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VFR Sectional SUA Symbology

Staring at an American VFR Sectional, it’s nice to know what to look for in the category of, “Things denoting places I shouldn’t be”. Here’s a primer:

MOAs On VFR Sectional charts, an MOA is denoted by a hatched magenta line surrounding the area. On the inside cover or bottom margin of your sectional, you’ll see a Special Use Airspace (SUA) section legend. MOAs are listed at the bottom of this legend, separate from all other SUAs, in magenta ink, along with the altitude at which and time the MOAs are used and the controlling agency. The altitude listed on the sectional refers to the “floor”, or lowest altitude, of the MOA, and the MOA will extend to but not include flight level 180 unless otherwise indicated on the chart.

Warning Areas Warning Areas are marked with a hatched dark blue line on sectionals, and listed in a section combined with SUAs other than MOAs. Next to the Hatched Blue line on your chart will be a number (for example, on the Jacksonville, FL sectional, a large one is W-497A). This refers to the SUA legend, where you will see the Warning Area, the affected altitudes, times of use, and controlling agency information.

Restricted Areas Again, denoted by a hatched dark blue line and referring to the SUA legend in the margin, Restricted Areas are numbered (see R-2932 on Jacksonville Sectional), and the SUA legend contains affected altitudes, times of use, and controlling agency information.

Prohibited Areas Again, denoted by a hatched dark blue line and referring to the SUA legend in the margin, Prohibited Areas are numbered (see P-47on Dallas-Ft Worth Sectional or P-56 on Washington Sectional), and the SUA legend contains affected altitudes, times of use, and controlling agency information. Many are continuously restricted, supplemented by NOTAMS (Notices to Airmen) issued from time to time expanding the territory covered. For example, during the Presidential Inauguration or the 50th Anniversary of NATO, the P-56 area was expanded to cover essentially the entire Washington, DC area.

An American Pilot In Europe

Flying over the verdant rolling hills of the Italian countryside, circling the ancient hilltop village of Urbino (birthplace of the painter Raphael), I looked at my wife, Corinna, and remembered just what it was that made me want to get that licence in the first place.

Every year, while thousands of licensed American pilots vacation abroad, few think of exploring the European skies. But in much of Europe, US pilots can easily rent a plane and make daytime VFR flights as Pilot In Command.

The linguistically challenged will be able to communicate: ATC, rental companies, instructors and even ATIS and AWAS all communicate in English.

A walletful of greenbacks doesn’t hurt. Anyone who’s ever filled up in a European gas station knows fuel prices over here are out of Mad Max: avgas runs about US$5.25 (you read that right, over five bucks a gallon). Hourly prices for plane rental can be almost double what they are in the States.

But what’s the price tag on an aerial trip up the Rhine, over Stonehenge, or around a castle? It’s the trip of a lifetime.

GETTING THE BASICS
The ICAO Chicago Convention says licensees from contracting states (including all European nations and the USA) are permitted to fly in other contracting states. The issue of national sovereignty is touchy in Europe, but if you have a valid FAA PPL and current medical certificate, you’re generally permitted to make daytime VFR flights.

In the UK and Holland, you can walk in to any flight school or Aero Club (as they’re called here) and after a checkout, rent a plane and zoom off into the sunset (though one zooms slightly differently over here. See Tips, below).

More rigidly legislated countries (like Germany, France and Spain), have red tape worthy of a Maastricht Treaty, but some advance work on your part can clear the way, at a minimum of fuss and expense, to recognition of your American PPL.

And good news: a certificate of recognition from any European Union member state is honored in all others.

So if you’re visiting, say, Germany, Spain and Italy, a certificate from one will be honored in any other. And best of all, the renter – usually a flight school or aero club that’s dealt with this situation before – will often assist with the paperwork as part of the rental fee. They will guide you through the process of getting a locally recognized “holiday license”.

You’ll usually need to send notarized copies of your PPL, medical, recent pages from your logbook, and your passport. Some countries, like Spain, also require a passport photo, so check whether you’ll need to send those.

Bring all of those items on your trip, too. And while we’re on what to bring, remember this: most planes here come equipped with just two headphones, so bring extra headphones if you’ll need them.

If you’re headed to the UK, Holland or Germany you can start checking into rentals and making reservations as little as a week before you arrive, but if you’re off to other countries start about six weeks in advance.

RENTALS
Renting a plane is almost as easy as it is in the USA, but there are differences. The best bet is to research using the search engines at flying websites, or by picking up flying magazines from the UK, such as Flyer (http://www.flyer.co.uk) or Pilot (http://www.hiway.co.uk). The back of these mags are packed with ads for flying schools, which almost always rent their airplanes.

Shop around! On a recent check of airports around Europe, I found major differences in rental prices, even in the same country. For example, I called Wycombe Air Centre (tel 011-44-149-444-3737), about 20 miles from Central London, and was quoted a price of 126 pounds (US$196) for a C-152 with an instructor, and 97 pounds (US$155) an hour for just the plane, wet, timing from brakes off to brakes on, including VAT (the notorious Value Added Tax). It was about US$10 extra for a C-172 with or without an instructor.

But a call to Andrewsfield Aviation Ltd (tel 011-44-137-185-6744), about 10 miles from London’s Stansted Airport, got quotes of 89.50 pounds (US$143) with an instructor and 75 pounds (US$120) without for a C-152, and 102 pounds (US$163) with and 93 pounds (US$149) without for a C-172, on the same terms.

The Pesaro Aero Club in Fano, Italy (tel 011-3907-2180-3941), demanded the most I’ve ever laid out: US$210 for an hour and 40 minutes of flying, including 40 minutes with the instructor for the checkout, in a C-152.

The Aerodrome Chateauroux Villers, in Saint Maur, France, (tel and fax 011-33-2-5436-6813) wanted 900 francs (US$138) with a (French language) instructor, and 744 francs (US$114) without one for a C-172.

But it can be cheaper (just a bit more than in the USA): Munich Flyers at Augsburg Airport, 45 minutes outside Munich (tel 011-49-89-6427-0761), gets DM240 (US$126) for a C-172 with an instructor, and DM 177 (US$95) without, including fuel, from wheels up to wheels down.

THE CHECKOUT
On that trip I took to Italy, I literally followed the low-flying planes I saw from the coastal road to the Pesaro Aero Club, on a grass strip just south of the city of Rimini. Showing my PPL and Medical at the flight school office, a teacher and I set off on a 40-minute checkout (really more of a brush-up on soft field landings and a lengthy description of the local airspace) and then I was off on my own, for a one-hour tour of the whole area.

A German instructor named Tom told me that he checks out people all the same way, even if it’s obvious they’ve been flying for years or are newly licensed.

“We do two traffic patterns,” he said, “to check their radio skills and landings, and then head for our practice area, where we do power-off and power-on stalls and steep turns. If they handle all that right, they’re on their own – and if not, they do an hour or two of brush-up lessons.”

I enjoy the rental checkride as much for the local air tour I get as I do for learning the different ways people teach flying in different countries (for example, in Germany, Tom wanted to see just the barest hint of an impending power-on stall, while my Italian instructor demanded – and demonstrated – something out of Snoopy and the Red Baron!).

The rental checkride is so important here because local regulations are dictated by many more idiosyncrasies and customs than in the USA. In the UK for example, noise abatement is so strict that procedures like, “On takeoff, make a right turn at 300 feet and head for the treeline before ascending,” and, “On downwind, approach from south of the village and then scoot round the village to the right and turn left again when you see the pub,” are more common than not.

And in Germany, where takeoffs and landings even on privately owned farms require clearance, strictly – even Germanly – regimented exits and entrances to the airport vicinity are required, using map points with names like Whiskey One and Echo One, as well as local conventions that aren’t even marked on the maps (see the box)!

The rental checkride’s good for learning all these, but even better is a visit to the tower. If you plan ahead, you can make the visit when you arrive – get off the commercial flight and head upstairs for a half-hour chat with the controllers. They’ll fill you in on restrictions, give you local flying tips, telephone numbers for weather forecasts, useful web addresses and tell you where you can buy charts of the area locally.

LANDING FEES
Most Americans are horrified to learn that practically every single airfield in Europe charges some sort of landing fee. In most airports it’s waived if you’re taking a local flight, but if you take a day trip to somewhere, be prepared to fork over anywhere from US$10 to US$25 in landing fees at the destination airport.

SOME TIPS
“The airspace is fairly restricted here compared to the USA,” said Carol Cooper, Chief Flying instructor at Andrewsfield Aviation.

“For your own sake, study the map, and the airspace where you can and can’t go – which is much different around here.

“Experience obviously matters, and radio navaids can help, but England’s a small place, and you’ve got to watch your proximity to Stansted, Heathrow and Gatwick,” she continued, referring to the fact that all those airports’ airspace is completely off-limits to VFR pilots in single-engine planes without a special VFR clearance.

Which you almost certainly won’t get!

Noise abatement rules dictate that you avoid town centers and other populated areas.

Radio work is also different, and Europeans seem to think the American practice of repeating the last three registration numbers as acknowledgment of an ATC directive just a bit too, well…American! You’re expected to repeat all the instructions given you by ATC, each and every time.

And finally, if you’ll be travelling outside larger cities, brush up on your soft-field landings and takeoffs: many airports have grass strips.

MORE INFORMATION
Note that anywhere in Europe your American license gives you the same rights at you have at home if you are flying in an N-registered (US-owned and registered) aircraft. Regardless of registration, you need no holiday license or any additional paperwork other than your valid PPL, valid medical and pilot’s logbook to fly as PIC from the UK or the Netherlands (Holland) – even if you land in another country.

For other countries you will often need a holiday license, recognizing your American license. The most straightforward agency to deal with in Europe is Germany’s Regierung Oberbayern Luftamt Suedbayern, Maximillianstrasse 39, 80538 Munich (tel 011-4989-2176-2523). Send them a letter, telling them the dates of your travel in Europe, a request for a Holiday License and photocopies of your PPL, Medical Certificate and the most recent page of your logbook, along with a copy of the data pages of your passport. The holiday license they will send you (Bescheinigung ueber die Allgemeine Anerkennung eines auslaenden Lueftfahrerscheins; allow four weeks for processing) is good for six months and costs about US$30. It is valid everywhere in Western Europe, allowing you to rent nationally registered planes.

In France, contact Direction Generale de l’Aviation Civile (tel 011-331-5809-4321, fax 011-331-5809-3636), License Office, 50 rue Henri Farman, 75015 Paris

Andrewsfield Aviation Ltd (tel 011-44-137-185-6744), Saling Airfield, Stebbing, Dunmow, Essex CM6 3TH England

Munich Flyers Flugschule, GmbH, (tel 011-49-89-6427-0761) Hochederstrasse 2, 81545 Muenchen, Germany

Pesaro Aero Club (tel 011-3907-2180-3941) Via Dela Colonna 130, Fano, Italy 61032

Aerodrome Chateauroux Villers (tel and fax 011-33-2-5436-6813), 36250 Saint Maur, France

Journey To Prague

American pilots in Europe are constantly amazed that, in a Skyhawk, you’re often just two hours away from another country. (See related story on how an American with a PPL can rent and fly airplanes in Europe.)

Ten years ago, at the dusk of the Cold War, a trip from Munich to Prague, one of Old Europe’s most beautiful and elegant cities, would have been unheard of. But on a recent sunny autumn afternoon, two friends and I made that two-hour flight. It was both a piece of cake and the thrill of a lifetime.

The Route From Munich to Prague direct is just under two hours, but I’d thought up an interesting little sidetrip to Ceske Budojovice (Budweis). This would be both a leg-stretcher as well as a pilgrimage of sorts to one of beer-lovers’ most holy spots: birthplace of the Czech Budweiser brewery. I figured on a brief stop there, and then we’d depart for the 35-minute leg to Prague.

The return flight would be direct. Nothing could be simpler.

Red Tape
In Europe, the radio work is still in English, and Jeppesen makes the maps in English, too. But the Red Tape Factor was becoming a supreme worry in making my flight plan, as I couldn’t seem to get a straight answer to the procedure for crossing the German/Czech border. Something about a NATO Identification Zone kept coming up, which sounded mildly alarming to say the least!.

In the end, after many phone calls and several blind leads, it turned out to be as simple as a flight from Miami to the Bahamas: a simple filing, in English, of an ICAO International Flight plan form.

Okay, the Czechs are a bit more procedural than their Bahamian counterparts, but it’s essentially the same thing: the plan must include your exact time, altitude and the place where you’ll cross the border. A little nervous about getting all that right, I held off on filing my plan until I picked up my plane at Munich Flyers Flight Club in Augsburg airport, just west of Munich. There I got a final weather briefing (confirming the predicted clear skies and 20kt headwind at 10,000 feet), and faxed off the plan.

I’d verified my intentions by phone with Prague Flight Information regarding the stop in Budweis, and had meticulously noted checkpoints along the entire route to ensure I crossed the border just where I said I would, about four miles north of Philippsreut, a village nestled in the Bavarian Forest.

I phoned Munich Flight Information right after filing my plan, and they assured me that everything was okay. With that, I got out Cessna D-EHMB, a 172, and was in the process of fueling when the airport loudspeaker blared, “Pilot of Cessna Delta-Echo Hotel Mike Bravo, contact Munich Information!”.

My flight plan, it seemed, had been ixnayed by Czech Authorities, who now said that there were no customs officials in Budweis – it was direct to Prague or nothing. The idea of hours of flight planning down the commode and then hastily planning a direct route to Prague while sitting in the cockpit didn’t strike me as particularly pleasant, but we reached a compromise: keep the original flight plan, but turn left over Budweis and head up to Prague.

Munich Airport – Europe’s busiest during peak hours – doesn’t provide flight following services as such, but would give me a transponder code and keep vague track of my progress, ensuring I didn’t venture into restricted airspace or veer glaringly off course.

And, I’m almost sad to report, the flight was almost extraordinary in its ordinariness.

I’d secretly hoped for bizarre instructions, exciting NATO complications and cloak-and-dagger intrigue – perhaps the odd MiG scramble at the border. But the flight was as routine as they come. Well, there was something: finding checkpoints was difficult because each and every town we flew over looked identical! Cluster of red-roofed houses with a church in the middle? Why, that’s clearly Dingolfing..or Straubing.. or Deggendorf ..or possibly Ingolstadt!!.

With the help of a goond flight plan (and, okay, a great GPS and the help of two very keen passenger/navigators), we reached the border transition area spot on time. Munich Flight information handed us off to Prague Information, who gave us permission to climb to 11,500 feet and cross the border. We were in!!.

To save a bit of time, they let us turn left heading 06 degrees on a beeline for Prague, rather than subjecting us to the farce of overflying the now forbidden city of Budweis.

Flight Level Five Five
English may be the language of the skies here, but you’d best speak very slowly and clearly: controllers are used to conversing with non-native speakers, who use a more formal – if stilted – version of the language.

Transition levels in Europe are different from those in the US, where it is above 18,000 feet. About 15 minutes south of Prague, at 9,500 feet, I had a little moment of confusion when the controller then told me to “descend to flight level five five.”.

I replied, thinking I was being clear, “Mike Bravo, leaving niner thousand five hundred for flight level five five, that’s five thousand five hundred feet”, and got back, “Cessna Mike Bravo, I say again, Flight Level Five Five.” .

Allrighty. “Mike Bravo is leaving niner thousand five hundred for flight level five five, that’s five thousand five hundred feet,” I said, slower and even clearer.

“Cessna Mike Bravo, I repeat again,” he said, audibly put out by my rebellious behavior, “descend to Flight Level Five Five.” .

We probably could have gone on all day like that had I not just shut up and said “Roger, Flight Level five five!” And descended to 5,500 feet.

Turns out that was the right thing to do for the wrong reason: As my friend Michel McAloon wrote to correct me, “In most ICAO countrues the published transition altitude may be as low as 3000 feet. Pilots when climnbing through the transition altitude are expected to change their altimiters to the QNE standard of 1013.25 hecopascals (29.92 inches Hg).

Buzzing The Rooftops
Despite that hiccup, things were going swimmingly, and having abandoned my flight plan I was happy to quit looking at the map and let the Prague controllers call my every turn. Prague Info handed me off to Prague tower, and I saw the city just ahead, but I hadn’t ever landed there and couldn’t see the actual field, so I was a bit trepidatious. But I’d figured that, since they had me heading 06, I must be on a straight-in approach to runway 06, right?.

“Cessna Delta-Echo Hotel Mike Bravo, descend to maximum 2000 feet, QNH 1023 and turn left bearing 310 degrees”.

Hmm. Confirm the altimeter setting and..that seems a little, uh, low, as I’m about 500 feet above the ground at this point. My front seat passenger, a Brit, says alto voce “I can see bloody dogs on the ground we’re so bloody low!”.

He’s right, but this is seriously fun; actually instructed to barrel in low over the hillsides and rooftops, with the city of Prague now off my right wing and my passengers boisterously humming Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries.

The hills dropped away and we were now at the relatively sane height of about 800 feet above the rooftops. I finally saw the airport just ahead, but we were number two after an Austrian 737. The tower asked us to, “make now a left turn for one orbit” (more controllers’ stilted English), then to fly right along over runway 31, turning left just past it to enter the left downwind for runway 06.

I’ve gotten used to shorter, European airstrips so I put it down gently right on the numbers. I was in the midst of telling my passengers, “On behalf of Air Nick, I’d like to welcome you to Prague” when I noticed we could have taken off and landed again in the distance it took for us to trundle over to Taxiway Charlie – Runway 06 is 12,188 feet!.

And then began the rock star treatment: the Follow-Me car was a nice touch, and our plane was met by a minivan bearing the gracious Mr Vlastimil Sovak of the Czech Airports Authority Handling Agency who cheerfully offered hotel booking assistance, information on getting to town by taxi or public transport, and then whisked us off to our own private customs and passport control while our plane was refueled. He even made the exchange office employee cut short his lunch hour so we could get busfare to the center!.

Prague is a spectacularly gorgeous city, and it’s so old its “new town” dates to the 15th century. Alas, flying directly over the spectacular city center is forbidden.

20 minutes after leaving the airport, just outside the Staromestska subway station, we were treated to a sweeping view across the Charles Bridge to the magnificent Prague castle, home to Czech royalty since the 9th century. It seemed that around each corner was another architectural masterpiece!.

We spent the evening wandering Prague’s ancient cobblestone streets, and shopping for the justifiably famous Czech glassware. That night, while I caught up on sleep, my two passengers set out to do the town’s lively bars and clubs, sampling the famous beer and, I’m told, getting treated to several on the strength of the tale of their journey.

The next morning we headed back to Augsburg with no barreling, no low passes, and nary a MiG to be seen. With the exception of a slight detour over a restricted area just inside the German airspace I’d somehow (ahem!) overlooked in my flight plan, the return flight was, technically, eventless.

Isn’t it amazing how technically eventless flights can leave you with memories for a lifetime?

Land And Hold Short

According to the FAA, “LAHSO is an aviation procedure that has been used safely since 1968…LAHSO have been refined through years of operational experience and cooperation among the FAA, airlines, pilots and controllers”.

The Hold Short Point beyond which a landing aircraft with a LAHSO clearance is not authorized to proceed is painted in the runway, and red and white holding position signs are located alongside the hold short point. Additionally, there are six or seven in-pavement, pulsing white lights at the LAHSO hold short point.

The minimum requirements are 2,500 feet, measured from the landing threshold to the hold short point on the hold short runway. Two planes may arrive on intersecting runways if the distance on the full-length runway from the threshold to the intersection where the hold short clearance is effective is greater than 3,000 feet.

Weather minimums required for LAHSO are a 1,500-foot ceiling and three miles visibility, though if the runway is equipped with precision approach path indicators (PAPI), then minimums can be 1,000 foot ceiling and three miles.

The minimum runway requirements are 2,500 feet, measured from the landing threshold to the hold short point on the hold short runway. Two planes may arrive on intersecting runways if the distance on the full-length runway from the threshold to the intersection where the hold short clearance is effective is greater than 3,000 feet.

Like The Weather? Take The Tour!

Any pilot wishing to have a guided tour through a Flight Service Station is welcomed, and in fact the FAA has launched an effort to get more pilots to take them up on the offer.

One of the busiest and most interesting in the country is the New York Automated Flight Service Station in Islip, NY, about an hour outside New York City. By calling the center, on 631-471-7181, any pilot can arrange a free tour.

Living Aboard A GA Airplane

I’m coming up on PREDA Intersection and 7,000 feet on my departure from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. The Tiger snaps left on Bahamas Route 70V toward Freeport, and I’m concentrating so intently that I’m startled by a squeal of delight from the backseat – Corinna thinks she just saw a dolphin.
I look down and see that we’re completely over the azure waters of the Caribbean. Within 10 minutes we’re out of sight of the Florida coast, and we can’t yet make out Bimini or Grand Bahama Island.

For three months, this kind of adventure happened to me every day.

Last year I spent about 300 hours in honest-to-goodness cross-country journeys in Cessna Skyhawks, Mooneys, Piper Cherokees, and a new Tiger, taking photos and gathering information for the Flyguides Web site. The trips took me to places I’ve always dreamed of visiting: the Grand Canyon, the Rockies, the Appalachians, the Deep South. After years of traditional travel writing, I had found the perfect gig: writing about the great places I was flying to. Some of that information also finds its way into the Postcards Online that members receive in AOPA ePilot. There we deliver information about a destination in your region one Friday a month (sign up for your free copy online at www.aopa.org).

The downside about such a job? The commute was no picnic: Say what you will about the 8:17 a.m. from Poughkeepsie – I was catching the 3:55 a.m. from Munich, Germany. Every other Monday. I began to suspect my wife – who stayed at home in Germany – did not love this setup as much as United Airlines did.

So we decided to move back to the United States. We threw all our belongings into a shipping container and headed west. Rather than settle down immediately, we decided that I would take the family with me on an extended research trip, which would double as a grand tour of America, my German-born wife and son’s new homeland.

Astonishingly, some have used the word vacation when referring to a three-month family trip in a general aviation airplane, although I must admit that I was, in fact, hoping for just that. Spending uninterrupted time with Corinna and 4-year-old Spijk (rhymes with Mike) was a dream come true.

But bills needed to be paid, and for me the trip was about gathering information on great fly-in destinations. In the first year, Flyguides had laid the foundations of a pilot travel Web site by publishing detailed guides to the largest metro-area GA airports in the country; now our small squadron of freelancers and I are flying around America to get information on the mid-size and smaller places we need to include to give our Web site a truly nationwide appeal.

With five and a half thousand airports to cover, we couldn’t afford to stay on the ground long.

My mission: profiling the East, South, and Midwest United States, as well as the Bahamas. We tried to schedule stops at beaches and interesting activities for the family, but adhering to the tight production schedule didn’t leave much time for lounging.

Things did not begin well. A couple of days into the trip, our rented Skyhawk blew out its radios in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) as we approached Lexington, Kentucky. It was interesting doing the “turn-left-two-two-zero-if-you-can-hear-this-ident” thing with the excellent approach and tower controllers there, but it was not something I’d wish to repeat any time soon.

Herb, at Hortman Aviation Services at Northeast Philadelphia Airport, was great: He told us to “fix the radios, send me the bill, then get on back here,” where he would swap us out for a 2004 Tiger. That Tiger turned out to have 80 hours on the Hobbs and that new-car smell.

One of the things we had worried about while planning the trip was Spijk’s ability to roll with the punches of GA: weather-related itinerary changes, getting stuck anyplace that is not Disney World…what amazed us throughout was his nonchalance when it came to getting into the airplane. After he called out, “One, two, three…takeoff!” to begin each flight, we could almost set the altimeter to Spijk’s nodding off as we hit 600 feet.

Perhaps the biggest surprise we faced as a family essentially living in an airplane was how quickly those routines evolved. Unless you’re driving a bizjet, GA travel is far more intimate than travel by car – if only because you’re unable to toss the luggage in the trunk. For the first few days, my right-seat passenger was a 55-pound Samsonite.

But imagine flying by GA every day, and every day someplace new: Leave the hotel, return the rental car, check the weather, load up and preflight the airplane, file the flight plan, take off, land, unload the airplane, get a rental car, head to the hotel…. The complex preparation, which I relished in the days of more sporadic flying opportunities, quickly became mundane.

This repetition was also an immersion course in real-world flying: Being in the system every single day is normally the domain of airline and cargo pilots. Being a part of this airborne community was a thrill, and I noticed that after a while, controllers treated me like a pro. As a newly minted private pilot, I’d been tentative on the mic. Later I overcompensated to the point of drawling like a graybeard. After weeks in the system I was relaxed but concise, and I knew when to be cute – and when to shut up.

Throughout our journey, we benefited from that most holy of travel-writing perks, local knowledge: We learned about the bourbon business and horse training in Lexington, and why the waters of the Bahamas are so gin-clear. We learned about the Bayou and the oil industry in Louisiana, Kansas’ high-tech corridor, and the Amish and Mennonite communities of Iowa. And that the best burgers any of us have ever had were at the airport restaurant in San Marcos, Texas.

Early on, we recognized my propensity to make decisions based on comfort in addition to safety, something new to me after a couple hundred hours of solo cross-countries. There were several days during which the weather was soft IMC: no icing or convective stuff, just garden-variety soup. Operationally this spells a smooth ride. But I had to scrub the flight because “Daddy, are we there yet?” takes on new meaning inside a 200-mile-long cloud.

Time, in aviation, apparently differs from that in the real world. A major point of contention for the first week or so was the allegation that I was underestimating journey time. “How long is it to X?” I’d be asked. I’d reply, “Oh, just under an hour.” Except, where we pilots count in Hobbs time, our friends and family tend to judge time using something they call a watch. Note to self: Families judge journey time door to door, not chock to chock.

I spent the entire three months feeling I was late for an appointment. Never before have I felt like such a rat as I did when, in a hurry and down to minimum fuel requirements, I landed at Morgantown, West Virginia, in the midst of a Young Eagles Day. As I was snappily marshaled in by Civil Air Patrol volunteers, I gazed at the sea of shining, innocent faces of children eager for their dreams to take wing. Then I slammed the Skyhawk door, said, “Sorry, guys, I’m just here for a fill-up,” and stomped off to the terminal.

Flight planning now required consideration of family business as much as the business end of cold fronts. We’d planned a straight shot from Northeast Philadelphia to Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as the inaugural flight in the Tiger, so early in the morning we loaded kit, caboodle, and Spijk into the airplane and set off. As soon as we were in the air, though, Spijk had the mother of all temper tantrums. We set down at Philadelphia International Airport nine minutes after departure – and learned our first valuable lesson: The new Selby family rule is no one gets into the airplane without breakfast.

While we were getting used to the Tiger, Corinna and Spijk got an intensive course in aviation weather. As any Florida pilot knows, convective sigmets in the Sunshine State are much like the temporary flight restrictions around our commander in chief – they’re in place whenever you’re overhead. As we approached the Florida border, we began a three-hour cell dodge, which had us diverting 50 miles inland, then back to the coast, then inland again before making our way to St. Augustine.

We saw places we’d never have seen if it weren’t for the airplane: I’d never even contemplated Port Arthur, Texas, but when I arrived there for a break and fueling on our flight from New Orleans to San Antonio, the disarmingly friendly lineman at the Southeast Texas Regional Airport handed me the keys to his new truck (in lieu of a formal courtesy car). “Just make sure the gas is where it is when you got it,” he told us. And then he gave me directions to a nearby restaurant. Took me three tries to decipher his twang, but I heard something like “Sahtn.”

Forty minutes later, Corinna, Spijk, and I practically rolled away from the table at Sartin’s Seafood, where we had dazzlingly fresh, crispy, and enormous portions of fried fish for Corinna, barbecued crabs for Spijk, and broiled flounder for me. Awesome.

That kind of hospitality doesn’t, as far as I can tell, exist outside aviation circles. But within those, it’s commonplace.

The Bahamas provides pilots the best of all worlds, and the government is keenly supportive of aviation tour-ism, which is nice in itself. But the flying isn’t great there just because of the jaw-dropping clear water and dazzlingly white beaches; it’s practical, too. I could and did fly from Freeport to Walker’s Cay for a delicious lunch, then return for an afternoon on the beach at Port Lucaya; this is something the earthbound could never accomplish. There’s not enough space in this magazine to list opportunities like that in the Bahamas.

And having an airplane there was an interesting opportunity for me to show others the wonders of flight; the look on the face of the Rev. Hicks, as I let him take the controls on a flight from New Bight Airport to Hawk’s Nest on Cat Island, was of childlike wonder and bliss.

At the end of our odyssey, Corinna, Spijk, and I were, truth be told, ready to land for a while. Covering 5,099 miles, landing at 77 airfields, and moving our bags every 24 to 48 hours for three months took their toll. I knew it was time to stop when I found myself saying, “Roger,” at the Radisson check-in desk. I have to admit, during the next two months, I didn’t even sit down in an airplane.

Looking back, the journey was a lot like high school, or a stint in the Army: It was intense, I learned a lot, and we made some wonderful friends. But I wouldn’t want to do it again. In fact, it makes me wonder just how great my job really is. Maybe GA is best in smaller doses.

I think of my friend Carl, who starts planning his weekend trips on Monday and spends the week tweaking the route, researching his destination, and checking the weather. These ingredients are all part of the allure, and anticipation, of a GA flight to somewhere new.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more the whole concept of carpe nundinae – arguably Latin for seize the weekend – appeals. So next time you find yourself contemplating an hour of circles around the airport and holes in the sky, remember that no matter where you live, you’re under an hour flight from someplace great.

On The Radio

German and Czech ATC are highly competent and professional and speak English, but remember, it’s not their native language, and they’re used to speaking English with other non-native speakers. Americans, they feel, tend to speak colorfully or offhandedly, which makes it difficult for them to understand you – even if you’re saying what you feel are relatively simple things.

What they say to you can sometimes sound convoluted (and there’s the near universal German tendency to call your Cessna a “Chessna”), so be on your toes. Halfway down the runway on take-off in Augsburg, for example, the controller without preamble came back with,

“…and if you appreciate, on your way to [checkpoint] Oscar, you may continue with climb, and until passing with three thousand.”.

Ah. Don’t turn left towards Oscar till you reach 3000 feet. I appreciate!.

Speak more slowly than usual, and be as precise as possible. Remember, too, that it’s required you repeat every piece of information given: if they say, “Clear to land, runway 07, QNH1013, wind 100 at 12 knots”, that’s what you say back!

US Weather Briefing For Pilots

The average Englishman’s preoccupation with weather is surpassed, it would seem, only by the weather-obsessed American aviation community. In fact, a pilot wishing to take to the US skies has such a bewildering number of weather information options at his disposal that it’s almost self-caricature – and all, of course, with dandy American acronyms: ASOS, AWOS, ATIS, WXBRIEF, FSS, HIWAS – The list goes on and on. And it’s all as free as the air.

The pilot’s first line of defense in getting flight-related weather briefings is to dial, from any phone in the country, 1-800-992-7433. The handy mnemonic for this number is to spell out 800-WX-BRIEF on a Touch-Tone keypad. No matter where you are in the country, this number will connect you with your regional Flight Service Station (FSS) weather briefer, who is a trained professional weather observer and aviation weather reporter.

A FSS also provides many services such as opening and closing flight plans, giving out NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen), PIREPs (Pilot Reports), information on Special Use Airspaces (see accompanying story) and other details crucial to a flight. In the air, you can always contact a FSS Flight Watch (122.0) to get up to the second weather news and guidance should you run into unexpected weather. This is a potentially life-saving service.

Briefers
Some may be gruff, and some are more helpful than others but as a rule, aviation weather briefers in the US are superbly competent. “The first thing we’re going to do after we get the background of what the pilot is contemplating,” said Ron Napurano, Manager of the New York Automated Flight Service Station, “is look at an overview of weather based on the qualifications of the pilot and the intended route of flight, and make a judgment as to whether we think you should fly or not.”

If adverse conditions are present then the briefer is legally bound to inform you that based on conditions, VFR is not recommended. The briefer will state that and then give supporting reasons. Sometimes they just state it bluntly. Other times they get a bit dramatic – I remember once being told by a briefer that a route I was contemplating was looking “Mighty ominous indeed.”

The most effective strategy, unless you’re really, really sure of yourself (ATP-rated pilots with 10,000 hours and a degree in meteorology may skip the next part), is to ask for a “Standard Briefing”.

What they need from you
The briefers are indeed professional, and even if not pilots themselves, well-trained in briefing pilots. But they’re not mind readers – you have to prepare for the call and give the briefer what they need, without them asking too many basic questions. “You can tell a person who’s been getting briefings from us for a while,” said Napurano, “if the pilot is prepared, and uses the background checklist (see box), it saves the tedious pulling of information back and forth and makes the briefing go much smoother.

WXBRIEF Checklist
Before you call WXBRIEF, have the following information at hand, and when you get the briefer on the phone, give it in this order:

  • Type of Flight Planned (VFR or IFR)
  • Aircraft ID or your name (if you don’t yet know the tail number of a rental)
  • Aircraft type
  • Departure Point
  • Route of Flight
  • Destination (and alternate)
  • Altitude(s) you intend to fly
  • Estimated Time of Departure (in Zulu) and Estimated Time of Arrival

Like so:

“Hello, I’m a pilot making a VFR flight in Cherokee 8252 Zulu, that’s a Piper PA-28 161, departing from Teterboro and flying northbound, along the Hudson River to Nyack to clear the Bravo airspace, then turning right, following the Madison VOR, Providence VOR and Boston VOR to destination Bravo Oscar Sierra, Boston Logan, with an alternate of Bravo Echo Delta, Bedford. Once I clear the Bravo airspace north of Teterboro I’ll climb to seven thousand five hundred feet. I’ll be leaving Teterboro at about twelve hundred hours Zulu or seven am local, and expect the flight to take about one hour and ten minutes.”

Now, of course, the above is the perfect, somewhat anal-retentive, by-the-book way to say it, and you might get a bit breezier over time. But you really should make an effort to be as close to this model as possible..

Effective communication with the briefer can’t be stressed enough. Every time they have to ask you a stupid question, such as “State type aircraft” or “This is a VFR flight or IFR flight?” you’ve just wasted the time of yourself, your briefer and the next pilot who will cal in.

What They Give You
In exchange for your expressiveness, you’ll get a pile of information worth its weight in gold.

This includes the following information, in the following order.

Adverse Conditions This is the first order of business: the briefer will take the information he has on you and determine whether the trip is recommendable at all. Any adverse conditions will necessarily be mentioned first and foremost. If the weather is doubtful you will, by law, get a verdict of “VNR” – VFR Not Recommended, and the supporting arguments.

Adverse conditions can be anything – from plain old IMC to mountain obscuration to icing to turbulence, especially low level wind shear and other weather that could affect takeoffs and landings. “We give them the whole nine yards on adverse conditions and the potential effects,” said Napurano.

Synopsis If weather is VFR or marginal VFR, the next step in the Standard Briefing is the Synopsis, which gives a general overview of the weather as it is at the moment: this is not specific to your trip, but rather a general overview of storms, fronts, circulation, pressure systems gathered over an 18-hour period. The briefer might give you information on specific storms, strong winds or other weather phenomena as required.

Remember, this is to give you an overall feeling for the weather in general, not specifically the weather that will affect your flight. For example, the current conditions at or near your destination airport might not be valuable if you intend to leave in three hours for a two hour flight – conditions could be significantly different five hours from the time you call!

Current Conditions The current conditions at the departure airport.

Enroute Forecast This is weather that the Center is forecasting to expect along your route, culled from National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts as well as actual Pilot Reports (PIREPs) made by pilots actually flying along the route. “They’re very specific, and that’s why we ask all pilots to give us PIREPs,” said Napurano, “We get a PIREP from a pilot in a 152 saying he’s got a light chop we probably won’t tell that to a 747 pilot, but if a 747 pilot reports a light chop, we’re certainly going to let everything smaller out there know about it.”

The Enroute forecast may or may not be consistent with current conditions – remember, it’s a forecast – but what it will give you is conditions that are expected along your entire route. So if you’re flying from Islip, Long Island to Raleigh, North Carolina, you’ll get forecasts for New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, etc, all the way down to North Carolina.

Destination Forecast The forecast at your destination is based on the Terminal Area Forecasts for larger airports; if you’re flying into Charlotte, then the forecast is specifically made to cover that. But if you’re flying into Podunk, North Carolina, you’ll get the TAF for the nearest large airport. TAFs are good for five miles around the airport they’re forecasting. It’s not legally binding or anything, but it’s an idea of what’s happening now and what NWS and thinks will happen.

Winds Aloft This section is extremely important because it also covers temperatures aloft and specifically icing – whether actual or forecast – and the temperature and winds by altitude strata. “Typically a pilot saying that he’s going to be flying at 6,000 feet will be given the winds and temperatures aloft for 3,000, 6,000 and 9,000” said Napurano, “because you’re going to pass through 3,000 to get to 6,000, and who knows, you may request a different altitude once you’re up there for any number of reasons. So we try to give you the broadest range of possibilities we can.”

NOTAMs Covers any NOTAMs of any interest whatsoever.

ATC Delays Unlikely to happen to you if you’re flying between Podunk and Kischnev, more likely the larger your destination or departure airport is. At Teterboro, ATC delays are quite common, and this would be passed on to you by the briefer.

Military Training Areas These are different from MOAs, and are areas in which military aircraft may be training. MTAs are given only on the pilot’s request – request it.

What They Want From You
At the end of a standard briefing, the briefer will request of the pilot that the pilot file a PIREP – even if the conditions are exactly as forecast, but especially if they are not, you can help other pilots by making a PIREP.

You will also be requested to contact Flight Watch (122.0) for enroute weather information.

Whiskey What!?!

“Augsburg Tower, Cessna Echo Hotel November Foxtrot is three minutes east of Sierra inbound for Runway 07, full stop landing”

“November Fox, Sierra is closed due to glider traffic in the area, do you have another request?”

My friend Kees, an American flight instructor flying with me for the first time in Europe, looked over at me, with a quizzical, amused look on his face.

“Augsburg Tower, November Fox is eight minutes east of Whisky One inbound for runway 07”

“November Fox, advise when you reach Whisky one”.

Kees glanced at the chart, and pointed at the coordinates for Whisky One. We buzzed west over the town of Augsburg, cut north, and, eight minutes later (abreast of the power tower that marks Whisky One) we turned right, along the highway, and I called back in.

“Augsburg Tower, November Fox is at Whisky one and now eastbound at 3000 feet”

“November Fox, advise when you reach Whisky Two”.

“November Fox, will call at Whisky Two”

“Hold it”, said Kees, “There IS NO WHISKEY TWO on this map.”

“Right,” I said, laughing.

“Where’s Whisky Two?”

“Sorta up there,” I gestured vaguely. “Round about halfway back from Whisky 1 and stay on the right side of the highway – the instructor pointed it out when I was on my checkride.”

“You have GOT to be kidding me,” he said, shaking his head.

Even when armed with a map, European flying and ATC procedures can still shock even a seasoned pilot like Kees.

Studying the air charts certainly helps, but European ATC has its own way of doing things, and Americans saying it’s not efficient is unlikely to result in any changes!

But that doesn’t mean you have to feel stupid if you’re unfamiliar with one of the dozens of local conventions.

When an ATC asks to do you something like head for a point that doesn’t exist on your map, throw it right back at them, politely:

“Am unfamiliar with Whisky Two and don’t see it on my map. Please give me more precise directions!”

Flying In To See A Shuttle Launch

Many a pilot/space junkie wants
desperately to view a space shuttle launch from the comfort and luxury of a GA
aircraft, which is fine unless you try and get close enough to see anything
in particular, at which time you’re in violation of a number of restricted
airspaces and warning areas, and are likely to have a visit from an FAA
inspector when you land.

Essentially, the entire area from south of Patrick Air Force Base (at the very southern end of the Jacksonville VFR Sectional) all the way north to New Smyrna Beach, and from the jauntily-named Christmas, Florida at the east to as far west as you’d like to fly over the Atlantic, from ground level to Heaven above are verboten during shuttle launches.

Specifically, stay well out of Warning Areas W0497-A, W-497-B, and Restricted Areas R-2932, R-2933, R-2934 and R-2935. Before flying anywhere near the KSC, get a flight briefing (St Petersburg Flight Service Center, 1-800-992-7433, which spells WXBRIEF on the keypad) and specifically ask if there are any active warning or restricted areas, and say, “Is there anything I didn’t ask you that I should have asked you?” before hanging up. Do not fool with this.

The good news? You will be able to get the most exciting views of your life from above Daytona, St Augustine or even Jacksonville. When that baby goes, you don’t have to get very close to get the show of a lifetime.