Thursday, March 25, 2010

Trippin' the Light (Sport) Fantastic

My medical recertification is palpably closer; I've already started the preparation (which mostly means no caffeine, so I ate some chocolate with breakfast) for tomorrow's treadmill test. Then comes the angiogram, the bundling of the reports, and off it all goes to Oklahoma City for the FAA docs to consider. I can't run anymore due to rheumatoid arthritis, but I have been walking and biking, so I'm pretty confident.

But being confident won't remove one hole in my certification: I need a 14CFR61.56 Flight Review, usually called a BFR. We're supposed to get the review very two years, but, as one of my instructors used to say, "there are a lot of ways to skin that cat," and for the past fifteen years or so I have either added a rating or passed a 14CFR135.293 pilot proficiency check.

(Another method is to do something with the FAA's WINGS program, but there are two problems with this. First, the redesign of the WINGS program has made it awkward and confusing, to say the least. The other problem is that WINGS, at least in its previous form, demanded experience but no proficiency. I have seen pilots complete the WINGS program whom I would not have signed off for a BFR.)

After all of the "automatic" BFRs it was hard to remember what to do, but I had a plan. Richard Neves, a local instructor, has a 1946 Ercoupe, and has been flying its wheel pants off giving Light Sport instructions. It's a pretty airplane, and I have been looking for an excuse to fly it. What better excuse than a BFR?

So I called Richard and told him I needed a BFR. There was a little serendipity: he needed one, too. So we could trade.

Another exception to the BFR regulation is that current Flight Instructors are not required to have any ground instruction during the flight review. The idea is that instructor recertification, required every two years, makes the review superfluous. I don't agree: bad habits can form pretty quickly. In our case, I needed instruction on Ercoupe systems, so I got an hour's ground while observing Richard's teaching style and knowledge of systems and regulations. Sounds like a pair of good BFRs to me.

The 'coupe has no flaps and giant ailerons, about 3/4 of the span. And, originally, the ailerons and rudder were connected, so it is always coordinated. Some owners have added rudder pedals, but Richard's still has the single brake pedal on an otherwise smooth cockpit floor.

Then we flew. Having no rudder pedals is a big adjustment. It took a while to get the hang of steering with my hands while taxiing, but that was minor compared to my big error: when Richard pulled the engine on me (right after doing lots of stalls, such a classic flight instructor move), I picked a nice field right below us, tried to restart, and approached high, thinking that I could slip it in! Oops! You can't slip without rudder pedals!

We did a ton of landings, trading off on the controls. He showed me how to do a steep power off approach; the 'coupe is brick with the engine idling, so those work out well.

After two hours of stalls, steep turns, engine failures, crosswind landings, and chit-chat about the state of aviation we signed each other off and called it a day.

I was surprised and disappointed to hear Richard say that I was the only local instructor who was embracing light sport flying. Perhaps my medical woes have made me more open-minded, but my interest in LSA is more than selfish. I want to jam my family into the Cherokee Six and fly off on vacation, night and IFR if necessary, and that's not possible with light sport privileges. But I also want to take my friends and families for hops in the Ercoupe. It is easy to fly, it has an intriguing funky air about it, and it has a big glass canopy, meaning almost as much sight-seeing as in a glider or fighter. It's both the past and future of flying. Thinking back most of my private pilot students were really interested in light sport privileges: day VFR, two seats, going-to-visit-your-cousin-in-Twin Falls flying. This is a way to get more people into flying, and it has to be good for all of us.

When the medical comes, and with it light sport privileges, the Ercoupe gives me a new recruiting tool. No, that's incorrect, that's corporate language, so I take it back. The Ercoupe gives me a new way to help people have fun "messing about in small planes," to quote Richard Collins paraphrasing The Wind in the Willows. And fun is what it's all about.

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At March 25, 2010 at 7:46 PM , Blogger Doug Hindman Jr. said...

I really liked the blog post and I am glad to see a CFI giving Sport Pilot and LSA's some attention. I wish more in the CFI community would learn about the certifcate. I earned my SP certificate a year and half ago and have been astounded by the lack of knowledge about LSA and Sport Pilot within the aviation community. SP and LSA are about the joy of flight and that is the reason many of us learned to fly in the first place. I think you have it right in that it is a great tool to help share that joy we call flight.

Happy Flying,


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