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Tag: proficiency

BFR, airline style

The FAA being the FAA, everyone has to train. If you want to fly continuously, you are subjected to a flight review every two years. This was once known as the biennial flight review, and many people still refer to it as a BFR. In the general aviation world, the flight review is a chance to for you to review any area in which you are weak, need to practice, or that the instructor wants to emphasize. There is also a requirement for an hour of review on the ground. In the air, you will be required to demonstrate proficiency based on the level of certificate that you hold. In other words, a private pilot will get more wiggle room than an airline transport pilot (ATP), who is expected to be able to fly with hair-splitting precision.

In the world of larger airplanes such as jets and turboprops, it isn’t unusual to be required to undergo some form of more formal training using a simulator or fixed training device. The reason for this is twofold: safety and cost. Larger airplanes are capable of doing V1 cuts, a procedure in which an engine fails at the worst possible time during the takeoff roll, and the pilot(s) continue(s) to fly the airplane, with the intention of dealing with the issue once airborne (this obviously only works on aircraft with two or more engines). Doing the training in the airplane is risky and expensive.

These recurrent training programs are fairly structured, and the process and expectations are the dictate of the FAA, the insurance companies, the manufacturer, and the training agency.

At the airlines, the process is very similar, and if anything, it is more tightly controlled and regimented. While there are variations from one airline to the next, or even between the various fleets of an airline, the intent and purpose are the same.

In the old days—which was less than 20 years ago—a pilot would show up for his recurrent, and be given an oral that could cover just about anything under the sun….and sometimes did. Assuming he passed, he would then get into the sim and, without much of a chance to warm up, would be asked to demonstrate myriad maneuvers and procedures, some of which were sadistic and hopelessly unrealistic. Think of doing a single engine NDB approach in a gale-force crosswind while spinning a basketball on your finger, Globetrotter-style.

Today, the process is much more humane, and therefore productive. Generally speaking, there is some kind of a thorough briefing that, while not really an oral exam, isn’t really not one either. Thanks to the internet, enough training can be done online throughout the year that the need for a comprehensive oral is mitigated. Instead, the instructors use the time to review procedures that the crew doesn’t see in the airplane very often. They also discuss trends that have been tracked through various tracking and safety monitoring programs: airports with a higher-than-normal rate of unstabilized approaches, for example, or airports with known challenges created by short runways, construction, et cetera. It’s a good back-and-forth, as the students can often bring up-to-date information to the table while learning what problems other pilots have in training.

Most airlines conducty two days of sim training. The first day is a chance to practice certain maneuvers (often called “first look,” since they are scored on the first try), while knocking the rust off of the rarely used skills. The second day is typically a flight that is representative of life on the line, but with a few twists thrown in. There is usually a minor mechanical malfunction to deal with, and in order to keep things interesting, the training department will choose a challenging SID, STAR, or approach to fly, or they will make it interesting with bad weather, tailwinds, et cetera. Typically, there are two of these flights, so each pilot can fly— but not always.

The training typically covers whatever is being emphasized through the online training, so if the company is doing training on the fuel system, generally, the fuel system will have a malfunction in the sim.

Fortunately, airline pilots who fly for fun can substitute the Part 135 or 121 training for the flight review, though many will get the occasional BFR anyway, just to stay sharp in the small airplanes as well.

Training in general has come a long way, and will continue to evolve. Like most pilots, I used to have a bit of a sense of dread. Having been through so many training events now, I still prepare accordingly, but I look forward to the chance to review and refresh, not to mention just learning something new.
But as always, when it’s over, I walk away with a sense of relief, knowing that I am done with it for another year!—Chip Wright

Practice Runways: A low-cost pilot proficiency tool

It is finally summer in Alaska. Salmon are running in the rivers, wild roses are blooming on the roadsides and paint marks are starting to appear on select gravel runways around the state. Paint marks? On gravel runways? Are you crazy? Only a little, but read on…

Threshold of the freshly painted "practice runway" on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

Threshold of the freshly painted “practice runway” on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

Last week a twelve-person crew armed with 5 gallons of white paint, a sprayer, couple of plywood templates and a bunch of enthusiasm, assembled to create two “practice runways” on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport. Each end of the gravel runway (named the Ski Strip, because that’s it’s winter occupation) now sports a 25 foot wide by 800 foot long “practice runway.” Delineated by white 2 x 4 foot white rectangles painted directly on the packed gravel surface every hundred feet, it simulates a narrow, short runway pilots are liable to be landing on at back-country airstrips or gravel bars. These landing areas, often surrounded by trees, with rough surfaces, provide access at their favorite hunting, fishing or camping spot. The practice runways don’t provide the full range of conditions encountered in the field, but are also without the consequences– if you don’t get down and stopped in the right place on the first try!

Airports and stakeholder working together
Often these projects are a collaborative effort between the airport owner and a volunteer group that teams up to paint the markings in the spring, after the runway has been graded and packed. At Fairbanks, AOPA Airport Support Volunteer Ron Dearborn put out a call for volunteers using General Aviation Association’s email list, which brought help not only from that group but also from members of the Alaska Airmen’s Association, Midnight Sun Chapter of the Ninety Nines. and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Aviation Program.

AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteer Ron Dearborn lining out tasks for painting the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteer Ron Dearborn lining out tasks for painting the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

Previously established reference markers off the side of the runway make it easy to lay out markings for the paint crew.

Previously established reference markers off the side of the runway make it easy to lay out markings for the paint crew.

Plywood templates allow the paint crew to quickly leap frog from one mark to the next.

Plywood templates allow the paint crew to quickly leap frog from one mark to the next.

As soon as the NOTAM closing the Ski Strip went into effect, and after a safety briefing by airport operations staff, the crew took possession of the runway. They marked and painted the two practice runways in just under an hour. Assembling the crew and equipment, and cleaning up afterward took more time than actual painting itself. After the work was done, the group celebrated with baked goodies and beverages, before calling it a night. The Ski Strip stayed closed overnight to let the paint dry, but by the following day, airplanes were hard at it, doing stop-and-goes.

This is the fourth year that volunteers have worked with the airport operations staff to create this piece of infrastructure at Fairbanks, and other airports around the state. The practice runways have proven to be popular not only for super cub drivers, but with students just learning to fly and pilots of a wide range of aircraft wishing to calibrate their landing distances. Other airports that have received a “modification to standards” from the FAA to create practice runways on their gravel runways include: Goose Bay (Z40), Nenana (PANN), Palmer (PAAQ), Soldotna (PASX) and Wasilla (PAWS). I encourage you to use one of these practice strips and see how well you can hit the marks– and how much runway it takes to get stopped.

If your airport has a runway you think might be suitable for a practice runway, contact your airport manager to see if they are interested. The airport typically will need to coordinate with FAA Airports Division to approve a “modification to standards” which specifies how the runway may be marked. This is still a new program, only happening in Alaska. A guide has been developed based on experience from several seasons to help airports owners and volunteer groups figure out how to undertake a similar project. I encourage you to consider whether this program makes sense at your airport, as a small but positive way to influence aviation safety and proficiency.

It certainly makes it much more fun to get out and practice take off’s and landings!

Preventing Spoilage: Currency, Proficiency and Winter

It’s a dark and stormy Friday as I write, and winter suddenly seems to have shown up, just in time for the holiday flying season in nearly every corner of the northern hemisphere north of the 30th parallel. The result? Shorter days, higher winds and clouds bearing ice and snow challenge any general aviation pilot hoping to fly during the holidays.

The problem isn’t really the weather—there are plenty of flyable days—it’s the proficiency of the pilots (not currency: that’s a FAA term referring to the bare minimum logged time and skills necessary for pilots to legally carry passengers, perform in IFR conditions and fly at night), or rather the lack of proficiency of pilots in winter, when weather limits the amount of decent flying days available for safely brushing up skills before carrying passengers on a flight.

And with today’s plethora of buttons in technologically advanced cockpits proficiency has taken on a whole new meaning. For example, you may be legal to fly IFR in your Garmin Perspective equipped Cirrus, but how long has it been since you practiced the buttonology required to make the airplane navigate when (as happened just last week in Florida) RAIM fails along your route of flight, rendering GPS navigation inaccurate and forcing you back onto airways, navigating with VORs. Or worse, say you suffer an electrical failure that forces you to reduce electrical loads and rethink your routing mid-trip. How long has it been since you thought about the NORDO (no radio) procedures if your VHF communication fails (squawk 7600 for starters) and you need to shoot an IFR approach at your destination? Have you spent time checking the power supply in your handheld radio? Have you tested it to see whether the rubber ducky antenna that comes standard will permit communication from inside your cockpit, and to who? Simply because these emergencies don’t happen often is reason enough to review them all before an IFR flight.

My offseason flying is always augmented with a bit of computer-based simulator time (find a real flight training device, such as a RedBird or Frasca simulator at your flight school to maximize your experience). I run ASA’s OnTop software on my PC out here in the countryside. I set up both round dial and EFIS cockpits to keep the mind limber and go to town practicing circle-to-land approaches with tight minimums, turbulence and random instrument failures—even “ATC” distractions from the other room help out. The challenges are humbling, and generally send me back to refine my checklists and re-read the user manuals on my GPS/Nav and EFIS to remind myself of the myriad of different ways I can program the boxes to either work together or, if one fails, independently.

Finally, I try to fly at least once a month, and definitely in the days before I carry passengers, just to work any little kinks out of my landing technique, particularly in gusty  or crosswind situations. It takes as little as a half-hour of pattern time to polish your touchdowns.

I challenge you to take an experienced CFI with you and test the envelope of your airplane against your own skills on a less-than-perfect flying day. Use a “dead-weight” to simulate how the aircraft will feel with passengers in the rear. The experience will make you more competent and confident, not to mention, proficient. That’ll feel better for you, and your passengers, too.

Amy Laboda has been writing, editing and publishing print materials for more than 28 years on an international scale. From conception to design to production, Laboda helps businesses and associations communicate through various media with their clients, valued donors, or struggling students who aspire to earn scholarships and one day lead. An ATP-rated pilot with multiple flight instructor ratings, Laboda enjoys flying her two experimental aircraft and being active in the airpark community in which she lives.

Web Survey on Alaska “practice runways”

AOPA has launched a web-survey to solicit input from pilots who used any of the “practice runways” that were marked in Alaska this summer. For details see AOPA’s story. For more background on this project see earlier blog post.

If you used one of the runways, please take the survey!

A vertical view of Ski Strip 2 at Fairbanks International Airport. The 2×4 ft rectangles define a 25 foot wide “practice” runway. Marks along the runway are spaced 100 ft apart to give a measure of landing/take off distance.

Alaska Creates Practice Runways to Sharpen Pilot Skills

Knowing that you can get down in stopped in 600 feet is a good skill if you plan to land on some of Alaska’s backcountry airstrips.  And now you can practice in the comfort of a conventional runway, before taking on all the challenges of off-field conditions.  To improve aviation safety and reduce off field landing accidents, the FAA has entered into an experimental program in partnership with airport owners, and aviation user groups to create a number of practice “bush” runways within the confines of a conventional gravel runway.

 

Volunteers paint a 2′ by 4′ rectangle on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

The “practice” runway is created by painting a series of two by four foot rectangles to mark a “bush” airstrip that is 25 feet wide, and either 600 or 800 feet long.  Marks are spray-painted on the gravel surface at 100 foot intervals, providing an easy reference to judge your landing, or take-off distance.  Volunteer groups at six Alaskan airports are stepping up to the plate this summer to create these training aides.  And while not simulating all the conditions of a true off field situation, developing the precision to get down and stopped on a short, narrow surface is certainly a skill one wants to have mastered before taking on the other variables involved in off-field operations.

 

Kudos to the participants in this project, which include the FAA, Ninety Nines, Alaska Airmen’s Association, Alaska Airports Association, Alaska DOT&PF, Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation, AOPA and the individual airports. In all cases, volunteers stepped up to the plate to provide the labor and equipment to do the painting.

A 25′ wide by 800′ long “practice” bush strip on the East Ramp at Fairbanks International Airport

The six airports approved for this year’s test are: Fairbanks International (PAFA), Goose Bay (Z40), Nenana (PANN), Palmer (PAAQ), Soldotna (PASX) and Wasilla (PAWS).  Once a runway has been marked, a NOTAM will indicate the non-standard markings.  Check out one of these runways near you, and take advantage of the opportunity to test your landing and take-off skills. The benefit of using these facilities is that if you don’t make it the first time, only your ego is bruised — which is a lot less costly than bending your airplane far from home!