Las Vegas's Premier Flying Club - Giving You A Reason to Fly!

By Lauren Scott, DFC Flight Instructor

Exhilarating, fun, adventurous, feeling free and independent, challenging, unique. If you ask any pilot why he or she flies, you are likely to hear some of these words. One word you will not hear is the word cheap!  Aviation is an expensive endeavor, and whether a pilot has significant wealth or is working three jobs to pay for flight training, we can all benefit from considering how to make the most of the money we invest in flying.

  1. Join a Flying Club

Clubs may be organized and run in a variety of ways, but at its core, a flying club is a group of individuals who come together to share in the operating expenses of a plane or group of planes in order to keep operating costs lower. Clubs usually require an annual or monthly membership fee to join, and then by sharing expenses like maintenance, insurance, and parking or hangar fees, are able to keep the hourly rental fee at a lower cost than flight schools. For example, at Desert Flying Club, basic 4-seat training aircraft are offered at about $20 less per hour than comparable rental airplanes nearby. With a monthly membership fee of $45, a pilot will start saving money if he or she only flies a little over 2 hours per month. 

Another valuable benefit of joining a flying club comes from participating in the social and safety seminar opportunities. Recent Desert Flying Club safety seminars have covered night flying, safety briefings, weight and balance, maintenance, and rusty pilot seminars. Even at casual social events like holiday gatherings, our love for aviation leads us to have conversations where we can learn from one another’s experiences, in turn increasing our knowledge and (hopefully) safety. If a simple question or new flight opportunity arises that a pilot would like to discuss with another pilot with more expertise, it’s easy (and less expensive) to call a pilot friend from the club than to pay for dual instruction (though of course we encourage you to get a CFI if you need one!)

  1. Do Your Research

The School or Club

Before committing to a flight school or club, do your research. Here are some important questions to consider: Are their rental rates and instructor fees reasonable? Are the planes kept in good condition? How full are the reservation schedules, and will you be able to fly the number of hours you’re looking for? What’s the policy for taking a plane overnight on a trip? Does the rental rate include fuel cost (wet) or is that an additional expense (dry)? Is the school or club close to home? (Studies have shown that students who live within 30 minutes of their airport are more likely to finish their training). If possible, ask a pilot in the community which school or club he or she recommends.

The Instructor

Especially if you are a student pilot, know that you will be spending hours of time with, and paying a lot of money to, your Certified Flight Instructor. All CFIs have hundreds–if not thousands–of hours of flying experience. They must be thoroughly knowledgeable about topics such as flight maneuvers, aerodynamics, weather, aircraft systems, etc. CFIs must also pass rigorous written, oral, and practical FAA testing about instructional methods, participate in continuing education to keep their certificate valid, and must also have high ethical standards. However, there are as many different instructors as there are personality types, and unfortunately there are “bad” instructors among all of the great ones. Experience is important, but I’ve also known pilots with comparatively low hours who made excellent instructors. The more important factor is probably how well you feel this instructor’s personality and teaching style work for you. Also try to find an instructor who really loves teaching, as opposed to one who is primarily building time to get the next job; not only will they take a more vested interest in your progress, they may be more likely to be around long enough to finish your training. Ask about their training syllabus. If possible, take an introductory flight with the instructor you are planning to train with; it is the perfect opportunity to check out the plane itself, the school or club, airport, and the instructor. Do not be afraid to consider switching instructors, or temporarily try a different instructor, if you have reservations about your training progress. It’s a big decision, but some students just work better with other instructors.

  1. Take Charge

In aviation, one of the attitudes that is detrimental to safety we call anti-authority. That is not what I am referring to here; rather, it is having a healthy perspective that the major responsibility for learning rests upon the student. The students who make the most rapid progress–and do it spending the least amount of money–are the ones who take initiative. They study between lessons, watch training videos, complete ground school, and show up to the airport prepared. They listen attentively and take notes at lessons, ask questions, and try to put into practice the instructions their CFI gives them. In short, they put a lot of effort into learning the material and skills.

  1. Do Your Homework

Closely related to #3 above, students can save hundreds of dollars on flight training by completing homework and readings between lessons. Make flashcards, watch free videos online, read the related material, print out a copy of the aircraft POH and checklists, practice flying the maneuvers in a chair (called chair-flying), sit in the airplane with the engine off and practice going through the checklist items, get a hard copy of the FARs (and read and highlight them), and study books like the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. If available, use a computer or flight simulator to practice procedures and radio calls. Also choose a good online or in-person ground school course, and start working on it before or while beginning flight training (some good online programs are Goldseal, Sporty’s, Gleim, MZeroA, and King).  Take multiple practice tests, and try to achieve a score of at least 90% on two or three attempts before taking the FAA Knowledge Exam. Your CFI and Pilot Examiner are both required to review the areas that were missed on the written test, so the better your score, the less time (and money) will be needed to go over the deficient areas. Finally, download the app Live ATC on a phone or computer to listen to radio calls and start learning the proper radio phraseology.

  1. Get Organized

Develop an efficient method of staying organized in the classroom and in the cockpit. Fancy pilot bags are nice but not necessary, but do select a bag with pockets or dividers to help keep things in their place so they can be located easily. Have a solid, quality headset and a case to protect it, as it is often an expensive investment and will be removed, used, and replaced every time you fly. Other helpful items are a small three-ring binder with plastic sheet protectors and a small notebook, which can be used for jotting down weather information and frequencies.  Some pilots like to use a yoke or window suction mount to hold a phone or tablet, and others like to use a clipboard with a leg strap to secure a tablet or notepad in place. Try to keep the checklist in the same place each time you put it away in the plane, so it is always easy to locate. Have a pen or pencil holder handy, or at least attach a pen or pencil to a string so it doesn’t get lost. 

  1. Don’t Rush the Pre- and Post-Flight Briefs 

Understandably, flying the plane is the most exciting part of training. But as the saying goes, the plane makes for a terrible classroom. It’s noisy, there is a lot going on, and when the engine is running, your expenses are building quickly. Yes, ground time with your instructor costs money as well, but it is time well-spent as they try to impart skills and knowledge to you that will be much harder to absorb in the plane. The pre-flight brief should be a thorough brief covering required pre-flight actions (such as checking weather, NOTAMS, maintenance status, weight and balance, and performance), as well as cover what is to be practiced in flight that day. Items such as a pre-takeoff safety briefing, radio calls, maneuver procedures, and completion standards, should be practiced and explained. Following a training flight, a thorough debrief will include a constructive evaluation of the tasks practiced that day: what items were done well, and what items to keep improving and how. It should also include a preview of what will be covered in the next lesson in order to help the pilot be prepared. 

  1. Save Up, Then Fly

Earning a private pilot certificate at the minimum 40 flight hours is unusual, with the national average being closer to 60-80 hours, which works out to about $10,000-$15,000. If you fly as you go, keep in mind that the ideal training frequency for most students would be to fly about 3-4 times per week. Any less often, and more lesson time needs to be spent on reviewing information and skills. Some students save up a certain amount, fly regularly, and then have to take a break to catch up financially. This will cost more in the long run, as piloting skills and knowledge can deteriorate quickly when they are not being used regularly.

  1. Fly Consistently

Setting aside certain days or times for lessons and for studying helps students to keep learning and progressing at a regular pace. This also applies to certificated pilots. Private and higher pilots are required to fly with an instructor once every 24 calendar months to maintain currency by completing a flight review. A pilot who has flown regularly since the last review is probably going to need a shorter ground lesson and flight lesson than a pilot who shows up and has not flown or studied since the last flight review. 

  1. Find a “Study Buddy”

Your CFI probably knows other students at around the same stage of flying as you. Ask them for the name of someone you can get together with outside of lessons to explain what you have been learning and quiz each other on topics like weather, systems, airspace, and regulations. If you have a friend or family member who is a pilot, ask them to quiz you. If possible and if training in a 4-seat airplane, ask if you can ride along on a training flight as an observer with another pilot. If you are building time toward an instrument rating or commercial pilot certificate, find another private pilot with whom to share expenses while you take turns flying “under the hood” (simulated instrument) and acting as safety pilot. Lastly, consider joining an aviation organization like Experimental Aircraft Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, or the Ninety-Nines. For a fairly low annual membership fee, these groups are a great place to network, share experiences and knowledge, and possibly qualify for flight training scholarships.

  1.  Become an FAASafety WINGS Program Member 

FAA WINGS ( is a free program for pilots and mechanics in which to participate. For pilots, there are two types of activities: ground and flight. The ground activities include thousands of available videos, webinars, podcasts, and articles on every aviation topic imaginable to enhance your learning and safety as a pilot. Flight activities might include airport operations, maneuvers like slow flight and steep turns, and takeoffs and landings, instrument procedures, and must be completed with and validated by a CFI. Besides learning and reinforcing lots of valuable information, completing WINGS flight and ground activities can fulfill pilot currency requirements toward the flight review, (and even help CFIs renew their certification). Many of the monthly safety seminars offered by Desert Flying Club qualify for WINGS credit. All it takes to sign up is a current student (or higher) pilot certificate.

While aviation will probably never be inexpensive, there are many smart ways to approach training and flying which can reduce the amount of money required to fly well and to fly safely. Contact us to learn how DFC is a great way to save money while pursuing your dream!

By Lauren Scott, DFC Flight Instructor

The area near Jean Airport (0L7), 15-25 miles southwest of Henderson Executive Airport, is a popular area for general aviation flights. It can be very quiet one minute, and extremely busy the next, so it’s important to stay vigilant and keep an eye out for traffic, as well as to use recommended uncontrolled airport radio communications. Pilots can operate more safely and efficiently when they know what to expect when flying in this area, so read on for a familiarization with Jean operations! Typical operations at Jean include student airplane and helicopter training flights in the surrounding area and in the traffic pattern, skydiving, aerobatic maneuvers in a marked aerobatic box, glider and glider towing flights, as well as VFR and IFR traffic transitioning to and from the busy Las Vegas area.

As always, please consult the most recent VFR sectional charts, chart supplement, and current NOTAMS for the most accurate information, as the following information may change.

Flying Into Jean from Henderson

*Chart for reference only; not intended for navigation

When transitioning to Jean from Henderson, be sure to remain clear of the Bravo airspace. Just on the east side of the I-15 abeam the Sloan mine area, there is a racetrack. Here, head west of the I-15, and stay at least ½ mile west, as northbound traffic will often fly on the east side. The Bravo shelf here is 5000’, so most planes fly at or below 4500’ MSL in both directions. Once clear of the Delta airspace, look for “The Ruins,” a visual checkpoint where the railroad tracks pass under the I-15. Switch the comm radio over to Jean CTAF on 122.9 and monitor for a moment to listen for traffic in the area. Following the recommendations for approaching or operating in the vicinity of uncontrolled airports, report your distance and direction from Jean, and your intentions. (i.e. “Jean Traffic, Archer 55167, 10 miles north at 4,500, inbound for landing, Jean.”) Usually, other pilots in the vicinity will also report their position in response. As noted in the chart supplement, there are parallel runways: 2L/2R, and 20L/R. The longer west runways are most often used for airplanes taking off, landing, and practicing pattern work, and have a left pattern for 2L, right pattern for 20R. The east runway is shorter and more frequently used for glider operations and helicopter work. As noted in the chart supplement, powered aircraft are to use the traffic pattern to the west, and are asked to make an entry from the west side of the field. Because there is a prison to the northeast, as well as steep terrain, pilots are to avoid flying over that area. 

Pilots should approach the pattern from the west. There is no ASOS or AWOS available at Jean, but if other aircraft are in the pattern or on the ground, you can listen or ask on CTAF to find out which runway the wind favors for landing. If not, the surface wind is usually, but not always, coming from the same direction as at Henderson. There are a few windsocks located between the runways at each end, and midfield on the east side of 2R/20L in the segmented circle. A large American flag at a casino to the northwest of the field can also be observed for wind information.  If entering a left pattern for 2L, be aware of the aerobatic box area 3 miles west of the airport (depicted by white L and T shape markers on the ground), and enter the left downwind at a 45 degree angle, reporting as you join downwind. The traffic pattern altitude at Jean is 3600’; note that it’s 800’ AGL–lower than a standard 1000’ pattern. 

To land southbound on 20R, fly west to make a wide circle around the aerobatic box markings, then enter the right downwind on a 45 degree angle for 20R. Look out for power lines near the departure end of all runways and utilize the best angle of climb speed after takeoff to expedite the climb.

There are daily skydiving operations at the Jean airport. The pilots of the jump planes will make regular announcements of their position and when they’re dropping jumpers, but they climb and descend very quickly to and from around 15000’, so pay close attention to their radio calls. They drop the skydivers at 2 locations: a dirt lot on airport property west side of 2L/20R, and sometimes also on the north tip of the Roach Dry Lake Bed (4 miles south of the airport). As long as GA pilots are flying a normal, closed pattern, and staying mindful of the location of the parachuters and pilots, they may safely operate while the parachute operations are being conducted. However, pilots who are unsure of the operations or drop zone locations should remain clear of the airport until the jumpers are on the ground. The jump planes enter and exit the pattern at high speeds and high rates of climb and descent. If you are flying in the pattern while they are operating, please consider flying a wider pattern and coordinate letting them land or takeoff first since they are much faster than most small general aviation planes.

Jean Practice Areas

Noted on the first chart above in orange, there are generally four distinct areas used by student pilots as practice areas: over the Jean Dry Lake Bed (4 miles northeast of Jean), over and to the south of Goodsprings (6 miles west/northwest) along the mountain range, the Roach Dry Lake Bed (4 miles south), and the Ivanpah Dry Lake Bed (10 miles south). If there is a pilot already practicing in one area, it is good practice to go to the next one, as the pilot will often be maneuvering at higher altitudes for items like stalls and slow flight (5000-6000 MSL) as well as ground reference maneuvers (3300-3700 MSL). Following recommended uncontrolled radio procedures, pilots are encouraged to monitor the Jean CTAF (122.9) while operating in these areas, make frequent position reports, make regular clearing turns before all maneuvers, and maintain situational awareness of other traffic operating in the airspace. It is also very helpful to utilize a portable ADS-B In device such as a Stratux or Stratus. (Some of the club aircraft already have these installed, but most do not.)

Departing from Jean

When departing from the Jean traffic pattern or the practice area, there are helpful procedures to follow to maintain safe separation from other traffic. To depart to the north from a right pattern on 20R, make normal right upwind, crosswind and downwind legs, and then depart northbound on the downwind leg. Fly north of the airport for about 2-3 miles on the west of the I-15 up to 4500’ so as to avoid other traffic in the pattern, then fly eastbound to reposition over to the east of the I-15 to continue flying northbound. Make frequent radio calls to announce your location and intentions, on downwind, when leaving the pattern, transitioning to the east of the I-15, over the colorful rocks (7 Magic Mountains), and before reaching The Ruins checkpoint. 

7 Magic Mountains

After listening to ATIS, monitor HND Tower to get a mental picture of what is currently happening in the pattern there. Call HND Tower at the Ruins and expect instructions on which runway to use and how to enter the pattern. For 17R, the directions will most likely be to enter a right downwind and report midfield. For 35L, the directions will usually be to enter and report a 2 mile left base, or to make and report a 3 mile final. Occasionally, depending on traffic, they will direct you to continue to fly northbound toward the M Resort, then fly directly east bound to enter downwind (in which case make sure to fly under the 4000’ Bravo shelf to the southwest of the M). Coming in from Jean, please be especially vigilant of other traffic that may be departing Henderson to the southwest, and make sure you stay on the east side of the I-15.

The Jean airport and practice areas are valuable nearby areas that can be used by pilots for checkrides, maneuvers and pattern work, and knowing the local procedures and flow of traffic can make flying there safer and more enjoyable.

By Lauren Scott, DFC Flight Instructor

Welcome to flying at Henderson Executive Airport! 

 Just minutes south of the famous Las Vegas Strip, we are next to a world-class city filled with restaurants, entertainment, sports, and conference venues. We enjoy beautiful flying weather (usually cloudless, visibility more than 10), with visual flight conditions for 310 days out of the year. In addition, we have gorgeous scenery within 200 nm in all directions. From the Grand Canyon toward the east, to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and other popular spots in Utah to the northeast, to Southern California to the southwest, Henderson is a great airport from which to depart.

Henderson Executive is a Class D (towered part-time) airport underlying the busy Class B McCarran International Airport. As of this writing, McCarran Airport handles anywhere from 800-1800 landings per day. Henderson itself tends to have a moderate amount of traffic with 200-250 landings per day, including general aviation, flight training, sightseeing fixed- and rotor-wing flights, medevac, corporate aviation, and aerobatic operations. Because Henderson underlies Class B shelves, the tower does have the capability to see aircraft on radar, as well as coordinate clearance delivery on a designated frequency (but will often use ground control when it’s not busy.)


Every airport has its own unique quirks, and Henderson is no exception.  Please always refer to the most current VFR sectional charts, NOTAMS, and chart supplements for accurate navigation and airport information, as the following information could change. Quite possibly, the most important issue is being familiar with the dimensions of the overlying Class B airspace. A specific Class B clearance is required to enter Class B, and can only be requested and given by Las Vegas Approach/Departure Control. Without a clearance, pilots have the responsibility to maintain situational awareness and must remain clear of the Class B. At Henderson, Class D airspace begins at the ground and reaches to 3,999’ MSL. Above that, the Class Bravo shelf begins at 5000’. Aircraft approaching and departing from Henderson should be aware of three “Class B hot spots” that cause more problems than others. The first one, shown below and outlined in red, is the area directly north of the departure end of 35L and R.

Only 1.3 nm north of the departure end, Class B drops down to the surface. This means that on takeoff from 35L and R, for single-engine GA aircraft, it is important to expedite the climb after takeoff, in order to reach 500’-700’ AGL to begin the turn to crosswind prior to the class B shelf. It also means using care when making a L or R downwind-to-base turn onto 17L or R. If a pilot stays south of the large power lines that run west to east just north of Henderson, that is a good visual reference for avoiding the Bravo.

The second area to be careful to avoid the Bravo is the corner shelf that comes down to the surface, 1.7 miles directly west of the departure end of 35L, and just to the north of the easily identifiable M Resort and Casino. Just a couple of miles south of that, the base of the shelf rises to 4000’ MSL. Aircraft departing Henderson to the west or southwest must remain vigilant in these areas, shown below in red, with a suggested exit/entry route in green.

Whenever operating near this area, remember that the Class B starts at either 4000’ MSL, or at the surface, west of and up to a mile south of the M Resort. Another note about the area near the M is that there are sometimes medevac helicopter takeoff and landing operations out of Action Ranch, just ½ mile south of the M Resort and Casino.

The third area is really the same as the first area, but it affects mostly pilots coming into Henderson from the east-northeast. There is a mountain range just east of the Henderson Airport, so in an attempt to go around the lower terrain of the range to the north, some pilots have violated that Class B that starts at the surface. Also note that radio coverage is not great in this area, and it may be a challenge to receive ATIS Northeast of Dutchman Pass. A pilot may both safely clear the terrain and remain outside the Bravo, but must be paying attention to their position closely. That caution area can be seen below in red, along with a recommended route in green:

Transition to the Southwest

Another busy area to be aware of is the transition corridor to and from the southwest of Henderson. There are currently at least three flight training operators out of Henderson, and many of these single- engine airplanes utilize the Jean Airport (0L7) and surrounding areas to practice flight training maneuvers and traffic patterns. There is also a lot of traffic coming into and departing that corridor to and from Southern California, both VFR and IFR. Extra vigilance is definitely required in this transition area. For that reason, aircraft heading south/southwest away from Henderson are encouraged to stay on the west side of the I-15 freeway, while aircraft heading north/northeast toward Henderson typically stay to the east side of the I-15. This area is shown below, with suggested north and south bound routes in green and orange. Also be aware of skydiving operations south of Jean airport, with drops announced on Jean CTAF, 122.9. Parachutes are dropped on the west side of the field as well as to the south. It’s more common for them to drop on the field than to the south, and according to the jump operation, as long as pilots monitor their calls and make a standard pattern on the west runway, we will remain clear of their drop zone.

Besides Class Bravo shelves and the transition to the southwest from Henderson, there are a couple other issues that are helpful to be aware of when operating out of Henderson. Below is a map of the airport area.

Airport Operations

The Desert Flying Club aircraft are parked at Row 5. Please be especially aware of two published Hot Spots on the field. One is at Hotel and Alpha at the north end near 17R. The other is near Echo and Alpha. When taxiing from Row 5 to 17R or L, ground control usually clears pilots to taxi “via Hotel.” This means to taxi northbound on the ramp all the way up to, and onto taxiway Hotel, not via taxiway Alpha, unless cleared. You’ll notice a sign near the departure end of 17R warning aircraft not to depart from taxiway Alpha (because it has happened before!) Also be aware that the airport runs slightly downhill to the North, so keep those RPMs low and watch your groundspeed.

There is a runup area on the ramp just west of Hotel. When taxiing south for a departure from 35 L or R, there is no runup area, and runups must be completed on the ramp prior to taxi. This reminder will usually be broadcast on ATIS, but in case of taxiing for a northbound departure, be sure to do your runup at Row 5 at a safe distance from the other aircraft. Planes from Row 5 taxiing for takeoff on 35 L or R will usually be cleared to taxi simply via Delta and Alpha. 

After a full-stop landing on the east runway (35R or 17L), clear the runway, taxi up to and hold short of the parallel runway, and contact tower. They will typically contact you first with crossing and taxi instructions to the ramp, unless they are very busy. Taxi instructions after landing on either runway are to taxi straight ahead to the ramp. Use care not to use taxiway Alpha unless it’s been explicitly directed. Also after landing, we are requested to expedite our post landing operations after the hold short lines, so know your checklist and have it in mind as you complete your roll-out. Of course, keep safe operations in mind, and if you need to, take the time to do what you need to do as PIC. In most small aircraft, pilots are encouraged to memorize the after-landing checklist items (i.e., carb heat off, landing light, fuel pump off, flaps up, etc.) so they can be accomplished by memory, then when stopped on the ramp for parking, pull out the checklist to ensure all items have been completed.

Radio Communication

Another reminder that is true for all airports, is for pilots on radio calls to be sure to read back all pertinent instructions, including clearances (cleared for takeoff, cleared to taxi, cleared to land, etc.) as well as hold short directives (i.e. hold short, landing traffic, etc.), in addition to the tail number with each transmission (which may be shortened to 3 last characters if the controller first abbreviates it). The controllers here at Henderson do a great job safely separating traffic, and they have requested our help to keep radio congestion down by reading back instructions concisely. Remember: include our tail number with each transmission. As always, if you don’t understand the instructions given, ask for clarification. If you are unable to comply, such as because of terrain or other safety considerations, state “unable due to ____.” Their job is to help pilots by separating traffic safely, and they want and need to know if we cannot comply with their instructions in order to come up with an alternate plan. Also please remember to monitor the frequency for a few seconds before keying the mic, to make sure you are not interrupting another transmission or read-back. Finally, maintain situational awareness even on the ground; for example, diligently look out for other traffic before taxiing onto or across taxiways and runways (even if you have been cleared), and monitor the position of other traffic in the pattern before calling for takeoff.  

Flight Following

Henderson tower is great about coordinating flight following before departure when workload allows, and this is a rare perk at a class D. When calling for taxi on 127.8, request flight following and announce destination airport using its phonetic code, along with requested altitude. They’ll give you a squawk and a departure frequency. Keep in mind that there are some radar coverage gaps at low altitudes heading south, so if you’re flying on a low sight-seeing mission, you may get cancelled. That said, following is invaluable in the LAS Bravo, and can often make it easier to get Bravo clearance. See our article on the LAS Bravo transition for detailed information, and how you can fly straight down the strip like those expensive helicopter tours!

Useful Frequencies

HND Tower

HND Ground



LAS SE, SW Approach

LAS West Approach

LAS E-NE Approach

Jean (0L7) CTAF








118.4 or 125.9







Henderson is a fun and beautiful place to fly. Being mindful of these issues with airspace, transition areas and radio communication will help pilots to safely and competently operate out of the Henderson Executive Airport. 

See our other articles for more information on flying around Las Vegas!

Master Takeoffs & Landings – Land Like a Professional

So you’re a pilot. You can successfully takeoff & land an airplane. BUT – just how good are you? How precise are you? Can you land your airplane like a bush pilot, on an actual soft field AND over an obstacle? Can you land within 25 feet of where you intended to touch down? Can you handle cross-winds with ease & max out the performance of your airplane on takeoff? Do you know the proper techniques for landing on a wet runway?

Learning to land like a pro means precision, safety, and consistency. Whatever skill level you’re at now, mastering takeoffs and landings to a higher proficiency & skill level will make you a safer pilot, and you’ll have more fun! Most accidents happen on takeoff & landing, after all.

After completing this course, you will be more proficient, more precise, and have more fun doing takeoffs & landings than you every had as a pilot. For finishing you’ll get your name on the DFC website T/O & Landings course page (this page), plus a certificate of completion. Rest assured, this is an excellent way to level up your piloting skill. Plus, who doesn’t just want a reason to go fly?! See the detailed syllabus below, and contact DFC to get started on your path to mastery with one of our skilled instructors!

Pre-Requisites – You must meet these requirements to take this course:

  • Be a licensed pilot.
  • Minimum 60 hours of flight time.
  • Minimum 5 hours flight time in the last 90 days.

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Download [162.00 B]

Past Graduates of The Course:

  • Pilot Name, 5/19/2016


Posted by: In: Aviation Safety, meetings 15 May 2015 Comments: 0

The 9 Deadly Sins of Aircraft Performance

Many of our members attended a FAAST seminar about aircraft performance recently. It’s a very important subject, especially to those of us flying in mountainous terrain, in single-engine normally aspirated airplanes! Mr. Stephen Ruks did an excellent job, and agreed to share the powerpoint slides & notes with us to post here. Enjoy reading – and be safe!

The Nine Deadly Sins POWERPOINT:


Slide 2 – References

Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge Ch. 7 & 10

Your AFM or POH

AC 00-6A Aviation Wx

AC 61-84B Role of Preflight Preparation

FAA-P-8740-2 Density Altitude Brochure


Slide 3 – Wings Program – What is one of the best things you can do to stay safe?

Chances are 97% greater that you won’t have an accident if enrolled in Wings

Slide 4 – Introduction – Misunderstandings or lack of knowledge about our atmosphere and how it affects aircraft performance is one of the leading causes of fatal aviation accidents.  This seminar will remind you of some of the things you already know and maybe show you a few things you didn’t know.

Slide 5 – Altitude types – How many altitude definitions are there?

  1. Indicated altitude
  2. True altitude
  3. Absolute altitude
  4. Pressure altitude
  5. Density altitude

Read on your altimeter

Height above MSL

Height above ground level

Indicated altitude set at 29.92

PA corrected for non-standard temperature

  1. Indicated altitude—read directly from the altimeter (uncorrected) when it is set to the current altimeter setting.
  2. True altitude—the vertical distance of the aircraft above sea level—the actual altitude. It is often expressed as feet above mean sea level (MSL). Airport, terrain, 7-7 and obstacle elevations on aeronautical charts are true altitudes.
  3. Absolute altitude—the vertical distance of an aircraft above the terrain, or above ground level (AGL).
  4. Pressure altitude—the altitude indicated when the altimeter setting window (barometric scale) is adjusted to 29.92 “Hg. This is the altitude above the standard datum plane, which is a theoretical plane where air pressure (corrected to 15 °C) equals 29.92” Hg. Pressure altitude is used to compute density altitude, true altitude, true airspeed (TAS), and other performance data.
  5. Density altitude—pressure altitude corrected for variations from standard temperature. When conditions are standard, pressure altitude and density altitude are the same. If the temperature is above standard, the density altitude is higher than pressure altitude. If the temperature is below standard, the density altitude is lower than pressure altitude. This is an important altitude because it is directly related to the aircraft’s performance.


Slide 6 – Pressure – How do we describe atmospheric pressure, what is it, and how does it affect us?   ^  More importantly, how does it affect our airplanes?

Slide 7 – Pressure – What causes pressure variations?

^          Altitude – Pressure decreases approximately one inch of mercury per 1000 feet increase in altitude.

^          Temperature – The rate of decrease of pressure with altitude in warmer air is less than in colder air.  You will have to climb higher in warm air to reach the same pressure altitude as in cold air.  Temperature id the biggest factor affecting density altitude

Slide 8 – Pressure Gradient – Given the same change in pressure, the rate of change of pressure is greater in cold air than in warm air.

Slide 9 – Effect of non-standard temperature – Notice that True Altitude varies with variations in temperature along the same pressure line or gradient.

Slide 10 – Typical GA Pitot System – Explain disadvantage of having static port on only one side of aircraft. Briefly discuss effects of icing on pitot-static system.  If both ram and drain holes freeze up with ice, airspeed indicator acts as an altimeter – the higher you go the higher the airspeed reads.  If static port freezes up, altimeter and VSI remain constant and airspeed is not accurate.

Slide 11 – Altimeter – Give brief description of how an altimeter works.

Slide 12 – Altimeter Setting – Standard Atmosphere:

29.92 inHg    or

1013.25 hPa (or mb)

at sea level @ 59º F (or 15º C)

One inch of mercury = 1000 feet

One hectoPascal = 100 millibars

1 inHg = 33.8653 hPa  —  Use this for conversion between inHg and hPa

Slide 13 – High Density Altitude

Three important factors contribute to high density altitude:

  1. Altitude
  2. Temperature
  3. Humidity

Reduced air density equates to decreased performance

Explain chart below:

Slide 14 – High Density Altitude

Warmer air will hold more water vapor than cooler air which affects engine performance more than aerodynamic performance.

With high humidity, expect longer take-off rolls and lower climb rates.  Add 10% to take-off distance.

Slide 15 – The Nine Deadly Sins (and their unforgiveness)

Kurt Anderson, an NTSB Investigator, who has investigated more than 400 accidents, gave a seminar on the results of interviews with many of the pilots who survived accidents and discovered nine things that pilots learned and then forgot, never learned at all, or learned wrong.  Those nine things have been dubbed “The Nine Deadly Sins.”  Scott Gardiner of Seattle FSDO published, in FAA Aviation News, May-June 2004, the article discussing those nine deadly sins.  Now I’m going to present them to you.

  1.   Using sea level VSPEEDS
  2.   Using gross weight VSPEEDS
  3.   Ignoring effect on TAS
  4.   Ignoring effects in mountainous terrain
  5.   Ignoring effects on landing speed and distance
  6.   Ignoring climb gradient
  7.   Ignoring runway environment
  8.   Using incorrect flap settings
  9.   Combining soft-field and obstacle techniques

“Practical Density Altitude” by Scott Gardiner, FAA Aviation News, May-June 2004
Slide 16 – Sin #1 – Using Sea Level VSPEEDS

Slide 17 – Sin #1 – Using Sea Level VSPEEDS

If you mistakenly attempt to climb at your sea level indicated best angle of climb speed, you are probably four to seven knots too slow. You have taken an airplane whose climb performance may be poor at best and made it downright lousy!  There is a really good chance the airplane will not climb at all and will simply mush into the obstacle as you will see later on in this presentation.  You will also see later that combining techniques can prove to be hazardous.  Use best rate of climb for the density altitude you are flying and never best angle of climb except for nearby obstacles.

There are some serious drawbacks to using best angle.  A full power climb results in a high pitch angle (so much for see and avoid), poor engine cooling, close to stall speed, and may be uncomfortable for passengers.  Avoid best angle of climb.
Slide 18 – Sin #2 – Using Gross Weight VSPEEDS

Vy decreases with decrease in gross weight

If you attempt to climb out of a high density altitude airport at a reduced gross weight while using your sea-level, maximum gross weight best rate of climb speed (indicated), you combine Sin#1 with Sin #2.  The result can easily be that you are attempting to climb at a speed that could be 15 knots too fast!  Such a mistake can turn minimal climb performance into negative climb performance!  This deadly combination is precisely what is leading to our most common density altitude accidents!

Explain the effect of DA on TAS using above chart.  See next page . . . .

Slide 19 – Sin #3 – Ignoring effect on TAS

Turn radius increases by the square of the TAS.  The formula is TAS2/11.26 tan Θ.  Assuming IAS of 150 @ sea level, standard temperature, the turn radius would be ≈ 2000’, or one-third of a mile,  But at 8000’ with a temp of 95º your TAS is now 180 and the turn radius increases to ≈ 3000’.  But remember!  That’s turn radius – you have to double that for a 180º turn!  You now need a full mile to turn around and that’s using a 45 bank angle for the maneuver.  How much more power do you think you’ll need at 60 degrees of bank – remember the drag goes up 300%!

So you tell yourself, “Just slow down, turn radius will decrease.”  But now with this increased AOA how much more drag are you adding.  Remember, the slower you fly, the higher the induced drag, and it’s multiplied by 300%.  Does your engine have enough power reserve?  Very doubtful, that’s why we have the accidents.

IAS = 150

PA = 8000

Temp = 95ºF

TAS = 180

DA = 12,000

Looking at this Lift-Drag Chart, I want to throw an additional factor into it.  Consider an airplane in a 30 degree bank.  Induced drag increases by 33%.  At 45 degrees, it increases by 100%, and at 60 degrees it increases by 300%.  This is not shown on a normal L-D chart but imagine how much power your engine must now develop to maintain altitude in a 60 degree bank at a high DA (12,000’) where your engine is struggling to maintain power and altitude.

Slide 20-21 – Sin #4 – Ignoring the effects in mountainous terrain.

Considering all the information I’ve just presented to you, let’s look at the three airplanes flying straight out of the screen.  Consider the effects of wind as depicted by the arrows   Strong downdrafts for airplane #1 requiring additional power to maintain altitude.  Airplane 2 is scooting along normally, and airplane 3 is enjoying the advantage of the updraft.

“Flying in the vicinity of a ridge results in downdrafts for the pilot of Airplane 1. Airplane 2 might escape the downdrafts, but a course reversal either to the right or to the left would leave little maneuvering room between the airplane and the ridge.  Airplane 3 takes advantage of free lift from the up slope airflow and retains the advantage of an into-the-wind escape route.”  The official explanation is technically correct, but it does not go far enough. Since it is questionable whether or not Airplane 2 can complete a 180-degree turn, we can assume this valley is not very wide. Most pilots choose to fly up the correct side of the valley (Airplane 3 in this case), but push on too far before deciding to reverse direction. As long as things are going well for Airplane 3, the pilot continues bravely on course. It’s only when things get tight that the pilot of Airplane 3 decides to make the 180 but turning around at this point results in a radius of turn that places the airplane somewhere between Airplanes 1 and 2. This is precisely the valley location described in the official explanation as an area of downdrafts! The trap has been sprung. Another aircraft smacks the terrain and often with fatal results.

Slide 22 – Sin #5 – Ignoring Effects on Landing Speed and Distance

Often times the discussion of density altitude is limited to takeoff distance and maybe even climb performance.  But you have to think of what the airplane is doing when approaching to land as well.  Remember the TAS is higher than IAS at density altitudes above sea level so that has to be considered.  Imagine a worse case scenario of a  runway at 8000’ elevation that downslopes to the edge of a cliff and is only 2500’ long and you  have a 10 knot tailwind.    So down you go to the landing.  You get about halfway down the runway where you finally touch down and you realize that you may not be able to stop so smart pilot that you are you add power for a go-around forgetting that you placed the mixture in full rich for the landing.  Are you going to have enough power for the go-around and be able to clear all obstacles in the process?  Do you see how these hazards add up and why it is so important to plan ahead?  Consider all the variables before operating in high density airports.

Slide 23 – Sin #6 – Ignoring Climb Gradient

When departing airports, be aware of your climb gradient. We are all familiar with aircraft rate of climb — it’s figured in terms of feet per minute.  Climb gradient is figured in terms of feet per mile.  Consider two airplanes, each climbing at 500 feet per minute. But one is climbing at 60 knots, and the other is climbing at 90 knots. Each will climb 500 feet in one minute. But the first will cover one mile during that minute, and the second will cover a mile and a half during the same minute. The first airplane is climbing 500 feet per mile, and the second is climbing only 333 feet per mile.

Remember that climb gradients are calculated in feet/nm not feet/min.  And be sure to use TAS (or GS) for calculations not IAS.

Consider the ILS approach to Ketchikan, Alaska.  Minimums are 288’ but the required climb gradient for the missed approach requires 335’/NM to miss a 4000’ mountain directly in front of you!  Localizer circling minimums are 2440’.

Slide 24 – Sin #7 – Ignoring Runway Environment

Watch the video clip of the A36 takeoff and think about what might have gone wrong.

OAT = 97F, Field Elev =1293’ Altimeter 29.89”

Density Altitude = 4125’, Rwy 31 4000’ paved

1996 A36, Turbonormalized IO-550,

GTOW = 4095,  CG = 86.15”

Different piloting techniques may have resulted in a much nicer outcome.

Now think of departing at our 8000’ elevation runway with the temperature at 95 degrees (DA 12,000’).  How well is that going to go?

Slide 25 – Sin #8 – Using Incorrect Flap Settings

In the A36 incident, use of flaps may have made the situation even worse!

Use of the recommended flap setting works just fine when operating at near sea level altitudes but with non-turbocharged engines, there is a density altitude above which the use of takeoff flaps actually increases ground roll.  Be sure to check the POH to ascertain if the use if flaps is recommended at high DA.

Page 26 of the A36’s POH Supplement stated, “However, when operating at the increased weights authorized when operations are conducted in the NORMAL CATEGORY expect the following:

  1. Increased Takeoff Distance of up to 30%.
  2. Decreased Rate-of-Climb of up to 13%.
  3. Increased Stall Speed of up to 7%.
  4. Increased Landing Distance of up to 15%.
  5. Increase Takeoff and Approach Speeds 2 kts.
  6. Increase VX and VY Speeds 2 kts.”

Soft field techniques should be saved for soft fields.  Just because the runway is of dirt or grass, it is not necessarily soft!  Mud in which you leave 3” tracks, beach sand, 6” of snow, or 3” of sleet is a soft field.

Slide 26 – Sin #9 – Combining Soft-Field & Obstacle Techniques

Normally flaps are only used on soft field takeoffs but when used for obstacle clearance, the increase in drag drastically hinders climb performance.

There are numerous instructors out there who routinely combine obstacle takeoff techniques with soft-field takeoff techniques to save time during training. But in actual density altitude situations, a pilot should not combine the two in a normally aspirated, piston-engine airplane.

If we are trying to clear a 100’ tree, we are talking about obstacle clearance takeoffs

not minimum ground-run takeoffs.

For obstacle clearance takeoffs, follow the advice of your airplane manufacturer, which for the vast majority of non-turbocharged airplanes means flaps up and climb at best angle of climb speed for the density altitude.

Always follow manufacturer’s recommendation.

Slide 27 – Summary

Beware, better yet, be knowledgeable, of the Nine Deadly Sins of Density Altitude

Remember the effect of DA on TAS and the TAS effect on airplane performance and humidity on engine performance.

Engine performance degrades with altitude