In the spirit of “a good pilot is always learning”, this month’s Question of the Month will try to answer an oft-asked question: “What are some good reads for pilots/flying club members?” Given the time of year, we’ll also link this to an end-of-year dilemma— “What can I do over the holiday break?”
Your friendly Flying Clubs team put their heads together and came up with the following suggestions for some good reads. Now, one person’s good read is another’s hard slog, so we get it—not everyone will see the brilliance in all of the following and, indeed, some of you will think we’ve gone a bit dotty but bear with us. We also understand that that there are many titles out there. We can’t cover them all…indeed we don’t know them all, so please do write in and let us know your favs…especially if they are a bit…fringe!
Let’s get the “Stick and Rudder” issue out of the way…upfront and central. I know this will upset some people but come on…it has had its day! Yes, it is a good yarn, but hopefully we have learnt a thing or two since 1944. By all means enjoy it and be wowed by how much was learnt in the 41 years since 1903, but there are many and much better flying books, manuals and other instructional material out there in the proceeding 78 years!
And it still drives me crazy when allegedly good writers start sentences with “and”—it may not be considered “poor form” anymore, but in my book (and that of my English teacher who taught me English …in England), it is just bad grammar and sloppy sentence structure. Oh…and the use of “flippers” for elevators, “ship” for airplane and other cuties sure are swell but just does not cut it anymore—at least for me—and this is my article! (See here for Steve Schapiro’s kinder review of this rightly revered, but now rather tired book).
One other thought before delving into some good reads. If you are teaching your child (or grandchild) to drive, would you pull out your 1970s (1950s) driving manuals? Hopefully not. You’d use material designed for today’s road and driving “techniques”.…you know, speed limits are for other people and are anyway more like guidelines...and that Stop and Yield signs are really the same thing. We often hear from rusty pilots, who are working towards currency (and hopefully, proficiency), that they are studying their PPL books from 20 years ago. Here’s the 411…. much has changed!
Alright…before really getting cracking, I’m going to point you to DRS. Not the Drag Reduction System if you are a Formula 1 fan, but the Dynamic Regulatory System. This is an FAA website that houses all (?) pertinent information for aviators. It is aspiring to be a one-stop-shop for all there is to know, and, as it is “dynamic, it purports to be always up to date.
See here for more info on DRS, but here is an extract from the article by lawyer Christopher Poreda, in the November 2022 edition of the AOPA Pilot Protection Services news: “Just a couple of weeks ahead of the change, the FAA announced that effective in mid-August of 2022 it would no longer mail copies of Airworthiness Directives (AD’s) to registered owners, as had been the practice for many decades. Now owners and maintainers must check the DRS for updates to see if the FAA has published an AD that might affect the operation of the aircraft or require a maintainer to perform extra tasks before approving the aircraft for return to service. The FAA used to carefully consider that not every aircraft owner (particularly in some segments of General Aviation) even had a home computer much less access to high-speed internet service. Apparently, no longer. The FAA’s announcement that it will end mailing hard copies of AD’s to registered owners means that the agency is, in essence, requiring that to be an aircraft owner you must have a computer and internet access. Further, the burden is now shifted from the FAA to the owner. An aircraft owner cannot wait to get an AD in the mail, you must search the DRS for applicable AD’s. How often do you have to do that? Monthly? Weekly? Before each flight?
We define “a good read” as being one or more of:
Most of the above seem quite reasonable, but “essential”? We added this one to remind ourselves that some aviation reading material is not really “fun”, but the knowledge contained therein is essential to our well-being in the air. Regulations are a good example of this…you dutifully purchase the latest FAR/AIM, but when was the last time you actually read it? We don’t mean as a reference, but as a set of interrelated rules. For example, are you fully conversant with the new rules for using flight training devices for instrument currency? Did you know that you can use an appropriately equipped LSA for your commercial training? What is the latest wisdom from the FAA on approaching non-towered (pilot-controlled) airfields?
Right-oh…let’s get started. Rather than a prioritized list implying favorites, we’ll introduce these somewhat randomly…and of course the list can go on and on…so please don’t be too shocked or horrified if we miss something obvious…!
Let me share some of my favorite aviation books:
David McCullough: The Wright Brothers (published by Simon and Schuster). This is a wonderfully readable account of the engineering and determination that resulted in the epic flight on Dec 1903 at the outer banks of North Carolina. By the way, by Presidential Proclamation, December 17th is Wright Brothers Day and I’m planning on flying down to First Flight Airport (KFFA) to join the festivities. I’ll report back on this next month. I suggest you read The Wright Brothers first, but closely follow with:
Lawrence Goldstone: “Birdmen” (published by Ballantine Books) to understand the cutthroat rivalry between the air pioneers of the day (especially the Wrights and Glenn Curtis), on the ground, in the air and in the courts. Far from being sweetness, light and collaboration, the quest to be first (and not just in powered flight) was intense.
Simon Winchester: Precision (published by Harper Perennial). (Also called Exactly, published by William Collins). Up there with David McCullough, Walter Isaacson, Stephen Ambrose, David S. Reynolds and Jon Meacham, Simon Winchester is one of my all-time favorite historical writers. I love his detailed descriptions told in resonantly correct English. Although not strictly an aviation book, the industry as we know it would not be possible without precision and precision engineering. This is truly a fascinating read.
By the way, if you haven’t yet read Isaacson’s “The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race”, (published by Simon & Schuster) give it a go. It’s all about DNA, RNS, intrigue, ruthless competition, gene editing, crispr and, yes COVID vaccinations. Fascinating!
Andrew Nahum: Frank Whittle – Invention of the Jet (published by Icon Books). “The story of the jet engine has everything: genius, tragedy, heroism, a world war, individual versus the state—and an idea that changed the world”. Frank Whittle was an unrelenting genius who had an unremitting belief in pushing technology to its limits in the 1940’s, even when people did not see the need. Along with lack of funding and eventual forced nationalization, Frank Whittle and his company, Power Jets, literally brought us into the jet age.
Richard L Taylor and William M Guinther: Positive Flying (published by TG Aviation Library). If you’ve seen my “Expand Your Horizons” presentations, you’ll know of my propensity for Pitch-Power-Performance tables and the calibration of an aircraft. This book gets more into the details and offers additional ideas for “flying by the numbers” during different regimes of flight.
Rick Durden: The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual (published by Renaissance Aviation Publishing).
“This guide starts where standard-issue flight training manual leave off”. Lots of experienced-based insight from the well-known pilot, writer and aviation lawyer. The “Myths for the Last Millennium” section busts some epic carry-overs from the days of aviation yore.
Ross Nixon: “Finding Carla—The Story that Forever Changed Aviation Search and Rescue (published by ASA, Inc.). This was a brand-new read for me and is fascinatingly sad: “They survived the crash, but then began a desperate struggle to survive the rescue. In March 1967, a Cessna 195 flew from Oregon towards San Francisco carrying a family of three: Alvin Oien, Sr. (the pilot), his wife Phyllis and stepdaughter Carla Corbus. Due to worse-than-predicted weather, it went down in the Trinity Mountains of California only eight miles from a highway and beneath a busy commercial airway. This was before radio-beacon type emergency locators were required equipment for airplanes; the family survived the crash for almost two months but the ruggedness of the terrain and the fact that they were far off their intended course made finding them by sight impossible. Searchers determined the weather in the mountains also made living impossible after a period of time had passed. Half a year later, the eventual finding of the wreck by hunters shocked the nation. A diary and series of letters from the survivors explained their predicament. These Oien family documents as well as photos of the family and from the search are included in the story. We often say that aviation regulations are written in blood…this accident was the catalyst for mandating ELTs, which have since changed search and rescue operations and have saved many lives”.
Paul A Craig: The Killing Zone – How and Why Pilot Die (published by McGraw Hill). Not a title to share with your loved ones, but this is truly a survival guide to those of us that fly (light) aircraft. It serves as a guide to help low time pilots navigate into a higher time ones…the “killing zone” being beyond 50 hours of instruction to around 350 hours when gaining solo experience.
Jonathan Glancy: Spitfire, The Biography (published by Atlantic Books). I really enjoy reading biography history, and anything to do with aeroplanes, especially Spitfires, and this book scratches all of those itches. This book takes up through the “life” of the Spitfire without getting too deep in technutia…I have many other Spitfire books for that…at least 10, as well as many about the Battle of Britain and other RAF adventures, so drop me a line if you’d like some recommendations! I also have lots of books on Concorde, which was designed and built about ½ mile from where I grew up. My Dad worked on the Rolls Royce Olympus 593 engines that powered Concorde. I can still
hear feel the roar of those engines when I watched Prototype 002 (G-BSST) take off on its maiden flight from Filton Aerodrome…
Nevil Shute: No Highway (Published by Pan Books). Nevil Shute was a fantastic writer and is known for “A Town Like Alice” and the dystopian” On the Beach”. This one, No Highway, is the book that gave us the movie “No Highway in the Sky”, staring James Stewart. It is about an eccentric structural engineer who fights to ground an airliner, as he is convinced that the design is flawed…I’ll stop there to avoid spoiling the story! By the way, I shop for used books at Abebooks…I have never been disappointed when looking for a particular book, and rarely pay more than $5 for used books in good condition.
James Reason and Alan Hobbs: Managing Maintenance Error (published by Ashgate). I used this book when putting together my “Brainiac Flying” and “Expand Your Horizons” presentations, as it gets into interesting details about why we humans make mistakes—and how we can create SOPs to help reduce them. This one is concerned with errors induced during aircraft maintenance which can of course have catastrophic consequences.
Here a few more titles from my colleague, Steve Schapiro:
Ernest K. Gann: Fate is the Hunter (published by Simon & Schuster). Gann’s memoir of flying for the airlines from the 1930s to the 1950s is window into an era before automation was common and pilots and navigators relied on their airmanship and pilotage skills to safely traverse the country and the globe. His master storytelling is full of lessons pilots can learn from today as he takes you from his days as a young barnstormer going through airline ground school flying DC-2s and DC-3s, to flying DC-4s and C-87s, the cargo version of the B-24 bomber, across the North Atlantic as a civilian pilot with the Air Transport Command in WWII. The book concludes with his post-war transoceanic flights from California to Hawaii and then on to Asia in the last of the great four-engine piston airliners before the dawn of the jet age.
Rinker Buck: Flight of Passage (published by Hyperion). This is a true story of two brothers, aged 15 and 17, who bought a beat-up Piper Cub for $300, restored it and flew from New Jersey to California in 1966. It’s full of seat-of-your-pants flying adventures as the brothers go on a journey of discovery of the country and themselves.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery: Wind, Sand, and Stars (published by Reynal and Hitchcock). This is is a memoir written by the author best known for his book The Little Prince. As a pilot for the French postal service, Aeropostale, he pioneered many routes between Europe, Africa, and South America, flying in open cockpit biplanes. His crash in the desert in North Africa features prominently in Wind, Sand and Stars, where he explores the themes of camaraderie, friendship and life, while providing a window into the life of an aviation pioneer.
Changing gears, here are some suggested publications from the FAA that really do count as good reads. Not necessarily fun, but definitely educational, information and in some cases, essential:
It is easy to “forget” about ACs as we all heard somewhere that they are "not mandatory” and that they exist to provide guidance about the regulations. Well, the same is true for the AIM (coming up soon), but we also know that an FAA lawyer may well interpret “guidance” as being something we must follow, and there are a few regulations that they can pull out to help with that argument—for example, 91.103, the “know all there is to know” regulation, and 91.13, “careless or reckless operation”.
Anyway, the point here is that ACs contain really useful and pertinent information and are written in a more understandable way that the actual FARs—see Why Every Pilot Should Read Advisory Circulars.
Moreover, as with most FAA publications, they can be searched and downloaded “for free”. The AC’s search website is here: https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/advisory_circulars/
Note the numbering scheme— ACs follow the same basic numbering method as the regulations that they are associated with, so AC60 series relate to airmen and the set under AC90 refer to general operating rules. There is really a tonne (SI units) of important information in the ACs, but I’ll call-out a few that I think constitute a good read:
This fairly new AC gives up-to-date guidance from the FAA on how to conduct a thorough preflight briefing using all available tools, including Flight Service. If you only have time to read one AC from this list, please make it this one. It may well save your life.
If you are about to embark on an additional certificate or rating, this is the place to find out what training can be done—and counted—using a “training device”. The AC also, usefully, provides a one-stop-shop to understand the different types of training devices, such as AATD, BATD, and so on, and that a qualified device must have an LOA—letter of Authorization—that clearly defines what the device can be used for.
You don’t have to be a CFI to get huge benefit from this AC. All of us have some sort of currency requirement, including an actual flight review, a phase of WINGS and other methods to satisfy FAR 61.56 and FAR 61.57. For a CFI conducting a review, this AC gives solid guidance and examples, and for the pilot taking a review, it clearly tells you what to expect, beyond the completely inadequate “a minimum of 1-hour of ground and 1-hour of flight”. We use the word “expect” here, since we encourage you to think of a flight review as gift #1 from the FAA—as an opportunity to learn—and not as a chore. You, the paying customer, should “expect” to get value for money during the review, and this AC will prepare you with ideas to share beforehand with your CFI.AC61-91J: WINGS - Pilot Proficiency Programs
If the flight review is gift #1, are there more gifts from the FAA? Why…yes! Gift #2 from the FAA is the FAASTeam and the WINGS pilot proficiency program. Read up about the FAASTeam WINGS program so you can better appreciate why we strongly advise flying clubs to incorporate the program into its safety system as WINGS For Clubs. Anyone not enrolled in WINGS is missing out. Don’t be a grump like an annoying acquaintance… “the best pilot in the world”…who pompously states “I won’t be seen dead at a WINGS event”. Well, he may be seen dead elsewhere…AC61-65H: Certification: Pilots and Flight and Ground Instructors
Tired of dreaming of a white Christmas and are now pondering a new certificate or rating? This advisory circular (AC) provides guidance for pilots, flight instructors, ground instructors, and examiners on the certification standards, knowledge test procedures, and other requirements in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 61. This is a must-read for the ambitious pilot.AC 107-2A: Small Unmanned Aircraft System (Small UAS)
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re here to stay—drones that is. Whether you fly them or not, it is well worth every pilot’s time to understand how they (are meant to) operate in the National Airspace System and to better appreciate the training and operation of such “systems”. We know of a number of flying clubs that include small drones in their fleets for a variety of reasons: giving members something to play with in the dark of winter; having some common ground when talking with young aviators…perhaps engaging with a local high school’s aviation program to get the students further engaged; or just for the fun of it! Part 107 was updated in 2021 and this AC contains the latest scoop on operating and registering drones, so it is worth a read.
Yep…there are many sources of weather information but knowing how to use them—and which are “official” sources—steers us towards these two companion ACs, as well as the AIM, Chapter 7, Section 1. A note in the AIM says “When in doubt, consult with Flight Service Station Specialist” …that is, call 1-800-WX-BRIEF…. good advice even when not in doubt.
I’m sneaking this one in as I like Ultralights and hope you do, too! A typical progression for a pilot might be: C150, C172, C182, RV-xx…, Mooney, Bonanza…, Baron…, C172…, C150…, BasicMed…,LSA…then…??? Don’t forget that there is whole world of aviation beyond pilot certificates and medicals, so don’t just hang-up the headset, take a look at Ultralights—a really fun part of aviation.
An oldie (2013) but goodie. All you (n)ever wanted to know about T-storms…radar types, the meaning of intensity level and shadings, …and more. Perfect reading for a dark and stormy night with your dog curled-up on your slippers.
We believe this to be one of the “essentials” we talked about earlier in this article. As a member of a flying club, you own/operate an aircraft and have clear responsibilities for the airworthiness—and continued airworthiness—of club aircraft. This is not just the responsibility of your A&P nor that of the club’s maintenance officer, so curl up in front of the yule log with this AC and learn about your responsibilities. By the way, the club should keep a list of applicable ADs for each club plane and make it easily accessible to all members. When you fly the club plane, you are expected to know the status of ADs, especially those that require recurrent attention. An example of this is the AD to inspect the seat rails and locking pins in a wide range of the Cessna fleet. You, the PIC, should absolutely know that the AD has been complied with in the proceeding 100-hours of operation. The inspection is really quick (as long as it passes), so it is just a case of getting it scheduled, completed, and entered in the airframe logbook. We advise all clubs to include these recurrent ADs in the planes’ maintenance notifications that all members should be able to access. Many management tools, such as Flight Circle, make these very visible when making a reservation.
These companion ACs are essential if your flying club performs preventative maintenance under Part 43. First read Part 43 of the FARs, especially Appendix A (c), which lists what you may do under Part 43. Whether you do it or not depends on your skills, available tools, and…knowledge of acceptable methods, techniques and practices. For example, it is pretty easy to remove, clean and rotate spark plugs. Do you know the correct torque settings? Is your torque wrench calibrated? Which way around does the copper washer go (they are not symmetrical)?
Along the same times, I strongly recommend that you obtain copies of your aircraft (and engine) maintenance manuals, service manuals, illustrated parts manuals, and so on. Knowing how your aircraft is put together and how it works will make you a better PIC and your preflight inspections will that much more revealing.
Continuing with “essentials’, this AC is the word according to the FAA for operating at airports without a control tower. Note the terminology here…airports without a control tower, AKA non-towered fields. In my book there is no such things as an “uncontrolled” airfield. It is either under tower control or pilot control. This is a truly amazing part of our freedom to fly. We can fly to thousands of airports and at many, we don’t “have” to talk to anyone…. but of course, we should. Now, given that accidents happen even when using good radio techniques, it is doubly important to follow procedures, so everyone is on the same page.
Here is the first paragraph from this AC:
This AC calls attention to regulatory requirements, recommended operations, and communications procedures for operating at an airport without a control tower or an airport with a control tower that operates only part time. It recommends traffic patterns, communications phraseology, and operational procedures for use by aircraft, lighter-than-air aircraft, gliders, parachutes, rotorcraft, and ultralight vehicles. This AC stresses safety as the primary objective in these operations. This AC is related to the right-of-way rules under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 1, § 1.1 (traffic pattern), and part 91, §§ 91.113 and 91.126.
Here is what the AC has to say about pattern entry (my highlight):
11.3 Traffic Pattern Entry. Arriving aircraft should be at traffic pattern altitude and allow for sufficient time to view the entire traffic pattern before entering. Entries into traffic patterns while descending may create collision hazards and should be avoided. Entry to the downwind leg should be at a 45-degree angle abeam the midpoint of the runway to be used for landing.
Although elsewhere in this AC the FAA does recognize that straight-in approaches are a thing—for example on an instrument approach, including a visual approach—the recommended technique is a 45-degree entry to downwind. If we all kept to the recommended patterns procedures, we would be that much safer, and by the way, I personally do not view a 15-mile final as being part of the traffic pattern. I seem to be in the minority at airports such as Carroll County (KDMW), which is a busy training location, yet “Carroll County Traffic, Cirrus N1234 15-mile final runway 34” is often heard. Actually, a different local airport became so worried about seemingly random pattern entries that they recently held a forum and invited all tenants, flight schools, CAP, Medevac, State Patrol pilots, and AOPA to discuss safe airport and pattern operations. A really good idea, so please do suggest this to your airport manager and take the lead in organizing it—send me an email if you’d like to chat more about this and how AOPA can participate. Remember, most fatal accidents occur during day VFR conditions and within 5-miles of an airport.
To really understand the danger and the sheer entitlement of some pilots conducting long straight-in approaches, take a listen to the ASI early analysis of the fatal mid-air collision that occurred at Watsonville Municipal Airport in California, in August of this year.
This information is an essential read—a research report entitled "Selection of Cyclic Redundancy Code and Checksum Algorithms to Ensure Critical Data Integrity”.
Ha, ha—just kidding!
Okay…let’s move beyond ACs but stay with the FAA for a while:
If you haven’t looked at the plethora of FAA manuals in a few years, give yourselves a treat and spend some time, here, as they all have been greatly updated and include some really nice graphics. Really…you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on third party products as the FAA provides us with everything we need. (But okay…it is nice to have printed versions to scribble on, and it is probably cheaper to buy them prebound rather than wear out your home printer).
Coming up are some educational and essential manuals…with even more here. I’ll list them with links as most people should already know what they are, but, along with a short narrative, I’ll include the date of the latest versions (as of December 2022) as those on your bookshelf may be several versions out of date—things change rapidly:
Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge - FAA-H-8083-25B (2016): This is a gem of a manual. Well written, informative, descriptive and with excellent graphics. We all pore over this before knowledge tests, but there is so much that we forget. Make this a must read for the new year.
Airplane Flying Handbook - FAA-H-8083-3C (2021): Updated in 2021 this is another must-read on a regular basis. I’ll write a separate Question of the Month about preparing for the gift of the FAA Flight Review (tish, tish…none of that BFR stuff, please), but for now, I’ll just make an observation as a CFI who conducts a lot of flight reviews. I was finding that pilots (generally) treat the review as a chore and don’t prepare for it. This prompted me to create a flight review/checkout process that includes upfront study and homework, yes, and the AFH and PHAK are required reading. I also use AFH chapters 12-17 when conducting transition training and airplane checkouts, and particularly appreciate chapter 17, entitled “Transition to Light Sport Airplanes (LSA)”. This chapter does a really good job describing the LSA and Sport Pilot rules and regulations, as well as getting into systems and operational differences and limitations. By definition, LSAs are light and are lightly (wing) loaded, so can be quite sporty to fly.
AIM (November 3rd 2022): It really is all here and is well worth a read. I always find something, new, something old and something forgotten when I peruse the AIM…weirdly, I actually do this at the start of every year. Get a version that includes “change-bars” so you can quickly see what has changed since the last version. By the way, the AIM also includes the Pilot/Controller Glossary, which is the Rosetta Stone for our language. So, Roger, if you want to say yes, be affirmative! Along with other FAA publications, the AIM and the Glossary should be mandatory reading for new pilots, and for the rest of us when preparing for a flight review.
FAR (November 22nd 2022 ): So too, with the regulations. Yes, they are a bit of a slog and over the years have become disjoined and messy, but this is literally where the rules of the air are outlined in all of their confusing glory. The regs change frequently and sometimes silently, so I’m in the habit of referring to them online from the government website. Student pilots often look in despair when being presented with the full FAR (more correctly called Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR)), but we can quickly isolate those regs that are important to particular certificates, ratings and types of operations. I use the combined FAR/AIM from ASA, which contains a useful “Suggested Study List” for specific pilot certificates, which, when used with ASA’s Oral Exam Guides, really helps people see the trees from the forest. The 2023 FAR/AIM is available now…but does seem to be considerably more expensive than in past years. Thanks, inflation.
Instrument Flying Manual - FAA-H-8083-16B (2017) and Instrument Procedures - FAA-H-8083-15B (2012): Just as the AFH and PHAK are essential reading when preparing for knowledge tests, check rides and flight reviews, these two companion volumes are essential for instrument students and when studying for an IPC. Again, lots of excellent descriptions and graphics.
I desperately need to bring this article to a close, but I cannot leave without suggesting some other good reads. There is no more space for reviews, so I’ll just list them:
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and will have a crack at some of my suggestions—remember, a good pilot is always learning. Please do let me know your own favorites!
As always, fly lots and fly safety!