Six Things You Simply Must Have in Your Airplane

Six Things You Simply Must Have in Your Airplane

It’s not Christmas yet, but I’ve been thinking about the kind of presents every pilot should have in his/her cockpit. Things that dramatically improve our ability to safely operate our flying machines. Most of the items on my list didn’t even exist twenty years ago. Here we go:


This one and something every turbine operator should have. Having a virtually fool-proof “second pilot” to set the proper power setting without exceeding engine limitations is extremely helpful. And although we are still ultimately responsible for engine operation, FADEC allows us to focus more attention outside the cockpit, especially on takeoff. I can still remember pulling out the laminated performance charts every 10,000 feet to check temperature and set power. So eighties! Once you experience FADEC you will likely never go back.


Some of you have never flown a non-EFIS airplane. This makes me feel very sad. And very old. Prior to the flat screen display, I spent so many hours wondering which side of the course I was on, it would make your gyro spin. Today, the phrase, “where the heck am I?” is seldom heard in a full EFIS-equipped airplane. Twenty years ago, that was usually the first thing I said after takeoff. It went something like this. “Power set, airspeed alive, rotate, gear up, where the heck am I?” From a safety standpoint, the reliability of these non-vacuum pump systems has increased safety immensely. I can’t imagine flying without EFIS.


When was the last time you called Flight Service from your airplane? Are they still in business?  We used to take off with outdated weather and land with the latest outdated weather. No news was good news. Until it wasn’t. Today, I have virtually unlimited access to METARS, TAF’s, PIREPS, SIGMETS, AIRMETS, even Patty’s grocery list. It’s mind boggling. I can study the composite radar picture a thousand miles from my destination while still on the ground, and make strategic route decisions from my cell phone in the FBO bathroom. Don’t tell me you haven’t done this.


Get more comfortable using this one. It could be your “stay out of jail card.” Flying in airspace around major hubs is getting more challenging every day. “November 921 X-ray Tango, descend via the JFRYE 3 arrival except cross GREGS at one-one thousand.” On RNAV arrivals there are mandatory speeds, altitudes, block altitudes and more that can overload your “personal computer” and ruin your day. Add weather and any abnormality and you can easily make a mistake. The kind of mistake that gets you a “call this number “ from the controller. With the software capabilities of VNAV however, it’s a matter of programming the FMS and monitoring the autopilot’s performance, dramatically reducing the chances of  a “close encounter” with the FAA. Plus, using VNAV allows you more “head out of cockpit” time.


Aren’t you amazed at how much traffic you never see? Twenty years ago, my traffic avoidance system was normally Patty saying, “Did you see that guy, he was really close!” Today, I get a more formal warning, “Traffic, Traffic” with a growing yellow ball depicting the airplane and his relative altitude. And for about $100,000 extra (in the case of the Citation M2) you can buy the ultimate: TCAS2. This system analyzes  the relative position and speed of each transponder-equipped airplane and actually commands you to climb, descend, or monitor your present altitude until the conflict is resolved.

Don’t think it’s worth a hundred grand? I didn’t until recently. Descending into Mesquite, TX (KHQZ) in visual conditions at 3,000 feet, Regional Approach called out traffic 500 feet below. I saw it on the display at 400 feet, closing, and not in radio contact with the controller. First, came the “TRAFFIC, TRAFFIC” call. Now, less than a mile away, it was time to do something. Simultaneously with the controller’s order to climb 1,000 feet , my PFD lit up with red command bars showing an immediate climb and the loud instruction, “CLIMB, CLIMB.”

Climb we did as the traffic passed several hundred feet below. Would we have collided without the RA (resolution advisory)? I will never know, but I was really glad to have the extra computer on board that day. And my passengers were too.


I used to draw my little airplane on the charts. It was fun but never accurate. And I had trouble finding a magenta crayon. Today, I clearly see my little airplane everywhere. For me, this is most helpful during taxiing, when the ground controller (while pissed off and eating potato chips) says, “November 921 X-ray Tango, right on Alpha,  left  on Charlie, Delta, Romeo, cross 22 Left, hold short of the right.” All I have to do is quickly write this down, scroll in the range on MFD map, and follow my little magenta airplane.

All while eating potato chips.

Did I miss anything?

Fly safe.

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