Retrofit Autopilots: You'll Pay For Precision »

Proposals for new autopilot upgrades can be shocking. Even entry-level wing-leveling systems start at $10,000, not including installation. But that won't buy much. Higher-end models with add-on options can easily snowball a project to $40,000. That's roughly the cost of an average engine replacement—or an average Skyhawk. More

Steam Gauges Are Safer »

Technically advanced aircraft (TAA)—those with a primary flight display (PFD), multi-function display (MFD), and GPS—are sexy. Pilots are drawn to them like Pooh Bear to honey. Besides being eye-catching, TAA attempt to address some of the biggest problems in aviation by providing pilots with a lot of supplementary safety information. Moving maps designed to improve situational awareness make it almost impossible to get lost. Databases store more information at the touch of a button than a thirty pound chart case. We can display more weather information in the cockpit than was even available 30 years ago. Combine all that with an autopilot that provides time to gather and interpret, and you'd think we'd be a lot safer. More

Short- And Soft-Field Landings »

Obstructions, sand, mud, wandering animals and other surprises like the end of the runway rushing up to meet you...these are just some of the hazards common to short and soft fields. We all think we're trained for them, but there's a big difference between training and reality. I'm not knocking what CFIs teach or what's required on the practical tests, but what you learned in your training may be insufficient to prepare you for the real thing. More

Used Aircraft Guide: Pitts Special »

Until the advent of the Pitts Special, aerobatics was a horizontal affair, even in the hairy-chested, fuel-sucking, 450-HP Boeings and Wacos. Practitioners pirouetted under the stern God of Energy Management—gravity and drag meant vertical maneuvers were brief events. More

When the Power Seems Low »

The inability to achieve normal power output (e.g. poor static power) can be an insidious, difficult-to-troubleshoot condition that ultimately affects almost every small engine sooner or later. Sometimes, the cause can be pinpointed quickly, especially via multi-probe engine analyzers. But many times it can't. The best bet is often analyzing all the power instruments that you do have, not just one. More

Too Laid Back? »

Aviation lore is full of heroes like Chuck Yeager, who saved the day while calmly muttering on the radio something about "some little fire going in them engines" or such. The quiet, unflappable, laid-back flyer has been the role model for young pilots since the days of the Lone Eagle. But is there such a thing as "too laid-back?" More

The Real Deal »

Back in the 1950s, social critic and philosopher Lenny Bruce said that no one is shocked anymore. He was probably correct, given our national tolerance for the excesses of those in the entertainment biz, and those seeking to join the weirdness. Yet, I find my level of amazement at flight schools that grind out new instrument pilots without insisting that they actually fly an airplane in the clouds remains at the near shock level. More

Flying With Babies and Kids »

One of the highest uses for a general aviation airplane is to take your family someplace enjoyable. Done right, the trip is much faster than in the family car and a heck of a lot more fun for all involved. I won't even comment about the joys of family travel on the airlines, baggage fees and clearing security with a screaming toddler. Here's what you need to know to do it right. More

The Annual Inspection »

I have been an IA mechanic and shop owner for years, and in my opinion the annual inspection is not a mystery, not a secret, and is a straightforward job that should not be made out to be difficult to conduct. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of mechanics who simply are not familiar with an effective and systematic way to conduct an annual, including keeping track of time and materials. As an owner you also may be paying them to learn on the job about your particular aircraft. Ask ahead of their experience. More