Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4 CAT-ratings

A. Flight Planning

In this first section, I kept track of all things I needed to learn to carry out proper flight planning. Including weather briefings, cloud separation, and staying clear of special airspaces.

Understanding Sectional Charts

Crosshair on airport icon means that facilities are available (e.g., fuel, repair, etc.).

Blue airports have control towers, the pink ones do not.

Airports with a star indicates that the part-time tower frequency is remoted to a collocated full-time FSS for use as Local Airport Advisory (LAA) when the tower is closed.

The ‘C’ at the end of certain CTAF frequencies indicates Unicom availability. You can call up Unicom on the CTAF frequency by simply saying ... 'Blabla Unicom, Skylane, ... etc., landing advisories' so they can give you info about active runway and other NOTAMs. To stick to CTAF, just go with the usual 'Blabla Traffic, Skylane ... etc, ...' Note that in PilotEdge no UNICOM is simulated.

VORTAC is a VOR combined with TACAN to provide both bearing and range information.

TRACON is all Approach air traffic controllers.

ARTCC is all Center air traffic controllers.

Understanding Airways

VICTOR AIRWAYS are official VFR flight routes between VORTACs. Number of digits of the Victor airway does not indicate altitude (opposed to military VR/IR routes). They cover altitudes from approximately 1,200 feet above ground level (AGL) up to, but not including 18,000 feet above mean sea level (MSL). You are allowed to descend or climb on Victor airways. However, this might be dangerous. FAA recommends to do gentle turns while descending/climbing to have a better few of up or down traffic.

MTRs are Military Training Routes. On sectionals, depicted as either IR or VR routes. The difference between the IR and VR routes is that IR routes are flown under Air Traffic Control, while VR routes are not. Either VR or IR route is identified by either 4 digits for routes <1,500 ft AGL, or 3 digits for routes extending for at least one leg above 1,500 ft AGL. (eg: VR-1056).

Remember that MTRs, as well as with Victor airways, are not just flown ‘exactly’ on track of the airway; these airways are actually ‘airspaces’ 4nm wide each side of the airway track. So in PilotEdge, expect traffic within a 8nm bandwidth.

Understanding Special Airspaces

MOA is a type of special use airspace (SUA) where military operations are of a nature that justify limitations on aircraft not participating in those operations. These areas are not necessarily active 24/7 or valid up to unlimited heights. You can look up whether or to what extend these areas are ‘hot’ by switching in SkyVector to the original sectional chart view (‘Los Angeles’) and scroll all the way up to legend of the sectional, and look for the particular MOA and its active times. The MOA altitudes depicted in the legenda (applies to restricted, warning, etc. too) are always given in MSL and are the BASE of the airspace, not its ceiling.

RESTRICTED airspace is an airspace in which the local controlling authorities have determined that air traffic must be restricted (if not continually prohibited) for safety or security concerns. Like MOAs, these are not necessarily active 24/7 or active from surface to outer space. Check the legenda for specifics.

PROHIBITED airspace refers to airspace where flying is not allowed, usually due to security concerns. It differs from restricted airspace in that entry is typically forbidden at all times from all aircraft and is not subject to clearance from ATC or the airspace’s controlling body. Prohibited airspace is a no-go at all times.

WARNING areas is airspace extending from 3 nautical miles outward from the coast of the U.S., that contains military activity that may be hazardous to non-participating aircraft. The purpose of such warning areas is to warn non-participating pilots of the potential danger. Like MOA and RESTRICTED areas, check the legenda to see whether the WARNING area is active.

ALERT areas are depicted on aeronautical charts to inform non-participating pilots of areas that may contain a high volume of pilot training or an unusual type of aerial activity. Pilots should be particularly alert when flying in these areas (or preferably just avoid them). All activity within an alert area must be conducted in accordance with CFRs, without waiver, and pilots of participating aircraft as well as pilots transiting the area must be equally responsible for collision avoidance.

PS. WARNING and ALERTS areas are practically similar. Warning areas are military in nature, often coastal, and hazardous. Alert areas are used for dense pilot training or other activity. In both cases, you may transition, but is strongly discouraged.

TRSA (in SoCal only concerns Palm Springs International airport) is a airspace you can ignore. It’s old-school Charlie airspace, but without the requirement of radio contact. You can freely transition without talking to a soul (if you must). If you do contact, either on ground or on arrival, you’ll receive Charlie-like guidance.

Understanding Terrain Avoidance

500ft rule: An aircraft must maintain an altitude of 500ft AGL or higher above the surface (expect over open water of sparsely populated areas; but never over any person, vessel, vehicle or structure).

1000ft rule: An aircraft must maintain an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons.

Understanding Bad Weather Avoidance

VFR MINUMUMS is visibility >3SM and ceiling is >1000ft AGL. Note that ‘ceiling’ means overcast or broken cloud layer only; so scattered layers below 1000 ft are fine (formally). Also note that that ceiling rule only applies to controlled airspace, not uncontrolled airspace; meaning that there are many untowered airports in G airspace where this 1000ft ceiling rule does not apply.

As usual TPA is at 1000 ft AGL (and airport is in E, D or E airspace), you could say that minimal cloud ceiling should be 1500ft AGL and visibility of 3 miles or greater to be able to fly legally. However, as is true for cloud separation too (see below), the VFR MINIMUMS criteria are likely far more challenging (scary) than your personal weather limitations. So practically, if you encounter any situation in which you need to consider the weather minimums ... you should seriously ask yourself whether to fly in the first place.

CLOUD SEPARATION in E airspace (from 1200ft, 700ft (fuzzy magenta), or surface level (dashed magenta extended)) up to 10.000ft MSL, including D and C airspace from surface, in daytime, the ‘3512’ rule applies: meaning minimal 3SM visibility, 500 feet below cloud ceiling, 1000 feet above cloud ceiling, 2000 feet horizontal of clouds. In G airspace (below 1200ft AGL, or as otherwise depicted by the blue fuzzy or chained airspace depiction), you may legally fly in not less than 3SM visibility and clear of clouds.

You are allowed to fly "on top" of a cloud ceiling, even overcast, given the 1000 ft clearance, WITHOUT visual reference to the ground. Only student, recreational or sport pilots should ensure visual reference to the ground while above the clouds ceiling. In such cases when VFR, seriously consider whether your flight is safe in the first place.

MARGINAL VFR (MVFR) is considered a cloud ceiling 1,000 to 3,000 feet AGL and/or visibility 3 to 5 miles inclusive – that you are legally allowed to fly in, however, due to the fact that is nearing VFR bare minimums, is already discouraged to fly in. The FAA defines true/safe VFR weather: ceilings of 3000ft AGL or higher and visibility more than 5 miles.

ATC will only see precipitating clouds on radar, not all individual clouds. So they cannot tell whether you are flying through small flocks of clouds. Avoid flying through big clouds (that likely have precipitation) by asking ATC to fly higher, lower or other bearing.

Understanding Weather Charts

SURFACE MAPS (and projected ones) are useful as a starting point, to develop an overall ‘picture’ of the weather system.

SIGWX (significant weather) translates surface charts to MVFR and IFR area depictions, at today's morning (06Z) and evening (18Z) hours. Great chart to get a VFR-oriented look at current/forecasted global weather conditions.

FA is a forecast of visual flight rules (VFR) clouds and weather conditions over an area as large as the size of several states. It must be used in conjunction with the AIRMET Sierra (IFR) bulletin for the same area in order to get a complete picture of the weather.

AIRMETs are mostly useful to know whether any current IFR conditions (also including icing, visibility issues, etc.) are in effect around the area of your planned flight route.

SATELLITE cepicts cloud coverage (among many other things). Useful to investigate overall cloud formation along your route. Use satellite cloud coverage to verify likely cloud formations based on your surface weather map analysis (see above).

Make use of the The Skew T Log P chart. It visualizes, for any particular airport you input, altitude-specific temperatures/dew-points; i.e., where both meet, likely condensation/cloud formation. This way, you can obtain very useful meteorological information about the likelihood of multiply cloud layers forming at airports. Input various airports along your planned flight route to get a picture of the (forecasted) cloud ceilings.

RADAR depicts areas of precipitation. It's not just about knowing where the precipitation is. Denser areas of precipitation also indicate bad weather conditions in general (turbulence, wind speeds, etc.).

SIGMET is not a forecast, but a statement of fact about the existence of thunderstorms. In comparison to AIRMETs, SIGMETs cover only severe conditions and convective information for thunderstorms.

METAR is an aviation routine weather report issued at hourly or half-hourly intervals. It is a description of the meteorological elements observed at an airport at a specific time. Use surface temperature and dew point in METARs to investigate humidity (the closer both meet, the more humid it is), as humidity greatly affects aircraft performance. Do not just read the latest METAR of an airport, but also include in your study the last 3 to 5 METARs to get a picture of how the weather is developing at the airport.

A Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) is a concise statement of the expected meteorological conditions at an airport during a specified period (usually 24 hours). The TAF reads as a forecast-METAR, using the same abbreviations. The only main difference is the addition of a ‘time valid’ string, like 091400 (9th of the month, valid to 14:00h)

Links

  1. General pressure chart 
  2. Precipitation forecast
  3. Significant weather chart 
  4. Graphical airmet
  5. Convective Sigmets
  6. Cloud ceiling forecast
  7. Cloud ceiling/tops, winds altitude (Skew P plot) 
  8. Turbulence forecast
  9. Visibility forecast
  10. Satellite visible 
  11. Satellite infrared
  12. Freezing levels
  13. Radar mosaic
Understanding Weather Forecast

You can try to forecast the weather on your own, using the Surface Analysis Chart (basic front lines, high/low pressure areas, etc.). This is usually good practice as the first thing to do when carrying out a weather briefing.

Low pressure system = bad weather, warmer temperatures (rising air, counter-clockwise, inward). High pressure system = good weather, colder temperatures (falling air, clockwise, outward).

Cold fronts (bad to severe weather; blue shark ‘tooth’ like, biting), warm fronts (moderate rain; ‘sunny’ like sunrise), occluded fronts (sustained rain), troughs (dashed orange line; cloudy conditions, rain).

Low fronts are especially strong, when the temperature difference on the warm and cold side of the front is great.

While low fronts are mostly more focussed areas, warm fronts cover a wider area with less severe weather than cold fronts. However, thunderstorms can still occur.

Occluded fronts, generally found where a cold front overtakes a warm front because of an exceptionally strong circulation around a low, can make for nasty, bumpy flying.

Troughs may be at the surface, or aloft, or both under various conditions. Most troughs bring clouds, showers, and a wind shift, particularly following the passage of the trough. This results from convergence or "squeezing" which forces lifting of moist air behind the trough line.

A squall line is a line of severe thunderstorms that can form along and/or ahead of a cold front. This high pressure area is formed due to strong descending motion behind the squall line, and could come in the form of a downburst.

Avoid low pressure systems. Avoid cold fronts. Avoid warm fronts. Avoid occluded fronts.

Standard air pressure is 1013mb. So anything below is considered low pressure, anything higher is considered high pressure.

Winds flow parallel to isobar-lines, in the direction of the relative low pressure (counter-clockwise) or high low pressure (clockwise) direction. The more ‘packed’ the isobars are, the higher the wind speeds.

Visualize the flow around the low and if the source of the low-level air along your route is moist, as in that coming from over the oceans or the Gulf of Mexico or California, then there will be plenty of ingredients for clouds and rain. The stronger the flow, the more important this becomes.

COR in METAR/TAF information means correction to a previously disseminated observation

FM: denotes a quick Wx change within 60 minutes (TL = until). BECMG = becoming, denotes a permanent change in Wx over the next 2 hours. BECMG 0710 means between 07 and 10 zulu

Understanding VFR Altitudes

Only applies to cruise altitude of 3000ft AGL or higher: when you fly eastbound (360-179) you fly on odd numbered thousand of feet, plus 500 feet (3500ft, 5500ft, 7500ft, etc.). When you fly westbound (180-359) you fly even numbered thousand of feet, plus 500 feet (4500ft, 6500ft, 8500ft, etc.). Mnemonic: 'Odd pilots fly to the east'.

The FAA recommends to do gentle turns while descending/climbing to have a better few of up or down traffic.

Understanding Traffic Separation

In theory, it seems okay to just stay away from any depicted airways or airspaces on the sectional chart to avoid other traffic. Yet, departure and arrival legs to and from airports (especially Charlie and Bravo ones) are NOT depicted on the sectional and contribute to high traffic density surrounding depicted airport airspaces (e.g. jets departing 250 knots on 4000 feet out of Charlie airspace). While you are legal to skirt any given Charlie airspace on any altitude, you may frustrate ATC by forcing them to divert inbound or outbound traffic around you. So you can do 4 things: (1) study the departure and arrival procedures for those airports and plan for safer travel around those arrival/departure routes; (2) contact a Charlie's Approach or Delta's Tower to let them know your intentions so they can assign you a better altitude or course temporarily; (3) fly over the airspace midfield to stay clear from most departure and arrival routes; or preferrably (4) get flight following and informing TRACON/ARTCC of your flight intentions; as they can assign you an altitude or heading to fly that keeps you clear of inbound and outbound traffic (as the PE departure/approach/center controller will also be the approach controller at every Charlie).

Understanding Pilotage

Best is to not pick isolated visual reference points, but pick 'visual guide LINES'. Such as highways, rivers or mountain ridges. Great "isolated" visual reference points are guide lines that intersect, such as highway intersections or a river crossing a highway.

Your first visual reference point should be seen after departure (not after some time of flying). Best is to "chain" visual references along your route.

Never use pilotage as your standalone navigation technique. Always combine pilotage with radio navigation.

It's also good practice to consider after what flight time (from previous nav point) you expect to see the visual reference point. Time duration is a great navigation aid.

Understanding Flight Performance

EXPECTED FLIGHT TIME is simply calculated. Knots are nautical miles per hour. Given a cruise speed of 120 knots (Note: that 120 knots is true/ground airspeed ... so with headwind, that 120 indicated airspeed might be in fact 100 knots), means gaining 2nm every minute (120 knots = 120 nm/h). 

EXPECTED FUEL CONSUMPTION is simply calculated through looking at the fuel flow gauge. On average, at cruise 10 gallons per hour (see aircraft performance tables). That translates to about 0.2 gallons per minute (more conservative). 

HOW MUCH FUEL ON BOARD is always given in terms of hours/minutes (not gallons). Just dive the total number of gallons from both wings by the current average fuel flow to get the remaining hours of flight time. To be safe, and easy, just use 10 GPH as a rule. This translates to taking 10% of your total gallons from both wings to get hours of fuel on board.

HOW MUCH RANGE is calculated based on the above. First off, depends on winds. Given a GROUND speed of 100 knots (conservative), you'll make 100 nm in 1 hour. Because 1 hour flight time translates to 10 gallons in cruise, on average, 10 gallons is equal to 100 nm range; 1 gallon is equal to 10 nm. Simply put, just multiply your total gallons by 10 to get current maximum range.

REQUIRED FUEL is calculated by the inverse rule of calculating range: Just take 10% of your calculated total flight distance to get the number of gallons of fuel you need to make the trip (100 knot GROUND speed). To be safe, add 13 gallons for reserve (5 gallons for startup and taxi and another 8 gallons for emergency (45 minutes of extra cruise flight time (night = 45 min; day = 30 min) for diverting to alternate, or go-arounds). Mnemonic for 13: "Don't be unlucky, add 13 gallons".

Understanding Filing Flight Plan

On PilotEdge, you can file VFR flight plans too. Note that those are not necessary, as air traffic controllers will not see those on their screens. However, all submitted flight plan info will be displayed on PilotEdge's Aware map as hover text for each user/flight online.

B. Aircraft

Next up was understanding the different aspects to maintaining my aircraft. Seemingly minor things that can potentially have big impact on flight performance.

Understanding Exterior Walkaround

The pitot tube cover should be put on after each flight, irrespective of the outside air temperature. It prevents bugs or dust from geting into the tube.

Note that you should only use the tiedowns on parking spots where there are tiedown marks on the pavement.

Understanding Leaning

Typically, the rule states to only start leaning at or above 3000 ft density altitude. However, you should actually lean on pretty much any altitude. The above rule is designed to prevent pilots from accidentally lean in >75% power settings ... resulting in overheating and damaging the engine; at or above 3000ft density altitude, the air is too thin for the engine to go full power, thereby naturally preventing leaning at full power. So rather, lean on whatever altitude, but beware not to lean at  >75% power (i.e. takeoff or climb).

Understanding Propeller

In cruise, you should set RPM to about 2100 – 2300 RPM. The less RPM, the more economical the engine runs (both in speed, fuel burn, and endurance). 

The propeller lever does not directly regulate the prop feather, but rather the 'governor' that uses engine oil to indirectly regulale the feathering of the prop to get the right RPM. You can note the drop in oil pressure when using the propellor lever. The governor only works at higher RPM.

Use the two-blade propeller in medium-altitude cruise flights (less drag than using a the third blade). Use the three-blade propeller in high-altitude cruise flights where the air is thinner (and the third blade will contribute to more power).

Understanding Equipment

Know your equipment suffix code: RNAV is also loosely used to describe any ‘straight line’ navigation method like GPS, as well as the old RNAV method too. GNSS means having a GPS on board. So with the GTN750 you are /G (“slant Golf”) = RVSM, GNSS, Transponder with Mode C. Without any GPS, you are /A (“slant Alpha”) = RVSM, DME, Transponder with Mode C.

C. Communication

Proper radio communication is key to safe flight. While there are some basic communication procedures to go by, there also some minor considerations and styles to remember and incorporate in your routines.

Understanding Saying it Right

'Roger' means message received.

'Affirmative' means yes.

'Negative' means no.

'Wilco' means I've received the message, understand it, and will comply.

Say 9 as niner, 5 as fife, and 3 as tree.

Don't do 'Radio checks', just call in with your callsign and wait for your reply. 

Don't confirm 'Stand-bys' from the controller. These don't require replies and any replies actually disturb the thing that the controllers are currently focused on.

Don't say 'with you'. In fact, remove as much grammar in your sentences as possible.

If you need to leave your PC during a flight on PE, just say: 'PH-TIM is back in 2 minutes' and wait for confirmation. When back, 'PH-TIM is back'

At untowered airports, don't use your full callsign, but use your abbreviated one ('TIM').

Enter a downwind leg on the 45 degree by saying 'Oceano Traffic, Skylane TIM, 5 miles south at 1000, 45 to the left downwind, rwy 29, full stop, Oceano.

In PE, two controllers are governing the PE service area at a given time. One does radar facilities (Departure, Approach, Center) the other non-radar (Clearance, Ground, Tower). Saying 'Have a good day' or 'See ya' thus applies in PE only when switching from Tower to Departure/Approach/Center in case of flight following, or from Departure/Approach/Center to Tower. Or, when you sign off.

Sign off from controllers by saying 'Thanks for the help'.

When controllers ask to put in a squawk and 'ident'. Means hitting 'ident' button on transponder. Never ident on your own accord.

Don't say '1500' feet, but 1-thousand 5-hundred feet.

When contacting Departure after takeoff (Flight Following), or when contact Center/Approach during cruise, say: PH-TIM climbing/descending through X thousand X feet. Or, level at X thousand X feet.

Only use your abbreviated callsign when ATC did so. Doing so on your own according is not allowed, as it might confuse your callsign with other similar callsigns currently active.

When switch from Center/App to the final App controller of a Charlie-class airport, report your ATIS information as well. Report your ATIS information once more when switching over to Tower. In other words, get ATIS 30 miles out during cruise, so you'll be ready.

Understanding Ground Operations

At untowered airports, always announce crossing the runway (midfield or at the numbers) when taxiing.

Some airports, like John Wayne SNA, require pilots to set their transponder mode to ALT when on ground at all times. See the airport diagram or facility directory to find out if applicable.

Some airport diagrams depict runup areas. Whether or not these are depicted on the diagram, it's good practice to ask Ground to execute a runup if the runup area is anything other than near the runway threshold (to prevent blocking other aircraft).

When talking to ATC, refer to your present location at the airport as 'near FBO, transient parking/ general aviation parking/tower/etc., followed by north/west/east/south of the airport' or just by referring to the north/west/east/south of the airport.

No matter whether you are at a Delta or Charlie airport, you start with Ground to request your departure. Only in case you like to have Flight Following or open your IFR flight plan, you call up Clearance (delivery) first.

Make sure that the airplane’s blast way is not directed towards other nearby aircraft, people or hangars because sand and stones will be blasted.

Make sure you have enough room to taxi away from your parking position.

You can taxi without permission on non-movement/uncontrolled areas from or toward fuel station.

After the run-up, make a 360 degree turn to check for any (NORDO) traffic in the pattern.

Do your engine startup and run-up on your tow brakes (as in the real world, you should apply manual braking too).

Understanding Traffic Patterns

The FAA AIM states that Crosswind leg callouts are not required. This is mainly due to reduce the amount of broadcasting (as CTAF is shared with nearby airports and the frequency can get busy quite quickly).

Pay close attention to the airport identifiers that pilots use on CTAF to prevent misinterpretations.

Before turning in the traffic pattern, always look both left and right before turning. 

After takeoff, carry out ATC departure instructions at 500ft AGL.

Standard traffic pattern departure procedure is straight-out, 45 degree (inward to airport!), crosswind, or downwind departure.

Keep your patterns tight, about .5 to 1 mile away from the runway. Should be close enough so you can safely make a return landing in case of an engine-out (including the turn to align yourself with the runway).

Understanding Transitioning Airspace

To transition Bravo airspace, you need to be given explicit clearance by the air traffic controller.

To transition Charlie or Delta airspace, you only need the air traffic controller to say/acknowledge your callsign when establishing radio contact. No need for explicit 'clearance to transition'. 

To transition through an airport's airspace, don't just say you want to transition, but also provide the direction of the transition. Such as: 'Ramona Tower, Skylane PH-TIM, 5 miles south west, at 2500, with Mike, would like to transition through your airspace to airport/North East.' 

Charlie Airspace airports have a non-depicted ‘outer area’, indicated by a pink box saying you should contact the airport within 20nm. This is not mandatory, but highly recommended (even if no intention to land or transition; because of arriving or departing traffic from airport in the area).

Understanding Flight Following

Flight following is provided to aid your flight. They are not there to police you, but helping you with whatever you like them to help with to make your flight more safe and efficient. USE them!

Flight following is also referred to as 'VFR advisories'.

Preferably on ground, not the air. This is because PE Approach/Center is usually more busy than PE non-radar controllers (Clearance, Ground, Tower)

@Untowered: no way to get Flight Following on the ground. Takeoff, and contact nearest TRACON or ARTCC controller (departure/approach/center). Best way to find the right frequency is to check the airport's flight directory and the depicted departure/approach frequency. Just check in with one and do your request.

@Delta: Check in with Ground to ask for flight following.

@Charlie: Check in with Clearance Delivery to ask for flight following. Every aircraft in Charlie gets flight following automatically. So actually, you need to opt-out for flight following at the ramp if you don't need any. In that case, the Charlie controller will 'let you go' 20nm outbound of the airport.

@Bravo: Check in with Clearance Delivery to ask for flight following. Every aircraft in Bravo gets flight following automatically. Again, you need to opt-out for flight following at the ramp if you don't need any.

@TRSA (KPSP): Check in with Clearance Delivery if you like flight following. Check in with Ground if you don't, and add 'negative flight following' at the end of your departure request. Every aircraft in TRSA gets flight following automatically. You need to opt-out for flight following at the ramp if you don't need any.

@Air: Best way is to look up the A/FD of the airport nearest to your position. Grab the Approach or Center frequency and call in. You could also look at the magenta boxes surrounding Charlie's, but that isn't a universal method, as those boxes aren't around Delta or uncontrolled airspaces. So stick to the A/FD method. It doesn't really matter which approach or center frequency you choose to check in with, in PE, you will practically talk to the same controller. Otherwise, they will simply advise you to switch frequencies.

When contacting Clearance/Ground on the ground or Approach/Center in the air, first do a cold call: "Palm Springs Clearance, Skylane PH-TIM, east ramp, with Bravo, VFR request" In air: "SoCal Approach, 10 miles NW of Palm Springs, at 3000, VFR, request". Then, the controller will reply and probably repeats your position based on his radar; or he might ask you to put in a squawk code and ident; he needs to know where you are first. Then, after radar contact, 'Skylane PH-TIM, ('position checks' if the controller just replied with 'go ahead' with no squawk yet), we are a Cessna Skylane slant alpha, requesting flight following to John Wayne, at 4500." You receive departure instructions when on ground (rwy hdg, stay at or below 3000, departure freq, squawk code). Or, when in the air, (a squawk code, remain VFR and stay on VFR altitudes). When on ground, carry out departure instructions after 500 ft agl. Also, around 500 ft AGL, Tower should hand you off to Departure. If not, you can simply request to Departure; NEVER switch on your own, ALWAYS wait for instructions by controller.

During Flight Following, NEVER switch frequencies on your own, ALWAYS wait for instructions by ATC to switch frequencies. 'Checking-in' to a new frequency, only requires you to state your current and intended altitude (no lateral references): 'Socal Approach, PH-TIM, at 3200 for 5500' or 'Socal Approach, PH-TIM, level 5500.' 

During your flight, ATC will (a) instruct you to switch to different Approach/Center frequencies, as you will fly in new controlling areas (they will give current altimeter settings for each new area); (b) advise you on nearby traffic (simply reply 'Traffic in sight, PH-TIM' or 'Looking, PH-TIM'); and (c) advise you on airspaces/TFRs/etc. you might bust. 

You should always advise ATC during flight following on significant changes in (mentioned) cruising altitudes or deviations of heading. For example, to avoid cloud formations, you could mention your deviations to ATC. 'SoCal Approach, Skylane PH-TIM, would like to briefly deviate to heading 200 to remain clear of clouds.' ATC will likely acknowledge your request and ask you to report when you are back on your initial track. Again, use Flight Following as your copilot buddies. They are there to help you, not to police you. Btw, VFR-ON-TOP is an IFR clearance (so not applicable to VFR) in the US that a pilot can request to allow an IFR flight to use VFR altitudes provided that it can remain in VMC. 

When on Flight Following, you are talking to Approach/Center controllers. This means that you are automatically in two-way radio contact with any Charlie airspace around, as such, cleared to cross them with no explicit clearance. The inner airspace of Charlie is controlled by Tower, however, in that case, approach/center will negotiate your intentions; you could climb over it, deviate course, or briefly switch to Tower (other PE controller!). In case of Bravo, ask; Center/Approach can easily help you transition (as again, you would be talking to the same controller).

Terminate Flight Following at anytime by stating 'Socal Approach, Skylane PH-TIM, terminate flight following please'. Or, when you have your destination airport in sight 'Socal Approach, Skylane PH-TIM, destination airport in sight.' The controller will reply with squawk to VFR (1200), remain VFR and resume own navigation. 'Resume own navigation' does not mean your cut loose on your own, it just means that you are to continue your flight as planned, either by your own or as filed to ATC in case of V-rating or flight following. If it’s a VFR flight, maintain the VFR altitudes while continuing to monitor the current frequency. If in doubt, ASK.

Refer to your aircraft type and the ATC facility when first contact. Not when you are already with the controller. Makes your announcements more brief.

Get ATIS information of your destination airport already 30 miles out.

Understanding Lost Communications

If no radio contact in PilotEdge, wait a few minutes first for the client or host to reconnect. This happens occasionally due to various internet hiccups. If you know it’s happened let the controller know when you reconnect. If prolonged no radio contact, you would go through standard lost comms procedures which would include calling for other pilots to respond, trying the previous frequency, trying a nearby tower, or trying Guard (121.5). If all else fails, squawk 7600 and continue the flight, monitoring the appropriate frequency as best you’re able.

Understanding Arrivals

Check in on ATIS about 30 nm before your destination airport.

Winds up to 10 knots are considered 'winds calm' for most airports, and generally do not lead to changes in active runways. You can either check in with ATC/UNICOM to ask for the active runway or monitor CTAF long before you arrive to listen to active use of runways.

The 'C' after the CTAF frequency means that the untowered airport also has Unicom (a person who monitors the traffic on the airport and can respond with local traffic advisories).

At untowered airports, announce your arrival at 10nm AND 5nm prior to entering the pattern. It's also good practice to over-fly the airport midfield above TPA before entering the downwind in order to check for possible NORDO traffic and investigating the state of their runway, etc.

Charlie airspace airports have a non-depicted ‘outer area’, indicated by pink box saying you should contact the airport within 20nm. This is only mandatory if you intend to land there. Otherwise it is not necessary, but highly recommended to allow ATC to vector you around departing and arrival traffic to goes outbound or inbound that Charlie airspace.

D. Flight Procedures

Lastly, there are some tricks to nailing fundamental flight procedures. Make your flights run more smooth and safe. Including rejected takeoff procedures and smooth landings.

Understanding Checklist Use

ALWAYS verify your flows by use of your checklist.

Understanding Ground Operations

Before you do your run-up check, point your airplane into the wind to provide for additional cooling (as the engine will not get enough intake on its own). Also make sure you don't point your blast way into the direction of any taxiway, runway or ramp behind you.

Understanding Departures

Use and KEEP right rudder in after rotation (or during any high power setting for that matter) to prevent the airplane from turning.

During crosswind landing, use aileron correction to turn into the wind while using opposite rudder adjustment to keep the airplane on straight ground track towards the runway.

Rejected takeoff has several stages. Rejecting before rotation is simply tapping the brakes and exiting the runway at the next possible taxiway. Rejecting just after rotation is landing again, braking, and leaving the runway at the next intersection. Rejecting after about 100 feet but below 1000 feet, is ditching the airplane outside of the airfield within the 60 degree lateral front view (NO turning back to the airport, as steep turning with an engine-out results in extreme drop of altitude). Rejecting after 1000 feet, is turning around to land on the airport. 

At 300 ft AGL, you may retract your flaps. (at 500 ft, you fly the assigned heading and altitude given to you by ATC; at 300 ft below TPA you start your crosswind turn).

Vy is most altitude gain in time. Vx is most altitude in distance.

Understanding Enroute Flying

Make clearing turns before you do any special maneuvers (including steep turns).

You need oxygen if you fly above 12.500ft pressure altitude longer than 30 minutes. Above 14.000ft pressure altitude you must use oxygen.

Understanding Landings

Trim your airplane onto your glide path and do not mess with the throttle too much. A stabilized descent is the secret sauce for making great landings.

To carry out smooth and gentle touch-downs, lock your sight onto the far end of the runways instead of your intended point of touch down.

Perceive your stall warning sound as the sound of winners. Flare and touch down when the stall warning sounds. Be sure though to be close to the ground.

Understanding Turns

In the process of turning, you should always use rudder and aileron adjustments simultaneously (as aileron deflection is generating drag on one wing, resulting into adverse yaw that needs compensating with rudder). In other words, once in a turn, you don't need to put in any rudder as you won't need much aileron.

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