4 Tips for Summer Fly Ins

By Jason Blair, ATP, CFI-I, MEI-I, FAA Designated Pilot Examiner | May 2016

One of the joys for many pilots is attending a summer fly-in. It’s a great excuse to fly somewhere new on a weekend morning and share a little hangar talk over breakfast with other pilots.

While it can be one of the joys, it can also be one of the biggest fears for some pilots who aren't as active as they might want to be. Full traffic patterns, new airports, flying to an airport that has an operating control tower, especially stressful for pilots who don't normally operate at towered airports, are all unique experiences. Many times there are more passengers in the aircraft than normal and warmer temperatures to consider. Each of these variables can increase anxiety, decrease safety, and potentially scare pilots from going to a fly-in they otherwise would attend.

With just a few tips, some of these fears and dangers might possibly be reduced.

Mitigating Traffic Concerns
A pilot can do a couple of things to lessen the concerns of a busy traffic pattern. One is to go early. Avoid the rush of traffic as the pancakes start getting served by arriving early (or later than the rush if you are willing to chance running out of pancakes before you get yours). Timing your arrival can minimize peak traffic concerns.

A second option is to take another pilot with you. This pilot can help look for traffic, listen to radio calls, and share the workload. If the event is at a towered airport, a pilot who is more comfortable with ATC communications can be a great asset.

Aircraft Performance Considerations
Once your friends hear you are going to go to a fly-in, consider the number of passengers based on the weight and balance capabilities of your aircraft. This doesn't always mean you can fill all the available seats on the aircraft. Unless you plan ahead.

Most pilots don't normally operate their aircraft fully loaded. Aircraft perform differently when they are at their maximum gross weight. Many pilots have found that they may not perform at all when operated outside approved weight and balance limits. Take the time to calculate allowable weight and balance limits. This may mean you might have to leave someone at home and fly with an empty seat. If you are flying a rented aircraft, a quick call to the FBO a couple days ahead with a fuel request for when you pick up the plane can go a long way to allowing your flight to be completed safely.

Heavily-loaded aircraft also perform worse in high density altitude conditions. In some cases, density altitude can drastically change throughout a day. Just because your aircraft was able to take off from a 2500' runway in the morning when it was 45 degrees doesn't mean it will be able to do the same thing at 1:00 pm when you want to go home if the temperature has risen to 85 degrees. Before you go, take the time to calculate what your performance data will allow when you leave, and based on what you expect conditions to be when you plan to return.

New Airports
Concerns about going to a new airport are probably the easiest ones to allay. A wealth of information is available in Airport Facilities Directories (AFDs), online at places like AirNav.com, or in any number of pilot apps for tablet devices. Taking the time to review airport diagrams ahead of time can create an expectation of what pilots will see when they arrive. If you want to take the research a little further, a look at a satellite image of the airport using Google Maps online or even a visit the week before on a trial run flight can add to familiarization.

Drive
Ok, driving isn't always the first option we think of when going to a fly-in, but if it isn't far away, you still get the opportunity to check out the planes that do fly to the event. Driving also may be a good opportunity for you to volunteer at the event. These events don't happen by themselves and most local airports would welcome a fellow pilot who was willing to forego flying their own aircraft into the event to help flip some pancakes, greet pilots, or marshal aircraft into parking.

Summer fly-ins are a great opportunity to engage in the aviation community, meet other pilots, and make new friends. With a little planning and some thinking ahead, many of the fears that pilots have about flying to them can be reduced or eliminated. Enjoy the upcoming fly-in season!

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Jason Blair is an active single and multi-engine instructor and FAA Designated Pilot Examiner with 4,900 hours total time and 2,850 hours instruction given. In his role as Examiner, over 800 pilot certificates have been issued. He serves on several FAA/Industry aviation committees and is the past Executive Director of the National Association of Flight Instructors. He also consults on aviation training and regulatory efforts for the general aviation industry.


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