One of the interesting things about the flight training process is that each individual’s experience will be different. We all train at different airports, fly different types of airplanes, and work with different instructors. The journey towards the certificate will be unique to each person as well – including the weather you’ll experience, the transient airports you’ll visit, and the people you’ll meet along the way. Of course your logbook will document the basic facts about your training and experience, like aircraft type & registration numbers, the identifiers of the airports you visit, and detailed flight times. While the logbook entries satisfy the requirements of the FAA, there’s so much more you can document along the way.
Digital cameras were just gaining popularity when I started flight training in 1999. Growing up I was always interested in photography, so I made sure to always have my big Sony with me for every flight. And today it’s even easier with the great quality pictures that can be quickly taken with an iPhone, Android or other smartphone. Looking back I’m glad I made the effort to take hundreds of aviation photos, from the day of my first solo to the ATP checkride, and of many trips in between. Here are some ideas for pictures to take when the opportunity arises:
- Aircraft – get photos of each of the aircraft you fly, both of the exterior and instrument panel.
- People – I keep a photo record of all my instructors, along with the friends and family that I’ve taken flying, with the airplane in the shot of course.
- Milestones – first solos, certificates, and new ratings; these are a must for the photo journal.
- Dynamic Weather – look for interesting cloud formations, distant thunderstorms and morning valley fog.
- Scenic Airports – I like to get shots both from 1,000’ above the airport looking down, and another on short final (who would have guessed Meigs Field in Chicago was going to close when I took the picture above in 2003?)
- Sunsets/Sunrise – these never get old, and the dynamic colors make each one unique.
- Cockpit shots – it’s always fun to get shots of the altimeter the first time you’re above 10,000’, a picture of the GPS screen on international flights when crossing the US border and shots of groundspeed indications with an exceptionally strong tailwind (how else is someone going to believe you were doing 180 knots in a Cessna 172???)
Ten years ago you would have had to spend thousands of dollars to get mediocre video (by today’s standards) from the cockpit. Now for as little as $299 you can get a GoPro portable HD camera that easily mounts just about anywhere in the cockpit and records high-quality HD video. For those who want the best picture and sound, you can spend a little more to add the NFlightcam Kit for GoPro, which adds a lens filter to eliminate prop distortion and an audio cable to record the intercom and ATC audio. Once you have a camera set up, here are some ideas for what to shoot:
- Takeoffs/Landings – position the camera out the front for an exciting pilot’s view at interesting airports.
- Pilot & Passengers – mount the camera so that it records you flying and the passenger riding along – great especially for someone’s first flight in a GA airplane.
- Terrain – position the camera pointed out the side window towards the wing when climbing or descending through mountainous terrain.
- Instrument Panel – this makes for great review for instrument students during training.
- Flight Training – mount the camera in a way to see either the flight controls, or outside the window to review your performance after flight lessons.
For those that already have an iPhone, consider using this to record the video from your flights. The iPhone 4S and 5 both record full 1080p HD video that often looks as good or better than dedicated video cameras. You’ll want to secure it in the cockpit for a stable picture, and to do that I’d recommend the NFlightcam accessory kit for iPhone. This includes a mounting cradle, prop distortion reduction filter, and an audio cable to record intercom and ATC audio from the flight. The main drawback with recording video on the iPhone is that you’ll need to have some free space available on your phone to store the video. To give you a frame of reference, 10 minutes of video recording on the iPhone requires about 1.4GB of free space.
One last important point – make sure to back up your pictures and video files. You’ll most likely transfer them first to your computer for organization and review. I highly recommend you then back these memories up to either an external hard drive, or to an online “cloud” based storage. Computer hard drives don’t last forever, and your flight photo journal and video logs would be impossible to replace.
For more information on using video cameras in the cockpit, check out Sporty’s in-depth webinar on the subject: