On February 8, I went up on what the Civil Air Patrol calls a “Form 5” check flight. It’s named after the CAP form that the check airman uses to check you out and sign you off.
If you’re going to fly for CAP, you must already be an FAA certificated pilot and all of the FAA standards and regs apply. But CAP has even higher standards and CAP wants to be sure that its pilots fly to those standards. CAP is, after all, the auxiliary of the United States Air Force, its members who meet the height and weight requirements get to wear USAF uniforms (with slight modifications in insignia), and CAP performs vital missions that require those skills.
Plus, there are few things cooler than announcing yourself on the radio as “CAPFLIGHT two-zero-two-eight” instead of Cessna three-niner-blah-blah-blah.
Thus the Form 5 ride. I did an initial Form 5 in August. Finally putting my flight skills where my mouth is. I wear captain’s bars in CAP, but not because I’m such a hot pilot. I’m, the assistance legal officer of the Michigan Wing and thence comes the hardware on my shoulders. The aircraft I flew was a C-172P, a variant that I’d never flown before that I know of. Though I’m instrument rated, I didn’t want to get into a strange airplane with a strange panel and try to fly to CAP standards. So I did it VFR-only in August.
A flight or two on CAP currency missions since then have gotten me wanting to stretch my CAP legs a little and be able to fly CAP aircraft in instrument conditions. So I put out the word that I wanted in on the next opportunity to do a Form 5 instrument ride.
A newer member of the squadron, senior member (SM) Scott (last name withheld simply because I haven’t asked him whether it’s be okay to put his name up there for all of AOPA to praise), coordinated with the check airman so we could both do our Form 5 rides on the same day. I did the IFR (instrument flight rules) ride and Scott did his initial VFR (visual flight rules)-only ride.
So this is where the post ceases to be about my IFR ride. I passed the ride on the ragged edge with an admonition to go get more time on the gages. I’m safe, but I can use improvement. No problem. I have plans for lots of hood time this summer.
This is where the post becomes about Scott. The check airman joked as we got in to the aircraft that Scott, as a fairly new 85-hour private pilot, was likely to turn in a great performance because, among other things, he hadn’t had any opportunity to pick up any bad habits.
In fact, Scott absolutely rocked his Form 5 ride. The picture that leads this post shows the panel while he was in the middle of one of his steep turns. All of the gages except the DG looked like they were painted on. He did a spectacular job on the ride.
A couple of take-aways from this ride for me.
First, there are going to be days in your training when the airplane will not obey you and nothing seems to work. But the FAA PTS are designed to have you come out of your private pilot checkride a very competent and safe pilot. Scott, though a low-time guy, demonstrated obvious mastery of the aircraft and it was a joy to see that. Keep at it. You’ll get there!
Second, I’ve rarely spent time in the back of an aircraft just watching someone else train. I got the opportunity to do it through the DC-3 type rating school and it was amazingly helpful to watch someone else go through the training while I silently did the same callouts and went over the checklists in my head.
The experience was no less valuable on this ride. I identified a number of things that I would have missed or been behind on in watching Scott’s flying. I also had the opportunity to share in some of his excitement at flying the aircraft so well.
If you have the opportunity, try to ride along on someone else’s lesson and just watch the training. Or team up two students to an instructor and change out students halfway through the flight, ideally at an airport with a place to get lunch. This is especially true of instrument flight training, where you’re very busy when you’re in the left seat and might not have time to sit there and reflect on what went right and what went wrong.
As always, pay attention to weight and balance to make sure that you can carry all of the people and fuel you have in mind. With the three of us in the aircraft and fuel only to the bottom of the tabs, we were within 25 pounds of max gross takeoff weight, but well within the CG envelope. Also make sure that the left-seater is aware of the potential effects of a more rearward center of gravity. The stalls and other maneuvers can feel a little different if the left-seater has never flown with someone in the back before.
But, if you can, take advantage of every opportunity to ride in the back on a training flight. It’s a great training experience. Especially if you have the opportunity to watch a really skilled pilot like Scott go through his paces.