Addressing the Gap with RedHawk

We are excited to have a guest post this week from Ian Twombly, Editor of AOPA Flight Training Magazine. Ian has an extensive background in flight training and has contributed to several industry blogs including the AOPA Pilot Blog and Flight Training Blog.

The team at Redbird Flight Simulations has an unusual talent for seeing gaps in the general
aviation marketplace. It started with the company’s flagship FMX full-motion simulator, a
low-cost, high-fidelity training platform that is causing the flight training industry to rethink the way it does business. Redbird’s new project, the Redhawk, has the same potential.

The Redhawk is more or less a refurbished Cessna 172, the world’s most popular training
aircraft. Redbird hangs a new turbo diesel engine on the front, and then completely reworks the panel, interior, paint, windows, plastic, and so on. What emerges is what looks and flies exactly like a factory new 172, but with more advanced engine technology. And of course, the price is more than $100,000 less.

This is the gap in the market that Redbird is trying to exploit. Flight schools and students love
the 172. They also love new technology and the aesthetics of a new airplane. What no one likes is the massive price tag. Redbird is giving the training market exactly what they’ve been asking for—a well-equipped airplane for a cheaper price.

There will no doubt be schools that buy the airplane at Redbird’s announced price of $249,000
“or less.” The “or less” depending on economics of scale, the flight school’s ability to provide a
donor airframe, and a few other factors. Those schools that choose to go this route will be getting a capable airplane at a good price. Continental’s Centurion diesel is what gets most of the aviation industry talking, but what really interests me and a lot of flight school owners is the leasing model.

Quality flight schools have a few big challenges to growth, with access to capital being the
primary obstacle. Redbird has teamed up with Brown Aviation Lease to offer what many hope
will be a proven idea offered in a revolutionary new model, in the same manner as the FMX
(motion simulation was proven, the price and capability were all new). By offering the airplane
for a per-hour rate, the flight school can have a predictable margin without the often unstable
relationship a local leaseback partner offers. That the airplane can be taken off the flight line
when demand slides, or more can be brought on as it picks up is exactly the type of flexibility
most schools need. The seasonal nature of training in many parts of the country demand it.

Whether or not all this actually comes to fruition is only a guess at this point. But given
Redbird’s history of success, it’s a safe bet the Redhawk will make quite an impact on the flight training market.

– Ian J. Twombly

Pilot Shortage: Using Innovation to Overcome Training Requirements

Bright skies ahead for pilots currently in the job market. A recent article in USA Today revealed that airlines plan to hire hundreds of new pilots. Still, in the interim many warn that a pilot shortage is actually on the horizon because of retirement, greater training requirements, and longer rest periods.  Let’s explore why the mandatory retirement age of 65 and increased training could leave airlines with a pilot shortage and out of luck when it comes to finding the experience they need.

 

Retirement Age

There is an impending wave of pilot retirements, with an expected 15,000 to retire by 2016 and another 19,000 expected to retire by 2021. With a mandatory retirement age of 65 there are many questions as to whether or not the industry can fill this void and indeed avoid a pilot shortage.

The aviation market today is full of declining numbers and that includes the number of students enrolling in aviation training programs. The reason? Student’s primary concern is job placement. And while that may not be an issue now there are other barriers to entry forming, which include: increased training.

 

Increased training

It is no secret, as the USA Today article points out, that the FAA implemented a new rule that took effect on Aug. 1, requiring 1,500 hours of flight time for all first officers. This matches the minimum requirement for captains. While there are exceptions some airlines are hesitant to hire pilots who haven’t reached the requirement. 

What we haven’t seen yet are the unintended consequences of these increased training requirements. As we’ve discussed before student pilots have the highest dropout rate of any discipline—and one reason cited is because the program is more demanding than students expect. The increased flight hours won’t help the student pilot dropout rate. 

As training requirements increase so will the competition between local flight schools and collegiate programs. While typically local flight schools are more cost effective, the increased emphasis on training may start weighing into student decisions. For example, the new flight-time requirements gives credit for some university programs – which can help offset the cost difference. 

Another unintended consequence of increased training requirements may be that more students choose a collegiate program over a smaller, private flight academy.  In the past, students may have chosen a smaller academy because it was more cost effective and did not require a four-year commitment and afforded more flexibility.  But the new flight training requirements are a sizable time commitment.  Couple that with the financial aid and scholarships universities can offer alongside college credit for flight training requirements and a collegiate program may become the better option for prospective student pilots.

What does this mean for your flight training program?

"The urgent demand for competent aviation personnel is a global issue that is here now and is very real," said Sherry Carbary, vice president of Boeing Flight Services in an August USA Today article. She continued, "The key to closing the pilot and technician gap in our industry is enhancing our training with the latest, cutting-edge technologies to attract and retain young people interested in careers in aviation." The price of doing so however can be rather high. Cessna just announced that the cost of a new 172 for 2014 will be north of $400,000. Still, a consortium of industry partners (full disclosure: including Brown Aviation Lease) have partnered together to create a remanufactured Cessna 172 equipped with a Continental Centurion 2.0 diesel engine, and other features. The price? Less than $249,000 -- which is much more affordable when compared to a new Skyhawk. Further, Brown Aviation Lease will be offering a power-by-the-hour subscription based program where the flight school taking on the airplane would pay small upfront fee to acquire the airplane and then pay a palatable per hour cost. The program is designed to allow flight schools to have a modern training aircraft that’s also economical without a large financial commitment.

To attract and retain young students you will need to foster a new way of thinking and incorporate new technologies that are scalable, affordable and make sense for your program. 

Take for example the San Carlos Flight Center, which took home best flight school in the country at this year’s second annual Flight Training Excellence Awards. Established less than two years ago the school won because of superior customer service, innovative and engaging community events, and excellent quality of training. Students describe the school as being “committed to safety and fun in aviation,” promoting a flying club like atmosphere and personal connections with students. 

The size of the future crop of new pilots may be uncertain but you can set your flight training program apart by focusing on innovative processes, procedures, and technology. What are your thoughts on the pilot shortage and how are you attracting new students? Leave your thoughts in the comments. 

Finally Flying with WiFi? FAA Says Yes

Recently, an FAA advisory committee reported findings that WiFi is safe to use during all phases of flight. For the millions of commercial flyers this means-- you may not have to wait until 10,000 feet to use electronics in flight. And many pilots are left saying -- it’s about time.

For decades the FAA has advised that our small personal electronic devices -- PEDs-- would interfere with the avionics of a multi-million dollar, 394,000 lb., 747 passenger jet(and that’s the empty weight never mind fully loaded).   Meanwhile, most pilots of smaller airplanes already use their iPad in the cockpit for navigation reasons. Shouldn’t someone tell them their 2,500 lb. Cessna 172 can’t handle the PED emissions? 

You may recall the rule to power off all PEDs during takeoff and landing was implemented as many “thought” the signals would interfere with a plane’s equipment and air traffic control.  Remember when we couldn’t use cell phones in hospitals for the same reason? We can use them now. When the healthcare industry innovates faster than the FAA, that’s saying something. But shocking new findings from a recent report finds that electronic devices in fact don’t interfere with a plane’s performance and gate-to-gate use of electronics in flight will become a reality. 

So next time you board a flight you can sit down, buckle up, and power on those noise-cancelling headphones, right? Surely you know better…Not so fast.  Reports suggest these rules ‘could take as long as a year to implement,’ as airlines are still required to prove through testing their fleet is safe from PED emissions.

 

What implications does this have on current pilots -- if any?

You guessed it. None.

As mentioned, most pilots of smaller aircraft already use iPads in the cockpit. And in late 2011 the FAA approved the use of iPads in the cockpit of commercial airlines.  So, while these recent findings shouldn’t make much of a difference for general aviation pilots it brings to light a more productive conversation about the use of technology in flight. 

 

Technology in flight

Technology isn’t going anywhere and it is high time that the flight training industry embraced it and made it work to their benefit.  We’ve talked before about implementing the iPad in the cockpit. How can you as a flight educator utilize the same asset to better your training program?

Well, first off, if you are not using a tablet already shame on you.  So for those of you behind the technology curve, here is a little insight into the benefit of such a device...The tablet can be used to keep copies of flight books, electronic copies of pilot and aircraft manuals, applications and spreadsheets that enable simple calculations of weight distribution and fuel capacities.  More than that the iPad has the ability with its updated processor to house and interact with all of the charts that were previously kept on the aircraft in paper form.  Now trainers and students can look at charts on the fly as well as current weather and weather forecast mid flight, all without a lot of processor lag time.  On top of that, with 4G connectivity pilots can file flight plans and go through the preflight checklist all in the same place making it a much less cumbersome process.

While technology in the cockpit shouldn’t replace the necessary training it should be used as a training enhancement tool to improve student learning via applications as well as prepare a student for a career as a pilot in the twenty first century.  The burgeoning use of electronic devices in our everyday lives made it hard to ignore any longer.  So while commercial passengers will be thankful the FAA finally caught up with modern technology, general aviation pilots shouldn’t notice much of a change as many have already embraced the role technology plays in modern flight.

What are your thoughts on the new FAA recommendations for use of electronics in flight and the use of technology in student training? Leave your thoughts in the comments. 

How Students Choose Your Flight Training Program (Part 2)

In part one of this post we discussed the goals, plans, challenges, and timelines of why people buy. Understanding why students choose a flight training program can help you better “sell” your program. This article outlines two areas of how people buy that I think are appropriate as it relates to your flight training program: budget and authority.

Budget:

As we know, flight training can be costly. Likewise, cost is often cited as a reason for student dropout. Allowing your prospective students to understand the true costs of your program upfront will better position you as either a fit or not for your prospective students. Further, for students where budget and cost may be an issue educating them on other options for monetary support may help you win their business. By being upfront and helpful you will only better position yourself to “close the sale,” and save yourself valuable time and money.

 

Authority:

Do your students have the authority to make their own purchasing decision? Since you are often marketing to young students they may not have the authority and/or budget to make the final decision. Their parent or guardian is likely an influencer into which program they enroll. Therefore, it is essential for you to understand who has the authority when it comes to the purchasing decision and market to that person accordingly. In the business of flight training this person is often the parent or legal guardian-- meaning you need to influence their authority. For example, if a parent’s primary concern is cost, let them know the ROI of a degree in aviation. This may help them overcome their concern and empower them with the information they need to make a buying decision. Ultimately, budget and authority will be the determining factors in whether or not a student chooses your flight training program. You can help influence these factors by understanding why your target demographic buys. Start by asking yourself “why do people choose my flight training program?” This will allow you to better cater your sales and recruiting efforts to their underlying goals, plans, challenges and timelines. Once they believe in your “why” the “how”-- budget and authority will only come easier.

Why Students Choose Your Flight Program (Part 1)

When prospective students are evaluating your flight training program they likely follow the same decision making process they would use when purchasing any other goods or services. Sure, the timeline may be longer and the stakes may be higher but the underlying motivators remain the same. Why and how people buy is a highly talked about topic and this article does a good job of explaining four areas central to why we buy things: goals, plans, challenges, and timelines or GPCT. Let’s explore how you can understand GPCT for your prospective students and their goals, plans, challenges, and timelines when evaluating flight training programs.


Goals:
Ask yourself, “why do people enter my flight training program?” Most likely students enroll to become pilots. Whether they are looking to become a pilot simply for their own personal gain or for a future career in aviation, the end goal is typically the same. But as you know not all pilot licenses are created equal. The requirements for operating as a weekend warrior versus obtaining a commercial license are vastly different. Therefore, you need to clearly understand what your prospective students’ true end goal is and clearly position your flight training program to help them meet this goal. For example if you are a smaller FBO flight training program, you may be more focused on recreational pilots looking to obtain their license for personal reasons. If that is the case, you will need to tailor your marketing to appeal more to the hobbyist and aviation enthusiast, not the career pilot.


Plans:
Anyone with a goal needs a plan to help them meet their goal. For those looking to obtain a pilot’s license, aviation training will certainly be part of their plan. But how do you insert your program into that plan over your competition? You can achieve this through your recruitment and marketing efforts. For example, get out in front of young students early to influence their perception of a career in aviation. Further, marketing to today’s prospective students through online channels may help get your program noticed. These outbound efforts will promote your program as a viable solution in helping targeted students complete their plan of becoming a pilot.


Challenges:
Many challenges arise as students go through flight training. After all, the student pilot dropout rate is anywhere from 50-70%, in the U.S., higher than any other nation. Aviation programs can be both demanding and costly resulting in students’ losing site of the end goal. Your flight training program should identify these challenges and be able to help prospective students overcome them en route to their license. If cost is going to be a challenge for some of your students, consider your ability to offer scholarships or other types of monetary funding to help them overcome this. Your students will spend a lot of time in-training with your flight instructors. Make sure you have high-quality educators that will make your program more enjoyable and effective for your students. Being able to clearly articulate challenges students may face and show how your program can help them overcome these challenges, will make you more attractive to your prospective “buyers.”


Timelines:
Timelines are important to prospective students so you need to make sure your program meets the student’s time frame, or you won’t be the right fit. Think about your program and the options for coursework and training that you provide. For example, some prospective students will want to put their full-time efforts into learning flight. Others may only be able to commit to a part-time endeavor. Does your flight training program cater to both audiences or do you prefer to focus on just one? Understanding the GPCT of your prospective students will help you understand why they buy, enabling you to position your program accordingly. In part two of this series, we’ll look at how people buy and what it means for your flight training program.

Alternative Energy: Impact On General Aviation

The rising cost of aviation fuel has undoubtedly had an impact on flying habits in general aviation. We’re determined to uncover some of the effects, and are offering $1 Avgas to find out. For most of October (unfortunately the promotion was cut short due to overwhelming demand), Brown Aviation, Redbird and a consortium of other great industry partners are dropping the price of Avgas to $1.00 a gallon. This will provide us with data on Avgas costs and the fuel shortage. But, as new technology and alternative energy methods become mainstream could there be a lasting effect on the Avgas fuel shortage and bright skies ahead for general aviation pilots? 

Recently, the company behind Solar Impulse, the first solar airplane capable of flying day and night without using any fuel, announced it is partnering with Google to help promote its goal of circumnavigating the globe in 2015 using only solar energy.  Inspirational indeed, but the Solar Impulse generates roughly the same power as a small scooter, and the practicality for general aviation has not yet been realized.  Still it is encouraging to see a company like Google join the movement, which will only bring more attention to the need for alternative energy methods and the Avgas fuel shortage. 

Putting the inspirational aside, is there a solution for the expensive and diminishing supply of Avgas on the short-term horizon? Possibly...

After years of development Cessna announced its Cessna JT-A version of the 182. “The airplane is powered by a Safran SMA diesel engine...It burns just 11 gallons per hour while delivering 227 horsepower.” This would offer pilots improved fuel efficiency, burning 30 to 40% less fuel than comparable avgas engines.  Deliveries of the aircraft were set to begin later this year, however an engine failure in August delayed the launch. Still the Cessna JT-A offers pilots the opportunity to fill their tanks with fuel other than Avgas, with more sustainable and cleaner energy options. While the Cessna JT-A isn’t a true solution for eliminating the need of fossil fuel to power flight it is certainly helping the industry climb closer to its cruising altitude. 

But what about cost effective and energy efficient options for your flight training program? 

We’ve joined forces with Redbird Flight Simulators and other industry partners in the RedHawk project. The goal of the program is to bring the industry more affordable training aircraft through a combination of new and existing technology. The RedHawk 101 is a highly modified Cessna 172, completely refreshed inside and out, including the pairing of a Continental Centurion diesel engine. The Continental diesel engine helps to solve the issue of Avgas shortages and provides an efficient energy option for your flight training program needs.   

This is a discussion that is far from over. The general aviation industry has identified the need for energy options other than Avgas and it is encouraging to see players like Cessna and Solar Impulse bring solutions to the table. I believe it is important for us all to keep an eye on the inspirational while focusing on the practical. What Cessna, RedHawk and others has done is offer the industry an interim option for Avgas, which keeps the energy options for general aviation moving forward. On the other hand, the Solar Impulse team shows us all what’s in the near distant future. And by getting the attention of a player like Google hopefully this means we will see solar energy solutions for flight in our lifetime. 

$1 Avgas! Too Cheap To Believe?

Believe it!! - $6.23 is the national average for 100LL as of 2:30pm yesterday, Monday September 30th. However, starting today, Tuesday October 1st, 2013 the price of avgas is going to plummet. Thanks to Redbird, Brown Aviation and a consortium of other great industry partners, the price of avgas will drop to $1.00 a gallon for the entire month of October.  Jaw dropping I know!

So what’s the catch?  There isn’t one really.  The only “mini-catch” is that you have to be able to get your plane down to San Marcos, Texas, to the Redbird Skyport to take advantage of the discount.  If you are planning on attending the AOPA Summit in Fort Worth, Texas or the Redbird Migration Conference be sure to stop in on your way home to fuel up.

WHY OFFER AVGAS FOR $1?

Seems crazy I know but we want to understand the impact the cost of fuel has on flying habits in general aviation.  What better way to do that then be making the price of fuel next to nothing?  Pilots and student pilots who fly into San Marcos to fuel up will be asked to take two survey’s on their flying habits; one when they are fueling up and a second towards the end of the year after prices have returned to normal. This will provide us with some great data the industry has had a hard time uncovering in the past.

 

IT GETS BETTER THAN JUST CHEAP FUEL

For those of you on Facebook, you can get more than just cheap fuel this October!  If you happen to fly down to KHYI this month, be sure to snap a picture of your plane filling up on that great Texas Tea!  Post your photo to our Facebook page for a chance to win some free shwag from Sporty’s Pilot Shop!  The pic with the most votes at the end of the month wins so don’t forget to come back and vote for your favorites!

See you in Texas!

3 Things Football Can Teach You About the Business of Flight Training

Fall is in the air and football is on TV. On Sunday it’s game day in my house. And whether you’re an NFL or college football fan (or both) it’s hard to ignore the excitement come September. In light of the upcoming season let’s look at 3 things football can teach you about the business of flight training.

1. Manage your turnovers

The point of football is for the offense to get the ball in the opposing team’s end zone by running or passing it down the field without turning it over. Teams must prevent turnovers to give themselves the best chance to score. How Is your flight training program preventing turnovers?

Student pilots have the highest dropout rate of any discipline. Depending on who you ask the dropout rate is anywhere from 50-70%. Reasons for dropout include costs, misunderstanding of the true rigors of an aviation program and sub-par instructors. Further, an AOPA commissioned study found that “5 out of the 11 discrete factors [for drop out] determined by the survey were directly related to educational quality with respect to both individual flight instructor effectiveness and flight school support for management of instructors.”

Manage your program turnover by identifying predictors that identify why students drop out and shape your program accordingly. Studies have found that low grades, involvement in extra-curricular activity and pre-enrollment residency can all be predictors of student drop out. Perhaps you have a large population of out-of-state residents in your flight training program-- consider offering them extra resources and support since they may be disconnected from their own support network. Further, assess the overall quality of your program including educational quality and flight instructor effectiveness.

2. Don’t forget your ground game

In football it’s easy to get caught up in the big passing plays, the ones that quickly advance a team down field. But you can’t have a strong passing game without a running game, so most successful offenses have both. What’s your ground game?

When it comes to the business of flight training and your program, don’t forget about what’s happening on the ground. Recruitment is a key element to the success of any program. Think about sponsoring or hosting an aviation day for younger students to introduce them to a future in aviation. According to Boeing we (the flight training industry) is going to have to add 64 pilots per day to the aviation industry for the next 20 years in order to keep up with attrition, retirements, and growth. Focusing part of your recruitment efforts on the youth will help them identify early what it might be like to go through a flight training program.

Further, not only does your flight program need to have a strong curriculum you need to run a good business. Keeping operational costs down and increasing aircraft utilization is key. That’s why Brown Aviation Lease has partnered with RedBird to create an effective training aircraft for the global market using both new and old technologies called RedHawk. The RedHawk training aircraft will carry an innovative, consumption based pricing solution designed to be significantly cheaper than buying new aircraft for your training fleet as well as more efficient operationally. 

By focusing on your recruiting and operational ground games you’ll set your flight training program up for success now and in the future. 

3. Utilize your trade options

In the NFL players can be traded among teams for draft picks or other players, typically to help towards the betterment of the subsequent team.  When it comes to your aircraft inventory are you utilizing your trade options?

As your needs change you may need to add or subtract aircraft inventory. Brown Aviation’s On-Demand Inventory portal is designed to match-up aircraft buyers and sellers to help simplify the process of acquiring or disposing of aircraft.  This helps ensure you always have access to the right amount of inventory to keep your business running smoothly. 

Consider partnering with an industry expert that can help you utilize your trade options and manage the correct amount of inventory for the betterment of your flight training program. 

What has football taught you about the business of flight training? Leave your thoughts in the comments. 

Planes: The Movie and the Future of Flight

The future of flight relies on students who choose to pursue a degree in aviation for many reasons including: career opportunities, to see the world and work anywhere in it, a strong passion for flying, and now because of Dusty Crophopper -- a crop dusting plane with a fear of heights?

If you don’t know, Dusty Crophopper is the animated lead in “Planes”, which has grossed over $100 million worldwide. Could this movie foster a new generation of aviation enthusiasts and future pilots? Dani Pimentel recently shared why he thinks this movie certainly won’t hurt the potential crop. And apparently it’s happened before.

Earlier this summer at TEDx Rock Creek Park, Scott DiGiammarino delivered a talk on “Why Movies Move Us.” His insights touched on the impact movies have on society and the science behind it.  Have a fear of swimming in the ocean? The chances are you’ve likely seen “Jaws.”According to DiGiammarino 50% of the world is afraid of swimming in the ocean and 80% of them were too afraid to go in the water because of “Jaws.”  He also knows that enrollment in martial arts classes tripled in the year “The Karate Kid” came out, and after the release of “Top Gun,” recruitment of Naval aviators increased by 500%. 

It’s too early to tell if Dusty Crophopper himself will influence the children of today to become the pilots of tomorrow but one thing is for certain, with the estimated shortfall of U.S. pilots expected to grow to 34,000 by 2024 the industry is in need of a recruitment boost.  So what can we learn from “Planes” as it relates to recruiting today and marketing to millennials?

Let’s compare the storyline of “Planes” to recruitment challenges you’re likely facing.

Dusty Crophopper’s dreams of being a racer are scorned by his unsupportive boss

Future student pilots face a similar challenge in getting support from their parents or legal guardian. A parent’s primary concern regarding a career in aviation is cost.  From a recruitment standpoint understanding stakeholder concerns is important, but it is even more important to address these concerns when marketing to not only your prospective students but also their bosses (the parents).

Dusty struggled to overcome his fear of heights

Encouragement and support is an important driver in helping anyone overcome their fears. A key concern for aviation students today is job placement and career advancement. In your recruiting message be sure to address these fears head on and ensure students the aviation industry is growing -- after all 52,500 additional pilots are needed each year. 

More than just learning to fly

Like any good animated movie there are life lessons to be had from Dusty Crophopper.  Confidence, and adaptability are two that quickly come to mind.  For prospective student pilots the experience of flight training goes beyond a career in aviation. In a survey of 300 student pilots top life skills one can expect to receive from flight training include: confidence, multi-tasking, time management, problem solving, and adaptability.  According to AOL Jobs these skills are all among the top ten sought after skills by employers.  Whether students are able to follow a career path into the world of aviation or simply become a weekend warrior the experience of flight training provides skills and experience directly applicable to a career up in the air or outside the cockpit.

The potential is certainly there for Dusty Crophopper to influence a new generation of pilots to compete in their own Wings Across the World race, but until then use lessons from Dusty as you think about your student recruitment.

4 Things To Expect As A Piston Aircraft Pilot

Anyone pondering flight training will without a doubt have several questions about just how airplanes fly. The miracle of flight is all the more mysterious for those who have never set foot in a general aviation (GA) airplane. If you’ve only seen light aircraft from afar, let me offer a little preview of the novelties you’ll encounter as a piston aircraft pilot.

DRIVING WITH YOUR FEET

Unlike your auto, where you steer with your hands and control the speed with your feet, taxiing an airplane requires just the opposite control inputs. Though operating a hand throttle probably won’t be a difficult adjustment for you, learning to steer with your feet will take a few lessons to get used to.

To complicate matters, the rudder pedals, which you’ll use to steer while on the ground, also contain the brakes. On top of that, the brakes (left and right) function independently of each other. To slow down without inducing a jerky turn, you’ll need to apply simultaneous pressure to both pedals. When not braking, it’s best to keep your heels on the floor and use your toes to steer the aircraft.

The control yoke (or in some planes, the sidestick) doesn’t contribute to steering while on the ground. This control is instead used to minimize the effects of strong winds during taxi. Many turbine aircraft incorporate a dedicated steering tiller for ground maneuvering, but you’ll probably never see one as a piston aircraft pilot.

THE MIXTURE CONTROL

Next to the throttle lever, you’ll notice a red knob or lever. This device, the mixture control, allows you to adjust the fuel flow delivered to the engine. Most piston airplanes don’t automatically adjust the amount of gas sent to the engine, so it is the pilot’s responsibility to regulate the flow of fuel. Some newer aircraft are now being manufactured with increased automation that handles fuel delivery, but the vast majority of general aviation’s training fleet still incorporate a manual mixture control.

When/why will you need to change the fuel flow? With increases in altitude, the corresponding decrease in air density means a reduced concentration of air molecules entering the engine. If left alone, the ratio of fuel to air would progressively increase with gains in altitude, unnecessarily wasting fuel. With the mixture knob, a piston aircraft pilot is able to maintain the proper fuel/air balance for any given altitude, thus improving engine efficiency.

USING A CHECKLIST

The first few times you fly, you might get the impression that the average piston aircraft pilot is incredibly forgetful. You’ll see your instructor constantly referring to a printed (or electronic) checklist and insisting you do the same. Every phase of flight has its own section of corresponding actions, from before you enter the plane until it’s safely secured on the ramp after the flight.

Is flying really that complicated? In a word, no. The key here is prevention. You’ve probably heard that aviation enjoys a fantastic safety record, and checklists deserve a lot of the credit for that. While many experienced pilots could probably perform most of the required steps from memory, aviators recognize that the human brain, miraculous wonder that it is, is fallible. Checklists, however, remain consistent 100% of the time. Rather than serving as an instruction manual, the checklist is really intended to function more as a backup to the pilot’s memory.

THE PREFLIGHT INSPECTION

Speaking of prevention,you’ll quickly get used to performing a walk-around inspection before every flight. While airframes and engines are astonishingly reliable, no component is guaranteed to perform flawlessly 100% of the time. Since no piston aircraft pilot has the luxury of being able to pull over to the side of the road, you want to uncover any possible maintenance issues while still on the ground.  Besides being a proactive safety measure, the preflight inspection is great for increasing your knowledge of airplane systems.

Flight training is incredibly rewarding, and anyone interested in aviation will have a blast learning the many operating practices unique to flight. As you gain knowledge and experience, you’ll be exposed to many additional factors that make aviation a truly exceptional pursuit.