One would think that a fairly simple recurrent training requirement established by the FAA over 40 years ago would be a ho-hum thing by now.
One would be wrong.
The FAR Part 61.56 requirement to fly with an instructor biennially (every two years) and receive an endorsement of a pilot’s basic fitness for flight is shockingly prosaic when compared to what professional pilots must do for recurrent training under Part 135 or 121. Yet the flight review (FR) still gives many pilots the vapors and has spawned a cottage industry in “how to prepare” courses.
We looked at review/prep courses, reviewed accident reports and statistics and spoke with instructors about flight reviews in coming to a number of conclusions about getting ready for and successfully completing a flight review. We’ll state them up front:
• Frequent recurrent training is hugely valuable for pilots. It’s a major portion of the reason why the accident rate for airlines, air charter, fractionals and business flying is so low. A flight review every two years helps reduce the risk that you’ll roll an airplane into a ball and we strongly recommend one every year.
As we were researching this article, Avemco and the National Association of Flight Instructors released data showing that over half of all aircraft accidents involved pilots who had not flown with an instructor in over a year. We think that is a giant red flag warning against going more than a year between flight reviews.
We also learned that as the insurance market is “hardening” with rates going up, the insurers are instituting more rigorous recurrent training requirements. If you’re flying a piston twin, you probably have to take recurrent training annually now to get insurance. We anticipate the annual training requirement to trickle down to high-performance singles.
• If you’re flying regularly, you’ll probably complete your FR in one session—and that session won’t take more than a total of four hours.
• Chances are that you have the materials you need to prepare for the FR in your personal library and/or can access what you don’t have at no cost on the internet.
• There are very good commercial FR prep courses available at reasonable prices.
Take a deep breath. To start with, it’s impossible to fail a flight review. If you have an incredibly bad day with a CFI, it goes in your logbook as dual received. That’s it. While we all want to score 100% of every test, it may take more than one flight to get the cobwebs off of your steep turns or slow flight. Big deal.
The only downside to not getting the FR endorsement on the first time you fly with a CFI is that if your 24 months has expired since your last FR, you can’t fly as PIC (that includes solo) until you get a new endorsement. Um, that’s also a very good reason for not putting your FR off until the last moment as the realities of aviation karma include delivering lousy weather for the one day you have available for the FR flight before it expires.
FAR 61.56 mandates some sort of recurrent training for all pilots every two years. It may be satisfied in a number of ways—the most common for pilots flying under FAR Part 91 is a flight review.
However, there are alternatives: Pass a “pilot proficiency check” as part of military flight operations or what is generally referred to as a “checkride” for an additional pilot rating, certificate or operating privilege (you’ve been wanting to get that seaplane rating, right?) or complete one phase of an FAA-sponsored pilot proficiency program (WINGS).
The minimums for a flight review are one hour of ground and one hour of flight training that include review of operating and flight rules of Part 91 and maneuvers and procedures that the instructor thinks are necessary for the pilot to demonstrate safe exercise of the privileges of his or her pilot certificate.
In our opinion, the first step in getting ready for your flight review is to contact the instructor you’re going to fly with and spend 15 minutes on the phone—no, not texting—and talk about the kind of flying you ordinarily do and learn about the instructor’s approach to flight reviews.
It’s probably been a while since you took any dual, so take the time to get a good feel for the instructor. If you’ve never met or flown with the instructor, there’s going to be some caution on both sides. You don’t want an instructor who is going to set unrealistic standards and require three sessions of dual even though you are fully current and flew 180 hours in the last year. At the same time, the instructor wants to make sure that you’re not the guy who can’t analyze his own skills, has been desperately trying to find an instructor who will sign him off and is an airborne menace.
Coming into your FR cold is going to cost you more because you are going to spend time with the instructor sorting out your background and what will be accomplished during the flight review—stuff that could have been taken care of, probably without charge, during a phone call.
So, at the most basic, go through the POH for the airplane, list the appropriate V-speeds, review the emergency procedures and memory items for each and prepare two or three sample weight and balance scenarios.
You probably have an aviation library that will get you well on your way to getting back up to speed on things that your instructor will want to discuss during your FR—airspace (a real biggie, not only VFR weather minimums but also TFRs as we approach an election year), FARs as they apply to the flying you do, radio communications for towered and non-towered airports, and systems and emergency procedures for the airplane you’ll be flying.
In our opinion the first place to look outside of your personal library is the FAA’s Flight Review Preparation course on the FAA’s FAASTeam website (www.faasafety.gov). It’s interactive, it’s free and we think it’s complete and well prepared.
Our next suggestion is to spend 15 minutes reviewing AOPA’s Pilot’s Guide to the Flight Review on the AOPA website (www.aopa.org). Then click on their online courses and take the ones that not only apply to the flying you do, but that look interesting. Yes, you have to be a member, but the $59 cost of the membership gives you access to a large library of excellent courses and is cheaper than some of the commercial FR courses.
Among the AOPA online courses we recommend prior to taking your FR are: Know Before You Go (airspace), Runway Safety, Cockpit Weather, Say It Right (radio communications), Essential Aerodynamics and Do the Right Thing (decision making and judgment).
For $39.99 Sporty’s (www.sportys.com) offers a flight review course in online and TV format. We’ve always liked the content, style and pacing of Sporty’s training products and this one is in keeping with the high-quality tradition.
There are seven subject areas broken into 49 segments. It takes about two hours to complete. There are quizzes at the end of each lesson. To complete the course, a final review quiz becomes available—after you’ve seen all of the videos. A score of 80% or better generates a flight review ground training endorsement that satisfies the one hour of ground training requirement of FAR 61.56.
We note that the instructor you fly with for your FR will probably still want to spend some time on the ground with you prior to the flight.
Rod Machado (www.rodmachado.com) offers his Flight Review E-Learning Course bundle for $49. It consists of seven hours of interactive video consisting of two courses, the Interactive Airspace Course and Interactive FAR Course.
We like Machado’s in-depth presentations and humorous style; however, we’d prefer to see a course that was tailored for the flight review rather than a combination of courses that are usually used for pilot training.
As with its Pilot Refresher Course, Gleim’s (www.gleimaviation.com) $29.95 Flight Review course is airplane specific—it uses performance and weight and balance data for the airplane you’ll be flying. We like that.
The interactive course consists of a series of study units with questions and detail on the answers. There are no videos; however, we feel that the course covers what you will need to know to prepare for your flight review.
King Schools (www.kingschools.com) offers its Flight Review Online Bundle of three courses—VFR Regulations Refresher, Pilot Communications and The Complete Airspace Review—for $119. The courses are broken by subsections into video labs. The information is presented clearly with relevant illustrations. Total time is about three hours.
We have always liked the quality of King presentations. We like the selection of courses presented in the bundle, but would like to see King prepare a dedicated flight review course that takes the best from this bundle and adds material it does not include such as aircraft performance and emergency procedures.
From ASA (www.asa2fly.com) comes a book (hard copy, $12.95 or e-book, $9.95) entitled Guide to the Flight Review. It’s targeted at both pilots approaching a flight review and CFIs giving them.
It provides a comprehensive review of need-to-know information as well as a practice quiz and a sample written test that a CFI might give a FR applicant.
While the idea of taking a flight review generates the heebie-jeebies for a lot of pilots, a little preparation and early communication with the CFI can turn it into a low-pressure learning experience. Believe it or not, it sometimes turns into a lot of fun as a CFI coaxes abilities out of a pilot he didn’t know he had. We’ve seen it happen.
In researching this article, we were extremely pleased to come to the conclusion that the prep materials available to a pilot for free—or the price of an AOPA membership—are more than adequate to get ready for the FR.
Finally, while we know we may sound hopelessly out of touch with the real world, we recommend, in the strongest possible terms, that pilots take a flight review at least annually to substantially reduce their risk of bending an airplane.
Rusty Pilot Refresher: You’re Not Alone
The combination of the implementation of BasicMed and long-running economic growth has caused thousands of pilots who had quit flying because of relatively minor medical issues or cost to act on their dream of returning to the skies. They’ve been supported by a surge in free and reasonably priced refresher courses designed to help those who need to rehone their skills and get their personal aviation knowledge database up to date.
We looked at a cross section of study materials available and attended one of AOPA’s (www.aopa.org) free-to-AOPA-members Rusty Pilot seminars. We also spoke with CFIs who have flown with rusty pilots to get them back up to speed and through a flight review. Our conclusion is that there are some excellent resources available to a pilot who is willing to do the homework involved with getting back to flying.
Our first suggestion to pilots who haven’t been flying in a year or so is to start reading. Go to AVweb (www.avweb.com) and search its extensive library for materials on rusty pilots and recurrent training. There are numerous videos on YouTube. The FAA’s Safety Team website (www.faasafety.gov) is a treasure trove of information on getting back up to speed as an active pilot. There’s no need to have a hair trigger to buy stuff—the current FARs and Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) are on the FAA’s website (www.faa.gov).
We think highly of the FAA WINGS (www.faasafety.gov) pilot proficiency program in general and are of the opinion that it is an excellent resource for a rusty pilot.
We are of the opinion that an AOPA membership is worth every penny to a rusty pilot. That buys admission to a large number of online, interactive courses that will help you get your groove back, starting with its Rusty Pilots course. It’s a two-hour program that takes you through a cross-country flight scenario that includes just about everything you do when planning and flying a trip —dealing with airspace, regulations, weather and decision-making. There are short quizzes as you go and most pages have links that let you delve more deeply into specific topics. Plus, it helps you find flight schools, aviation medical examiners and how to connect with other pilots.
AOPA has a traveling Rusty Pilot seminar program. We attended one of the three-hour sessions at our local airport and then followed one of the attendees as he got back into flying (and through a flight review) after a nearly 10-year hiatus. The class was fast-paced and provided a good review of the topics that a pilot will need to study in more depth to get back into action and pass a flight review. There was no claim that the one class by itself would be enough to return a pilot to the cockpit—that’s not realistic. It does, in our opinion, hit all of the subjects that a pilot is going to need to review in more detail.
The pilot we followed told us that he did a lot of additional reading and bought one of the tablet navigation apps (ForeFlight) and learned to use it, which helped him greatly in the process of getting updated on airspace, regs, weather and ATC. He made three flights with a CFI in completing his flight review.
While we like free stuff, we also think well of the commercial courses available for recurrent training that can be of value to rusty pilots.
Gleim’s (www.gleimaviation.com) Pilot Refresher Course is priced at $29.95 and has the value of being aircraft specific—it uses weight and balance and performance charts for the airplane you’ll be flying. It uses video presentations followed by quizzes with guidance for further study based on your quiz answers.
Rod Machado’s (www.rodmachado.com) Rusty Pilot Collection is a collection of 20 books, audiobooks, eLearning courses and videos. Choosing the right ones can be a little daunting. We think the $49 Flight Review eLearning Course is a good place to start and we like Machado’s humor-laced teaching style.
The Return to VFR Flying Kit offered by King Schools (www.kingschools.com) is not cheap, but for $299, it provides 17 hours of video courses that will take you through what we consider to be just about everything you need to know in one place.
At $99 we consider the Rusty Pilot Kit from Sporty’s (www.sportys.com) to be the best value of the commercially available courses. It includes a flight review course, VFR communications course, the FAA Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, current FAR/AIM and a kneeboard. One of the biggest challenges, in our observation, for returning pilots is radio communication, something we were pleased to see addressed well in Sporty’s Kit.
Finally, we liked one recommendation we heard from a number of instructors—on a bad weather day when your intended airplane isn’t flying, sit in it with the POH and go through all of the normal and emergency procedures. It doesn’t cost anything and should help reduce the amount of dual needed to get flying again.