Questions from my Mailbox

I get a lot of e-mail asking questions that aren't answered on this website yet. I'm going to put the questions and answers here, to save myself from having to answer the same question more than once. It's not like they are asked frequently, but one good question deserves an answer. I'll organize this later, but meanwhile, in more or less the order you asked me ...

Altitude  | Private Pilot Written Exam | METAR | Life Insurance | Visiting Canada | Flying in BC | Flying in the USPSTAR Error? | FDRs | Gust loads | Landing | Other

What is QNH or QFE?

QNH is British for what Canadians call "altimeter setting": the numbers to set in the little window on your altimeter to make the altimeter correctly show your height above sea level. QFE is the altimeter setting that makes the altimeter read ZERO at touchdown. The British military use QFE; perhaps because they can't do addition well enough to calculate the circuit altitude without it. You can find more Q-codes at

What is MSL?

MSL stands for "mean sea level" and is the American equivalent of ASL. We say 1500' ASL; they say 1500' MSL. There is no difference in meaning.

What is the difference between Density Altitude and Pressure Altitude?

First the definitions:

Pressure altitude is the altitude that would show on your altimeter if you set 29.92 in the subscale window.
Density altitude is pressure altitude corrected for non-standard temperature.

Now the explanation of what that means:

You know about the international standard atmosphere (ISA), right? Imagine a column of air that has ISA conditions: 15 deg C and 29.92" Hg pressure at sea level, and then temperature decreasing 1.98 degrees and pressure decreasing 1" for every 1000' feet you go up. Consider this atmosphere..

Your pressure altitude is the altitude you would have to be at in the ISA in order to experience the pressure you are experiencing at your altitude.

You know that air temperature affects your performance.  The hotter it is, the poorer the performance.  If the temperature is higher than standard temperature, as far as your airplane is concerned, it is the same as being at a higher altitude.

Your density altitude is the altitude you would have to be at in the ISA in order to get the same performance as you get at your own pressure and temperature.

Now how to figure them out:

There are two ways to figure out pressure altitude.
A. Set your altimeter subscale to 29.92, and read the pressure altitude off the altimeter.
B. Subtract your altimeter setting from 29.92. Multiply the result by 1000. Add the
result to your elevation or indicated altitude.

To figure out density altitude:
1. Calculate your pressure altitude, using A or B above.
2. Set your pressure altitude opposite the air temperature in the little window on the inside of your E6B. Notice that the temperature scale goes backwards.
3. Read the density altitude opposite the arrow in the other small window.

You E6B manual will have an example you can follow through.

Do you have any advice for the private pilot written exam?

My number one study suggestion is to go through the study and reference guide document and make sure you know something about every listed point. I guarantee you that when you get out of the exam, saying, "what was up with the question on ....?" when you look it up in the study guide it will be listed, and when you look it up in From the Ground Up the explanation there will be almost word for word with the correct answer choice.

Native English speakers rarely fail Air Law. You can get tripped up by a few tricky questions, but there's no reason you can't get 100% on air law. After all, they tell you in advance all the sections of the CARs for which you are responsible, and most of them you've already studied for the PSTAR.

General is hard to get 100% on because it draws from so many areas, but people don't fail it often, either.

Met is the big area for failure, and that's because the Met questions ask you to put together what you know. When you get to a met question that seems impenenetrable, don't guess: you should have the tools to solve it. Be very careful about AGL and ASL heights, and read all the notes on the GFAs. The questions that seem totally off the way, asking you what the wind will be doing at a particular place are often asking about the progress of fronts. Once you recognize that the weather materials you have represent a cold front, just pull out of your brain every fact about cold fronts that you have memorized, and you should be able to figure it out. Sometimes they ask you to use common sense, too. I remember a question that had a cold front moving through an area in the morning, and they wanted you to tell them about the behaviour of the temperature over the next few hours. You needed to take into account the fact that it was noon, with clear skies, and so the sun would heat up the ground!

The usual reason someone fails Navigation is if they make one mistake at the beginning that carries through the whole section. They have been changing the exam slightly so that one mistake doesn't affect EVERY question, too. Do Nav last, because it's time consuming and if you get bogged down on it you will lose easy marks from other sections. Don't complete the entire nav log for the nav exercise: do only the calculations required to answer the questions. And if the nav log page they give you is confusingly different than the one you use at school, don't use it at all: just recreate what you are used to on scrap paper. Oh and on the VOR questions, redraw the airplane so it is facing in the direction selected on the OBS. They deliberately draw the airplanes in the most confusing orientations.

Speaking of scrap paper, they give you two sheets. If you want more you can bring back the used sheets and trade for more.

The Transport Canada questions are tricky, but people who take the exam seriously usually pass. 

BTW, you will see on the net people bragging about getting 98 or 100 on the PPL written exam. These people are Americans, and all the questions for their exams are available in advance, like for our PSTAR, so of course they can get high nineties. Anything over 90 percent is excellent in Canada, and over 80 percent is still very good.

What are the new computerized exams like?

Transport Canada is just switching to computer-administered examinations. They are the same exams, just presented on a computer screen instead of on paper, and you answer by clicking on the correct answer choice with the mouse. For some reason there is slightly more tendency to guess when you're at a computer, so guard against that. Look at the question, do any calculations necessary to determine the right answer, then look at the choices and carefully select the one that match.

The exam timing doesn't start until you click Start, so once you are in the exam room, take some time to get settled, look through the charts and graphs, and read the instructions. The computer shows you one question at a time. You can go backwards and forwards through the exam or jump to any question. You can change your answers as often as you like, and you can also change back and forth between French and English. At the bottom of the screen, a green progress bar shows you how many questions you have answered and a red progress bar tells you how much of your time has passed. You can see at a glance if you are ahead or behind time, or you can choose to hide the progress bar. You also have the opportunity to "bookmark" questions, just as you might have put a mark next to one on the old paper form. When you finish the last question, a box comes up showing you if you skipped any questions, and you can click to go directly to those questions.

When you have completed all the questions, you can tell the computer to mark your exam. It will tell you if you still have time left, and give you the opportunity to spend more time checking your answers, or you can confirm that you are done. Your results will be given to you by the clerk, not displayed on the computer.

The computer screen at the exam centre where I tried it was well-positioned and easy to read, and I thought the software was well-designed.  I was initially skeptical about the new system, but now having tried it, I have no complaints. You can download a preview of the exam software from Transport Canada.

Why does the METAR have two different parts telling me about the clouds?

The BODY of the METAR, that is the SCT030 BKN050 stuff, tells you the cumulative coverage from the ground, to that altitude. The REMARKS, that is the part that looks like ST5SC3CI2, gives you the actual coverage at each layer. It is independent, not redundant information.

You have to compare the body of the METAR with the ST5SC3. Just by knowing that it's ST5SC3 does not tell me whether the sky is overcast or broken by the second cloud layer. It depends how they line up. So I have to look and see whether it says BKN030, BKN050 or BKN030 OVC050.

Will flying void my life insurance? 

The fine print in many policies forbids scuba diving, auto racing and other specifically named dangerous sports. I think the term is "named perils."

I know that pilots can buy life insurance. I continued to hold life insurance through my former employer, during my own flight training. I had to answer a questionnaire about my qualifications and the type of flying I did, but it didn't affect my coverage at all.

Every airplane that flies in Canada must have a certain amount of insurance per seat, and your school will take care of that, assuming you are flying a school airplane. The proof of insurance is one of the documents you must carry on board. Some people, especially Americans, carry extra "renter's insurance" to cover discrepancies between the rental company's policy and the costs actually associated with being stranded somewhere with an unserviceable aircraft. Your school may also charge you an insurance surcharge, because of the phenomenal rise in insurance costs lately, and they may give you the opportunity to pay or waive an extra fee that would reduce the deductible in case you damaged the school airplane while flying solo. This paragraph is all about the insurance on the airplane, not on you; it's the airplane equivalent of car insurance.

Some commercial pilots carry "loss-of-licence" insurance, that would help them out if they lost their medical.

If your own policy -- haul it out of the file folder and scan the fine print -- doesn't specifically forbid private aviation, you should be okay. Even if it does you may be okay. Mine did, so I called and asked, filled in the form I mentioned, and they were happy. Definitely check out the effect flying would have on your policy.

The last thing I'll mention is that when a student's spouse or parent has a concern like that, I like to pause and ensure that they don't have an exaggerated concept of the danger of aviation. If the student's family thinks that flying is crazy-dangerous, I try to get them to come into the school, to learn about the safety precautions, and maybe to go for a flight so that they get a better idea of what is involved.

Can Americans fly into Canada with an FAA licence?

Yes. The general rule is that the nationality of your licence must match the registration of your airplane. If you have an FAA licence you may fly an N-registered airplane in Canada, but you must fly according to Canadian laws, so be sure to do your homework. The PSTAR section of this site (read the commentaries) gives basic Canadian air law, and I have a  glossary for US-Canada terminology. Americans may also be disconcerted by the lower level of ATC services in Canada. Radar vectors and VORs are available only in the densely populated south. Make sure you can navigate on your own! I plan a page on "flying in Canada for Americans" later.  

Can I fly a Canadian airplane on my foreign pilot licence?

No. If you want to rent a Canadian registered airplane, you can either obtain a foreign licence validation or a Canadian pilot licence. The licence validation is sufficient for tourists. If you become a resident of Canada, you will need a full pilot licence. 

How do I receive a foreign licence validation?

To receive a licence validation certificate, you must go to a Transport Canada office and bring your foreign licence, other identification, a Canadian medical certificate, proof that you have both fulfilled the flight time requirements of the Canadian private licence and have completed five takeoffs and landings in the last six months, and the licensing fee. Proof of the flight requirements should consist of your logbook, and charts or other means of showing that you have completed a 150 nm cross country trip. You will then be required to write the PSTAR test of Canadian air regulations, and earn a mark of at least 90 percent. If all your paperwork is in order you should receive your licence validation certificate the same day.

In case anything has changed since I wrote this, read the letter of the law in CARS Standard 421.

How do I convert my foreign licence to a full Canadian one?

Do everything required for the licence validation certificate, plus write the PPAER (private pilot written exam) and take the private pilot flight test.

Can I learn to fly in Canada if I am neither a citizen nor a resident?

Yes. A visitor can train in Canada and receive a Canadian private licence. Hundreds do every year, from countries all over the world, as we have low costs and high quality training. Once you earn a Canadian licence, it entitles you to fly Canadian registered airplanes in any country in the world.

Can I transfer training time from another country to Canada?

Yes. The training time you already have in another ICAO country is transferrable to Canada. (This rule came into effect March 2003, so if your flying school doesn't know it, show them CAR 421.26 (9), and don't forget who saved you all that time and money).  To ensure that your foreign training is accepted by Transport Canada, bring a letter (in French or English) from your foreign flight instructor listing the exercises (taxiing, take-off, stalls, slow flight, steep turns, etcetera) that you have covered, and also bring a photocopy of your instructor's licence, to prove that he or she is a real flight instructor. This won't necessarily be required, but it could be.

Help me plan a trip by air in British Columbia

BC is spectacular for flying. I'm not sure how many hours per day you plan, but if someone said "I have a week, take me flying in BC," I'd do something like this:

From Chilliwack (CYCW) climb up to 10,000' and fly around Mt Baker, a picture perfect active volcano that will likely sill have snow on it in August. From there, fly over the Gulf Islands in the Georgia Staight to Victoria (CYYJ) where you can eat a good lunch at the Spitfire Grill, right on the airport, just ask the ground controller for taxi instructions. It's a short flight to Tofino (CYAZ). There is camping immdiately next to the airport at Tofino, and a spectacular beach a short walk away. Bella Bella (CAF2) is about 3 hours north of there, a rugged area, that not a lot of British Columbians have ever seen. If you continue up to Sandspit, you're in the Queen Charlotte Islands, or Haida Gwai. This is spectacular wilderness, many of the locals are native Indians, and there is a resurgence of native culture.

You can't go much further north without reaching Alaska, so turn east and fly the valley Terrace, Smithers, to Prince George. There's not a lot other than avgas to recommend these towns as places to stop, but the scenery is breathtaking mountains. From Prince George I love the valley route right along the continental divide via Valemount and Blue River. From there you
can cross the divide to Calgary, or stay in BC and come out in the Okanagan, with wonderful fruit -- and award-wining wine, if you want to take a day off flying. Salmon Arm, Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton are all airports with reasonable access to communities on lakes, with swimming and fishing and summer fun. 

If you like the wild west, you could detour north again and probably find yourself some horseback riding in ranching country in the Cariboo, around Williams Lake and 100 Mile House. And you should land in Quesnel and say hi to Sven at Quantum Air, because he is a nice guy.

Some more spectacular valleys include the route from Lillooet, Seton Portage, Whistler to Squamish. That brings you out at Horshshoe Bay, right near Vancouver. You can easily get clearance to orbit over the downtown, by day or night.

Much of this is really rugged daytime-only flying. Check ahead carefully for fuel availability, and be prepared for weather delays, mountain turbulence, and high density altitudes.

Please respect published overflight rules for national parks, and stay at least 2000' overhead wildlife, or higher if your airplane noise seems to disturb them at all.

Try these sites for British Columbia tourist information.

Can I fly in the United States with my Canadian licence

You can fly a Canadian registered airplane anywhere in the world with a Canadian licence. If you want to fly an American N-registered airplane, you need an FAA permit.  Take your Canadian licence and medical to a Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) in the United States, and the folks there will issue you an FAA permit "on the basis of" your Canadian licence. It is a good idea to make an advance appointment with the FSDO.

Other countries have similar visitor's permits.

There is an incorrect answer in your PSTAR Guide. 

Is it in MINE or in your school's answer key? It could be either. Please ask.

Transport Canada doesn't send your school a PSTAR or an answer guide. Your school is responsible for making up a  PSTAR by selecting from the available questions, and for providing the answer key. Flight instructors make mistakes too, especially as some of the questions are really hairsplitting.

For example, question 3.03 is sometimes marked with #1 correct and sometimes #2. Lets look at it.

Answer choice one says you can leave out ANY letters, if air traffic services does first, while choice two says you can omit the FIRST TWO, if air traffic services does. So the only difference between one and two is the number of letters ATS can omit.

The PSTAR references list says AIP COM 5.7.1, but there is no 5.7.1: Transport didn't update the reference when they updated the AIP. The correct reference is AIP COM 5.8.1, which states "Subsequent communications may be abbreviated to the last three letters if this abbreviation is initiated by ATS."  

Seeing as there are always five letters (including the C-), using the last three letters is exactly the same as omitting the first two letters. So choice #2 is definitely the best answer, right in line with the reference.

There's nothing actually wrong with answer choice one, because ATS won't omit more than the first two letters anyway, but this is a typical Transport Canada question.

Please let me know of any apparent errors on school-marked -- or my -- PSTAR.

Does CARs 605.33 (1) make any sense to anyone?

Yes. CARs 605.33 (1) made sense when it was written because they were phasing in rules for flight data recorders. It could safely be rewritten now to read:

(1) Subject to Section 605.34, no person shall conduct a take-off in any of the following aircraft unless the aircraft is equipped with a flight data recorder that conforms to the Aircraft Equipment and Maintenance Standards:

a) any multi-engined turbine-powered aeroplane operated under Subpart 5 of Part VII; and
b) any other multi-engined turbine-powered aircraft that has a passenger seating configuration, excluding any pilot seats, of 10 or more and that was manufactured after October 11, 1991.

The references to two dates in 1997, the mention of pressurization, and the reference to part 704, are all irrelevant now that the implementation date for each phase of the rule has passed.  While its vaguely interesting to note that part 704 pressurized multi turbine airplanes over 5700 kg required FDRs at an earlier date than other multi-turbines, it doesn't have anything to do with the current rules.  
The bit about October 11, 1991 is probably to do with the difficulty of retrofitting FDRs to older aircraft, so thay decided that only 705 operations had to bear that burden.

Can you explain the effect of aircraft weight on gust load?

This whole gust load thing is very interesting.  Why does the safe speed to fly in gusts DECREASE as the airplane gets lighter?

Remember the equation of lift: Lift = 1/2 CL * p * S * v2
Where CL is the coefficient of lift, dependent on wing form and angle of attack
           p is air density
           S is wing area
           v is airspeed, and the little two means that it is squared (multiplied by itself)
You don't have to know the whole equation, just remember that lift increases if the airplane goes faster, or if the angle of attack increases

Remember also that when the angle of attack reaches the stalling angle, lift decreases. The airplane can stall at any speed, if that stalling angle is reached. The stall speed quoted in a small airplane POH represents the unaccelerated power off stall speed at gross weight. If you slow down gradually, you have to increase the angle of attack to maintain lift. At gross weight you will reach that angle of attack at the published stall speed. At a lower weight, you will not stall until you reach a lower speed, because you need less lift to counteract your weight. Your stall speed decreases with the square root of the weight.

But, if gusts or abrupt control deflections increase the angle of attack abrubtly, you can reach the stalling angle of attack at any speed. The more abrupt the increase, the higher the stall speed. As just discussed, the  increase in angle of attack increases lift. For any configuration, we can divide the lift by the weight to find a number we call the load factor. If lift is double the weight, you have a load factor of 2, also referred to as a 2 G force on the airplane. That load factor, or G-force is a measurement of how abrubtly the airplane has been manoevered. Your POH will state the maximum loads your airplane is designed to handle in load factor. A typical airplane can handle a load factor of +3.8. Your stall speed increases with the square root of the load factor.

Lets say your airplane has a gross weight of 5000 lbs, a stall speed of 70 kts, and a maximum load factor of +3.8 Gs.  That means its wings can withstand a weight of 3.8 x 5000 = 19000 lbs. Suppose the airplane's engine weighs 400 lbs. So the engine mounts, holding the engine on, are designed to hold 3.8 x 400 = 1520 lbs. And so on, for the baggage compartment floor, the pilot seat rails, the hinges in the rudder, and all those parts you'd like to keep attached to your airplane.

You're flying at gross weight in level flight, at 130 kts. The wings feel 5000 lbs.  5000/5000 = 1. You feel 1 G. The engine mounts feel 400 lbs. Everything is good.

A gust suddenly increases the angle of attack. More lift is generated. The wings are now feeling 17000 lbs of force. 17000/5000 = 3.4 Gs. You feel slammed into your seat by the sudden turbulence. You haven't exceeded the allowable load, you're okay. 

The turbulence gets even worse, the force on the wings increases ... if it increases anymore you'll reach your limit of 19000 lbs. But wait, what's your stall speed? At 3.6 Gs, the stalling speed is 70 x sqrt(3.6) = 133 kts. You are below your stalling speed.  The airplane stalls momentarily, the excessive force is never generated, and you're on your way.  Good thing you weren't going 140 kts!

Now you're on your way home, minimum fuel, no passengers, empty, at just 3000 lbs. But you are still flying 130. You hit that same turbulence. Same wing, same speed, same 17000 lbs force is generated. Your wings can take it. But you have a lighter airplane, so the load factor is greater: 17000/3000 = 5.7 Gs! Can the engine mounts take it? Can the hinges in your elevator? But what about stalling? Won't the airplane stall before it takes that very high load? What's your stalling speed? It decreases with the square root of your weight, which takes it down to about 55 kts for this very light load. So at 5 Gs: 55 x sqrt(5) = 123. You're still above your stall speed at 5 Gs! Stall speed becomes irrelevant as your airplane breaks up.

If you had been flying at 100 kts and 3000 lbs, what would have happened in that gust?
Your stall speed at 3.8 Gs would be 55 x sqrt(3.8) = 107 kts. You would have stalled BEFORE dangerous loads developed on the airplane.

The manufacturer specifies a manoevering speed, called Va, defined as the maximum speed at which full abrupt control deflections will not damage the aircraft. Below that speed if you encounter a sudden gust load, or try a high G manoever, you will stall the aircraft, not break it. In turbulence, fly the published Va for your airplane, but decrease Va as the square root of your weight decreases.

Why can't I get the hang of landings?

Don't worry about the landings. Almost everyone feels they aren't getting it at first, but eventually it clicks. 

1. Work on the approach just as hard as the landing. Make sure you get to the beginning of the runway at the right speed and altitude, and properly TRIMMED. If you're not trimmed, speed control is difficult, so it is difficult to be consistent, and then the flare becomes more difficult. Remember to use POWER for altitude, PITCH for speed and RUDDER for direction.

2. Pay particular attention to where your flight instructor tells you to LOOK, and look in the same place while your instructor is landing as when you land, so you get the whole picture.

3. When you think the airplane is just about to land, pull back a tiny bit more. Pilots don't land airplanes, airplanes land themselves. Your job is to keep it from crashing until it runs out of speed and has to land. The slower the airplane is going, the more you have to pull to get the same change in pitch.

Remember that you are in slow flight during the flare, and your goal is to stall the airplane right over the runway. That's why your instructor had you practise aircraft control in slow flight and in the stall.

Be patient with yourself and with the airplane. Eventually you will get it.

It's not on your site, but could you tell me ..?

I love answering questions. Go on, ask.  

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This page written 22 May 2003 by Robyn Stewart.  Last updated 15 February 2004.
Copyright 2003 Flying Start Intiatiatives.