Some Things Some Pilots Don’t Know (But Should)!

Despite what 91.103 requires, no pilot has “all available information.” But the nature of our changing equipment and environment requires continual learning from every pilot in both knowledge and skill. Growth and improvement are part of the challenge we accept when we sign that first temporary and assume PIC control. But despite this, every pilot has “black holes” in their knowledge; missed or just misunderstood.  For CFIs, one critical job is to discover and correct these voids – the killers -before they hurt someone. Only when they are fully grasped, can seemingly dry concepts assemble into useful tools and make safer pilots. Even rated pilots with many hours seem to have missed some of these basics. Never be embarrassed, dig deeper!

The tail “lifts down!” Despite being able to carefully calculate the weight and balance of a plane (and pass all the FAA questions and several practicals), many pilots never fully understood this concept (or the ramifications). I have discovered commercial pilots who don’t know this, or if they know it by rote, they don’t grasp the full implications this has on stability, control and limitations. (See planes don’t stall, pilots do).

Lift is equal on the wings in a stabilized turn. This statement can lead to many puzzled looks or start some red-faced arguments (with Greek letters). But most simply solved, if the lift were  *NOT* equal on the wings, your plane would still be rolling! Failure to fully comprehend this basic aerodynamic fact has huge safety implications. Pilots often turn with the rudder or hold adverse aileron as they bank. Both aileron and rudder should be neutral in a stabilized turn, the elevator does all the work (again lift is equal on the wings). Once this is understood, a turning stall is easy. This is the heart of Rich Stowell’s “Learn to Turn” initiative (see Community Aviation Courses).

Indicated and true airspeed diverge as the air gets thinner (non-standard). Most pilots can state this fact (and pass an FAA knowledge or even practical evaluation) but still not comprehend the full significance of this physical principle. On a commercial evaluation, an examiner might ask selecting the most efficient altitude for cruise. (Power decreases at 3% per thousand feet but TAS increases at 2% per thousand feet, what is the optimal altitude?) More important to safety is unpacking a scenario involving a take off at Leadville on a hot day. Though your eyes (and hours of experience) say “it looks about right to rotate,” the airspeed indicator is still only showing 40 IAS. Here is where the divergence between IAS/TAS can hurt an unprepared pilot (and another one bites the dust…). This is also where a dry aerodynamic concept really requires more study and understanding. (Surprisingly many mountain courses do not emphasize this gotcha!)

And this circles back around to 91.103 (required preflight action) which is a critical mandate for every flight (once you get beyond “all available information”). It is amazing how many pilot applicants have flown 50-60 hours at their home field and still cannot state with any accuracy the actual length of their runway (the commitment to continual learning starts here). Some cannot list the items every pilot must know before flight on a VFR day. These items are simple but also the major causal factors of accidents; the proven killers!  More amazingly, commercial pilots in expensive jets still make these basic mistakes. We all need to keep learning…

More soon (preparing the Commercial “Checkride Ready!™” too) packing for the show! Fly SAFE (and often)! See you at Sun’N Fun.


Visit us at Sun’N Fun booth B22. If you join SAFE (even from home) you get a shot at a new Lightspeed Zulu headset or a Sporty’s handheld!

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About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.


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