Oshkosh Day 0

Day 0 (Zero) dawned as cold as ever, but not many events on the schedule. Here are some pics as we wondered around the grounds.

1997 Williams V-Jet II designed by Burt Rutan. The dark bug eyes kinda give it away.



The Griz, another Burt Rutan design



The AOPA sweepstakes Debonair. I’ll be back in Oct 2014 to get the keys!





You got that right! Ouch…



P51-D goodness.



BD-5 jet built by Mr. Hall seen in the back.



F86 Sabre Jet



Peter and I at the famous Brown Arch


Okay, who lost their parents?



Because it’s my wife’s name.



A view of the vectored thrust on a F-22 model.



Spaceship One and the Voyager at the EAA Museum



This lets in way too much air, but its called a “Breezy” for a reason.



What started this thing we all love to do. A replica of the Wright Flyer.



The control station of the Flyer



A little whimsy artwork on the way back to camp.



The show officially begins tomorrow, the crowds are building even today and the temps may soon get into the 70’s making for a great show. Some good announcements and press events that I’ll be covering tomorrow and I’ll bring you the details here.

Oshkosh Day-1

Saturday is a relaxed day at Oshkosh as the vendors are in full swing getting the displays setup. The one interesting thing that happens is the mass arrivals of the Bonanza’s, Cessna and Mooney groups. I managed to get some various shots of the grounds and the arrivals before I got to cold and had to head back to camp to put on sweat pants. First time I’ve had to bundle up here as normally it 90 degrees and humid.

First up is me and Duggy.



Waiting for the mass arrivals I saw these two planes get caught trying to swap places. Sometimes it takes more people to help sort out a simple problem. Oh well, relax and enjoy being at Oshkosh.



Traffic alert, multiple targets inbound!

Bonanza_arrival1Another shot of the massive Bonanza group.



A Bonanza just before touchdown.


Cessna shows that they can do it too, but they only had about 32 planes in the group and we down in 12 minutes.



A nice orange Cessna 170

C170-1A red Cessna 170



Cessna 182



Oshkosh tower



An interesting plane by the flight line.


I feel like M&M’s

Stay tuned for more through out the week.

AirVenture – Oshkosh

With less than a week to go before the official opening of the worlds greatest air show at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, pilots from all over are getting geared up and excited for the week long show. I’ll be attending as well and I will strive to bring some of the show to you with pictures, stories and maybe some video. So stay tuned to the front page as I leave for Oshkosh on Friday and will be there for the mass arrivals on Saturday.

Another Solo!

                                                             Varun’s First Solo !!!

23rd June 2013, KPAO, Cessna N48849

With 25 lessons, 175 landings and all of Ron’s confidence in me, I was eagerly looking forward for my first solo flight on Sunday. The Friday before, we checked and Sunday’s forecast was cloudy and it was not 100% clear if I could solo. Ron said to lookout for the weather on Sunday morning and if I did not hear back from him, that would mean the Solo schedule was on.

So came the Sunday. The morning started with the sun nowhere to be seen. It was cloud all over. I was a little disheartened. Then I checked for any message from Ron. There was none. I got hopeful. A message probably would have meant no solo. I was a little nervous (far less nervous though than my pre-solo check ride with another senior instructor) on the drive to the club and all the while hoping for everything to go fine.

After the pre-flight we decided to go for a few practice landings. ATIS, read “Ceiling 1600 overcast”. And right at the end of the engine run-up at rwy 31, Ground called and informed rwy assignment has changed to 13. I know things do not stay the same always. But I had practiced very hard the pattern for rwy 31 in the last few lessons picking up landmarks all the way. Use of rwy 13 is rare at KPAO (I had used only once during my training) and I already started feeling that things are not in my favor for solo today.

But Ron’s training kicked in and we did six landings. I got some confidence back, Ron backed me up and I thought I can solo just fine if the clouds cleared up. We were unsure of the clouds and decided to give it some time while we waited in the briefing room. Club rule for a student pilot is a cloud ceiling of at least 2000.

With every passing moment the uncertainty grew more and more and I kept thinking is this going to be the day? All the while since morning, my excitement was bouncing back and forth like a ping-pong ball in a long rally. After some more time, Ron looked up the weather on his IPad and confirmed I am good to solo! Scattered clouds at 1600 is ok. He signed the necessary endorsements and gave me a go ahead. We walked up to the plane. My wife had joined as well to watch me solo. Ron fixed a couple of cameras inside the cockpit, shook my hand, wished me good luck and they walked to the spot to watch me solo.

Varun Takeoff

I went over the checklists, started the engine, wrote down the ATIS and contacted ground for taxi clearance. No reply from ground for almost a minute. I checked the radios and contacted ground one more time. I heard the response, “Cessna 48849 Palo Alto ground rwy 31 taxi via terminal side”. I was so excited I almost wanted to shout and say, “Ron, rwy 31!” Everything from that point forward was automatic (thanks to Ron’s excellent training) except for the fact that it seemed odd and desolate to have an empty seat beside me. I had to talk to myself to keep company.

Varun Solo from Ron Klutts on Vimeo.

The first landing went good and I felt as if I took my first breath after the first landing. I did not feel nervous anymore and went on. I bounced a bit on the second landing (Ron joked later that it will still be counted as one :-)) and then went on to the third one which was smooth again. After three landings to a full stop, I parked the plane, and then Ron came along and raised his hand for a high five ! At that point I thought yes, I did it… I did the SOLO flight !!!!

Then followed the tradition of Ron cutting off the back of my shirt, signing it and giving it back to me. That is my trophy! And it indeed was my day!!



I have been hard at work training several students recently and 2 of them have made great strides towards the first big achievement of soloing. So thanks for bearing with me as it’s been a while since the last post but I think your going to enjoy Patricks story.

The trip to my first solo in the Skyhawk 172 (tail N4660G) was more memorable than the solo itself. Taking flight by yourself for the first time is a dubious prospect at best, never mind the fact that the hardware you are flying is older than you by a considerable amount, and you recall far too much about the metallurgical effects of cyclic stress and strain on rigid bodies from some sleepy materials engineering class a few years ago.

Alone in the cockpit

Perhaps it is simply the fear of not having the right hand seat occupied for the first time that makes you think of the endless list of possible catastrophes (self induced or otherwise) that could cause your tiny plane to go careening into the ground with a sickening crunch.  But on the 16th of June 2013, I decided it would be a good idea to try my hand at some real flying.

I suppose the act of soloing the airplane is akin to a test in which the results can — by nature — only be binary: you either “sink or swim,” you “crash or land,” which is where (I think) some of the hesitation and nervousness must come from for students.  It is literally a test of skill from which there can only be two outcomes.  More importantly, I felt it was a demonstration of my learning over the past few months – a critical milestone to build confidence in the aircraft and myself as a pilot.

After endless loops around runway 31 in Palo Alto, endlessly hearing Ron’s voice in my headset: “right rudder,” “centerline,” “look at your airspeed,” “CENTERLINE!” my time to become a “pilot in command” seemed to be drawing near.  It really seemed more like an inevitable point in my training, not necessarily something I was building to.  To be completely honest, I hadn’t given the occasion much thought or reverence and was very at ease about the situation (an indication of Ron’s excellent CFI skills) – “sure” I thought, “I’ll fly this airplane, by myself, I guess?”

So, after a few runs around the pattern, Ron asked me to taxi to the “J” row and let him out so he could observe from the safety of the ground.  We shook hands, Ron wished me luck, signed my endorsement, then I secured the passenger side door.

The pattern was already buzzing with some traffic, one student was already in front of me on the taxiway waiting for his solo takeoff clearance as well.  Pretty soon, I heard “Skyhawk 60G, Palo Alto tower, winds variable at 4, runway 31, cleared for takeoff, right closed traffic.”  I responded with the crispest pilot voice I could muster despite the fact that I was excited beyond words: “cleared for takeoff, Skyhawk 60G, runway 31, right closed.”

From here on, it was all automatic for me as the checklists are engrained into my brain at this point: “power set, right rudder, gauges OK, airspeed alive, 55 knots, rotate, tap the brakes.”  My tiny C172 shot up into the sky like a Saturn 5 without Ron in the passenger seat!  In no time at all, I was sitting at 800 feet and on downwind.

Patrick on takeoff

I get my clearance for the option right away.  Abeam the numbers, I throttle back and expect the airspeed to drop to my flaps extended range and add 10 degrees.  Again, almost as quickly as I gained my airspeed on takeoff, I lost my airspeed.  I was abruptly reminded that momentum is indeed the mass times the velocity.  Base turn and final were completely uneventful as was the landing.  I asked myself: “that was it?”

And indeed it was, after careful training and prep work, I soloed an airplane for the first time.

Ron greeted me with an exuberant high-five and the ceremonial shirt tail cutting and I became a student pilot!

Solo is done!

Sunset IFR approach

I’ve been conducting an IPC with a pilot that hasn’t flown IFR in several years and after several flights to refresh long lost skills we had the pleasure of filing an IFR flight plan and getting some actual in the remnants of the clouds that brought some rain the day before.

It was a nice reward for his hard work and a confidence booster as well. We were rewarded with a beautiful sunset just above the clouds as we headed to the IAF where we turned and descended into the clouds.


Decision making

We have to make many decisions as pilots. Are we safe and fit to fly? Is the plane airworthy and running well? We consider the weather all along the route to determine if we can make the flight according to the rules whether that’s VFR or IFR. Sometimes its not clear as to the correct decision and when something goes astray we reevaluate the situation and make a new decision.

Take for example a rough running engine during the runup. Maybe the plugs are fouled by lead and we burn it off and then retest the mags. Or what if we abort a takeoff because something isn’t right? It could be slow acceleration, a vibration or something just tells us that something is going as we expect. We should never want to take off and ignore that feeling. For me the subtle cues indicate a problem of some sort or another.

Ask yourself

So what happens after we abort? Do we taxi back and problem solve the issue and maybe try to continue our flight? Or do we taxi back and alert the mechanic or flight school to the issue and cancel the trip?

I raise these questions as I heard this situation at our airport recently. I do not know the pilot and I’m not making any judgments as to whether he made the right decision here. Just raising some things that we all need to consider if this happens to us so we can determine what we may do if we face this. I only know what I heard on the radio and so I don’t have the details this pilot had that led him to make the decisions he did. I ask the same of you and just use this as an opportunity to evaluate your own practices.

Here is the audio I recorded during a training flight with my student. Some transmissions from the pilot involved are blocked out by my speaking to my student before it was apparent there was an issue. Most of the important stuff is there.

I have edited out some of the quiet times to shorten the playing time and there is some time near the end that I let it play in real time so you get a sense of the time involved.

There’s 2 versions below, the video is just out the front of the 152 we were flying in case you want to see the are. The Saratoga is not seen in it. Due to upload size limitations I couldn’t make it all that large.

Audio Version Saratoga Aborted takeoff

Video Saratoga Aborted takeoff

It ended well with a safe landing so that’s always the best outcome.

He attempted a takeoff and had to abort. He then taxied back to investigate and no doubt did another runup to determine the source of the cause.

Here’s the big question.

What would you do at that point? Continue or call it a day and let the mechanic look at it? No judging here, just raising a question.

He determined it was safe as evidenced by his requesting to depart again. We we in front of him and on crosswind when we heard this.

After tower informed he he had smoke coming from the engine we were directed away from the airport so tower had less traffic to deal with and provide a safe environment for the plane to land. It also reduced traffic on the radio the they could both focus.

The pilot elected to land opposite of how he departed and with a slight tailwind. It was the shortest path back to pavement.

Take-offs or always optional but landings are not, so lets be prepared and ready in case we find ourselves in a similar circumstance and need to return for an immediate landing.

Remembering Doug….

I’m reflecting on a piece I wrote after a tragic accident not only at my home airport but of a friend. Strangely enough I had a lesson with a student today and the weather was about what it was 3 years ago but visibility was only slightly better as can be seen here.

KPAO WX 2-17


So we cancelled the flight and resorted to a simulator session. While being a little disappointed it was still productive and a good lesson that we can’t always fly. We need to know our limits which the following is about.

I hope you find this useful and evaluate your own safety practices.

Here is the audio that originally aired on the Airspeed Podcast thanks to Stephen Tupper.

Av Safety



Take-offs are a surprise


There are times in our lives where we pause to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, or what we hope to do in the future and how to achieve them. Other times it’s our failures that trigger this and we want to learn from it and try and avoid repeating them. Sometimes we get to learn from the events other people have gone through and reflect on it.

What follows is my journey of self-examination as a pilot.

First off I must thank Stephen Force for the inspiration I received from his First Solo episode and hearing of his journey with a bag of fears and the roadblocks he faced when his instructor died in a terrible crash.

It was in that episode that we as pilots are reminded aviation is safe but to a large extent it’s terribly unforgiving when an accident does happen. We want it to be safe for us, our loved ones and other passengers that entrust their lives and well being to us. It’s a privilege I don’t take lightly.

We strive to learn the performance characteristics and limitations of the aircraft we fly and then operate it safely within those boundaries.

We learn and practice emergency procedures so we can handle them and have a safe outcome for us and then lastly the plane.

From our early training onward we know the importance of protecting lives on the ground and the need to stay away from populated areas if we must land during an emergency.

I want to address a few things that have come to mind in the past weeks in light of a recent accident that struck all to close to home for me.

On February 17, 2010 a Cessna 310 left Palo Alto with three on board for an hour and fifty minute flight to southern CA. This time however, the flight lasted less than a minute.

The pilot was one of the good guys, a commercial rated CFI with whom I did my BFR with in 2005 when I joined the partnership he started with 4 other people for a Cessna 172.

I flew with him several times doing various training flights and have shared dinner and margaritas with all the members of our group to discuss plane issues, life, best routes to fly and places to go eat.

He was a successful and talented Electrical Engineer and someone who just loved aviation. His passion for teaching was clear as he enjoyed teaching others to fly to the extent it was hard to get him to accept anything more than a token payment for his time. He didn’t do it for the money, but because it was FLYING! And he loved it.

I’ll leave it to the NTSB to make the determination of probable cause, my intent is to learn from that fact this accident did happen and in light of the WX conditions are there things that I would do to keep me safe in similar circumstances?

To that extent, I say that take-offs are a surprise. Why? It’s been said that while take-offs are optional, landings are clearly NOT.

How can it be said that take-offs are a surprise? Didn’t we go to the airport with the intent and desire to take-off and go somewhere?

This concept comes from my training for the commercial rating. I learned many new habits that I’ll admit I should have been incorporating all along. Whether it was due to several years of not flying and having earned the private license a few decades previous, it was a good thing to learn these new safety related habits.

I’ll admit that learning to do passenger pre-start safety briefings and departure briefings felt awkward, as well as talking to myself in doing various callouts during the take-off roll. However I stuck with it and I knew that in the interest of safety, these were things a competent pilot needed to do. I was learning a new mindset and for that I was thankful.

Part of that departure briefing included what we expect to happen, and what to do in the event something didn’t go as planned. This is where the surprise comes in.

My CFI, Jason Miller, told me that I should plan on aborting EVERY take-off and be surprised if the engine keeps running and we can accelerate to rotation speed and can fly away.

Even after that point we should be ready to react in case it fails on climb-out and we need to do something. Whether it’s landing straight ahead or making a slight turn to avoid obstacles, we need to be ready until the first 1000’ is under us and we have an extra moment to evaluate our situation.

A lot of the scenarios we practice involve emergencies at higher altitudes or in cruise flight. The failure we train for most on takeoff is an engine failure and then to a lesser degree instrumentation or loss of radio communication. At cruise altitude we have the luxury of a little time to diagnose, trouble shoot and develop a plan of action.

I remember a flight my buddy took years ago as a newly minted pilot. Returning from LA to Northern CA he faced higher than expected headwinds. He started getting nervous as the rental had fuel gauges that made it hard to accurately tell the quantity. This was a late night flight and would require a $20 fee to call someone from home to get fuel as this was before the 24 hour self serve pump era. He at least had time and altitude to consider his options. He now knows landing and paying the fee was cheap insurance and peace of mind even though he arrived safely but had cut his fuel reserve close.

I too have my own fuel story, but I used it as a learning experience to shape my practices today so that my reserves are higher and I’ll make the extra stop even if not really needed.

Sometimes the lessons we learn come from close calls, and in other cases from fatal accidents. Set some personal minimums and then STICK to them.

Part of our preparedness is to plan for the time when things do go wrong.

What are the action items for an electrical system failure?

What if the vacuum system failed?

What if an engine failed?

What if my engine fails at 200’? At 500’? At 1000’?

What if any of these occur in IMC?

Each altitude has different action plans and alternatives. Are we ready for each? Have YOU asked WHAT IF?

What if?….. What if?….

Were you surprised the engine didn’t fail so you could continue the take-off? You need to be surprised. Or did you firewall the throttle, waited a few seconds and pulled back, just EXPECTING all to go well?

I know I am asking WHAT IF now.

Now think of having to do that at 100 to 200 feet in IMC. That is a critical time to have to do this. Whether it’s diagnosing an engine or vacuum system failure affecting the attitude indicator to keep us upright, we need to have a back up plan before we start the take-off and be ready to react.

By doing the departure briefing I was reminding myself what I would do in various circumstances. It helped me to be spring loaded to react.

The same needs to be done for low visibility take-offs. I practiced how to do it during instrument training and to maintain aircraft control during the take-off roll.

These include failures of the vacuum system or an issue with the pitot static system that gives us the all important attitude information to keep the shiny side up.

Can we brush up our basic attitude flying skills? What about practicing partial panel? Could we practice a partial panel take-off to simulate a vacuum failure at rotation under the watchful eyes of a CFII of course. For those of you that are multi-rated, how proficient at single engine operations are you? Are you ready for an engine to fail and have practiced the procedures required?

I use a portable GPS as do many others and appreciate its many abilities including the terrain awareness so I know what’s out there if I’m in IMC or at night. Those mountains have a habit of being dark and unlit at night.

I had never thought of having the simulated panel page of the GPS up and displayed on take-off in case of an instrumentation failure. I love having the GPS for the battery powered backup navigation in case of an electrical failure. But never for a moment did I think it could serve a purpose on take-off. I may never do a take-off with a 100’ ceiling but the idea is the same.

Isn’t this why we got the instrument rating after all? To blast through a low fog layer into clear air a 1000’ above us? We need to remember that getting there carries with it certain risks during the first few minutes of flight that we need to be prepared for to the extent we possibly can.

On a recent flight I did put the GPS into the simulated panel page and thought of actually using it after rotation in IMC.

Would it have made a difference in the chaos of either an engine failure or dizziness caused from spatial disorientation from entering IMC so quickly after rotation?

It may not have, so make no mistake about it, I’m in no way implying I have found the cause or solution to this terrible accident, as the details and causes are unknown. It just got me thinking to look at my own safety practices and ask,


It’s been a few weeks since the accident that took our friend and colleague.

I’m having trouble coming to terms with this one. This was a seasoned and skilled pilot. It’s not my intent to analyze this accident and say what went wrong. My desire was to learn from this and see what I can do different to make me safer.

This means keeping my skills sharp and using anything at my disposal to stay upright as best I can.

If I’m ever not surprised, I’d like to think I thought of and practiced the right WHAT IF for that situation. That’s what we do as safe pilots.

So I put this question to you, are YOU thinking WHAT IF?

Will I be surprised at my next take-off? I hope so.

I WANT to be surprised on my next take-off, and a million more after that……..

I’d like to thank all the CFI’s I have learned from over the years.

Todd Bennett, Doug Groom, Dan Adams, Ewe Lemke, Steve Philipson, Jason Miller, and especially Doug Bourn.

Forget the Dr. title, I want CFI after my name. It’s coming, I can feel it.

All of you set a high standard I too aspire to attain and will teach ALL of my students to think of


I’m proud to say I did become a CFI in Oct, 2010 and am enjoying teaching flying and inspiring a new generation of pilots. But let us never forgot that we should put safety first even at the expense of delays to our trip that may have business or personal consequences. We need to remember its better to show up late than not at all.

Fly safe!

Ron Klutts CFI

Here is the NTSB report on this accident.