A New Way to Open and Close VFR Flight Plans

I recently ferried a C182 from Boulder City, NV to Boulder, CO (route at SkyVector here).

This a was VFR trip with the airplane’s new owner (who hadn’t flown in more than 30 years–talk about getting back into flying), and, based on previous experience flying the route, I knew that for much of the trip we’d be in poor radar/communications coverage at 9500 MSL. It was a good opportunity to try the new EasyActivate and EasyClose features available via Lockheed Martin Flight Services (video below).

Now, I know the arguments about the value of filing VFR flight plans, and like many pilots, I rarely file VFR flight plans. Contacting FSS to open a VFR flight plan, especially when departing busy airspace, can be cumbersome, and even with cell phones, calling FSS at the other end and navigating the prompts/menus to close a flight plan with a briefer can also be pain.

But on long trips like this one, across sparsely populated areas and in a new airplane, I like having backup for SAR. For that purpose, I filed a detailed route (see above) and stuck to it. (I did pick up flight following on the leg from KAEG–necessary to get through the ABQ Class C and to deal efficiently with the airspace around Denver.)

This new feature is handy. File your VFR flight plan directly with L-M (not DUAT or DUATS) and select the appropriate options. About 30 minutes before your ETD, you’ll get an email or text message with a link to open the flight plan. When you’re ready to go, click/tap the link. You’ll receive a confirmation.

About 30 minutes before your ETA, you’ll get another message from L-M with a link to close the flight plan. After you land, click/tap the link, and almost immediately you’ll receive a confirmation.

No menus. No waiting to talk to a briefer over a scratchy connection. And with the reminders, less risk of forgetting to close a VFR flight plan.

Given that many of my flights involve trips into the wide open spaces of the West, often in airplanes that either aren’t equipped or suitable for IFR, I’m going to take advantage of this new way to use VFR flight plans.

Accelerated Spin Demonstrations

It’s important to use the correct sequence of control inputs when recovering from a developed spin. Absent specific guidance from the aircraft manufacturer in the aircraft flight manual (also known as the POH), the PARE technique taught by Rich Stowell is a proven sequence.


  • Power—idle
  • Ailerons—neutral
  • Rudder–full opposite direction of spin
  • Elevator–forward to reduce angle of attack and break the stall.

This video shows what typically happens if you push forward on the stick or yoke before you apply rudder. The spin accelerates. That rapid, changing rotation can disorient the pilot and delay recovery.

To learn more about stalls and spins, visit my website.

Accelerated Spins

To see more stall/spin videos, visit my Stalls and Spins playlist on my YouTube, channel, BruceAirFlying.

Updates to AIM, Effective April 3, 2014

The FAA has published updates to the Aeronautical Information Manual, effective April 3, 2014. You can download the PDF version of the new AIM here. The Explanation of Changes section describes the updates to the AIM. The online version of the new edition will be available on the FAA website on the effective date, here.

Key changes for general aviation pilots include:

1−1−3. VHF Omni−directional Range (VOR)

The only positive method of identifying a VOR is by its Morse Code identification or by the recorded
automatic voice identification which is always indicated by use of the word “VOR” following the
range’s name…Some VOR receivers are capable of identifying the VOR and will display the identifier of the VOR if it has successfully done so. However, it is still the pilot’s responsibility to verify the identity of the VOR by conventional methods.

1−1−18. Global Positioning System (GPS)—j. 2. Computer Navigation Fix (CNF)

A Computer Navigation Fix (CNF) is also a point defined by a latitude/longitude coordinate and is required to support area navigation (RNAV) system operations. The GPS receiver uses CNFs in conjunction with waypoints to navigate from point to point. However, CNFs are not recognized by Air Traffic Control (ATC). ATC does not maintain CNFs in their database and they do not use CNFs for any air traffic control purpose. CNFs may or may not be charted on FAA aeronautical navigation products, are listed in the chart legends, and are for advisory purposes only. Pilots are not to use CNFs for point to point navigation (proceed direct), filing a flight plan, or in aircraft/ATC communications. CNFs that do appear on aeronautical charts allow pilots increased situational awareness by identifying points in the aircraft database route of flight with points on the aeronautical chart. CNFs are random five−letter identifiers, not pronounceable like waypoints, and placed in parenthesis. Eventually, all CNFs will begin with the letters “CF” followed by three consonants (for example, CFWBG). This five−letter identifier will be found next to an “x” on enroute charts and possibly on an approach chart. On instrument approach procedures(charts) in the terminal procedures publication, CNFs may represent unnamed DME fixes, beginning and ending points of DME arcs, and sensor (ground−based signal i.e., VOR, NDB ILS) final approach fixes on GPS overlay approaches. These CNFs provide the GPS with points on the procedure that allow the overlay approach to mirror the ground−based sensor approach. These points should only be used by the GPS system for navigation and should not be used by pilots for any other purpose on the approach. The CNF concept has not been adopted or recognized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Here are examples of CNFs as shown on the plan view of the ILS Y RWY 27 at KYKM:


5−4−1. j. Waypoints

1. GPS receivers navigate from one defined point to another retrieved from the aircraft’s on board navigational database. These points are waypoints (5-letter pronounceable name), existing VHF intersections, DME fixes with 5-letter pronounceable names and 3-letter NAVAID IDs. Each waypoint is a geographical location defined by a latitude/longitude geographic coordinate. These 5-letter waypoints, VHF intersections, 5-letter pronounceable DME fixes, and 3-letter NAVAID IDs are published on various FAA aeronautical navigation products (IFR Enroute Charts, VFR Charts, Terminal Procedures Publications, etc.)…

3. GPS approaches use fly−over and fly−by waypoints to join route segments on an approach. Fly−by waypoints connect the two segments by allowing the aircraft to turn prior to the current waypoint in order to roll out on course to the next waypoint. This is known as turn anticipation and is compensated for in the airspace and terrain clearances. The MAWP and the missed approach
holding waypoint (MAHWP) are normally the only two waypoints on the approach that are not fly−by waypoints. Fly−over waypoints are used when the aircraft must overfly the waypoint prior to starting a turn to the new course. The symbol for a fly-over waypoint is a circled waypoint. Some waypoints may have dual use; for example, as a fly-by waypoint when used as an IF for a NoPT route and as a fly-over waypoint when the same waypoint is also used as an IAF/IF hold-in-lieu of PT. When this occurs, the less restrictive (fly-by) symbology will be charted. Overlay approach charts and some early stand-alone GPS approach charts may not reflect this convention.

4. Unnamed waypoints for each airport will be uniquely identified in the database. Although the identifier may be used at different airports (for example, RW36 will be the identifier at each airport with a runway 36), the actual point, at each airport, is defined by a specific latitude/longitude coordinate.

5. The runway threshold waypoint, normally the MAWP, may have a five−letter identifier (for example, SNEEZ) or be coded as RW## (for example, RW36, RW36L). MAWPs located at the runway threshold are being changed to the RW## identifier, while MAWPs not located at the threshold will have a five− letter identifier. This may cause the approach chart to differ from the aircraft database until all changes are complete. The runway threshold waypoint is also used as the center of the Minimum Safe Altitude (MSA) on most GPS approaches.

5−4−1. l. Impact of Magnetic Variation on RNAV Systems

1. Differences may exist between charted magnetic courses on ground-based navigational aid
(NAVAID) instrument flight procedures (IFP), area navigation (RNAV) procedures, and RNAV systems on enroute charts, approach charts, and Standard Instrument Departure/Standard Terminal Arrival (SID/STAR) charts. These differences are due to the magnetic variance used to calculate the magnetic course. Every leg of an instrument procedure is first computed along a desired ground track with reference to true north. A magnetic variation correction is then applied to the true course in order to calculate a magnetic course for publication. The type of procedure will determine what magnetic variation value is added to the true course. A ground-based NAVAID IFP applies the facility magnetic variation of record to the true course to get the charted magnetic course. Magnetic courses on RNAV procedures are calculated two different ways. SID/STAR procedures use the airport magnetic variation of record, while IFR enroute charts use magnetic reference bearing. RNAV systems make a correction to true north by adding a magnetic variation calculated with an algorithm based on aircraft position, or by adding the magnetic variation coded in their navigational database. This may result in the RNAV system and the procedure designer using a different magnetic variation, which causes the magnetic course displayed by the RNAV system and the magnetic course charted on the IFP plate to be different. It is important to understand, however, that RNAV systems (with the exception of VOR/DME RNAV equipment) navigate by reference to true north and display magnetic course only for pilot reference. As such, a properly functioning RNAV system, containing a current and accurate navigational database, should still fly the correct ground track for any loaded instrument procedure, despite any differences in magnetic course that may be attributed to magnetic variation application. Should significant differences between the approach chart and the RNAV system avionics’ application of the navigation database arise, the published approach chart, supplemented by NOTAMs, holds precedence.

2. The course into a waypoint may not always be 180 degrees different from the course leaving the previous waypoint, due to the RNAV system avionics’ computation of geodesic paths, distance between waypoints and differences in magnetic variation application. Variations in distances may also occur since RNAV system distance−to−waypoint values are along−track distances (ATD) computed to the next waypoint and the DME values published on underlying procedures are slant−range distances measured to the station. This difference increases with aircraft altitude and proximity to the NAVAID.

5−3−4. Airways and Route Systems

(b) Unpublished RNAV routes are direct routes, based on area navigation capability, between waypoints defined in terms of latitude/longitude coordinates, degree−distance fixes, or offsets from established routes/airways at a specified distance and direction. Radar monitoring by ATC is required on all unpublished RNAV routes, except for GNSS−equipped aircraft cleared via filed published waypoints recallable from the aircraft’s navigation database.

5−4−1. Standard Terminal Arrival(STAR), Area Navigation (RNAV) STAR, and Flight Management System Procedures (FMSP) for Arrivals

This change incorporates updated guidance on resumption of published altitude and speed restrictions, guidance on what is expected of aircrews when issued a “climb via” clearance, and clarifies the expectation that pilots will advise the receiving controller of the altitude being vacated and the altitude they are climbing to when changing frequencies.

For all the details, see this section in the update to the AIM.

i. 5−4−5. Instrument Approach Procedure Charts

This change updates guidance to reflect the fact that the initial approach fix (IAF) waypoint is not an IAF, but an intermediate fix (IF). This change also updates guidance on descent below the minimum descent altitude (MDA).

For all the details, see this section in the update to the AIM.

7−1−11. Flight Information Services (FIS)

This change updates information and guidance to modify outdated information, reflect policy and terminology changes, and address changing technologies.

For all the details, see this section in the update to the AIM.

7−1−14. ATC Inflight Weather Avoidance Assistance

This change was added to expand the meaning of the phrase “when able” when used in conjunction with a clearance to deviate around weather. The clearance to deviate is clarified to allow maneuvering within the lateral limits of the deviation clearance.

For all the details, see this section in the update to the AIM.

Another Go-Pro Camera Mounting Option

I have been experimenting with another option for mounting my GoPro camera in the cockpit of my Beechcraft Bonanza (you can see my videos on my YouTube channel, BruceAirFlying).

Using the GoPro Jaws: Flex Mount, I attach the camera to the headrest for the copilot seat. To provide a large-diameter surface for the clamp, I bought a short section of PVC plumbing pipe. You can either run the headrest post through the PVC or just place it adjacent to the post. I place foam insulation beneath the clamp to damp vibration and to keep the clamp from rotating.

For more information about how I capture and edit videos, see Aviation Video Tips.




SkyVector.com Now Shows ‘Stadium TFRs’

SkyVector.com just announced that it depicts the so-called stadium TFRs (those covered by FDC NOTAM 9/5151). More information here.
On a side note, although SkyVector.com technically remains an unofficial source of charts, weather, etc., it is linked as a source of charts at the Lockheed-Martin FSS web portal.

A Collection of Stall/Spin Videos

I’ve created a YouTube playlist, Stalls and Spins,  that features videos I recorded while demonstrating a variety of stalls, incipient spins, and spins. Most of the videos were captured while I flew the Extra 300L; a few show stalls in the Beechcraft A36.

You can learn more about the stall/spin/upset training that I offer in the Extra 300L at my website, here

Here’s a video from the playlist:

Stalls from Skidding and Slipping Turns

Accelerated (Turning) Stalls in a Bonanza

Many pilots are uncomfortable with stalls while the wings are banked, typically because they’re concerned that, at the stall, a wing will drop, and the airplane will depart into an incipient spin. In this video, I demonstrate stalls in an A36 Bonanza while banking at 45 and 30 degrees. As you can see, if the turn is coordinated, at the stall, the nose drops toward the horizon, but the bank angle remains essentially constant.

Because the airplane is turning, the stall occurs at an airspeed higher than it does in a straight-ahead, wings-level stall. An airplane in a level turn is accelerating (changing velocity because it’s changing direction), and therefore experiences more than 1G.

As the Airplane Flying Handbook notes:

The airplane will, however, stall at a higher indicated airspeed when excessive maneuvering loads are imposed by steep turns, pull-ups, or other abrupt changes in its flight path. Stalls entered from such flight situations are called “accelerated maneuver stalls,” a term, which has no reference to the airspeeds involved. (Chapter 4: “Slow Flight, Stalls, and Spins”)

In non-aerobatic aircraft like the Bonanza, we typically practice accelerated stalls while turning. As I explain, the first step in any stall recovery is reducing angle attack. After the wings are flying again, you can correct the bank and return normal flight.

To learn more about accelerated stalls, see other videos on my YouTube channel, including Accelerated Stalls from Steep Banks and Accelerated Stalls in the Vertical.

Accelerated Stalls in a Bonanza

Recovery from Inverted/Overbank Attitudes

Here’s an exercise I do with students in my stall/spin/upset recovery courses. It demonstrates the importance of proper recovery–rolling back to upright flight–from an overbank or inverted attitude. Many pilots instinctively try to pull their way back to the horizon, a maneuver that typically leads to excessive airspeed, high Gs, and significant loss of altitude. More information is available at my website, here.

Accelerated Stalls in the Vertical

Pilots know that you can stall the wing at any airspeed and in any flight attitude. A stall is all about angle of attack. But it’s hard to demonstrate the concept in a typical normal-category airplane. In this video, I show a series of accelerated stalls during loops in the Extra 300L. As you can see, I can change the aircraft’s attitude almost instantly while the airplane continues along its flight path, creating a large angle of attack, and therefore, an aerodynamic stall, even when the airplane is nose-low relative to the horizon and flying well above the normal stall speed.

Air-to-Air Photos of a TBM 700

Last month, I flew my Beechcraft A36 as the photo ship for a series of air-to-air pictures of a TBM 700. We flew out of Boeing Field (KBFI) in Seattle and then near Mt. Rainier as the sun set. Jessica Ambats, an experienced and highly regarded photographer, took the photos of the single-engine turboprop. The owner of the TBM 700 was in the left seat, but the close formation flying was done by a former USAF Thunderbird pilot, who was in the right-front seat.

To get such spectacular photos, we thoroughly briefed the flight before takeoff to ensure that we all understood the intended route, communications procedures, and coordination between the two aircraft.

More photos from the flight here.

TBM 700 near Mt. Rainier

TBM 700 near Mt. Rainier


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