Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bear Grylls, Drink My Own Piss

Friday, March 11, 2011

King Schools Private Pilot Practical Test Course Review

I was debating whether or not I should purchase this product about a week ago. I was unable to find any reviews online because a) I am too incompetent or impatient with Google search to find them, or b) none exist. Assuming no other (or very few) reviews of the PPL Practical Test Course exist, I have decided to do a review of this product. 
So, I ordered my King Schools Private Pilot Practical Test Course set last week Friday, with expedited 2-day shipping from FedEx. 
As requested, the product arrived on Tuesday (2 business days). Mark that up as a positive for FedEx. 

This is what is included in the King Schools PP Practical Test Course.
I ordered the course, unaware of what it included (the website seems to say nothing about what is actually in the box).

So what was the cost of the above items (listed left to right: Practical Test Standards book, King Schools Instructional Royalty article, packing slip, King Schools product magazine, Business Reply Mail card, VFR/IFR cockpit card, AVEMCO Insurance pamphlet, DVD case)?


Maybe I am just a frugal stickler, but that seems like a bit too much for a DVD case and a bunch of advertisements. 

Some of my main hangups with the course:

1) Format. This is how the DVD works: you install software to run the DVD on your computer, then you put the DVD in to open the video files. I don't quite understand why two disks are needed for this, but that's just me. 
You can also order the course online, but given how bad the video quality is in the first place, there is a chance that you will have even worse video quality if you have low bandwidth. 
And why, exactly, can't the videos be watched on a normal DVD player??? I think this is a major oversight; most people prefer to watch DVDs on a couch, not a computer. 

2) Video quality. When I say quality, I mean picture quality. The videos look like they were filmed in 1993 and are low definition (probably around 360p or 480p). If you put them in full screen, they look like crap. 

3) The King Schools video player. The player used to play the videos (one of the things installed using the first disc), is primitive. It does not list how much time is left in the video (which may be to show you from seeing how little footage you are actually getting for $120) If I were King Schools, I would use something more advanced like Windows Media Player or VLC, heck, even YouTube is more advanced! 
Good news is that you can still watch the videos using a third party player, such as the ones I just described, by opening the video files from the DVD. 

4) Price. $119?! The price seems quite steep to me for what one gets in the course. I think a price of $50 to $60 would be much more reasonable for a DVD. 

The redeeming qualities of the course: 

1) Content. The content is indeed informative and as far as I can tell, up to date. John King does a good job of answering all questions and showing how to properly execute a check ride. 

2) Checkride pass guarantee. Evidently you are guaranteed to pass the checkride after watching the videos. I will take them up on this guarantee if I happen to fail (fingers crossed that I don't!). 

So how much footage is included in all?

4h 4m 12s 

In summary, the videos could use an update (John King accesses DUAT through an MS-DOS internet connection, excuse the lingo, but lol), a lower price, and some technical modifications. 
In all, I give it a: 

Monday, March 7, 2011

What's New?

I apologize for the lack of posting over the last few days; weekends are often pretty busy for me.

So, what's new with the flight training? 

Not too much, unfortunately. In equation form: WI winter weather + airplane = no flying. As a diversion, I've been trying to do a lot of practical test prep even though it seems relatively far off. Speaking of practical test prep, I ordered the King Schools Private Pilot Practical Test prep course off of their website and Saturday; the videos are supposed to get here on Tuesday. I will most likely review the videos when I'm done with them. From what I've heard, they are very informative and well make you pass the test. We'll see if they hold up to their reputation. 

In other news, I have 33.5 hours and will need at least 6.5 more. I think I will be comfortable taking the test with around 45-50 hrs total time. That means 3 hrs practical test prep, and 3.2 hrs XC, plus some random 0.3 hrs. 

To keep the flying enthusiasm going, I have been perusing youtube for aviation videos. I recently found a channel that I really enjoy. The videos are well composed and I personally believe they are under-viewed based on their quality. The guy is a private pilot from Germany who layers techno music over videos of him flying around, facing sunsets and the like. Sunsets, flying, and techno are almost always a good combination. 

I also found this video today. Make sure you watch the whole thing, because it is all real life stuff and a good learning experience. 

Anyway, expect a David Clark headset review, along with a training update (composed of actual flying!) in the next few days. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Private Pilot Practical Test Prep

So, yesterday I began preparing for my practical test by reviewing with this Jeppesen study guide:

Jeppesen Private Pilot Practical Test Study Guide

On the inside, it's a bit crude, but it gets the job done. There are a ton of chapters covering each portion of the test and showing stuff you shouldn't mess up on (clearing turns for example). Some of the information is redundant, but there is also a lot that I think will help. 

I don't think it's too early to start preparing either, considering how much free time I have on my hands lately. Besides, I am scared of failing so I am making sure to adequately prepare. As someone very wise once said, "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail," and the last thing I want to do is fail my first checkride. 

I am hoping to take the practical test by mid-April (fingers crossed). All I have left is the 3.2 hrs of solo XC, which will be covered in my long cross country (tentatively scheduled for Mar. 17th/18th). 

The route will likely be out to La Crosse, then to Central Wisconsin Airport, and back to the home base. 
La Crosse may be a little hectic, considering there are some small regional operations that run out of there. On the way out there is also a huge MOA that will likely be inactive, but also a restricted area used for (I assume) bombing runs and the like that I will have to be careful of. Good news is that there is a river that guards the western side of La Crosse. If I cross the river, I'll know I'm heading for Minnesota! 

Central Wisconsin Airport is a smaller airport with an L-shaped runway configuration. From what I hear, the tower controllers are friendly, and there is a nice little FBO on field.

Flying this week looks questionable due to snow, but stay posted for updates in the next three weeks. 

Monday, February 28, 2011

The End of the Pilot Era

File:FMS B747-cockpit.jpg
An Outdated B747 Autopilot System

After a recent post about the RQ-4 Global Hawk, I raised the question of the role of pilots in the cockpit.

So, are pilots really necessary to the operation of an aircraft, and the aviation industry at large, or will we one day see an end to the "Pilot Era?"

My personal belief: yes, and no.

I say this for a number of reasons:

1. Computers Can Fail

Imagine that your computer fails, shuts down, or crashes at this very moment and you are unable to read the rest of my well-written and informative post. As upset as you would be, you would still be able to access my post at a later date when you fix your computer or simply use a different one.

Now, imagine that your computer is controlling a fully-loaded 747 style aircraft with x-million dollars worth of cargo on it. If your computer crashes, guess what? You can't get those x-million dollars worth of cargo back. There is really no reset button when an aircraft is 45,000 feet in the air. As soon as an event like this happens, some CEO will be very unhappy, and that will be the end of computer-piloted aircraft for at least a few years.

Of course, there is the potential for a "fail-safe" or back-up system, but those have the potential to fail as well.

2. People don't Trust Computers

Building off of point one, try to think of yourself walking onto an aircraft piloted by a computer. Would you be willing to put your life in the hands of a computer? I, for one, would be unable to do such a thing.

Imagine that 747 style aircraft was carrying a large number of passengers and happened to crash into the Atlantic Ocean because its inertial reference system got damaged in-flight, failed to continue working and caused fuel starvation as the aircraft wandered in circles 45,000 feet in the air.

What would the media response be?
The event would undoubtedly be sensationalized ad-nauseam. It is unlikely anyone would choose to fly on a pilot-less plane after such an incident.

3. The "Seat of the Pants" Instinct

There is something to be said for human intuition and awareness in the face of danger. Of course an autopilot can hold a heading precisely, climb at a constant rate, and hold a constant cruise altitude better than any human pilot.

But what happens when the TSHTF (literally, think bird entering jet engine. I think you get the idea)?
A human pilot may be able to handle an emergency better than any autopilot or computer-controlled aircraft, especially if the emergency is out of the ordinary.

4. Man's Love of Flight

Finally, what pilot will accept the death of his profession, his passion, his obsession?
I know I won't.

The fact of the matter is that there a lot of pilots that love flying just for the sake of flying and would hate to see it fall into the hands of a computer.

What is flying when it is no longer a "human endeavor," and instead becomes a lifeless, computerized ATMesque means of business?

I think it is fair to say we will never see the end of human pilots, at least in my lifetime.

If you are searching for solace as you contemplate man's role in the future of flight as you sit at your fickle, failure-prone computer, I hope this article has given you that solace.

Based on the FAA's Aviation Forecast Conference, flying and pilots are alive and kicking and expected to stay that way for a long time.

In addition, organizations like AOPA are committed to protecting the rights of pilots against government and someday, even computers.

This Day in Aviation: First Flight of the RQ-4 Global Hawk

I haven't done a "This Day in Aviation" post in a few days, so here's one!

On February 28th, 1998, the RQ-4 "Global Hawk" made its first flight. 
The Global Hawk is the main UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) of the armed forces, utilized by both the Navy and Air Force. 

File:NASA Dryden Global Hawk.jpg

Some of the stats from the Global Hawk:

  • Length: 44 ft 5 in (13.54 m)
  • Wingspan: 116 ft 2 in (35.41 m)
  • Height: 15 ft 2 in (4.62 m)
  • Empty weight: 8,490 lb (3,851 kg)
  • Gross weight: 22,900 lb (10,387 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Allison Rolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan engine, 7,050 lbf (31.4 kN) thrust
  • Maximum speed: 497.1 mph (800.0 km/h; 432.0 kn)
  • Cruise speed: 404 mph (351 kn; 650 km/h)
  • Range: 15,525 mi (13,491 nmi; 24,985 km)
  • Endurance: 36 hours
  • Service ceiling: 65,000 ft (19,812 m)

So, what is so impressive (and perhaps disturbing) about the Global Hawk?
It is approved by the FAA to file its own flight plans!

This calls into question the role of pilots in the cockpit. 

Will we ever see an end to the pilot era? 
I address (well, speculate on) this question in another post

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Back at It!

I just went up for around 1.1 hrs today with one of the instructors, Scott. It was abnormally cold this morning at 10F, and -1F windchill. 
I started the pre-flight and surprisingly remembered how to do everything. That was good sign, considering my last flight was 10/10/2010. 

I taxied out on the unplowed taxiways, and almost at the same time, Scott and I brought up the topic of Flying Wild Alaska. It certainly felt like Alaska with all of the snow, and freezing temperatures to match. 
Last night the forecast was 1-2 in of snow in the morning with overcast cloud cover. It turned out to be clear skies, calm winds, and smooth air--excellent flying weather!

We flew out north-east to the practice area for some power on/off stalls, steep turns, slow flight, and emergency descents. The steep turns were rough; I felt uncoordinated. Everything else went very well, especially the slow flight and stalls. 

We headed back to the airport for a few landings. On the way back, I overshot the VOR radial (something I need to practice not doing). 

The landings all felt smooth as butter; we did a short field, soft field, and normal landing. I think the snow on the runway may have added some padding and made the landings nicer, but my flares seemed to be right on the dot nonetheless. 

Mark up 3 landings and takeoffs for the day, along with new solo endorsement that expires in May (this will be the last one!) 

I'm setting a goal to have the license by April 30th.