By Bruce Chien
Ugh. Youve remembered to get your medical taken care of and now theres that pesky biennial flight review. What a pain! You know you fly perfectly well and have not had a problem, so why do you have to do this every two years?
Well, to begin with, you dont. There are a number of other things you can do. For example, Wings. FAR 61.56(e) lets you know that the holder of documented completion of an FAA sponsored pilot proficiency award program need not accomplish the flight review required by this section. The problem is that this will take the better part of a whole day, which busy people sometimes dont want to afford.
Some individuals who have sufficient time and budget opt to continue the ratings quest. One acquaintance has not had a flight review for a decade, having passed Commercial, ASE-Seaplane, Flight Instructor, CFI-Instrument, and CFI-multi checkrides roughly every two years. Thats 61.56(d).
But for the most of us, the Biennial Flight Review is a reality. FAR 61.56 lays down the outline: 1 hour of ground school, covering a review of the operating rules in parts 91 and 61, and then a review of those maneuvers and procedures that, at the discretion of the person giving the review, are necessary for the pilot to demonstrate the safe exercise of the privileges of the pilot certificate.
This means the CFI or check airman will, if he is satisfied, attest to your ability to exercise your certificate safely. The idea is, if possible, to teach to proficiency; its not a checkride.
Rarely have I had to refuse to sign off the endorsement. When the CFI refuses the signoff, it simply becomes dual instruction and gets logged as such. Theres no pink slip.
Usually, however, when the pilot doesnt get signed off, its because the CFI is not confident that the pilot wont be involved in an accident. In that case, no CFI wants to have the last signature in the pilots logbook.
On the Ground
One reason the pilot doesnt get signed off is that the aircraft flunks.
Make sure you can demonstrate that the aircraft is airworthy. When I give a BFR, I insist on logbooks, annual, satisfaction of next due notations, inoperative equipment placarded and logged, and evidence of insurance. Youd be amazed at what people forget.
And so the ground school begins. The first order of business is to desk-fly a current sectional. For example, look at the current sectional of a flight 40 miles from my home base, over to Galesburg. (You did bring current charts, right?)
The pilot has to show some familiarity with the charts. For example, I might ask, What does the magenta dashed circle, about this nearby untowered airport, mean?
No, its no longer a control zone, for you old timers. Ill also ask what the daytime visibility minimums for this class of airspace are. Don t know?
Well, heres a copy of the FARs. Look in 91.155: Class G is 1 mile and clear of clouds. Remember, this is untowered. So you can go out on a 1,000-foot, two-miles visibility day and work the pattern?
See the two dog ears? That means additional airspace is protected for instrument approaches, in this case the ILS Rwy 3 and VOR and GPS approaches to 21. Now also notice the notation: See Notams/Directory for Class E (sfc) eff hrs. Thats a clue.
At certain times this airport is a Class E and is controlled by Center down to the surface. Look up the minimums for Class E: Its 3 miles, 500 below, 1,000 above and 2,000 lateral. So, if youre out in 1 mile and clear of clouds at a time when the airport is actually class E, youre gonna bust when the airliner comes in on the ILS and finds himself face to face with you.
Remember the airliner is talking to Center, not CTAF, until he breaks out of the clag. He isnt going to hear you. And, his complaint is going to stick because the FAA will retrieve the AWOS record. Remember, the machine takes precedence over what Joe Pilot says the visibility was.
Do you know the hours that its Class E? Do you know where to find it? Its in the A/FD, of course, but do you even own one?
So, now lets say youre out flying in better weather, a ceiling of 1,100 and 3 miles. Can you legally stay 500 feet below that deck? Well, over unpopulated areas, yes. Thats 600 agl. But over populated areas, where the minimum is 1,000 feet agl, its impossible (see 91.119b and c).
So watch out over the city to the east of the airport and look for the microwave towers to the south.
How about flight following? Do you know how to find the center frequency for your locale? Remember that only some approach control frequencies are on the sectional. Its back to the A/FD.
Anyone who owns a current one has probably perused it and sure enough, there it is: Quad Cities Approach 118.2, 1100-0500Z, and Chicago Center, 135.6, 0500-1100Z. Oh, and by the way, notice the unusual CTAF: 123.0. Say youre arriving at dusk, do you know how to turn on the lights?
And, this brief discussion didnt even touch on the not so Temporary Flight Restricted zones. Do you know how to find them?
In the Air
Okay, enough of the bench. Heres my personal list of my absolute minimum of maneuvers I expect to see from a VFR-only private pilot. These are the maneuvers for which the outcome must never be seriously in doubt:
First, a power-off landing from abeam the numbers at 1,000 feet agl in the traffic pattern, to a full stop. The aircraft must be re-useable without an A&P.
Next, a standard-rate 180-degree turn under the hood, staying within 100 vertical feet. If the aircraft is VFR only, but has a turn coordinator, this is a timed turn.
A successful balked landing. Slow flight demonstrating the use of rudder, as opposed to aileron. Power off and power on stall recovery. A tailwheel pilot gets to demonstrate wheel and full stall landings – with some exceptions for airplane types that dont handle one or the other safely.
The list varies by pilot qualification and type of aircraft. The IFR operator of an Aerostar is going to get quite a bit more. Hes going to get the above with two engines working and again with one caged – and likely under the hood. The Aerostar pilot will have to discuss and demonstrate at cruise altitudes how hell cope with electrical failure (wheres the fuel?), with hydraulic failure (try taxiing, its fun!).
There will be a throttle-only engine cut at 40 percent of takeoff speed. Hell get the Vmc demo (with my toe under the rudder pedal). If he recovers by powering down the producing engine, its great. If he recovers by adding dead engine power, I want him to discuss it.
The number of permutations is nearly infinite, but the bottom line is that when you subsequently bend metal and the FSDO calls me up, I want to be able to defend the quality of both my flight review and of your skills.
But lets not go there. After all, the real purpose of the exercise is to get something out of this beyond the legal signoff.
Make no mistake, a good CFI is looking beyond the signoff, as well. A quick scan of your logbook reveals the kind of flying you typically do.
Do you tail drag around for kicks? Do you fly for point-to-point utility? Do you mostly make short trips for the inflated $150 dollar hamburger?
The instructor is also looking to teach you something. The rule of recency states, quite correctly, that a task reviewed most recently will be well reinforced. So lets look elsewhere, because after the basics are demonstrated, the goal of a BFR is to teach to proficiency.
Tales from the Front
On one recent BFR, the pilot was a 250-hour VFR only operator of a cherry 1977 Mooney M20J. He and his wife frequently use the aircraft for 250 nm trips that would take four hours in the car. He operates from 3,500-foot strips routinely.
After 20 minutes of air work, his basic mastery of the aircraft was clear. But I was bothered that he always cruise-climbed at about 110 mph, even in the first 1,000 feet. He was not anticipating any failures. So, I asked him where he would land when his engine quit at 1,000 feet agl.
Since this was happening at his home strip, I expected the usual responses, such as, turn right and go for the river or the county fairgrounds. He did know to say, nose down to best glide speed, look for a spot nearly straight ahead, talk, and try a restart. That was pretty good. But he could do better.
We did a series of low approaches at Vy, 1,000 feet above the numbers. At midfield, I asked him to pour on the departure power and climb out to 2,000 agl, where I was going to close the throttle. He was to make it back to the strip.
On the first try, he was 600 agl at the departure end. Had it been a real power failure, his turnback would have ended in the trees. With some coaching, on the second try he cleaned it up, pitched up to Vy then down to Vy, coarsened the prop, put it into a 45-degree coordinated 210-degree turn into the wind and crossed the numbers at 900 feet.
On the third try, he climbed out not at 110 mph, but at Vy. He made it back at 1,200 feet. He was wearing the big grin. Of course he had forgotten to verbalize throwing out the gear and opening the door, and he didnt flatten the prop for climb-out, so he asked for it a fourth time.
During the course of this exercise, I had a chance to see steep turns, power-off management, and review emergency procedures (door open, fuel off, electrical off, shoulder harnesses, etc). His comment: You may have saved my life (someday). And, that is precisely the point of the BFR.
This pilot exercised and rehearsed operations in an area in which he had no recency at all. He wont be trying any 800-foot turnbacks. But he will make the 1,000-foot turnback; Ive recently seen him departing plainly more nose up than before.
Another big problem is the pilot of the heavy who has transitioned to a 3,500 pound aircraft. After a thorough briefing, and pulling the power abeam the numbers, he continued to fly the downwind to the base turn. Midway through the base, he said, Were not going to make it.
So I said, Add power, lets go do this again. Second time, same thing. The third time, I asked, What do you do in your type when you lose power?
The reply: Why, we eject, of course.
My question: Have you checked out the rocket seat in this Bonanza lately?
On the fourth try, upon power removal, there was an immediate turn to the runway and a good landing. This pilot had all the skills. He simply had them so far buried by years of eight-engine management, that he could not re-awaken them by himself.
Though terrified of stalls, he recovered decently. I dont imagine they stall heavy bombers very often. I left alone the fact that he always landed at 100 mph. He had the discipline to never go in to short strips. Why would I ever do that?
One pilot wanted to go into OHare. He was perfectly competent but was just gun shy. Riding the ILS 4 down from 8,000 feet as number 7 in the queue, 737 in trail, was simple enough, but getting slowed down so that the gear doors wouldnt come off was another matter all together.
And so I said, Oh, by the way, did I mention you have to remember to put the gear down? Because, you havent done it yet and if you dont do it right now itll close the runway.
Theres a pilot wholl be hard to flummox when he does it with his family. This pilot had the basic skills but had never had to put them together in this manner.
Another pilot has good mastery of the aircraft, but his uncontrolled airport procedures were hideous. He never made a radio call, never listened. His lookout was only fair. He was ripe for a ground collision at midfield. He probably still is.
I did not sign him off because his attitude could not be fixed in an hour.The last example is that of the overmatched pilot. This is the fellow with more wallet than judgment or skill. The deficits are so large that I cannot possibly teach to competency, and he is not receptive.
This is an easy call. My fingers are loosely resting on the yoke, not in my lap. My left hand is ready to override the power quadrant. Sadly, this gentleman died in a twin turboprop with only 650 hours in his logbook.
So, to make the most of your BFR, do some preparation. At very least, bring a current A/FD and sectional. When was the last time you did a stall recovery? When was the last time you did slow flight?
Do you remember the FARs on oxygen? Do you remember the requirement for annualing an ELT? Do you understand the difference between logging pilot in command time as manipulator of the controls and being legal pilot in command? Do you remember the restrictions on use of an IFR alternate if you are relying on an IFR-certified GPS substitution at your primary?
Remember, the CFI wants also to teach you something new. But if youre not ready, hes stuck with those maneuvers and procedures that … are necessary for the pilot to demonstrate the safe exercise of the privileges of the pilot certificate.
That means both on the ground and in the air.
Im always amazed by the number of airmen who approach their BFR like a stop at a restaurant. No preparation, no forethought. To get the most out of your BFR, you need to be certain that the basic skills floor is already, plainly there.
Then what you have is truly elective dual time, and your instructor can work with you to make the most of it. But you also need to determine ahead of time what you would like to get out it. The best pick is to do something other than what you do most of the time.
A good rule of thumb is that a BFR should find your rusty spots and hammer them into something shiny and new. And thats far more valuable when the chips are down than a signature in your logbook.
Also With This Article
Click here to view “Tricks and Traps.”
-Bruce Chien is a CFII and AME who owns a Piper Seneca II.