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Air Safety Institute Safety Spotlight

How long has it been?

Staying proficient goes beyond maintaining the guidelines set forth in the federal aviation regulations, and a current flight review does not necessarily mean you are up to speed. As pilots we need to be honest with ourselves about how often we fly, and whether we need some dual instruction if we haven't flown much lately.

On August 7, 2002, the pilot of a Beech Baron was killed when he crashed on approach to Runway 36 at the Festus Memorial Airport in Festus, Missouri.

The pilot departed at about 10 a.m. for pattern work. On the final pattern, the pilot radioed that he had turned through final (left traffic), and was making a right turn to enter the final approach for Runway 36. Pilots at the airport saw the Baron make a steep, 90-degree turn to the right, shortly before it descended below the tree line. Witnesses off the airport then saw the airplane pitch up in a nose-high attitude, decelerate, and roll to the left before it struck the ground.

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for single- and multiengine airplanes. According to the pilot's logbook, he had completed a flight review on December 1, 2001, and had flown once between the review and the day of the accident. The pilot had about 235 hours total time, 120 hours of which were in the Baron.

According to one of the pilot's flight instructors, he had counseled the pilot about flying more often to maintain proficiency in the Baron. He also noted that the pilot had a tendency to make steep turns in the traffic pattern.

The NTSB determined the cause of this accident to be the pilot's lack of recent experience and his failure to maintain adequate airspeed, which caused the airplane to stall and strike the ground.

Regulations don't specify what it takes for a pilot to be proficient, because it varies from pilot to pilot. The standards outlined by the FARs, such as a flight review once every 24 calendar months, should be considered the minimums. Pilots can be proactive about their proficiency by working with their flight instructor and outlining a plan to maintain currency--and then sticking to it.

For more information, visit the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Safety Hot Spot, Pilot Proficiency and the Flight Review (www.asf.org/hotspot), an online collection of ASF and AOPA resources geared toward helping pilots stay proficient.

Kristen Hummel manages the GA accident database for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine and instrument ratings.

By Kristen Hummel

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