Scenes from an IFR Proficiency Flight

I recently took the Bonanza on an IFR proficiency flight with a fellow instructor. I do these flights periodically to keep my IFR skills sharp. We flew under VFR from KBFI to KBVS for a couple of approaches (with recoveries from unusual attitudes along the way), then on to KSHN for another approach and to top off the tanks before returning to KBFI. Below you can see the GPS track from the flight as shown in Google Earth. (Planned route of flight as shown at SkyVector here.)

More details of the flight track are available in this SkyDrive folder. Some of the squiggles on the first leg show where I practiced recoveries from unusual attitudes. You can also see the holding patterns used as course reversals; the track of a partial-panel, circle-to-land approach at KBVS; the approach at KSHN; and the VFR return to KBFI.

I captured the GPS tracks with a Garmin GPSMap396, which I always bring along on flights in the Bonanza for onboard weather and backup to the GNS530W in the panel. Reviewing GPS tracks can help any pilot during a post-flight debriefing. It’s easy to capture track points with most GPS receivers, even non-aviation models. For more information, see “Technique / Track Your Flight,” a feature in the June 2010 edition of AOPA Flight Training magazine.

Video of a Practice Formation Flight

Here’s another YouTube video of a formation practice flight last week near KBVU. I captured the video with a ContourHD camera attached to my headset. I cleaned up the audio on this video and added narration to describe what’s going on at key points.

This was a two-ship flight with my primary formation-flying mentor. He flew F-4s, F-5s, and F-16s in the Air Force after serving as a T-38 instructor. He has lots of experience teaching formation flying and leading formation flights.

Lead was in his RV-6A. Another Extra, this one a 330LX (the newest model and successor to the 300L that I fly), joined us. That red airplane was flown by another Air Force fighter pilot. He flies F-15s in a test squadron at Nellis AFB. We coordinated the rendezvous before the flight, and lead cleared him in after we established contact in the air. He stayed just a little while before he headed off for the rest of his planned flight.

Another Flight Instructor Renewal Clinic (FIRC)

I have just completed the biennial process of renewing my FAA flight instructor certificate, the only aviator’s certificate issued by the FAA with an expiration date. If you don’t renew before your certificate expires, you must take a flight instructor practical test again.

I used the most common method for completing the process, an online flight instructor renewal clinic (FIRC). Online FIRCs are the least painful means of keeping a CFI certificate up-to-date. You can work at your pace, review the material in any order, and complete the course from any location where you access to the web. The courses typically cost about $100, a big savings over in-person clinics, which often involve travel, with all its related expenses and pressures.

For the first time, I used the Gleim course, produced by a company that publishes many training programs for pilots and maintenance technicians. It’s the most straightforward FIRC I’ve completed. No fancy graphics or videos that can gum up other programs I’ve used in the past. Each of the 16 modules in the current course begins with a 20-question, true-false quiz to get you thinking about the topics at hand. Next, you review an annotated outline (typically about 25 pages) that highlights changes to rules, procedures, and technology. It also emphasizes issues that have led to accidents and incidents. When you’re ready, you take a 10-question multiple-choice test on the content of that module. You must score at least 70% to pass.

FIRCs, whether online or in-person seminars, must follow standards established by the FAA in Advisory Circular 61-83G, and the FAA must approve the content of each course. The FAA now mandates that each FIRC cover at least 10 core topics (see below); FIRC providers may offer additional, optional topics. The course also must take at least 16 hours to complete.

I especially like online FIRCs because I can work through the modules in any order and at any time. I’m not tied to the rigid, full-day schedules associated with in-person courses. Although you don’t get to interact with other instructors and a presenter, you can work at your own pace. Although some online FIRCs (see links to several providers below) emphasize snazzy graphics and video, I prefer the efficiency of the Gleim approach, which minimizes technical glitches and works well even over a slow Internet connection. Gleim also provided excellent, prompt email replies to my comments and suggestions as I worked through the modules. It was a relatively painless way to meet the requirements, and, as always, I learned (or re-learned) some important details.

Required FIRC Core Topics

  1. Navigating in the 21st Century: Pilotage to GPS.
  2. Security Related Special Use Airspace: What’s Going on Where, and How to Stay Clear.
  3. Transportation Security Administration (TSA): What Flight Instructors Have to Know to Stay Out of Trouble.
  4. How to Teach Effectively and Build a Culture of Safety in Your Students and Your Workplace.
  5. Safety Trends in GA: How CFIs Can Directly Contribute to Aviation Safety.
  6. Pilot Deviations: Their Causes and How to Teach Your Students to Plan Ahead to Avoid Them.
  7. How to Make the Best Use of the FAASTeam and the WINGS—Pilot Proficiency Program in Your Program of Instruction.
  8. Regulatory, Policy, and Publications Changes and Updates.
  9. How to Give an Effective and Useful Flight Review.
  10. Ethics and Professionalism in the Role of the Flight Instructor.

Selected List of FIRC Providers

Microsoft Flight: A Few More Details

The Microsoft Flight team released a bit more information about the successor to Microsoft Flight Simulator on 15 November. You can read the update here. It includes details about the hardware you’ll need to show off the snazzy new graphics.

It includes a teaser for “an exciting announcement” in December.

Unfortunately, we still don’t have answers–even hints, really–about what Microsoft Flight (the new product’s title doesn’t include simulator) is. Will it continue to re-create the entire world? Will it include navigation data, ATC, and other features essential to a simulation? What aircraft will be included? Will any add-ons created for Microsoft Flight Simulator work with the new “game”? So far, Microsoft isn’t saying.

Formation Practice Flight

A group of pilots at Boulder City, NV is preparing for a missing-man fly-by next week at the veterans home in town. I joined them today for a formation training flight. Here’s the video.

Because I haven’t flown formation in a while, I first flew in a two-ship with our lead to knock off some rust (and keen observers will note that I could benefit from further practice). We then joined a three-ship and flew as a five-ship for a couple of practice fly-bys of the veterans home, where they’ll do a missing-man formation fly-by next week.

The other airplanes in the group are all variants of the RV series of homebuilts.

You will notice a few jiggles of the ContourHD camera, which is mounted on my headset. That’s when I’m nodding to acknowledge hand signals from lead. At other times, lead gives signals with his airplane (e.g., rocking his wings to tell us to close up from route formation). We use a standard set of hand and airplane signals for most formation changes; only a few instructions (e.g., changing from close trail to extended trail) typically require verbal orders and acknowledgements.

The wide-angle lens distorts distances a bit, and the camera is a few inches above my eye level, but it still gives a realistic view from the cockpit.


Testing the ContourHD camera during aerobatics

I fiddled with my ContourHD camera today during an aerobatic hop in the Extra 300L. As you’ll see if you watch the video, I still have some adjustments to make to line up the camera properly when it’s attached to my headset. This a was a test hop both for the camera and to see how the headset holder worked during some basic aerobatics. I didn’t push too hard (it’s been more than a month since I last flew the Extra) or do any razzle-dazzle stuff. I just wanted to see how well it worked during a series of basic maneuvers with both positive and negative G.

I also didn’t bother trying to edit in music, etc. Someday I’ll create a more elaborate video that combines both the headset camera and the airplane’s external cameras.

The flight was out of Boulder City, NV (KBVU). Here’s the area where I typically fly aerobatics as shown at SkyVector.