Robinson Helicopter Safety Course

Sometime ago – I had the great opportunity to go through the Robinson Factory Course in Torrance – California.
If you are a helicopter pilot and have not had a chance to do it. It will be well worth your time.
Lots of great content with a very useful flight portion to follow. Learned a lot!!
In my opinion – this course should be mandatory for any helicopter pilot.

Destination – Truckee (TRK)

Got a chance to fly into Truckee the other day with the family. We were looking for some snow which is hard to find these days.

It’s an excellent airport with great access to Tahoe and its north corridor.

Car rentals are readily available at the airport. Hertz folks were extremely friendly and helped us with a car. There is also a bus service in the spring.

We were able to go to North Star resort and enjoy the gondola ride up the hill and actually saw and played with some snow there. Perfect for this time of the year.

Private Pilot – Requirements and Times

Average Times

In general experience; average students take upto 60 hours of flight experience to be ready for the checkride. There are exceptions with longer time for training with gaps and shorter time for more frequent training (along with home study).

Basic Requirements And Times (as Required by the FAA)

Per FAR 61.109a:

  • 40 hours of flight time
    — 20 must be dual instruction,
    — 10 must be solo,
    — 10 may be either
  • 3 hours cross-country training
    — Landing > 50 nm from departure airport
  • 3 hours night training
    — Including 10 takeoffs, patterns, and landings at an airport and one cross-country flight (at least 50 n.m. away and then back)
  • 3 hours of instrument training (under the hood)
  • 3 Point solo of at least 150 n.m. total distance, with one segment being at least 50 n.m.
    — additional x-country time to add up to 5 hours

Private Pilot – Costs

The costs to become a private pilot will vary with person to person and the equipmentsplane used.

Here is a typical estimate for training in a Cessna 172. This is a more realistic estimate totalling upto 9300. It might be cheaper if you fly more frequently and are able to get the grasp of basic concepts quicker.

Ground Time @ 50$ /hr -> 20 hrs -> 1000
Flight Time & 120$ /hr  -> 30 hrs -> 3600
Instruction during flight-> 30 hrs -> 1500
Solo Rental                 -> 20 hrs -> 2400

Checkride                   -> 400
Books & Other Material-> 400

Optional Things (Nice HeadsetGPS) etc -> 500

Choosing a Flight School

Choosing a Flight School

Becoming a Pilot is challending and rewarding. The first step is to find the right place to learn and the perfect instructor. I will detail some of the important factors in this decision.

Cost – This is by far the most important factor. If you are not comfortable about the flight training prices than it is likely that you will never finish it. For instance; one of the flight school below charges less than 70$ (Alternate Air) for a flight hour in their Cessna 150 and the other over 87$ (Regal Air). You really need to be comfortable about their pricing and costs and the value they provide with it.

Finding the right instructor – Not only there are different types of students there are also different types of instructors. Talk to them first, go for a lesson or two and make sure that they are able to communicate to you. This is the second most critical thing. Most places will have a variety of instructors with a difference in their teaching style and communication method.

Location – There are two kinds of people going for flight training. One working on it as a part time hobby and the other pursuing it as their full time career.

For the former group; I suggest to find the airport closest to their place of work or living. For the most part; you are spending 5-10 hours a week on your flight training. If you are spending a lot of it driving to the airport then it really bites you at the end J

Environment – There are two aspects here. First is the difference between controlled and un-controlled airport. I would prefer learning at a controlled airport. It makes a pilot more comfortable in higher stress environment and easy to navigate and communicate. However, learning at an un-controlled airport does not jeopardize your learning experience. It mostly adds some time to your learning that you have to do later on.

As far as the other aspect is concerned; A nicer or okay facility is just a matter of choice for the most part.

Accessibility – Most people will rent planes from the place they learned to fly from. This is important to know if it is convenient to rent a plane later on and if the terms make sense. It is as important to learn to fly as to stay current.

Variety – If you are the learner type and want to experiment and learn new things then you want a place with variety. Some of the clubs offer just 2/4 seat trainers and others offer taildraggersfloats and other choices. This is mostly a long term thought.

School Costs Location Environment Accessibility Variety
BEFA Mid Range KRNT Controlled; Nice Facility Great; Online After Hour Access High (All Sorts of Planes)
Regal Air Mid Range KPAE Controlled; Nice Facility Okay; Need to dispatch planes Low (Very few types and mostly old planes)
Northway Aviation Mid Range KPAE Controlled; Nice Facility Okay; Need to dispatch planes Medium (Some Nice Planes)
Galvin High Range KBFI Controlled; Nice Facility Good Medium (Some Nice Planes; but not a whole variety)
Alternate Air Low Range Controlled; Not a real facility but it works. Good Low (Very few types and new planes)

Cleaning and Waxing your plane

I have tried many different products for cleaning and making the plane look all shinny. Here are some learnings and tips…

Cleaning the exterior

Depending on how dirty your exterior looks. You can either use Simple Green Extreeme (for relatively dirty surface) and wash it with water as described. I would cover all the places where water can get in like the static port, windows and pitot static tube etc.

For relatively simpler jobs or less dirty surfaces; I use Wash and Wax All. You can use it without water and it works out pretty well with a scrubber.

I think that this is the single most important step in cleaning your plane. If you do not do this write then the waxing is useless anyways 🙂

If your belly (I mean your plane’s belly:)) is dirty then you can use Wash and Wax’s degreaser. I have found it really easy to use.


I have tried many different products. First of all, keep your self away from wax in box products. The kind of round boxes. What you want is liquid paste type of stuff. It is really hard to put the waxy stuff in the round containers.

So which brands? I find rejex to be really good. It does not bring as much shine. Especially, for older paints though. You can try using meguire’s stuff like their gold wax (which is a liquid type wax).

Apply with the applicator; Dry and spread evenly with a micro fiber cloth and then buff it away. Rejex will make your plane slippery and works well. Meguire will do that and will make it a little bit more shiny.

Other Areas

You want to clean and vaccum other areas as well. However, be sure not to use any tire shine products for the tires (most of them work great for car tires and not really designed for aircraft tires per my understanding).

After you clean and wax

Do a test flight; and enjoy the speed increase 🙂 Yeah! I am just speculating here. I feel like I am going faster a couple miles but never proved it conclusively.

Diagnosing your magneto

Magneto Issues can be daunting. I will talk about how to narrow down the problems and then get to a fix with the help for your A&P. I am not a mechanic and these guidelines for your reference and understanding only.

So you have a mag problem? Or may be you just want to be careful and get them updatedoverhauled any ways.

When to overhaul mags?

Generally, every 500 hours. You want to have them overhauled and looked over. This is generally true for all types of magnetos.

What types of magnetos are there?

Mostly Bendix and Slick. I am sure there are more types. I just have not done the research. Bendix is the older, heavier kind.

You can find the advocates for both of them. Slick used to sell a kit to upgrade from Bendix at a very reasonable price. That is not true anymore. So Price wise, there is very less differential from going one route or the other. More then likely if you have slick, you would want to stick with it or the other way around.

Bendix has some hard core fans and is a very reliable system. People who use slick swear by them.

How to diagnose?

The process is generally very simple.
1. Make sure you do a mag check.
2. If 1 is okay you are likely good.
3. If 1 is not okay. Remove and inspect your spark plugs. You want to make sure that they are all okay. By okay; I mean clean and gapped properly. This is a simple thing to do that an owner is allowed to do.
4. Most people would also recomend that you do an inflight mag check (if possible). That also helps isolate if the mags are working as they should.
5. If we are still running into trouble; have an A&P check your mag timing per the engine specification. If the timing is okay then you have ruled out another potential problem.
6. While you are checking the timing; also check the p-leads and other wires. Turning the engine off and turning back on would also rule out any grounded wires etc.
7. If you are still troubleshooting then you are likely running into a mag issue. I would recomend overhauling both magnetos at the same time. There are many places to get the mag overhauled. Quality Aircraft service in OK is one of them I believe.

You can also get exchange units from aircraft spruce and chief aircraft (some time even at a good price). In my case; the exchange unit was cheaper then the cost of the overhaul.

Hope that this helps! Let me know if you have questions and any feedback.

Diagnosing your Wing Leveler

So you have a wing leveler in your Mooney. Also; known as Positive Control. You don’t have money to upgrade to the latest S-Tec and would like help on those long cross countries. And your mechanic suggests “Take the damn thing out”. What do you do?

Well! Here are some tips and my experience as I revived this old but reliable system….

What to expect?

First of all; here is what to expect. This is a basic wing leveler and will keep your plane level for the most part. It is not a nav hold or heading hold. So don’t expect it to do that.

If you are debating its worth; I am listing down the prices based on my experience. You get to make your own choice 🙂

What kind of system is it?
It is a vaccum driven system driven by vaccum boots in each wing and in the tail cone. So for the most part; you need to make sure that you vaccum stuff is working like it should.

Where to diagnose?

Look at the service manual and see where the boots are located (they are also called servos per Brittain). You want to make sure that they are all in good condition. If not; you will need to get them replaced. Most MSCs (Like Lasar) as well as Brittain Autpilots will carry exchange units.

The second part to look at is looking at the little vaccum lines which go from the panel to wing and the tail cone. Make sure that they are in good condition.

If all the above looks good then you want to check for leaks. You can disconnect the vaccum lines from the panel and use any thing that will create vaccum and confirm that there are no leaks.

Besides these items the Turn Co-Ordinator and the controller in the tail cone might have issues and they can be adjusted or Overhauled.

Who can help? – The people at Brittain are really helpful. I talked Cecilia and was pleasantly surprised on the level of support and co-operation she provided. I got all questions answered and got a lot of help (including manuals)

Costs? (These are the estimates I got when I changed my servos. Check with a MSC or Brittain for the current price)

90-100 $ per servo (upto 4 servos might require to be changed)
TCControl unit in the tail cone can be overhauled in less than 500$ each.

Future upgrades?

There are three key upgrades that can be done to this system. You can add heading hold, nav hold and altitude hold at very reasonable prices. The big problem is the availibility; these systems are overhauledused and hard to come by. Wait of 1 – 2 yrs is not un-common. I am still on the waiting list. I will post my review when I get one of the upgrades installed.

Memorial Day in Glacier National Park

I was thinking about going to another national park after West Yellow Stone and heard about Glacier National Park. With nice weather and early summer season. It all looked a nice possibility.

Planning: Last minute planning and called Glacier Jet Center to get a car and hotel. They were actually very nice and promptly got me all setup within half an hour.

Trip: My planned route of flight was VFR (KPAE – SEA-EAT-GEG-FCA-KGPI). This is a more direct route and with Oxygen on board, flying at the right altitude is not a problem for Mooney. It was a little bumpy over the mountains. However, not too bad for the most part of the trip. Going from GEG to GPI was certianly even more pretty and more bumpy. Having Oxygen is really nice on a trip like this since I was able to climb up higher to avoid some of the bumps. There was some forecast of thunderstoms in Montana. With the XM weather onboard; I am usually a little bit more confident about weather.

Coming back was another interesting trip. I filed IFR for 12, 000 and it seemed like it took a long time to climb. I was really cautious about following my departure procedure to avoid obstacles and keep on course. I was in and out of clouds most of the times with some solid IMC on the way. I was actually glad that I filled IFR since 12000 was pretty much the minimum I was planning to fly and that guaranteed me to be in clouds for part of the trip. Just before approaching GEG; center gave me direct KPAE. I was planning to avoid direct flight over the mountains but with clear weather and wind advantage; I decided to take the shorter route.

Overall Experience: It is a nice airport with a lot more activities to do then I expected. Pick up a tour guide and be surprised. We stayed in the Holiday Inn Express (was not any thing fancy but pretty decent hotel in White Fish).

Drive around Lake McDonald is amazing; You can do horse back riding; Whitewater rafting; boating; cycling; hiking among other things. There was just too much to do for our short trip.

We just planned a day. Definitely not enough for such a nice place. Plan to spend a few days and you will find even more stuff to do and will be amazed.

Private Pilot – Single Engine Land

Private – SEL

Location – KTKI

Flying Club – Texins Flying Club

Costs – Less than 10 k

Plane (s) – Cessna 150

Instructor – Brian O’Neill

My Experience – I always wanted to learn to fly. While working at TI in Texas. I decided to check out the club. One flight and I was hooked. I ended up getting up my license in couple months. Brian was a great instructor and my plane was a old but well maintained of Cessna 150.

Things to do – Fly often and do your home work

Things to avoid – Fly without an organized learning plan and commitment. It is a hobby afterall but needs lot of work.