Plain language

January 1, 2010

Ian Twombly did a great job explaining what routes to file, and I was glad to see him mention the implications of the flight plan—assigned, vectored, expected, or filed—in the lost comm scenario ( “Technique: Plain Language,” November 2009 AOPA Pilot). One small point he missed about filing direct is the requirement to avoid restricted or prohibited airspace by three nm. (This is a good time to remember to verify the proposed altitude is above the appropriate IFR en route altitudes.)

I think his explanation of the VOR service volume is misleading, and would add that anyone using the VOR as his or her navigation source is required to remain within the prescribed service volume when operating off of established routes. These distances can be, and frequently are, exceeded when in radar contact, but the rub is that your flight plan should describe what you want to do if your are flying it NORDO, so radar contact does you no good. Once airborne, in radar contact, ask for direct and take the shortcut. I have found that the high-altitude controllers generally detest the AIM-prescribed practice of filing a point within 200 nm of the center boundary—it just confuses them and doesn’t help them. (I’ve asked them—this is their opinion; not mine.)

Jim McIrvin, AOPA 879413
Graham, Texas

As an air traffic controller, when I see a flight plan filed “direct,” I can almost immediately guess how the entire interaction is going to be with the pilot. Invariably, these pilots are some of the most difficult to work with—poor phraseology, poor listening skills, and generally being behind the airplane. My (very unscientific) conclusion is that these pilots probably do zero work when it comes to planning their flight. I believe that these pilots are simply lazy. When flying out of a busy terminal environment, you are expected to know how to navigate your airplane and should be ready for nearly any clearance ATC throws at you. If you simply file direct and never look at a map, when I start clearing you via an airway, or direct to XYZ VOR, or somewhere else, you’ll be lost.

Now if a pilot picks up his clearance on the ground from a control tower, maybe this won’t be a problem. Twombly mentioned that the ATC computer will print out some kind of preferred route in addition to the pilot’s filed route. This is the case unless the computer doesn’t recognize the destination because it is too far away. However, if the pilot files direct and tries to pickup his clearance in the air, this is usually when we see the problems.

I obviously don’t speak on behalf of any other controller but myself. When I file IFR out of the terminal environment, I always file to some fix about 50 miles out, then direct if it is feasible. Direct routings will almost always come from the center, not approach control. Being a professional pilot means more than just flying big aircraft. Do your homework before you depart and you’ll almost certainly garner more respect from the controller side...and that will usually lead to better routings and service.

Brian Bond, AOPA 1153427
Tempe, Arizona

50 before 50

Tom Haines article about flying into each of the 50 states brings back fond memories for me ( “Waypoints: 50 Before 50,” November 2009 AOPA Pilot). My husband bought me a 1947 Cessna 140 on Mother’s Day 1973 and I learned to fly with a lot of help from him and my boys. This was in Boulder, Colorado, with an 85-horsepower engine. Flying became a passion and soon I was the editor of the International Cessna 120/140 newsletter. I was on a mission to meet every state rep and fly into every state. In 1990 I flew to Alaska taking every bend in the Alcan Highway. Finally my husband rented a Warrior for me to fly with an instructor from Kona to Maui, Hawaii, so that I could claim all 50 states.

It was a delightful life traveling in my 140 and meeting so many pilots along the way. The flying community is very special. Everyone is helpful and cares about each others’ safety. What a wonderful way to see this beautiful continent and meet exciting people. I’ve taken more than 439 brave passengers flying and inspired some of them to get their certificates. I’m proud to add that two sons learned to fly in my 140 and a grandson trained in my 140 and is now a pilot.

Dorchen Forman, AOPA 0546447
Goleta, California

The voice of general aviation

Given that the front of AOPA Pilot states that it is “The Voice of General Aviation,” I feel compelled to ask why the staff of AOPA Pilot seem so disinterested in general aviation with a specific hatred of grass-roots general aviation in particular? Many of us feel AOPA Pilot is written with a focus on pilots that are rich and those that fly jet aircraft. This was underscored years ago when AOPA Pilot felt the need to add the “Turbine Pilot” section to the magazine. Why single out a section of GA for a special section in AOPA Pilot to the exclusion of other areas of GA?

AOPA needs to take a good look at its membership demographic and realize that the average AOPA member is not a jet pilot, or rich. We are mostly single-engine, propeller driven light aircraft pilots that are suffering from the high cost of flying. AOPA seems to forget that corporate aviation, commercial airlines, and military aviation all trace their roots back to two grass-roots pilot from Dayton, Ohio.

Jon J. Banks, AOPA 1059332

Editor in Chief Tom Haines replies: We started the Turbine Pilot section a number of years ago because the unique editorial needs of members stepping up to a new generation of light turbine airplanes was not being met by other publications. While the number of pilots in general is declining, the number stepping up to more sophisticated airplanes is actually growing and we felt a need to serve those members with additional content. Turbine pilots must face dealing with a different kind of engine, pressurization, reversible propellers, high-altitude operations, and in general more sophisticated systems than those of us who fly single-engine, piston airplanes. We did not choose to create a special section for tailwheel pilots or ragwing pilots because the informational needs for those pilots are well supplied through our publications and others.

As for our coverage of grass-roots flying, you will see us emphasizing light sport aircraft in the coming year (including this month’s cover story) because we believe there is a lack of credible reporting on that new segment—and also because AOPA’s 2010 sweepstakes airplane is an LSA. AOPA is in fact in touch with the grass roots of aviation while also representing all of general aviation and at the same time continuing to be the most effective voice for aviation at all levels of government.

Let’s all go

I enjoyed Ian Twombly’s article “Let’s All Go” ( November 2009 AOPA Pilot). I had to laugh because it brought back memories of three years ago when my wife and I took two of our grandchildren in our Cessna 172 on a trip to the mountains for the week. They were ages 6 and 10 at the time and got bored pretty quickly. This changed when my wife opened a bag of fresh field peas and started shelling them. She gave the kids some and they started shelling too. The first question was “where do I put the hulls?” I have two three-inch pop-out vents in the side windows that when turned backward, act like a vacuum cleaner and suck out air and anything else they get hold of out. We left a trail of pea hulls over three states and the kids loved it. As a bonus, we had fresh peas for supper. I’m not much for political correctness and some may question us doing this, but after all the peas certainly were biodegradable.

John Roberts, AOPA 1018788
Andalusia, Alabama

VFR into IMC

Today my 47-year-old brother’s chair is empty for the first time around the Thanksgiving table. The NTSB has yet to issue a probable cause, but it appears the cause will be controlled flight into terrain because of VFR flight into IMC. For those of us left around the table it is a most bitter pill to swallow because Frank and fellow pilot and friend Tom’s deaths were so preventable.

How is it that those two pilots with a combined experience of 55-plus years and 3,800-plus hours could make such an error of judgment? Was it an attitude of it won’t happen to me or a case of get-there-itis? You aviators know the causes better than me, a nonpilot. How do we, members of the empty chair club, tell of our loss in a way that will make pilots sit up and take notice and remember the consequences of VFR into IMC are most likely a crash that is fatal 85 percent of the time?

An idea that I’ve had is a chart that has flight service numbers at the top. It then asks questions about stress, pilot rest, weather along intended route, back-up plans, and how critical is the flight. On the chart is a picture of those who would be left around the Thanksgiving table—those people most important to the pilot.

I would like to ask you, the GA pilot, if you would use such a go/no go flow chart? Perhaps it could be a tool that friends and family give to the pilot in their life to say, “This is how much you mean to me. Please be careful and use sound judgment. There is absolutely no flight so critical that it can’t wait until better weather.”

Jim Protiva West Plains,


In the story “Crazy for Canada,” (November 2009 AOPA Pilot) photos on page 74 and page 76 should have been credited to George Erickson, the author of True North: Exploring the Great Wilderness Bush Plane.