Airport Identifiers – FAA, ICAO, IATA, and NWS – to K or not to K?

Early in flight training, pilots learn that airports we go to have a 3 character FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) identifier. My home airport is EMT and pilots soon go to POC. The terminal chart (TAC), sectional chart, chart supplement, or your favorite app or airport information web site will all show this identifier

You might think… Great! I can use that FAA identifier in all my apps, tools, and web sites. Students quickly realize that’s not true. The US government’s own site will give you a “No METAR found for EMT” error, but works if you enter KEMT. So, great, I just have to use that second identifier. Not so fast! You quickly realize that not all airports have that second identifier. Take as an example the Big Bear City Airport, with the identifier of L35:

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The Curious Case of Santa Ana

Wherever you fly, you’ll likely find there’s local weather knowledge that’s important to pilots that may be unknown to pilots from other areas. In the Los Angeles basin, Santa Ana winds and the marine layer (aka June Gloom) are two biggies.

Santa Ana winds are dry strong offshore winds that effect Southern California mostly in the  Fall and Winter, but can happen any time of the year. As a perfect example, we’re here in the beginning of May 2013 and getting a classic (and dangerous) Santa Ana wind event. Continue reading

Impossible Turn

Please do me (and yourself) a favor. If you’re not familiar with the “impossible turn”, read on, and get with a good instructor before your next flight (while I hope this article is useful, it’s no substitute for instruction). It’s imperative that you understand the dangers of the impossible turn. An experienced pilot died yesterday in a crash at my home airport (EMT). From initial reports, it appears he had an engine failure soon after takeoff and attempted the impossible turn from a low altitude. Continue reading

Alternator Failure

Just last Friday, I had another alternator failure. In terms of equipment failures, charging system failure is the one I’ve seen most often. I’ve had a dozen or more failures in 7000 hours of flying. Depending on the situation and airplane, this failure can be anywhere from a non-event up to a serious emergency. Let me describe my recent experience on a VFR instructional flight and discuss some other possible scenarios. Continue reading

Terrain and IFR

Sundays are normally my non-flying days. I’ll often be found on my bicycle on the roads around Altadena, Pasadena, and La Canada. This Sunday found me and cycling buddies climbing the Angeles Crest Highway (ACH) from La Canada to Clear Creek Junction. It was a cool, cloudy, and foggy morning. As we climbed through the clouds, visibility was very poor (sometime as low as 200 ft).

Poor visibility at Clear Creek (~3600 MSL)

Visibility at Clear Creek

Part way into our climb, a stream of fire and sheriff vehicles began passing us going uphill; we also heard a helicopter overhead above the clouds. Experience led us to expect another motorcycle crash on the road. Only when got to Clear Creek (3600′ MSL) did we hear they were looking for a downed airplane.  Details were non existent, but my first guess was VFR into IMC (pilots who aren’t trained to fly in the clouds ending up in the clouds with deadly results). Continue reading

Student Pilot Certificate

On April 1, 2016, the FAA implemented a new process for getting a student pilot certificate. Students apply through the FAA’s IACRA system; a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) can approve the application.

Students must have both a medical and student certificate prior to solo. I recommend that students apply for the student pilot certificate as soon as they start their flight training. Continue reading

Flight Review (aka BFR)

Every pilot should be familiar with requirements for a Flight Review (often called the Biennial Flight Review or BFR); the requirements are in 14 CFR 61.56. Basically, a pilot needs a flight review every 24 calendar months – pass your checkride or have a flight review on 4/10/16 and you need a flight review by 4/30/18.

A flight review is performed by a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) and can be done in any of the category/class/type of aircraft for which you are rated – if you are an airplane (SEL), helicopter, and glider pilot, you can do a flight review in any of them. The specific requirements are rather terse: Continue reading

My Favorite Online Aviation Tools and Apps

Foreflight – this has become the defacto standard for pilot apps. It does almost everything a pilot needs for flight planning, preflight weather and NOTAM checks, in-flight charts and airport information and much, much more. One big downside – it is iOS only. I have an iPad mini that I use exclusively for Foreflight. It can get expensive, but the cheapest subscription ($99/yr as of 2021) is cheaper now than the cost to keep up to date on the Terminal and Sectional charts for LA. Most students will do fine with the cheapest version. I personally use the middle version (Pro – $199/yr), but have students who prefer the $300/yr version. – I still do most of my weather “quick looks” here. I keep booked marked links that will give me common lists of METARs and TAFs. I can get a quick Aviation Weather Overview Mapcheck of PIREPs, METARs, SIGMET/AIRMETs, and radar right off the front page (ensure you have the right things checkmarked) or I can bookmark a version that will show me my local area. With the movable maps, I have to be careful where my cursor or finger is to avoid unexpected scrolling or zooming, but I’ve learned to work around it. Continue reading



We spend a lot time preparing for solo flight. Now let’s talk about actually soloing – flying on your own, prior to earning your private pilot certificate. Solo flight is a key difference in how we approach learning to fly versus learning to drive. In most cases I’m aware of, drivers are unable to drive by themselves until they have earned their drivers license; not so with flying! Continue reading

Quick instrument workout

Though I log a lot of PIC during instrument training flights, I frequently have to go out with an instructor or safety pilot in order to keep up my currency. Over the years, I’ve come up with a “workout” that can get my necessary hold, intercept, tracking, and 6 approaches, while flying a variety of approach types. If you are lucky with vectoring, get prepared quickly in the air, and do missed approaches, this can be completed in much less than 2 hours. I’ve mapped out the rough line I typically end up flying (minus the necessary hold at PDZ). If you are rusty, this may not be the workout for you or you may at least need to ask for delaying vectors, extra turn in a hold, or land at some of the airports to give you time in between


SoCal Instrument Workout

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