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.
So, on climbout, do you know what the climb speed (best rate or angle) is supposed to be? Do you hold it plus or minus two or three knots (not minus five or plus 10)? If you want max efficiency, you need to know and fly that number.
And do you, as outlined in the PTS, manage to correct for crosswinds, both during the takeoff and on climbout, so you’re always on the runway centerline?
The PTS has a lot to say about various maneuvers in the air, including steep turns, S-turns across a road, rectangular patterns and turns around a point. In all of them, emphasis is placed on:
• Splitting your attention between the ground track and controlling the airplane, both of which are actually tied together. This is an excellent test of your ability to actually control the airplane.
• Without saying so, the PTS requires knowing when the groundspeed is increasing and decreasing and what effect that has on the ground track in any maneuver, whether it’s an S-turn, rectangular pattern or turn around a point. It allows altitude margins of plus or minus 100 feet, which is okay. The real question is whether you can still remember what effect changing groundspeed has on your ground track. Go out on a windy day, and see if you can still fly the maneuvers the way you did on your checkride.
In the stall section of the PTS, the FAA clearly says that you’re actually going to stall the airplane, both power off and power on, and won’t recover until the stall has actually occurred. Good for them! But how long has it been since you’ve actually practiced stalls—especially takeoff and departure stalls in which the attitude and resulting attitude change is more abrupt?
Although the FAA is clear about its desire to have the candidate experience a true stall rather than just the buffet, when it comes to spins, it goes just the opposite way. The language is “Objective: to determine that the applicant exhibits knowledge of the elements related to spin awareness by explaining…” and it goes on to talk about aerodynamic factors, situations in which spins might occur and procedures for spin recovery. This is a controversial area and one for which many CFIs think students should tiptoe right up to a spin and demonstrate that he or she can keep his or her head and fight the urge to pull. Being able to explain it is one thing. Being able to maintain your cool when it’s actually on the edge of departing is something else.
Flying The Pattern
The PTS mentions a lot of generalities about exhibiting knowledge of airport procedures, collision avoidance and other basic info. Then it states that it gives points to the candidate if he or she:
• Complies with proper traffic pattern procedures (Well, do you?)
• Maintains proper spacing from other aircraft (No one actually tailgates, do they?)
• Corrects for wind drift to maintain the proper ground track (Meaning, do you wander around on downwind or on final?)
Then it says, “maintains traffic pattern altitude, plus or minus 100 feet, and the appropriate airspeed, plus or minus 10 knots.” This last point, downwind being a 200-foot-high window, is something any self-respecting pilot should be able to tighten up easily. Half that distance is easily attainable and, in reality, most of us should stay within 25 feet of our altitude unless the weather is beating us up.
There has been an interesting change in the last few years in one part of the PTS. In the explanation of the parameter for flying the pattern, there was once a line that read, “Establishes an appropriate distance from the runway, considering the possibility of an engine failure.” That line is no longer in the PTS. Does that mean engines no longer fail? This is another issue for which a pilot should use his or her own judgment and improve on the standards set down by the PTS.
Approach And Landing
The PTS goes through all the takeoffs and landings—soft, short, normal and crosswind—clearly spelling out what’s expected of the applicant, although there’s still that 15-knot spread on approach speed with which some instructors disagree.
Interestingly, the PTS landing section states that, in every landing scenario, the applicant is expected to touch down no more than 400 feet past a selected point. Considering the wide range on the approach speeds, this is an interesting contradiction. If you’re on the high side of the PTS’s approach speed range, you’ll float like crazy. If on the low side, you’ll drop through ground effect much more quickly. Regardless, can you put your airplane down repeatedly just 400 feet past a given mark on the runway? Since you must have done it as a student pilot, you definitely ought to check to see if you can do it today.
Few to none of us are the vibrant young souls we were decades ago; however, by following the PTS in giving ourselves a checkride, we can find our weak spots and work to fix them. We’ll never be younger than we are right now, but there’s no reason that we can’t fly like we’re young.
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