in Sitka, but it took tremendous willpower to resist the pressure.

In retrospect we realized that we had left ourselves vulnerable to this pressure by not heading it off before we ever departed. We now advise passengers before every trip that it could very well be delayed or cancelled for numerous reasons including weather, a mechanical problem, or pilot fatigue or illness. Plus, we always explain that unlike in the airlines, we don’t have back-up airplanes or crew members. If problems arise en route, or on the distant end of the trip, they could well be stranded. They would be responsible for their own transportation from then on.

The speech works, too. One time on startup, one of our starter motors failed. We had already given our the-trip-could-be-cancelled speech, so we told our passengers, “If you really need to get home today, you should go over to the airline terminal and get on a flight.” One of our passengers took us up on it. We got a new starter motor installed that same morning, and beat the passenger home. But setting the terms in advance let us work through the problem without feeling inordinately rushed.

Failure to set passenger expectations in advance can have tragic results. There is the case of the Gulfstream crew going into Aspen in bad weather. The pilots had all sorts of pressure applied to them including reportedly having a passenger stand between them in the cockpit just before descent and tell them, “It is really important that I get there tonight.” Everyone on board died in the attempt.

Sometimes direct passenger interference can be a risk. Once on a small lake in Michigan we were participating in a party for the pilots and crew of the blimp we occasionally piloted. Martha was giving rides in a steam-powered boat, and I was giving rides in an Aeronca Chief on floats. A local boat owner rescued some of our partiers from their disabled watercraft, and the blimp crew brought the Good Samaritan to me and asked if I would give him a ride in the floatplane. I said, “Sure.”

After we got airborne, I realized the Good Samaritan was really drunk. Then he said, “You know, I used to fly. I’ll bet I could fly this.” When I didn’t respond, he said, “Can I try flying it?” I thought, “If I give him the controls, how will I get them back from him?” Then I realized in this case he would hand the controls back to me voluntarily.

When floats are added to an airplane, the extra area in front makes the airplane less stable in yaw. This airplane was downright negatively stable in yaw. Without nearly perfect rudder control, the airplane would skid very unpleasantly sideways. I decided not to tell him about this as I handed the controls over to him. As he over-controlled, we slewed alarmingly back and forth from one side to the other. Soon he said to me, “I guess it’s been longer than I realized. Why don’t you take the controls?” I didn’t tell him my secret, but I did promptly land and get him out of the airplane.

The incident really scared me. I felt lucky to have gotten out of the situation so quickly. It made me realize that part of my job as a pilot is to screen the passengers who will fly with me. Having someone get on board inebriated, or bring alcohol on board, is a serious risk factor.

When considering the risks of carrying passengers, not to be ignored is the effect the presence of passengers can have on the pilot. Some pilots may want to impress their passengers by demonstrating their skills or their ability to get utility from their aircraft. Other pilots report they perform less well with passengers because they are concerned about what the passengers will think of their performance.

Even though we in general aviation usually know our passengers pretty well, and they often are friends, the mere presence of any passengers does add risks to a flight. As pilot-in-command, it is our responsibility to identify those risks and mitigate them.

Who’s in Charge Here, Anyway?

Article appeared in Flying Magazine October, 2015 by Martha King –Martha_04

My thumb was already in motion towards the mic button to declare an emergency when the Anchorage Center controller’s voice sounded in my headset. “N4577L, cleared for the ILS DME Runway 11 approach at Ketchikan.”

It was January in Southeastern Alaska. John and I were on our way home to San Diego in our Cessna 340 from teaching weekend ground school classes in Fairbanks and Anchorage. It was our eleventh round-trip to Alaska in our own airplane, and our refueling stops in Southeastern Alaska were always challenging.

The area has a well-deserved reputation for generating icing conditions. Plus, there were sections of the route where we would lose both navigation signals and communications with ATC. We would just hold our heading until we picked up the next VORTAC, and start listening on the next frequency. And of course at that time there was no radar coverage—IFR separation was based on each pilot’s reported position, time, altitude, and estimate to the next reporting point. You had to build your own image of the traffic flow based on the conversations you heard on the frequency.

Now there is radar coverage in Southeastern Alaska, so ATC doesn’t have to rely exclusively on pilot estimates. And when ADS-B is implemented in 2020, both ATC and any pilot with at least a tablet will have a real-time picture of aircraft locations.

As we approached Ketchikan, I began to realize there was an Alaska Airlines B727 overtaking us. It too was headed for Ketchikan, and it looked like it would arrive very slightly ahead of us. Thinking of the almost-certain icing conditions we would encounter at lower altitudes, I told Anchorage Center that if we were going to have to hold for the airliner I wanted to hold at altitude, above the clouds, to stay out of the ice. “You won’t need to hold,” the controller responded. “Descend and maintain 7,000.”

As I leveled at 7,000 feet the controller called with holding instructions. It appeared the B727 wasn’t as much ahead of us as the controller had thought. And as I had anticipated, 7,000 feet, the MEA in that area, did put us in icing conditions. I was cleared to hold at a fix on the airway at the 30 DME arc off Annette Island VORTAC, and once I was cleared for the approach I’d have to fly about 10 miles on that DME arc just to intercept the localizer and then 14 more miles to the airport—all in icing conditions. I wasn’t happy.

Although I had all the de-icing equipment activated in the C340, the ice built up steadily and our airspeed started to decrease rapidly. I kept comparing my estimate of how quickly the ice was building with my anticipation of when I would get approach clearance. Just as I made the decision to declare an emergency and start the approach without a clearance, the controller came through with my clearance. As I descended on the approach, I watched with relief as the ice slowly began disappearing from the wings. Although in the end I didn’t have to declare an emergency, it was just a matter of luck.

Was my readiness to declare an emergency, and almost certainly make Alaska Airlines do a missed approach, appropriate? I would make that same decision again, in the same circumstances. I had made the calculation that the B727 had a lot more power than our C340, had better icing protection than we did, and if anyone had to hang around in the ice it was safer for him to do so than us.

The controller’s number one job is to keep airplanes separated. As a pilot, I am in charge of everything that can affect the outcome of the flight. I have to be proactive rather than waiting for the controller to give me directions. Plus, there are many circumstances in which a controller might not be there to help me.

Pilots often tend to think, “I’m in controlled airspace everywhere I fly, I’m always talking to a controller who can help me out.” But that’s not necessarily so. Numerous control towers and ATC centers have been evacuated due to tornadoes, fires (internal or external), or earthquakes. Ultimate responsibility always falls on the pilot. A pilot cannot give away that responsibility to a controller; they must always be ready to be fully PIC.

An example is the total shutdown of Chicago Center on September 26, 2014 due to sabotage. A deliberately-set fire caused Chicago Center to lose all radar coverage, and shortly thereafter all communications with the airplanes it was separating. A number of airplanes descending for landing were put into holding patterns before communications went completely dead; en route airplanes had the frequency go silent. Every pilot had to make a command decision about how to handle the loss of communications.

En route aircraft generally just kept on going while they searched on their charts, or called on 121.5, to get a frequency in an adjacent center. Airplanes descending for landing, or in holding patterns, generally re-established communications through a nearby approach control.

A controller’s greatest nightmare is being cut off from their traffic. But pilots cannot afford to have their biggest nightmare be being cut off from the controller. We need to be able and willing to be PIC without the direction of ATC—or even against the direction of ATC.

One of the most remarkable incidents I have seen of a pilot truly exercising PIC authority happened at the Providence, RI airport on the night of December 6, 1999. There was heavy fog at the airport, and the tower controller could not see the runways or taxiways.

United Airlines 1448, a B757, landed on 5R, turned off to the left, and got lost on the taxiways in the fog. It ended up with its nose back over 5R. The United flight reported they were at least partially on a runway. They didn’t know for sure which one, and actually reported at one point it was 5L. But they were pretty sure it was in use because they could hear the sound of a FedEx B727 taking off.

With the dense fog and no ground radar, the tower controller could only rely on the pilots’ reports of their positions. While the United pilots were still trying to figure out where they were, the tower cleared US Air for takeoff. The US Air captain refused the takeoff clearance, not once but twice, and stated he would hold his position until United had reached its gate.

The pressure on the US Air captain was huge. The tower controller was forcefully trying to get him to take off. But the US Air captain knew the United pilots didn’t know for sure where they were. The tower wouldn’t either until the plane reached its gate. The US Air pilot that evening proved that he was truly pilot-in-command.

Sometimes exercising PIC authority doesn’t involve contradicting ATC, just suggesting a better route or procedure. That’s what pilots do whenever they request deviations for weather. On a trip not long ago into the DC area, Potomac Approach was issuing holding instructions to pilots. The controller issued me instructions to hold on the airway at the Linden VORTAC 10 DME fix.

Looking out the window and at our radar, I could see that the clearance would have me going in and out of a nasty-looking cumulus cloud. When I asked to hold at the 15 DME fix instead, the controller was happy to give it to me. He was just busy separating traffic. It was my job to keep everybody on my airplane as safe and comfortable as possible.

The issue of PIC responsibility and authority is just as important for VFR pilots. For instance, there is a tendency for some pilots to feel a false sense of comfort from an erroneous belief that they have shared—or transferred—responsibility when using flight following. While flight following can be helpful in letting you know about pop-up TFRs, they only provide traffic advisories, not separation, and only on a workload-permitting basis.

Nor does flight following guarantee search and rescue service when an aircraft goes down. Unless the controller has reason to believe an aircraft has gone down, if a pilot just quits talking to them—because the pilot changed to a different frequency, flew out of radio range, or crashed—the controller will not automatically activate search and rescue procedures. That’s what flight plans are for.

We as pilots are always in charge of our own welfare. Sometimes it is scary to contemplate, but as pilots we cannot give away our responsibility to a controller. Regardless of IFR clearances or flight following, only we have final responsibility for the outcome of a flight. As the PIC, we can’t afford to be passive. We must always be proactive, not reactive, and always be truly the pilot in command.