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Friday, July 24, 2009

The Commercial Pilot

I have started training for the commercial pilot’s license, and ultimately flight instructor rating. To do this, a pilot must have passed a written test, meet a long list of experience requirements, and pass a practical check ride with an examiner. To pass the check ride, you must be able to fly all the maneuvers listed in the FAA practical test guide, while maintaining heading within 10 degrees and altitude within 100 ft.

Some of the maneuvers are essentially the same as the private pilot test – you must be able to take off and land under a variety of conditions, simulating short runways, soft surfaces and emergency conditions such as engine failure in the pattern. The difference is that were as in the private rating, an emergency power off landing just had to get down on the runway in one piece, a commercial pilot is expected to touch down within a couple of hundred feet of a designated spot. Everything is more precise.

In the air, the pilot must be able to perform very steep turns (my new instructor likes 55 degrees, just shy of a 2G 60 degree banked turn), a steep power off spiral (also at 55 to 60 degrees of bank), and two performance tasks – the chandelle and lazy eight. A chandelle is an emergency avoidance maneuver. While flying straight and level in cruise, the pilot banks the aircraft at about 30 degrees, and pulls the yoke back to start a climb, while advancing the throttle to full power. The purpose is to reverse direction and climb the most possible while covering very little ground. If that baseball player who crashed in NY had done a chandelle instead of a level turn, he wouldn’t have hit the skyscraper back in 2003 or 2004. A good chandelle ends facing the opposite direction, much higher, with the pre-stall warning buzzer sounding.

The lazy eight involves a start similar to the chandelle, only without adding power, and after turning through 90- degrees and slowing, you let the nose fall through and finish the other 90 degrees in a turning dive instead of a climb. The goal is to end up facing the opposite direction, at the same altitude, but having reduced your turn radius by making it at reduced airspeed. Link several together, and it makes a kind of “8-on-its-side” pattern.

The ground reference maneuvers are the same as the private test (circling a tree in a field, flying a square pattern while adjusting for wind, S turns along a road), but with one new one, “8’s around pylons”. You select any two landmarks (a big house with a pool, a road intersection) and fly around each making a figure 8 as seen from above.

I am not really having any problem with this. I have enough experience now, and I am familiar enough with my airplane that I can make it do all these exercise. Some took a few attempts, such as the chandelle, to find out how much to raise the nose to maximize the altitude gain before finishing the course reversal, but that was about polishing it. I can quite constantly do a 360 degree steep turn, and hit my own slipstream as I level out. The more difficult part is still to come. I have to change aircraft.

A commercial pilot has to have 10 hours at least in a complex aircraft. That means one with a retractable undercarriage, and a constant speed (more efficient) propeller system. So now I will have to learn how to do all those maneuvers again, only on a bigger, faster, and more complicated airplane.

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