Best BFR EverBy Peter Conan
t - My BFR, Biennial Flight Review, took me last week to the Mansfield, Massachusetts airport which is known by the identifier 1B9. I always think of it as “one benign” airport: a non-towered field off in the wilds of the southeastern part of the state, actually closer to Providence than to Boston. Usually the instructor administering my review is younger than I (after all, however many sixty six year old flight instructors are there?) and the hour’s ground review is generally taken up with my knowledge of the FARs and light-gun signals.
But Roger Lee, an ebullient elf nearer my age than not, had other ideas. The review was a three-page, closely spaced handout for discussion, pointing out the many situations where pilots can cause accidents, demonstrate poor planning skills, exhibit poor judgment and make boneheaded decisions. “As pilots in command, we have the ability to disappoint people” said Roger, cheerfully grinning and making his blunt point. Which was this: there is almost NEVER a reason that we MUST complete a flight or even start out on a trip when the risks are considered. Case in point, the JFK Jr. accident. Why a low time pilot without an instrument rating would subject his passengers to a trip on a moonless night with haze over open ocean is a prime example of poor judgement. Did they really HAVE to get to Hyannis for the wedding? Was flying an airplane without an instructor the best choice for getting there? The pilot’s log book indicated that, of the 300 or so hours of PIC time, only 39 hours had ever been flown solo.
Or this: while it is nice to know that the student can interpolate the amount of fuel used at 65% power at 5,000 feet at 20 degrees Centigrade, the very fact that one must make this calculation to determine if there is enough go-juice in the tanks means that you probably should ADD SOME, or pick a closer airport, or refuel along the way. Gathering the information necessary for a flight is a requirement of the regulations, but how a pilot USES the information is the important thing.
As a Certified Flight Instructor, Roger was concerned that his signature on the BFR reflected his candidates being exposed to examples, lots of examples, of fuzzy thinking. Or have had these examples drummed into them: whatever it took. “I’m not above whacking you on the side of your head” he gleefully demonstrated to drive home a point. The discussion turned from pilot actions to TFRs and ways to find a graphical representation of their locations. He introduced me to pilotgeek.com, flight planning software which plots TFR locations in a way that makes the written descriptions on DUATS look positively medieval. We discussed performance charts and other items that a PIC should be very skeptical of.
There were a few of the standard FAR questions: transponder codes for emergency, radio failure or hijacking. And the inevitable light gun signals (“basically green is good, red is bad”). I was pleased that Roger, with over 7,000 hours and me with 2,600 hours, was able to get to the foundation of the BFR without needing to cover a lot of minutiae. His concern was: Am I a safe pilot, what would I do in this situation, what are the primary reasons for accidents? And then we went flying. Roger asked me to demonstrate steep turns, recovery from full stalls, no-flap landings, and emergency descent procedures with a “failed” engine. Demonstrating a slip to lose altitude, something I haven’t done in quite a while. Thanks, Roger, for concentrating on safety and hammering home the need for good JUDGEMENTS, not just good information, as pilot in command.
Last week, I reported on a pitot-static failure in a Piper Arrow. I called the flight school and asked what had been discovered. They told me the interior panels had all been torn out to expose the static and pitot lines and sure enough, there was a clog. All fixed, cleared out, and working fine. But they were unable to duplicate the gear light failure. The instructor I talked to mentioned that perhaps the navigation lights had been switched on, which dims the gear light display. Um, I’m pretty sure that was not the problem. But now I need to go sit in an Arrow to confirm that I could see all the switches. At six feet four inches, I’m tall enough so the row of switches is obscured by the yoke. I am religious about checking all switches before departure, but remain open to the possibility that I was the one at fault, concentrating as I was on the erratic airspeed and altimeter indications.