Flying the Stearman Biplane

I recently had the opportunity to fly a Stearman biplane again! Flying the Stearman is fun!

My friend Mike Hanson owns a beautifully restored 1943 Stearman biplane, based at nearby Compton, Airport, KCPM, in Compton, CA. We had a deal; he flew with me in my 1970 Cessna 150 for some required proficiency training to maintain his pilot qualifications, and in return he offered me a chance get a ride in his Stearman and fly it!

Well, flying the Stearman is SO MUCH fun!! I last flew a Stearman about 35 years ago, at a small airport in Harvard, Illinois, northwest of Chicago. It was a beautiful day here in Southern California. And, despite the Stearman’s larger size, and because of the drag of the large struts and the large frontal area of the Continental R-670-5 radial engine, it is really not that fast, either. But flying ‘open cockpit’ is fun!

To my surprise, it is light on the controls, and is easy to fly! But the view from the cockpit for maneuvering on the ground and for takeoff and landings is a challenge. Because we sit behind the engine, we can only look to either side. I sat in front, and Mike was in the rear, on the controls. We wore leather flying jackets and headsets and had an intercom so we could communicate. I was a passenger as he taxied out and did the takeoff and the landing. Once in flight, he let me fly. What fun!

Our route of flight was “straight-outta-Compton” 1000′ agl, Alondra Park, then southwest to King Harbor then wing-up southbound along the shoreline to Palos Verdes Peninsula, L.A. / Long Beach Harbors, Queen Mary, North 710 LGB transition for the overhead approach returning to Compton.

Along the way, over the Breakwater at the edge of the LA harbor, we did some ‘turns about a point’, or ‘ground reference maneuvers’, as they are called, when you maneuver down low, between 600’ and 1,000’, and try to maintain a prescribed course over the ground while correcting for the wind. That’s how student pilots learn to correct for the wind. And, when we were up higher, at about 3,000’, I did a few medium and steep banked turns (60°), and then a power off (at idle) stall or two. It was fun to practice this basic maneuvers. It was fun flying around in a big yellow biplane on a sunny afternoon! IF you are interested in getting a ride in this Stearman, their website is

Flying the Stearman is wonderful for practicing basic ‘stick ‘n rudder’ skills! Remember, the Stearman was used for primary pilot training by the US Army Air Corp (before it became the US Air Force) back in early WWII and taught 1000’s of army pilots basic flying skills. Hence the designation, PT-17, Primary Trainer.

Have you, the reader, if you are a pilot, practiced basic stick ‘n rudder skills lately? If not, get in touch with me and we can do this in the airplane you are flying. It’s so important to keep your basic flying skills sharp! Too many pilots are letting their piloting skills atrophy with more and more automation in the cockpit, as I mentioned in a recent blog.

Fly safely,


More stick time for pilots?

It is being reported in the Feb. 7 edition of AvWeb, that the FAA is concerned about a lack of ‘stick time’ for pilots. According to the pending Advisory Circular (AC) 120-FPM, which is in ‘draft form’, with the subject being ‘Flightpath Management’(FPM), this AC addresses “manual flight operations, termed ‘MFO’, including managing automated systems, pilot monitoring (PM), and energy management.’ That’s mouthful.

More ‘stick time’ is needed by pilots

What it amounts to is nothing new. We’ve been saying this for decades. With the increased reliance on automated systems in the cockpit, the FAA is now concerned that pilots ‘stick ‘n rudder skills’ are deteriorating, and more ‘stick time’ is needed by pilots, to maintain proficiency.

A question: if this is being proposed by the FAA for airline and charter pilots, then what does this say about GA pilots, some of whom fly very sophisticated, very capable airplanes with lots of automation. Many are more sophisticated than some Boeing or Airbus aircraft. Heck, even single engine turboprop aircraft like the TBM 900 series boast very high-end avionics.

So, some questions for you, the reader. What’s your take on this? Are modern cockpits becoming too automated? If you the reader are a pilot, how automated is the cockpit of the airplane you fly? Do you have an autopilot? If so, how often do you use your autopilot?

Post your comments below.

Santa Ana Winds

Crosswind Landings

Challenging Crosswind Conditions

Palm Tree in WindWe recently had ‘Santa Ana’ conditions here in SoCal. What causes this? Typically, it’s due to a high-pressure system over Utah or Nevada, with its clockwise flow, which funnels hot dry air southwesterly through the mountains surrounding the LA basin. When that happens, there is a strong northeasterly flow in parts of the basin, which means strong, gusty north-northeasterly surface winds at some airports. This creates very challenging crosswind conditions for takeoffs and landings. How proficient are you with this?Santa Ana Winds

Many pilots struggle with crosswind landings. This is because they don’t fly enough on windy days. They are simply out of practice. How about you? Do you ever fly on days like this?  I can help. Get in touch with me.

5-7-9 Rule

Are you familiar the 5-7-9 rule of thumb, for crosswinds? It’s easy to use. See the diagram to the left. If the winds are 30° to the runway at 10 knots, the crosswind is 50% of the wind value. So, for runway 36 shown here, if the wind is 030 at 10, there is a 5-knot crosswind. Crosswind ChartIf the wind is 45° to the runway, or 040 or 050 at 10, the crosswind is 70% or about 7 knots. If the wind is 60° to the runway, or 060 at 10, the crosswind 90% of that, or about 9 knots. This is all based on (Algebra) and Trigonometry but is simplified for our purposes. What’s the demonstrated crosswind for the airplane you fly?

Plane on runway

How comfortable are you with crosswind takeoffs and landings?

If you would like to get some practice with crosswinds, please get in touch with me and I’ll work with you to improve your crosswind skills.


Looking forward in 2022

Guinness World Record

Zara Rutherford, only 19, recently completed her ‘RTW’ (‘round the world) flight, with many stops, in Wevelgem, Belgium, on Thursday, January 20, 2022. She was flying SOLO and has set a Guinness World Record in the process!!

Congratulations, Zara!! She flew a Shark Ultra-Light, a small single engine aircraft built by Shark.aeros.r.o., certified in both Germany and the Czech Republic, that was modified for this flight. She took off on this journey, August 18, 2021, and she finished 155 days later. This is simply amazing. She is an inspiration to many! It should be pointed out that both of her parents are also pilots.

What is she looking forward to next? She says she’d like to become an astronaut! Naturally.


This being January, and with the rest of the year ahead, looking forward, let’s see what we can do to make 2022 safer than 2021. What can be done to reduce the number of aircraft accidents, especially fatal accidents? This is no small challenge.

The NTSB has released their preliminary report on the Learjet crash that occurred on December 31, 2021, at San Diego’s Gillespie Field. A big question is why the pilots elected to circle-to-land, at night, in marginal weather? This is never a good idea.

Having said this, in my previous job, in my work as a simulator instructor I have performed this maneuver countless times in the simulator, during my own training, using a nighttime ‘visual’. My clients have practiced ‘circling’ many times, as well. We used Memphis, TN, (KMEM), because KMEM meets all of the required criteria for a circling approach.

When I took my Citation recurrent training at LOFT Aero, in Carlsbad, CA, in December, in their Citation Ultra simulator, we used JFK Int’l Airport in New York (KJFK). It also meets the FAA’s circling requirements. The Circle-to-Land instrument approach procedure is required by the FAA to be completed during training.  The airlines, with much larger jets, do not allow their pilots to perform the ‘circle-to-land’ maneuver. They only fly ‘straight-in’ approaches. However, we spend time carefully ‘briefing’ or discussing the approach and what is required beforehand, so the clients know what is involved.

Was this crew simply anxious to get home? Probably. Did this influence their fateful decision to attempt this maneuver, instead of a safer, straight-in approach? Probably. But we’ll have to wait and see what the NTSB says when they finish their investigation and issue their findings in about a year or so. In the meantime, what are your thoughts about this accident?



John Mahany with plane

Looking back at 2021

As is reported in the Safety Trends story in the December 2021 issue of Plane & Pilot Magazine, looking back, what can be learned from the accident record?

The good news, GA flying is getting safer. Is there any bad news? Well, the accident rate has not changed or improved much lately. Is that bad? Well, it’s not getting any better. It’s basically been flat for several years. The reports cover the years up through 2020. It’s too soon to know anything about last year. And there was the terrible accident literally at years end on December 31, when a medivac Learjet, crashed while maneuvering to land, at night, in marginal conditions, at San Diego’s Gillespie Field. All onboard perished.

In the Safety Trends story, is there a typical accident? While accident reports vary widely, it generally comes down to pilot error, or a mechanical problem. After that, its’ weather, which could be continued flight into IMC conditions, with a pilot who is not instrument rated. The results of this are usually fatal. According to statistics, 66% of accidents are related to pilot error, 18% are mechanical, and the remaining 16% are something else.

There’s really nothing new here. We continue to make the same mistakes. Complacency sets in and we see the same mistakes being made over and over. It’s cycle that repeats itself, with alarming regularity. What can be done about that? Hard to say.

Some pilots are simply more safety conscious than others. This is just human nature. And some people are more conscientious than others. Many pilots will only do the minimum to stay current, if that. Egos get in the way: “I don’t need this!’. This mindset is hard to change. So, with that said, our challenge is to find a way to change this way of thinking, if possible.

What are your thoughts on any of this? This is not rocket science. What can be done to make a change in the thought process of some, who will likely be the culprits that cause an accident?

Air Traffic Control Mike Fright

Do you have Air Traffic Control Mike Fright? Are you unsure about what to say, or how to talk to ATC?

Want to get over Air Traffic Control Mike Fright? You are not alone. Many are unsure of what to say.

As an experienced CFI (Certified Flight Instructor), I’ve seen this with students and heard it many times before. It can be intimidating, especially at busier airports where they issue clearances at a rapid-fire pace. I can help.

How to deal with Air Traffic Control Mike Fright

You have to know what to expect. Then, think BEFORE you ‘key’ the mike/push the ‘PTT’, “push-to-talk button”, and know WHAT you are going to say. Avoid long pauses (…ahh), which only tie up the frequency for everyone else.

Follow this simple formula:

  • Who you are calling (facility or airport name), and the ‘controller’ position; Long Beach Ground, Tower, or Clearance, for example. Don’t just say ‘ground control’, or Long Beach Ground Control. That’s very amateurish.
  • Who YOU are (aircraft make/model and ‘N’ number, i.e.; Cessna or Skyhawk 12345). In the US, you don’t have to include ‘November’ in a US registered aircraft. Only outside the US is that required.
  • Where you are/your position (if in flight 10 miles north etc. or position on the ground, Transient ramp, FBO, etc.)
  • Your intentions (what you want to do…reposition to parking, taxi for takeoff…takeoff/land, etc.)

Air Traffic Control will reply with your call sign and instructions on what to do, as appropriate, using their terminology. This is all referenced in the Aeronautical information Manual, (AIM for short) Chapter 4, Section 2, (4-2-1 thru 13)) Radio Communications Phraseology and Techniques. You reply by acknowledging and reading back your clearance, that you understand what you are expected to do, using appropriate terminology.

Here is an example.

You; “Fullerton Ground, Cessna 12345, Transient Parking, VFR West bound (direction of flight), Taxi with Alpha (ATIS code)”.

Fullerton Ground; “Cessna 12345, Fullerton Ground, taxi Runway 24 via Alpha.”

You, reading back; “Cessna 12345 taxi runway 24 via Alpha.”

The reason ATC talks fast is:

a. They might have several aircraft to communicate with, so they keep their transmissions short and to the point. Concise. Notice ATC also leaves out most ‘prepositions’; remember those from English class way back when…as they are extra words that take up time on a busy frequency. It makes a difference.

b. They give this clearance 100’s of times each day, to every pilot who calls for taxi clearance. They don’t have to think about it.

Suggestion: as stated above, before calling; note your position, either on the ground or in flight. Where are you and what are your intentions? Now you know what to expect from ATC. Then, using shorthand, either write down the important elements of your clearance on a pad of paper, OR if using an iPad with ForeFlight, and maybe an Apple Pencil, you can draw it on the airport diagram using the highlighter feature on the app. That way you have a record of your clearance.

Any questions or thoughts about this? It’s standard phraseology. It works anywhere. The AIM also spells out radio use at non-towered airports. This can be found in the AIM in section 4-1-9.

What has stumped YOU with using the radio? Or is there any particular airport or ATC facility that you find intimidating? Let me know. I can help.

Fly safely!