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What is the next big thing in aviation industry that will change how the flights are operated today?

I’m sure things like electric motors and so forth will have an impact, though most of the engineers I speak with tell me that we’re about 30–50 years away from an electric plane with the capabilities of, say, a 1960’s fighter plane. Still, I’m sure an electric Cessna 172 is much closer.But that’s not my answer. I think the next big thing will be better digital communications in the cockpit for General Aviation aircraft.As an example, let’s say I want to fly an IFR flight from Florida to NJ. I pick the route I want to fly, file a flight plan and then I find out what ATC really wants me to fly when picking up my clearance at the airport. Depending on where you live, you’re likely to get “standby to copy full route clearance” and then you sit there in the airplane, pencil in hand trying to jot down a long, complicated flight plan.The route ATC wants you to fly is often longer and more complicated. All the planning you did for weather, fuel consumption, alternates and so forth is now suspect, and you might not have a heck of a lot of time to re-do it. Worse, you often get this little flurry of activity in the airplane when you’re cruising along in the middle of bad weather.Depending on the equipment you have in the plane, you suddenly have a lot of work to do. In a low-end plane with nothing but a couple of VORs, you might be looking up new VOR frequencies, writing out an entirely new nav log with different leg times, etc…all as you huddle over a folded map trying to find some obscure intersection that the controller gave you as part of your clearance.A step up might be if you use something like ForeFlight. At very least, this gets rid of the paper charts and helps calculate the nav log, timings and so forth pretty easily.And then there’s the data entry…if you have a GPS navigator, you’re probably pushing plenty of buttons and twisting all sorts of knobs to enter this flight plan so that you can fly the magenta line a little more easily.About as good as it gets these days is the integration between apps like ForeFlight and panel mounted avionics. In my airplane, I can get an updated clearance, write it down, type it into ForeFlight and hit “Send to Panel”. A button or two on the avionics and the updated route is live in my equipment and the autopilot is homing in on it. It’s still way better than doing it all by hand, except it absolutely still has the pilot on the radio talking to ATC, and that’s the weak link in the system.Next issue pilots run into is the radio and communications procedures.For one thing, it’s complicated to know what frequency you need and who to talk to under some conditions. IFR, you’re in constant contact with someone, and so you tend to get handed off from one controller to the next. Still, it requires you to hear it (“Bonanza 12345 Contact Washington Center on 118.75”), then punch in the right frequency, then actually make contact. Sometimes, you miss one of these radio calls, enter the wrong frequency, or the controller gets busy and forgets to tell you about a handoff until you’re out of his range.Some pilots struggle with English…listen to the foreign flights coming into JFK on Listen to Live ATC (Air Traffic Control) Communications for an example. For me, there’s also something about my ears and equipment where I have a hard time hearing certain controllers. Guys with deep voices - no issues…but a female controller with a high-pitched voice that’s not too strong? We’ll go back and forth with a string of “Repeat all after XYY”.In busy times, it’s also rough to get a response if you’re the low priority thing on the radar screen. Last flight from NY to Wilmington NC, I had this over the Washington DC area…the route I had been given took me about 70 miles out of the way - I just wanted to ask permission to fly direct to the destination from where I was. Took me almost 50 miles to get that request in, and when the result came back, it was just a two-second “sure - go ahead”.There’s also the back and forth nature of radio communications. “Bonanza 12345, climb 8000, turn left to heading of 300 and intercept V16 at TRANZ”. Then the pilot has to repeat the whole thing back to make sure it was heard correctly: “Approach, Bonanza 12345 climbing to 8000 on 3000 and intercepting V16 at TRANZ”. Both ATC and the pilot have better things to do.Point is, radio communications are another example of complexity that can add to the risk of any flight. It can be distracting, and it takes away from pilot concentration when he needs it the most, such as during a complicated approach as you’re being handed off from an approach controller to a tower.Now, imagine all of these things existed in a much more automated way. Suppose it were as simple as texting to the pilot.We’re starting to see this sort of thing today, but just barely. There’s a new trend towards digital delivery of initial IFR clearances - but it’s only available at a small handful of the nation’s largest airports. Still, it’s coming - and I think this will make a very big difference to the way we fly.Imagine the next step where there’s a digital display in the cockpit showing text messages from ATC, and maybe a button to acknowledge them. Instead of a conversation with ATC, you see something like “Route Update: Fly xxxxxxx”. Press your little “Okay/Cancel” button and ATC knows you got the change. Maybe it even automatically updates your flight plan and so forth.You could do common requests from the pilot to ATC this same way…the display could have a simple “Ask ATC” button that helps you send them a request. In a utopian world, it could be Alexa building the message for ATC (“Alexa ask ATC if we can climb here to get over some weather”).No frequencies to monitor or enter…ATC wants you, they “text” to your registration number (N12345 or whatever). Maybe that little display always has a frequency you can use to speak to a person if you need to.There’s nothing I’m describing that couldn’t be implemented in the next few years, and it would make a major difference in how General Aviation pilots fly in the nation’s air traffic control system. All the technology exists, and it wouldn’t even be that expensive to implement.This is what I think the next big thing in aviation SHOULD be.

How can you tell if a small airplane like a Cessna 150 is equipped for an IFR flight?

By looking at the planes log book for a static system test, and looking in the cockpit.The list of requirements to legally fly IFR is almost disturbingly brief. Beyond the minimum equipment required for VFR, you need an electrical system and lights, a set of gyro instruments (artificial horizon, directional gyro, and the turn indicator/turn coordinator) a communications radio, a transponder and “navigational equipment appropriate to the facilities being used”.The only portions of the plane that has to be certified for IFR are the pitot/static system, which must be certified during the annual inspection as accurate, and the GPS installation (if there is one). In addition the plane must have had a VOR check - but you can do that your self, the airport and facility directory provides locations that can be used to check your VOR.So that’s it from a legal standpoint - the regulations say you can fly IFR with a single Nav/com if you like… but no one would recommend that. Just as the regs allow you to fly VFR at low altitude in one mile of visibility, that does not make it a good idea.Realistically you want at least dual nav/coms, one of which with a glideslope, and it would be better if that #2 radio was an IFR certified GPS/Com. Without a GPS, I’d like to see a DME, but it’s not a must have. Flying solo IFR can be a handfull, so an autopilot (even a basic one that simply holds heading) is on the wish list.

What does it take to own your own airplane?

As others have mentioned, fractional ownership (owning a share of the airplane) is probably the cheapest way to get into an airplane. One important factor when buying into a partnership is that you’re going to need to get along with the other partners. One of the old guys at the airport told me it’s as important or more so than a marriage, so it pays to meet everyone involved before you pony up the cash.For a number of reasons, I decided to buy my own as a sole owner; so in the interest of providing that perspective, here’s a breakdown of that process.In November of 2017, I purchased a 1949 Ryan Navion from a guy in Ohio for about $30,000. I found the plane by searching online listings for aircraft sales - the common ones are :Trade-A-PlaneSearch For Aircraft & Aircraft Parts - Airplane Sale, Jets, Helicopters, UAVs, Drones, & Aviation Real Estate | Trade-A-PlaneControllerhttps://www.controller.com/Barnstormershttps://www.barnstormers.com/There are other sites, but these represented the ones where Navions were commonly sold. As a part of my due diligence, I also joined the American Navion Society (Navion Society Home), which also listed aircraft for sale. Through that organization, I talked to a few CFIs and previous owners to get an idea of what to look for in a candidate, and what it was like to own a Navion before I bought one.When I found the plane I thought I wanted to buy, I requested from the seller some scans of the last several pages of the logbooks for the airplane and the engine, and reviewed those. This is very important. Some of the things to look for are deferred maintenance - are the magnetos about due, is the engine close to TBO, has it been several years since the annual inspection was done? Once that all looked good, I requested all the documentation on the airplane from the FAA for $10 (Request Copies of Aircraft Records) - note that this is in no way a substitute for complete log books for an airplane. I also did a title report, which usually costs about $75 (King Aircraft Title, Inc.). Don’t skip this step, because you want to be sure you own the airplane free-and-clear.The next step was that I flew from Utah to Ohio (where the plane was), to check the plane out. I spent 4 days there, and it cost me nearly $800 for flights and hotel. I also paid an A&P $450 to do a pre-buy inspection. This is also very, very important to do. Call around and get an A&P who is not the one who previously did the annual inspection; this helps ensure an unbiased opinion. While I was in Ohio, I hired a CFI to help train me in the airplane; we flew 4 hours or so with the owner riding in the back seat. This also served as a “test drive” of sorts for the airplane. After that, I made the offer, paid a deposit, and went back home (because weather wasn’t looking good for going back over the rockies in a small plane).While at home, I lined up insurance that I paid approximately $1300 for 12 months. My policy required that I get 10 hours instruction in the airplane before I was insured, so I planned another 6–10 hours with the CFI for when I returned to Ohio to pick up the plane. I also paid about $2000 to the State of Utah in use tax.I also called around to the local flight schools to see if they had students who wanted to build flight time. I wanted to have a second pilot with me on the flight back. This was going to be a much longer trip than I usually take, over unfamiliar areas, and in an aircraft that is unfamiliar to me, so I figured having another set of eyes would be good. So I paid for his flight, as well as mine, back to Ohio, and after paying the balance for the airplane, we flew it back to Utah.Prior to departing, I spent $350 on a new battery, one landing light, hydraulic fluid, and oil for the airplane. Avgas on the way back cost about $600 all totaled; and we spent probably $100 on breakfast, lunch, and dinner during our trip.Since getting the airplane home, I have had it in a shade hangar, which costs $90 a month; insurance continues to be about $1300/year, and my annual inspection last year was $2800, with a follow-on of about $1000 to repair an AD in the propeller. I expect my annual this year will likely cost about half as much as the first one. My maintenance costs are probably lower than average, because I found an A&P mechanic that was willing to teach me and allow me to do much of the work myself, so I end up paying less for his time - and I end up knowing more about my own airplane.I’m currently installing a new intercom ($600) and navigation radio ($400) in the airplane to get it ready for IFR training. Over the last couple of months, I found an issue with a cracked part in the nose gear (my airplane has retractable landing gear) that needed repair. The replacement part cost $300, and I did most of the work on both of these jobs myself, with my A&P supervising my work (I have paid him maybe $500 or so thus far).I wouldn’t say aviation is a cheap exercise, but you can definitely make choices to spend less, or spend a lot more. If I had wanted my A&P to handle everything, repair costs would easily be 3 or 4 times as much, but I fix things for fun (I’ve rebuilt several cars), and liked the idea of getting my hands dirty on the airplane. For the new DME nav radio, I could have gone out and bought a new top-of-the-line GPS/Nav/Com unit for $10k, but I considered what my mission was - which was to do IFR training, and the minimum update I needed to get there was to install a used DME in the panel.There are plenty of aircraft out there which can be had for $30k or less. The key thing is to be realistic about what your typical mission is. If 80% of the time it’s you and your kid going for a plate of BBQ ribs in the next county, then maybe a Grumman Cheetah or Ercoupe is all you need (both of which can be had for $20k or less). Lots of pilots drool over the brand new B36TC Bonanza that seats six, cruises comfortably at FL21, and costs $800k, but few of us actually fly that mission often enough to justify it.

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