At EAA AirVenture this year I had the pleasure of meeting Rollie Zavada, a fellow flight instructor. Rollie is a volunteer with the Civil Air Patrol and conducts proficiency flights for that great organization.
During our short time together, Rollie mentioned that he uses three maneuvers to evaluate a pilot's proficiency: steep turns, crosswind landings, and touching down at a specific point on the runway. He asked what I'd recommend as an additional maneuver to assess a pilot's skills. Without much hesitation, I suggested slow flight.
Slow flight is the burrito of aviation -- everything rolled into one. It's my experience that pilots who can enter, exit, and maneuver in slow flight while controlling airspeed, altitude, and heading are likely to be proficient pilots. This is especially true when these pilots can vary their bank in slow flight while manipulating power to maintain the desired flight parameters.
Slow flight is a maneuver that requires an understanding of just about everything that makes an airplane fly. Not only must a pilot use his knowledge of slow-speed aerodynamics (think region of reversed command), but he must also know something about P-factor, torque, slipstream, power usage, attitude control, and so on-and be quite capable at basic stick and rudder skills. It's been my experience that a pilot who fails to use rudder properly in slow flight probably won't use it properly during crosswind landings.
If I could use only one maneuver to evaluate a pilot's proficiency, I'd choose slow flight. Combine Rollie's three choices with slow flight and you have a sweet suite of maneuvers to help initially evaluate a pilot's flight proficiency.
By Rod Machado