What a DPE Wants to See on Your Practical Test Beyond Mechanical Skills

Today we’re pleased to feature a guest post from CFI and DPE Jason Blair. Check out his previous contributions to the LTFB here. He writes his own blog at

Every practical test requires that an examiner see the applicant perform all the required maneuvers within established standards. This is really the obvious part of a practical test. What is less obvious are some of the other things that a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) is looking for during your practical test.

Passing a practical test is not just about mechanically performing maneuvers, but about demonstrating knowledge and skills that are at a level commensurate with the particular rating or certificate sought. This includes decision–making skills, resource usage, and a mental approach to flying that is focused on safety.

Aeronautical Decision-Making
A part of every practical test standards is a special emphasis area that addresses aeronautical decision-making. Part of being a good pilot is being able to analyze information and make decisions. Is the weather good enough? Is the aircraft airworthy? Is the planned route the best route considering all factors?

Examiners give scenarios that include cross-country flight planning, weight and balance considerations, and weather factors to name just a few. Sometimes we combine them. The role of the pilot on the practical test (and every time they fly after that) is to be the decision-maker who will gather all information pertinent to the flight and evaluate the risk of whether ultimately going flying is the right decision. A pilot should exhibit safe decision-making based on a process of consideration.

PIC Responsibility
On practical test day, the applicant, not the examiner, is the pilot-in-command. The applicant needs to show the examiner that they could make pilot-in-command decisions if the examiner (or their instructor) were not on board the aircraft to do it for them. Showing that you can be the PIC is a big part of the test, so be the PIC on the day of your test! Take charge and show the examiner that you have what it takes to be the one should be making the decisions to fly on your own.

Use Available Resources
No pilot knows everything, and a good pilot knows when they should be using an appropriate resource for needed information. Having an AFD, appropriate IFR or VFR charts, aircraft POH or AFM documents, or other appropriate resources with you and using them knowledgeably is a good way to show you have the right approach to flying. Reference the AFM or POH to calculate aircraft performance data. Refer to charts to plan the assigned cross-country (if applicable) and know what information on the chart affects the planning. Have a current FAR with you to look up any regulatory questions you may have. Knowing how to use these resources is as important as having them available. Understanding how to use them all will show the examiner that you are capable of interpreting these resources after you pass your test.

A Focus on Safety
As important as anything else, a focus on safety in all operations will put the right foot forward on every practical test. Don’t fly in unsafe conditions. Don’t operate the aircraft in a way the is contradictory to manufacturer’s or FAA regulations and recommendations. Think about the safety implications of your planned operations. Display a willingness and a desire to operate safely in all your future operations. An examiner that believes the applicant is going to be careless in their operation of the aircraft, unsafe as they fly with their passengers or by themselves, or negligent when it comes to following rules and regulations is going to be far less likely want to pass an applicant. Demonstrating a desire to safely operate shows and examiner that the applicant is worthy of the rating or certificate they are seeking.

Flying is as much about attitude and behaviors as it is about physical skill and knowledge development. The approach to flying an applicant displays is as much what an examiner wants to see on the day of the practical test as is the rest of the requirements that must be completed.

Jason Blair is an active single and multi-engine instructor and FAA Designated Pilot Examiner with 4,800 hours total time and 2,700 hours instruction given. He has served on several FAA/Industry aviation committees and has and continues to work with aviation associations on flight training issues. He also consults on aviation training and regulatory efforts for the general aviation industry.

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CFI Brief: ADS-B Out Coverage Map

Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), or what the FAA is calling the future of air traffic control, is an enhanced aircraft management and tracking technology. This technology is currently available in various locations over the U.S. and will be required in all aircraft by 2020. In short ADS-B uses data from the already established GPS satellite network talked about in Monday’s posts along with ground stations  to pinpoint an aircraft’s position. The data is then automatically transmitted to air traffic controllers and pilots of other aircraft that are equipped with ADS-B capabilities. The ultimate goal is to increase safety and traffic flow in the national airspace system.

The video below describes the airspace in which ADS-B out will be required. After viewing the video you can follow the link to FAA’s NextGen ADS-B webpage where you can find the latest information, news, regulations, and even view the interactive ADS-B google map for yourself.


ADS-B Coverage Map

ADS-B General Information, Videos and News

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Aircraft Systems: GPS

The GPS can be a great aid for situational awareness in VFR operations. Today, we’ll introduce the basics of how the system works. We’ll go more in depth on using the GPS in future posts. Learn more about the GPS and more navigation systems and instruments in The Pilot’s Manual Volume 2: Ground School.

Precise point-to-point navigation is possible using satellite navigation systems that can compute aircraft position and altitude accurately by comparing signals from a global network of navigation satellites. The first global positioning systems (GPS) were designed for the U.S. Department of Defense, but in the early 1990s, GPS was made available for civil use. Later, full system accuracy was also made available.

Each satellite transmits its own computer code packet on frequency 1,575.42 MHz (for civilian use) 1,000 times a second. The satellite constellation typically guarantees that at least four satellites are in view and usable for positioning at any one time from any position on earth. GPS equipment pinpoints an aircraft’s horizontal position in lat.-long. coordinates, similar to other long-range navigation systems, such as VLF/Omega; in the case of most aviation units, it then turns the information into a graphical moving map display of the aircraft’s position in relation to surrounding airspace on an LCD or CRT screen. Most GPS receivers can also display a CDI presentation, along with track, present position, actual time (to an accuracy of a few nanoseconds), groundspeed, time and distance to the next waypoint, and the current altitude of the aircraft.

Signals from satellites are received to establish and aircraft's position.

Signals from satellites are received to establish and aircraft’s position.

GPS units have been approved for both en route and approach navigation, but, as with LORAN, not all units are
approved for anything other than situational awareness. IFR units must have their databases updated on a regular basis to remain IFR certified.

Nonprecision GPS approaches are available at most U.S. airports today. Precision GPS approaches using a ground station to augment the satellite signals is coming soon. This wide area augmentation system (WAAS) will allow GPS to be used as the primary NAVAID from takeoff through to approach.

Some manufacturers have produced multi-function displays (MFDs), which combine data from conventional flight instruments and on-board fuel/air data sensors for light aircraft.

The GPS has three functional elements:

  • a space segment;
  • a control segment; and
  • a user segment (the airborne receivers).
The GPS consists of three basic segments.

The GPS consists of three basic segments.

Space Segment
The space segment consists of a constellation of 24 satellites orbiting the earth at an altitude of just over 20,200 km (10,900 NM) in six, strategically defined orbital planes. The objective of the GPS satellite configuration is to provide a window of at least four satellites in view from any point on earth. The satellites orbit at an inclination angle of 55° (they cross the equator northeast bound at an angle of 55°), taking approximately 12 hours to complete an orbit, and the orbital position of each satellite is known precisely at all times.

The relative orbital positions of GPS satellites

The relative orbital positions of GPS satellites

Control Segment
The control segment includes monitoring stations at various locations around the world, ground antennas and up-links, and a master station. The stations track all satellites in view, passing information to a master control station, which controls the satellites’ clock and orbit states and the currency of the navigation messages. Satellites are frequently updated with new data for the compilation of the navigation messages transmitted to system users. Assuming the current level of space vehicle technology, the planned life span of a GPS satellite is around seven to eight years, but many function long after that.

User Segment (the Receiver)
The receiver identifies each satellite being received. Displays for the pilot vary from one GPS unit to another. Flight planning data is usually entered via an appropriate keypad on a control display unit (CDU) or control panel. The usual navigation information—i.e. position (POS), track (TRK), groundspeed (GS), EET, and, with TAS and MH input, wind direction and velocity—is displayed. The unit must also be capable of showing satellite status, satellites in view and being tracked,and signal quality.

GPS and NAV management receivers.

GPS and NAV management receivers.

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CFI Brief: IFR ATC Clearances

Last week, I promised you we would begin to expand upon the topic of IFR, particularly clearances. A clearance is simply an authorization from ATC to fly to an airport or fix via an assigned route and altitude. Any operation in controlled airspace under IFR requires the pilot to first obtain a clearance to do so.

The process of obtaining a clearance starts first with the pilot filling out an IFR flight plan. An IFR flight plan is identical to that of a VFR in that it will contain aircraft and route information. ATC will issue a clearance based off the information from the IFR flight plan. It’s important to understand though that the clearance may not be the exact route or altitude that you selected when filling out your IFR flight plan. ATC priority is traffic flow and aircraft separation so you may note changes in your clearance from what you originally filled.

Your clearance will typically be issued by ground control or clearance delivery for airports that have that frequency available. Clearance delivery is simply a control tower position responsible for transmitting departure clearances to IFR flights. Clearances can often be drawn out and long so having a CD frequency prevents an abundance of traffic on ground frequency.

An IFR clearance will contain in this order: your identification, the clearance limit (usually your destination airport), the departure procedure, altitudes, any holding instructions, any other special information, radio frequency and transponder code information. Because clearances are always issued in the same format a good memory aid to help you remember is CRAFT:

  • Clearance limit
  • Route (including DP, if any)
  • Altitude
  • Frequency
  • Transponder code

For example. ATC:
Mooney 3-7-3-Foxtrot cleared to the John Wayne airport;
After departure turn left heading 270, radar vectors mission bay VOR, as filled;
Climb and maintain 2,000 expect 4,000 one zero minutes after departure;
Departure frequency 119.2;
Squawk 4528

The above issued clearance from ATC follows the memory aid CRAFT. Now obviously that’s a lot of text to write down so it’s important to develop your own short hand that makes sense to you. You already know the order that the information is going to be coming at you so from there you can kind of fill in the blanks. This is how I would personally write down the above clearance.

TL 270, RV MZB, AF
2,000 / 4,000-10

As you can see, I put each CRAFT item on a new line. Some of my shorthand includes TL for “turn left” or TR for “turn right”, other people may just use an arrow. You also see RV for “radar vectors” and AF for “as filled”. My initial altitude was 2,000, eventually climbing to 4,000 in ten minutes, so I noted that with a 10 after the second altitude. Everybody has their own style, find one that works for you and stick with it, there’s no right or wrong way.

Now once your clearance is read to you by ATC you must read it back and do so in the identical order as it was given. This is done to make sure both parties are on the same page and the clearance was properly read and read back from both ATC and PIC.

Following the read back from the pilot-in-command that clearance has been accepted and ATC expects you to follow it. You may not deviate from that issued clearance unless an amended clearance is obtained, an emergency situation arises, or in response to a traffic and collision avoidance system resolution advisory.

For me this is fun stuff, I enjoy reading back clearances and interacting with ATC but it takes some getting used to at first. There are several live ATC feeds out there that you can listen in on. Check out, find a clearance deliver frequency and listen to the clearances. Practice your short hand and read back skills, you might even pick up a few tips from listening to other pilots, overall it’s a great way to gain some experience without paying for AVGAS.

Here are some additional examples of clearances and short hand from the Pilot’s Manual Volume 3: Instrument Flying (PM-3C).

Sample Clear



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Communication Procedures: Emergency Radio Procedures

How should you react to the unexpected? How should you ask for help? Today we’re talking about emergency radio procedures. This post comes from our textbook The Pilot’s Manual Volume 1: Flight School (PM-1B).

Request assistance whenever you have any serious doubt regarding the safety of a flight. Transmission should be slow and distinct, with each word pronounced clearly so that there is no need for repetition. This of course should apply to all radio transmissions, but it is more important in emergency situations. If you do find yourself in real difficulty, waste no time in requesting assistance from ATC or on the appropriate CTAF or UNICOM frequency. Timely action may avoid an even more serious emergency.

What is Considered to be an Emergency?
It is impossible to cover all the possibilities here. The declaration of an emergency by the pilot in command is an area for your operational judgment. Emergencies can be classified according to the urgency and to the degree of seriousness of the consequences.

As the pilot, you decide, but always err on the safe side. Some categories might be:

  • no urgency of time but need assistance, such as being uncertain of position and unable to confirm direction to proceed but with plenty of fuel and remaining daylight;
  • some urgency of time, such as uncertain of position with fuel reserves or remaining daylight less than an hour or so;
  • some urgency and potential for serious consequences, such as loss of oil pressure, rough-running engine or fuel depletion that may leave insufficient fuel to reach an airfield;
  • potential seriousness but not yet developed, such as some doubt about the serviceability of the aircraft or systems, or the medical condition of the pilot;
  • potential seriousness but no urgency, such as loss of primary attitude indicator with eight oktas of cloud but plenty of fuel and daylight; and
  • potential catastrophe and urgency, such as risk of loss of control due to reduced visibility or daylight or risk of controlled flight into terrain due to rising ground and lowering cloud base.

It is impossible to set hard-and-fast rules. If in doubt, tell someone what the potential problem is and do it earlier rather than later, when there is still plenty of time, fuel and daylight. If there is any urgency, formally declare an emergency, at least a pan-pan. If there is any risk of loss of control or injury, declare a mayday.

Declaring an Emergency
If an emergency arises, it is your responsibility as pilot in command to assess just how serious the emergency is (or could be) and to take appropriate safety action. Many emergencies require your immediate attention and occupy you fully for some moments, but it is advisable at the first opportune moment to tell someone. There are three degrees of emergency and, as pilot in command, you should preface your radio call with either:

  • mayday (repeated three times) for a distress call;
  • pan-pan (repeated three times) for an urgency call; and
  • security (repeated three times) for a safety call.

Distress Message (or Mayday Call)
Distress is the absolute top priority call. It has priority over all others, and the word mayday should force everyone else into immediate radio silence. Mayday is the anglicized spelling of the French phrase m’aidez! which means help me! When you require immediate assistance and are being threatened by grave and immediate danger, the following applies:

  • the mayday distress message should be transmitted over the air-ground frequency you are presently using;
  • if you are currently using a UNICOM or tower frequency and receive no response to your distress call, and if you have time, repeat the call on the area frequency as shown on the sectional chart;
  • if still no response, and if time permits, change frequency to 121.5 MHz (the international emergency frequency usually monitored by airliners and some ground stations) and repeat your distress call; and
  • if your aircraft is transponder-equipped, squawk code 7700 (the emergency and urgency transponder code) which, if you are in a radar environment, causes a special symbol to appear around your aircraft on the ATC radar screen and rings an alarm bell immediately alerting the ATC radar controllers.

Urgency Message (or Pan-Pan Call)
The urgency or pan-pan message is made over the frequency in use when an emergency exists that does not require immediate assistance. Typical situations when a panpan message is appropriate include the following:

  • experiencing navigational difficulties that require the assistance of ATC or flight service;
  • carrying a passenger on board that has become seriously ill and requires urgent attention;
  • seeing another airplane or a ship whose safety is threatened and urgent action is perhaps needed; and
  • making an emergency change of level in controlled airspace that may conflict with traffic below.

Safety Message (or Security Call)
There are few occasions when it would be necessary to transmit a security call. It is nonetheless useful to know of the existence of this type of message in the event that it becomes necessary to transmit one.

Loss of Radio Contact
In the event of a total radio failure, there is a standard system of light signals used for communications to and from the control tower.

Light gun signals

Light gun signals

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CFI Brief: An Introduction to the Instrument Rating

Federal Aviation Regulations Part 61 stipulates that no person may act as pilot-in-command (PIC) of a civil aircraft under IFR or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for visual flight rules (VFR) unless the pilot holds an instrument rating. The rating must be for the category of aircraft to be flown; e.g., airplane or rotorcraft.

In addition, any flight in Class A airspace (from 18,000 feet MSL to and including FL600) requires an instrument rating. VFR flight is not allowed in Class A airspace as I’m sure you’ve learned in your previous training.

Commercial airplane pilots who carry passengers for hire at night, or on cross-country flights of more than 50 nautical miles (NM), are also required to hold an instrument rating.

The instrument rating requirements are outlined in 14 CFR §61.65. It’s important to understand that the instrument rating is not a Pilot Certificate like Private Pilot or Commercial Pilot but rather a rating that can be added on to a certificate. Even though the instrument rating is not a certificate the training and testing process is still identical. You will first undergo ground and flight training, meet certain experience requirements and conclude with passing a computerized knowledge exam and finally your practical test or checkride as it is better known.

As an instructor one of the first things I like to discuss with instrument applicants are the differences between these four acronyms, VFR, IFR, VMC, and IMC.

Both VFR (Visual Flight Rules) and IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) are a set of rules and regulations that a pilot must follow or adhere to, based on the flight plan they file. If a Private Pilot with an Instrument Rating files a VFR flight plan he or she must adhere to those Visual Flight Rules even though they may be rated to fly under Instrument Flight Rules. To put that more simply, don’t fly into a cloud just because you are rated to do so.

VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions) and IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) are a prescribed set of weather conditions that ultimately determine whether flight will be allowed under VFR or IFR. Basic VFR weather minimums are listed under 14 CFR §91.155 (also shown below) and will describe the minimum VMC conditions for each type of airspace. Any conditions less those outlined in §91.155 are considered to be IMC, with few exceptions (which we will discuss at a later time). So if that same pilot from above checks the weather and determines the conditions to be IMC (less than those prescribed in §91.155) that pilot must file and obtain an IFR flight plan and clearance. If say an hour into the flight the pilot encounters beautiful clear skies or VMC the pilot is still required to operate under IFR as that is the flight plan in which he or she is operating on.

VFR Weather Minimums

VFR Weather Minimums

Let’s recap with two bullet points.

  • If operating under VFR you must maintain flight in VMC conditions.
  • If IMC conditions exist you must abide by IFR.

Next week we will begin to expand on this IFR topic and discuss communication procedures to include clearances which I have mentioned a few times throughout this post. So if you’re not sure what I mean by clearance just wait until next week for the discussion.



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IFR: Flight at Mid-Level Altitudes

Today we’re pleased to feature a guest post from CFI and DPE Jason Blair. Check out his previous contributions to the LTFB here. He writes his own blog at

Learning to fly in IFR conditions requires a great deal of study and skill development. Flying blind isn’t easy! But general instrument flight training typically focuses on low level flying skills, in effect, the basic building blocks of instrument flying that include basic flying skills, enroute navigation, and approach procedures. For many pilots, this is as far as their instrument flying goes. For professional pilots and pilots who seek to transition into bigger, faster, and higher-flying aircraft some knowledge gets skipped in the initial training that will be useful as they expand their flying envelopes. Transitioning to flying aircraft that fly at higher altitudes requires the development of some additional instrument pilot skills and awareness of additional procedures.

IFR flying at mid-level altitudes, such as above the oxygen requirements of 12,000’ MSL through approximately 25,000’ MSL, is between the altitudes that many general aviation aircraft fly and the altitudes that most jets fly (mostly over 30,000’ MSL). This is regularly accomplished in aircraft such as Cessna 414’s and 421’s, Piper Cheyennes, and King Airs to name only a few. These aircraft are typically pressurized, can climb to altitudes that most light GA aircraft cannot reach, go faster, and are regularly owner flown. While these flights may not require all of the same operational planning that higher jet flights do, some things do go beyond the basic IFR training that a pilot transitioning into these mid-level altitudes should consider.

High Altitude Enroute Charts
Most IFR training is conducted using low-altitude enroute charts, and take into consideration things like MEAs, MOCAs, and VOR airways during planning. As pilots fly higher, the use of high-altitude enroute charts becomes prudent and necessary for flight above 18,000’ MSL. Familiarization with high-altitude enroute charts has become easier than it was historically as more pilots transition to using digital EFB apps for their charting. Most applications allow the pilot to easily switch between high- and low-altitude enroute charts.

Some key points about high-altitude enroute charts:

  • “Terminal” VORs are not depicted
  • “Low Altitude” VORs will be depicted without a compass rose
  • Localizers are not depicted
  • Victor airways between low-altitude VORs are not depicted

The high-altitude enroute charts are typically used for longer distance planning. While many aircraft are not operating GPS for direct enroute capabilities, if a pilot is planning to use VOR systems, especially when operating off Victor airways, it is important for a pilot to remain aware of VOR service volumes when planning routes.

Planning Ahead for Descents
A descent from 8,000’ MSL to a ground elevation of 1,000’ MSL will happen much faster than one from FL250 to 1000 at the airport. Pilots transitioning to flight at mid-level altitudes will need to develop the skill of planning for a descent further out. This can be a critical planning phase of operating at these altitudes to allow for sufficient time to descent without having to “dive to get down” and risking high rates of descent that can potentially shock cool engines or just be very uncomfortable for any passengers.

Let’s put some math to this.

A pilot flying at 8,000’ that needs to descend to 3,000’ to begin an approach to an airport has to descend 5,000’. If the plan is to descend at 500’ per minute, this will take 10 minutes (5,000/500). A typical general aviation aircraft may fly this descent at 150 knots. During that 10 minutes (⅙ of an hour) the aircraft would travel 25 nautical miles (10/60 minutes x 150 knots).

If a pilot is descending from 25,000’ to 3,000’ to begin an approach to an airport, they have 22,000’ to descend. If a pilot wants to keep a stable descent rate of 500’ per minute, this will take them 44 minutes (22,000/500). If the aircraft is travelling at 200 knots in the descent, and the pilot plans to make the descent for 44 minutes (approximately ¾ of an hour – (44/60 minutes  x 200 knots)) this means that the pilot will have to begin the descent 150 miles away from the airport! If the descent is started any closer than that, either the aircraft will have to be slowed down or the descent rate increased.

The same math can be applied to climbing.

In many cases, it may take 100 or more miles to climb to a cruising altitude and equal or greater distances to plan for a descent. When transitioning to flight at mid-level altitudes, the flight profiles will include much longer climb and descent phases than lower-flying light general aviation aircraft. In some cases, the enroute cruise phase may not be much longer than either of the other phases.

A good general rule in planning is that if the enroute cruising phase is less than ⅓ the time of the entire flight, you have climbed higher than would be efficient over the distance travelled.

Slowing Down as You Go Down
You probably memorized it when you took your IFR knowledge test, but may not have used it since then. With higher-flying aircraft that can build up momentum in a descent, or just fly faster in general, there are times you need to slow down when descending from higher altitudes.

A friend of mine refers to this as “entering the school zone.”

When you “go down” you “slow down.”

FAR §91.117 requires an aircraft to be operated below 250 knots when below 10,000’ MSL and under 200 knots when in Class B, C, or D airspace unless authorized or required by ATC. The good news is that this is “indicated airspeed,” so if you have a tailwind that is helping push your ground speed above the maximums it can be bonus. The number on your airspeed indicator is the one that counts.

Greater Use of Arrival and Departure Procedures
Flying higher, longer distances and with new flight profiles will many times expose a pilot to more frequent use of arrival and departure procedures. These are more common at bigger airports with more traffic, but there is a good chance that if a pilot is flying a bigger, faster, more capable aircraft it is more likely that they will be going to these airports.

Arrival and departure procedures more commonly get assigned to aircraft flying at higher altitudes in an effort to help transition traffic from terminal areas to the enroute “Center” controllers that offer traffic separation and routing above 10,000’ MSL in most areas.

As a pilot expands to higher-altitude flying, these procedures may include altitudes, climb or descent rates, or additional routing that is less frequently experienced in lower-level flight operations.

In general, flying at higher altitudes becomes more procedural. When a pilot flies above FL180 (18,000’ MSL), it is mandatory to be on an IFR flight plan following IFR operational rules. The days of punching in a Direct-To on the GPS and heading out VFR without any additional planning are over.

While there is no doubt more that could be covered, these are a few things that pilots who are transitioning to flight at higher altitudes will need to brush up on or learn if they were not adequately covered in their initial IFR training.

Jason Blair is an active single and multi-engine instructor and FAA Designated Pilot Examiner with 4,800 hours total time and 2,700 hours instruction given. He has served on several FAA/Industry aviation committees and has and continues to work with aviation associations on flight training issues. He also consults on aviation training and regulatory efforts for the general aviation industry.

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CFI Brief: Changes to the Student Pilot Certificate

On Tuesday January 12th, 2016, the FAA issued a final rule changing the process in which a student pilot must obtain a student pilot certificate. Beginning April 1st, 2016, Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs) will no longer have the ability to issue student applicants a student pilot certificate. Now, rather than receiving a paper student pilot certificate or combination medical/student pilot certificate from your AME, applicants will receive a plastic certificate. This certificate will be similar in nature to all other pilot and flight instructor certificates like the one pictured below.


Student Pilot Certificate

14 CFR 61.85 outlines the new application process that the applicant must go through.

§61.85 Application.
An applicant for a student pilot certificate:
(a) Must make that application in a form acceptable to the Administrator; and
(b) Must submit the application to a Flight Standards District Office, a designated pilot examiner, an airman certification representative associated with a pilot school, a flight instructor, or other person authorized by the Administrator.

Let’s break it down into two easy steps.

1. As the student applicant you will need to fill out an application form known as an 8710-1 (Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application) or the electronic variant IACRA (Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application).

2. Next you must in person submit your completed application to one of the following, Flight Standards District Office, Designated Pilot Examiner, Certified Flight Instructor, or Airman Certification Representative.

A big difference now is the fact that you will not immediately be issued a certificate. Once the application is submitted the information will go through a security vetting by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Upon successful completion of the vetting process the information will be passed on to the Civil Aviation Registry who will then issue a plastic student pilot certificate to the applicant (the certificate will show up in the mail). As to exactly how long this process takes we do not yet know, FAA estimates are 3 weeks. The good news is that the certificate will be issued with no expiration date; previously student pilot certificates expired after 24 months, this is no longer the case.

Just like before you may begin your flight training prior to receiving your certificate, however you will not be able to conduct solo flight until your certificate is in hand including all of the proper endorsements from your CFI. On that front, instructors will no longer endorse a student’s pilot certificate for solo operating privileges; all endorsements will now be given in the student’s logbook.

These changes will go into effect April 1st, 2016. If you have question please feel free to contact me or your local FSDO.

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Regulations: “Minimum” IFR Training

Today’s post is short and sweet but a very important detail in your private pilot training nonetheless! 14 CFR 61.109 Aeronautical Experience lists the required minimum experience needed to apply for a private pilot certificate. §61.109(a)(3) states the required instrument flying time:

3 hours of flight training in a single-engine airplane on the control and maneuvering of an airplane solely by reference to instruments, including straight and level flight, constant airspeed climbs and descents, turns to a heading, recovery from unusual flight attitudes, radio communications, and the use of navigation systems/facilities and radar services appropriate to instrument flight;

Your training as a pilot should (and will eventually) go far beyond those minimum three hours. John Lowery recommends in his new book A Pilot’s Accident Review that “after about 100 hours of flying with a new private certificate it’s important to the new pilot’s safety and longevity to begin training for an instrument rating. Especially those who frequently fly at night. Because sooner or later, either low visibility or featureless terrain will introduce the new pilot to spatial disorientation, from which recovery is a matter of life or death.”

For pilot’s still in training or those with newly minted private certificates, I’d recommend Richard Taylor’s book IFR for VFR Pilots. Written as a survival guide, this book simplifies and explains the effects of disorientation, weather, “hands-off” flying, communication with ATC, and stress mitigation in an approachable and useable manner.

We’ll have more on IFR flying and how a private pilots can benefit from even the most basic understanding throughout the year on the Learn to Fly Blog. To get us started, we will be featuring a guest post from CFI and DPE Jason Blair next Monday!

Our CFI will have more on Thursday. Thanks for following the Learn to Fly Blog!

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CFI Brief: Velocity vs. G-loads Diagram

Using the knowledge you learned from Monday’s post on the Vg diagram, let’s see if we can answer some of these sample FAA knowledge test questions. Remember, a complete database of sample questions can be found in ASA Test Prep Books and Prepware Software!

Reference the figure below for all questions, however please note on the horizontal scale airspeed’s should be listed as knots, mph is a misprint.

Figure 73. Velocity vs. G-loads

Figure 73. Velocity vs. G-loads

1. A positive load factor of 4 at 140 knots would cause the airplane to
B—break apart.
C—be subjected to structural damage.

2. The airspeed indicated by point C is
A—maneuvering speed.
B—never-exceed speed.
C—maximum structural cruising speed.

3. The horizontal dashed line from point C to point E represents the
A—ultimate load factor.
B—positive limit load factor.
C—airspeed range for normal operations.

4. The vertical line from point E to point F is represented on the airspeed indicator by the
A—upper limit of the yellow arc.
B—upper limit of the green arc.
C—blue radial line.

5. The positive limit load factor is represented by the
A—vertical dashed line from E to F.
B—vertical solid line from D to G.
C—horizontal dashed line from C to point E.


What load factor would be created if positive 30 feet per second gusts were encountered at 130 knots?


1. A positive load factor of 4 at 140 knots would cause the airplane to
C—be subjected to structural damage.

The horizontal line for a load factor of 4 crosses the vertical line for 140 knots in the shaded area, indicating possible structural damage.

2. The airspeed indicated by point C is
A—maneuvering speed.

The airspeed indicated by point C is V(A), the design maneuvering airspeed. This is the maximum airspeed recommended for flight into turbulence.

Answer (B) is incorrect because V(NE) is indicated by point E. Answer (C) is incorrect because V(NO) is indicated by point D.

3. The horizontal dashed line from point C to point E represents the
B—positive limit load factor.

C to E is the maximum positive load limit. In this case it is 3.8 Gs, which is appropriate for normal category airplanes.

4. The vertical line from point E to point F is represented on the airspeed indicator by the
A—upper limit of the yellow arc.

V(NE) (never exceed airspeed), the vertical line from point E to F, is marked on airspeed indicators with a red radial line, the upper limit of the yellow arc.

5. The positive limit load factor is represented by the
C—horizontal dashed line from C to point E.

C to E is the maximum positive load limit. In this case it is 3.8 Gs, which is appropriate for normal category airplanes.
Answer (A) is incorrect because the vertical dashed line from E to F is the never-exceed airspeed (Vne). Answer (B) is incorrect because the vertical solid line from D to G is the high end for normal operations.

BONUS: What load factor would be created if positive 30 feet per second gusts were encountered at 130 knots?

Follow the slanted line for +30 fps gusts until it crosses an imaginary vertical line for 130 knots (midway between 120 and 140 knots). This intersection falls on the horizontal line for a load factor of 3.0.

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