August 26, 2011
Having dissected two parts of one of aviation’s venerable old cautionary sayings in the past two Training Tips, let’s tackle the remaining item: the whys and hows of conserving altitude.
Altitude awareness is a way of thinking about flight planning that emphasizes not wasting altitude that could make the difference in an emergency. But it doesn’t propound the impractical idea that a flight should be conducted at the highest possible altitude every time.
In cruise on a cross-country, competing factors that shape your altitude choice may include winds aloft or cloud layers. Pilot reports may alert you to turbulence at one altitude and smooth air at another. Navaid reception, haze, and the airspace you must fly through all play a part.
Consider a flight to practice ground reference maneuvers before a checkride. During the practice you must fly an altitude from 600 to 1,000 feet agl. Altitude awareness in this scenario means selecting a suitable reference object for the maneuver while ensuring that you can remain within gliding range of an emergency landing area at the expected descent rate for your trainer at its recommended glide speed.
Here’s another example. Passengers flying with a certificated pilot on a local sightseeing ride will enjoy the thrills and fun without ever realizing the balancing act that shaped their pilot’s choice of altitude. Viewing objects on the ground calls for a reasonably low altitude. Safety requires the pilot know maximum elevation figures and maintain a healthy safety margin above them. This is another case where having some forced landing sites picked out in advance adds to safety.
The first tip in this trilogy, “The runway behind you,” stressed the importance of getting up to a safe maneuvering altitude quickly after takeoff. Having the runway “made” as early as possible during descent and the traffic pattern is the downward version of the same idea.
Got it made? Avoid giving back the safety margin by flying too far downwind, or getting too low on final approach.
A traffic tip: If the pattern’s crowded, and it looks like you will have to extend your pattern, try slowing down a bit. That should keep the runway “made” for you while giving the aircraft ahead of you time to land and taxi clear.
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Question: Can a GPS instrument approach be flown with an expired database?
Answer: You might be surprised to know that the answer is yes. If the database has expired the pilot must verify that the instrument procedure has not been amended since the expiration. For en route and terminal use, the pilot must verify the data for correctness if the database is not current. A word to the wise, though: Using old database information for IFR operations is unsafe and strongly discouraged. See Table 1-1-6 in the Aeronautical Information Manual for other GPS approval requirements and authorized uses. For more on GPS technology for instrument flying, take the Air Safety Institute’s GPS for IFR Operations course.
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