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The following stories from the February 29, 2008, edition of AOPA ePilot were provided to AOPA members who expressed an interest in the particular subject areas. Any AOPA member can receive information tailored to their areas of interest by updating their preferences online.

My ePilot - Student Interest, Training Tips
When it comes time for you to fly solo, your instructor will note limiting weather conditions for your flights in your logbook. One limit likely will be the lowest ceiling under which you are permitted to solo. Another may be a minimum visibility value. [See the Jan. 27, 2006, Training Tip "Solo Limitations."]

Not all cloud cover represents a ceiling. It depends on how much of the sky is visible. The definitions used to describe sky cover carry inferences as to whether a ceiling exists. "A ceiling, for aviation purposes, is the lowest layer of clouds reported as being broken or overcast, or the vertical visibility into an obscuration like fog or haze. Clouds are reported as broken when five-eighths to seven-eighths of the sky is covered with clouds. Overcast means the entire sky is covered with clouds," explains chapter 10, page 17 of the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge .

You'll find current sky conditions in aviation routine weather reports (METARs) and many automated observations. Sky cover reported as less than broken (few clouds, or scattered layers) does not constitute a ceiling. See the table of contractions on chapter 11, page 6 of the handbook for sky cover, represented in eighths (octas) of the sky from horizon to horizon, for each description.

Why octas? "Students frequently ask why sky cover and obscurations are reported in octas rather than tenths. The four cardinal points of the compass (N, E, W, S) and the four intercardinal points (NE, NW, SE, SW) divide the compass into eight sectors. Cloud cover and obscurations are easy to evaluate if you observe the conditions that exist in each of the eight sectors and base your report on how many sectors that condition occupies," Ralph Butcher explains in the August 2002 AOPA Flight Training column "Insights." Sky cover is also an element in pilot reports (pireps). See "Answers for Pilots" in the February 2006 AOPA Pilot and be sure to scan pireps for those valuable observations that only airborne pilots can provide.

On nonflying days, practice estimating sky cover and comparing your conclusions with aviation weather reports. Also check out the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's online course "Weather Wise: Ceilings and Visibility" to further sharpen your skills.

My ePilot - Training Product
AOPA Flight Training columnist Rod Machado has created a new monthly e-mail newsletter, Flying Smart. "I receive so many requests for aviation information that I've decided that the Internet newsletter might be the very best way to keep my readers up to date on useful aviation safety information," Machado says in the first issue, which is sent free to subscribers. You'll also find links to videos of some of his educational programs, a schedule of upcoming appearances, and a reprint of a recent AOPA Pilot article in which he lays out several reasons why young people should be introduced to flight training. In upcoming issues, he'll be offering educational aviation podcasts, CFI slides for teaching instrument ground school, and more. To view the first issue or sign up, see the Web site.

Note: Products listed have not been evaluated by ePilot editors unless otherwise noted. AOPA assumes no responsibility for products or services listed or for claims or actions by manufacturers or vendors.

My ePilot - Student Interest, Final Exam
Question: Operating in and out of a towered airport requires that an aircraft have two-way radio communication capability. What should I do when I lose all radio communication capability in VFR conditions?

Answer: The Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge states that if the radio becomes completely inoperative, it is advisable to remain outside or above the Class D airspace until the direction and flow of traffic is determined and then enter the appropriate traffic pattern and watch the control tower for a steady green light gun signal. In some situations, such as when traffic is heavy or you're uncomfortable using light signals, it might be prudent to divert to a nontowered airport if you can do so safely. For more information, read the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Safety Advisor, Operations at Towered Airports .

Got a question for our technical services staff? E-mail to [email protected] or call the Pilot Information Center, 800/872-2672. Don't forget the online archive of "Final Exam" questions and answers, searchable by keyword or topic.

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