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Training Tip: The first five minutesTraining Tip: The first five minutes

The single-engine trainer had just completed a climbing left turn to a northeasterly heading when departure control pointed out inbound traffic at 1 o’clock.
A flight need not be lengthy to demand quick thinking to resolve challenging questions.

A large aircraft, a Boeing C-17 Globemaster, would pass from right to left above the Cessna. “Caution wake turbulence,” the controller said.

Was action required to avoid a wake-turbulence encounter?

The trainer’s pilot had leveled off at 1,500 feet for the short cruise to a nearby airport for pattern work, and struggled to recall the expected sink rate of wingtip vortices. The C-17 was at 4,000 feet; the trainer could expect to fly beneath its path in about 90 seconds. Was that a safe spread?

As the pilot pondered the question, other tasks were piling up.

ATC terminated radar service, assigned transponder code 1200, and approved a frequency change. Switching to the destination airport’s common traffic advisory frequency, the pilot heard two aircraft making position reports---one in the pattern and the other arriving from the northwest.

But the most immediate concern was still wake turbulence. Based on the pilot’s recollection of published guidance, he opted to maintain heading and altitude. (Was it the right call? See Aeronautical Information Manual Section 7-3-4, Vortex Behavior to refresh.)

Now free to focus on the arrival, the pilot reported in for a 45-degree downwind entry and attempted to pin down the positions of the opposing traffic.

But their position wasn’t the only question. The airplane in the pattern—a familiar local trainer—was in sight on final, but then what? If for a touch-and-go, care must be taken to stay apart at a point of possible convergence where the climbing aircraft turns from crosswind to downwind.

And what were the intentions of the other aircraft (of unknown make and model, broadcasting with an organizational call sign used by its fast and slow aircraft alike)? Would it appear ahead, or pass behind?

Whatever other learning would emerge from today’s session in gusty winds, it was clear that a flight need not be lengthy to demand quick thinking to resolve challenging questions.

Those questions are of two types: Decisions you make in flight and grade yourself on later, and questions that must wait until after landing to be answered through discussion with your instructor, or with research.

In both cases, jot down your thoughts at flight’s end. Then follow up, ensuring that even a short flight stays long on learning.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Student, Flight Training

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