Question of the Month: How Can We Prepare Our Members and Planes for Flying Adventures?

I hope you found last month’s article useful, on the topic using club airplanes to “go somewhere”, and that it scratched the itch to exercise your freedom to fly and explore.  Writing that article was actually very useful for my own flying, as I’m planning to visit all the airports in my new state of Oregon.  For example, there are 17 airports up the rugged Oregon coast—several being state owned—that look eminently camp-worthy.  We plan on loading up the ‘Bat with lightweight camping gear and off we go…backpacking-in-a-plane!  This is just one of the things I’ll touch on in this article—what to take and what not to take, and that depends on “the mission”.

As with all flying, preparation is key, but probably even more so when planning expeditions away from “the vicinity”.  As I think about members using club aircraft to go on trips (as opposed to pootling about the patch), several distinct categories pop into my head, so let’s look at each: The Airplanes, The Members and The Club.

1.    The Airplanes:

It should go without saying, which means in the year 2024 I have to say it…some airplanes are more suitable than others for particular types of operations.  Yes, your Mooney will get you nicely across the Cascades, but how will it do when landing at a tree-ringed 1,500’ grass strip?  Indeed, pilot skill has a lot to do with it, but let’s face it, not all airplanes are suited to all types of operations.   Perhaps you can get your Mooney into the above grass strip, but will you be able to get it out?  That depends on many other factors, with pilot skill being just one of them.

This goes beyond “just” the performance section of the POH.  Of course we study the performance tables, read the important small print (for example, the impact of a grass surface on take-off distance), and we will add a healthy margin to the book numbers since they are just that, ideal book numbers, but there is much more to it than that—we must determine, by using solid decision making, whether the club plane, or any plane for that matter, is suitable for the planned flights.  I used the plural here, flights, as we must consider all of the planned locations along the route, not just the eventual destination, and then we must give consideration to unplanned alternatives.   You might think this is just good route planning—and indeed it is—but the difference is that you might be heading somewhere completely new (to you), so you must take the time to actually plan, from first principles, rather than extrapolate on some previous flight or experience.  

I won’t go further into flight planning for new adventures, but suffice to say that you must do your homework.  You do whatever floats your flying boat, but I find that reverting to old-school methods really helps me with this.  I lay out actual printed sectional charts that cover the whole planned route, I then plot the direct route from start to finish and then stare at it, first from 6-feet away, and the getting closer and closer as I refine the route.  If you’d like to read more about this, especially for long cross -country flights and visiting new-to-you airports, have a re-read of the August 2023 Question of the Month.

Going through the flight/route planning exercise and armed with airport elevations, climb gradients and rates required, you can then refer to the PoH performance tables to quickly determine if the club’s C150 is up to the task, or if you’ll need to take the 180HP Cherokee.  By the way, even if you are flying VFR, use Obstacle Departure Procedures (ODPs) found in the Terminal Procedures Publication (TPP) to help determine climb requirements.   You will find the climb gradient required in feet per nautical mile (FPNM), from which you can calculate the required climb rate, in feet per minute, using: 

FPM = FPNM*GS/60. 

So, with a take-off ground speed of 70 knots and a required climb gradient of 500 FPNM, you’ll need to be able to climb out at a minimum of 584 FPM.  Will well-loaded old Betsie be able to do that on a high-density altitude day?  If not, you’d be wise to rethink the trip or try the exercise again using a more suitable aircraft from the club’s fleet.

Along with suitability, comes trip worthiness.  Does the selected plane have the required (or desired) equipment onboard?  Think beyond the obvious types of equipment.  All planes should have a (workable) fire extinguisher and other basic tools, along with appropriate navigation and communication equipment, but don’t forget ADS-B requirements.  It is still a surprise to me that many airplanes, including club planes, are not ADS-B OUT equipped.  Is this legal?  Yes, perfectly, as long as your trip doesn’t take you into “transponder airspace”, but, as always, legal and safe are not the same thing.  I’m of the opinion that all flying club aircraft should absolutely be OUT equipped, as the whole point is to allow different pilots to fly different missions using the same shared equipment, and at the very least, the club should provide an ADS-B IN receiver (dual-band to benefit from weather and traffic information) along with an iPad that stays in the plane for members’ use.

Other equipment to add to the trip-worthiness list is safety and survival kit.  Does the jaunt take you over mountains, wilderness areas, water…?  If so, think hard and long about what equipment you’ll want to take along.  For water crossings, you’ll need at least life-vests, but perhaps more.  For mountains, wilderness and other inhospitable areas, think about food, water, the ability to create a shelter, simple tools, ways to communicate ground-to-air, and so on.  Sometime ago when I started flying regularly across mountains, I bought a satellite-based communications device.  For the initial cost of the equipment and an annual subscription, I now have the means to let people know if something untoward ever happened.  I’ve never actually used it (well, apart from testing it every now and then), but that’s the whole point, isn’t it!  For clubs located in or around mountains or other remote areas, I suggest that the club should buy the equipment and subscription, such that it is always in the plane.  For a 10-person club, the initial equipment will work out to be a one-time payment of around $30 per member, and the annual subscription will be about $30 per member, per year.  This adds less than $3 per month to each members monthly dues.  Again, what price safety?  We’ll look more at club-provided equipment later in this article.

Another consideration for an upcoming trip or event is to do with the plane’s maintenance.  For longish trips, be sure to work with the club’s maintenance officer to ensure that the plane’s preventative and mandatory maintenance schedules align with the trip.  Exceeding an oil change by 5 hours is not likely to be a worry, but if you are PIC when a time-based AD ticks overs, or the plane’s annual or other required inspection times out, it is you who could suffer the consequences—and ramp checks can come at the most inopportune and inconvenient times.  

It is worth remembering that flying clubs should bear absolutely no responsibility for the airworthiness of the aircraft that you, a member, decides to fly.   Of course, we expect all clubs to act responsibly about the condition of the aircraft and that the maintenance officer takes the job seriously, otherwise elect different officials.  Nevertheless, at the end of the day, you are the PIC and “…the pilot-in-command of an aircraft is directly responsible for and is the final authority as to the operation of that aircraft” and that “…the owner/operator is primarily responsible for maintaining the aircraft in an airworthy condition including Airworthiness Directive (AD) compliance”.  As a club member, you can be both owner and operator.

Please do not take this lightly.  If you are embarking on a weeklong trip in a club plane, your trip planning should include a discussion with the maintenance officer.  Personally review the aircraft logbooks to ensure that all inspections remain valid during the trip.  The ones that will likely get you are recurrent time-based ADs and the every-two-year inspections—they are easy to miss—whereas the month of the annual is generally burnt into all members’ consciousness.  If you club owns a Cessna, beware the recurrent seat rail and pin inspection!  Another one that may bite you is the 100-hour inspection.  These should never be required for properly operating flying clubs, but there are some clubs who, whether knowingly or through ignorance, trigger the need for 100-hour inspections, and you, the PIC need to know about this.  Depending on how your club operates, accepts members and advertises for members, 100-hour inspections may be necessary.  For more details on this much-debated and poorly understood issue, read this article, and listen to Episode 10 of Flying Clubs Radio.

Also ensure that the aircraft’s documents (at least AROW) are actually in the plane and current, and remember to check the expiration date on the aircraft’s registration certificate.  It has a shelf life, so actually check it, rather than just a glace to confirm that it is physically there!

Having now pondered the airplane in terms of trip worthiness and suitability, along with performance expectations, limitations, and overall maintenance, let’s now turn to you, the pilot.

2.    The Pilot:

The skills required and levels of proficiency demanded when embarking on a “go somewhere” trip will far exceed those needed for flights about the airport vicinity.  Even frequent “$199 hamburger” (adjusted for inflation) flights will not give you the proficiency needed to fly to never-previously-visited destinations.

Be honest now.  How is your airspace knowledge these days?  What about weather minimums (let alone your personal minimums)?  Are you fully comfortable with ATC communications such as requesting flight following, operating in Class D, C and B airspace, even if “just” transitioning?  Been flying the club’s C172 a lot but anticipate using the Arrow for the trip?  Are you fully familiar with the fuel management actions needed for the specific plane you intend to use?  What about your use of the plane’s navigation equipment, including the autopilot…and how to completely disable the AP?

Flying longer trips is quite different than an hour flight around the patch, so I suggest brushing-up on every topic you are uncomfortable with.  Consider taking some of the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s excellent courses and quizzes—similarly with the FAASTeam’s WINGS offerings….I think you’ll be glad that you took the time to do this in the comfort of your home, rather than in the air!

Again, please don’t underestimate the levels and types of proficiency—and training—needed when flying outside of your normal comfort zone.   It’s all about good decision making, but you won’t be able to make good, reasoned decisions if your training hasn’t included similar scenarios.  Simply put, we can’t “revert to our training” if we haven’t done or seen it before! The best insurance out there is fully in your control—being proficient—so why not go out and complete three WINGS flight activities with a CFI?  Request that you cover several cross-country scenarios, and practice communications and navigation techniques.  This will definitely burnish off some rust, and you’ll feel great when you earn a phase of WINGS and get a brand-new flight review endorsement in your logbook.  Want more?  Well, tell your insurance company at the next renewal that you earnt a phase of WINGS in the previous 12-month and you’ll likely see a “safe-pilot” discount! 

As well as experience, skills and proficiency applicable to the upcoming trip or adventure, you, the pilot, should take a long look at your own “airworthiness”.  How is your IMSAFE these days?  Any new medications that may well be legal, but are they safe?  What about the underlying condition requiring the medication?  Even seasonal hay fever-type allergies can be quite debilitating if the sneeze-fest or itchy eyes occur at the wrong moment.  Becoming dehydrated is a leading cause of fatigue and befuddlement on longer flights, so pack more water and snacks than normal, and be sure that you are well rested, as longer flights in hot weather can get tiring, really quickly.

Much more can and should be said about this, so before we move on to looking a club’s role in trip and event planning and organization, let’s touch on two other aspects of pilot decision-making for longer trips—attitude and equipment. 

By attitude I mean how you will mentally approach the adventure, which may well involve new aspects of flying for you—which is good, as you will learn a great deal—but how close to the edge will you be?  On one side of the edge will be experience gained and good times, but on the other will be new-to-you hazardous and associated risks.  We know full well that all flying involves hazards, and we work hard to identify and then mitigate risks of something happening, but we do so within the bounds of our own experience and locality.  If we increase the boundaries without increasing awareness of new hazardous, we are likely getting too close the edge.  As long as we are aware of this and leave bravado behind, we can prepare for it.  The best way I have found to understand new localized hazards, is to ask people who live with them every day.   I’ll call up an airport, flying club, EAA chapter, flight school, independent flight instructor—what and whoever—to get local knowledge.  Talk with other pilots who operate from an airfield a few miles away from the mountains you are going to cross, and ask them about the routes and procedures flown by the locals.  “Oh yeah, don’t try to go up Blaster Pass, as there are always strong down currents as you turn into Devil’s Corner” …and so on.  Getting the local scoop is invaluable, exercises good ADM and allows you to make new friends in the process.  An alternative to calling up, is to call in.  Ask to meet up with pilots from a local flying club as you progress along the route.  I just bet they will accommodate you with open arms., and the wonderful thing is, they will be as keen to hear about your flying, as you are about theirs!  Gotta love the Fellowship of Aviators.

One other topic to consider under the heading of Pilot, is equipment—what to take.  Weight, balance and volume will set the limits, but you’ll need to take, within reason, what you might need along the way.  Basic tools, oil, windshield cleaner and so on.  Wait, you cry, it’s just a 2-hour flight.  Yeah – two hours across mountains or wilderness is quite different than two hours in Central California or down the eastern seaboard.   You might think I’m going too far here, but anything can happen, which means sometimes it will.

Some years ago, a friend and ex-colleague, who was an avid and experienced “ultrarunner”, went on a solo training run for a few miles.  He was in mountainous terrain, but with towns and resorts all around.  He slipped, fell and broke his leg.  He had his phone with him, but it was not fully charged and cliffs blocked the signal.  It took sometime before people missed him, and he was found quite sometime later.  He had succumbed to his injuries and exposure as temperature dropped well below freezing overnight.  There are lessons to be leant from this story:

·         It can happen to you

·         Fate happens at all levels of experience, but training and appropriate equipment will increase the odds of survival

·         Consider the hazards and mitigate the risks by taking sensible and relevant precautions, and carry kit that will keep you alive and help people find you

·         Let people know when you leave and where you are going

·         No excuses for pilots:  File flight plans and/or use ATC services such as fight following

·         Over inhospitable terrain, ensure that the survival equipment is reachable.  It is tempting to shove it at the back of the plane as you’ll not likely need it, but many experienced “backcountry” pilots will tell you that the only useful survival equipment is that which you carry on your person—that’s why many of them wear flight suits, vests and trousers with multiple pockets

·         For an initial $200 outlay and $200 per year, you can carry a satellite comms device.  That is, what, the cost of two hours of flying, per year?


3.    The Club:

I’ve now covered how members can become better prepared for more adventurous flights, and how every PIC needs to fully understand their responsibilities with regard to aircraft maintenance and airworthiness, so I’ll conclude this article by presenting some ideas for the club itself—well, the club’s board and officers—to help members fully enjoy their membership and the utility of club airplanes.

Years of providing flight instruction has made me a firm believer in scenario-based training (SBT).  Rather than basing training around isolated activities and tasks, SBT recognizes that flying, even short flights, involves a continuum of phases and actions—a flow, if you like.   In order for training to be relevant and useful to real-life situations and for aeronautical decision making to be fully integrated into training, we must “train like we fly”.  Flight reviews should also (actually, especially in my humble opinion), be based around scenarios, which are unlikely to be squeezed into the alleged minimum of “one hour of ground and one hour of flight”.

How members were initially trained, and how they subsequentially react to gift #1 from the FAA, the flight review, will determine to a large degree the opportunities available to a club for providing further education, mentoring and other aviation betterment.  As I have written about before, a flying club should be more than just a way to share costs, and should paint images of camaraderie, sharing our hobby with likeminded people, learning from those with more experience and teaching those with less.  In other words, being “a club”.   If yours isn’t like this, well, sorry, you are missing out, so change it!

Nowhere can this opportunity be more fully embraced than by a flying club working with its members on aviation activities, events, fly outs and further education.   I wrote about clubs organizing bigger events way back in July 2021, in “How Can My Club Host an Event”, so I won’t dwell on it here, than to state that you must take the time to do it properly, and involve as many people as you can, both on and off the airport—especially the airport manager.

Let’s look at events and trips especially for members, rather than the broader community.  Things like I wrote about in the May 2024 Question of the Month—fly-outs, passport programs, poker runs, treasure hunts, exchange breakfasts with other clubs, group trips to the beach or state park, club camp-out, or…yes, the list goes on, and so it should!

I’m sure we can all agree that every time a member flies the club plane, they do so as PIC and are acting, individually, under the full weight of the FARs.  The club itself should accept no responsibility whatsoever for members’ actions, and it should be written as such in the bylaws.  For those clubs that have decided (beyond conditions of insurance) to mandate 90-day checkouts and/or one-year flight reviews, or other “second-guessing” of the FARs, then be warned—you may have opened-up the club and its members to unanticipated liability if something happens and a lawyer can prove that the club didn’t properly document and enforce the requirements.  For more information, see these articles:

May 2020 Question of the Month: “How Can Flying Clubs Encourage Members to Stay Proficient?”

March 2022 Question of the Month: “Does Including Flight Hours in Monthly Dues Make for More Proficient Members?”


So, what can a club do to help prepare members?  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

·         Hold monthly safety meetings.  Call them “social events” if that gets more members though the door, but do it. 

o   Should you provide some sort of discount or incentive to get people to attend?  Yeah, I know it is sad, but sometimes you have to incentivize people to stay alive.

o   Run out of topics?  I don’t believe it!  Every month, that is EVERY month, we provide slides for your safety officer to present to the club. See the archives, here:

·         If you are organizing an event, always include a mandatory briefing.  If people don’t attend, then they don’t get to go.  Again, document this very carefully and keep an attendance roster.

·         This is especially important for activities involving multiple aircraft.  Go beyond the normal weather briefing and dig into route planning, terrain, communications, skills, proficiency requirements, and so on.  Set a schedule to “release” planes with sensible spacings and always launch faster aircraft before slower ones.  Wait, shouldn’t that be the other ways around?  No, think about it!

·         On that topic, perhaps prepare a slow-aircraft route and a fast-aircraft route, to keep them separated.  This is exactly what EAA chapters 617 (Prineville, OR) and 1345 (Bend, OR) did recently, when 15 aircraft flew 57 Young Eagle flights.  We created slow routes and fast routes for both runway directions, and then held a pilot briefing to go into the details, including standard non-towered (pilot controlled) pattern departures and entries.

·         Never hold an event that rewards the even the possibility of poor decision making. Examples:

o   A timed event

o   Convergence to the same place at the same time (hence spacing and speed considerations)

·         Have members rank their own abilities and experience, and then have them “buddy-up”.  Pilots gain experience by flying with more experienced pilots (and by doing realistic flight reviews).  Caveat—choose wisely, or end up like…well, see:

·         Mixing the E from PaVE (external factors) with the E in IMSAFE (emotions) get us to a particular type of get-there-itis that can show itself when “going somewhere”, especially if the reason for going is based on some sort of promise.  Imaging a scenario:  The club has organized a fly-out to a nice weekend destination with an overnight stay at a posh hotel included in the package, and, on the Saturday, has signed-up to provide pilots and planes for a Young Eagles rally organized by the local EAA Chapter.  All of the club’s aircraft are going on the 150NM trip, which involves a 30-mile leg across mountains.  Most seats are booked with enthusiastic passengers—other club members, friends and family—W&B permitting, of course.  The maintenance team worked hard to prepare the planes, and there is an air of excitement for the destination, and a strong sense of obligation towards the EAA chapter.  The desire to please other club members, passengers, the EAA chapter and the young eagles is profound.  The day arrives, but so also does less than idea weather.  Who makes the call?  Each pilot individually or as a collective?

·         For club events and trips, I suggest a committee of three people—the no-go/go committee, if you like, who have the ultimate power to delay or cancel the event.  Make the rules really clear:  Three “yes” voices are required for the event to proceed, but only one “no” will stop it.  

·         I touched on this earlier, but a flying club is in a really good position to ensure that safety and survival equipment is relevant, up to date and onboard, rather than every member doing their own thing.  This is an excellent illustration of two major advantages of flying clubs—cost sharing and collective thinking.  I suggest the formation of a small committee to present ideas to the board, and then the whole membership.  (Committees are excellent ways to get different members involved and engaged in club life, as they are usually formed to tackle specific opportunities or issues, rather than being long-term commitments).  Depending on the location of the club, its aircraft, destination opportunities, and adventurous spirit of members, the club could make available different types of equipment, for different situations.  Here are some ideas to ponder:

o   ADS-B IN receiver and iPad.  Even if the plane has panel mounted ADS-B OUT and IN, having something that “beams” to a bigger screen is excellent for enhanced situational awareness as well as system redundancy.

o   Handheld communication radio.  For those of us that have experienced radio and/or electrical failures, this is really cheap insurance.

o   Satellite device.  If members fly club aircraft over mountains or other inhospitable terrain, then a satellite comms device is a sensible and surprisingly cheap option.  I regular fly over the Cascades between Central Oregon and the Willamette Valley, which is only about 90 NM as the plane flies, but some 40NM is over mountains that tower to 10,000’ either side of my usual route. I use a SPOT-X device (annual subscription required) and it gives me a warm glow inside to know that I have a way of contacting the world if something ever happened.  I really like that it includes a “check-in” feature, where a single button push will send an SMS of your location to a pre-selected number.

o   In addition to fundamentals such as first aid, water, food, fire-making equipment, basic tools and so on, different terrain requires specialized kit—for example, life vests if flying over water and thermal undies when venturing over mountains.  It is just not feasible to carry everything in our typical club planes, so I have different bags for different situations.  Some clubs use metal cabinets to house equipment for members to pick and choose as appropriate.  Ensure that the cabinets are fully enclosed to keep critters out, and that a named club member is in charge of condition and stocking of the equipment.

o   An essential piece of equipment for a typical club aircraft is a CO detector.  This should be in a prominent position in the plane, so pilots remember to turn it on—add it to the plane’s check list.

o   An easy-to-use scale should live in each club plane.   As we add more equipment it becomes necessary to actually calculate weight and balance.  I’ve been using a small digital scale from Sporty’s.

o   Clubs that operate more sophisticated aircraft may want to think about adding equipment that aligns with the plane’s capabilities, for example, oxygen.  I flew recently with some friends who own a gorgeous Bonanza F33A who have a very sensible outlook—they use supplementary oxygen on every flight.  The elevation of their home airport is 3,200’ MSL, so they typically fly at 8,500 or 9,500 feet, and over 10,000’ when crossing the mountains, so it makes perfect sense to use the system that is onboard.  I really like this idea and suggest that clubs operating in high elevations install oxygen equipment and add a few dollars to the hourly usage rate to cover refills.  Members should supply their own cannulas, of course!  See this article for more information: “Oxygen is Oxygen”.

o   One final thought about equipment—it is only useful if members know how to use it.  I suggest that the club’s safety officer include the use of equipment as part of the new-member checkout, and that all members receive an annual equipment review.


That’s it for this month.  Along with last month’s article, I hope you will now be energized to use club planes to “go somewhere” and that you’ll be better prepared to fly new adventures.  

When not boldly going where you have not been before, think hard about what your club can do to increase the utility of its fleet by adding equipment that will benefit all members. 

As always, fly lots and fly safely!


Stephen Bateman
Contributor, You Can Fly Program
Steve retired from AOPA in April 2024, but continues to contribute to You Can Fly programs. Contact Steve at [email protected]

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