Monday, January 27, 2014

Flying Over a Snowy Richmond, Virginia

It's been a pretty relaxing week for students in Richmond. We were out of school for Martin Luther King Day on Monday, had a snow day on Tuesday, had a snow day on Wednesday, and had a one hour delay on Thursday... all for around 2 inches of snow! At my school, that left us with a 2 day school week, not bad! Public schools were even luckier, they got every day off from school this week in addition to their exams being outright cancelled. Two of my step brothers will never have to take their Semester 1 exams! 

It lightly snowed throughout the day and night on Tuesday. After some sledding with friends Wednesday morning, I called up the airport to see if N16HV would be available later in the day, I wanted to fly over the snow for the first time! Luckily, the forecast showed the winds dying down to about 6 knots around 3:30pm, so I scheduled a flight from 4-5pm. 

I was basically the only one at the airport since earlier in the day the winds had been gusting to about 20kts, so most people had gone home. The one active flight on field was Bombardier Challenger-600 N39RE. That CL-600 is one of the larger planes that operates out of Hanover KOFP, so it was pretty cool to see it take off right in front of the hangar. Here's a photo of the plane getting ready on the ramp: 

The plan for the day was simple, practice steep turns and pattern work (landings and takeoffs). The engine was running for around an hour, but I probably only had about 65% of that time being in the air. It took a long time to heat up that cold engine! Flying over the fresh snow was a really cool experience. You could look down into fields and see tracks made by people, animals, etc. There was definitely more glare, I was sad to have forgotten my sunglasses! 

In the videos below, you can see the runway condition which wasn't too bad. The Eaglet climbed like a rocket because it was so cold and dense outside. With the winds coming directly down runway 34, there were some smooth landings. More videos like these can be found on my Youtube Channel, MartinsAviation1.

A full article will come soon on this topic, but I tried out the app/website CloudAhoy for the first time. It's an extremely simple system to use. You create an account, pay a small yearly fee, and get to map out all of your flight paths in 3D using your iPhone's built in GPS. Within the site, your flight (including altitude) is loaded onto a 3D Google Earth Map. There is even a feature where you can replay the "cockpit view" of your flight. Check out my route of flight for the day (*note, I turned on the app halfway through the flight, so the first half including takeoff is not shown on the map): 

Overall, I really enjoyed flying over a snowy RVA this week. It was definitely cold, but a great experience. 

Thanks for reading and watching,
-Swayne Martin 
Twitter: @MartinsAviation

Friday, January 24, 2014

Share Your Story: Trevor Smith, Private Pilot - Piedmont NC

Welcome to the 30th "Share Your Story" post. Pilots from around the world write in featuring their flight experiences, promoting their blogs, websites, social media, novels, etc. These posts show students the diverse range of experiences/careers available to them in aviation. More details + how to participate can be found via the following: Click Here and Get Involved

I feel like I’ve wanted to be a pilot since the day I was born. My mom started as a flight attendant for USAir in 1986. She flew on the Boeing 727s out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Shortly after I was born in September of 1994, my mom left the airlines to be a full-time stay-at-home mom and we moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and are still in the same house today! The flying didn’t stop there! She received some sort of severance package from USAir, which consisted of a bunch of buddy passes and free flights for her and immediate family for the next 6 years. At the time, her parents and siblings still lived in their hometown of Severna Park, Maryland, right outside of Baltimore. So all those free flights were used on Greensboro to Baltimore flights (when they still had the direct service) on the US Airways Dash-8. It was the Dash-8 that was the first commercial aircraft I ever flew on and the aircraft that changed my life forever. Before the tragedy of 9/11, I was able to get the behind the scene access and ride up front with the pilots.

For every birthday and Christmas, I wanted everything and anything involved with aviation. All of this led up until Christmas 2009, when I received a gift certificate from my Dad for a discovery flight at Piedmont Flight Training at Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem. I knew after that flight, that I was destined to be a pilot for the rest of my life. Though I had a choice of a Piper Archer and a Cessna 172, I started with the Cessna, and have stuck with the Cessna ever since.

Flight training for me was on and off to start. I was so inconsistent with coming in to the flight school; it just took me forever to complete my training. I even took a 1-year break during my junior year of high school because my grades started to slip, and schooling was my top priority at that moment. June 19th, 2011, was my first milestone, my first solo flight! The feeling when you look over to see your instructor not there is like no other feeling in this world.

Next were my short cross-country and long cross-country flights. All the training, studying, takeoffs and landings, and countless hours of flying all led up to July 29th, 2013. It was on that day that all my dreams became reality. It was the day that I passed my private pilot check ride.

To read more of Tom's "Share Your Story" article, click below. (If you're already on the full article, ignore this)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

So What Exactly is a Tecnam Aircraft? - My Flight Training Experience in Tecnam Brand Aircraft

Ever since the beginning of my flight training, the first thing I'm asked when people find out that I'm a pilot is "So what kind of plane do you fly?" I reply, "A Tecnam Eaglet or Sierra." With a look of puzzlement, I know it's happening again... another person who has no idea what I'm talking about. 

I then say, "The Eaglet that I fly is sort of like a Cessna." 
  • "Ohh, now I know what you're talking about," most people respond. 

The Tecnam P92 Eaglet is very similar to the Cessna 150: 

This isn't just common to non-pilots. It's something I encounter nearly every time I correspond with ATC or Flight Services. I'll state "We're a Tecnam Eaglet off Hanover...," always getting the expected reply of "Tecaa what?" I'm still surprised how little some sects of the aviation community know about Tecnam brand aircraft. I've resorted to just stating that I'm flying a Light Sport to avoid confusion with ATC. 

I'd like to say that I've been lucky to do the majority of my flight training in Tecnam brand aircraft. My flight school, HOVA Flight Services (out of Hanover KOFP Virginia), is the central headquarters for Tecnam North America. Our airport receives big shipments from the Italian-based company frequently, for aircraft assembly. I sometimes walk into the maintenance hanger to see quite a few planes partially assembled, going down the production line. 

So what is a Tecnam? Here is a description of the company: 
  • "For over 60 years Tecnam has been committed to serving the General Aviation community. Be it the 6th generation Tecnam P92, the best selling P2002 or the P2006T Twin, Tecnam are firmly established as the aeroplanes of choice with General Aviation customers and operators. Be they private pilots enjoying flying for leisure or some of the world’s leading Flight Training Organisations. With over 3,500 Tecnam aeroplanes operating around the world today, Tecnam customers and operators are supported by a global network of over 60 dealers and 100 Tecnam Service Centres. The Tecnam team's passion for flying has undoubtedly resulted in Chief Designer, Professor Luigi Pascale, creating some of the most innovative and stylish aeroplanes. More importantly Tecnam’s wide range of aeroplane models afford its customers and operators superb value for money, from the low initial purchase price to unbeatable operating costs."

My experiences in Tecnam planes have been great. I most frequently fly the P92 Eaglet, but used to do all of my training in the P2002 Sierra. Both planes have a stick configuration instead of a traditional yoke. The only downside to the stick is that you don't have much lap space for a kneeboard or anything else. Other than that, they fly like sports cars compared to our school's much heavier Cessna 172s. 

There's nothing wrong with flying the heavier C172, it's just different, but I really enjoy the light touch of the Tecnam. Do keep in mind that the Tecnams I train in are light sport aircraft. One thing many people don't know: while you can't train in anything other than a LSA for your Sport License, you can train in a LSA for your Private License. I chose to do this and train in the Tecnam vs. the C172 mainly due to saved costs. I'll be transitioning to flying the C172 after my PPL, so that I can have more people onboard. 

Only 2 seats

Some people say if you can fly a Tecnam, you can fly anything. This is because they are highly responsive aircraft and in a way unforgiving. Because you're flying an extremely light plane, you really do feel turbulence a whole lot more than in a heavier aircraft. Being extremely responsive goes both ways. You become used to lightly moving the stick to control the aircraft. This becomes a problem when moving into a heavier aircraft, where much more pressure and force is required. 

The P92 Eaglet that I fly in has a partial glass cockpit. There is a Garmin 430 and Multi-Function Display on the glass end, with many of the critical engine and flight instruments being the old steam gauge type: 

On the positive end of things, the Tecnams climb like rockets. The takeoff and landing distance is incredibly short. In the video below, you can see how quickly the Tecnam can take off with a relatively small headwind:


If you ever get the opportunity to fly in a Tecnam, I'd highly recommend it. Check out for more information. Below is list with some different aircraft they offer. 

Tecnam Brand Aircraft Available:

 P92 Echo

 P92 Eaglet

 P92 Tail Dragger

 P92 SeaSky

P2002 Sierra





P2006 Twin


In the videos below, you can see some videos I've made throughout my training in the Tecnam P92 Eaglet and P2002 Sierra. I'm hoping to take my first multi-engine lesson in our school's P2006T soon as well. 

So now when someone tells you that they fly a Tecnam, you know exactly what they're talking about.

Thanks for reading and watching!,
-Swayne Martin
Twitter: @MartinsAviation

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Last Night Training Flight - Night XC Flight to Dinwiddie KPTB

In preparation for my PPL checkride in a few weeks, I've been taking advantage of the recently good weather to finish up my remaining requirements towards the license. My plan is to take the checkride on my 17th Birthday if possible. 

Our plan for last night was to finish up my night training requirement. Previously, I had done 2 hours of night training with 8 landings. The PPL requirement is 3 total night hours with 10 full stop landings. Last night, we flew 1.2 hours and landed at both Dinwiddie County KPTB and Hanover KOFP. 

Our route of flight is shown below. As you can see, we flew into/over Richmond Class C airspace, and thus had to get clearance with Potomac Approach. Shortly after taking off from Hanover, I called up and requested VFR Flight following to Petersburg-Dinwiddie. As normal, it was approved, and we made our way to KPTB. 

This particular route of flight took us directly over downtown Richmond, which was really cool to see from the air. As you can see from the photo below taken on my GoPro, the city was an awesome sight at night: 

Upon checking with the AWOS Weather for Petersburg, the wind was read out as being calm. There have recently been issues with weather reporting at KPTB, so we were skeptical. Upon entering the 45 for runway 5, at 1,000 feet, the wind was read to be 25kts (which was a headwind on the downwind for runway 5, so we were concerned about a tailwind landing). We switched our plans at the last minute and turned right base for runway 23. Sure enough, upon passing the threshold, we had a headwind right down the runway, perfect. Below is a video from our landing: 

With 31.8 total hours, I have just a few requirements left towards the PPL. Here is what I have left to do: 
  • 3.2 hours solo cross country time
    • Long Cross-Country Flight (150nm roundtrip with 2 landing points, 1 leg over 50nm)
  • 3 solo landings at a towered field 
  • 2.3 hours simulated instrument flight 

That leaves about 3 hours remaining for final training before my oral and practical exams. I'll use that time to review anything that could be covered on the flight test. In theory, I could get my license at the minimum amount of time, 40 hours total. 

In just two days, this monday, I'm flying my long cross country flight. I'm planning on knocking out two birds with one stone by making a stop at Charlottesville to do my 3 solo, full-stop landings at a Towered (Class D) field. 

There will be a big post about that flight when it happens, so stay tuned! 

Thanks again,
-Swayne Martin
Twitter: @MartinsAviation 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

How I Passed My FAA PPL Written Exam with a 93% - Steps on How to Pass the FAA PPL Knowledge Exam

At the beginning of my Christmas Break, I committed to myself that I'd take the FAA Private Pilot Written Exam before I got back to school, or at least that I'd be 100% ready to do so. Being a Junior in High School, I knew this would be one of the last chances I'd have to really delve into the material before it'd be too late. My goal has been to pass my final pilot exams on, or as close to, my 17th Birthday in February (the minimum age for a PPL). If I hadn't spent time reviewing over Christmas Break, I wouldn't have had the time to study school work and aviation material. 

The three exams that one takes to get the PPL include:

  • A written knowledge exam
  • An oral exam, based on flight planning, regulations, etc. 
  • A practical flight test

In all honesty, here's how it works... To pass your FAA Knowledge (Written) Exam, you have to score a minimum of 70%. I've never been one who just likes to "pass" things with the minimum score. Would you rather have a pilot who got C's on their exams, or A's? Similarly, would you rather have a doctor who got C's or A's on their medical school exams? That's how I thought about it in my first preparations for the exam. 

There's another motivational factor for doing well on the written exam. When you have your oral and practical exams, the FAA inspector will see that you did well on the written exam; in most cases, the exams will be easier and take less time. Who are they going to drill more, someone who got a 90+ score, or someone who barely passed, with a score in the 70's? Nearly every instructor I've gotten advice from has told me that they've seen this play out with their own students. 

Preparing for the written exam can be stressful for a new pilot. I didn't know where to begin. When I looked at how much information was covered, I felt overwhelmed. I didn't have any formal ground school help with exam preparation, nor does anyone in my family fly, so if I can do well following these steps, anyone can.

So how do you pass the FAA Written Exam with a 90+%? After using the following study method, I passed the written exam with a 93% (-4/60). Here's exactly how I studied, if you follow the same steps, you're sure to do great: 


Materials I Used:

-Gleim Private Pilot FAA Knowledge Test BookPurchase Here

"The primary purpose of the Gleim Private Pilot FAA Knowledge Test book is to provide you with the easiest, fastest, and least-expensive means of passing the FAA knowledge test. Gleim Knowledge Transfer Outlines at the beginning of each study unit concisely present the relevant material needed to answer questions selected from previously released FAA test banks as well as questions that have been developed from current FAA reference materials."

-Sporty's Online Learn to Fly Course (Testing Capabilities): Purchase Here

"For the cost of a single flight lesson, Sporty’s Learn to Fly course will save you hours of time in the air and hundreds of dollars. This is not a weekend “cram course” or a boring ground school class on video. It is a comprehensive home study course that includes ground school, test prep and flight training. You’ll pass all your tests (we guarantee that), but you’ll also have more fun learning to fly and be a better pilot after you earn your license."

Stage One: Test Yourself:

The reason buying Sporty's Online Course is so valuable is because you get unlimited practice knowledge exams. With just the Gleim textbook, there's only one practice exam at the end. 

Before I began my real review, I took a Sporty's practice test, to see where I was. As you can see in the photo below, I scored a 67% on my first test without having reviewed. The subsequent tests scores (after following the study advice I'll soon give) increase substantially over time: 

Stage Two: Gleim Textbook Review:

I essentially spent the entire last week of Christmas Break studying 5+ hours a day towards the written exam. There are 11 total units in the Gleim textbook, each of which have questions that are deadly accurate to the actual exam. I'd say 90% of the questions on actual exam were ones that I had already done in the Gleim textbook. Treat every question in the book like an actual exam question, because it could very likely be one. 

My Study Schedule: 
  • Monday: Units 1-3
  • Tuesday: Units 4-6
  • Wednesday: Units 7-9
  • Thursday: Units 10-11 + Review of Difficult Sections 
  • Friday: Practice Tests + Individual Question Review

Each unit contains a beginning portion dedicated to notes for that given section. As I went through those notes, I wrote down easy-to-remember tips for certain subjects, in addition to equations and notes about subjects that I had difficulty with. Here is what a page of my notes looked like: 

After completing the notes section, there is a long question based section, in the format of the FAA Exam. Each question with options A, B, and C for answers are found on the left side/column of the page. The right column contains appropriate answers and explanations. As you go through this section, use a cover sheet for the "answers" portion of the page. Write on either the cover sheet or another sheet the answers, in order, for the given page. 

After you've written letters for what you think are the answers, reveal the true answers and check your responses. For every question that you miss, highlight the number (not the correct answer) of every question that you missed. Circle each question that you had substantial difficulty with, or that you had to make a guess on. This will allow you to go back later on, and see questions with which you had difficulty. 

Upon completion of a unit, write on a sheet (with each unit # & unit title) how many you missed for that given unit divided by the total questions available. This will give you a percentage score for that unit, and will let you know upon final review which units you had the most or least difficulty with. Here is how I did my sheet: 

Stage Three: Question/Unit Review: 

After completing all 11 units in the Gleim textbook, go back and review the most challenging sections and questions, using your sheets that you created above. Consider going though each question a number of times to really mark the correct response in your head. Make notes on questions that you frequently miss as an added method of review. 

Stage Four: Gleim Practice Test: 

It's finally time to take your first practice test! I recommend taking the single Gleim practice test first, at the back of your textbook. Make an answer sheet with numbers 1-60, allowing space for response, and space to annotate missed questions. 

On my first practice test, in the Gleim textbook, I scored an 88%. What an improvement over the first 67% test score! Create a column on your answer sheet to take notes on every question that you missed with a short explanation of the correct answer. Here is what my sheet looked like: 

Stage Five: Sporty's Practice Tests: 

Now that you've completed your first practice test, it's time to take more! With Sporty's online, you can take an unlimited number of practice tests, which are in the exam same format as the actual exam. One major problem with Sporty's is that the figures and diagrams for test questions can only be viewed on your computer screen, making it nearly impossible to do the flight planning problems. But since you have your Gleim textbook, this won't be an issue! The figures which appear in your Sporty's course are the exact same ones that appear in the Gleim textbook (even with the same figure numbers!). 

After completing each test you take, have a sheet ready to record your score, with space below for explanations on missed questions. Here is what my sheet looked like: 

Stage Six: Final Review: 

Now that you're scoring well above 90% on your practice tests, make sure to do some fine tuning on units and questions that you consistently miss. Go back to your Gleim textbook and answer all of the questions that you highlighted (and circled), when you missed them the first time. Read over your notes and equations, to nail down some final points. 

Stage Seven: Take the Exam!: 

By now, you should feel very confident about the material. I was still nervous going into my exam, but that's normal. Take your time and know that there might be a few questions that you hadn't seen before. As you begin, you'll start to see many questions which you've done over and over before. If you have trouble with any question, mark it, and move on. Come back to it later once you've answered the easy questions. 

As with every exam, there are always a few poorly worded and overly complex questions. People get into trouble on this exam by over thinking each question. When you're flying, you need to think on your feet and make quick, clear decisions. Try to think of your exam like that and remember that you know what you're doing. 

I missed 4 out of 60 possible questions. Out of the 4, 2 of which I had never seen before, and 2 of which I had seen and done, but managed to get wrong on the exam. Because of the preparation I've shown you above, I managed to score a 93% on the exam, a score I was very happy with. If you take the advice that I've given, I'm sure you'll receive a similarly great score, if not better! 

Thanks for reading and good luck!
-Swayne Martin 

Twitter: @MartinsAviation
Email me with Questions:

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Share Your Story: Tom Thorne, Student Pilot, New Zealand

Welcome to the 29th "Share Your Story" post. Pilots from around the world write in featuring their flight experiences, promoting their blogs, websites, social media, novels, etc. These posts show students the diverse range of experiences/careers available to them in aviation. More details + how to participate can be found via the following: Click Here and Get Involved

My name is Tom Thorne, I am a 16 year old PPL student. I live in South Canterbury New Zealand. My Passion for aviation started at the age of 11 when I was given a small remote control toy helicopter for my birthday. My hobby expanded rapidly and I became a radio control aeroplane enthusiast. Three years later I took my first trial flight at South Canterbury Aero club in ZK-PAD, a Piper Tomahawk. That 30 minute flight had me hooked. It was the first time in my life when I knew where my future was going to be headed. However at 14 I was too young to start training. The wait would be too great before I could legally solo at the age of 16. My family and I decided I would wait until my 15th birthday before I would start training at the snail's pace of 1 lesson per month. That way I could be ready to solo soon after my 16th birthday.

Me and my instructor after my first solo flight

As 10th December (my B-day) approached, I began to set my sights on soloing on the day of my birthday. It became a goal of mine and my instructor was a fantastic aid in getting the timing right! My medical was finalized 2 days before my 16th.

On the day itself I woke to a very low cloud base. Fortunately by 12pm it had lifted to 1000 ft AGL. I had to carry out my circuit at 800 ft AGL. A bit lower than the usual 1000 but after four circuits with my instructor, he asked how I felt about the conditions and my flying and then stepped out. So with a total time of 15.2 hours I proceeded on my own. Rolling down the runway, the feeling of being dependent on skills crafted over the past year and being totally in control is indescribable. I did one circuit and a reasonably nice landing. After I stepped out of the plane the feeling of elation was not immediate but gradually increased over the following hours. I remember how thrilling it was to log my flight for the first time as pilot in command.

To read more of Tom's "Share Your Story" article, click below. (If you're already on the full article, ignore this)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

80th Birthday Flight - Happy Birthday GP!

My grandfather turned 80 years old back in September... so what better way to celebrate the birthday than a first flight with his grandson as the pilot? GP, my grandfather, was one of the main figures in my life who inspired me to begin flying from an early age. From the time I was just a baby, I can remember going to air shows with him or having his hand crafted models hanging from my ceiling. 

Because of my status as a student pilot, to carry passengers, I have to have an instructor ride up front with me. In September, I began planning a flight with GP, my dad, and my instructor around Richmond in one of our school's Cessna 172s. Here is what the actual birthday gift looked like: 

This wasn't just GP's first flight with me, but also my dad's. I'm proud to say that they didn't seem too nervous before we got to the airport. They'd both seen me fly solo, but never had actually been in the plane with me. 

A few days ago, we finally found a great day with nice weather to do the flight, New Years Day. Is there any better way to start off the new year? I chose to fly in N5335J, one of the school's C172 with a nicer, leather interior. The plan was fly East over the James River, towards Williamsburg, around Richmond's Class C airspace, and then return on the opposite side of the airspace. That route worked out pretty well and gave us some nice views of Richmond and the James River. 

We had a smooth flight round trip, and a pretty good landing into Hanover KOFP. I was surprised that I got the landing so smooth, since I very rarely fly in the 172. It's a plane that I'll soon be building much more time in, as I want to be fully qualified to fly the Skyhawk and it's 4 seats vs. the Tecnam's 2. Plus, as it's a larger plane and I feel as though it flies much more smoothly, being easier to keep in steady flight. 

Thanks GP and Dad for joining me on a great flight to being the New Year. I can't wait to get that license in a few weeks, so that I'm finally the PIC. 

-Swayne Martin 
Twitter: @MartinsAviation