Sunday, April 30, 2006

BFR Complete - On to the Instrument Rating!

2.3 hours VFR on Thursday. The first time back in the plane after two months of nose-to-the-grindstone work and family. Got to love the family (and, frankly, what I do for a living is actually a lot of fun), but it means less time tearing around the skies.

I flew well, even for someone who has flown in the last two months. The needles looked like they were painted on at a couple of points.

This was the completion of my biannual flight review, which all private pilot certificate holders have to go through every couple of years in order to maintain currency. It technically consists of at least an hour on the ground and an hour in the air, but I spent two hours on each, simply because I haven't flown much of late and really wanted to knock the rust off. Jamie, my instructor, basically conducted a full run through the private pilot practical test standards or "PTS."

We started out the BFR by flying the initial elements of a cross-country flight that I had planned. We flew until halfway past the second checkpoint by pilotage (which means looking out the window, looking at the map, and checking our calculations of how long each of the legs should be taking) and then Jamie diverted me to Livingston County, about 18 miles south of our position at the time. I did pretty much everything right except that the winds aloft were not as advertised, so I found myself about three miles east of my intended destination by the time we got there. That said, Livingston County airport is located right next to I-96, which is a major east-west divided highway. At worst, If I couldn't find the airport by the time we reached I-96, I could have found it by flying back and forth along the highway for awhile.

Afterward, we did the high airwork. That means stalls in both takeoff and landing configurations, steep turns, and slow flight. It was a blustery day, and the air currents wanted to pick up and drop one wing or the other pretty frequently, which is a problem when you're flying the airplane at about 42 knots and any substantial increases in pitch attitude or load factor would have caused us to stall. Nevertheless, I kept it under control and kept the stall horn going the whole time.

The low airwork was fine. S-turns along a road, turns around a point, and a rectangular pattern, all compensating for the wind so that the shapes were uniform over the ground. We did those over the Ford Proving Grounds near Romeo, Michigan. Pilots in the area like to do ground reference maneuvers over the proving grounds because there's always a strip of pavement somewhere below on which to land if there's ever a problem. But I sure could forgive an engineer on the ground if he or she thought we were from some rival automaker. I told Jamie, "Hey, man, the least you could do while I'm flying the ground reference is pretend to be working a video camera."

We did normal, short-field, and soft-field landings and that was it. A good debrief, too. Jamie pointed out where I was rusty and I told him that I was happy to be there and that I’d fix my safeties.

The biannual flight review is one way that the Federal Aviation Regulations help keep pilots – and people on the ground – safe. Technically, a pilot could pass his private checkride or his biannual flight review and then not fly again until two years later and he’d be completely legal. In fact, provided that he had three takeoffs and landings in the same category, class, and type of aircraft within the preceding 90 days (and that could be that last day), he could carry passengers and be completely legal to fly. So it’s important to know and understand that a BFR, though helpful, is a bare minimum level of training and assurance and that most pilots can, should, and do get much more recurrent training.

Now it’s back to instrument training and pursuit of my goal of completing my instrument rating before the end of the summer!

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