Every pilot must, by law, complete a Flight Review (or equivalent) every 24 calendar months. The law specifies that this review must comprise at least one hour of flight and one hour of ground instruction, and it must include a review of the operating procedures of Title 14, Part 91 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
“Part 91”, as it’s affectionately known, covers things like airworthiness rules, pilot-in-command responsibilities, weather & equipment minimums, right of way rules, etc. It also contains some fun stuff, such as rules on formation flying, and the guidelines you have to follow before dropping objects from your aircraft.
I’m not making that up.
The Flight Review is a good thing. The average pilot only flies 30-50 hours per year, and doesn’t progress beyond the private level. Inevitably, skills and knowledge begin to rust away. Even I, a pilot who flies ~500 hour per year and teaches this stuff every day, find myself having to look things up. There’s just a lot of stuff to remember, and precious little of it is what could be classified as “unimportant”. This is flying. We’re hurtling through the air in three dimensions, sometimes in the clouds where we cannot see, and defying the law of gravity in a way only birds were meant to do.
Anyway, there are countless Flight Review guides, aides, and courses available. Some are extensive commercial products that have a hefty price tag attached to them. Others are available for free via the internet. I’d never found one that I really liked until today. And who made it?
Would you believe… the FAA? Yep. Anyone who’s read through the FARs (and even the AIM to some extent) know that brevity is not the Fed’s strong suit, but this course is different.
The FAASafety.gov web site — the online component of the FAA’s Aviation Safety Program — has put together a sort of online college catalog of courses you can take. I was not in need of a Flight Review, but just for kicks went through the course anyway. It took me about an hour, and covered all the pertinent information in a very concise, compact way. PDF files are available if you want to go into more depth on a particular topic, and there are plenty of links to the relevant pages in the Airman Information Manual.
I loved the format, because if you are not in need of much review in a particular area, you can get the basics and move on to the topics where you do need to go into more detail. It’s customized without being customized. Even the quiz questions at the end were a cut above the usual FAA stuff. It’s a mystery to me how the required TSA security training can be so poor while this FAA Flight Review guide can be so good.
Actually, I do have a thought on that. One of my students — a guy who came to me for a Cirrus checkout — is a video producer who worked with the FAA to produce a runway safety DVD. This DVD was was sent to every flight instructor in the country. I spoke at length with him about the quality of the FAA’s publications and he indicated that the Feds know some of their stuff falls short, but they’re slowly (it’s a government agency, after all) coming around to a new way of doing things, bringing in web, video, and marketing specialists to make use of the latest tools and techniques for pilot training.
To be fair, the FAA’s own web site does provide a tremendous level of data. Pilot searches, aircraft registrations, online regulations, etc. On the other hand, there are things like IACRA, the FAA’s attempt at making 8710 forms ‘paperless’. If it were possible to take out a contract on a web site’s life, I’d be sorely tempted to pool my money with other CFIs and hire Tony Soprano to rub that thing out. Ugh.
I went through the FAASafety.gov site in greater detail and found a lot of good stuff there. But the Flight Review course really caught my eye. I thought highly enough of it that I’m going to print out full color copies of the course and put in a binder for reference.