C.K.'s PiReps

This page is for my quick notes about aviation subjects I want to share experiences about, but don't deserve their own page.

Of course, all my own opinion, and many times you will disagree, and sometimes I'll be wrong. Tough. Unless someone can convince me I'm egregiously wrong I'm not changing anything. If you'd like to send me a PiRep read the submission guidelines. Comments: email me

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Active Noise reducing headsets (ANRs)

ANRs are all the rage, and you, the innocent GA pilot are feeling inadequate because you don't have Bose ANRs because you'd rather spend your money on fuel than a headset.

What-ever. This latest bit of gee-gawery is not the be-all and end all.

ANRs work, and work reasonably well, at reducing low-frequency sound waves from reaching your ears.

Please note: I said from reaching your ears. One of the claims made by some manufacturers is a reduction in fatigue because of a reduction in low frequency sound. Well that would be wonderful if you had ANRs that covered your whole body. But they don't, they only cover your ears. Which means that the rest of your body is still subjected to the low-frequncy thrumming of the engine, and still suffers from the fatigue induced by that LF shaking.

So what does this mean? It means two diametrically opposite things;

1) It means you can absolutely hear your passenger and radio communications more clearly. The assist in radio comm is valuable.

2) You cannot hear your engine as completely. You will be removing some situational awareness about the health of your engine by wearing ANRs.

So there is a tradeoff. Some folks compensate for this tradeoff by keeping their ANRs off during takeoff, turning them on only when they reach a stable climb. Note: Can't do this with the Bose, since when you turn off ANR you're also killing any noise reduction at the loudest time. So you keep the Bose's on. And then they overload, since takeoff is so loud, and pound your ears. Arg.

ANRs are nice, no doubt. But I've taken off without turning my ANRs on, and gone an hour before I realized that the ANRs were off. So think of this as a luxury, not a safety of flight or have to have item. If you're happy with your headsets and on a budget then just stay with what you have.

Another note: Remember, all ANR headsets sacrifice some passive noise reduction for the space the ANR hardware takes up. So if you aren't going to keep the batteries fresh, you'll be worse off when your ANRs run out of power. This is particularly true of the Bose ANRs (which my flying partner wears), lose battery in those and you will be much worse off than no ANRs at all,

3 October 2004: Yeah, did it again. Forgot to turn on my ANRs, did not even notice until I got to my destination and went to turn them off.

10 October 2004- 1 Feb. 2005 OK, my partner bought me a pair of Bose. They are great, and much better ANR than the Clarks when they work! My Bose eat batteries, don't know why. And when they are failing or out of battery, they stink. At least the Clarks keep the noise down even if the battery is dead.

Cirrus SR-22
I was looking to buy an airplane, and took a test flight in a Cirrus SR-22. My impressions.
Fit and finish: The SR-22 is a great aircraft. Feels well made. My partner was amazed at the amount of space available in the back passenger area. I was happy at the feel of the seats and most of the controls.
Start-up. All glass is nice. I'm a computer geek, so having LCD panels in front of me makes sense. I will say this, with no data to back it up: How long are these things going to last? I work in the computer industry, and none of the LCD screens we use are designed for a 20 year life span. How long does a GA aircraft last? Well, the average age of the GA fleet currently is over 30 years. Will these fancy MFDs and PFDs going to last 20 years? I personally (based on a lot of years in the industry) don't think so. So while you might not see a failure, the person who buys your used airplane will. I thin (with again, no data) think that will reduce the resale value of all-glass airplanes built in the early 2000's.
Taxi: OK, who thinks differenential braking is the smart thing in 2003 (when I flew)? No-one. Would it have added that mush more to put nose wheel steering in?
Run-up First time with on-screen checklists. Nice, I guess. But not really. A paper checklist you slide your hands along and can go through quickly. Hitting a button to advance through checklist items on a screen is annoying. Some things it doesn't make sense to automate.
Runup the engine. Ewwww. hate the throttle. I actually thought I'd like it because of it's position, but it's notchy (since it combines throttle and prop control in one) which makes it rally annoying to set at runup RPM. It continued to be annoying in flight/
Take-off trim is nice, all marked on the side-stick shaft.
Advance throttle for take off power, and go. Fine, until you reach rotation speed. Then golly, the sight picture is sure different. The windscreen extends lots farther down, the instrument panel is very low. So you see a whole lot more in front of you on takeoff (and landing) than you're used to. Really important to watch airspeed, not perceived nose angle, for probably 20 flights.
Climbed out nicely, ran up to 140 knots at low altitude quickly. Did some turns.
Don't like the controls much. The side-stick is nice, and if it were connected with control rods (like my Mooney) it would probably feel great. But it isn't, its a cable-bungie combination (the ailerons and rudder are coupled) and you feel it. The controls feel spongy to me.
But it does move quickly into a bank and sticks well.
All-glass panel is nice. I'm not too gaga about it, I stare at a computer screen 16 hours a day, having one in an airplane just makes sense. The Primary flight display (PFD) is, surprisingly to me, what everyone fawns about. Don't really know why. It presents a 6 instrument display, same as you have with gauges, plus extras, just like any panel you might be looking at in any airplane. "What?!?" you say, "But it's glass!". Yeah, so? Putting an HSI-analog on the bottom of a glass panel is not advancement, it's just re-ordering what you already know. Using electronic tapes for altitude and speed just means you have to get used to a new interpretative process for critical data. Which isn't hard if you've been playing Ace Combat on your Playstation.
The revolutionary parts of the system has nothing to do with the display, and it's part that I don't think the manufacturers stress enough. It's the Attitude and Heading Reference Systems (AHRS) and computers that back the display and provide the info that's the important bit (and these could drive electric conventional dials). That's where the smarts are, and that's where the level of accuracy in gathering, interpreting, and presenting data jumps up by 100%, and that is really great. But not a visual representation of a dial on an LCD screen.
The LCD will become important when these systems integrate the highway in the sky systems like Chelton is doing will having an LCD as a PFD really make a significant difference to how you fly.
The MFD (multifunction display) in the center, however, is just great. A 10 inch plus moving map, or graphic engine & systems monitor, or traffic minder,, all in one and easy to actuate makes a lot of sense and works really well.
Time to land. Again, the view out the front, with the low nose and instrument panel, is very disconcerting, you feel that you want to pull up quite a bit, even though your actual angle of descent is pretty standard, The sight picture is just so different. And, as you look in the NTSB database and Cirrus references, you'll find a lot of tail strikes already.
So that's it. OK flyer, very comfortable, moderately speedy. Great MFD, I'll ditch the extra $20k for the PFD.
Didn't end up buying one, went Mooney instead.
Flight Training Materials

I like to read, and I like to read technical stuff (I actually like reading FARs, too, which is a deep illness), so I've bought flight training material from everybody. My impressions, from light to heavy, of the 4 major course producers. There are, of course, hundreds of subject-specific books out there, I'll cover them as I read them, this is just about folks who make a living out of building many courses.

King Do not buy King courses if you are diabetic. Soooo sugary. The lightest of the writing, lots of bad humor and (in my opinion) oversimplification of subjects to allow you enough knowledge to pass the test. I would feel uncomfortable flying with someone who only used King materials. Though I have found it handy to have a King book and another book, when I hit a spot I don't understand or have a little trouble with in, say, a Jeppesen book, I'll look it up in the King and get the baby-talk explanation, that usually allows me to go back to the other book and understand the real meat of the subject a little easier.

Gleim Performance oriented, and personable, without being saccharine. I like Gleim testing and honing, I'll always use a Gleim book to run me through the wringer after I think I've mastered something. No nonsense, but almost first-person, the books are really talking to you in the most practical terms, do this this and this and you will pass/master the task. Gleim wants you to be your best. Again, I recommend them as drill, not as primary.

ASA I like ASA materials quite a bit. Technical, so you don't feel you're being talked down to or steered around tough subjects, and complete. I also think that ASA organizes their material the best way, I'd like to meet their ISD people, they are really good at their jobs. I like to use ASA as my primary, first pass, book.

Jeppesen The encyclopedic best. The deepest technically, and the broadest for covering all of a subject. Not for the faint of heart, read it once and understand it because you're not going to see it again. Also tend to organize their books in an encyclopedic fashion, so the learning flow is not as smooth as ASA. And, dammit, Jeppesen is always interjecting subtle advertisements for their nav services in the texts.

My personal learning progression: Buy and read the ASA material. Buy the Gleim book on the subject. Pass/know whatever your objective was. Now buy the Jeppesen book on that subject for long term reference and browsing.

Notice anything missing?


Baggallinni Luggage
Get this stuff. This is the best luggage I know of for airplane people. Tough, light, and good capacity. Don't waste usable weight on the bag itself! Baggallinni bags are feather light empty. The bagg-in-a-pouch pictured above is what we use for one or two night trips. All our clothes go in the suiter side, all my shaving gear, underwear, shoes, etc. go in the pockets, and I'm set for a weekend. Karen has another baggalinni that she carries her makeup, etc. in. Buy these bags!
Precise Flight Speedbrakes

The ability to more precisely regulate speed and decent rate, on demand in an instant, to respond to changing flight conditions, particularly in terminal areas, is fantastic. Precise Flight speedbrakes give you that ability. If you have an airplane that can accept these (sorry most Cessnas... ) buy them

If they had only helped the three times in the last 4 months when a Tower controller had asked if I could expedite a landing during very busy times, and I was able to say "Yes", hit the speedbrakes and get down and off the runway fast, they would have paid for themselves.
But add to that the ability to make cruise-to-landing descents much less of a 40 mile waiting game while you nurse the engine. Add coming into a busy GA airport behind a Cessna 150 and a Cub and not have to circle back.
And in IFR, the ability to drop down a approach slope precisely and rapidly makes every controller happy with you.

Electronic E6Bs

Yah gotta have electronics. Even though a metal E6B is very very easy to operate, easy to store, and light, it's mechanical ewwww! We want electronic! And besides, many pilots (maybe most) were the calculator generation, so never developed the adeptness at or love of a good quality slide rule.

I've tried a few, and quite frankly they stunk. Then I bought a Sporty's E6B-F and gosh, this is a well-thought-out, well made, device.

First, the display. You can read it. Clear, crisp LCD with very high contrast. Main number set big enough to read quickly. Functions on-screen all the time, no need to try and remember which key or key combo does something.

Second, ease-of -use. Very very easy. The screen is large enough, and rich enough pixel-wise, that there are textual prompts every time you need to enter a value. You're never asking "Does it need airspeed or pressure altitude in that field?" it's telling you. Moving between functions is very quick, also. And having a separate"conversion" master key and dedicated keys is also handy, and keeps the other functions from being too crowded.

Third, clocks. Three of 'em. Zulu, Home, and Local, all the time zones you'll ever need.

Finally, form factor. I spent the extra US$10 and bought the flat one. Just perfect inside my Jepps! And light as heck.

Sporty's did an excellent job where many others have failed, congrats!




VFR Kneeboards

Bunches of kneeboards out there for VFR fliers (I use a lapboard for IFR, won't talk about that). Here are two;

ASA Kneeboard. I like the ASA kneeboard pretty danged well. Nice solid writing surface, easy to put a small legal pad in. Good clear pocket for charts, the other flap pocket is deep and keeps my flight computer from flopping around. The velcro on both the flaps and the knee elastic has held up without a flaw for 3 years. Only issue: The left flap inside has two elastic bands to hold something, I stuff my plotter in there. I've had to repair the bands twice, they just don't have the strength to hold up to repeatedly pulling the plotter in and out (which is the point). Also, when you have something in there the velcro closure is somewhat blocked.

ZuluBoard: My partner bought one of these. Who thought this was a good idea? Lets run down the flaws first: The stupid "vfr writing pad" they include, paper designed for VFR flights, is idiotic. Toss that and get a plain lined pad. Oh, wait! First you have to take out the stupid screwpost at the top of the 'board. Easy to do, fortunately. Bad leg strap. The board itself is 3 times thicker than any other, and for no good reason. Only has one side flap pocket. Only redeeming feature is a little zippered mesh pocket that my partner uses for her lipstick, but even that is pitifully small. Don't waste your money on this one.

Garmin 396 Weather
Ease of setup: The 396 XM setup is trivially simple. Plug in, call to get activated, and it's done. Period. The antenna is tiny compared to the bulky stand-alone XM radio, and there is just one wire. And having the audio output from the 396 is just a real cherry on top, almost given away as a lagniappe.

Speed: The weather data does add a perceptable lag compared to the 196 or 296. But only momentary, and not a deterrent.

The Weather: OK, like, this is really good. It's hard to describe how good, but the weather overlays on the map screens are clear and easy to see over the regular flight and terrain features, and it's easy to see the underlying things. The additional products that the 396 displays are a real plus.
Having the progs overlayed over the map (with the familiar H, L, and frontal lines) draw almost identically to what you'll pull from ADDS makes it both very familiar, and very handy.
Having the satellite pictures available also just brings the weather home, green/yellow/red AND the satellite picture of the clouds makes understanding what's going on really valuable.
I searched for T'storms around the country, didn't see any when I was looking, so can't comment on that.
So the map view is really really good, and fast enough to not be a hindrance.
The popup METARs are great, and the TAFs are quick to pick up. And yes, you can present them to yourself both as raw and decoded

Now let me talk about an area that I did not know was in the weather feature, but to me puts this device's display of weather amazingly more valuable.
When you go to the weather page (it's in a somewhat odd place, not in the regular page-page-page flow, but in the menu-menu setup area. I hope they change this in the future, but it's my only quibble) you can step through each weather product.
Sound minor? Oh no. Not only can you page through each product, but it's quick and easy to see all the variants on that product.
My favorite example is the Winds aloft product. menu-menu-weather-Winds
Surface winds are shown on the map view. Flick one right and hit enter. Now scroll up and down. You're scrolling through all the wind altitudes, and the map behind the menu is updating as fast as you can flick.
Get it? You're cruising along at 12k against a headwind and wondering if something is better. Go to the Winds page and flip up to 14k, 16k, down to 10k, and look at the barbs in seconds. Make a quick, informed decision about asking for a different altitude.
The 396 also shows winds as flow lines instead of barbs if you want, which can also be useful.

And that's true for all the products. Quickly scan through all the options the product offers and see it update live on the screen. Flip through the progs in a second, for example.

And so on. What I'll say about this section of the 396 is pretty telling: I can do what I do on ADDS on my computer faster on the 396.

Portability: Of course it's portable. But, but, it's portable ADDS!
Again, the difference between this and having the bulky external XM radio is critical here. The 396 powers the antenna. So you do not need to have anything but battery power to get all the weather you need. I have not run the battery down yet, but on a full charge with the XM radio plugged in the battery life is presented as being 6 hours and 30 minutes! That's a lot.
Put it in real-world use. You land at an uncontrolled field with no FBOs open on a Sunday. Back 4 hours later, sit in your car, wait 7 minutes for all the products to update (preflight or pack the airplane), and you have ADDS in your hand! Call an FSS for a briefing with a lot better idea of what the briefer will be saying, and with the ability to ask better questions.

I haven't talked about the graphic TFRs, Airmets, Sigmets, and so on. They are great.

And I hate to say it, but scrolling around this unit with the Garmin control set is (to me) much more comfortable that tapping on the screen with a stylus and pressing poorly designed iPaq touch buttons.

This is a Good Unit.

Sandel 3550 Electronic HSI
I recently replaced my 1980 vintage King HSI with a Sandel 3500 Electronic HSI.

This device is a full-feature HSI, with the addition of a GPS-based moving map display, multiple bearing pointers, digital data readouts of course, heading groundspeed, and so on. I'm very happy with this device, I've flown it VFR and spent 3 hours under the hood shooting approaches and getting used to the device. Here are some impressions'

Visibility: This was the knock on previous Sandel units, the screen would wash out, and was not visible from the side (like from the copilot seat. I've specifically gone up in the late afternoon to make sure I had the sun in my eyes or right at my back. The 3500 performs flawlessly in the visibility arena. With the sun streaming over my shoulder right onto the face of the instrument it was still completely readable.
The reverse was even better. Flying West with the sun in my eyes and below the sun visors, I could see the glow of the Sandel better than I could see the mechanical HSI. My instructor pilot confirmed that the visibility from the right/instructor seat is also very good, looks like Sandel has completely removed this as an objection.

Data Presentation: The 3500 presents almost as much information about your flying profile as my Garmin 530 does. The info (like groundspeed, heading, etc.) is small, but very readable and "around the rim" so it doesn't clutter the main point of navigating. Decluttering is quick and easy.

Map: The moving map is very good. It was a little different than the 530, the 530 showed me outside SJC's class C while the Sandel showed me right on the line, fro example, but that could just be scale issues. Easy to adjust and futz with. The map also redraws much faster than my 530 on scaling, which is nice.
Only challenge is that re-sizing the map scale is backwards from re-sizing the map scale on my 530. Which means I will *always* do it wrong the first punch.
More on the map in approaches.

Controls: The knobs are comfortable to use. Slightly less sensitive than a mechanical HSI (i.e., you have to twist a little bit further to get the same course change) but I got used to that very quickly. The buttons around the rim of the instrument are easy to use, just big enough, and provide the appropriate tactile feedback to let you know your action was accepted.

Heading Control: Sets and holds heading like a champ. At one point I rotated the heading bug 175 degrees off-course, and hit "heading" on my autopilot. Airplane went into a smooth standard-rate turn and easily picked up the heading. The addition of a digital readout of where you are setting the heading bug is really nice. We've all squinted at the mechanical bearing pointer, trying to line up at exactly 110 degrees, with the Sandel you just spin until it reads 110 and go.

Bearing pointers: Very nice. Nice green arrowhead pointed towards the SJC VOR while I'm flying the GPS approach into RHV.

Course control: Turn on Auto-slew, and forget you even have a course pointer. THe GPS now controls the course pointer, and it's flying your flight plan for you.

External 530 control: Worked as expected. Hit NAV and switches between 530 GPS, 530 VOR, and then 2nd VOR.

Flying a flight plan:
The course pointer is the complete property of the Garmin 530 while flying a flight plan, don't touch it. The unit, with auto-slew engaged, will even take you into a hold and fly you through it.

Approaches: Well, just Dandy! I did 2 GPS and 3 ILS's into Stockton. The first 4 were on autopilot, and the Sandel/530 integration was perfect, straight on course. The 2nd ILS flew with glide slope coupled also, and the two units worked completely smoothly to fly the airplane down the beams. 3rd ILS I hand-flew. I really like the CDI/GS needle display on the 3500. The indicators are thicker than the physical unit needles, for one thing, and that is very useful. And again, having a digital readout of your actual heading and course ptr right on your HSI has great value in wind compensation and bracketing.
Flying the GPS into Reid Hillview was once again on autopilot, and the unit auto-slewed and tracked perfectly.

Views: The Sandel has two basic views, map and instrument. I found that I like the map view outside the IAF. It gives you great situational awareness on airport and waypoint locations, similar to any moving map, but having it right in your scan is fantastic. If you have a procedure loaded into the GPS driving the Sandel, then all the waypoints and course track for the procedure will be layed out on the HSI also, this really keeps your head in the right "I know where I am" and what to expect place.
After the IAF I found that I am more comfortable switching to "instrument" view, which presents a standard HSI presentation without the map background. Having the CDIs where they "should" be is comfortable. I will say that as I fly with this more I think I'll become very comfortable with the "outside the rim" CDIs, so this may change.
One thing I don't much care for is the 70 degree view. Hit the VUE button and the compass rose goes away and you just have the 70 degree heading arc at the top, and your airplane position moves to the bottom. Might be good for high cruise, I'll try it Friday, but I prefer the standard compass rose.
This is a very good unit. And at $9k (plus installation) gives you a immense amount of data, situational awareness, and control at a reasonable price for the power. Yes, much of it's on the 530 already, but this puts it very naturally in your comfortable IFR scan, and there is great value in that.

If you need a new HSI, or are looking at spending $3k to overhaul, this could be an option for you. You do also need to have an approach-certified GPS to really get the benefit of this device, if you don't have one I would not recommend this.

Interesting Note/Warning: Recently I went up with my instructor for some approaches. At one point he pulled the circuit breaker for the Sandel, and I of course went to the backup CDI and compass. What was interesting was that the autopilot was engaged at the time, and it silently failed with the 3500 deativated. It did NOT disengage, no lights, no warning. It just stopped tracking heading, since the 3500 was no longer giving heading info, and wandered off course. Potentially hazardous since you have no indication that the AP is not working properly, be prepared if you lose power to the Sandel.


If you fly a lot of IFR like I do, the quality of your pencil is critical. I've tried mechanical pencils from almost every manufacturer, and I can wholeheartedly endorse the Bic Velocity Pencil #2 .9mm .

Airway-tested tough! They have these advantages;

  • Thick and cushioned grip point, larger diameter than others for tight grip.
  • The lead is thick, nearly unbreakable, and more black than greyish
  • The feeder mechanism gives you just enough every click so you get enough to write more, but not so much that it snaps off just when you apply pressure.
  • Good pocket clip, enough gap that it just clips on without you having to think about it, but still tight enough not to wriggle off.

Those are the key features, and the Bic velocity does them all better than any other pencil. Papermate comes in a close second, and mo-one else is even close.

IFR Training materials

I talked in general about training materials up here, someone asked me about IFR trianing materials in specific. Here are my impressions from getting my ticket.

On DVD I did the Sporty's IFR set set. It was OK, though I found it to be presented in a rather fragmentary way, no binding theme, just "here's a chapter on weather, here's a chapter on VOR appraoches", but nothing to tie it together. Worth it because it does contain Richard Collins segments, and I like him.
I will admit two things;
1) I didn't finish the whole set
2) I've neer looked at them since
Which might make some commentary on the set.

Avoid the King stuff like the plague.

I got most of my actual learning down by reading. I bought the Jeppson, out of habit, but didn't find it to be great. Same encyclopedic presentation, and the full-color illustrations are great, but they too lack a little flow.

Books you absolutlely should have are the FAA's own "Instrument Flying Handbook" and "Instrument Procedures Handbook". If I were to recommend anything, getting those two and using them is better than the commercially produced books, though the PIC "The Instrument Flight Training Manual 3rd Ed" is a close second. These are some of the best-written training and informational resources I've ever read, and it's really great that the FAA produces materials of this caliber. I go back and read these.

The best commercial book is "The Instrument Flight Training Manual 3rd Ed" developed by the Professional Instrument Course (PIC) people. It's what they use in their 10 day IFR courses. SImilar to the ASA in being well written and complete, and enhanced by each chapter opening with a real-world flight or situation to "connect" you to the material about to be presented. Buy this one if nothing else.

The ASA "The pilots manual:Instrument flying" is good, and I recommend that. Very well written, and threaded like you'll learn in the air, so it hangs together. A good compromise between the PIC book and the Jepps.

IFR hood? I use the Jeppesens hood (the picture above). Light weight, fits well under headsets, flips up well.

iOS software

Not going to talk about too much, since there are many reviews of great iOS pilot software. I did want to highlight one app you probably missed. It's a clock, but one that helps me in flight planning quite a bit. It shows 24 hours of time in two different time zones next to each other, so you can easily see that (for example) 1740 UTC is 9:40 AM PST. I know, I know, it's easy math. But I always get confused and this app makes it really clear. It's free,click to go to it's page;

Here's a screenshot so you can see what I mean