It was that time of year again. Twenty-four months had passed and so on November 1st I ventured out to take the 32nd Flight Review of my flying career. No, I haven’t been a pilot for 64 years but since I hold multiple national licenses I get to show off my piloting skills more often than most.
This time I flew with an instructor who was new to me. My regular instructor is in the Ukraine, having back surgery (he doesn’t have to pay for it there), so he introduced me to Chuck, an ex-army Vietnam-era helicopter pilot and long-time Air Traffic Controller. You couldn’t wish to meet a nicer guy.
Chuck didn’t know anything about me except that I had around 5000 hours of private flying and he had read the article in Air Facts when I flew the Duchess across the Pacific Ocean, so I was interested to see how he would approach the Flight Review.
I have had Flight Reviews with spotty-face teenagers who have wanted me to perform every flight maneuver to PTS standards and who felt that if we didn’t spend three hours on the ground with an exam twice as complicated as the PPL written and another three hours in the air they had not fulfilled their objective. I have terminated a Flight Review with an arrogant instructor who was competing for the position of God Almighty and I have enjoyed several reviews with competent and experienced instructors from whom I have learned a lot.
I sometimes wonder about the value of a 30-year pilot demonstrating his skills to a 200-hour airline wannabe and, hopefully, with due humility, I sometimes feel that there has to be a better way to ensure the competence of our pilot population than a one-size-fits-all mandatory biennial flight review. I know the FAA gives great latitude to the reviewing flight instructor, but it can’t imbue all of them with the judgment that only comes with experience.
I have come up with schemes where I imagine that for the first 100 or 500 hours there is one kind of review and then something else as you gain more experience, or different categories of instructor like we have in New Zealand or something else that will better address the realities but have never really come up with a satisfactory solution.
I know that to an extent you can choose your own instructor to conduct the review so in that way you can select someone who will carry out an appropriate exercise, but that is not always possible. When I lived abroad, I had to fix up the review by phone or email to coincide with my brief visits and had to take whomever I was given. Personally I like being challenged; I am not after an easy ride. I just maybe would like to see a system that recognizes my experience and skills and in some way differentiates me from the newbie.
As for my ride with Chuck, we had a blast. The weather wasn’t good so we discussed the challenges that went with that. We got a pop-up IFR clearance, shot an approach, did some interesting maneuvers, a short field landing and over chicken fried steak at Nancy’s we discussed runway incursions, ATC phraseology, Class B clearances and low level flying in Vietnam. Altogether a satisfying and worthwhile experience. Chuck paid me the ultimate compliment by saying that he considered me to be a “professional” pilot. But when I look back on the Flight Reviews of the past, I have to say that this was probably the exception rather than the rule and can’t help wondering if there isn’t a better way.
What has been your experience with Flight Reviews? Should there be different reviews based on a pilot’s number of hours or years flying? What are the qualities of a good review? An ineffective one? Share your thoughts with us.