Thursday, March 1, 2007
Let’s play the Practical Test Standards Game again
There’s a wonderful line in a Toby Keith song that laments, “I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.” It’s a bar room tale complaining about the aging process and the awful fact that it can’t be stopped. Luckily, that’s not necessarily true of pilots. Flying isn’t about party stamina but about skill, and that doesn’t have to slide downhill just because time is passing—assuming, of course, a pilot wants to halt that erosion.
With flying, we know, for a fact, how good we were when we started because we had to pass an entrance exam that serves as a reference point to measure from. Even better, rather than the checkride being a random obstacle course of bats, flaming dragons and boiling moats, it was guided by the same map we were given as students that, if followed, would lead us through the maze to the other side: We were trained and tested according to the Practical Test Standards (PTS) guide. Basically, if we could decipher and satisfy the gods of the PTS during our training, we’d be guaranteed (more or less) to survive the test ride. That little booklet can still come in handy because, when we ask ourselves “Are we as good now as we once were?” we can fall back on the PTS and make up our own checkride.
In case it’s been a while since you looked at one, the PTS is arranged in a chronological order that starts asking questions and setting tasks long before the candidate gets in the airplane. So that we don’t get caught up in minutiae, we’re going to ignore much of the preflight stuff except for a few goodies that we should be asking ourselves more often. From that point on, we’re off on a flight of self-discovery: we’re looking for the pilot we were at the moment the examiner handed us our ticket with the ink still damp. Hopefully, we’ll find we’ve improved with experience in all areas, but, maybe not.
Preflight Questions To Ask Ourselves
• What documents must be in the airplane and how many have to be renewed?
• Can you recite the size, configurations and equipment/weather requirements for all of the air spaces
(A, B, C, D, etc.)?
• Do you ever refer to the POH performance charts, or do you just wing it?
• Can you still work a CG problem?
• Do you know which over-the-counter medicines are on the FAA’s list of no-nos?
• When you preflight an airplane, do you actually look at it carefully, or are you just walking around it, giving it a cursory once-over while looking for parts hanging off?
• Can you explain the basics of how the different systems in the airplane work, including, but not limited to:
- control system
- electrical system
Familiarity with the way the systems work is invaluable in the case of a failure in flight.
Before Taking Off
• Can you get it started in almost any weather?
• Do you know how to handle hot starts, if it’s a fuel-injected engine?
• The FAA loves checklists. Are you using yours? Checklists are a good way to avoid forgetting anything important.
The PTS contains some interesting and slightly contradictory language concerning takeoffs. For one thing, it mentions using “the most efficient lift-off attitude,” which we interpret as letting it run on the main gear and flying itself off, rather than pulling it off—something with which we wholeheartedly agree.
The area in this section that raises questions, however, is the suggestion that the climb speed, in this case Vy, should be in the range of five knots below to 10 knots over the prescribed speed. Every airplane has a specific climb speed that’s affected by various environmental factors (altitude, temperature, etc.). If this is why the FAA has such a wide allowable range, the PTS should state so. However, if, in a given situation, an airplane has climbed above or below the optimal number, it loses efficiency and won’t climb as well. Similar margins are applied throughout the PTS, and the same statement about efficiency applies in all cases.
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