CFI Brief: Drone vs. Aircraft at 238 MPH!

Reports of small unmanned aircraft systems, or drones as they are commonly called, operating within the vicinity of airports without authorization is on the rise. Drone ownership has skyrocketed in the past few years and everyone from teenagers to government agencies have their hands on one. The increase of drones being spotted near and close to airports is a direct correlation to the number of drones operating within the National Airspace System. The responsible and safe operation of drones is a pressing concern for the Federal Aviation Administration, with a focus on maintaining separation of unmanned and manned aircraft.

The overwhelming majority of owners operate in a responsible and safe manner, however there are those select few who choose to either push the boundaries or just ignore the rules all together. Whether or not owners are ignoring rules because they choose not to follow them or because they simply do not know the rules varies. If you ask me, I think it’s a little bit of both.

It’s important as a drone operator to understand that these rules or regulations are in place to prevent mid-air collisions between manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft. Such a collision has the likelihood of resulting in a catastrophic crash and loss of life.

The University of Dayton Research Institute recently conducted testing to determine the outcome of a small unmanned aircraft system colliding with the wing of a small single engine general aviation aircraft. The below video shows the result of a DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter impacting the wing of a Mooney M20 aircraft at a combined impact speed of 238 miles per hour.

You can see the result is devastating to both aircraft involved.

Fortunately to date there have been very few collisions reported between unmanned and manned aircraft. One such incident took place over Canada in 2017 when a drone collided with a passenger plane coming in for landing at an altitude of 1,500 feet. This is the first known incident involving a collision between a passenger plane and a drone. Another incident took place over New York when a drone collided with an Army Helicopter monitoring the United Nations General Assembly. The drone had been operating out of line-of-sight and within a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR). The incident resulted in substantial damage to the helicopters rotor blade but was able to make a safe landing (the helicopter, not the drone).

In the case of the drone versus Army helicopter, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated and was able to find the owner and operator of the drone. During an interview with the operator he was asked if he understood the rules pertaining to drone operations. The owner stated he knew to stay below 400 feet and out of class B airspace, however did not know about further airspace restrictions like TFRs.

The NTSB found the probable cause of the crash to be “the failure of the drone pilot to see and avoid the helicopter due to his intentional flight beyond visual line of sight. Contributing to the incident was the drone pilot’s incomplete knowledge of the regulations and safe operating practices.”

This incident is a great example of a pilot both pushing the boundaries and not being 100% familiar with the rules.

If you don’t want to find yourself in a situation like the one above, become familiar with the National Airspace System and Regulations surrounding drone operations. This will make you a safer, more competent drone operator. There are several books and programs available in the marketplace to help you learn this knowledge. One I would like to recommend is ASA Virtual Test Prep for Remote Pilots. This is a compressive ground school containing five-hours worth of on screen instruction covering regulations, the National Airspace System, weather, preflight considerations, and flight operations. The videos are available as individual lessons or as a set. Check them out!

Virtual Test Prep Remote Pilot Set

Virtual Test Prep Remote Pilot Individual Lessons


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Preparing for and Passing Your FAA Remote Pilot Knowledge Test

Today, we asked recently-certified remote pilot Monira B. to share his experience studying for and taking the FAA Remote Pilot Knowledge Test.

I’ve been building and tinkering with drones for the last couple years and flying them recreationally. I wanted to get into aerial photography and figured I’d eventually sell prints or try to monetize it, so it made sense to get a remote pilot’s license. Based on what I read online, it’s better to be safe and get the license than not. I didn’t have any prior piloting experience so I was starting with zero knowledge and this was all new to me.

Given I was starting from scratch and self-guiding myself through this process, I wanted to understand the test style (it’s also been over 10 years since I last took a test in college). I downloaded “Prepware Remote Pilot” and went through 10-15 random test questions to get a feel for the style of questions (I think I missed 90% of all these).

Next, I read through ASA’s Remote Pilot Test Prep as my main studying resource. It’s main appeal was the short chapter text and the easily consumable writing style. I read through the content in less than a week and took my first full test through the Prepware Remote Pilot app. I ended up getting 73%.

I looked through all my missed questions and reviewed the correct answers with the explanation blurb. Through reviewing the questions, I noticed a trend that I was missing most questions in a few sections (Weather–TAF/METAR and Sectional Charts), so I doubled down studying in those areas and spent a few days really diving into those sections to make sure I understood the content. I repeated the test in the app and increased my score to the high 80s so I felt comfortable taking the actual FAA test. I would recommend taking practice tests until you feel comfortable and achieve a high score.

I scored an 82% on the final test and passed on my first attempt.


  • Schedule a test date in advance to force yourself to study.
  • Use the app, since your phone is always with you. It’s easy to run through a handful of questions randomly throughout the day (especially since you’d probably just be surfing facebook anyway).
  • Check the updated test questions on the ASA website (they’re free) prior to taking the test.
  • Notice the trends in certain areas, so you can spend your time studying other areas. For example, the Remote Pilot in Command is responsible for almost everything, so questions asking “who’s in charge when…” are easy to answer. Focus on studying what’s new to you.
  • Eat something ahead of time.
  • Once you’ve answered all the questions on the test, go back through and look it over before submitting.
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CFI Brief: BasicMed added to FAA Knowledge Exams

Student pilot, recreational pilot, and private pilot operations, other than glider and balloon pilots, require a third-class medical certificate or if operating without a medical certificate compliance with 14 CFR Part 68, referred to as BasicMed.

The BasicMed privileges apply to persons exercising student, recreational, and private pilot privileges when acting as pilot in command (PIC). It also applies to persons exercising flight instructor privileges when acting as PIC. You cannot use BasicMed privileges to fly as a safety pilot, except when that pilot is acting as PIC. Pilots operating under BasicMed must hold a current and valid U.S. driver’s license and comply with all medical requirements or restrictions associated with that license. Applicants operating under BasicMed regulations must also complete the comprehensive medical examination checklist (CMEC) in collaboration with a physical examination by a state-licensed physician. Your physical must be completed within the last 48 months and the CMEC completed within the last 24 months. When operating under BasicMed, pilots are limited to:

  1. Fly with no more than five passengers.
  2. Fly an aircraft with a maximum certificated takeoff weight of no more than 6,000 lbs.
  3. Fly an aircraft that is authorized to carry no more than 6 occupants.
  4. Flights within the United States, at an indicated airspeed of 250 knots or less, and at an altitude at or below 18,000 feet mean sea level (MSL).
  5. You may not fly for compensation or hire.

If operating beyond these limitations, pilots must obtain an FAA Medical Certificate.

In addition to 14 CFR Part 68, Advisory Circular No. 68-1: Alternative Pilot Physical Examination and Education Requirements is a great resource for pilots wishing to exercise BasicMed privileges. This advisory circular describes how pilots can exercise student, recreational, and private pilot privileges in certain small aircraft without holding a current medical certificate. It outlines the required medical education course, medical requirements, and aircraft and operating restrictions that pilots must meet to act as PIC for most 14 CFR Part 91 operations.

As a private pilot, commercial pilot, and flight instructor it is important that you become familiar with BasicMed, as the FAA is now asking questions on knowledge exam’s pertaining to this topic. Below are a few sample knowledge test questions that you could encounter.

 1. To operate under BasicMed the pilot in command must have completed a physical examination by a state-licensed physician within the preceding
A—48 months.
B—24 months.
C—12 months.

2.  For private pilot operations under BasicMed, the pilot in command is allowed to fly with no more then
A—6 passengers.
B—5 passengers.
C—5 occupants.

3. To maintain BasicMed privileges you are required to complete the CMEC every
A—48 months.
B—24 months.
C—12 months.






1. Correct answer is A. BasicMed regulations require you to complete the CMEC every 24 months while a physical examination by a state-licensed physician must be completed every 48 months.

2. Correct answer is B. As PIC during private pilot operations under BasicMed, the aircraft is restricted to fly with no more than 5 passengers and authorized to carry no more than 6 total occupants. Answer (A) is incorrect because 6 passengers plus the PIC would equal 7 total occupants. Answer (C) is incorrect because BasicMed allows for aircraft authorized to carry no more than 6 total occupants.

3. Correct answer is B. BasicMed regulations require you to complete the comprehensive medical exanimation checklist (CMEC) every 24 months while a physical examination by a state-licensed physician must be completed every 48 months.

Further information can be found through the FAA at the following link:


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CFI Brief: Updates to ACS and NEW Testing Supplements

This week, the FAA released updated Airman Certification Standards (ACS) for Private Pilot-Airplane, Instrument Rating-Airplane, and Commercial Pilot Airplane. The Airman Testing Branch will be hosting a webinar next week, June 6th to discuss the updates that are taking place. Webinar information is as follows:

June 6, 2018, at 1430 Central Time, to attend follow the below link.

Private Pilot- Airplane (FAA-S-ACS-6B)
Instrument Rating- Airplane (FAA-S-ACS-8B)
Commercial Pilot- Airplane (FAA-S-ACS-7A)
Remote Pilot- sUAS (FAA-S-ACS-10A)

In addition to the updated Airman Certification Standards, the FAA has also released four new Knowledge Testing Supplements that will go into effect at all testing centers on June 11th. Until then, current testing supplements are in effect. If you plan on taking a knowledge test for one of the below certificates or ratings on or after June 11th, you will want to become familiar with these new supplements.

  • Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement for Sport Pilot, Recreational Pilot, Remote Pilot, and Private Pilot (FAA-CT-8080-2H).
  • Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement for Commercial Pilot (FAA-CT-8080-1E).
  • Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement for Flight Instructor, Ground Instructor, and Sport Pilot Instructor (FAA-CT-8080-5H).
  • Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement for Aviation Maintenance Technician – General, Airframe, and Powerplant; and Parachute Rigger (FAA-CT-8080-4G).

Stay tuned for the June Test Roll, and updates to the knowledge test question databases coming soon.



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CFI Brief: Mach Number

As you progress through a career in aviation you will hopefully one day start flying high speed jet aircraft, a fun and challenging learning experience. However there are many differences when moving from low-speed flight to high-speed flight. Today we will briefly touch on some of the required knowledge associated with high speed flight beginning with mach numbers.

Mach number is the ratio of the true airspeed to the speed of sound (TAS ÷ Speed of Sound). For example, an aircraft cruising at Mach .80 is flying at 80% of the speed of sound. The speed of sound is Mach 1.0. When in high-speed flight we refer to our airspeed in mach rather than true airspeeds or indicated airspeeds. At any airspeeds above Mach 1 you would be breaking the sound barrier.

A large increase in drag occurs when the air flow around the aircraft exceeds the speed of sound (Mach 1.0). Because lift is generated by accelerating air across the upper surface of the wing, local air flow velocities will reach sonic speeds while the aircraft Mach number is still considerably below the speed of sound. With respect to Mach cruise control, flight speeds can be divided into three regimes—subsonic, transonic and supersonic. The subsonic regime can be considered to occur at aircraft Mach numbers where all the local air flow is less than the speed of sound. The transonic range is where some but not all the local air flow velocities are Mach 1.0 or above. In supersonic flight, all the air flow around the aircraft exceeds Mach 1.0. The exact Mach numbers will vary with each aircraft type but as a very rough rule of thumb the subsonic regime occurs below Mach .75, the transonic regime between Mach .75 and Mach 1.20, and the supersonic regime over Mach 1.20.

A limiting speed for a subsonic transport aircraft is its critical Mach number (MCRIT). That is the speed at which airflow over the wing first reaches, but does not exceed, the speed of sound. At MCRIT there may be sonic but no supersonic flow.

When an airplane exceeds its critical Mach number, a shock wave forms on the wing surface that can cause a phenomenon known as shock stall. If this shock stall occurs symmetrically at the wing roots, the loss of lift and loss of downwash on the tail will cause the aircraft to pitch down or “tuck under.” This tendency is further aggravated in sweptwing aircraft because the center of pressure moves aft as the wing roots shock stall. If the wing tips of a sweptwing airplane shock stall first, the wing’s center of pressure would move inward and forward causing a pitch up motion. See the Figure below.

The less airflow is accelerated across the wing, the higher the critical Mach number (i.e., the maximum flow velocity is closer to the aircraft’s Mach number). Two ways of increasing MCRIT in jet transport designs are to give the wing a lower camber and increase wing sweep. A thin airfoil section (lower camber) causes less airflow acceleration. The sweptwing design has the effect of creating a thin airfoil section by inducing a spanwise flow, thus increasing the effective chord length. See the Figure below.

Although a sweptwing design gives an airplane a higher critical Mach number (and therefore a higher maximum cruise speed), it results in some undesirable flight characteristics. One of these is a reduced maximum coefficient of lift. This requires that sweptwing airplanes extensively employ high lift devices, such as slats and slotted flaps, to get acceptably low takeoff and landing speeds. The purpose of high lift devices such as flaps, slats and slots is to increase lift at low airspeeds and to delay stall to a higher angle of attack.

Another disadvantage of the sweptwing design is the tendency, at low airspeeds, for the wing tips to stall first. This results in loss of aileron control early in the stall, and in very little aerodynamic buffet on the tail surfaces.


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Aerodynamics: Shock Waves

Today we’re taking a look at a concept related to high speed flight, shock waves, with an excerpt from the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25B). During flight, a wing produces lift by accelerating the airflow over the upper surface. This accelerated air can, and does, reach sonic speeds even though the aircraft itself may be flying subsonic. At some extreme angles of attack (AOA), in some aircraft, the speed of the air over the top surface of the wing may be double the aircraft’s speed. It is therefore entirely possible to have both supersonic and subsonic airflow on an aircraft at the same time. When flow velocities reach sonic speeds at some location on an aircraft (such as the area of maximum camber on the wing), further acceleration results in the onset of compressibility effects, such as shock wave formation, drag increase, buffeting, stability, and control difficulties. Subsonic flow principles are invalid at all speeds above this point.

When an airplane flies at subsonic speeds, the air ahead is “warned” of the airplane’s coming by a pressure change transmitted ahead of the airplane at the speed of sound. Because of this warning, the air begins to move aside before the airplane arrives and is prepared to let it pass easily. When the airplane’s speed reaches the speed of sound, the pressure change can no longer warn the air ahead because the airplane is keeping up with its own pressure waves. Rather, the air particles pile up in front of the airplane causing a sharp decrease in the flow velocity directly in front of the airplane with a corresponding increase in air pressure and density.

As the airplane’s speed increases beyond the speed of sound, the pressure and density of the compressed air ahead of it increase, the area of compression extending some distance ahead of the airplane. At some point in the airstream, the air particles are completely undisturbed, having had no advanced warning of the airplane’s approach, and in the next instant the same air particles are forced to undergo sudden and drastic changes in temperature, pressure, density, and velocity. The boundary between the undisturbed air and the region of compressed air is called a shock or “compression” wave. This same type of wave is formed whenever a supersonic airstream is slowed to subsonic without a change in direction, such as when the airstream is accelerated to sonic speed over the cambered portion of a wing, and then decelerated to subsonic speed as the area of maximum camber is passed. A shock wave forms as a boundary between the supersonic and subsonic ranges.

Whenever a shock wave forms perpendicular to the airflow, it is termed a “normal” shock wave, and the flow immediately behind the wave is subsonic. A supersonic airstream passing through a normal shock wave experiences these changes:

  • The airstream is slowed to subsonic.
  • The airflow immediately behind the shock wave does not change direction.
  • The static pressure and density of the airstream behind the wave is greatly increased.
  • The energy of the airstream (indicated by total pressure—dynamic plus static) is greatly reduced.

Shock wave formation causes an increase in drag. One of the principal effects of a shock wave is the formation of a dense high pressure region immediately behind the wave. The instability of the high pressure region, and the fact that part of the velocity energy of the airstream is converted to heat as it flows through the wave, is a contributing factor in the drag increase, but the drag resulting from airflow separation is much greater. If the shock wave is strong, the boundary layer may not have sufficient kinetic energy to withstand airflow separation. The drag incurred in the transonic region due to shock wave formation and airflow separation is known as “wave drag.” When speed exceeds the critical Mach number by about 10 percent, wave drag increases sharply. A considerable increase in thrust (power) is required to increase flight speed beyond this point into the supersonic range where, depending on the airfoil shape and the AOA, the boundary layer may reattach.

Normal shock waves form on the wing’s upper surface and form an additional area of supersonic flow and a normal shock wave on the lower surface. As flight speed approaches the speed of sound, the areas of supersonic flow enlarge and the shock waves move nearer the trailing edge.

Shock waves

Associated with “drag rise” are buffet (known as Mach buffet), trim, and stability changes and a decrease in control force effectiveness. The loss of lift due to airflow separation results in a loss of downwash and a change in the position of the center pressure on the wing. Airflow separation produces a turbulent wake behind the wing, which causes the tail surfaces to buffet (vibrate). The nose-up and nose-down pitch control provided by the horizontal tail is dependent on the downwash behind the wing. Thus, an increase in downwash decreases the horizontal tail’s pitch control effectiveness since it effectively increases the AOA that the tail surface is seeing. Movement of the wing center of pressure (CP) affects the wing pitching moment. If the CP moves aft, a diving moment referred to as “Mach tuck” or “tuck under” is produced, and if it moves forward, a nose-up moment is produced. This is the primary reason for the development of the T-tail configuration on many turbine-powered aircraft, which places the horizontal stabilizer as far as practical from the turbulence of the wings.

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Aircraft Systems: Electrical System

Today, we’re featuring an excerpt from the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-8083-25B).

Most aircraft are equipped with either a 14- or a 28-volt direct current (DC) electrical system. A basic aircraft electrical system consists of the following components:

  • Alternator/generator
  • Battery
  • Master/battery switch
  • Alternator/generator switch
  • Bus bar, fuses, and circuit breakers
  • Voltage regulator
  • Ammeter/loadmeter
  • Associated electrical wiring

Engine-driven alternators or generators supply electric current to the electrical system. They also maintain a sufficient electrical charge in the battery. Electrical energy stored in a battery provides a source of electrical power for starting the engine and a limited supply of electrical power for use in the event the alternator or generator fails. Most DC generators do not produce a sufficient amount of electrical current at low engine rpm to operate the entire electrical system. During operations at low engine rpm, the electrical needs must be drawn from the battery, which can quickly be depleted.

Alternators have several advantages over generators. Alternators produce sufficient current to operate the entire electrical system, even at slower engine speeds, by producing alternating current (AC), which is converted to DC. The electrical output of an alternator is more constant throughout a wide range of engine speeds.

Some aircraft have receptacles to which an external ground power unit (GPU) may be connected to provide electrical energy for starting. These are very useful, especially during cold weather starting. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for engine starting using a GPU. The electrical system is turned on or off with a master switch. Turning the master switch to the ON position provides electrical energy to all the electrical equipment circuits except the ignition system. Equipment that commonly uses the electrical system for its source of energy includes:

  • Position lights
  • Anticollision lights
  • Landing lights
  • Taxi lights
  • Interior cabin lights
  • Instrument lights
  • Radio equipment
  • Turn indicator
  • Fuel gauges
  • Electric fuel pump
  • Stall warning system
  • Pitot heat
  • Starting motor

Many aircraft are equipped with a battery switch that controls the electrical power to the aircraft in a manner similar to the master switch. In addition, an alternator switch is installed that permits the pilot to exclude the alternator from the electrical system in the event of alternator failure.

On this master switch, the left half is for the alternator and the right half is for the battery.

With the alternator half of the switch in the OFF position, the entire electrical load is placed on the battery. All nonessential electrical equipment should be turned off to conserve battery power.

A bus bar is used as a terminal in the aircraft electrical system to connect the main electrical system to the equipment using electricity as a source of power. This simplifies the wiring system and provides a common point from which voltage can be distributed throughout the system.

Electrical system schematic.

Fuses or circuit breakers are used in the electrical system to protect the circuits and equipment from electrical overload. Spare fuses of the proper amperage limit should be carried in the aircraft to replace defective or blown fuses. Circuit breakers have the same function as a fuse but can be manually reset, rather than replaced, if an overload condition occurs in the electrical system. Placards at the fuse or circuit breaker panel identify the circuit by name and show the amperage limit. An ammeter is used to monitor the performance of the aircraft electrical system. The ammeter shows if the alternator/generator is producing an adequate supply of electrical power. It also indicates whether or not the battery is receiving an electrical charge.

Ammeters are designed with the zero point in the center of the face and a negative or positive indication on either side. When the pointer of the ammeter is on the plus side, it shows the charging rate of the battery. A minus indication means more current is being drawn from the battery than is being replaced. A full-scale minus deflection indicates a malfunction of the alternator/generator. A full-scale positive deflection indicates a malfunction of the regulator. In either case, consult the AFM/POH for appropriate action to be taken.

Ammeter and loadmeter

Not all aircraft are equipped with an ammeter. Some have a warning light that, when lighted, indicates a discharge in the system as a generator/alternator malfunction. Refer to the AFM/POH for appropriate action to be taken.

Another electrical monitoring indicator is a loadmeter. This type of gauge has a scale beginning with zero and shows the load being placed on the alternator/generator. The loadmeter reflects the total percentage of the load placed on the generating capacity of the electrical system by the electrical accessories and battery. When all electrical components are turned off, it reflects only the amount of charging current demanded by the battery.

A voltage regulator controls the rate of charge to the battery by stabilizing the generator or alternator electrical output. The generator/alternator voltage output should be higher than the battery voltage. For example, a 12-volt battery would be fed by a generator/alternator system of approximately 14 volts. The difference in voltage keeps the battery charged.

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CFI Brief: Complex Airplane, No Longer Required on Checkride

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a Notice of Change to National Policy regarding use of complex airplanes during Commercial Pilot (Single-Engine Land) or Flight Instructor checkrides. A complex airplane is defined as an airplane with flaps, retractable landing gear, and a constant speed propeller. This change in policy will no longer require the use of a complex airplane on the above named practical tests. Notice 8900.463 reads in part:

This notice outlines a change in policy regarding testing applicants for a commercial pilot or flight instructor certificate, regardless whether the training was received under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 61 or 141. Specifically, it outlines the policy which no longer requires applicants for a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine rating to provide a complex or turbine-powered airplane for the associated practical test and no longer requires applicants for a flight instructor certificate with an airplane single-engine rating to provide a complex airplane for the practical test.

It is important to note this policy change does not affect the training and experience requirements as outlined in 14 CFR Parts 61 or 141. Applicants working towards a Commercial or Flight Instructor Certificate will still be required to obtain flight time and training in a complex airplane.

Part of the reasoning behind this change is that training providers have noted a concern regarding the availability of complex airplanes, adding to the complexity of scheduling checkrides. In addition, many of these aircraft are older models and require much higher maintenance cost to meet airworthiness standards. The FAA recognizes these flight school concerns and understands it might be cost-prohibitive and difficult to schedule applicant testing in a complex airplane.

Removing the requirements for a complex airplane to be used during the practical test will in turn reduce the overall cost of the practical test and allow applicants to utilize more cost effective and readily available aircraft.

Please note the corresponding changes to the Commercial Pilot ACS (FAA-S-ACS-7) and Flight Instructor PTS (FAA-S-8081-6D) as outlined below.

Change 3

  • Revised the “Equipment Requirements & Limitations” section in Appendix 7: Aircraft, Equipment, and Operational Requirements & Limitations.

Note: This change will also affect the wording in some of the Task, Skill elements. To see all change 3 revisions please refer to the complete document by following the link below. 

Change 6

  • Removed the complex airplane requirement from practical tests for an airplane single-engine instructor rating and made corresponding changes to Task elements and the following sections in the Introduction:
  • “Aircraft and Equipment Required for the Practical Test”
  • “Renewal or Reinstatement of a Flight Instructor Certificate”

An update will be available shortly for the ASA Commercial Pilot ACS and Flight Instructor PTS publications. To stay informed of all updates please follow the link below.

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CFI Brief: sUAS Maintenance & Inspection

In addition to preflight and postflight considerations for small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) which was disused in Monday’s post, special attention should be placed on maintenance and inspection procedures. Unlike an airplane or helicopter, a sUAS does not require an airworthiness certificate nor is it required to have maintenance inspections done at certain intervals. It is the responsibility of the pilot in command to determine that the sUAS has been maintained in a condition for safe operation.

Maintenance for sUAS includes scheduled and unscheduled overhaul, repair, inspection, modification, replacement, and system software upgrades for the unmanned aircraft itself and all components necessary for flight.

Manufacturers may recommend a maintenance or replacement schedule for the unmanned aircraft and system components based on time-in-service limits and other factors. Follow all manufacturer maintenance recommendations to achieve the longest and safest service life of the sUAS. If the sUAS or component manufacturer does not provide scheduled maintenance instructions, it is recommended that you establish your own scheduled maintenance protocol. For example:

  • Document any repair, modification, overhaul, or replacement of a system component resulting from normal flight operations.
  • Record the time-in-service for that component at the time of the maintenance procedure.
  • Assess these records over time to establish a reliable maintenance schedule for the sUAS and its components.

During the course of a preflight inspection, you may discover that an sUAS component requires some form of maintenance outside of the scheduled maintenance period. For example, an sUAS component may require servicing (such as lubrication), repair, modification, overhaul, or replacement as a result of normal or abnormal flight operations. Or, the sUAS manufacturer or component manufacturer may require an unscheduled system software update to correct a problem. In the event such a condition is found, do not conduct flight operations until the discrepancy is corrected.

In some instances, the sUAS or component manufacturer may require certain maintenance tasks be performed by the manufacturer or by a person or facility specified by the manufacturer; maintenance should be performed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. However, if you decide not to use the manufacturer or the personnel recommended by the manufacturer and you are unable to perform the required maintenance yourself, you should:

  • Solicit the expertise of maintenance personnel familiar with the specific sUAS and its components.
  • Consider using certificated maintenance providers, such as repair stations, holders of mechanic and repairman certificates, and persons working under the supervision of a mechanic or repairman.

If you or the maintenance personnel are unable to repair, modify, or overhaul an sUAS or component back to its safe operational specification, then it is advisable to replace the sUAS or component with one that is in a condition for safe operation. Complete all required maintenance before each flight—preferably in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions or, in lieu of that, within known industry best practices.

Careful recordkeeping can be highly beneficial for sUAS owners and operators. For example, recordkeeping provides essential safety support for commercial operators who may experience rapidly accumulated flight operational hours/cycles. Consider maintaining a hardcopy and/or electronic logbook of all periodic inspections, maintenance, preventative maintenance, repairs, and alterations performed on the sUAS. See the figure below. Such records should include all components of the sUAS, including the:

  • Small unmanned aircraft itself;
  • Control station;
  • Launch and recovery equipment;
  • Data link equipment;
  • Payload; and
  • Any other components required to safely operate the sUAS.

You can find a UAS Operators Log here.

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sUAS: Preflight Inspections

Today we’re pleased to feature an excerpt from our latest remote pilot textbook, The Complete Remote Pilot, by Bob Gardner and David Ison. Built on the foundation of Bob Gardner’s popular The Complete Private Pilot series, this textbook is tailored for anyone interested in pursuing and obtaining a Remote Pilot Certificate, which is required in order to operate drones for commercial use. The Complete Remote Pilot is designed to not only prepare you for the exam but to teach you about how UAS fly, their components and systems, and the aeronautical knowledge required to fly these systems in the same airspace as large commercial jets. This book covers specifics on the language of drones, regulations, airspace and navigation, airport and off-airport operations, radio communication procedures, weather, aerodynamics and aircraft performance, emergency procedures, human factors, maintenance, and preflight inspection procedures.

Since an sUAS potentially operates in proximity to and within the same airspace as manned aircraft, a high level of care is required to ensure that the aircraft is safe to operate and will not do anything to jeopardize the ability of the remote PIC to maintain positive control of the system while in use. The FAA explicitly spells this out in 14 CFR §107.15, stating that prior to each flight, “the remote pilot in command must check the small unmanned aircraft system to determine whether it is in a condition for safe operation.” Further, if at any time it is determined that this condition is compromised, the operation must cease immediately. Unmanned aircraft pilots should mimic their manned counterparts who are very familiar with the preflight inspection process, which is (or should be) a very thorough evaluation of the aircraft before taking flight.

While manned aircraft manufacturers typically provide a comprehensive checklist to use for preflight inspections, not all sUAS manufacturers do so. It may be necessary to create your own checklist. However, you may not need to start from scratch—or worse, learn the “hard” way; instead, look online to find out what work has been done on your individual system. Some great resources are available on various websites, especially for systems with minimal documentation provided by the manufacturer. In short, if the aircraft comes with a checklist or procedure for ensuring safe operation, use it. Feel free to add to it if you find some additional things that you feel need to be checked prior to use. If no such guidance is provided, create your own. So what should you include? Let’s take a look.

While each sUAS will vary, here are some key areas to consider for careful inspection before flight or on a regular basis. Before every flight, it’s important to do a thorough visual examination of the aircraft. Are there any loose parts? Is anything hanging off that should not be? Does anything look abnormal? Is there any damage to the structure? Next, you should take a look at the propellers. Before putting them on the aircraft, flex the blades slightly to confirm their integrity. While you are doing this, look over the blades and run your finger along their edges and surfaces. If there are nicks or cracks, you should replace the propeller. Once they are installed on the aircraft, propellers should be secure (and locked if applicable), but don’t overtighten them, as that can damage the threads or connections.

While you are in the vicinity of the motors, check them for proper rotation and security. Do they spin freely? Is anything sticking? Are any motors too loose? The best way to know for sure is by comparing one motor to another (or if the sUAS only has one motor, comparing it to how it appeared the last time). If anything is abnormal, it is advisable to remove and replace the item in question. (More experienced users may want to do some bench tests prior to replacing or flying.)

Next, check all peripheral items, such as the camera gimbal or other payloads. Are they properly connected and secured? How about the camera or other sensors? These typically are expensive pieces of equipment; you do not want to accidentally damage or lose them because you were in a hurry to fly.

You will also want to inspect the battery prior to installation. Note: be sure you know the correct power-on procedures for your sUAS. Some will be powered once the battery is installed, so if that is the case, you will want to be ready for that change in status. Typically, the controller is turned on first and then the sUAS is turned on, to reduce the chances of something unexpected happening (and if it does, by following this procedure, you should have control).

Check the battery connection pins/slots to verify that they are not damaged or dirty. Check the body of the battery. Is there any “puffiness” or bulging of the outer coating or sides? If the answer is yes, your battery is failing. Never use a puffy or bulging battery. Is the battery warm or hot? If so, let it cool before using. Do you know the charging status? If not, it is best to know this before flight for quality assurance and performance tracking. Once you are happy with the battery’s status, install it (or position it for installation).

The ground control station and any other equipment also should be inspected. Are the antennae properly installed and attached? Are there any missing or loose parts? What is the battery status of the components? Will the capacity be enough to complete the mission with an additional time cushion?

Is your crew briefed and ready to go? If yes, power on the sUAS (after completing necessary checklists) to check lights and other markings. Do a control check (if possible) and gimbal check. Does everything move freely without abnormal resistance or noises? Next, you will want to do an idle check with motors on (again, only when ready and post-checklists). Check for any unusual noises or vibrations. If any are detected, shut down and investigate further before departing. The final check prior to initiating the mission is an airborne control check. For example, if you’re using a quadcopter, lift the aircraft off to a hover just above the ground. Input left/right, forward/back, yaw, and power inputs to ensure the system reacts as expected. Additionally, confirm that there are no weird noises or “ticks” experienced during this operational check.

Upon completing a flight, the sUAS should be inspected again. Essentially you will want to check the same items as in the preflight inspection, noting any changes in aircraft status. Batteries will generally be warm because of discharging, but they should not be hot. Use caution if the battery condition changes between the pre- and post-flight inspections (e.g., it begins to bulge). Note any issues in your maintenance log (explained later) and replace any parts that are damaged or at the end of their service life.

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