Sunday, December 20, 2009

Is it Flight Review Time Again?

As a skilled and knowledgeable pilot, I really shouldn't worry about getting a biennial flight review, but I do. The last actual BFR that I had was four years ago as I used the FAA Wings Program two years ago in lieu of a BFR. Four years ago, I was finishing up my instrument rating, but I couldn't get the practical completed in time, so I had to do a BFR only two weeks before my instrument practical. Consequently, I couldn't take advantage of the F.A.R.'s provision for using a rating in place of a BFR. As I recall, during that BFR, my instructor asked me all sorts of questions about the regulations, airspace, etc. He focused on the typical things that would have been in the oral portion of a private pilot examination.

With that distant event in my mind, I prepared for this BFR by reviewing my private pilot exam preparation manual. As it turned out, I didn't need to.

The instructor that I flew with was a fairly young CFII with the usual aspirations of flying for the airlines. Before we flew, he explained that the BFR required one hour of ground instruction plus one hour in the air. He told me that for the ground, he would go over some changes to the FARs. He then sent me out to preflight.

The ground portion was exactly as he described. He talked about some changes including changes to VFR sectional charts in the colors that are used to describe certain types of airspace. He also explained that some of the charity flight requirements had also changed. Lastly, he explained that the medical certification time frames had changed for some people, but since I'm 47, the changes don't benefit me - my 2nd class medical must be redone every twenty-four calendar months. That was about it for the ground school other than a few hanger stories.

Like everyone else at North Florida, he was aware of my jackass maneuver back in July when I allowed the wingtip to encounter the corner of a hanger while taxiing causing minor damage. He had heard an incorrect rumor that the FAA had wanted to reexamine me and wanted to know the details of that. I explained that it wasn't me although the owner of the flight school had expressed interest in checking out my flying, but we had not been able to connect.

Then it was time to fly. We started out by going over a very detailed emergency procedure. If we lost power before 500 feet, we would try to land on the nearest flat place straight ahead such as highway 9-A or St. Johns Bluff Road. If we had passed 700 feet MSL (which is close to 700 feet AGL), then we would attempt to turn around and land, we would also attempt to restart the aircraft if time permitted. He was very concerned about safety and it was refreshing to go over the exact details of what we would do in an emergency.

It was a beautiful VFR day with light winds. We departed to the southeast and made a left turn to the south. There were four or five other aircraft nearby according to the TIS and we maneuvered to avoid them. After leaving Craig's class D airspace, we turned east towards the beach. He instructed me to make a couple of clearing turns, we picked out an emergency landing area and he asked me to make a steep turn to the right and one to the left. I haven't practiced this maneuver in about five or six months, but I used to be very good at it. This time, though, I had a bit of trouble maintaining altitude. He then took the controls and showed me that I should immediately add some nose up trim and a little power as I roll in to the 45 degree bank. So we did that a few more times with acceptable results.

Next he had me do a power off stall and that worked out fine although I didn't give the plane full power in the recovery. We did another and that, too, was fine. He asked me if I had ever had spins demonstrated to me. I knew that in this Cessna 172SP, spins were only permitted when operating in utility weight and balance category. With full fuel, there was no way we would be in utility category. So I explained to him that during my private pilot training years ago, a seasoned instructor had demonstrated spins. I also told him that there was an incident at Sterling within the past year where an instructor was teaching a CFI candidate and they had entered a spin and almost could not break the spin. Both the instructor and student were terrified. I believe that it is likely that the plane was either overweight for utility category or had a rearward center of gravity, or both. Although Cessna's are extremely stable aircraft, a cg that is too far back will make a spin difficult to break. I suspect that the instructor wanted to demonstrate a spin, but I probably spoiled his fun.

Next, he had me demonstrate a power on stall, which I did. He then told me that the FAA had been telling instructors that the problem with power on stalls is that they usually occur in a turn rather than in a straight climb. So he described what he was doing as he took the controls and showed a power on stall in a turn. I was required to demonstrate this when I got my private pilot certificate, although it was something that I had never received training on prior to that time. One critical aspect of all stalls is that you MUST maintain coordinated flight. No skids or slips should be indicated. If flight is not coordinated, there is a good possibility that the plane will spin when one wing stalls before the other. I noticed as he demonstrated that the turn coordinator was not at all centered and I commented on it. I almost added the proper rudder control when he finally centered the ball (or the triangle that takes the place of the ball in the G1000 panel). We made it through that stall without incident and he decided it was time for pattern work.

I got the ATIS report and made the appropriate adjustments to the altimeter setting and we headed back to Craig. We began by making a standard landing, but we were tangled up with three or four other aircraft at various stages of landing. I was instructed to enter a left downwind for runway 14 as we approached from the southeast. About 3 miles out, the tower controller advised me to make a right 360 right were I was so he could get the aircraft spaced out. I did my turn and then entered the left downwind for 14. We were cleared for the option behind two other aircraft. I touched down softly, held the nose off until the speed dropped a bit, lowered the nose, retracted the flaps, adjusted the trim and gave full power and we were airborn for our next try.

On subsequent trips around the pattern, we executed four additional landings and one go-around. We did a dead stick landing from pattern altitude that required me to turn to the numbers, then execute a forward slip to lose altitude until we were close enough to the ground.

My instructor was watching the clock closely and once we had the minimum time requirement satisfied, we landed and taxied to the ramp.

The end result is that I'm good for another twenty-four calendar months.

One hour of ground one hour of air instruction. Good flying!

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad the instructor didn't spin your plane! That would be a violation of the FARs unless:
    1) You were both wearing parachutes or
    2) You were receiving flight instruction for a certificate or rating which requires a spin demonstrate (which would be only the CFI rating).
    An alternative to a Flight Review is the FAA Wings program, which eliminates the 1 hour of ground, saving you time and money. Details are at