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How Do Helicopters Work? A Pilot Explains!


Helicopters are a marvel of engineering and aerodynamics. Their unique design allows them to operate in the most demanding of environments, whether winching a stranded hiker off a cliff face, placing towers for a ski lift up the side of a mountain, or landing in the grounds of a high-end restaurant. Helicopters are a very unique machine and as a helicopter pilot, I’m always asked how do they work.

Helicopters work by rotating 2 or more airfoils around a main shaft to create lift. An engine drives the main transmission which turns the main rotor and the tail rotor systems. Pilots control the helicopter using a Collective control, Cyclic control, & Anti-Torque pedals.

Many people say helicopters are just 1000 parts trying to separate from each other in a spectacular fashion while others talk about how precise and highly engineered they are. I have both opinions and to this day they truly amaze me as to how well they work.

If you wish to find out how they really work, I’ll give you the full tour from the pilot’s perspective…

How Do Helicopters Create Lift?

Helicopters create lift by rotating airfoils through the air. As air flows over each airfoil it deflects air downward as each blade pitches upwards. The more the pitch, the more air it deflects downward, the more lift it creates. When lift is greater than the weight of the helicopter it lifts off.

The way in which a helicopter is unique is that it has a rotating set of wings mounted on top of the fuselage, unlike an airplane where its wings are fixed and it relies on engine thrust to move it through the air to generate lift from its wings. By rotating its wings a helicopter does not need to move through the air for it to generate lift. This is why it can hover.

To control how lift is created each main rotor blade (wing) can change its angle – known as its Pitch Angle. The more pitch angle the rotor blade reaches, the more air it deflects downward. For a helicopter to climb the rotor system creates uniform lift across all its main rotor blades and pushes the helicopter aloft.

To turn, the helicopter rotor blades create more lift on one side of the helicopter compared to the other causing the helicopter to bank in that direction.

Let’s take a look at each main system and how it allows a helicopter to work:

What are the Main Systems that Allow a Helicopter to Work?

The main systems on a helicopter are:

  1. Main Rotor System
  2. Engine & Transmission
  3. Tail Rotor System
  4. Flight Controls

Main Rotor System:

The main rotor system on a helicopter comprises of the main rotor blades, the hub, the swashplate, and the control rods.

The hub is attached to the top of the mast. The mast is essentially a drive shaft coming vertically out of the main transmission. Each main rotor blade is attached to the hub. Depending on the type of main rotor system design there can be 1-3 hinges between the hub and each rotor blade.

The hinges allow each main rotor blade to twist and move independently of the hub. The main job of the hub is to rotate each rotor blade through the air.

Helicopters can contain anywhere from 2-8 main rotor blades depending on the size and design of the helicopter.


If you would like to know more about why helicopters have different numbers of main rotorblades please see this article:

This is Why Helicopters Have Different Numbers of Rotor Blades?


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      To control how each main rotor blade moves or operates the helicopter uses a ‘Swashplate’. The swashplate is comprised of three parts:

      1. Stationary Half
      2. Rotating Half
      3. Spherical Bearing

      As the pilot manipulates the flight controls they move control rods that connect to the lower stationary half of the swashplate.

      These control movements tilt the swashplate assembly around its spherical bearing. Each half sits on the bearing with the mast passing through the middle.

      The rotating half is connected to the stationary half via another bearing and mirrors the tilt placed into the stationary half.

      The stationary half only tilts, while the rotating half tilts and rotates around as the mast turns. Pitch Control Linkages join each main rotor blade to the rotating half of the swashplate. This is how the helicopter transfers control inputs from the pilot’s controls into the rotating main rotor blades to adjust their pitch angle.

      Engine & Transmission:

      Helicopters are fitted with either a piston-powered or gas-turbine-powered engine. Small helicopters used for training and private ownership up to around 4-5 seats will use a piston engine, but once more seats are required, helicopters will have one, two, or even three gas-turbine turboshaft engines fitted. Gas turbine engines produce far more power for their size compared to a piston engine of similar size.

      A turboshaft gas turbine engine is just like a jet engine fitted to an airplane but instead of using the escaping gas to push the airplane through the air, it drives a ‘Power Turbine’ inside the engine. This turbine is connected to an output shaft that is then used to drive the main transmission.

      The main transmission drives both the main rotor system and tail rotor systems together. One cannot turn without the other turning. The engine’s job is to turn the rotor systems at a constant RPM to allow the airfoils (Main and Tail Rotor Blades) to create lift and thrust as they rotate through the air.

      As more weight is lifted or the main rotor system creates more drag, more engine power is required. The engine/s will increase/reduce power via either an electronic fuel control system or a mechanical linkage that operates the throttle just like on your car. The engine’s power demand comes from the pilot’s flight controls.

      Tail Rotor System:

      Astar Tail Rotor

      When the main rotor system turns it imparts torque into the fuselage. Because of Newton’s Third Law of Motion ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’, as soon as the helicopter lifts off the ground the torque will want to spin the fuselage in the opposite rotation to the main rotor system if nothing is there to prevent it.

      If you have ever been drilling a hole and the drill bit bites and the drill then wants to rip out of your hand, that is torque.

      To prevent the helicopter from spinning due to torque, the helicopter is fitted with a tail rotor or ‘Anti-Torque’ system. This is a small set of airfoils that instead of creating an upward lift force, they create a horizontal thrust.

      That thrust is directed in the opposite direction to which the fuselage wants to rotate. When the thrust balances torque the helicopter will remain facing in one direction.

      Helicopter Tail Rotor Thrust

      The pilot then fine-tunes this thrust by adjusting the pitch angle of the tail rotor blades to maintain rotational control of the nose of the helicopter.


      If you wish to learn more about the different types of tail rotor or Anti-Torque systems a helicopter can be fitted with please check out this article:

      Helicopter Tail Rotors – The Different Types Explained


      Flight Controls:

      To maneuver the helicopter the pilot uses three flight controls:

      Collective

      This is in the left hand of the pilot. When they raise the collective the connecting linkages cause the swashplate to rise up the mast and increase the pitch angle of ALL the main rotorblades ‘Collectively’ thus creating uniform lift on each main rotor blade causing the helicopter to climb. The more the collective is raised the greater the pitch angle is increased on each main rotor blade, and the more lift they create.

      As the pilot lowers the collective it lowers the swashplate and reduces the pitch angle on ALL of the main rotor blades which reduce the amount of lift they create. Once lift created is less than the weight of the helicopter, the helicopter will begin to descend.


      When you were a kid, did you ever place your hand out of the window of a moving car? With your palm flat and parallel to the ground your hand didn’t move, but as you began to tilt or ‘pitch’ your palm upward your hand would want to rise and be forced backward. The rising is the lift created by your palm deflecting air downward and the backward force is the aerodynamic drag your palm creates on the airflow.

      This is what is happening to each main rotor blade as it rotates around the helicopter and the pilot raises the collective.


      If the engine did not increase power this drag would slow the RPM of the main rotor system causing the helicopter to not produce lift and no longer fly.

      To prevent this reduction in rpm from drag, the collective on modern helicopters also controls two devices called a ‘Correlator’ and a ‘Governor’. The correlator is a mechanical linkage that mechanically controls the engine throttle and a governor is an electronic device that tries to fine-tune the throttle to maintain the main rotor RPM at a set rpm.

      These devices automatically command the throttle on the engine/s to increase power to overcome the drag the main rotor blades create as they increase in pitch angle as the collective is raised.

      On older helicopters the throttle used to be manually controlled by the pilot. The throttle was mounted on the end of the collective lever like the handgrip on a motorcycle. As the pilot raised the collective they would have to rotate their hand and open the throttle.

      They would need to balance the raising and twisting to maintain the main rotor rpm in the green band. As they lowered the collective they would then need to gradually close the throttle to prevent the main rotor rpm from overspeeding.

      The correlator or governor now makes this function a non-event for the pilot, unless the governor fails at which point the pilot will have to manually adjust the throttle.

      Digital Engine Control Switches on a Leonardo AW139 Helicopter

      Once the engine/s are started the throttle is placed into the ‘Flight’ position by the pilot and remains there for the duration of the flight. The correlator and governor then adjust the engine to maintain main rotor rpm (usually around 400rpm in most helicopters).

      To hover a helicopter the pilot will raise the collective to get it airborne, then at around 5 feet above the ground, they will slightly lower the collective to a point where the lift being produced exactly matches the weight of the helicopter. At this point, the helicopter will neither climb, nor descend and will therefore hover.

      To prevent the helicopter moving from that spot the pilot uses another control – The Cyclic.

      Cyclic

      This is in the right hand of the pilot. This is the directional control of the helicopter. When the pilot pushes the cyclic or ‘Cyclic Pitch Control Lever’ in any direction, control rods transfer that input to the swashplate. When the main rotor system is turning it looks like a disk. To keep this explanation simple, the swashplate tilts the main rotor disk in the direction the pilot wishes to go.

      There are far more complex things going on here but I’m trying to keep it simple for this article. If you would like a far more in-depth explanation of how a helicopters flight control system works please see this article:

      How Do Helicopter Controls Work? Pilot Tells All!

      Basically, if the pilot wishes to accelerate into forward flight from the hover they will apply a slight forward pressure on the cyclic. The linkages connecting to the swashplate will tilt the stationary half of the swashplate higher at the rear, and lower at the front. The rotating half of the swashplate mirrors this tilt and causes the rotor disk to drop at the front and rise at the rear.

      This disk tilt is done by creating a high pitch on each main rotor blade as it rotates around to the rear of the helicopter. This allows it to generate more lift causing it to rise. As the blade continues to rotate towards the front of the helicopter its pitch angle reduces creating less lift causing it to fall. As each blade does this it looks like the disk tilts up at the rear and drops in the front.

      The same action happens any direction the pilot moves the cyclic.

      Anti-Torque Pedals

      Each of the pilot’s feet rests against a pedal. As the pilot pushes on their right or left foot this causes a mechanical linkage to adjust the pitch angle of each tail rotor blade collectively. The pedals are joined so when you push on one, the other comes forward.

      By adjusting how much thrust the tail rotor system creates it allows the pilot to rotate the nose of the helicopter to the left by pushing the left pedal, or right by pushing the right pedal.

      When the pedals are centered or neutral the helicopter maintains its position pointing forward.

      To master the hover each pilot must learn to move all of these controls in unison and by the correct amounts to one another.

      To find out why it is hard to do this I highly recommend you read this article:

      Learning To Fly Helicopters – Is it really that hard?

      Top 5 Small Private Jet Airplanes You Can Own & Fly Yourself


      For every aviation enthusiast, the thought of winning the lottery and being able to own our own private jet is right up there towards the top of the dream list. We know that the reality of owning a $60m Gulfstream G550 are literally a pipe dream but there is the class of ‘Light Jets’ that could be within reach.

      The Light Jet class of airplanes are designed to be flown by a single pilot and accommodate up to 8 passengers. They have a low purchase cost of under $6m and a low operating cost to entice private owners to buy and fly themselves and family for business and pleasure usage.

      If you are in the market for a light jet or are adding fuel to that dream here are the Top 5 best light jets:

      Cirrus Vision Jet SF50

      Sirrus Vision Jet SF50 – Source: Anna Zvereva

      Cost: $1,960,000

      Crew: 1

      Passengers: 6

      This unique-looking, single-engine jet was first launched into production in May 2016 by the Duluth, Minnesota-based company. Falling into the ‘Very Light Jet’ class of aircraft this is truly an aircraft aimed at the owner-pilot market with a no-hassle ownership.

      This aircraft was the winner of the 2017 Robert J. Collier Trophy for the ‘Greatest Achievement in Aeronautics or Astronautics in America’ in that year, among with a host of additional accolades to solidify this jet as one of the best in its class.

      To date over 350 aircraft have been delivered.

      Powerplant1 × Williams FJ33-5A Turbofan
      AvionicsGarmin G3000-based Cirrus Perspective Touch+
      Length30 ft 11 in 
      Height10 ft 11 in
      Wingspan38 ft 8 in 
      Cabin Height4 ft 1 In
      Cabin Width5 ft 1 In
      Cabin Length10 ft 11 In
      Empty Weight3,550 lb 
      Gross Weight6,000 lb
      Max Payload1,328 lb 
      Max Speed311 knots
      Cruise Speed305 knots
      Service Ceiling28,000 feet

      This aircraft is crammed full of unique features that really make it a great choice based on safety alone:

      • Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS): In case of a serious emergency, this whole-plane parachute recovery system is activated to bring the aircraft to the ground safely
      • Garmin Safe Return Autoland System: In case of an emergency, this system is manually activated by the pilot, the system then, determines the nearest airport, flies to it, and lands automatically without any pilot intervention 
      • Garmin G3000 System Avionics Package: Includes two 14-inch displays up front and three touch controller displays mounted sideways to allow a simple single-pilot operation with everything within arm’s reach
      • Gogo InFlight Wi-Fi: This system gives the pilot and passengers the availability to connect to the internet while in the air

      Honda HA-420 Jet Elite

      Honda HA-420 HondaJet

      Cost: $5,250,000

      Crew: 1-2

      Passengers: 5-6

      The HondaJet is claimed to be the most technically advanced very light jets on the market with many innovative features developed and certified by Honda and its partnerships. By far its most unique feature is its Over-The-Wing engine mounting system.

      This installation allows the cabin to be more spacious as it eliminates the need for bulk engine structural supports. In addition, Honda designed and developed its own engine for the HondaJet in partnership with GE. The engines received Type Certification in 2013 with the jet’s production commencing in 2015.

      Source: Matti Blume
      Source: Matti Blume

      HondaJet is designed to be both pleasurable to fly and useful for business.  It offers high reliability, low operating cost, and the most comfortable spacious cabin in its class. It is ideal for charter and fleet operators and can also be geared to be an air ambulance and other special missions.

      HondaJet has received several awards and till now over 200 aircraft have been delivered.

      Powerplant2 x GE Honda Model: HF120
      AvionicsGarmin G3000
      Length42 ft 7 in
      Height10 ft 11 in
      Wingspan39 ft 8 in
      Cabin Height4 ft 10 In
      Cabin Width5 ft 0 in
      Cabin Length7 ft 10 In
      Empty Weight7203 lb
      Gross Weight11,100 lb
      Max Payload3627 lb
      Max Speed422 kts
      Cruise Speed360 knots
      Service Ceiling43,000 feet

      Unique features of this aircraft:

      • Pylon-Mounted Over-The-Wing Engines: Provides a bigger and quieter cabin
      • Composite Cabin: Designed from a carbon-fiber-epoxy composite the light cabin allows for increased range and fuel efficiency 
      • Garmin G3000 System Avionics Package: Three 14.1-inch color screens provide navigation and flight instrumentation data and two 5.7-inch touchscreens for operating radio and navigation systems
      • Push-Button Start: Single press engine starting allows for digital engine control and monitoring to prevent hot starts induced by an inexperienced pilot
      • Unique Media System: Its passenger media system does not use speakers; instead, the cabin has multiple transducers that vibrate in unison to provide all-enveloping surround sound 
      • Fully-enclosed Toilet: Having a toilet with a seat belt for such a small cabin is a very welcomed addition for passengers

      Learn More
      Try These Articles:
      * Cost To Buy a Private Jet: 15 Most Popular Models
      * Cost To Buy a Helicopter: 15 Most Popular Models


      Embraer Phenom 100 EV Evolution

      Embraer Phenom 100 – Source: James

      Cost: $4,495,000

      Crew: 1-2

      Passengers: 4-7

      The Phenom 100 is one of the most popular aircraft for a light business/personal jet. The cabin interior is designed by BMW Designworks USA and its Garmin 3000-based avionics system ensures that it outperforms all its rivals in its class. 

      Its cabin can be configured to comfortably seat 4 passengers or 7 passengers with side-facing seats that also included a toilet. It can be flown in either a single or dual pilot configuration and its airframe comprises of over 20% composite materials.

      The latest variant, the EV Evolution has increased weight savings and increased thrust from its engines to enable faster climbs, reduced takeoff roll, and hot & high-performance increases. The first prototype flew in July 2007 with the first delivery in December 2008.

      To date over 400 aircraft have been delivered to 37 different countries around the world.

      Powerplant2 x  Pratt & Whitney Canada PW617F-E
      AvionicsGarmin G3000-based Embraer Prodigy Touch
      Length42 ft 1 in
      Height14 ft 3 in
      Wingspan40 ft 4 in
      Cabin Height4 ft 9 In
      Cabin Width5 ft 1 In
      Cabin Length11 ft 0 in
      Empty Weight3235 lbs
      Gross Weight10,472 lbs
      Max Payload3384 lbs
      Max Speed390 kts
      Cruise Speed371 knots
      Service Ceiling41,000 feet

      Unique features of this aircraft:

      • Class Leading Performance: It has the longest range, fastest cruise speed, and largest baggage capacity in its class
      • Unique Door: Its larger door allows for easier boarding and deplaning of crew and passengers which also makes the cabin feel larger
      • Enclosed Toilet: Unlike other jets that include a cabin seat that turns into a toilet, this rear-mounted bathroom is fully enclosed with a sink and windows

      Cessna Citation M2

      Cessna Citation M2 – Source: James

      Cost: $5,050,000

      Crew: 1-2

      Passengers: 7

      The Cessna Citation M2 is the latest light business jet from Cessna. The Citation brand has been the trendsetter in small personal and business jets since it first flew in October 1989. The M2 model was launched in September 2011 and first flew on March 9, 2012.

      The Cessna Citation M2 is based on the discontinued CJ1 variant and has a newly designed cabin and more powerful William FJ44 engines. The M2 has a faster climb speed than its closest competitor the Embraer Phenom 100E. 

      To date over 250 Citation M2 jets have been delivered. 

      Powerplant2 x Williams International FJ44-1AP-21
      AvionicsGarmin G3000
      Length42 ft 7 in
      Height13 ft 11 in
      Wingspan47 ft 3 in
      Cabin Height4 ft 9 In
      Cabin Width4 ft 10 In
      Cabin Length11 ft 0 in
      Empty Weight8,400 lbs
      Gross Weight10,700 lbs
      Max Payload1,400 lbs
      Max Speed400 kts
      Cruise Speed392 knots
      Service Ceiling41,000 feet

      Unique features of this aircraft:

      • Garmin G3000: Integrated avionics with touch screens, digital color radar, and dual AHRS
      • Winglets: Vertical wing tips that improve lift and reduce drag by reducing wingtip vortices
      • Wing Anti-Icing: Instead of De-Icing boots on the wings leading edges, engine bleed air is ducted to the edges to increase wing performance by maintaining laminar airflow over it
      • Flight Pedigree: The Citation fleet of airplanes have accumulated more than 5,000,000 flight hours globally

      Stratos 714 X

      Cost: $3,000,000

      Crew: 1

      Passengers: 3-5

      The Stratos 714X is a light jet aircraft that was specifically developed in the US for those owner-pilots who want a high-performance personal jet to meet their business and leisure needs. 

      The Stratos 714X features a low-wing monoplane design, composite carbon and honeycomb fuselage, side-stick flight controls, FADEC engine control, and 6 different cabin configuration including an onboard toilet if required.

      It can fly at over 400 knots with a range of 1,500 nautical miles with the prototype first flying in 2016 and is underway to receive FAA Type Certification. In addition to the 714, the company is developing a larger 6 seat 716 to appeal to a larger market.

      Powerplant1x Williams International FJ44-3AP
      AvionicsGarmin G3000
      Length35 ft 8 in
      Height9 ft 8 in
      Wingspan40 ft 5 in
      Cabin Height4 ft 8 In
      Cabin Width4 ft 7 In
      Cabin Length9 ft 5 In
      Empty Weight5,035 lb
      Gross Weight6,260 lb
      Max Payload1,200 lbs
      Max Speed400 kts
      Cruise Speed320 knots
      Service Ceiling41,000 feet

      Unique features of this aircraft:

      • Garmin G3000: Integrated avionics with dual touch screens & center mounted GPS and aircraft/engine monitoring data
      • Side Sticks: Side-mounted flight controls to allow for easier access to the cockpit
      • Single Engine: Internally mounted centerline engine similar to many jet fighter airplanes
      • Full Composite Fuselage: Composite fuselage allows for a higher thrust-to-weight ratio and improved cabin pressurization

      Learn More
      Try These Articles:
      * How Hard is it to Become a Pilot? Instructor Tells All!
      * Cost To Become A Pilot: All the Licenses Compared!

      Do Pilots Get Free Flights? An Airline Pilot Tells All!


      Before I became a fulltime airline pilot I would always see pilots sitting in the cabin with the other passengers. I always wondered why they were there and now I do it myself I get to answer that quesiton along with If we get free flights too.

      Most pilots get free flights within their own airline or with sister airlines. Sometimes a small fee is required to cover airport fees, especially if family members are flying too. Pilots can also be put on free standby tickets or be given a free regular passenger ticket.

      Besides pilots actually getting paid for flights, there are also some more benefits to being a pilot and quite a handful of ways for a pilot to fly as a passenger. Some of them are free of charge and for some of them a small fee has to be paid to cover the taxes of the ticket and the airport fees.

      Let us see some of them and I’ll explain what everything is and how it actually works for me on a daily basis.

      How Do Pilot’s Get To Fly For Free?

      Pilots get to fly for free when ‘Deadheading’ to an airport to report for duty or when flying home after duty. Pilots also fly for free when ‘Jumpseating’. A pilot in uniform shows up to a gate with their ID and is granted access to fly either in the cabin or the spare seat in the cockpit. The Jumpseat.

      What is Pilot Jumpseating or Supernumerary?

      This is my favorite way of traveling and is actually for free if you are a pilot. Jumpseating or Supernameracy (SNY) both have the same meaning and the procedure is exactly the same for both.

      Jumpseating or SNY is when a pilot shows up to the gate in their uniform with their company ID card and documents. Pretty much like going there to operate the flight. The gate agent will ask for the crewcode and some documents like the ID and passport.

      The gate agent will insert some information on the LID (Load Information Document) of the flight so that the pilots operating the flight are aware that there is a crew member onboard.

      In my own personal opinion, Jumpseating is the best way to get a free flight as it is the easiest and fastest way to get in the aircraft. Furthermore, I know from personal experience that when you operate a flight and you have a Jumpseating pilot onboard, you actually feel a bit safer to know that there is someone onboard that can help in any kind of emergency situation.

      Pros of Jumpseating

      ⁃ Jumpseating is the easiest way for a pilot to travel and there is always an available seat. If there is no seat in the cabin, the pilot is allowed to be seated in the cockpit in the “jumpseat” which is located between the two main pilot seats. Hence the term “Jumpseating”.

      The ‘Jumpseat’ – Slides Out From Behind The Captains Seat

      If the seat in the flight deck is taken – perhaps by another pilot jumpseating – the pilot is allowed to seat with the flight attendants in the back galley of the aircraft.

      ⁃ A Jumpseating pilot does not have to be at the gate 1 hour earlier as this process takes maximum 5 minutes. This means that even 5 minutes before the door closure and pushback time, the pilot can actually get in the aircraft.

      ⁃ The pilot can carry as many bags and luggage as they want. Jumpseating is considered by some companies as active duty so there are no limitations on what you can carry on board. Water, food, liquids and other items are allowed through the security check if operating as a crew and not as a passenger.

      ⁃ A Jumpseating pilot can exit the airport on arrival by the crew exit and save a lot of time skipping lines at passport control or at the immigration checkpoint.

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          Cons of Jumpseating

          Jumpseating for free is only allowed on the pilots own airline. A Standby ticket would be issued to travel on another airline.

          ⁃ Being in the uniform and not traveling in normal clothes can be extremely uncomfortable in comparison with normal everyday clothes, especially when it comes to long flights.

          ⁃ Passenger interaction. For me it isn’t a problem but a lot of pilots get annoyed by passengers asking questions about the flight, the aircraft and general aviation stuff that only a pilot knows. Truth is it is company’s policy to not talk about the operation and the airline with passengers in any way possible.

          Learn More
          Try These Articles:
          * A Pilot’s Flight Bag – What is in there?
          * Can Pilots Go To The Bathroom?

          What is Pilot Deadheading?

          Deadheading is another well known term about this matter. Again free but with some differences compared to Jumpseating.
          Deadheading is considered active duty and is included in the duty hours of the pilot at the end of the month and year. When the company needs the pilot in a different place to operate a flight they “make” the pilot jumpseat for free.


          The difference between Deadheading and Jumpseating is that deadheading is for the benefit of the company while Jumpseating is for the benefit of the pilot.


          Do Pilot’s Families Fly For Free?

          Family members of a pilot don’t always get to fly for free, but they do get heavily discounted tickets or tickets with only a small fee. Family members can be issued either a Standby Ticket where they fly if there is room or a Confirmed Ticket where they are guaranteed a seat.

          The way to get tickets for family and friends is the same as described above in the Standby – Confirmed tickets section.

          Again, Standby tickets are unlimited but confirmed tickets are available for a limited amount. This number differs from company to company but some airlines provide crew members with a limited amount of charge free tickets for each pilots family.

          Can Pilot’s Fly Free On Any Airline?

          Pilots only get to fly for free within their own airline or sister airlines. When flying on other airlines they will have to pay a small fee and it will lamost always be a standby ticket where they can only fly if there is a free seat. If the flight is full they have to wait for the next flight.

          If the company is member of an airline alliance then the pilot can get tickets in a discounted price for him and his family but those tickets are mostly standby tickets and the confirmed tickets option is not available.


          To find out more about Airline Alliances please check out our article here:

          Airline Alliances 101: What They Are & Why Airlines Join Them?


          How Do Pilot’s Get Discounted Flights?

          To fly for cheap pilots have to apply for a ticket from their employer. They will then be given either a ‘Standby’ ticket where they fly if there is room, or get given a ‘Confirmed’ ticket which guarantees a seat on a particular flight. Pilots pay a small fee to cover charges.

          When it comes to tickets for their staff and crew every airline has the roughly the same policy. This inludes two categories of ticket:

          1. Standby Tickets
          2. Confirmed Tickets

          Stand-By Tickets

          Standby tickets are those that a pilot can buy paying a very small amount of money to cover some of the taxes and the airport fees. These tickets are called standby because if the flight is overbooked and every revenue passenger arrives, there won’t be any seat available for the pilot or any crew member with a standby ticket. Most of the time there are always 1 or 2 free seats so it should not be a problem.

          Standby tickets are available for every flight and there is no limit on how many each pilot can get.

          Confirmed Tickets

          Confirmed tickets work pretty much in the same manner as the standby tickets but in this case the fee paid is slightly higher. The big difference, as you can imagine is that there is an available seat for the pilot that bought the ticket and the pilot is going to be included in the seating plan.

          Pilots usually get a limited amount of confirmed tickets and most of them are outside of the busy periods of the year.

          Do Pilots Get Discounts or Benefits?

          Pilots are considered airport staff and the company ID card or the Airport ID card is sufficient for a pilot to get discounts on the duty free store, or food and drinks at the airport cafeterias and restaurants.This discount varies between 10% and as much as 70%.

          One of the biggest benefits pilots get is discounts in hotels and airbnbs. Most companies are offering discounts on hotels for their staff members using the company ID card at the check in of the hotel. Usually there’s a dedicated website within the airline that staff members have access to and can book hotel rooms pretty much anywhere in the world and in the places the airline flies to and from.

          Most of these hotels are in the vicinity or close vicinity of the airport so the pilot can have easy access to the airport.

          Learn More
          Try These Articles:
          * What Do Pilots Do Between Flights? A Pilot Explains
          * Can Passengers Visit the Airplane Cockpit?

          How Do Pilot’s Know When Turbulence is Ahead?


          We have all been sat on an airplane when all of a suddent the pilot turns on the ‘Seat Belt’ light and comes over the passenger address system to advise us of possible upcoming turbulence. The question is though, how do they know there is turbulence ahead? We can’t see it like we can an approaching rain storm, so how do they when when turbulence is coming?

          Pilots have to predict the location of turbulence so they use a combination of their experience, looking at the weather ahead, an aircraft-mounted weather radar, weather reports, satellite images, and by far the most accurate; reports from other pilots who have just experienced any turbulence.

          Although flying through turbulence can be a scary experience for a passenger it’s not as dangerous as you might think. Turbulence is just a normal part of flying and there are various ways by which pilots can foresee turbulence and can mitigate its effects on the aircraft.

          Air turbulence is a phenomenon that happens when the air around an aircraft becomes unstable, and the airflow and pressure changes rapidly. This can happen due to wind, weather conditions, terrain, or even the presence of other aircraft in the vicinity. The result is unpredictable movement and changes in altitude and attitude of the aircraft.

          Because of these sudden, rapid and unannounced changes in the aircraft it can cause discomfort to the passengers and crew, and depending on its timing, can make flying difficult for the pilots. 

          The effects of turbulence depend on how severe it is. The more severe the turbulence is, the more likely it will cause physical discomfort to passengers and crew members. Light turbulence may only make you feel like you’re floating in your seat while heavy turbulence can make you feel like you’re being tossed around like a rag doll inside the cabin.

          However, pilots are experienced in handling such turbulence, the aircraft are designed to handle way more turbulence than experienced so all the pilots have to do is to try to fly the aircraft out of the turbulent zone as quickly as possible or not even fly into it in the first place.

          What Do Pilots Use To Predict Turbulence?

          To predict turbulence pilost, use some or all of the following methods:

          • Aircraft Weather Radar
          • Ground-Based Weather Station Reports
          • Pre-Flight Briefings
          • PIREPs
          • Reporting Software
          • Imagery and Overlays

          Depending on the sophistication of the aircraft, the pilot may not have the luxury of some of these tools in the cockpit so they have to try and predict and plan the flight as best a possible while on the ground.

          For pilots flying in small aircraft, especially for pleasure, the entire flight may be cancelled due to extensive storm activity in the area. Large airplanes are much better suited to handle turbulence as they have better means to detect the turbulence, but also have the means to fly around or above the weather cell.

          For those of us that fly close to the earths surface, being on the ground is far better than being in the air wishing you were on the ground! – Trust Me! I made that mistake only once very early in my career!

          Not a Good Time To Go Flying – Time to grab a coffee!

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              Aircraft Weather Radar

              Most modern large passenger aircraft have a variety of equipment and instruments to assess the weather conditions around the aircraft. Aircraft radar is one of the primary tools pilots will use while airborne as it can provide a wealth of weather information, including wind speed and direction, precipitation levels and types, pressure readings, and much more, depending on the systems level of sophistication.

              This data is invaluable for the pilot/s to help in making informed decisions while flying through or approaching inclement weather.

              Aircraft Nose-Mounted Weather Radar – Source: tataquax

              Aircraft weather radar uses Super High-Frequency radio waves using 1-microsecond pulses. They are transmitted in the forward direction from a radar antenna which is installed in the nose cone of the aircraft.

              The radar antenna is mounted on gimbals and positioned by the inertial reference system (IRS) to adjust automatically with the shift in aircraft attitude and direction. The pilot can also change the sweep and angle of the signal beam so that the radar is directed correctly at the weather target.

              The transceiver of the radar switches the antenna to transmit and receive signal pulses at a high frequency. This cycle repeats continuously and the radar receiver unit maps a two-dimensional visual image on a display screen in the cockpit about the weather conditions ahead.  

              The weather radar picks up the density of precipitation. Green being the weakest and red being the strongest. This picture allows the pilot so see where the cells containing the strongest rainfall are. Strong rainfall is usually associated with thunderstorms which are known to have incredibly strong turbulence around and within them.

              Pilots can navigate their way around and between the cells as seen in the radar image above.

              Learn More
              Try These Articles:
              * Aviation Weather Information: How do Pilots Get It?
              * Flying Into The Sun – How Do Pilots Deal With It?

              Ground Weather Stations

              As the aircraft flies on its route, there are dozens of ground weather stations stuated along their route.  Some stations are equipped with radar and other metrological sensors to collect weather information in the area. This information is transmitted to the pilot through voice and data communication systems.

              Based on this data, weather forecasters and software can report real-time and forecasted weather so pilots can get a good estimate if they are going to encounter turbulence in their flight path.

              Clear Air & Mountain Wave Turbulence Forcast at 35,000 feet

              For those of us that don’t have the luxury of real-time imagery in the cockpit we have look at the applicable weather reports before lift off and make a decision as to the routing or to not go at all. This is called pre-flight planning and is a big part of a flight being successful.

              Pre-flight Briefing

              A pre-flight briefing is a required safety protocol that takes place before the takeoff of any aircraft. The pilot is informed about the weather conditions that the aircraft may encounter in its flight path and weather conditions both at the departure and destination airport.

              The pilot will then brief the rest of the crew as to if and when they expect turbulence so the cabin crew can ensure they are not in the middle of serving drinks or meals at the time of the forecasted turbulence.

              PIREPS

              A Pilot Report (PIREP) is information on meteorological phenomena encountered by a pilot in flight. These reports are passed on to other pilots and air traffic control when a pilot experiences something that others should be aware of, or to provide warnings to other pilots flying in the same vicinity.

              All pilots are encouraged to give PIREPs when their aircraft encounters unusual or sudden severe weather conditions.

              Examples of a PIREP could be:

              • When weather conditions on an IFR approach differ from the latest observation
              • A pilot detects wind shear, especially during take-offs and landings
              • A pilot expereinces unforcast Clear Air Turbulence (More on this later)
              • etc

              PIREPS can contain information on any number of factors that may affect a flight such as snow, icing, hail, severe turbulence, dust, fog, wind shear, clear air turbulence, and are by far the most accurate of all because they are timely reports from pilots who have just experienced it.

              IATA Turbulence Aware

              In 2018, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade association of commercial airlines, established a turbulence early warning network called Turbulence Aware.  

              It is an international, worldwide data exchange program. Turbulence Aware receives the existing weather data from participating airlines, performs its quality checks, anonymizes it, and provides the data back to all airlines.

              This then allows the airlines route planners to adjust routes before flight or allows pilots to alter their plan during flight.

              Satellite Weather Overlays

              For pilots of small and private aircraft they are now able to get real-time weather data overlaid onto their cockpit navigation displays.

              With a subscription to Sirius or XM Satellite and using an compatible aircraft avionics display the pilot can see the weather around them.

              Information like this then allows the pilots to make timely decisions about where they suspect turbulence to be and adjust their route accordingly.

              What is Clear Air Turbulence?

              Clear Air Turbulence (CAT) is erratic movement of air in a cloudless sky. Pilots are unable to see it which when encountered can violently shake the aircraft causing discomfort and hazards to occupants unbuckled from their seat. Most Clear Air Turbulence happens between 20,000 feet – 45,000 feet.

              Clear Air Turbulence (CAT) is one of the most dangerous types of weather conditions becuase it happens without warning, is unpredictable, but luckily in most cases lasts only for a short period.

              CAT has become a very serious operational factor in flight operations at all levels and especially in jet traffic flying over 15,000 feet. Normally in such cases, the weather appears clear without any clouds, rain, or snow, so the weather radar may not detect them and the pilots are often the most reliable source of CAT warnings received as PIREPs.

              CAT conditions must be reported by pilots if they encounter them. They are required to log the time and location, and it is sent to an FAA-approved ground station with which they are in radio contact to help other pilots following either prepare or alter their route.

              Learn More
              Try These Articles:
              * How Do Pilots See in Clouds? A Pilot Tells All!
              * Birds: How Do Pilots Avoid Them?

              The Different Types of Airplanes – All Explained Here!


              If you have ever been to an airshow, fly-in, or aviation museum the vast varitey of airplanes is truely staggering. Even though I have been an aviaiton enthusiast my entire life I still find new airplane types that draw my curiosity.

              Airplanes types can be split up into military and civilian containing passenger transport airplanes, cargo, aerobatic, combat fighters, bombers, training & pleasure aircraft, bi-planes & tri-planes, multi-role airplanes and then purspose-built airplanes like the Airbus Beluga or Nasa’s Shuttle Carrier.

              There are so many different types of airplanes, so in this article we are going to break down certain groups and see what type of airplanes they hold.

              To begin with, airplanes can easily be classified into 2 groups: 

              1. Military-Use Airplanes
              2. Commercial-Use Airplanes 

              Military-Use Airplanes

              No matter the country, most military forces will have several types of airplane to suit their needs. Below are the most common types of military airplane:

              1. Fighter Jets

              General Dynamics f-16 Fighting Falcon

              These are airplanes used for the purpose of striking enemy targets on the ground, at sea, and in the air. Traditionally these types of airplane were used in close-quarter ‘Dog Fights’ but with modern technology the distance required to engage between the aircraft and its target has dramaticlly increased.

              These airplanes are highly maneuverable, and are by far the most technologically advanced type of airplane in the world. They are usually equipped with machine guns, missles and or bombs.

              Types of Fighter Jet Airplanes:
              (All aircraft links to Wikipedia)

              2. Bomber Airplanes

              Boeing B-52G Stratofortress Bomber

              Bomber airplanes have been the backbone of most military forces since the dawn of aviation. Tasked with carrying large amounts of ordinance deep into enemy territory they are usually the first wave of attack to neutralize enemy ground-based defenses.

              Being large and relatively slow, the bombers are purposely designed to fly high and far, often requiring mulitple air-to-air refuels during their missions. With the advent of stealth technology, many latest generation bombers are now completely undetectable to all but the most sophisticated enemy radar detection systems.

              Types of Bomber Airplanes:

              3. Transport Airplanes 

              Boeing C-17 Globemaster III

              When a military force needs to get troops and equipment onto the ground they turn to their tranport airplanes. Designed to be highly-configurable and lift incredibly heavy payloads over very long distances these airplanes allow its military commanders to set up bases any where in the world.

              They are primarily used for initial insertion then ongoing resupply. These behemoths of the sky are the logisitics backbone. In times of a natural distater they can also be used to quickly bring help, aid and support to ravaged parts of the world.

              Types of Transport Airplanes:

              4. Surveillance Airplanes

              Lockheed U2 Reconnaissance Airplane

              The best way to know what an enemy is up to is to watch them. The constant game of cat and mouse is dominated by high-flying aircraft that give ther military commanders an undetected view of their enemy.

              Although most reconnaissance is now undertaken by drones and satellites you can still find a few purpose-designed surveillance aircraft in the skies. Whether they are launched off a ship or from another continent these airplanes play a vital roles in providing intelligence to their military commanders.

              Types of Surveillance Airplanes:

              5. Training Airplanes

              Embraer EMB 134 Super Tucano

              To learn to fly for the military it needs to have a selection of easy-to-fly training aircraft. All pilots begin with their basic training then progress up to more specialized aircraft depending if the are selected to fly fast jets, bomber, cargo or helicopters.

              All pilots start off like their civilian counter-parts, learning the basics of flight in very simple, piston-powered, single-engine airplanes. They then transition into multi-engine, jet engine and high-performance aircraft while passing many flight and written examinations along the way.

              Types of Training Airplanes:

              Learn More
              Try These Articles:
              * Why Do Airplanes Have Different Shaped Wings?
              * Narrowbody & Widebody Airplanes – What’s the difference?


              Civilian-Use Airplanes

              Just like the military, the civilian world also requires a wide variety of airplane types to provide services for the customers. Whether the airpane is moving hundreds of people across a continent, or battling a wilfdifre approach a neighborhood, a specific type of airplane is required:

              1. Commercial Passenger Airplanes 

              Boeing 747-8 Jumbo Jet

              Bar far the most well-known airplanes the world over. Dominated by Boeing and Airbus, the commerical passenger airplane market has allowed the world to become a much smaller place. From quick inter-city hops to 16 hour trans-pacific hauls, there is a commercial passenger plane to fit every route.

              Types of Commercial Passenger Airplanes:

              2. Business and Private Airplanes

              Gulfstream G550

              When time is money there is no better or more ecomonical way to travel than via a private jet. Whether the passengers are a wealthy family, or a gathering of company executives, the ‘Biz Jet’ market has seen rapid growth over the last few decades.

              With Light Jets that seat only a few passengers, up to a full Boeing 747 VVIP airplane, the only limiting factor to the airplanes size and luxury is the size of the owners budget.

              Types of Business/Private Airplanes:

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                  3. Commercial Cargo Airplanes

                  Boeing 747 Freighter

                  When packages and items are needed across the globe within days the only way to accomplish this is by cargo airplane. With over 35% of the worlds commerce moved by cargo airplane every year the volume of shipped goods is unimaginable!

                  Whether the airplane is packed full of indidual packages or contains an entire aircraft fuselage like the Airbus Beluga at the very top of this article, these airplanes allow society to have what they want, when they want.

                  Types of Cargo Airplanes:

                  4. Training Airplanes

                  Cessna 182

                  When learning to fly, a stable, forgiving and easy-to-master airplane is key for any new pilot. Leading the way in training and personal aircraft for decades is Cessna. Their range of airplanes allow for fligtht schools to select the most bare-bones basic airframe, to advanced, glass cockpit IFR-capable aircraft.

                  In recent decades many more manufacturers have joined the training aircraft market with some incredibly affordable airplanes making the joy of learning to fly cheaper so that more people can fulfil their dream of becoming a pilot.

                  Types of Training Airplanes:

                  5. Utility/Aerial Work Airplanes

                  Air Tractor Model 502 Crop Spraying Airplanes

                  When airplanes are needed to complete a specific task they have usually been purposely-designed to do it well. Whether crop spraying, fighting wildfires, towing banners down a beach, or allowing parachutists to exit from 15,000ft, there is an airplane for the job.

                  Many airplanes get modified from popular airframes to enable the task to either be completed safer or with more efficiency. When these types of airplanes are put to work they need to be as efficient as possible.

                  Types of Aerial Work Airplanes:

                  6. Amphibious Airplanes

                  Bombardier CL-415 Water Bomber

                  Amphibious airplanes are those that can use either water or land as their primary operating surface. These type of airplanes will have a boat-like hull or floats instead of wheels that allow them to safely land on water. When required to land on tarmac, retractable wheels will deploy to raise the floats or fuselage off the ground.

                  This type of airplane is commonly used for personal and commercial use where there is alot of lakes or ocean, but some of the most iconic amphibious airplanes are the ones used for fighting wildfires lik the CL-415 above.

                  Based at land-based airports, these aircraft will be flown at speed onto a body of water to ‘Scoop’ up water. Once full, the pilots will then deliver that water to a wildfire via controllable doors on the underside of the aircraft.

                  Types of Amphibious Airplanes:

                  7. Aerobatic Airplanes

                  Extra 330 Aerobatic Airplane

                  Airplanes specially rated for carrying out aerobatic maneuvers such as barrel rolls, loops, chandelles and prolonged inverted flight. These airplanes are light, strong, made to withstand high “G” forces and are highly maneuverable.

                  Most aerobatic airplanes are designed purely for this task with pressurized fuel and oil systems to be able to operate in any orientation and some are purposely aerodynamically unstable to allow the pilots to put them into incredible manueuvers for the delight of the crowd.

                  Most are also fitted with a smoke kit which injects dye into the exhaust gas of the engine as it leaves the aircraft adding to the ‘Wow’ factor during their displays.

                  Types of Aerobatic Airplanes:

                  Types of Airplane Based on Number of Wings

                  Aircraft can also be classed by their wing type. There are 4 main types:

                  1. Flying Wing

                  Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit

                  When the entire aircraft is made up of just the wing. The engines, cockpit and main fuselgae are all incorporated into the wing providing a very unique aircraft. The absence of a tail and rudder make the flight controls of these aircraft incredibly complex and as such are primarily limited to the military due to the intense reasearch, design, and manufacturing costs. This type of airplane are marvels of engineering!

                  The main advantage of this type of design is its stealth capabilites making it practically invisible to enemy radar.

                  2. Monoplane

                  An Airbus A380

                  Airplanes having only one pair of wings are termed as mono planes. All modern airplanes have this single pair of wings configuration and the wings can be mounted either below or above the fuselage. It is the most common type of airplane design as it provides the most amount of lift, for the least amount of drag and cost.

                  2. Bi-Plane

                  Pitts S-2C Special Aerobatic Airplane

                  Airplanes with 2 sets of wings, one over the top of the fuselage and another under the bottom are termed as bi-planes. Bi-planes were first developed during the early twentieth century and used extensively during WWI. As technology advanced, the bi-plane became an obsolete design but with modern design & materials they have seen a come-back in the aerobatic display sector.

                  The bi-plane design allows for a large wing surface area in a small footprint.

                  4. Tri-Plane

                  Sopwith Triplane

                  The very earliest designs of airplane needed to create a large wing surface area to produce enough lift. The infantsy of aerodynamic wing design was still not fully understood so stacking 3 wings ontop of one another was the best way to keep the wings small enough to remain strong when in flight.

                  These were also a main combat aircraft during WWI, with a propellor-drive machine gun mounted above the engine and geared to ensure no bullet would fire through the propellor.


                  If you would like to know more about aircraft based on Engine Type please see this article:

                  What are the Different Types of Aircraft Engine?


                  How Are Airplanes Tested & Certified?


                  It is common knowledge that travelling by airplane is by far the safest form of transport on the planet. The number of people transported compared to the number of people injured is incredible and this is all down to the decades of aircraft design and testing evolution.

                  Aircraft undergo testing from every component during initial design, to module testing & aircraft certification testing. Tests can incorporate stress, fatigue, noise, vibration, efficiency, handling, & emergencies in test rigs & software simulation, to static ground tests and finally flight tests.

                  To bring a new aircraft design to market can take decades due to the incredible number of components and systems that need not only be designed, but tested and certified. In this article I want to give you just a very slight glimpse into a few of the thousands of tests that go into every aircraft before passengers are allowed to embark.

                  Airplane Testing & Certification is Split into 6 Main Categories:

                  1. Individual Component Testing
                  2. Sub-Assembly or Module Testing
                  3. Static Test Rig Testing
                  4. Ground Testing
                  5. Flight Testing
                  6. Internal & External Certification

                  How Are Aircraft Components Tested?

                  Aircraft components undergo initial testing using compex simluation software during design. Components then get prototyped and subjected to real-world operating conditions to test them to extremes. If a component fails its sent back for re-design, while succesful components will be certified.

                  Next time you are on an aircraft just take a look at every single thing you can see. Each one of those components has had to undergo a rigourous design and testing program to become certified for use in that aircraft.

                  A UV Dye Penetration Test to Inspect For Cracks Invisible to the Human Eye are Common at Component Testiing

                  From the material it is made out of, to its shape, to its manufacturing process, to its coloration, to its interaction with its surrounding components. Every part has to be engineered to not only do its job, but be as ligh, durable, and cheap as possible.

                  Not matter if its a single rivet to a rediculously precise turbine blade in the engines compressor, each component has to pass a battery of tests before being certified for installation. The series of tests to become certified will also have been purposly designed for each component to ensure its job is conducted flawlessly for decades.

                  Tests can be range from material fatigue, vibration fatigue, resisitance to fire or saltwater, noise creation or a whole host of tests. Many of the individual components on an airplane are manufactured by external vendors to the airplane company.

                  It it up to the suppliers to pass the standards and certifications set forth by not only the aircraft manufacturer, but also the countries aviation governing body like the FAA, or EASA for example. Without passing certification for a particular country that component may not be certified to operate in that country.

                  Most countries piggy back off the certification for the US (FAA) and Europe (EASA) as these are the most strict certification standards.

                  Once a component has passed, it will then be certified to be installed into a Module or Sub-Assembly.

                  How Are Airplane Sub-Assemblies Tested?

                  Aircraft sub-assemblies are made up of many components. Sub-assemblies are tested to ensure each part within that assembly works with one another under the most extremes of operating conditions. Wear, stress, corrostion resistance, mechanical & electrical interference are all some of the common tests.

                  Each sub-assembly on an airplane has to also ensure it completes the job it was designed for within its surroundings. For example:

                  How well do the overhead lockers work when overloaded with weight and subjected to extreme turbulance? How well does the oxygen system work if there is a fire half way down the cargo compartment? How well do the cockpit window wipers work when the airplane has been sat in -40°F for 3 hours?

                  Again, each sub-assembly or module will have been designed and tested off site by an external supplier which will have purpose-designed tests to ensure their product exceeds the airplane manufacturers standards.

                  As the sub-assemblies or modules become larger they are usually subjected to large test rigs that can simulate extreme operating conditions.

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                      What Are Airplane Test Rig Tests?

                      Airplane test rigs are purpose-built devices used to allow the aircraft part or module to operate under normal to extreme conditions while safely subjecting it to various tests, procedures and data gathering. Test rigs allow for safe testing while sometimes operating the part to destruction.

                      By far the most well-known aircraft test rigs are the engine test and wing-flex test cells. These are one of hundreds of devices constructed to test their subjects either to destruction or to simluate service life fatigue and stress for any number of tests.

                      Delta Airline’s Engine Test Cell – Source: Delta News Hub

                      Bird strikes for example, can cause engines to fail due to component destruction or explosion. In addition, it can cause damage to the airframe of airliners approximated to cost $2 billion annually in repairs in the US alone.

                      A bird strike simulator often called a ‘Chicken Gun’ is employed to simulate this crucial test. It fires dead chickens at around 400mph into the engine and at the cockpit windshield to simulate the response if it would have encountered a flock of live geese in the air. Engines and windows need to withstand these impact forces to pass certification.

                      These kinds of test can only be accomplished safely by using a test rig.

                      Learn More
                      Try These Articles:
                      * How Do Airplanes Handle Lightning Strikes?
                      * Why are Unpainted Aircraft Green or Yellow?

                      How Are Airplanes Ground Tested?

                      Airplane ground tests are conducted on airplanes which are almost fully complete. Many tests will include how the aircraft handles while taxiing and taking off, to cold soaking in -40°F hangers, to testing evactuation, fire and emergency systems. Sensor and test engineers gather data to prove the tests.

                      Once the airplane is almost completely assembled the majority of the ground testing can begin. These tests are designed to test the aircraft as a whole to see how all its systems work with one another in some of the most stressful and extreme oprational conditions.

                      Here are some of the most common ground tests:

                      • Taxi & Ground Handling
                      • Runway Handling
                      • Hot & Cold Environmental Extremes
                      • Internal & External Acoustics
                      • Cabin Pressurization Cycles
                      • Passenger Comfort and Environment
                      • Cabin Layout & Emergency Drills
                      • Lightning Strikes
                      • Smoke and Fire
                      • Evacuation
                      • Electronic & Atmospheric Interference

                      In addition to these tests the pilots will begin testing the airplane on the runway for brake tests, tire friction, aborted takeoff, deep snow, deep sand, and deep water. For example:

                      During a simluated aborted takeoff test, a plane is equipped with worn-out brake pads and brought to take-off speed on the runway before the take-off is aborted and the plane is stopped under its hardest braking capability. This kind of test is used to gather data on when brake pads must be changed.

                      The engineers will also gather telemetry data on the stress parts of the airplane undergo during this extreme braking.

                      Ground testing can take months or years to complete for the design of a new aircraft. Usually several aircraft will reach the ground testing phase and be fitted out with tens of thousands of sensors and dozens of test engineers to scrutinize every aspect of the airplane.

                      This helps to run many tests concurrently to help speed up the ground testing stage.

                      A Boeing 787 Undrgoing Extreme Cold Ground Testing

                      These aircraft will be exposed to extreme hot, cold and humid climactic conditions to ensure everything works, or if not, what needs to be changed or does a procedure need adjusting. Not only do ground tests prove the aircraft is capable but it is also a time when many of the future maintenance procedures and component lifespans are determined ready for when the aircraft goes for its initial certification.

                      As these tests become complete the airplane nears its final series of tests – Flight Tests

                      How Are Airplanes Flight Tested?

                      Airplane flight tests are conducted by company test pilots with test engineers monitoring data from sensors mounted all over the aircraft. Tests can include handling, flight envelope development, procedural development, emergencies, noise, vibration, efficiency, speeds and altitude limitation proving.

                      The flight tests are the final hurdle in getting an aircraft ready for not only initial certification but also customer delivery.

                      For initial certification the aircraft will mainly be stripped ot its passenger seating and replaced with a team of flight test engineers with dozens of powerful computers to monitor thousands of additional sensors temporarily mounted over the entire aircraft.

                      A Typical Airplane Test Flight Interior – Source: H. Michael Miley

                      During a pre-designed flight test programs the pilots will fly the aircraft in set configurations to allow the test engineers to gather data. The pilots will also perform sequences of maneuvers to push the aircraft to its design limitations to ensure it remains safe.

                      These flight tests can include:

                      • Stall Recovery
                      • Maximum Altitude
                      • Endurance
                      • Maximum Flight Control Deflections
                      • Engine Fuel Flows
                      • Cabin Pressurizations
                      • Flight Envelope Controllability
                      • Noise and Vibration Analysis
                      • Avionics Testing
                      • Take-off and Landing Profiles
                      • Emergency Descents and Climbs

                      The data gathered during all these tests allow the documentation team to create the aircraft’s flight manual that stipulates the limitaitons of the aircraft, its most efficient ways to operate, the normal and emergency operating procedures and checklists etc.

                      The flight test program can last many months, sometimes years with hundreds to thousands of flight hours flown, usually using several test aircraft. Every possible scenario that cannot be fully simulated on the ground will be looked at and refined during these tests.

                      Once the aircraft has completed its flight test programs it will be fitted out with its full intrerior and teams of employees will undergo flight-route testing and analysis of the cabin. Seats will be tested, the galley will be tested, emergency scenarios will be tested – All to simulate the airplane full of passengers.

                      Again, the findings of these flights will help finalize the procedures to be used by cabin crews when the airplane enters service.

                      The other type of flight test is the ‘Pre-Delivery’ flight test. When an airplane rolls off the production line it will be flown by the company test pilots following a set test program. This is much smaller the initial certification program.

                      The pre-delivery test is designed to ensure every part of the aircraft works to the required standard and and is perfect before it is delivered. Test engineers will crawl over the cabin during the flight checking for vibrations or squeaks, quality technicians will be testing every system in the cabin to ensure everything is ready for example.

                      Upon landing and final sign-off from the test pilots and quality control department the airplane will be scheduled for delivery.

                      How Are Aircraft Certified?

                      Aircraft are certified after meeting an intense testing and development program that is developed with consultation between the aircraft manufacturer & the worlds largest aviation regulators like the FAA and EASA. Proving manuals & data is submitted & test pilots and engineers then certify the design.

                      For a completely new aircraft design like the Airbus A380 for example, certification for production is a mammoth task. The aicraft manufacturer has to prove the aircraft is safe on pretty much every aspect you can think of from the way in which the flight computers control the aircraft, to the way the toilets flush.

                      The certification process actually begins during the early stages of the aircraft design. Certain milesones have to be submitted and approved before the aircraft’s development and manufacturing can continue. It is similar to build a house.

                      A Boeing 787 Under Production – Source: Jetstar Airways

                      Designs have to be approved, then at various parts of the build there will be inspections and tests which need to be passed. The aircraft certification is just the same.

                      For final certficiation the FAA for example, will audit all of the aircrafts flight manuals, technical service manuals, maintenance manuals, checkists and procedures. Their own test pilots will put the aircraft through a program of both ground and flight tests to ensure the data provided by the manufacturer is not false.

                      Once the governing body (FAA) is happy their certification requirements are met they will issue a certificate to begin productioon of the aircraft and it will be given an aircraft type designation like B747, A330 for example.

                      Upon certification the manufacturer will have to ensure it maintains its production standards and quality to maintain its certification. The FAA will also do unnanounced audits to ensure the manufacturer remains in compliance at all time.

                      Learn More
                      Try These Articles:
                      * How Much Do Airliners Cost? Top 7 Big Jets!
                      * Narrowbody & Widebody Airplanes – What’s the difference?

                      A Pilot’s Flight Bag – What is in there?


                      A pilot’s flight bag is one of those things that a pilot cannot be without. No matter if the person is flying a commercial airliner or a small aircraft out in the remote wilderness. A pilot’s flight bag has everything close by that a pilot would need both before, during, and after the flight.

                      An airline pilot’s flight bag contains identification, company documents, sunglasses, headset, additional clothes, water, snacks, notepads, and a company iPad filled with all the aviation charts and procedures. A bush pilot’s flight bag may also have a portable GPS and small survival and first aid kits.

                      This article is quite unique as it has two pilots’ perspectives. Firstly I will give you a tour of what is in my bag that I use on the airlines every day, then Rick will give you a tour of what he uses flying in the bush.

                      Just like a ladies’ purse, a pilot’s flight bag can seem endless with the amount of stuff they have in there. Everything in there though has a purpose so to find out exactly what’s inside these bags and why please read on…

                      What’s Inside an Airline Pilot’s Flight Bag?

                      Documentation

                      This is split into two categories:

                      Personal Documentation:

                      Every pilot needs to carry with them their Pilot’s License, passport, medical certificate, any type of visa if they have to overnight in any place not covered by international law (Israel for example).

                      Company Documentation:

                      The company’s Identification card which is sometimes put on a lanyard around the pilot’s neck and a notebook so they can write down things to make life easier while flying (fuel figures, ATC frequencies, passenger numbers, etc.).

                      Before the advent of the iPad, many of the company documents were in paper format and would have to be carried. Flight plans, Load sheets, weather data, schedules, and so forth. This easily doubled the size of the pilot’s flight bag. Now its much lighter!

                      Headset

                      The next important thing that can be found in a pilot’s bag is the Headset. Different types of headsets can be found, but two most common the world over are the:

                      1. Bose A20 – Find them Here at Amazon.com
                      2. Bose Pro Flight – Find them Here at Amazon.com

                      These are the most comfortable headsets for long-distance flights. Both have had extensive pilot input into their design and the pedigree of Bose is the reason why you will find these on every flight deck. Just like any tool, they are not cheap, but when you are wearing them for hours on end you soon forget about the cost.

                      It is for these reasons that both myself and Rick wear Bose pilot headsets.

                      My Bose Pro Flight Pilot Headset

                      Together with the headset usually pilots carry batteries to use in case the batteries for the headset die during flight. The headsets have noise canceling capabilities that run off the batteries and once it stops working mid-flight I can tell you it feels sooo loud without it!

                      These types of headsets usually have Bluetooth so you can listen to music or watch movies in a long flight. Some pilots also carry spare headset parts in case anything breaks that might need replacing.

                      Food and Water

                      Good food and lots of water are always present in a pilots bag. Like every job, pilots need to be properly hydrated and not have a distraction of an empty stomach. Not every airline offers food to pilots and flight attendants!

                      Most low-cost airlines require pilots to bring their own food and some of them, even water. Supplied or not, it’s always a good idea to have some kind of food in the bag, even if that is just a snack. Water should always be in a pilot’s bag no matter whether the airline supplies it or not.

                      Coffee – Waking up at 4 am to operate any kind of flight usually means most pilots will have this as part of their primary flight possessions.

                      Clothes

                      Clothes should be brought on any flight even if that is a short one. Lots of times pilots may find themselves in an unplanned layover somewhere with nothing to wear but their uniform and the hotel’s towels.

                      A change of underwear, pants and a shirt makes for a much more comfortable evening when going out for a quick meal. Not every pilot wants to stay a pilot in their downtime!

                      Electronic Flight Bag

                      Every airline in the world issues some kind of iPad to their pilots. For most operators, the iPad contains all airport charts, performance tools for take-off and landing, aircraft flight manuals, company standard operating procedures, company operating manuals, and any company-specific documentation required.

                      Besides the company-issued iPad, pilots may carry their own iPad containing movies, books, or whatever else they prefer to make their life easier on the flight deck during long flights.

                      Entertainment

                      Believe it or not, pilots carry even board games or books with them to pass some time while flying those long 8 hours crossing the ocean. This may sound odd, but as pilots, we are still constantly monitoring all the instrumentation and the avionics instantly lets us know if something changes or faults.

                      Toiletries

                      For those unplanned overnight layovers, the thought of not having deodorant, or a toothbrush just sends shivers down most pilots’ spines! All pilots will carry a small toiletry ‘Basics’ pack in their pilot bag. This way they ALWAYS have something to freshen up.

                      In addition, one of the downsides of everyday flying at altitudes more than 20,000 feet is that the air becomes dry. The warm cabin air we all breathe and sit in is provided by the engines, so a good quality face moisturizing cream and a hand cream should always be in there.

                      Sunscreen is also a must. Once above the clouds, a pilot can be sat facing the sun for hours on end, every working day. Even though the cockpit windows do have a UV-reduction coating it is still advisable for pilots to apply a small amount of sunscreen to their faces each day.

                      Disinfecting wipes are also a good idea to clean yourself up before and after eating or for just cleaning the instruments and the controls of the aircraft.

                      The last thing is sunglasses, no matter what! To find out why pilots need sunglasses please take a read of this article:

                      Do All Pilots Need Sunglasses? : Yes, Find Out Why!

                      High Visibility Vest

                      All pilots need to carry their High-Visibility vest with them at all times they are on airport grounds and in the aircraft maneuvering area.

                      High-vis vest are mandatory while outside of the aircraft or terminal to all them to be easily seen by ground staff and pilots.

                      Airports are very busy places and not everyone is paying attention so making themselves easy to see is a must to avoid an accident.

                      Both the Captain or Co-Pilot can be tasked with doing the pre-flight visual inspection of the aircraft exterior.

                      Additional Items

                      Anything else that might be important for the pilot, That might be cigarettes, gum, medications, reading glasses, specific beverages, or snacks. You get the idea! Random stuff that makes their life easier.

                      Learn More
                      Try These Articles:
                      * Pilot Logbooks – What Are They & Why You Need One?
                      * Before Taking Off – What Do Pilots Check?

                      Do Pilots Buy Their Own Flight Bags?

                      Most airlines will issue their pilots with a flight bag and suitcase. These may have been manufactured with the airline’s branding and may be mandatory. Many times pilots will purchase their own flight bags that suit their personal preference and usage provided the airline allows it.

                      A pilot’s bag is considered a part of the company uniform so for some airlines it is mandatory to be carrying one with you at all times when on duty. Usually, the bag is provided by the airline company together with the pilot uniform with guidance on when and where both the uniform and bag must be worn.

                      Usually, airlines provide their pilots with a suitcase as well for long layovers but it’s not mandatory to carry it with you, unlike the pilot’s bag.

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                          If you want to see a great selection of some of the most popular bags used by pilots all over the world please check out the collection Here in the Pilot Teacher Amazon Store

                          What’s Inside a Bush Pilot’s Flight Bag?

                          A bush pilot’s flight bag will usually contain a flashlight, bug spray, multi-tool, survival kit, satellite phone, portable GPS, toilet roll, and sometimes a first-aid kit. Being out in the wilderness the pilot has to be prepared for an overnight stay and to be as comfortable as possible.

                          Bush pilots very rarely have the comforts on an airport lounge or terminal to work out of or wait. Once away from the main hanger most bush pilots are out in the wilderness with their customers and as such need to have a few items to help.

                          Bush pilots mostly spend their days working out in the bush and return to the hangar at night or they can be based out of camps or hotels. All commercially operated aircraft must have on board a small first-aid kit, a small survival kit and most also contain a satellite phone and tracking system and a GPS, but most pilots I know will also pack their own gear too.

                          Hi Rick here, now Vasileios has shown you what’s in his airline flight bag, I will show you what’s in mine!

                          A Typical Mining Exploration Camp – Plywood Sheds with Tarp Roofs!

                          GPS

                          Depending on the company the aircraft may come with an aviation GPS installed already but if not, the pilot needs to be prepared with their own GPS. This is mainly used for navigating to the locations the customers have specified. Many times the customer may send a file of GPS coordinates that they wish to visit during their job. The pilot can then enter these in ahead of time so is ready for the first day with the customer.

                          The portable GPS however is now becoming obsolete as most pilots have their own iPad.

                          iPad

                          Just like the airline pilot, the bush pilot will use the iPad for all of their personal and company documentation as well as a GPS App like Boeing’s Foreflight or Garmin’s Pilot.

                          The moving map technology which also allows customers to send map overlays make the iPad a powerful tool in the cockpit.

                          For example, this was an updated map of a wildfire showing the perimeter and all of the helipads, camps, and rain gauges.

                          This was airdropped to the pilots for that morning and it was instantly on all the pilot’s iPads for that days fire attack.

                          The iPad is a very powerful and helpful tool in the bush/utility sector.

                          Here is my iPad Setup in the Airbus AS350 Astar

                          If you wish to know what kind of iPad mounting system I use check out my review video Here.

                          Phone Battery Pack & Solar Charger (Sometimes)

                          For those days when the pilot has to fly their customers to a location and then sit and wait for them all day, watching movies on their iPhone/iPad can soon chew up their battery. Portable battery packs provide an easy way to charge them back up.

                          You can find the Battery Pack I use Here at Amazon.com

                          In the summer a solar phone charger is also a handy tool to have. They can easily be packed away, are light and a great addition/alternative to a battery pack.

                          Find a Great Solar Charger Here at Amazon.com

                          Laptop

                          Being based in remote camps and away from home, most bush pilots will have their laptop with them. My current laptop has seen more of the country than my wife has and in fact many of the blog posts you read here on Pilot Teacher were written from the backseat of a helicopter while sat waiting for my customers.

                          Many pilots will keep their digital logbooks and company documents backed up on their laptop.

                          Learn More
                          Try These Articles:
                          * How Do Airplanes Handle Lightning Strikes?
                          * How Do Airplanes Not Freeze?

                          Book

                          When staring at a screen is done you can regularly find a pilot sat in their portable camping chair, or hammock reading a book. Pilot crew houses are full of novels and is a great way to take a book, leave a book.

                          When sitting for hours on end for the weather to improve or their customers to finish a book is a must.

                          Survival Kit

                          All commercial aircraft by law have to contain a survival kit. But many pilots will pack a small survival kit that they will keep in their flightsuits or in a small ‘Bug-Out’ bag by their seat. In the event of an accident or the pilot needs to evacuate the aircraft quickly, an easy-to-grab survival kit may be the only thing they have to survive.

                          If you wish to see some great little kits please check out the Pilot Teacher Amazon Store Here

                          Small Sleeping Bag

                          When sleeping in a camp a small lightweight, compact sleeping bag and inflatable pillow is usually thrown into the pilot bag! Here is mine and I can tell you that it has paid for itself many times over. Some of the places a pilot is expected to sleep is not for the squeamish!

                          The sleeping bag I use can be found Here at Amazon.com
                          The Inflatable Pillow I use can be found Here at Amazon.com

                          Although not always needed, their small size makes them easy to throw into the bag when you think there might be a chance of a camp stay.

                          First-Aid Kit

                          Usually, a pilot will also have a small first aid kit packed away with their survival kit. Again, most aircraft will have a first aid kit onboard but having a separate, small kit gives great piece of mind. Its surprising how many pilots cut and burn themselves while out working in the bush and building a small campfire!

                          A small kit like This One from Amazon.com is perfect

                          Flashlight

                          Before every flight of the day or after the last flight of the day the aircraft needs to have a nose to tail visual inspection by the pilot. When darkness surrounds the pilot a flashlight and usually a headlamp are first to come out of the bag.

                          In addition to inspecting the aircraft is looking inside drums of fuel stored at remote fuel caches. The only way to ensure the fuel is not contaminated with water or sediment is to peer through the cap and see it contents.

                          This is the Flashlight I have used for years. You can find it Here at Amazon.com
                          The Head Lamp I use can also be found Here at Amazon.com

                          Multi-Tool

                          It will be very rare to find a bush pilot without a multi-tool strapped to their waste or in their flight bag. Being out in the wilderness there are times when small repairs have to be made to the aircraft or equipment to keep it working. A Multi-tool serves this purpose incredibly well.

                          You can find a great selection of Multi-tools Here at Amazon.com

                          Toilet Roll and Hand wipes

                          As much as this gross’s out my wife the fact that a bush pilot spends all day out in the bush means there comes a time when they need to use the bush ‘Facilities’! A bush pilot soon learns to pack their own toilet paper and sanitizing hand wipes! – it’s the simple things in life that make the biggest difference!

                          Water and Food

                          Unlike Vasileios, bush pilots do not have the luxury of flight attendants bringing them food or picking up a snack from a terminal food court! Bush pilots will always have plenty of food and water on them to last the day, in fact, this usually comes in its own cooler because it would not fit in the flight bag!

                          During the summer I always hang a CamelBak off the back of my seat (See Very First Pic), especially when fighting wildfires. Hot summers, beating sun, and 3 hour long flights can soon lead to dehydration if not careful. The Camelbak allows for easy sips between water drops.

                          In addition, a LifeStraw is a great device to pack in a bag. If water runs out this ingenious device allows you to safely suck water straight out of any water source.

                          You can find the LifeStraw Here at Amazon.com

                          Suncream & Sunglasses

                          Just like Vasileios, every pilot needs sunglasses and sunscreen. Have a look at the picture below and see how much of the aircraft is window!

                          Water Sampling from Ground Wells Surrounding a Proposed Coal Mine

                          Protection from the sun is paramount, especially over decades of exposure. Both good-quality sunglasses and sunscreen will always be found in any pilot’s bag.

                          Here is a great selection of Pilot Sunglasses at the Pilot Teacher Amazon Store

                          Bug Spray & Bug Hat

                          One of the worst aspects of being a bush pilot has to be the bugs! Mosquitos, Horse Flies, Black Flies, No-See-Ums, I swear they are all there to make a pilot’s life miserable while out in the bush. I’m lucky as I can sit in the aircraft with all the windows and vents shut to keep them at bay, but when a pilot needs to work outside bug spray and a bug hat are the only means to survive.

                          Over the years of working with hundreds of talented field workers, the best bug spray/cream they all wear is This One Here at Amazon.

                          Satellite Tracker

                          Operating in remote areas brings with it a whole set of challenges if a problem occurs or the pilot or their aircraft becomes disabled. Many bush aircraft have satellite tracking systems fitted into them so the company can track their aircraft, but for smaller companies, this is not the case.

                          Over the last few years, both I and many of my customers have invested in our own sat tracking devices so that we can connect with each other while out in the field and give out loved one’s peace of mind should an issue occur.

                          The two most common devices in a bush pilot’s bag are either the Spot or ZoLeo. For a few hundred dollars these can not only send messages for help but the ZoLeo allows messaging through an app on a smartphone, even without cell service.

                          Clothes

                          When bush pilots are sitting behind Vasileios and he is flying them to work the bush pilots’ belongings are at the mercy of the airport’s ground handling staff. We all know how bags get misplaced so most pilots will pack the majority of their flight gear (minus the sharps and liquid) as hand luggage.

                          To ensure the pilot is ready to go the moment they arrive many will have a couple of pairs of underwear and a very small travel toiletry kit in the bag in case their main baggage doesn’t arrive.

                          Camera Equipment

                          If you are like me and are also a YouTube Content Creator then the camera gear must travel too! This is a rare sight, and I’m one of very few pilots who carry ANY camera with them that is not their cell phone, but to do so I had to find a way to incorporate all that gear with my flight gear.

                          If you wish to find out how I did it please check out this video:

                          Now back to Vasileios to continue…

                          What is a Good Pilot Bag?

                          A pilot’s bag is any kind of bag that would resemble something between a backpack and a suitcase. Think of it as a small suitcase with wheels with just enough space for what you would need on a flight or at a layover.

                          The most common pilot bags on the interior are usually separated into a big compartment with some smaller ones to fit things like an iPad, clothes, food, and any type of documentation you need to have with you while operating a flight.

                          It also has to be in a comfortable size that fits inside the flight deck, usually by each pilot’s seat. As you can see this is where I keep my flight bag in the cockpit of the Boeing 737 which unfortunately is not the spaciest flight deck.

                          With that in mind, a big suitcase – one that you would use to travel on vacation for example – would not be able to fit at all.

                          Most pilots look for several things in a flight bag:

                          • Enough space to easily store all their equipment
                          • Easy access to the most commonly used items – Like headset
                          • Quality material
                          • Comfortable to carry
                          • Not too big, but big enough
                          • For airlines – Wheels and Retractable handle

                          Some pilots require a lot of gear to be carried, ie Ricks, some pilots require minimal gear to be carried ie, Mine, and pilots of small, private aircraft may only need a simple headset bag to also store their pilot certificate in.

                          The good thing is there is such a wide variety of quality pilot bags available that every pilot can find one to suit them.

                          If you want to see a great selection of some of the most popular bags used by pilots all over the world please check out the collection Here in the Pilot Teacher Amazon Store

                          Learn More
                          Try These Articles:
                          * Can Pilots Go To The Bathroom?
                          * How Do Pilots Avoid Jet Lag?

                          What is an Aircraft Transponder & What Does it Do?


                          As a passenger have you ever wondered how air traffic control can monitor and differentiate between hundreds of different aircraft all flying in the same airspace at any given time, especially when the clouds are low or it is nighttime and they are unable to see them?

                          The answer is a small electronic device that is fitted into all commercial and most private aircraft. It is called a Transponder that is fitted into the aircraft.

                          I remember hearing the word ‘Transponder’ when I first began learning to fly and I had no idea what it was so this is what I teach students.

                          What is a Transponder?

                          A transponder is a device that responds to each pass of an airport’s Radar. It tells the radar system the registration # of the aircraft, the altitude it is at, and with each sweep of the radar, updates the aircraft’s position & if it’s changing altitude. It can also issue alerts to ATC from the pilot.

                          The term transponder is short for “Transmitter – Responder”. It is an electronic device fitted in the aircraft that transmits a 4-digit “squawk code” upon interrogation by the ATC radar each time the rotating radar signal sweeps past the aircraft. This code contains information about the aircraft such as call sign, altitude, groundspeed, etc. This information is then displayed on the air traffic controller’s radar screen. 

                          A Radar Screen
                          A Typical Air Traffic Controllers Radar Screen – Source: Steve Parker

                          Each aircraft equipped with a transponder allow the air traffic controllers (ATC) to assign details to the aircraft on its screen:

                          For example on the screen above:

                          In the top left of the image there is flight BMAZLJ:

                          This aircraft will have been assigned a 4-digit squawk code (More on this later) when the pilots first checked in with Air traffic control before being pushed back from the gate. The pilots enter the code into their transponder. The air traffic controller assigned the aircraft flight number to that 4-digit code:

                          Eg:
                          Squawk Code of 3257, then gets entered into the ATC computer as ‘BMAZLJ

                          This makes it really easy to see where that flight is at any time. At the time the photograph was taken flight BMAZLJ is heading Northwest bound, at 19,000feet with a ground speed of 350.2 knots. The diamond is the aircraft and the tail represents its last few positions to show its direction of flight.

                          The transponder system is made up of the Transponder Unit which is the panel mounted in the cockpit. This houses all of the electronics. It also requires an antenna to be mounted on the outside of the fuselage to intercept and transmit radio signals.

                          Transponders also play a vital role in the TCAS (Traffic Collision And Avoidance System). The TCAS system is installed in modern aircraft and helps prevent midair conflicts by issuing aural and visual alerts to pilots. TCAS is solely dependent on the transponder system.

                          TCAS acts like a mini radar and sends out interrogation signals from the aircraft. When another aircraft is in the area its transponder responds to this interrogation and sends its data to the requesting aircraft. The TCAS system then decodes this information and places it on a screen in the cockpit for the pilots to see:

                          TCAS Screen Shot
                          An Aircraft TCAS Screen

                          TCAS Symbol Key:

                          • White Outlined Triangle – Your aircraft
                          • Red Square – RA – Aircraft 1,300 ft above and climbing in front of you
                          • Yellow Circle – TA – Aircraft to your left, 200 ft above and climbing with you in same direction
                          • Blue Filled Diamond – Proximate Traffic – Aircraft to your left 1,200 ft below and climbing with you in same direction
                          • Blue Outlined Diamond – Other Traffic – Aircraft ahead 3,000ft above and descending towards you

                          There are basically 2 versions of TCAS:

                          One which just shows the traffic advisory (TA), it displays the other aircraft’s data, shows the position of other aircraft, and leaves it to the pilot to decide to what action to take to maintain separation.

                          A newer version is the one that detects the traffic and gives traffic advisory (TA) and when crucial, also provides resolution advisory (RA). By resolution advisory, I mean that it verbally announces to the pilot to go left/right/climb/descend and these advisories have priority over air traffic controller’s command.

                          In other words, whenever a situation arises where ATC asks the pilot to go left, and TCAS gives a RA to go right, the pilot will have to go right. This helps pilots avoid each other in the event of a mistake by an air traffic controller.

                          If the transponder is switched off, faulty for any reason, or does not have one fitted at all, the aircraft will be invisible to other aircraft in the vicinity. 

                          One such incident resulted in a midair collision between an Embraer private jet and a Boeing 737 over Brazil. The crew of the Embraer private jet did not realize that for some reason their transponder was turned off and as a result, they were not visible as a potential threat to other aircraft around them.

                          This resulted in a collision with a Boeing 737. The Embraer private jet managed to land at a military field where the occupants were detained, unfortunately, the Boeing 737 crashed in the Amazon jungle with none of the passengers or crew surviving the crash.    

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                              How Does A Transponder Work?

                              A transponder works by passing digital information to any radar signal that it receives. The transponder takes flight data from the aircraft sensors and sends it with each interrogation from a radar, whether that be a ground-based or aircraft-based radar. Transponders only pass data outward.

                              Before we delve further into the intricacies of transponders, we must understand the types of radars first. Radar stands for RAdio Detection And Ranging.

                              Radar can be divided into two types:

                              • Primary
                              • Secondary

                              Primary Radars transmit radio waves that bounce back after hitting an object, the time taken for the wave to return is used to calculate the distance of the object from the radar. The radar antenna constantly rotates through 360° and the direction the radar antenna is pointing when the signal is received back is the location the aircraft is in from the radar. This is what places ‘The Diamond’ icon on the radar controllers screen.

                              However, it uses antiquated technology and has drawbacks.

                              Primary radar cannot decipher what it sees. it just picks up any object in the sky, therefore anything like flocks of birds or really heavy rain cells can create a radar return.

                              Primary Radar is the large, lower antenna in this photo. The antenna mounted above it is the Secondary Radar antenna.

                              Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR) uses electronic pulses to interrogate the target aircraft. It is the SSR that gathers the flight data from the aircraft to display with the aircraft target on the air traffic controllers’ screen.

                              These ground-based radars and antennae like you see in the photo are slowly being updated and replaced. Typical radars now look like this:

                              So now the aircraft side…

                              For Commercial Airliners:

                              Prior to pushback, when the aircraft is at the gate, the pilots request a clearance known as an IFR clearance. As part if this clearance instruction the air traffic controller will assign the pilot a 4-digit code known as the Squawk Code. The pilot will type this code into their transponder ready for departure (PRESET BOX):

                              An Integrated Transponder
                              A Transponder Integrated into a Complex Avionics Suite

                              For Helicopters and Small Aircraft:

                              Before the pilot begins to move from their hanger they too must obtain permission from air traffic control. During this initial contact, the air traffic controller MAY issue the pilot to input a certain squawk code or the pilot will fly under the generic code of 1200.

                              This code is used for all pilots flying under Visual Flight Rules.

                              A Garmin GTX327 Transponder
                              A Basic, Small Aircraft Transponder

                              Each aircraft within that air traffic controllers sector is assigned a unique squawk code so that each aircraft can be identified easily on departure. During flight as the aircraft passes into a different airspace sector, the new air traffic controller looking after that sector may assign the aircraft a new squawk code to which the pilot must enter.


                              If you would like more information on VFR and IFR flight rules please read this:

                              What is VFR & IFR? What are their differences?


                              Transponders have 3 mode capabilities depending on their age and sophistication:

                              1. Mode A: 

                              This is the most basic type of transponder system. These transponders only transmit the aircraft’s squawk code to the radar screen. They are most commonly found in old, private aircraft.

                              2. Mode C:

                              Mode C capability allows the radar controller to see the aircraft’s pressure altitude information along with its squawk code. These were by far the most common in small commercial and privately-owned pleasure aircraft.

                              Cessna 182
                              A Mode C Transponder Will Be Common in These Small Aircraft.

                              3. Mode S: 

                              Mode S capability is now found on all commercial transport aircraft and private aircraft that wish to fly within controlled airspace. It is the most advanced mode out of all the three modes available. These systems support other systems such as TCAS and ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast).  

                              ADS-B is the latest surveillance technology that is replacing Primary and Secondary Radar. It is satellite-based and far more accurate and provides more capabilities between aircraft and controllers.

                              It is now a legal requirement for aircraft to have an ADS-B capable transponder when operating within Class A, B, C, or E airspace.

                              Learn More
                              Try These Articles:
                              * How Do Pilots Know When To Takeoff?
                              * Aircraft Cockpits: Why are there so many buttons!!?

                              When is a Transponder Used or Required?

                              An aircraft must be fitted with and have it turned on when operating above 10,000 feet above mean sea level but not within 2,500 feet above the ground, like in mountainous terrain. Also, within 30nm of a Class B airspace when below 10,000ft MSL and within all Class C airspace when below 10,000ft MSL.

                              You would think that it would be law requiring every aircraft to have and use a transponder but that is not the case, although I wish it was.

                              Transponders are an expensive item and for owners who like to fly around the wilderness and stay away from populated areas then the need to have one fitted is not worth the cost. For aircraft regularly operating in and out of airports there are a few rules:

                              With Mode S ADS-B in full effect now here are the requirements for when a transponder is required:

                              Uncontrolled Airspace: No Transponder required

                              Class A Airspace: ADS-B Transponder

                              Class B Airspace: ADS-B Transponder when flying within 30nm up to 10,000 feet above Mean Sea Level (MSL)

                              Class C Airspace: ADS-B Transponder when flying within up to 10,000 feet MSL

                              Class D Airspace: Mode C or ADS-B Transponder when flying within

                              Class E Airspace: ADS-B Transponder

                              Normally, transponders are switched on before entering the active runway and switched to standby mode once vacating the runway after landing. However, with the passage of time, airports have started utilizing technologies such as surface movement radar and guidance which requires that the transponder be switched on once the pushback commences.

                              This technology allows ground controllers to track aircraft as they taxi. This has been a great step forward in improving safety as some of the world’s largest airports can be a maze to navigate around and when fog reduces pilot visibility to near zero!

                              What are Squawk Codes?

                              Squawk codes are 4-digit codes assigned to a pilot from an air traffic controller. They allow the controller to see the aircraft on their radar screen along with information about their position. Each aircraft gets assigned a unique squawk code to allow easy identification on a busy radar screen.

                              There are two types of squawk code:

                              1. Controller-Assigned Codes
                              2. Pre-Determined Codes

                              Controller-Assigned Codes

                              Squawk codes that are assigned by an air traffic controller are unique 4-digit codes that are assigned to each individual aircraft. Two aircraft cannot have the same squawk code within the same airspace. These squawk codes are usually assigned with the initial clearance either before taking off or entering the airspace.

                              Pre-Determined Codes

                              The FAA and ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) developed a series of pre-determined squawk codes that can be used not only in the US but also worldwide. Some of them help bring immediate attention to aircraft if there becomes an issue on board.

                              CodeUse
                              1000Aircraft Operating under IFR ADS-B
                              1200Aircraft Operating under VFR – Visual Flight Rules
                              1255Aircraft Operating Within Designated Wildfire Operations
                              1277Aircraft Operating Within Search & Rescue Operations
                              7500Aircraft has been Hijacked
                              7600Radio Failure
                              7700Emergency

                              Whenever any of the codes marked in red are typed into the transponder by the pilot it brings up an instant alert on the air traffic controller’s radar screen to alert them that the aircraft needs assistance.

                              Learn More
                              Try These Articles:
                              * Do Pilots Talk to Other Pilots or Aircraft?
                              * What is an Aircraft APU and What’s it Used For?

                              Why Do Airplanes Take Off and Land into the Wind? 


                              If you have a keen eye you may have been sat in an airport terminal and watched the airplanes landing then all of sudden they seem to be landing and taking off from the other direction. There is a method to the madness here and it all to do with the wind.

                              Why Do Airplanes Takeoff into the Wind? 

                              Airplanes need airflow over the wings for it to generate lift. The faster the airflow, the more lift is generated. By taking off into the wind the wind velocity itself adds to the speed of the air flowing over the wing allowing the aircraft to lift off sooner than if there was no wind.

                              Aircraft have two speeds that are of concern when taking off:

                              1. The ground speed of the aircraft – The speed its shadow moves over the ground
                              2. The airspeed over the aircraft – the speed the wind passes over the wings

                              Taking off into wind allows the pilots to lift off the ground at a slower ground speed and using less distance.

                              For Example:

                              Imagine a plane sitting stationary on a runway on a calm day. At that moment, it has zero ground speed and zero airspeed.

                              If a 20-knot-wind is blowing at the airplane from the front (headwind), the plane will have an airspeed of 20 knots, and a ground speed of zero. 

                              Below is a takeoff distance comparison of a headwind, no wind and tailwind. Each aircraft shows it point of liftoff on the runway:

                              Assuming our plane has a takeoff speed of 120 knots airspeed with no wind, when facing into the wind, it would already have a 20 knot head start before it even moved. For it to attain its takeoff speed, it would have to accelerate to 100 knots ground speed. This would give it a 120 knots airspeed at liftoff. 

                              With no headwind, it would need to accelerate to 120 knots groundspeed to lift off. This means it travels further down the runway.

                              If it then took off facing the direction the wind is blowing (tailwind), it would have to achieve a ground speed of 140 knots to lift off at 120 knots airspeed as its ground speed while stationary would be -20 knots. This would take even more runway to reach takeoff speed.

                              The problem with covering more runway before lifting off (rotating) is that the plane has less runway remaining to stop in case of an aborted takeoff. This could cause it to overrun if they were taking off from a short runway.

                              For airports in high altitudes, hot temperatures, and humid weather, taking off and landing into the wind is very critical because air becomes less dense, making the generation of lift harder. Landing into a headwind helps keep liftoff speeds and takeoff roll to a minimum.


                              Headwinds Help to Generate Lift and Tailwinds Hinder Generating Lift


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                              * What are the Top 10 Busiest Airports in the World?

                              Before takeoff pilots will calculate the estimated takeoff distance using the current atmospheric conditions and the weight of the airplane. They will then add on the distance required to abort and come to a stop and see if the runway available has the required length to accomplish with spare tarmac remaining.

                              Here are Some Typical Takeoff Distances for Fully-Loaded Airplanes:

                              AirplaneTakeoff Distance
                              ATR 72-6004,485 feet or 1,365 meters
                              Airbus A220-1004,800 feet or 1,460 meters
                              Airbus A3185,840 feet or 1,780 meters
                              Boeing 737-1006,000 feet or 1,830 meters
                              Boeing 767-2006,300 feet or 1,900 meters
                              Airbus A3809,800 feet or 3,000 meters
                              Boeing 747-810,200 feet or 3,100 meters

                              If you would like to know how long airport runways are please check out this article:

                              How Big are Aircraft Runways?

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                                  Why Do Airplanes Land into the Wind?

                                  Airplanes land into wind to allow them to approach and touchdown at a slower groundspeed while maintaining the required airspeed over the wings. Slower groundspeeds allow the airplane to slow and taxi clear of the runway sooner and reduce wear on tires and brakes due to the slower landing speed.

                                  When on an approach to land airplanes need to maintain a minimum airspeed over their wings to prevent them losing lift and stalling. Stalling at a slow speed and low altitude would be near impossible to recover.

                                  When landing into a headwind it allows the aircraft to be moving over the ground slower for a given airspeed over the wings.

                                  For Example:

                                  Approaching at 120 knots with zero wind = Groundspeed of 120 knots
                                  Approaching at 120 knots with 20 knot headwind = Groundspeed of 100 knots
                                  Approaching at 120 knots with 20 knot tailwind = Groundspeed of 140 knots

                                  Just like when taking off, using the headwind to increase lift over the wing allows the actual speed of the aircraft to be lower when touching down onto the runway.

                                  By using the headwind it gives the following advantages:

                                  1. Rolling Distance

                                  When touching down at a slower speed the amount of runway used to slow the aircraft is far less compared to a higher touchdown speed. This allows for more runway to be available if the airplane needs to complete a Go-Around and take off again, or if it develops an fault with the braking systems and needs longer than usual to stop.

                                  2. High Speed Exits

                                  Whenever an aircraft is on a runway that runway cannot be used by another aircraft for landing. MOst large international airports have inclined ‘High-Speed’ taxiways leading off the runways so that aircraft can maintain a high taxi speed to vacate the runway as fast as possible.

                                  By landing with a headwind it allows the airplane a greater chance of slowing sufficiently to use one of the first high-speed taxiways rather than just missing it and then having to taxi to the next. This extra 20 seconds adds up over the course of a day and reduces the number of landing airplane the airport can accommodate.

                                  3. Aircraft Wear

                                  Braking an aircraft is a violent affair, especially if it has had to return to land because of a malfunction and is at its maximum landing weight. For example, the Boeing 747-400 has a maximum landing weight of 630,000 lbs (246,750 kg) and aims to touchdown at around 145-150 knots.

                                  Slowing this amount of inertia places incredible stress and wear on the tires, wheels, axles, bearings, and brakes. By reducing the touchdown speed 20-30 knots using a good headwind greatly increases the lifespan of these parts.

                                  The less the braking components need to be replaced the more money the airline saves and the more time the aircraft can be in service making flights.

                                  Why Do Airports Change Landing & Takeoff Direction?

                                  Airports are designed so their main runways are aligned with the local prevailing winds. When the wind changes direction the landing and departing runway can be switched 180° to the opposite end or use a runway running perpendicular. Air traffic controllers always try to operate the aircraft into wind.

                                  Winds, however, change direction. In such cases, ATC will change the general direction of traffic into and out of the airport so that planes can land and take off into the wind. This is why runways have different designation markers on both sides, and one strip of runway is considered as 2 independent runways; to allow bidirectional usage of one runway. 

                                  LAX Runways 7L & 7R Facing East
                                  LAX Runways 25L & 25R Facing West

                                  For example, at Los Angeles International Airport, runways 7R and 25L are on the same runway, with the 7R marker being on one end and 25L on the other. These are considered two independent runways as one can land from the 25L side or the 7R side.

                                  Some airports have crisscrossed runways which help to cater for winds blowing from all sides. Dallas Fort Worth below is a great example of this. Air traffic control will orientate the arriving and departing traffic to use the runway which lines up closest to a headwind.

                                  Dallas Fort Worth

                                  For unmanned airports, pilots use Automated Weather Observation System (AWOS) to find which way the wind is blowing. They can then decide which way to land to get the best out of the headwind. 

                                  Learn More
                                  Try These Articles:
                                  * This Is Why Pilots Reduce Thrust After Takeoff?
                                  * Why Do Some Airplanes Turn Immediately After Takeoff?