Another Way to Satisfy a Flight Review

RB “Doc” Hecker

EAA Technical Counselor # 5453

EAA Flight Advisor # 1905



I was recently reviewing my flight experience for the dreaded chore of renewing my aircraft hull insurance when my train of thought segued into thinking of how to best accomplish my next flight review. To remain in compliance with the provisions of FAR § 61.56, all certificated pilots must complete a formal flight review by a qualified flight instructor every 24 calendar months. Additionally, FAR § 61.56(d) states that “A person who has, within the period specified in paragraph (c) of this section, passed a pilot proficiency check conducted by an examiner, an approved pilot check airman, or a U.S. Armed Force, for a pilot certificate, rating, or operating privilege need not accomplish the flight review required by this section”. In other words, successful completion of the oral and practical (check ride) aspects of the required Practical Test Standards (PTS) for a certificate upgrade or additional rating satisfies the Flight Review requirement.


According to my logbook, the last rating I received was in 2005 for a single-engine seaplane addition to my Private Pilot Certificate. This add-on rating was accomplished during a one-day course offered by Sheble Aviation in Bullhead City, AZ where I qualified in a Piper PA-18-180 on Edo 2000 floats. Interestingly, the seaplane rating does not differentiate from float planes or amphibians, even though they are quite different pieces of equipment. One of my aviation goals had been an opportunity to fly an amphibian, and I hoped one day to add that experience to my knowledge base. And, is there a private pilot who does not dream of flying a multi-engine aircraft? In reality, the expense, complexity and insurance costs of owning one of these advanced aircraft precludes most of us from that experience. Over the years, I had received a smattering of left seat time in “twins”, but I had never completed the formal training.  A multi-engine rating was another item for my “dream list”.

Like most private pilots, my initial and early flight experience was severely limited by the constraints of family, time and money. By default, flight time was therefore sporadic. My formal continued flight training fell off as flying was done mainly as a hobby or weekend recreational avocation.   As my professional life began to incorporate the use of aircraft for travel, it became obviously necessary to add an instrument rating, which I completed in 1986. At that time I transitioned into more powerful and complex aircraft, eventually cementing a long-standing 19 year relationship with my 1965 Centurion 210E. With a normally aspirated engine producing 285 HP and retractable gear, it was a reliable aircraft that could carry 4 passengers for 4 or more hours at a reasonable speed of 160 knots.  My current flying profile ranges from the business use of the Cessna 210, which regularly required me to make use of my private instrument airplane rating during long-cross country IFR legs, to weekend day VFR flying of small tail-draggers to local airports. Although I had originally trained in conventional gear aircraft when I began my pilot training in the late 1960s, I found it prudent to obtain a more recent tail-wheel endorsement for insurance purposes, even though I had been “grand-fathered” by prior experience. According to the FAR’s, an endorsement is not the same as a rating, but specific endorsements are necessary to operate certain types of aircraft (complex, tail wheel, etc.), or to operate an aircraft in certain environments (high-altitude, pressurized equipment, etc.). Endorsements for specific pilot abilities are signed by competent flight instructors after reasonable instruction periods.


I have always admired pilots who held a Commercial Pilot Certificate as this implied a level of aeronautical knowledge and training that usually translates to a higher standard of flying expertise, and (hopefully) lower insurance premiums.  Since it is a professional grade of pilot certificate, the process to acquire this “ticket” requires successful completion of advanced knowledge (written), oral and practical examinations. Commensurate with this grade of certificate is a fairly high requirement of flight experience. The flight experience needed to qualify for the Commercial Airplane Pilot Certificate begins with a minimum of 250 hours flight time, which must include 100 hours in powered aircraft, 100 hours Pilot in Command (PIC) of which 50 hours must be in airplanes, and 50 hours of cross-country time of which 10 hours must be solo PIC in airplanes. Holding an Instrument rating satisfies the 100 hours PIC time. In addition to this experience, the applicant needs to have documented 20 hours of post-private pilot dual training that includes 10 hours of dual training in complex aircraft, a 2 hour dual day straight-line VFR cross country in excess of 100 nm, a 2 hour dual night straight-line VFR in excess of100 nm, and a 300 nm cross-country with 3 full stop landings, one of which is a 250 nm straight-line distance from the point of departure. There is also a very specific 5 hour night solo requirement of which 10 takeoffs and landings must be made at an airport with an operating control tower. Dual instrument training requirements are waived if the applicant has already received an instrument rating, but include 10 hours if not so rated. A Warning - A Commercial Pilot Certificate for airplanes without an Instrument Rating restricts a pilot to day VFR flight and a 50 mile distance for hire. Go for the Instrument Rating – you will be a better pilot!


So, a review of my logbooks revealed that over the years I had actually met the necessary flight requirements to obtain a Commercial Pilot Certificate. I then decided to reacquaint myself with the folks at Sheble Aviation to inquire of them just what it would take to complete the Commercial Certificate. In addition to completing the Commercial written examination prior to my arrival, I was told I could take their accelerated training course to “polish” up my flight maneuvers (Chandelles, Lazy Eights, Turns on Pylons, etc.). The scheduler thought it might take only 2 days. Emboldened by this, I then asked about a multi-engine rating. Since an original Commercial multi-engine rating has very specific flight requirements, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that if a multi-engine rating was sought after a single engine Commercial program was completed, it was considered an “add-on”, and only flight proficiency was required to take the oral and practical examinations. The scheduler thought that this would only take another 2 days. At that point, I decided to take a vacation in the Arizona Mojave desert during spring break. My wife and 2 daughters would tour potential colleges, and I would pursue a long-held dream of obtaining advanced pilot certification. I purchased an ASA home-study course for the Commercial Pilot Knowledge exam, and successfully passed this exam after 10 hours of home study. Sheble Aviation had me download a thick packet of Commercial and Multi-Engine information that I would have to study prior to my arrival at their facility. My training was scheduled to be in a Cessna172-RG for the Commercial Pilot upgrade, and a Beechcraft BE-95 Travelair for the multi-engine add-on rating. I downloaded an abbreviated Pilots Operating Handbook (POH) for each piece of equipment I would train on.


My journey began on a Friday afternoon when I flew the 1965 Cessna 210E from Bulverde, TX (1T8) to Houston, TX (KDWH) for my required annual crew training on the Commemorative Air Force’s B-17G “Texas Raiders”. On Sunday morning, I left KDWH for Fort Mojave, AZ (A20) with a fuel and rest stop in Las Cruces, NM (LRU). It was a pleasant trip, and I arrived in the late afternoon where I was met at Sheble Aviation by staff members who were closing up one of the maintenance hangars. To my pleasant surprise, I was given a “crew car”, directed to one of the nearby “casino resorts” on the Colorado River, and asked to come back at 1030 the following morning. At that time I would begin training after my paperwork and logged flight time had been verified.


Monday morning began with my producing required pilot and security documents which were then placed into my training file. My assigned flight instructor verified my logged flight experience, introduced me to the internet based FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and Rating Application (IACRA) program, and then took me to the classroom for ground school training. At that time I was informed that my training aircraft had been changed to a 1961 Mooney M20B, and a new abbreviated POH packet was given to me. Fortunately, I had extensive time logged in the M20 series so other than familiarizing myself with the manual “Johnson Bar” landing gear system, this was not even a hiccough. The ground school review was quite thorough, with heavy emphasis on VFR sectional flight planning and airspace knowledge. I was given a 300 nm cross country pilotage / dead reckoning problem to complete prior to my oral examination. It was estimated that after the training day was over I would have 4-6 hours of homework in order to prepare for the practical test. Flight training on Monday afternoon consisted of basic air work in the Mooney with later emphasis on flying the required maneuvers. Tuesday morning began at 0700 with another flight in the Mooney to verify my ability to demonstrate the required flight maneuvers. Flight training was completed after I was able to satisfactorily demonstrate emergency procedures. I was then informed that I would be given a Commercial Pilot oral and practical examination at 1000. At that time I met with “JoJo” Sheble, the Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE), who then opened my Phoenix Sectional and quizzed me for an hour on a multitude of subjects, to include an intense review of my cross country flight planning. Once that was completed, we went out to the Mooney where I briefed the examiner on our flight, answered his questions regarding the airplane’s systems, and verified that I had pre-flighted the aircraft. A major problem (and unexpected check-ride critical decision issue) occurred during the pre-takeoff run-up when the right magneto had a drop greater than 100 RPM that would not correct with aggressive leaning. I aborted the flight due to equipment malfunction, and taxied back to the flight line. At that time, the DPE asked me if I would consider taking my check ride in a 1948 Ryan Navion-A. He briefed me on its systems, gave me a complete cockpit checkout, and we left for what turned out to be a basically uneventful check ride. Despite its unusual and awkward hydraulic systems, I found the Navion to be an absolutely delightful airplane to fly. I was dutifully congratulated upon my successful attainment of a Commercial Pilot Certificate, Single-Engine Land Airplane.


While closing out my Commercial training file I was asked by the scheduler if I would like to begin ground school for the multi-engine rating immediately after lunch. I readily acquiesced, and was introduced to my new instructor who brought me back to the classroom for another 2 hours of intensive ground school on aircraft systems and a review of the fundamentals of multi-engine operation. After this was completed, I opted to immediately begin flight training in the 1959 Beechcraft BE-95 Travelair, which I found to be a very easy aircraft to transition into. I was introduced to the very important airspeed concepts of “Red-Line” and “Blue-Line”. Air work with both multi-engine and single-engine maneuvers was stressed, as well as Vmc demonstrations, propeller feathering, emergency descent procedures and slow flight. The day’s training was completed with single-engine instrument approach procedures to the Bullhead City (KIFP) towered airport, and multiple take off and landing procedures with single engine and twin engine scenarios. Homework that evening was a review of aircraft systems and emergency procedures. I was scheduled to fly the next morning (Wednesday) at 0700.   Following dinner that evening, I hit the books.


The Wednesday morning flight in the BE-95 was an intense review of single-engine procedures followed by 2 single-engine instrument approaches to landing while under the hood. Runway take-off abort procedures rounded out the morning flight. I was scheduled for my check ride at 1000 with the same examiner I had had the day before. The oral examination and practical check ride were pretty straightforward, and my distraction event was the examiner failing my critical engine while under the hood as I was both turning to intercept the VOR approach radial and descending to the assigned altitude – the discriminator was his telling me to actually feather the left propeller while establishing myself on the approach. Upon reaching decision height for the Circle-to-Land pattern entry, I was instructed to remove the hood, unfeather the left propeller, and set the critical engine power for minimal thrust in order to make a single-engine landing. My final tested maneuver was an unexpected waive off on my short final at our home airport, followed by a normal landing. Incredibly, I was now a Commercial Multi-Engine Airplane pilot. I was pretty tired. I had completed my training a day earlier than I had planned for. I was ready for something else!


I asked my DPE about the 1974 Lake-4-200 (Buccaneer) Amphibian and was told that it was a fairly easy aircraft to fly. He promised me that if he could arrange for another DPE to examine me for a Commercial add-on rating in that aircraft on Thursday afternoon, he would instruct me in it the following morning.   I took the abbreviated POH and reference material for the Lake back to my hotel room. Needless to say, it only took about an hour in the seaplane to become familiar with the amphibian…and the afternoon oral and practical check ride with the other DPE (“Senior” Sheble) was a lot of fun. It felt good to have the private ASES replaced by a Commercial ASES. Other than the trip back home to 1T8, I was finally finished with my week of aircraft adventure. I was happy, tired and somewhat financially depleted, but I had achieved a level of flight experience and certification that I had only previously dreamed about…and it was completed in 4 days.


So, my required Flight Review has been satisfied for another 24 months, and I departed Fort Mojave with a sense of confidence in my flying ability that had only been nascent prior to my tackling this opportunity. I would strongly recommend to any pilot that he or she try something new when it is again time to demonstrate competency in the cockpit. The type of accelerated training program that Sheble Aviation offers can quickly upgrade your certificate or add a new rating to your skill set. It will definitely boost your confidence level…and bolster the passion for flying that we all share. As the saying goes, “it is only limited by time and money”. The personal satisfaction and wealth of stories for future hangar flying are priceless.

RB “Doc” Hecker (EAA 789419) is a FAA Senior AME (20969) who retired from the US Army Medical Department in 1997 after 26 years of service. He holds a Commercial/Instrument Pilot Certificate for ASEL, AMEL and ASES along with an A&P Mechanic Certificate. He has logged over 2,500 hours and prefers small, intimate airparks. He has restored a 1965 Cessna C210E (N4904U), a 1946 Taylorcraft BC12-D (NC43306),a 1946 Aeronca 7AC (NC2241E), refurbished a 1943 Aeronca O-58B / L-3B (NC47185) and a 1947 Taylorcraft BC12-D (N43928). He is currently restoring a 1947 Aeronca 7BC / L-16 (N119TX). His other projects include building a RV-8 (N51TX) and he is assisting in the restoration of a 1976 Taylorcraft F-19 (N3556T). He has previously owned a Cessna C-172 (N61785), a Grumman AA-5B (N74447) and a Mooney M20C (N10AD). In his free time, Doc practices medicine in San Antonio, TX. He is a member of EAA Chapter 35 of San Antonio, TX, EAA Chapter 92 of Orange, CA, and is an EAA Technical Counselor and Flight Advisor. In addition, he is a Life Member of the Commemorative Air Force and affiliates with the Tex Hill Wing (Hondo, TX), and crews with the Gulf Coast Wing (Houston, TX) as a Flight Engineer and member of the maintenance team where he does sheet metal and fabric repair work on that magnificent 1945 B17-G war bird “Texas Raiders” (N7227C).

April 14, 2011