Highlights from an Aerobatic Ride

The last, and most important, of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing is “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” So here’s a short video with just the loopy-rolly parts of a recent aerobatic ride. (And yes, I know, the vertical roll on the up line was wobbly.)

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Aerobatics for a Regional Jet Captain

The skies were hazy and smoky from distant fires for this early-morning aerobatic flight. The front-seater is a regional jet captain who earned his wings in GA. Between trips, he returned for another session of basic aerobatics in the Extra 300L. The video includes a typical series of rolls, loops, half-Cubans, and other maneuvers.

Excerpts from a Stall/Spin/URT Lesson

In this video, I experimented with the picture-in-picture feature available in Adobe Premiere Elements. Many people are curious about how vigorously you must move the controls in the Extra during maneuvers. I put a camera in the rear cockpit and aimed it at the main flight and engine controls. As you can see, during the basic maneuvers in this video, the Extra needs only smooth, small pulls on the reins to do your bidding. Even a loop doesn’t call for the exaggerated control movements folks are used to seeing in airplane movies. It was also a beautiful day to fly, so I included a few short scenes of…the scenery.

Video: Extra 300L Demo and GoPro Filter Test

Here are excerpts from a recent demo flight in the Extra 300L for a pilot who hopes to move up to an Extra from a Decathlon. We flew some basic maneuvers to give him a feel for the airplane. I also tested a Polar Pro neutral-density filter on the GoPro Hero 3 camera that I wear in the rear seat. It does a good job of blurring the propeller and eliminating the scimitar prop effect caused by the rolling shutter used in digital cameras. But as you can see, it also dulls the colors and contrast compared to the video shot with the GoPro Hero 2 camera aimed at the left wing. I did not apply any color, brightness, or contrast corrections to the video during editing and preparation for YouTube.

More information about the GoPro filters is available at Polar Pro’s website.

To feed cockpit audio to the GoPro Hero 3 (which uses a mini-USB connection for audio), I use this patch cord available from Aircraft Spruce. Pilot USA makes similar cords for earlier models of the GoPro.

What Qualifies as an Official Preflight Briefing?

As more pilots plan their flights using tools on the Web and apps on tablets like the iPad, questions continue about what qualifies as an official preflight briefing. For most people, “official briefing” means that the FAA recognizes that the data are current and accurate and that the provider of the briefing keeps a record of the briefing.

The list of services that meet both of those requirements is short (see AIM 7−1−2. FAA Weather Services) and includes:

  • FSS, which records calls and other data (e.g., your airplane N-number). You can call FSS (now managed by Leidos) at 1­-800­-WX­BRIEF (800-992-­7433) and/or obtain an online briefing via the FSS website.
  • DUATS (provided by CSC at www.duats.com)
  • Services like FltPlan.com and ForeFlight, which keep records of briefings
  • Providers approved for commercial operators through their operation specifications (e.g., airline dispatchers)

So, if you get a briefing, directly or indirectly from a recognized source, you have obtained an official briefing. For example, many flight-planning services and apps can use your account at the FSS web portal or you DUAT account to download and record briefings, thereby meeting the requirements.

ForeFlight provides background on its briefings here.

More than Weather

It’s important, however, to distinguish between checking the weather and getting a complete preflight briefing, as required by § 91.103  Preflight action, which states in part:

Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight. This information must include—

(a) For a flight under IFR or a flight not in the vicinity of an airport, weather reports and forecasts, fuel requirements, alternatives available if the planned flight cannot be completed, and any known traffic delays of which the pilot in command has been advised by ATC;

The phrase all available information concerning that flight includes NOTAMs, TFRs, and other critical details beyond the weather. Even if there’s not a cloud in the skies, it’s important to get a briefing to ensure that you’re up-to-date on important NOTAMs, restricted airspace, and related information.

Practical Advice

According to the AIM and other official documents, the FAA still considers Flight Service Stations (FSS) “the primary source for obtaining preflight briefings and inflight weather information” (AIM 7-1-4).

But an FAA document published in 2006 recognizes that times have changed, and that pilots use many resources to collect and analyze weather. General Aviation Pilot’s Guide Preflight Planning, Weather Self-Briefings, and Weather Decision Making (PDF) describes many useful resources and takes a common-sense approach to checking and analyzing the weather.

This booklet is a practical guide to using a variety of sources, including FSS, DUATS, The Aviation Weather Center, and unofficial providers, such as The Weather Channel and websites. (Aviation Weather Center, for example, is an FAA-approved, official source of weather information, but your visits aren’t recorded, so the information you obtain there doesn’t constitute an official weather briefing—and AWC doesn’t provide NOTAMs and related information.)  The introduction notes:

Although a Flight Service weather briefing is still the single most comprehensive source of weather data for GA flying, it can be difficult to absorb all the information conveyed in a telephone briefing. Pictures are priceless when it comes to displaying complex, dynamic information like cloud cover and precipitation. For this reason, you may find it helpful to begin the preflight planning process by looking at weather products from a range of providers. The goal of this self-briefing process is to develop an overall mental picture of current and forecast weather conditions, and to identify areas that require closer investigation with the help of an FSS briefer.

The document then describes a typical process for obtaining reports and forecasts that can supplement an official briefing from FSS or DUATS.

You can also find detailed information about preflight weather briefings in Aviation Weather Services (AC-0045). That AC, updated in 2016, describes all of the weather reports, forecasts, charts, and other information that are part of official weather briefings for pilots.

The April 2015 issue of FAA Safety Briefing (link to PDF here) offers more recommendations, especially in “But Does It Count?” on page 22:

  • There is no regulatory requirement for part 91 GA operators to use any particular weather source.
  • There are no “required” or “approved” weather sources for part 91 operations.
  • There is no prohibition on using other sources either as a substitute for, or a supplement to, AFSS or DUAT/DUATs briefings that the AIM encourages GA pilots to use.


GA pilots are not required to use “approved” weather. Neither I nor my colleagues are aware of enforcement actions for a “bad” weather source. If there is an accident or incident, however, a documented official weather briefing would help show that the pilot complied with the 14 CFR 91.103 requirement to obtain “all available information” about the proposed flight.

Flight Service Pilot Portal

Another source of an FAA-recognized briefing is the Flight Service website. You can sign up for a free account there and use it to obtain recorded briefings, file flight plans, etc. You can also set up a pilot profile that includes basic information about you, your aircraft, and typical routes that you fly. When you call FSS, the briefer sees the caller-ID information tied to your profile. Using a profile greatly reduces the number of questions the briefer must ask to conduct a briefing or file a flight plan. You can learn more about using the FSS website here (PDF) and by watching videos at the the Flight Service channel on YouTube, here.

In-Flight Weather Updates

ADS-B provides weather reports and forecasts via Flight Information Service (FIS), including Flight Information Service−Broadcast (FIS−B). AIM 7-1-10 describes the available products. See especially Table 7-1-1 and Table 7-1-2.

AC 00-63 Use of Cockpit Displays of Digital Weather and Aeronautical Information also provides good background and practical advice about using ADS-B FIS-B in the cockpit.

Why You Can’t Use Phones on Planes

This video is very funny–but if you object to or blush at the increasingly common use of four-letter words, don’t watch.

The best part is near the end, as the exasperated flight attendant explains that airplanes fly by “magic.” (Those aren’t her exact words. She modified “magic” with the participle form of one of those four-letter words.)

Using General Aviation to report on American Futures

James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, has begun his latest adventure, American Futures. He’s flying his Cirrus SR22 around the U.S. to report on communities that have reinvented and revitalized themselves.

Jim is an experienced pilot and a terrific journalist. This new project is a good showcase for general aviation.