If you're a pilot, work in aviation or are an aviation enthusiast then more than likely you use the METAR and TAF for your current and short-term weather inquiries. It's not that the data is necessarily any better or more accurate but that it's in a format that I'm familiar with and use all the time.
There are more than a handful of ways to retrieve METAR and TAF: Nav Canada, NAOO, and various aviation-related websites. But you're missing out if you haven't tried using the World Flight Planner to view METAR, TAF and other weather information. Access to weather information is free but if you want to use the other flight planning features, you need a subscription. But for the free weather, which is handy if you're out and about and thinking about flying, just click on the weather link in the top navbar to search for and view the latest airport and weather information. Or if you know the ICAO code for the airport you want then simply use that in combination with the country as such:
http://www.worldflightplanner.com/airports/CAN-CYVR (Vancouver International)
http://www.worldflightplanner.com/airports/USA-KLAX (Los Angeles International)
Unlike a lot of weather websites, aviation or otherwise, World Flight Planner has a custom view designed specifically for mobile devices. That means that viewing the weather is fast, easy and won't eat into your data plan. Support for geolocation means that if you don't know what your nearest airport is and your web browser or mobile device supports it, World Flight Planner will automatically determine the nearest airport and display its METAR and TAF. And, if the airport you are viewing doesn't have a METAR/TAF then World Flight Planner will automatically display the METAR/TAF from the nearest reporting station.
World Flight Planner also has a complete feature set for pre-flight planning so if you're looking for a way to plan more efficiently, with more detailed information and superior mapping, give it a try. More details are available in the product tour and all new-users get a free 30-day trial.
Disclaimer: I'm one of the co-founders of World Flight Planner. But the fact remains that the site is a great way to view aviation weather and is a great pre-flight planning tool for general aviation pilots.
World Flight Planner is a web-based VFR and IFR pre-flight planning tool. Although the application has been built with general aviation pilots in mind, the application is also well suited for commercial pilots and dispatchers at smaller operations. Finally, after a year of part-time dabbling and then two months of full-time development, World Flight Planner is now available to the general public on a subscription basis.
Although there are a variety of pre-flight planning tools currently available, World Flight Planner is the only tool to be designed specifically for access via desktop and mobile-device web browsers. It is also the only tool which brings all the important weather information together and plots it all on a map to more easily visualize the size and location of AIRMET, SIGMET, PIREP and other weather-related details. Yesterday, for example, there were five active SIGMET in Southern Alberta. Plotting a single SIGMET before a flight can be tedious enough so image plotting five of them. But with World Flight Planner, you can easily visualize what's going on with the weather.
World Flight Planner also displays animated weather radar, airport flight rules status (VFR, MVFR, IFR, LIFR), terrain clearance and numerous other aeronautical information on your plotted route map.
Among the list of most handy features in World Flight Planner is the support for mobile devices. The application has a custom view for mobile devices that makes it faster and easier to view on the smaller screens (and using less of your data plan) but at the same time keeping almost all of the same functionality available on the desktop browser version. World Flight Planner is also looking at building native apps for various mobile devices including the iPhone and iPad, as well as Blackberry and Android-based mobile phones.
World Flight Planner supports all flight planning functionality for Canada and some functionality for flight planning in the United States. We are also currently beta-testing flight planning for Australia. You can get more details on all the application features and functionality by viewing the product tour. And if you're interested in trying out the application, all new users are offered a free 30-day trial. Just visit the account types & pricing page for pricing information and to sign up. They are offering discounts for COPA members and Hope Air volunteer pilots.
The team at World Flight Planner are continuing adding more functionality to the application as well as data for more countries. And because this is a web-based application there's no need for you to do anything when the application is updated; any new features added are available immediately.
There have been numerous changes in aviation since I got my pilots licence. Although the same can be said about pretty much anything over time, for me general aviation of the early 1990s seems like the stone age more so than anything else.
In 1992, when Transport Canada issued me a licence, the Global Positioning System (GPS) was in the works but not yet operational or available to the general public. ILS was around but only at the major airports in Canada and there was talk of replacing it with MLS (microwave landing system). And back then, except for the major airlines, navigation was mostly done with VOR and NDB navaids or local landmarks, and your flight planning was all done on paper maps using an E6B.
But now, in 2009, we have desktop computers, the Internet and wireless devices that fit into your pocket. And with those advances in technology means that the potential exists for flight planning that doesn't involve marking up your maps with a HB pencil.
A new web-based flight planning application called World Flight Planner was recently released. This app allows you to create flight plans online using any computer connected to the Internet or any web-enabled wireless device, such as an iPhone or Blackberry. And unlike a lot of websites, this one has specially designed version just for mobile devices that contains as many features as is possible over mobile Internet. In addition to all the standard flight planning features, you can also view all the airspace and navaids near your chosen route and view an elevation profile of your route. The system is also able to calculate the MOCA for your flight on or off of the airways, which is a handy safety feature. In general, the web application is clean, simple to use and fast, thanks to use of AJAX where appropriate.
The application also has a sight collaborative aspect to it in that you can search for aircraft or flight plans shared by other users so you don't have to set new ones up from scratch. This is especially helpful if you are visiting a place for the first time or doing a one-off flight somewhere.
Right now the site is in private beta but they are accepting requests for beta invites so check it out and sign up.
Blatant disclaimer: I'm one of the developers of the World Flight Planner application -- probably should have mentioned that earlier. But then, what fun would that have been to spoil the surprise? If you're a reader of this blog and interested in trying out the application, please mention this blog, along with your experience, when signing up for the beta and I'll try and fast track your request.
So with the secret out of the way, Blake (the other developer and writer of the Fly with Blake blog) and I would appreciate as much feedback as possible once you receive your beta invite.
For the past few years my flying has been limited to a handful of airports. I love flying but for the most part my flying is limited to ‘flying with purpose’. That is, I tend to fly when I have a reason to go somewhere and flying there in my Cherokee Six makes sense. For example, it’s a 14 hour drive to visit relatives in Manitoba or it’s a four hour flight in the plane. I did a lot of flying friends and family around ten years ago when I got my license so that desire to show off or expose others to the world of aviation is mostly worn out; the exception being my yearly participation in the local Young Eagles day.
But lately, I’ve been trying to build up flying time and don’t want to limit myself to trips with a purpose anymore. So my last two flights have been to various airports around southern and central Alberta. I don’t really have a goal in mind but I do want to make an effort to visit at least one new airport with every flight, if at all possible. In the US I think this is a little easier as there seems to be airports all over (especially on the east coast) but that just means that as I run out of airports I will have to increase the distance I’m willing to go.
The next logical question then is, what qualifies as a visit? Do I need to taxi on to the apron, shut down and go into the terminal, building, shed or whatever structure is located on the airport or is a stop-and-go enough?
Since purchasing my share of a Piper Cherokee Six earlier this year, I’ve been trying to build time flying in it. I haven’t really been trying hard as it’s been a rather busy year between changing jobs, trips to Africa and other exciting places like South Carolina, San Francisco and Montreal and regular life business. But last weekend I did a day trip to Edmonton City Centre (CYXD) to visit with a friend who lives up there and pick up another friend for the return trip.
This was my first flight to CYXD, which is right in the heart of the City of Edmonton. But it wasn’t the extreme crosswind on final for Runway 30 that made this trip memorable but the fact that I now have more time in the PA-32 than I do in the Cessna 182 family. The 182 was my aircraft of choice until I started dating the Piper Cherokee, so it is a fairly big milestone. Next in line to be passed, at slightly more than twenty flight hours away, will be the Cessna 172, which was my aircraft of choice until I discovered the Calgary Flying Club’s Piper Warriors.
On a side note, while in Edmonton I visited the Alberta Aviation Museum. The museum has thirty or so aircraft on display including two of my favourites, a DC-3 and a de Havilland Mosquito, inside a gigantic hanger. If you have a few hours to kill and are remotely interested in aviation I highly recommend a visit.
About two months ago I saw a quarter share in a Piper Cherokee Six hangered in Springbank (CYBW) advertised in the COPA Plane Trade section of the COPA Flight newspaper. I contacted the seller, did some research and took a test flight. The aircraft’s annual was due so I piggybacked on that and got it inspected. And then last Friday I signed on the dotted line and handed over a swack of cash, making me a 25% owner in a 1971 PA32-300 Piper Cherokee Six.
As I suspect is the case with most people who take the aircraft ownership plunge, I was motivated by aircraft suitability, convenience, control. I love the Calgary Flying Club and I think they are making huge strides in making renting there even better, but I think I’ve outgrown the club. The only aircraft that made any sense for me to rent was the CFC’s Cessna 182, which was fast and had a decent useful load. But even with it’s 1100 pound useful load, with full fuel you are left with 800 pounds for a 4 seat aircraft. That’s reasonable for 3 people but not nearly as good for 4 people with luggage. And since most of my flying is cross country and since I’d like to do more trips with another couple in the plane with us, the Cessna 182 isn’t going to work. Convenience is high linked to availability, and with only one Cessna 182 available to all members at CFC, that meant that it was next to impossible to just rent the plane on a whim. In checking the online booking system, as of today the club’s Cessna 182 is rented pretty much every weekend and most days during the week for the next few months – great for the club but not so good for me. The issue of control is also another factor. The GPS in CFC’s Cessna 182 is pretty basic, and takes up about the same size as an AI. Ya, it’s small. And old. And I’d love to see it replaced. But as a member, I don’t have direct control. Yes, I can talk to the administration and raise the issue at the AGM but with ownership comes the ability to just do it.
Costs don’t typically come into consideration when thinking about aircraft ownership because it’s fairly hard to beat a non-profit club given the amount of hours they are able to put on the aircraft (thus reducing the cost per hour for fixed costs like hanger space and insurance). But as I continue to increase the amount of flying I do per year and in combination with the rising costs associated with paying employees, I am convinced that I can fly cheaper per hour with my new PA-32 (as one of four co-owners) than I can at the flying club. The truth remains to be seen but I will report after a year of flying.
Don’t get me wrong though. I love the Calgary Flying Club and I have a lot of fond memories associated with them. And I suspect I will still participate in some of the Saturday show and fly events. But I don’t see myself renting there again, other than to perhaps check out the new Diamond DA-20 or to take multi-engine training, because I now have an aircraft of my own.
Last year I didn’t really have any goals related to flying. As January 2006 rolled around I was well on my way to getting my instrument rating, which was more than a good enough goal but I never really thought of it as that. As it turned out, finishing up my rating took more of the year than anticipated through no fault of my own but I feel like I need a list of sorts that I can cross accomplishments off of. And so, I’ve decided to compile a list of flying goals, in order of the likelihood of being achieved:
- get checked out on a retractable gear aircraft; this is a reasonably easy goal, especially at the Calgary Flying Club as the club owns an Piper Arrow (essentially a Piper Warrior with retractable gear and a constant-speed propeller). And I am already confident with constant-speed props due to my experience with the club’s Cessna 182.
- build up my instrument flying time and approach count;
- get an introductory lesson in a helicopter (leaning towards Big Horn Helicopters)
- visit six new airports;
- fly over a large body of water (should be accomplished with a flight to Nanaimo);
- log at least 50 hours of flying time (last year I logged perhaps half that due to IFR training);
- get some good video and still photography of my flying (I love admiring myself *g*);
- fly deep into the United States – preferably somewhere in southern California;
- get a multi-engine rating;
- buy a share in an aircraft
I’ll try and post some updates throughout the year as I work my way through the list.
After 13 years of VFR flying in Canada, I decided to get my Instrument Rating. I had two main reasons behind this decision: I wanted to learn something new and I wanted the added flexibility an instrument rating gives you.
I met with the Chief Flight Instructor at the Calgary Flying Club in the summer of 2005 and at that time picked up all the information, books and older copies of maps and CAPS that I’d require. In October 2005 I started the actual training. Just over a year later, in November 2006, I did my instrument rating flight test and passed.
Below is a list of links to my entries regarding various lessons throughout my training. It was my original intent to document every lesson I did, however, a lack of time has prevented me from doing that. If I manage to find some time to spare, I will try to eventually update this list with the missing entries.
Entries: (newest entries last)
- IFR Preparation
- Introduction to the Simulator (lesson #1)
- Timed Turns & Rated Ascents/Descents (lesson #2)
- Navigation Aids (lesson #3)
- NDB Holds w/ Wind (lesson #13)
- NDB Holds w/ Wind (lesson #14; aka #13 continued)
- Approach Briefing (lesson #15)
- VOR Approaches (lesson #16)
VOR Approaches(lesson #17)
VOR Approaches(lesson #18)
NDB Approaches(lesson #19)
Localizer Approaches(lesson #20)
Localizer/BC Approaches(lesson #21)
ILS Approaches; DME arcs(lesson #22)
IFR Flight Planning(lesson #23)
- INRAT Exam
IFR Simulated Cross Country(lesson #24)
- IFR Cross Country #1 (lesson #25)
- IFR Cross Country #2 (lesson #26)
- IFR Cross Country #3 (lesson #27)
IFR Cross Country #4(lesson #28)
- IFR Pre-Flight Test
- IFR Flight Test
Current status: training completed (12 Nov 2006)
Sim Time: 22.6 hrs
Flying Time: 15.0 hrs (10.9 hrs hood; 0.8 hrs actual)
Long story short: I did my Instrument Rating flight test and passed. But to actually get the test done took me four attempts due to the weather. The previous three times I showed up at the airport only to have the ceilings at Calgary International drop to 200 feet, which would be fine if it was summer and the freezing level wasn’t close to the ground level. In any case, today the weather held nicely and I was able to get off the ground, fly from Springbank to Calgary, do my hold and approaches and return back to Springbank.
The flight test went as expected, which was pretty much on par with my pre-flight test. And both flights were carried out as laid out in the Flight Test Guide on the Transport Canada website. I won’t bother listing the questions that the examiner asked as they won’t ask you anything you won’t have learned in your training. And I suspect that every examiner is different and has their own list of ‘stock’ questions that they ask.
The flying part of the ride was done on one of the Calgary Flying Club’s Piper Warriors, thus I would be getting my Group 3 Instrument Rating. Since the clouds today were far above the service ceiling of the Warrior the test was done using a hood, which Transport Canada mandates that you wear the entire flight. And that was fine by me since the more instrument time I have to practice, the more confident I feel with instrument flying. I was the PIC for the flight so the examiner talked only when necessary, and since I didn’t need to ask him any questions, the only time he really spoke was when he needed to to give me instructions like when to put the hood on or when to finish holding.
Each skill on the test is marked on a scale of 1 to 4, where 4 is perfect and 1 is all bad. You can read the complete details of the 4-point Marking Scale on the Transport Canada website. Any skills marked as a “1” will result in a re-test of some kind, either a partial or complete. For me, my marks were all 3 and 4, except for my NDB approach which I was given a mark of 2 for flying 125 feet too high during the procedure turn. Overall the approach was successful but the deviation resulted in a lower score than I would have liked. But overall, my pass was an acceptable 81% which is well above the required 60% for a pass.
Flight time: 1.7 hrs
Instrument time: 1.4 hrs (hood)
Life is hard. Unless you have no friends or family, are single, can run efficiently on four hours or less of sleep and have enough money that you don’t have to work, it seems that everything gets in the way of what you really want to be doing – flying. And that’s how it’s been for me. Don’t get me wrong though; I love my life. It’s just that for the past two months (yes, I said two months) it has been impossible to get my IFR pre-flight test done. First there was a trip to Prince George for my brother’s wedding. Then it was off to Kelowna for my sister-in-law’s wedding. Then there was job turmoil, followed by a new job. The Nav Canada decided that between staffing shortages and various construction (or whatever other lame excuses they published in the NOTAMs), that IFR training flights around the Calgary airport were out. Joy.
I actually almost got the pre-flight test done two weeks ago, but then Calgary Terminal decided on a bizarre blackout period and doing the flight would have required flying at hours that normal people should be sleeping during. So that was out. But today, a miracle happened and the flight was a go.
My instructor for the entire training up until this point has been Jason, but today I flew with the club’s chief flight instructor. Not because of scheduling or because Jason was fed up, but because Jason has taken a job with Borek Air. Jason’s going away party was last night, but because of today’s flight I kept the rowdiness to an unusual minimum.
During a late breakfast at Melrose on 17th, I called Calgary Terminal and booked a training slot. Because the entire flight takes place within Terminal’s airspace and because it’s a training flight, it’s not enough to simply file an IFR flight plan. That way, Terminal can decide that they’re too busy and simply deny your request. But today, as I said, I lucked out and was given the 1900-2000Z slot. I then filed an IFR flight plan for Calgary/Springbank to Turner Valley NDB (TV) to THIRD (a non-compulsory reporting point) to Calgary VOR (YYC) and back to Springbank, with a hold at THIRD and two approaches at Calgary.
The flight went pretty much as expected, with being vectored around for the first bit before being cleared to proceed to TV and on to THIRD. Once I got past TV and was established on the way to THIRD I received my hold clearance which had me holding north of THIRD on V301. The hold on the north side threw me for a bit of a loop as I was expecting to hold south – lesson learned; don’t anticipate anything more than you’re given. If you’re told to expect a hold at point X, you can try and figure out what the orientation of the hold might be but don’t let that mess things up when you actually receive the clearance.
Then it was on to Calgary International for two approaches, an ILS on Runway 28 and an NDB on Runway 16. The ILS approach was fine, though I initially tuned the wrong frequency for the approach. Other than that, I kept the localizer pretty much centered and the glideslope pretty close to center for most of the approach. At the decision height the runway was right there in front of me – very satisfying. But a little disappointing at the same time; runway 28 is a great runway to spot planes as it overflies one of Calgary’s bike/blade/walking paths. As this was likely on of the few times I would actually fly this approach I was hoping to sneak a peek out and see if I was overflying any people on the path. Instead, I was forced to wear the hood [of shame] for the entire approach, only peeking at the decision height to see where I was. After that, I was vectored around the NE part of Terminal’s airspace to get setup for the ILS for runway 16, which we actually did the the NDB approach for. The approach was likely my best NDB approach ever, given the favourable light winds. At the MDA the runway was right out in front of me. As we went missed we crossed over the path of an incoming Dash-8 on short final for Runway 10; very exciting (and draining) to be doing training at CYYC during the close-to-peak times. Then it was back to Springbank for a regular landing without the hood [of shane].
After landing I had a quick debrief on the flight. Essentially the flight was good, I just need to ensure I double check my frequencies and stay on top of resetting the heading indicator (which, in my defense I got out of the habit of doing due to all my time in the club’s 182 which has a slaved HSI). And, the best part of the day is that I have the club’s sign off on doing the actual Transport Canada IFR flight test.
Flight time: 2.1 hrs
Instrument time: 1.6 hrs (hood)