Every two years, if a pilot wants to keep flying, they must have a flight review with a CFI (Certified Flight Instructor). The purpose is to provide a regular review of the pilot’s skills and aeronautical knowledge. To quote the FAA in the document ‘Conducting an Effective Flight Review‘, “the flight review is the aeronautical equivalent of a regular medical checkup and ongoing health improvement program.” It should consist of an hour of ground school and an hour of flight time. On the advice of another CFI I had taken the Wings course on “Airspace, Special Use Airspace, and TFR’s” which was a good refresher to prepare.
My check ride was two years ago which meant that I had to have a flight review by the end of October. My hangar neighbor is an 85 yo gentleman who is a CFII and said he would be happy to do my flight review. I went out to the airport early to do a thorough pre-flight on the plane and also take it down to the pumps and put fuel in it.
When he arrived we sat down at the desk in his hangar and he started going over charts and asking me questions about them. He looked over my medical certificate and pilot license. We spent some time talking about different situations and what he was going to have me do on the flight. He said we would do some slow flight, turns, approach and departure stalls, climbs and descents, and some landings.
He said that he wanted to make sure I could recover from a departure stall, even though it is unlikely to find yourself in one. He told me about a mid-air collision that he was involved in there at the Corona airport a few years back. He was flying his Cessna and was on final. There was a Stearman (Biplane used as a military trainer in the 1930’s and 1940’s) that was also in the pattern who was making a short approach. The radios were busy and their radio calls stepped on each other. The visibility in a Stearman is terrible when you are turning, the combination of a wing below and above you blocks a lot of your field of view, however the Stearman pilot said he thought he caught a glimpse of something below him so he rolled out of the turn which is when he bounced his wheels off my CFII’s right wing and smashed into the tail a bit. He immediately pulled back hard which then caused the Stearman to stall, but fortunately he knew how to handle the stall. My CFII was able to land the plane and the Stearman pilot went around the pattern again and landed. Had he not known what to do when it stalled it might not have ended well for him.
I explained a situation where I could see someone getting in trouble in a departure stall. If I am alone and light I can take off from Corona and easily be climbing over 1,000 feet per minute. Let’s say that someone is used to flying out of airports down here and decides to go up to Big Bear on a summer morning. When they go to take off in the afternoon the density altitude is over 9,000′ and the plane is sluggishly climbing at about 150 feet per minute. Thinking that it just doesn’t look right the pilot continues to pull back, trying to get the usual sight picture and rate of climb that he is used to seeing, only to have the plane stall under full power. I have taken off from airports up in Utah where the density altitude was over 9,000′ and it took a couple thousand feet to get off the ground and then it was a slow, anemic climb.
Having finished the ground portion I went through the pre-flight with him again to show him what I do for each flight. Having completed that I pulled the plane out, we climbed in, and I started it up. As soon as the radio came on I heard what I consider is one of the worst radio calls people make.
“Corona traffic, anyone in the pattern please advise.”
I looked at Bob and said “I hate that call.” He said “Me too.” About a minute later the same pilot made the same call. There are a number of problems with the call. First, it tells the other planes in the area absolutely nothing about the plane that just made the call. Where is it, how far away, at what altitude, what direction is it flying, etc…? What if there are multiple planes in the pattern and they answer at the same time and all step on the other one’s call? What if there is a Cub in the pattern that doesn’t have a radio? If you are approaching an un-towered field, just make your position calls, listen for the others on the frequency, and keep your eyes outside the plane.
Even though the winds were from the East at 4 knots there were a number of planes using runway 25. He said that if it is under 5 knots that it doesn’t make that much of a difference so we taxied down to the run-up area at the end of 25 and I went through the run-up and the erst of the checklists.
We took off and departed towards the Lake Matthews practice area. He said “Give me 45 degree turns along our path.” I misunderstood, thinking he wanted 45 degree banks so I rolled us into one to the left and got an immediate “No, just easy banks.” “Oh, you want 45 degree heading changes,” I said so I started doing some standard rate turns back and forth across the original heading. “I like that, you don’t lean into the turns” he said. We proceeded to climb up a little higher and he had me slow us down, drop the gear, and do some slow flight working in turns to different headings.
Liking what he saw it was time to do departure stalls. I hadn’t done stalls in the Mooney since my transition training and was a little nervous given the experience of snapping over into a half spin on the first try. He wanted full power so I pushed the throttle in and started pulling back on the yoke. The nose kept going higher and while the stall horn was going off, it wasn’t fully stalling so he told me to go ahead and pull the power back just a little. I was careful to keep the ailerons neutral, putting in more and more right rudder. When I had full right rudder in it was buffeting and the nose started dropping off to the left. I told him “That’s full rudder” and he told me to recover. I pushed the nose forward, but not as quickly as he wanted so we did it again. This time when I got to full right rudder and the stall I shoved the yoke forward for a quicker recovery.
Next it was on to approach stalls. The first one I added power but let the nose drop too much and lost about 10 feet after the stall, which would have had me hitting the ground depending on how close I might have been to the ground. He had me do it again and this time as I added the power I didn’t let the nose come down as much for a nice recovery with no altitude lost. We did some steep turns and he had seen what he was looking for so told me to take us back to the airport.
He really liked my flying, but with over 70 years of flying he had some opinions about my pattern work… We approached from the south to enter a right downwind to 07. I was setting up to enter on the 45 at midfield (what I have been taught) but he wanted me entering at the departure end. Not a whole lot of difference on at 3,200′ strip, but enough that he commented.
He told me that I should have my gear out already as I was entering the pattern but I told him I put it down abeam my touchdown point if flying a standard pattern or at 5 miles on a straight in final. I fly a pattern at 100mph on downwind, 90 mph base, and trim for 80 mph on final per the POH (Pilot Operating Handbook) but he wanted it to be slower at 80 mph to blend in with the slow planes. I have when necessary dumped in full flaps on downwind and slowed to 80 mph to blend in, but when the spacing is fine I fly it at 100/90/80 on downwind/base/final.
As I began my turn to the base leg he asked if I could make the runway from there if I lost my engine. I told him that I would probably have to pull the gear up until short final but that I could. We landed and he had me taxi back to do a short field takeoff and stay in the pattern for a short field landing. We touched down and easily rolled off the second taxiway exit at 980′.
He wanted one more trip around the pattern and said “Fly it anyway you want.” As we passed the touchdown point on the downwind leg he said “Pull your power and land it.” I pulled power, and rolled into an easy right turn while making the radio call, “Corona traffic, Mooney 878 turning right base and short final 07, Corona.” I kept an eye on the airspeed indicator as well as the end of the runway in the windscreen. It was one continuous turn with no actual base leg and as I rolled out on final I made one last call, “Corona traffic, Mooney 878, short final 07, Corona.” We easily made the runway and touched down about 400′ down it. I let the plane roll out and we exited the runway at 1,800′ with only light braking.
“I like what I see, take us back,” he said. After pushing my plane back in the hangar I joined him next door in his and he finished up the paperwork and signed my log book. I asked him what I needed to work on and he told me to really get to know the plane and how it handles through the whole flight envelope. You don’t normally fly at the edges of the envelope, but if something really goes wrong you want to know what you really can and can’t do in the plane, and how it is going to feel.
Flying is a continual learning process. It was a great experience flying with him and learning a few new things as well as how to do some things better than before.