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Jason

Jason Blair

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.

JasonBlair.net

The Top 10 Mistakes Students Make on Their Practical Test

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 JasonBlair.net

As an examiner who gives a significant number of practical tests every year, I see some of the same errors over and over. Being prepared for a test takes a lot of work, but some extra focus on a few of these areas can reduce the chances a student’s test will end the bad way.

The following are a few very common things I see that result in notices of disapproval on multiple practical tests every year.

Getting lost. It seems improbable, but many times a year I see people get lost during their practical tests. A pilot should remain cognizant at all times of their position and able to navigate back to the airport they started at without incurring any other airspaces along the way using charts not GPS to get home).

Short-field landings. Test standards require a pilot be able to perform short-field landings to a point without being short and within a specified distance beyond the point for each test. Landing short of or excessively beyond the point is something that causes pilots to regularly fail tests. Know the standard, be able to perform to the standard, and be willing to go-around if you aren’t going to land within the standard.

Soft-field takeoffs. Even though many pilots have never landed on grass or other soft-field conditions, pilots must demonstrate the maneuver on multiple tests. Many pilots are unable to demonstrate a soft-field takeoff, in many cases they’ll even accidentally strike the tail in the process. This will always result in an automatic failure.

Busting airspace. This relates to getting lost, but it also stretches to knowing airspace implications and limitations. While I say busting airspace commonly is a failure point, it is probably best described as “almost busting” airspace. An examiner won’t let you actually break the airspace, but will typically stop you just prior to the violation. I have to do this multiple times a year and it is an automatic failure. Know what airspace is in effect where you are flying, and be aware of horizontal and vertical limitations of that airspace. Knowing where you are at all times will add to the ability to avoid incurring airspace unintentionally.

Incorrectly following ATC instructions. If flying at an airport or in airspace that requires coordination with ATC, failure to follow ATC instructions or coordinate with them can lead to a fast end to a test. It is equally important on the ground as it is in the air. More than a few tests have ended because an applicant could not follow or did not understand taxi instructions. Pattern and vectoring instructions are also critical. If you don’t understand or are unclear what ATC wants, ask for clarification or for them to repeat the clearance. Being humble and admitting you didn’t understand is always better than ending up where you aren’t supposed to be or incurring other traffic. The best advice I can always give is to write it down. Even the best of us forget what ATC said, but having it written down on our kneeboard can be a quick memory refresh.

Not going around. No pilot flies the perfect approach every time. No, an examiner won’t allow you to go-around all day, but making a good decision on an approach and going around when landing isn’t going to be within standards shows good decision-making. Be the pilot-in-command and go around if it isn’t right.

Weight and balance calculations. It is amazing how many applicants tell me, and I am not joking here, that it is OK to fly over gross weight or out of CG limitations as depicted by the manufacturer. Even more applicants do not know how to calculate weight and balance for the aircraft they bring to the test. This is a basic function that every pilot needs to have down cold to pass a practical test. Flying outside of the weight and balance limitations of the aircraft is downright unsafe in addition to being a breach of regulations.

Not knowing airspace. Being able to identify airspace graphical depictions on VFR charts is required for all pilot levels. If an applicant can’t tell the difference between Class B, C, D, E, G airspaces, MOAs and restricted areas, and other depicted airspaces, an examiner cannot be confident they will be able to operate within the prescribed requirements of the airspaces. If you are unclear of what each airspace looks like, spend some more time with a chart legend and get it into your mind before you take your test.

Lacking knowledge of aircraft systems. Tests will cover how systems on the aircraft operate. An examiner doesn’t expect you to be an aeronautical engineer or a mechanic who can fix the aircraft when it breaks, but they will expect you to know how the fuel system operates and how you will manage it, the effects of failures of alternator or battery systems, what to do in the event of a flaps system failure, and other systems considerations.

Not being able to determine if the aircraft is airworthy. Many applicants cannot demonstrate an ability to find all required inspections have been completed. In many cases, they have never looked at the aircraft logbooks before the day of the test. Beyond this, even more applicants have difficulty when questioned about AD’s, how to find AD’s, and which ones might be applicable to the aircraft they brought, or what to do if something in the aircraft is not working properly. Further required on some tests is an understanding of what would be required to obtain a special flight permit.


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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Five Things NOT To Do on Your Practical Test

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 JasonBlair.net

As an examiner, I regularly see the same things cause disapproval on practical test. These common errors are things that anyone can avoid during their practical test.

Don’t go if you haven’t flown recently. A couple of years ago I talked with a number of flight training providers and we reviewed student pass rates on practical tests in relation to recency of flight (see Recent Experience a Major Factor in Checkride Experience” published by AOPA Flight School Business) The results were surprising. The pass rate dropped off significantly, with the average first try pass rate being only 25% after a gap of 8 days from last flight to test day. If you haven’t flown recently, reschedule and get a brush-up flight completed. Your odds of passing go up significantly if you keep your skills fresh.

Don’t guess or make up answers. When an examiner asks you a question, the pressure is on. You want to give them an answer. But that doesn’t mean you have to answer immediately or that we expect you to know everything there is to possibly know. If you aren’t sure, or don’t know the answer, be honest and say that. If you think you know where to find the answer and can do that for us, tell us and then do it. If you just don’t know the answer at all, say so. This will always be better than guessing or making up an answer. Most examiners won’t ask questions about which they themselves don’t know the answer, so you probably aren’t going to fool them if you make one up. I see this during multiple tests every year. While it can be entertaining for the examiner when an applicant starts making up some creative new way in which the aircraft systems operate, it never bodes well for the test. It just gives the examiner a funny story to tell later. Names excluded from all stories, of course.

Don’t try new stuff. If you have never done it before in a plane, test day isn’t the best day to try something new. Even if this means you don’t know how to complete a required maneuver. It happens. CFIs are human too, and sometimes they forget to teach their private pilot applicant how to complete an emergency descent. If the examiner asks you to complete a maneuver that was in the practical test requirements and you have not been trained to do that maneuver, don’t try to guess your way through it on the test. Take your lumps and be honest and come back another day after some additional training. This can be avoided by reviewing the practical test as a student to make sure your CFI has taught you all that you need to know. If the examiner is asking you to do something that is outside the PTS or that you don’t consider to be safe, don’t do it either. You shouldn’t be trying the new inverted half-Cuban-eight back-course localizer approach with one eye closed that the examiner asked you to do. Be willing to be the PIC and say it’s time to head back to the airport instead of making up a procedure as you go.

Don’t fly a plane you are unfamiliar with. This expands on don’t try new stuff, but you shouldn’t be doing a test in an aircraft with which you are not familiar. This doesn’t necessarily mean a specific tail number. And some discretion can be applied to this consideration. If the school has 10 Cirrus aircraft that are all equipped the same, switching planes may be fine. If the school has two Cessna 172s, one that has a glass panel and one that has classic round gauges, you shouldn’t be doing your practical test in the glass panel aircraft if you have only flown the one with the classic round gauges. If the school has a Piper Archer and a Cessna 172 that both have Garmin 1000 panels in them, but you have only flown in the Piper Archer, you shouldn’t be doing your practical test in the Cessna 172. Use some judgment here, but it is common for pilots to try to take tests in aircraft they don’t fly regularly, and it is a bad idea. Lack of familiarity with the aircraft systems, avionics (even just where to turn on an intercom, or how to tune radio frequencies on different equipment), or performance calculations can lead to increased errors on practical tests.

Don’t fly if you wouldn’t normally fly in the weather conditions. Applicants commonly fail tests because they broke cloud clearances, had crosswinds that affected their ability to perform landings within test standards, or flew in restricted visibilities that contributed to loss of situational awareness and resulted in getting lost. The question that any applicant should be asking themselves is simple: “is the weather today going to adversely affect my ability to perform within practical test standards on all required maneuvers?” If the answer to this is yes, you should be rescheduling. Even if it is the fifth day in a row you have had to reschedule, it shows good pilot decision-making skills and increases your chances of passing.

There are lots of other tips you may find if you do a little searching when it comes to practical tests, but these are some repeat offenders that tend to make practical tests go badly. Before you make that final decision to go, consider these mistakes that may turn your potential pass into a certain failure.


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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How to Prepare Physically for Your Practical Test

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 JasonBlair.net

Practical tests can be physically demanding in additional to the mental stress that they cause. Preparing for a practical test physically can be a key part of successfully completing any practical test. The FAA’s “IM SAFE” checklist highlights multiple physical concerns as a key components to being a safe pilot, and being a safe pilot is part of practical test day. (To read more about the IM SAFE checklist and aeronautical decision making, check out Chapter 17 in the FAA Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.)

Highlighting  “Illness”, “Medications”, “Stress”, “Alcohol”, “Fatigue”, and “Eating” as focal areas, this list gets a pilot thinking about their physical condition prior to flight. Obviously, a pilot shouldn’t be doing their practical test if they are sick, under the influence of non-FAA approved medications, or alcohol. Most pilots have no issue figuring this out. But beyond this, a few things to physically prepare for a practical test can help the day go more smoothly.

Illness
When the FAA highlights “sickness” in the IM SAFE checklist, a pilot should think beyond bedridden illnesses that would obviously keep them out of the air. If you have a sinus cold, it can be very painful during climbs or descents if you ears aren’t clearing easily. If you have the stomach flu, a turbulent flight can make it, well, certainly less comfortable if not a bag-filling adventure. If you have a chest cold, the chills, aches, a fever, or any other generally-crappy-feeling condition, you aren’t going to perform your best. If you have to take any medications to feel better, you really shouldn’t be flying at all (a general practice is to wait at least five times the time of the original dosage period of the medication before flying—consult your AME if you have any concerns), and you definitely shouldn’t be taking your practical test. Your DPE will understand if you want to reschedule because of illness. And let’s be honest, the examiner probably doesn’t want to fly in a confined space with a sick person who is going to pass whatever sickness along to them.

Fatigue
Get a good night of sleep before the test. Staying up until midnight cramming that last bit of knowledge into your brain is less likely to lead to success than going to bed at 9pm, sleeping well, and being rested before that 8am test start. Lack of sleep has been proven to be equally skill degrading in on-the-road driver testing as mild levels of intoxication. A tired pilot will have reduced reaction time and skill levels. You need both of these to be at your best on test day! If you aren’t an early riser, schedule your test later in the day. Don’t schedule the test after a long day at work. Be rested to physically be ready for the test.

Eating
We have all heard any number of good eating and diet tips over the years, but an empty stomach does lead to decreased performance. Eat breakfast if you have a test in the morning. Eat lunch if it is in the afternoon. Bring a snack with you on the test to eat between the ground and flight portion. No, eating a big turkey dinner before the flight that will put you into the food coma of the year isn’t the best idea, but light snacks and healthy foods will keep your metabolism going and energy feeding to your body. Don’t be afraid to ask the examiner for a 10 minute break to eat a snack either. Being prepared and having a little food in your stomach also not only keeps the body fueled with energy, it also can help to quell some nervous stomach butterflies.

Exercise
I know many of us try to get more exercise in our lives for dietary reasons, but it is also something that can physically help prepare you for your test. Even a walk earlier in the day or the night before the test can help burn off some nervous energy or just keep the metabolism moving. It can also help you sleep better the night before a test. Getting your body tired enough to sleep will increase the chances that you will actually sleep instead of tossing and turning worried about the test in the morning. If the test is in the afternoon, a morning workout can distract your mind for even a little while and give you better focus. It not seem directly related, but exercise prior to your practical test is one way to physically prepare yourself.

As students prepare for practical tests I commonly see them skip some of the basic things in their lives that keep them in good physical shape for life in general. That translates to decreased performance on their tests. If you think it would be a good physical practice for a healthy body and general preparation for a day, it is probably a good idea for test day. Skipping meals, skipping sleep, continuing when you are sick, or breaking an exercise routine are all things that are the opposite of good physical preparation for a practical test.


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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How to Prepare Mentally for Your Practical Test

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 JasonBlair.net. UPDATE: we’ve since posted a follow-up companion blog post on physical preparation. Click here to read it.

The stress of a practical test is something that can leave any pilot concerned about their performance abilities, even those that have taken many practical tests already. The FAA’s “IM SAFE” checklist highlights stress as a key component to being a safe pilot, and being a safe pilot is part of practical test day. (To read more about the IM SAFE checklist and aeronautical decision making, check out Chapter 17 in the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.) A few tips can help any pilot mentally prepare for a practical test.

Get organized
Getting yourself organized prior to the test will help reduce mental stress. Make sure your applications are complete, you have finished all the required flight times, your charts and study materials are available, and your aircraft is reserved for the day of your test. There are certainly other things that you can include in your organization efforts, but whatever they are do them ahead of time. Waiting until the last minute means a greater chance of forgetting things. Think your way through what you will need to make the test day go smoothly and get your stuff together. A little organization, even a list or two, can keep you focused.

Talk with your instructor and other pilots
Unless this happens to be the very first test your particular examiner is giving, your instructor or other pilots will probably be familiar with the examiner’s previous testing activities. There may even be some “gouges” available on the examiner. While examiners do change the content of their tests so they aren’t the same every time, there is only so much latitude an examiner has within the practical test requirements for what they will test. Talk with others to get an idea what the examiner is like to reduce some of the mystery of the practical test.

Talk with the examiner
Most examiners don’t mind talking with an applicant prior to the test when time allows. Getting a briefing from the examiner about the structure of the testing process, what will be expected of the applicant, and if the examiner has any information they would like the student to be aware of or consider for test day will allow for some pre-planning and a better understanding of the testing process. This can allow any applicant to better prepare mentally for how long the test will take, what will be tested, and how the examiner will conduct the test.

Rest
Mentally preparing for a test requires that the pilot be rested. Showing up to a test after only three hours of sleep or after working an all night midnight shift is not going to result in a mentally prepared, or at least a mentally sharp, test applicant. I know this sounds like a simple consideration, but many applicants still show up every year mentally fried, just wanting to get the test done after not getting enough sleep.

Avoid taking the test with other life distractions
If you just got fired from your job, you’re getting a divorce, or your truck broke down it probably isn’t the best day to take a practical test. If all of these happened, you are probably in a country song. But seriously, if you have a major life stress event happening, seriously consider rescheduling. A practical test does require your full attention to perform to your best ability, so don’t try to do this when other life circumstances may cause you to be distracted. An examiner is a person too, and if you call them to reschedule because of a major life event they will understand and not hold it against you. It shows good pilot decision-making to the examiner when you are aware of how these events could affect your performance and choose to not fly when your abilities may be less than optimum.

I tell most of my students and practical test applicants that “nervous” is OK but “scared” is bad. A little self-evaluation can help you figure out if you are “nervous” or “scared” of the test. If you are still scared, it is probably an indicator that you don’t feel prepared. Nervous is normal, and if you really feel mentally prepared for the test you shouldn’t be scared. Be honest with yourself. If you aren’t mentally prepared for the test, wait to schedule it until you are really ready.


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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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 JasonBlair.net

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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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 JasonBlair.net

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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Reflections and Tips from Recent Practical Tests

Once again, we’re pleased to feature a guest post FAA DPE and CFI Jason Blair. Check out his post from last week on why you should be practicing the glide and his post onflying the traffic pattern from earlier this year. He writes his own blog at jasonblair.net.

I would like to share a few reflections and tips from recent practical tests I have given. In most cases, the tests I have given are proof of fantastic candidates who are dedicated to learning and progressing as pilots, but there are also moments that leave me wondering about some of the basic preparation things that an applicant could do to make their time with me so much easier. So here are a few things I would offer:

Yes you should bring a FAR/AIM with you (unless somehow you have memorized it all) and yes it should be a current one. Too many times applicants either don’t have a FAR/AIM with them or the one they have isn’t current. I’m not certain which is worse to be honest. Not having one is bad, having an old one just shows an applicant doesn’t care to have current information.

It is a really good idea to have a copy (digital PDF on your iPad is fine) of the Practical Test Standards for the test your are taking (and yes it should be current also). This is the menu the examiner will use on the practical test. Have one and know it.

You should probably look at the aircraft inspections at least some time more than 2 minutes before your scheduled time for the practical test with your instructor and really understand what the required inspections are and when they will expire. This is a required set of questions an examiner will ask on EVERY practical test. We have to know that we are getting into a “legal” airplane and you will have to show us that it meets all the requirements. There are no exceptions.

Know when the aircraft registration expires or where to find the information. No, you won’t find this in the typical FARs you have bought, it’s in section 43 of the FARs. More about aircraft registration requirements can be found at https://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/aircraft_certification/aircraft_registry/reregistration/

It is perfectly fine to discontinue a practical test if you don’t think the weather is good enough. Just because you and the examiner are both there and the ground is done, it doesn’t mean you have to fly. Here is the best question you should yourself when deciding: “will today’s weather adversely affect my ability to complete the required maneuvers within practical test standards?” If the answer is yes, reschedule for the flight. Simple as that.

Be confident in your knowledge. An examiner’s job includes determining if you will question things. Just because the examiner asked the dreaded “are you sure?” question doesn’t mean you were wrong. If you know something, stick with your answers, don’t change them. If you don’t know something, don’t try to make up an answer. The examiner will let you dig a hole then bury you in it. Be honest and tell us if you don’t know something.

These all seem like pretty simplistic tips, but I can’t tell you how many times these things are a factor on practical tests. While they don’t always result in the issuance of a disapproval, they will always raise stress levels and create delays in the progress of the practical test. Think about these ahead of time and your next practical test will be easier. If you have already taken one, share this with a friend who has one coming up to make their experience easier.


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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Practice the Glide

This week, we’re pleased to feature guest posts from CFI and FAA DPE Jason Blair! We featured Jason’s excellent write up on flying the traffic pattern earlier this year. He writes his own blog at jasonblair.net.

Gliding is for gliders, right? Well, it’s not just for them. Something I notice in many checkrides I give (and I know is the case for many pilots) is that they don’t really know how to “glide” the aircraft that they are flying. Why on earth would you want to know how to glide when I have a powered aircraft you might ask? The obvious answer is in the event of an engine failure.

When an engine quits in an aircraft, it effectively becomes a large, heavy glider. Even in a twin-engine aircraft, our approach path is significantly affected. Typically in training, pilots are introduced to this possibility and then given a checklist to go through of potential solutions while they are expected to “pick a suitable landing area” and prepare for a potentially off-airport landing. Somewhere before reaching 500′ AGL, a recovery is typically executed. There is something missing in this practice scenario; what would happen if you couldn’t perform a “go-around?”

What I notice when many pilots demonstrate this is that they are often not able to judge the glide distance to their intended landing point very well. In some cases they are setting up a glide that will put them short of the landing area, and in other cases setting up a glide that carries too much speed and would overfly the intended landing field. In a few cases they get lucky and it works out. When setting up a glide, I would typically prefer a pilot be long than short (it is always better to end up running off the end of a field rolling slowly than ending up short of the field going fast), but what I often see is that they aren’t just a little long, but are completely overshooting their intended landing area.

There is a simple solution to this problem. Practice it more frequently, and do a full landing instead of a go-around. Obviously this isn’t something that you are going to want to do in the local farmer’s field in your local practice area, and certainly please don’t do this with Wings of Mercy flight recipients on board, but it is certainly something you can practice at an airport.

Typically, when I am teaching this procedure I put pilots 2500′ to 3000′ AGL about 2 miles from the approach end of the preferred runway at the airport, then I retard the throttle to idle. This puts them in a position where reaching the runway is well within reach, but if they don’t work to dissipate some altitude, they will run long. By working in some S-turns before the final approach, the pilot is able to maintain a position where they will never have to turn more than 90 degrees from the runway (I never recommend turning your back to the intended field of landing for an emergency landing) while at the same time dissipating some altitude in preparation for their final approach to the landing.

The entire effort of this is to get the feel for the glide of the aircraft and to learn to judge the vertical descent path. By correctly judging the vertical descent path, a pilot is able to set themselves up to hit a desired touchdown area. Part of this is intended to help develop the visual picture in the pilot’s mind to judge the approach to landing and judge the touch point.

The experience gained by practicing the glide to an actual landing will develop a better feel for the last portions of the glide to the ground in a simulated emergency situation. These last moments have a different feel than the first portions of the glide, as the aircraft is manipulated through dissipation of speed, ground effect, and a flare for landing. To just set up and conduct emergency simulations to a 500′ AGL glide recovery does not allow the student to get a full picture of how the entire situation will unfold.

The best way to practice this is on approach to your destination airport through reduction of throttle to simulate the loss of power in a single-engine aircraft or through the setting of a throttle to a “zero-thrust” configuration to simulate the loss of one engine in a multi-engine aircraft. During your non-passenger carrying legs, take the time to simulate this for greater proficiency in the event that you ever encounter such a situation. While your training may officially be over, and we all hope you never need these skills, maintaining proficiency in these emergency procedures can make a real life situation more manageable and potentially lead to a more successful handling of an emergency.


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.

For visualizing emergency procedures, as well as just about everything else you’ll do in your airplane, we recommend our Visualized Flight Maneuvers Handbook (also available for low-wing aircraft and in eBook format). This is a great resource for student pilots, pilots preparing for their practical, and experienced pilots maintaining proficiency. We’ll have more from DPE Jason Blair on Thursday! Thanks for following the Learn to Fly Blog!

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So, Where in the Pattern is the Upwind?

Takeoff and climb out is not the upwind. Yup, I know lots of people call the “upwind” in the traffic pattern as they climb after takeoff, but they are actually calling “upwind” in the wrong spot. And being accurate when you tell people where you are in the traffic pattern can be important. I’ll admit, this is something of a pet peeve of mine, but let’s all learn from it.

So what exactly is an upwind you might ask if it isn’t when you are climbing out after takeoff?

Well, according to the AIM (4-3-1), an upwind is “a flight path parallel to the landing runway in the direction of landing.” It is not the takeoff or climb out (which is actually not labeled in the AIM). What is the importance of the distinction you may ask? Well, it’s about whether you can be expected to be parallel to the runway flying in the direction of a takeoff, but at a pattern altitude, or whether you have just taken off and will be climbing in line with the runway to traffic pattern altitude.

4-3-1

Both a takeoff or climb out and an upwind may be followed by entry to the crosswind if a pattern is to be flown.

So why would someone fly an upwind?

Typically an upwind is used to enter the traffic pattern when approaching the airport from the opposite side from the normal traffic pattern side or for faster aircraft using the additional time in a traffic pattern to slow down and/or setup for landing. For example, and take a moment to visualize this, imagine a 9-27 runway with an active left hand traffic pattern for runway 9. This would put the active side of the pattern on the north side of the runway. An aircraft approaching from the south could choose to enter the traffic pattern on the upwind, fly parallel to runway 9, turn crosswind at the end, then turn left again to enter the downwind. This could offer the pilot more time to slow down, set up configurations, or just get ready for landing than it might if the pilot instead entered a “mid-field left-downwind.”

While this may not be as critical in slower aircraft, in higher performance aircraft, aircraft with retractable gear, or aircraft that need to descend from turbine pattern altitudes (remember these are typically 1500′ AGL instead of 1000′ AGL) this can be valuable extra time that keeps a pilot from being rushed.

For pilots sharing the pattern, it means that they should actually be looking for aircraft who have reported the “upwind” to be flying a parallel line to the runway, not on the takeoff/climb out portion of a traffic pattern.

So if you didn’t before, now you know. Next time you are taking off and climbing out and need to make a traffic pattern call, report takeoff or climb out if that’s what you are doing instead of calling the “upwind.” And if you hear someone else reporting the “upwind,” you now know where you should be looking for them (assuming they know what you know about what an upwind really is).


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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