AirVenture Preflight: Go/No-Go 2024

By Scott Spangler on July 22nd, 2024 | 2 Comments »

Making a pragmatic go/no-go decision is the goal of preflight preparation. Regardless the destination or activity one must weigh all the participating variables. These can change because life is dynamic and our goals, priorities, and individual capabilities transform with time.

Preparing my inaugural journey to Oshkosh in 1978, my primary preflight variables were getting time off work and/or school to make the weekend speedrun from Illinois or Missouri. The weather seasoned the road trip and cow pasture camping accommodations.

In 1989, Oshkosh was a weeklong business trip, and my variables became the transportation and booth distribution of 5,000 Flight Training magazines. In 2000, I was on the other side of AirVenture and involved in preparing for the event, which entailed different challenges.

Preflighting for AirVenture 2007 as a self-employed word merchant was most liberating. My variables were connected to my eclectic curiosity while prospecting on behalf of my clients, including

Covid canceled everyone’s 2020 preflight, but I still got an unexpected variable, my Oshkosh Roaming Range. I averaged about 15 miles a day, but Parkinson’s has progressively reduced it. Today it’s barely 2.5 miles, a one-way walk from a pasture parking spot to show center.

So AirVenture 2024 is a no-go, and I’m okay with that because I appreciate the 45 Oshkosh adventures that preceded it and everyone who made them special, especially Rob Mark, JetWhine’s illustrious publisher.

It is another life transition point, one reinforced by trashcan karma. Over the years I’ve tallied my trips with EAA’s Champion stickers. 2023 filled the last open spot, so with my trashcan full, I guess I’ll call it career. Thanks to all who made the time to read. Scott Spangler, Editor

Who Trains Today’s Navigators?

By Scott Spangler on July 17th, 2024 | 3 Comments »

Continuing my curiosity quest inspired by Can GPS Spoofing Fool a Flight Navigator?, it seems that the US Air Force and Navy are the only reliable sources of air navigator training available today. But in either case, it is not a dedicated aviation occupation, as it once was during World War II, for example. In 2009, the Air Force merged its three Undergraduate Navigator Training tracks—navigator, weapon systems officer (WSO), and electronic warfare officer (EWO)—into a single training program. The resulting combat systems officer (CSO) training produces aviators who can readily adapt to mission requirements.

The 2009 consolidation of navigator training coincided with the closure of Mather AFB, where the Air Force trained them. Since then, CSO start their education at NAS Pensacola, Florida, with the Navy’s Training Air Wing Six, which educates naval flight officers. Established in 1966, NFOs specialize in airborne weapon sensor systems, and navigation is a fundamental duty, especially in tactical jets like the bombardier-navigators on A-6 Intruders. Given the increased navigation challenges posed by the mobility of not only their targets but especially their aircraft carrier mothership, navigation has been an especially critical skill for all naval aviation crews, and why cockpit plotting boards were standard equipment on single-engine naval aircraft during World War II.

Responding to my call to communicate with someone who holds an FAA navigator certificate, in an email, Al Herndon of Virginia sent a photo of his FLIGHT NAVIGATOR CERTIFICATE, Cert. No. 1924091, originally issued in 1969 (which I will not share for privacy reasons). What follows is his fascinating journey.

“In 1967, I was a Navy pilot flying C-130s in and out of Vietnam. In those days, ALL multi-engine pilots in the Navy were required to go to the Navy’s Navigator Training Squadron (VT-29) after they received their Naval Aviator’s Wings and before reporting to their first squadron. So, ALL Navy multi-engine pilots had to be a qualified Navy navigator.

“My first squadron was Naval Air Transport Squadron Three (VR-3) at McGuire AFB, New Jersey. VR-3 was part of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). After VR-3 I received orders back to VT-29 at NAS Corpus Christi as a pilot flying Air Force T-29s (Convair 440s) celestial navigator training aircraft (on loan from the USAF Navigator Training School at Mather AFB) and Navy C-117s (DC-3s) celestial navigator training aircraft. All VT-29 pilots had to qualify as Navy Navigator Instructors, so I went through the school a second time.

“In 1968 I left the Navy and went to work for Pan American World Airways as a Boeing 707 Relief Co-Pilot (RCO) based in San Francisco. Pan Am was in the process of firing all their Professional Navigators and installing Litton Inertial Navigation Systems (INS) in their B-707s. That didn’t work out well (long story) and in 1969 Pan Am sent the bottom 200 pilots to its Navigator Training School. The FAA had suddenly mandated that a Flight Navigator was required again on San Francisco based flights south and west of Honolulu and on any flight where one of the dual Doppler units was INOP.

“Consequently (I was 20 from the bottom of the Pan Am seniority list) I went to the Pan Am’s Navigator Training School, completed ground school (4 weeks), passed the FAA Navigator Written Test. With an instructor, I flew as a student on four navigator training flights, all night flights to and from Honolulu, and then passed a check ride with a FAA Examiner, a night flight to Honolulu.

“The navigator FAA Written Test made the ATP Exam look like child’s play. We were bombarded with questions (and answers) for two days before the exam. Even with all my prior experience and four additional weeks of ground school (which was basically a refresher for me) I have always wondered if I could have passed that exam without the “gouge. Pan Am furloughed me in 1970 and I went to work for Trans World Airlines, where I retired as a Boeing 767 captain.

“Since one can install a portable GPS in any aircraft, a certified FLIGHT NAVIGATOR is no longer required. However, to fly oceanic an operator needs to comply with AC 91-70C AND have the OPSPECS required in the FAA “Oceanic and Remote Continental Operations” guide. Both require “training” but no requirement for a Navigator certificate if the required equipment is installed in the aircraft.

“After retiring from TWA I worked for 19 years at The MITRE Corporation [the FAA’s federally funded R&D Center] in their Center for Advanced Aviation Systems Development (CAASD), where I was a [subject matter expert] for flight management computers and Performance Based Aviation and company liaison to both domestic and international airlines. One time I observed a FAA ramp check of a Colombian cargo DC-8 in Miami and both their VOR/DME and ADF’s were INOP, however; they had one portable Garmin GPS with wire antenna that was attached to the captain’s side window with a suction cup. That satisfied the FAA inspector that they could legally depart Miami.

“During the years at MITRE I occasionally asked FAA Flight Standards if there was anyone left that could give a Flight Navigator initial or line check and the answer was always (paraphrasing), “Who knows?” One FAA friend told me that they could give the written test if they could find a copy and they could probably work something out for a check ride but they always asked, “Why would someone want that qual?”, and where would the applicant get the required flight experience?”

“I have asked a friend who currently works in Flight Standards if there is still a way to get a Navigator license and he said he would check with AFS-600 and would get back to me. My gut feeling is that it will be a lost art.”

Given the results of my curiosity quest, I must agree with Al. But the problem is that complacent reliance on a single source for a critical component of aviation safety, such as knowing where you are and how to get where you want to go, is an invitation to unwanted destinations. –Scott Spangler, Editor

PS email from Al Herndon: “Just heard back from a friend of mine who used to be in AFS-600 and is now a manager in 800. He said that the FAA (AFS-800) still has the Flight Navigator Certificate, but he’s not sure if there are any FAA designees left that can issue it (I think that the FAA would need to “create one” if a request came in). He asked if someone is actually trying to get a Flight Navigator Certificate – and if so – to let him know.”

Flight Planning Demands a Dose of Common Sense

By Robert Mark on July 1st, 2024 | 3 Comments »

Decades ago, when I learned to fly, it was well-known that a commercial co-pilot/first officer was allowed to occupy the right seat of a transport airplane only if they’d proven themselves subservient enough to understand that the guy in the left seat was perfectly capable of handling the airplane all by himself.

Captains believed the FO was only there to check a regulatory box. If the co-pilot was lucky, the captain might let them work the radios and help with a few navigational duties, but the phrase “Gear up and Shut up” was considered a normal cockpit environment.

Questions, opinions, or ideas from the right seat were not welcomed. If the FO had learned anything, it would have been by accident. And there were plenty of accidents; a few airliner crashes a month, while tragic, were not unheard of.

In 1979, a pivotal moment in aviation history occurred when NASA psychologist John Lauber’s research team revealed that human error was the cause of nearly 75 percent of commercial aviation accidents. This finding highlighted the role of communication, decision-making, and leadership in cockpit behavior and the resulting accidents. It also led to the birth of cockpit resource management (CRM); a process designed to train crews to utilize all the flight deck’s human resources effectively. CRM became a leading force in preventing ‘pilot error’ and reducing accidents. Pilots actually began talking with each other before making any life-or-death decisions. Later, the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST) combined with CRM (now called crew resource management) led to a global reduction of air carrier accidents. There hasn’t been a fatal air carrier accident in the US since 2009.

Despite the incredible improvements in commercial aviation safety, the same cannot be said for general aviation. The fatal accident statistics remain alarming despite the dedicated efforts and safety enhancements from groups like the General Aviation Joint Safety Committee (GAJSC). Nearly 50 years after NASA’s groundbreaking research, most accidents in non-airliner flights are still attributed to pilot error, indicating that much work is yet to be done in this sector.

Hawker Accident at Aspen

On February 21, 2022, the crew and four passengers aboard a Hawker 800 nearly lost their lives when the twin-engine business jet sailed off the end of Runway 33 into soft snow at Aspen Pitkin County Airport (ASE), Colorado, during its takeoff run. The aircraft sustained substantial damage to the right wing and fuselage.

Unique to this accident was the wind that morning. “The ATIS indicated the wind was from 170° at 18 knots and gusting to 30 knots,” according to the NTSB’s final report. That represented nearly a direct tailwind at takeoff. The Hawker certification limits the aircraft to a tailwind component of no more than 10 knots for landing or takeoff.

I took a special interest in this accident because I’ve flown in and out of ASE many times and also flew the Hawker 800. Read the rest of this entry »

EFB Schooling: In-Flight Information Guidance

By Scott Spangler on June 24th, 2024 | What do you think? »

Pursuing my schooling on computer-aided flight plans, usually generated by an electronic flight bag (EFB—see Are You Current with the New Airman Certification Standards? for my ACS motivation), has led me to an FAA advisory circular, Use of Flight Deck Displays of Digital Weather and Aeronautical Information. Dated June 3, 2024, the 52-page AC 00-63B cancels its decade old predecessor.

It focuses on FAA and commercial flight information services (FIS) delivered via ADS-B’s Universal Access Transceiver (UAT) data link connection. As the AC defines it, “FIS is a service that provides meteorological information (METI) and Aeronautical Information (AI) to enhance pilot awareness of weather and/or airspace constraints while providing information for decision support tools and improving safety.”

To a point, this coincides with my ADS-B education when the FAA introduced that system as part of the Next Generation Air Transportation System, aka NextGen. What I remember as weather and traffic services are now METI and AI. This suggests a more robust offering of essential information that is typically displayed through an EFB. Appreciating the immediate benefits of having graphical weather and related aeronautical information in the cockpit quickly recalled 1990-something memories of my first IFR cross-country in actual instrument meteorological conditions.

Strapped to a 180-horse Skyhawk with dual nav/comms, I was on my way back to Kansas City from Chicagoland. The ink on my instrument rating wasn’t dry, and I spent more time talking to Flight Service about the weather around me than I did ATC. Having an EFB would have made my deviations around that weather would have reduced the stress of hand-flying almost the entire route in the rain-battering clagg.

An EFB could have replaced my pre- and in-flight Flight Service conversations. “Flight planning via a data link service and using a portable or installed Electronic Flight Bag (EFB), whether on the ground or airborne, is an acceptable use of AI and METI data link services,” the AC said. It also warned that “METI and AI are highly dynamic and time-sensitive,” and that pilots should be cognizant of the latency involved. What, I wonder, is the latency of a staticky radio conversation with Flight Service?

And then there’s the different comprehension of words and pictures to consider. Thankfully, the AC provides some latency context. “For example, since initial processing and transmission of Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) data can take several minutes, pilots must assume that data link weather information will always be a minimum of 7 to 8 minutes older than shown on the time stamp. Thus, pilots should only use data link weather radar images for broad strategic avoidance of adverse weather.”

With this guidance, I have a fuller appreciation of employing an EFB in the private pilot ACS task of preflight planning. With my EFB schooling far from complete, it is clear to me now that working with an EFB can produce a flight plan more comprehensive and nuanced than is possible with old school paper and pencil. In my mind’s eye I can see myself explaining my plan and self-briefed weather information to an examiner who’s asking some very pointed questions. These thoughts are starting to make me sweat, so I’d better continue my schooling. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Are You Current with the New Airman Certification Standards?

By Scott Spangler on June 10th, 2024 | What do you think? »

It should go without saying that flying is a dynamic pursuit, so that means that learning and being able to proficiently perform the skills (and understand the knowledge that supports them) is not a one-and-done endeavor whose conclusion is the issuance of an airman’s certificate. A good way to assess your current competency is to periodically examine the Airman Certification Standards for the certificates and ratings you now possess.

The FAA recently issued new ACS for Airline Transport Pilot and Type Rating for Airplane: ACS-11A; Commercial Pilot, Airplane: ACS-7B; Commercial Pilot, Rotorcraft Helicopter: ACS-16; Flight Instructor, Airplane: ACS-25; Flight Instructor, Instrument Airplane and Helicopter PTS: 8081-9E; Flight Instructor, Rotorcraft Helicopter: ACS-29; Instrument Rating, Airplane: ACS-8C; Instrument Rating, Helicopter: ACS-14; Private Pilot, Airplane: ACS-6C; Private Pilot, Rotorcraft Category Helicopter: ACS-15. There is also an updated ACS Companion Guide for Pilots.

This can be a frightening review for pilots, especially for those who haven’t assiduously evaluated and maintained their knowledge and skill currency and those (like me) who earned their certificates and ratings several decades ago. But fear not: start at the beginning and see how you’d fare if you had to pass a checkride based on the new standards.

The 87-page Private Pilot, Airplane: ACS-6C is way different than the comparatively skimpy practical test standards I faced in June 1976. The areas of operation seem the same, but the make or break are in the details.

For example, making the transition from old school paper and pencil cross-country flight planning for Task D. This “ Note: Preparation, presentation, and explanation of a computer-generated flight plan is an acceptable option,” says that an electronic flight bag plan is an acceptable replacement for paper and pencil, so I’ve got some schooling to do because it appears in several subsequent tasks such as Navigation and Radar Services.

It’s nice to see that the Navigation still opens with Pilotage and Dead Reckoning. But I wonder how. In the aerial epoch of GPS, how many aviators have maintained these skills since their checkride? One guesses that given today’s avionics suites, they are more current on managing “automated navigation and autoflight systems.”

My assessment was going well until the Emergency Operation Area of Operation dredged up no memory of Emergency Descents or Emergency Approaches and Landings. There’s two more for the schooling list. That wasn’t as bad as I expected, and some of the new terminology was entertaining, such as “magnetic direction indicator.” Isn’t that a compass?

I wonder what surprises the Instrument Rating, Airplane: ACS-8C, and Commercial Pilot, Airplane: ACS-7B will reveal? And I’m curious to know what your review of the current ACS revealed? Scott Spangler, Editor

Required Reading: 2024 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh Notice

By Scott Spangler on May 27th, 2024 | What do you think? »

To get a good camping spot on the grounds of Wittman Regional Airport (OSH), many pilots head to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for an early ETA at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, which this year runs from July 22-28. But if you plan to transit Milwaukee’s airspace, take the long way round because there will be a TFR over the city, which is hosting the 2024 Republican National Convention from July 15-18.

And that is not the only change itemized in the 32-page FAA Notice, the required reading for anyone flying to AirVenture Oshkosh. This year’s special flight procedures go into effect at 1200 CDT on July 18, the last day of the MKE TFR. They expire at 1200 CDT on July 29. As in previous years, there is a daily operational curfew during the show; this year OSH is closed to all arriving aircraft from 2000 CDT to 0700 CDT—EXCEPT THURSDAY, JULY 25. To help ATC manage the typically large number of midweek departures on Thursday morning, there will be no FISK arrivals before 0800 CDT.

Speaking of FISK, it has a new holding procedure (see AV Notice Page 9). Fisk controllers will advise pilots when holding is necessary on 120.9. When needed, controllers will instruct aircraft over Fisk to turn due westbound, remain single file north of the lakes, and return to the ATC designated starting point to begin the procedure again. (See map on page 5.) Inaugurated last year to ease holding and congestion for aircraft approaching Oshkosh from the west, the ATC-assignable transition points will again be in effect in 2024. These points are at Endeavor Bridge, Puckaway Lake, and Green Lake. ATC will announce their activation on the arrival ATIS.

As always, given the popularity of AirVenture and the unpredictability of Wisconsin weather, pilots should have a series of alternate airports planned for their adventure so they will waste no time in escaping from Mother Nature or no more open spaces in AirVenture’s aircraft parking acreage. (And don’t forget to print and pack the sign for your intended parking or camping area.)

These are just the highlighted AirVenture procedures that have changed from last year. Download your 2024 AirVenture Notice now and start planning your trip. It will be here before you know it. – Scott Spangler, Editor

EFB v. Paper: Weight & Reliability

By Scott Spangler on May 15th, 2024 | 1 Comment »

In the days before electronic flight bags, the duffels filled with the necessary performance, operational, and navigation paper were a weight and balance line item, especially with a full set of instrument approach plates. When formatted as electrons, all this necessary information weighs no more than the electronic device that stores and displays it.

As EFBs proved their reliability, many pilots reduced the redundant paper they carried on every flight, following the insuccinct guidance found in Advisory Circular 91-78, Use of Class 1 or Class 2 Electronic Flight Bags, which the FAA issued on July 20, 2007. For newcomers and those who might not remember, a Class 1 EFB is a portable electronic device, most commonly an Apple iPad. Class 2 EFB can also be an iPad, but a Class 2 device must be “attached or secured to a permanently installed aircraft mount during use.”

The new EFB guidance, Advisory Circular 91-78A, Use of Electronic Flight Bags, dated February 23, 2024, resolves the redundant paper question. “EFB systems may be used in conjunction with, or to replace, the paper reference material that pilots typically carry in the flight deck. EFBs can electronically store and retrieve information required for flight operations, such as the POH and supplements, minimum equipment lists (MEL), W&B calculations, aeronautical charts, and terminal procedures.”

In all phases of flight, an EFB can replace paper when the information it displays 1. does not replace any system or equipment (e.g., navigation, communication, or surveillance system) that is required by part 91; 2. displays only information which is functionally equivalent to the paper reference material which the information is replacing or is substituted for; 3. the interactive or precomposed information being used for navigation or performance planning is current, up to date, and valid, as verified by the pilot; and 4. the operator complies with requirements of §91.21 to ensure that the use of the EFB does not interfere with equipment or systems required for flight.

Curiously, AC 91-78A makes no reference to the EFB classes mentioned in the superseded AC. That’s because AC 120-76D, Authorization for Use of Electronic Flight Bags, dated October 27, 2017, “Eliminate[d] EFB Classes 1, 2, and 3, and introduce[d] a simpler concept of portable and installed equipment, to harmonize with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and to accommodate increasingly complex systems integrating both installed and portable equipment.” It also includes the appendix lists of Type A and Type B EFB applications.

Portable EFBs do not depend on a dedicated aircraft power source or input from navigation equipment to provide display functionality, although they may connect to aircraft power through a certificated power source [but this is always a good idea]; they are not attached to an aircraft mounting device; and are not connected with or receiving data from any aircraft system.

Installed EFBs may receive power from the aircraft that is derived from an electrical bus source protected against short circuits with an appropriately rated circuit breaker or fuse; they may receive position reference from an onboard navigation system, provided such input is designed and integrated in such a manner as to not adversely affect the output of the navigation source to which they are connected; and they may be attached to a mounting device provided that such device is approved for installation into the aircraft (e.g., if intended for installation into a type-certificated aircraft, then such mounting device must meet the requirements of § 21.303.

Portable or installed, the tablet-based EFB is still a single point of failure, which suggests the need for some sort of backup. Many pilots say their smart phones meet this need nicely, and some go a step further by slipping a fully charged power bank and the necessary cables into their headset bag, Others still carry some redundant paper because essential information such as a navigation log and maps for the flight don’t require batteries or a working display to read them. Fire is their only real failure mode, and in that case a pilot has a more pressing problem. Forgetting to bring some sort of backup EFB is another form of failure, but this one is pilot error. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Climate Change & Preflight Planning

By Scott Spangler on April 29th, 2024 | What do you think? »

With climate change continuing the slow and steady march to ever warmer records, 2023 set a new record. (I can hear 2024 softly asking us to hold its beer.) “After seeing the 2023 climate analysis, I have to pause and say that the findings are astounding,” said NOAA Chief Scientist Dr. Sarah Kapnick in a NOAA media release. “Not only was 2023 the warmest year in NOAA’s 174-year climate record — it was the warmest by far. A warming planet means we need to be prepared for the impacts of climate change that are happening here and now, like extreme weather events that become both more frequent and severe.”

Being of a pilot’s mind, the climates have surely made preflight planning increasingly more important and challenging. Avoiding extreme weather is just part of the equation because “extreme” can be much more than stormy. It can also be hot. “The 10 warmest years since 1850 have all occurred in the past decade. In fact, the average global temperature for 2023 exceeded the pre-industrial (1850–1900) average by 2.43°F (1.35°C),” said NOAA. “Looking ahead, there is a one-in-three chance that 2024 will be warmer than 2023, and a 99% chance that 2024 will rank among the top five warmest years.”

Simply put, if you want to have the safest flight possible, you better refresh and refine your abilities to compute density altitude and apply that information to the latest, most accurate performance data for your aircraft. You don’t want to be like the Ercoupe pilot who rolled off the end of a 5,000-foot midwestern runway when 90 hp wasn’t enough to drag his little bird into the thin 99° air at a field elevation of about 700 feet MSL. The really puzzling part is why he didn’t abort his takeoff attempt after rolling halfway down the runway.

Making sure the aircraft will safely perform in toasty weather is only half of your preflight planning challenge. You must ensure that you are physiologically ready for the flight. Heat stress and dehydration can quickly impede anyone’s thought processes and ability to make reasoned and rational decisions. I learned that lesson in the 1990s on my cross-country return to my Kansas City-area home drome on a triple-digit CAVU day and couldn’t find the single runway airport. Fortunately, I was reviewing a Trimble handheld GPS, and the controller in his airconditioned cab said I was the only heat-addled bozo in the area, so he urged me to follow it until I saw the runway, and then he’d clear me to land. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Why Don’t Rocket Launchers Pay Airway Trust Fund Taxes?

By Scott Spangler on April 15th, 2024 | 1 Comment »

Two stories reported near April 1 suggested a cruel prank. Just before 4/1 came news that the FY 2025 budget proposed to raise the per-gallon tax on business jet fuel nearly 400%, to $1.06 per gallon.

As a reminder, aviation fuel taxes are how the government funds the Airport and Airway Trust Fund that pays for airport improvements and some FAA operations such as air traffic control.

Shortly after 4/1, the New York Times revealed America’s commercial space launch operators contribute nothing to the trust fund even though each of the hundreds of rockets they have launched over the years require substantial FAA and ATC involvement.

Rocket launchers like SpaceX are for-profit companies just like the airlines, and they use the national airspace system just like each of the aviation communities that comprise general aviation—so why do they get a free ride?

Perhaps somewhere in the FY25 budget proposal that introduces the five-year fuel tax increase on bizjets will be some sort of equitable tax on rocket launches. And let’s hope that there’s another increase on the taxes paid by commercial airlines, who have an aviation tax deal second only to the rocket launchers.

As the aviation fuel taxes stand now, for all aspects of general aviation, piston flyers pay 0.193 cents per gallon of avgas and kerosene burners pay 0.218 cents for jet fuel. On March 2012, the government added a 14.1 cent per gallon surcharge for fuel burned by aircraft in fractional ownership programs, the majority of which are bizjets.

Regardless of fuel type, commercial aviation operators pay just 0.043 cents per gallon to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. They also pay a ticket tax, but they certainly build this 7.5% fee into the price passengers pay ride their tubular cattle cars.

And I’m sure they do the same for the per passenger segment tax, defined as the flight between a takeoff and its next landing. Introduced on New Year’s Day 2002, it is indexed with the Consumer Price Index and is $5 in 2024.

By the way, the airline ticket tax does not include all off the fees the airlines so love for baggage, rebooking, legroom, and what have you. For the commercial operator, these fees are pure profit.

So here we are. The rocket launchers are getting free use of an understaffed, overworked air traffic control workforce that must rework and manage the traffic so their missiles can safely puncture the national airspace. And the airlines, which have been reporting substantial profits can add to their bottom lines with untaxed fees passengers pay when the rocket launchers disrupt their travels. And we wonder why our aviation infrastructure is failing us. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Does Flying During a Total Eclipse Count as Night Time?

By Scott Spangler on April 1st, 2024 | What do you think? »

One week from today, on Monday April 8, as the moon’s shadow slides across the eastern third of the United States, the Great North American Eclipse will darken the skies over 458 US airports that are within 50 miles of the eclipse’s centerline track. (For of list of these aerodromes, see the FAA’s Domestic Notice on how the eclipse will affect aviation operations.)

So, here’s my question: Can pilots flying in the shadow, perhaps following the track, log their time in the darkness at night flight time?

With the shadow’s afternoon transit of 13 states, no, clearly seems to be the answer.

FAR § 1.1, Definitions, says “Night means the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in the Air Almanac, converted to local time.” FAR § 61.57 Recent flight experience: Pilot in command, in section (b) (1), Night Takeoff and Landing Experience: “Except as provided in paragraph (e) of this section, no person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise, unless within the preceding 90 days that person has made at least three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise.”

Total eclipses are nowhere mentioned in subsection (e) Exceptions.

The inability to log shadow flight time as “night” doesn’t mean things cannot get interesting. For many, the Great North American Eclipse will be a lifetime experience, so pilots will be flocking to the 458 airports in the total eclipse cone of darkness. The FAA Domestic Notice says pilots flying IFR should be prepared for holds, reroutes and EDCTs (Expect Departure Clearence Times) and “VFR departures may also expect delays for airborne pickup of IFR clearance within 50 NM either side of the path of the eclipse.”

Expect FBO ramp congestion, so pilots should coordinate their flights with their eclipse destinations well before the moon slides between the sun and Earth. Obviously, “There may be a higher traffic volume than normal anticipated at airports along the path of the eclipse. Traffic should anticipate delays during peak traffic periods. Parking may be limited – particularly at the smaller, uncontrolled airports. Practice approaches, touch-and-goes, flight following services and pilot training operations at airports in the path of the eclipse may be extremely limited and possibly prohibited during this time period. Airmen should check NOTAMs carefully for special procedures/restrictions that may be in place at affected airports.”

All of this assumes that Mother Nature cooperates and does not roll out a thick carpet of clouds between the Earth and the moon. For those contemplating an IFR flight through the carpet to view the eclipse on top, revisit the Domestic Notice’s warning of IFR delays. And regardless of where one is to witness the eclipse, practice safe viewing, you don’t want the eclipse to be one of the last things you see clearly.

If Mother Nature cooperates, and the expected aerial traffic shows up, given the resulting delays, you still might get to log some night time on your way home. But please make sure you are night current—and proficient. – Scott Spangler, Editor