Why Do We Have Flight Reviews?
Every 24 calendar months, unless you have added a new rating to your pilot certificate, you must have a flight review to continue to exercise your privilege of flight. It makes sense if you think about it, and maybe you might say to yourself 24 months isn’t often enough.
I can get in my plane anytime I want and go fly wherever I want, as long as I am following the rules and regulations of the National Airspace System (NAS). Do you want just anyone flying over your house? I feel better knowing that there is a review of knowledge and ability of those in the air up above me when I’m sitting in my backyard.
I watch the people on the freeway around me and hope that most of them also don’t fly planes. Now that I think about it, what if there were “driving reviews” every couple years to make sure people still know how to drive. That’s a topic for a different time.
What is a Flight Review?
The FAA spells out what is required of a Flight Review in FAR 61.56. It must be at least one hour of ground school and one hour of flight. The FAA states it must include:
(1) A review of the current general operating and flight rules of part 91 of this chapter; and
(2) A review of those maneuvers and procedures that, at the discretion of the person giving the review, are necessary for the pilot to demonstrate the safe exercise of the privileges of the pilot certificate.
If those requirements seem somewhat vague, they are by design. The FAA wants the instructor to talk to you about what type of flying you typically do and then tailor the ground training and flight to cover those things you might be a little rusty on.
If you only do local “burger runs” to close airports, the CFI might spends some time going over cross-country planning, weather considerations, navigation charts, etc… If you mainly fly long cross country flights that consist of departure, enroute, descent, and landing, the CFI might focus parts of the flying on ground maneuvers, slow flight, etc…
My Turn for a Flight Review
I reset the calendar on my flight review schedule when I passed my IFR Checkride on September 29, 2021. I saw the end of September 2023 coming up on the calendar and checked in with my old CFI to see if he was still doing any instructing. He has moved on to the airlines, but said he still does a little and had room in his schedule the evening of Friday, September 29th.
I went up Wednesday evening after work and did a little slow flight along with some steep turns for a refresher.
He met me at the hangar Friday and after catching up jumped right into it. He reviewed my logbook and asked me questions about some of the different flights to get a feel for what kind of flying I had been doing.
I do a fair bit of everything. I enjoy the local flights to get a bite to eat, the “$100 burger run,” along with frequent long cross-country flights to Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Colorado. We talked about the challenges of longer flights, what planning tools I used, how I filed my flight plans, what weather tools I used, and how I got my briefings.
After almost an hour and a half it was time to go fly.
The FAA has charted practice areas in close proximity to many airports. The practice areas are named and have specific frequencies corresponding to flight within certain altitudes so pilots can communicate their intentions and stay separated while doing maneuvers. We headed off to the La Habra practice area just to the northeast of the Fullerton Airport.
He had me fly steep turns, slow flight, a power off stall, and then said “You have an engine fire, what do you do?”
The El Monte airport wasn’t very far away, but with an engine fire the priority is to get on the ground as soon as possible. Just below us was the large, flat top of the BKK Landfill. I told him that was the closest place to put down, pulled power back, and rolled into a descent toward my chosen landing spot.
With that exercise completed he said we could head back towards Fullerton. I hadn’t made much progress towards the airport when he asked, “If Fullerton was closed, what would you do?”
It is a valid question as I have personally seen KFUL closed for periods of time when there has been an incident on the runway from a gear up landing, to a plane veering off the runway into the dirt.
“I would head over to Corona and wait it out,” I replied.
“Ok, take us to Corona,” he said.
Divert to Corona
I pointed us toward Corona while looking up the frequencies for the weather and the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency).
The winds were gusting, but they were almost aligned with runway 25.
“Are you okay with those winds?”
“Sure” I replied, “I was based there for a couple years.”
“Ok, let’s continue then,” he said.
I began making my traffic calls about seven miles out, we were the only ones in the area. As we bounced around on the downwind leg, courtesy of the westerly winds blowing through the Santa Ana Canyon and over the hills, I commented that “this is going to be a little sporty.”
I turned final and while making constant changes with the ailerons, rudder, and power had us on a stable approach. Just as we were about to cross over the numbers he said, “A truck just pulled onto the runway.”
I knew there wasn’t a truck on the runway. I was looking right at the runway, and there was no truck. My CFI just wanted me to demonstrate a go around. Then again, what if you were landing and whoever was in the right seat or back seat said they saw something on the runway. Are you going to argue with them about it?
Maybe they are looking around and saw someone driving toward the runway and it looked like they weren’t going to stop. Regardless, if someone says they see something on the runway, just go around and sort it out later.
Back to “A truck just pulled onto the runway.”
I didn’t ask where, I gently added enough power to stop my descent and begin the climb. I didn’t want to add too much to quickly and have the plane pitch up on me with gear sown, full flaps, and trimmed nose up, I just wanted to arrest the descent and begin a climb.
At the same time I was adding the power I keyed the mic and said “Corona traffic, Mooney one-zero-one-five echo, going around, Corona.”
I raised the gear, added more power, raised flaps, and added the rest of the power while adjusting the trim to take the pressure off the yoke. As I took us around the pattern he commented, “That was nice, you were in control and not all over the place, let’s land this time.”
The winds were still gusting, but I set it down for a nice landing and we taxied back for a departure to Fullerton.
Back to Fullerton
We made the short hop back to Fullerton and he had me taxi back for one more trip around the pattern. I was glad to get the three full stop night landings in to renew my night currency which is more difficult to maintain during the summer months when it stays light later.
The tower cleared us for right closed traffic and we made one final trip around the pattern before landing and taxiing back to my hangar. Sadly, the last landing was my worst of the night, even though the winds were steady and not as challenging as the winds at Corona. My best landings are often the more challenging because I am more focused.
FAR 61.56 complete for another 24 months. Maybe I’ll work on my Commercial Ticket before those 24 months are up and reset the clock again.