Sunday, December 11, 2011

Flight Review

Here in the USA, pilots are required to have a flight review (61.56) with an instructor every two years (hence the acronym BFR, for Biennial Flight Review). Pilots flying under 14CFR135 - that is, charter pilots - are required to take an annual review (135.293) from an FAA-designated Check Airman in every type of aircraft they fly. Over the past ten years, most of my flight instruction has been flight review of one kind or another (I was a Check Airman for a 135 operator for many years). While 61.56 leaves everything to the instructor's discretion (which could mean a bottle of Jack Daniels and a recent photo of the pilot in an aircraft), 135.293 (supplemented by FAA manuals) provides a lot more detail of what's required.

So what happens when I sit down to do a BFR with a private pilot? The first thing I keep in mind is the old saying from John and Martha King: "Don't hit anything, and don't stall." But as usual the devil is in the details.

The ground exercise is to have the pilot plan a cross-country. "Don't you have a maiden aunt in Seattle that you visit?" Planning a flight from eastern Idaho to Seattle enables us to review runway requirements, weather, airspace, special use airspace, runway incursion avoidance, fuel management, TFRs, oxygen use, currency ("recent experience"), and a host of other operating rules and practices.

The other thing is that the world of flight planning is changing rapidly: I developed a new iPad flight planning hack on Friday, which I'll write about after I try it in anger.

"Do a weight-and-balance, too, please." That one explains itself. The key thing I want to review is the shocking effect of high weight on performance.

And now comes the first problem: too many pilots show up at the airport without the flight planning and without the weight-and-balance. Now I'm going to have to charge you for my time while you do it. And, we'll be pushing daylight and everyone's busy schedules. It's likely that the flying part will have to be postponed.

[I recently tried to do a night BFR with a pilot who did not have an instrument rating. This was not a good idea. The only part that went well was when he was practicing instrument flying "under the hood."]

What about the flying part? I worry about the things that cause accidents, which are well-known to be loss of control, VFR-into-IFR, fuel management, and low level maneuvering. So the typical flight goes like this:

  • Fly to the practice area under the hood. Do some standard rate turns. [During a recent BFR I noticed that nobody had put the pilot under the hood since 1999!]
  • Steep turns. [This addresses basic handling. It usually goes OK.]
  • Stalls and slow flight
  • engine failure. [This generally goes poorly because pilots haven't thought about it in two years. I now think I should review this on the ground before we fly, because we often have to do it over in flight. I worry more about choosing a field and setting up a good approach than about best glide speed, since glide performance is rather robust. I spent yesterday down low looking at several lines of wires between us and the "chosen" (actually, default by that point) field.]
  • Turns around a point. [A little review of safe low level maneuvering]
  • Traffic patterns

I developed a standard evaluation flight for 135 pilots that works well for Instrument Proficiency Checks. It goes like this, almost all under the hood.

  • Steep turns
  • Stalls
  • Unpublished hold. [If a pilot has problems with orientation this will expose them. I recently did a published-but-unfamiliar hold during a practice session and was surprised at how difficult it was.]
  • ILS approach to a missed approach
  • engine failure: in a twin this happens climbing through 500' AGL, in a single it happens on the downwind

This is not a complete check, but it tells us what to focus on for the rest of the check.

Did I miss anything?

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At December 11, 2011 at 1:35 PM , Blogger Ben Cardon said...

Sounds good to me. I used to throw a random emergency or mechanical issue in the mix that would test their level of systems knowledge a bit, possibly a crosswind landing and they are good to go. To go along with your last sentence Jim, its amazing how good you become at zeroing in on other deficiencies by doing just those maneuvers.

At December 30, 2011 at 7:04 AM , Anonymous Svetlana @ Cheap Flights Canada said...

That was interesting to learn about pilots training. Always admired you, guys! Wondering if you get shivers while operating a plane or is it easy to get used to?


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