FAA commercial requirements…

… or how to waste some money.

Firstly I’d like to tell about FAA check-ride situation in Florida: a lot of flight schools, a lot of students, and only 5 DPEs. On practice it means that usually one have to wait for a checkride more than a month. We are a little bit lucky, because DPE works in our school, and if somebody cancels, we have a priority. Of course one can apply for a FAA examiner, but waiting time is even longer. Usually much longer.

So, I met my commercial requirements according to FAR 61.129 about a week and a half ago, and scheduled a checkride. I was lucky, somebody had a cancellation, and I was expecting a checkride July 16. And on Tuesday somebody canceled a checkride on 12th of July, and I took that slot. That is I expected my commercial checkride today. It did not happen. It has stopped even before we started an oral part, during a logbook analysis.

So, what happened? We see the following in FAR 61.129:

(i) Ten hours of instrument training using a view-limiting device including attitude instrument flying, partial panel skills, recovery from unusual flight attitudes, and intercepting and tracking navigational systems. Five hours of the 10 hours required on instrument training must be in a single engine airplane;

During my instrument training I got 38, and I considered that I’m done with that. But the examiner used this and this FAA letters. In the first one we can see that 61.65 training hours (i. e. towards instrument rating) do not qualify towards 61.129 requirements (commercial). The opposite works. The letter is for helicopter rating, but nevermind, for airplanes we have the same. The second letter says that the training can qualify, but it should meet 61.129 requirements. I. e. if CFII explicitly adds that in the logbook during your instrument, you are safe. But the problem is that I was on a part 141 during my instrument. It is a structured training with an approved syllabus. Nobody mentioned anything about 61.129. Actually standards are the same, and training is the same. But legally it does not work without mention of 61.129. And DPE’s position – I need 10 hours more instrument time (dual) after 141 instrument program.

Possibly it was naive, but I supposed to have almost exactly 250h TT before my checkride. It does not happen now. So, let’s fly more. I hope I will have a long cross-country tomorrow (the concern is the weather…). Later I just have to plan ahead more carefully. During my commercial training I had a small doubt about this requirement, but I did not paid attention on it, neither my CFI did.

So, I need more hours, my checkride shifts by some days, and I cannot even imagine when I can have my multi checkride. Flight hours are OK, they always matter, but I am disappointed about longer time.

P. S. when I already realized that I don’t fly today, I figured out that the airplane for our checkride have only 1 hour before 100h inspection. Somebody flew a cross-country yesterday night.

Bartow

Today I finally succeeded in my efforts of trying to wake up early at the weekend. Actually it was a good reason to do it: much more chances to fly cross-country wherever you want before thunderstorm activity. Today I was going to Bartow. It is an airport in about 70 miles to the South-East. Close enough to have a breakfast and go back before significant weather activity.

Today it was a typical Florida summer day near the Gulf of Mexico: after about 11 am the South would be closed by some thunderstorms lines or at least isolated thunderstorms. So, I was going to Bartow. It is a controlled airport in a class D airspace. I was expecting practicing my communications. I checked tower working hours, and everything seemed OK. With that weather and my working hours I was able to fly South-East not very frequently.

I decided to ask for a flight following: good practice for IFR flight communications (of course, not exactly, but close enough). And it is a good idea to get a traffic information in that area. Climbing to 5500. The air is calm and cool, today was a perfect summer weather. No clouds, so nothing prevented me to climb to that altitude.

About 15 miles to the destination it’s better to get ASOS information: the weather and a runway in use at the destination airport. Apart from that, I heard something like “the restaurant is closed”. Oh, it seems that I have no breakfast today.

Landing, vacating the runway. I am asking for a clearance for taxiing to the FBO. Taxiing to something that I supposed to be the FBO, but… “N7692U, FBO is in another direction!”. “Request progressive taxi…” How can I know that the FBO is the small building with a 4-plane parking? I thought that it is a group of hangars and 100-plane parking nearby… No signs at the airport, no markings on the airport diagram. BTW, thank you very much for understanding!

The airport itself was a cozy place: there were an interesting small museum and a free cup of coffee available. Very friendly tower controller 😉

So, it’s time to go back. The weather still looked good, and I was done with my coffee.

On the way back I decided to ask for a flight following again: there were some clouds on the way, and it was a good idea to have traffic advisories. I fly a VFR-only airplane, which means that I cannot enter the clouds under any circumstances, and possibly I even could not manage to go direct. In that case flight following can be a good advantage.

I requested 4500, but the controller asked me for 3500. OK, why not. After some time I have been seeing clouds straight ahead. OK, asking 4500. Clouds were still somewhere in front of me and were getting closer. 6500. No way, still below the tops somewhere in front of me. Damn, I supposed that those tops should be at about 4000-5000! I had absolutely no wish to try to go through that labyrinth. So, I should either try to go higher, or descend and proceed below them. OK, descending back to the summer hot. I was not able to continue direct, I didn’t want to go back, so I had to make 360s, like a spiral. 6000, 5000, 4000, 3000. Still almost at the cloud base. 2000. OK, at least here I am well below. I can proceed to my destination, and it is easy to find a labyrinth path when you are below it.

After about 10 miles the clouds became something between few and scattered. Oh, every day in that place I can see almost the same. Two more hours, and there will be thunderstorms here. But at that moment it was still good.

What a nice weekend! =)

Long Cross-Country

Every FAA CPL candidate should have at least one long cross-country flight with one 250+ nautical miles leg, as stated in 14 CFR § 61.129.

Today I had this long cross-country flight: KCGC-KMTH-KIMM-KCGC, more than 6 flight hours with one refueling.

The first 30-40 miles the ceiling was at about 1500 feet, going higher upon moving further to the South. After about 70-80 miles a relatively wide clear area have been found for being able to climb to 5500. The air was very calm at this altitude, and the scenery was spectacular.

There were no clouds above KMTH at all. Some scary (but beautiful) cumulus clouds sat somewhere around Miami, but they were too far.

The wind was steady and weak, so the landing was easy.

On the way back the weather was nice and shiny, except for about 30 miles around our school airport: the ceiling was still relatively low.

Anyway, one more task is accomplished. This long cross-country is a bit challenging: the weather should be fine along the route for at least 6-7 hours, and you have to book the airplane in advance for the entire day. As a result, some students have to wait some weeks for their long cross-countries.

A TOMATO FLAMES

Before every flight we have perform a preflight check, and for flying VFR (visual flight rules) during daytime there is list of equipment which must exist and must be operational. The entire list is stated in § 91.205, and there is an acronym for simplify our lives: A TOMATO FLAMES. Once filled out it looks like this:

A – airspeed indicator;
T – tachometer for each engine;
O – oil pressure gauge for each engine using pressure system;
M – manifold pressure gauge for each altitude engine;
A – altimeter;
T – temperature gauge for each liquid-cooled engine;
O – oil temperature gauge for each air-cooled engine;
F – fuel gauge indicating the quantity of fuel in each tank;
L – landing gear position indicator (for airplanes with a retractable gear);
A – anticollision lights (for aircraft certificated after March 11, 1996);
M – magnetic direction indicator (e. g. magnetic compass);
E – ELT (emergency locator transmitter);
S – safety belts.

Today I was going to fly commercial maneuvers: chandelles, eights-on-pylons, lazy eights, steep spirals. Constant practice is required for mastering them.

After the first climbing turn the magnetic compass attachment cracked, and the compass hanged on the wires. Actually it is not a big dear near the airport in a good weather, and that particular compass is a total mess with non-reliable indications and blurry glass, but legally this device is compulsory for flying. And anyway it is not safe at all to fly with a heavy metal device hanging in front of your face.

It looks like the airplane will be grounded at least for some hours, so it’s time to study.

Nice Box

Currently I am mainly flying the airplane without GPS, so I decided to order some things for better situation awareness.

First of all, I ordered an iPad for using it with foreflight (which works only on apple tablets/phones). At the end I’ve chosen FltPlan Go instead, but anyway flying with EFB is easier: I can read METARs, use airport diagrams for VFR and approach plates for IFR. I still prepare paper charts for every flight, but now they become my backup source of information.

BTW, FltPlan Go is not available in some local App Store versions (for example, it is not available in Russian App Store).

I also bought stratux: it is an ADS-B device combined with AHRS and GPS. As a result, I see the weather and traffic data, and have a backup attitude indicator. It is not a primary source of information, but one more safety measure.

Summer Florida brings a lot of thunderstorms, they are forming quickly, and typically there are more than one cell. In case of thunderstorms we can see “VCTS” in the METAR: it means “thunderstorms in the vicinity”. We see that sign almost every day after about 2pm, but before 1pm it is usually safe, and the sky is clear.

I have planned to fly North-East and back before large cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds would start to form, but today it happened earlier, and I saw some towering clouds from the destination airport. They were still rather far to the North-East from me, and South-West direction was still clear, so I took off and turned to the South-West.

After about 15-20 minutes some cumulus clouds ahead turned into small thunderstorm cells, so it was better to deviate. After some more minutes I saw a really large dark cloud of about 6000 feet height in about 25 miles, and some more not so big cumulonimbus clouds.

I was looking for aerodromes nearby all along my route just in case if the situation becomes worse, but fortunately thunderstorm cells did not form a long line, so flying about 10 miles straight to the South did the job to safely avoid them.

It was a bumpy ride anyway, and wind gusts became about 16 knots according to our weather station.

In about 1 hour after landing thunderstorm cells formed a continuous wall almost along the shoreline with about 10-15 miles shift to the East. The wind became stronger, but those cells was not moving: moist air from the ocean fed them. Further to the East the clouds were dissipating, occasionally forming some new not so strong cells. And all this lasted for some hours.

That kind of weather is typical for summer Florida. It’s true that almost every day is flyable, but in summer it’s better to be on the ground after about 2 pm.

Tailwheel II

I am continuing with my tailwheel training.

I found out that taxiing in citabria is not so difficult at the end, but just requires very precise pedals manipulation.

There are two different landing methods: the first is when you keep nose-high attitude and let the tail wheel to touch down, and then apply even more pull force to slow down until the main wheels become on the ground too. The second is when you keep the airplane’s nose relatively low, and very gently and precisely let the main wheels to contact the ground while still keeping the tail wheel in the air.

The second way is much more challenging, and requires very low vertical speed at the touch down moment. Moreover, it is a little counterintuitive: you have to push the stick then the wheels are on the ground, the reflexes force to do the opposite.

Flying and landing a tailwheel airplane is really interesting. It improves visual flying skills (especially directional control and landings), so if you are a pilot (or thinking to become a pilot), I strongly advice to have this experience.

Tailwheel

I’ve already told that I need 250h total time to meet the commercial requiremens, and I considered that I can fly different aircrafts during this time-building for getting additional endorsements.

One of the endorsements is a tailwheel one. It is useful both for better airplane control and for future job opportunities: I am considering a bush flying route.

In my case the training airplane is citabria. It is an aerobatic plane. Pilots seat one-behind-another, not side-by-side. There is no attitude indicator and course directional indicator, but the airplane has g-meter which shows g-load. The throttle lever is on the left side, no flaps, a stick instead of a yoke.

Taxiing is really way more difficult: I feel like a drunk sailor. I should apply rudder much more precisely.

At the take-off the airplane’s nose initially points up, but with gaining some speed we can slightly push the stick and align the airplane almost horizontally. After that it feels like a usual Cessna take-off.

The ball in a turn coordinator behaves insanely. I used to see 1/4 deflection, at most 1/2 in a turbulent weather, but here… It runs from one edge to another. The airplane is much more sensitive.

Steep turns. The airplane enters in a steep turn very easily, and easily returns to a wings-level state as well. We can only determine an angle with g-meter and outside references.

We should turn by magnetic compass reference, so we refresh the knowledge about compass turning errors.

Stalls. As usual, we should pull the stick, and the airplane is slowing down. Then it stalls, and we can start the recovery procedure. I am pushing the stick as I used to do it on a cessna, and… It seemed that the airplane went down almost vertically. I already mentioned that the controls are much more sensitive.

Sideslip – it seems that my heading and course differs at least by 30 degrees. And in this airplane proper sideslip can be really necessary since we don’t have flaps.

I flew my first traffic patterns in about 3-4 minutes, no more. I used to do it in about 6 min.

I liked the citabria a lot. It requires even more control precision and provides less time for reaction, but it’s an amazing airplane. I think that this experience can greatly improve basic ‘stick-and-rudder’ piloting skills.

Night flight

During my previous visit here I completed almost all commercial requirements related to night hours except one 2-hour cross-country. I wanted to fly it, but some circumstances prevented that flight.

This time this flight seemed to happen. I checked the airplane in advance, ensured that we had full tanks and enough oil. Ensured that nobody would fly the airplane since that check.

The airplane just came from maintenance, and we were going to fly with my instructor.

So, here we go. We checked everything one more time, read necessary checklists. Everything was OK, and we started taxiing to the runway.

During the take-off roll the airspeed was raising, but suspiciously slow. It was more than 500 ft, but we still had 45. 45, 47… The runway is long, but still not endless, so it was better to abort the take-off. We safely stopped well before the runway threshold, but I think that the real speed was more than 70 when the decision was made.

Some system malfunction is not a pleasant case. To be honest, I was slightly scared.

We taxied back, but I still wanted to fly if possible: the weather was good, and it was not the only available airplane in the school. So we still could fly!

The flight was good. I thought that it’s hard to see clouds at night, but actually it is not, and we were able to keep us well below them.

We flew to KVNC, and requested flight following. For some reason the controller diverted us along the shoreline, around class B airspace.

Return flight was also around class B airspace, but on the East side. Firstly because of the weather avoidance, and secondly because it’s fun to fly a different route.

I like night flying 🙂

Jacksonville

Today I made one more cross-country flight to Jacksonville Executive. Our route crossed a restricted area: when it is active, I cannot fly there in specified altitude range. That area can be active during specified hours, or by NOTAM. If it is active, I should avoid it or choose an altitude out of the area range.

During the briefing I found out that the area is inactive. The weather is good. Let’s fly!

It is the first time when I asked for flight following: ATC could see me on the radar and potentially warn about some close traffic or a potentially bad weather. The communications in that case are similar to any IFR flight, but it is still VFR, and you must be in VMC.

At about 10 miles before entering the restricted area I asked the controller about the area status, just in case. Everything was OK, and the controller gave me some additional information about adjacent areas.

Flight following is a very useful thing, especially because I don’t have neither TCAS nor ADS-B equipment, and traffic information can be useful in busy areas.

I also plan some flights with IFR flight plan in a good weather to maintain my communication skills and shoot some approaches. I have to be proficient in it before entering real IMC.

To be continued

This post is becoming traditional when I continue my practical training after 1-3 months interruption: blog is still alive, the goal is getting closer.

At least I am flying again. I flew more than an hour today and practiced different kinds of take-offs and landings: normal, short field, sort field. Then stalls and steep turns. I missed flying a lot!

I’ve chosen part 61 instead of 141 for my CPL, and it is really perfect. Yes, it is 250h TT vs 190h, but I highly doubt that I can find any job with < 200h TT. And I already have 150h after my EASA/FAA PPL + FAA IR, because I flew more than 50 solo cross-country hours in August for meeting my EASA CPL requirements in future.

So, it’s really great, because I can go faster. The instructor is unavailable, but the weather is good? OK, fly solo. The weather is bad for cross-country? OK, practice commercial maneuvers in the vicinity of the aerodrome. Bad weather? Fly IFR. For part 141 it is not recommended: you should follow a syllabus.

Besides, I am preparing to a FAA written test. Now I score 90%+ in aviationexam and gleim. Possibly I will purchase sheppard air, but not sure for now.

Finally I ordered an iPad. I’m not a fan, but I’d like to use foreflight, and it exists only for iOS. I understand that there are plenty of alternatives, but what is the point? Foreflight is really great. Everybody knows it, and almost everybody uses it.

I am also thinking about portable ADS-B receiver for better situational awareness – our airplanes neither have a weather radar nor TCAS =)