The Temptation of the Pencil-Whipped Flight Review


During my long and colorless career as a flight instructor, I’ve been asked a few times to pencil whip a flight review. This I have never done and still would not do, although I am surprised to admit my reasons for not doing so have changed.

I never believed that FAR 61.56’s requirement for a flight review every 24 months was particularly effective or even necessary in the absolute sense, if not the regulatory sense. A review every two years is laughably minimal training. Can it really have an effect? But I always felt that a flight instructor is charged with considerable responsibility to act as a thought leader and blatantly blowing off regulations—no matter how silly they may be—just sets the wrong tone. As a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a cowboy and could actually ride pretty well, but the kind of cowboys that sit in cockpits isn’t something I aspired to.

Inevitably, when you reach a certain age, you stop caring so much about what others may think of you in favor of a noticeable shift towards corporeal preservation. Over a life of doing risky things—I qualify for that—there arises, I think, a gnawing question: Am I good or have I just been lucky? Maybe it’s a little of both, but the longer you stay in a game in which the consequences of the slightest oversight can be fatal, the more the likelihood that complacency will creep in causing that which you fear the most.

That’s where the flight review comes in. I was asked to do one last week and for the briefest moment I thought, oh hell, I’m busy and he’s busy, we’ll just do a few circuits and stick a fork in it. I decided against that because I’ve always done flight reviews as the regulation requires: at least an hour on the ground and an hour in the air, if not more. From a flight instructor’s perspective, not doing it that way is an example of the very complacency I just mentioned. Complacency is a corrosive process; get away with a little of it and you’ll try a little bit more, then a little bit more until you don’t-care your way into a smoking crater.

In the aggregate, it doesn’t much matter if a pilot knows the fine points of 91.215 or actually does log the three required landings for night currency. It’s the attitude that goes with not caring about such things globally that can be the killer. If I blow off knowledge of regulations and procedures, how long before my discipline caves in entirely and I get sloppy with preflights, weather briefings, maintenance, fueling and any of a dozen other things that can actually kill me?

So, perhaps perversely, I adhere to the pile of regulations we all like to complain about in the (probably) blind hope that I actually am good and not just lucky.