Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

Check flights for sky gods

Don't give high-timers an easy ride

It is an old story, heard for years around flight schools...

Sky God, an ace-of-the-base airline pilot with umpty-thousand hours (he was an astronaut before he became an airline pilot, and before that he was an ace in three different wars) goes to the airport to get checked out in a Cessna Skyhawk or Piper Cherokee. The CFI-half Sky God's age and just barely out of CFI school -- makes him take a one-hour knowledge test, a one-hour oral, and a two-hour checkride before he will sign the endorsement.

Funny thing about that story; I have never seen it happen. I know a guy who knows a guy who says he heard about it, but I haven't seen it myself. I have, however, seen the flip side of that story, wherein the experienced pilot shows up, the young CFI is somewhat awed, and the result is an easy ride.

My friend Dick is a high-time pilot with thousands of hours of professional flying experience as a CFI, CFII, chief pilot, and charter pilot in pretty much all things piston. He now works as a NASA engineer in something called "NASA Turbine Assembly" (which I would explain but don't understand myself). The man is well-qualified, but he hasn't flown a whole lot since he quit flying for a living.

In the past year or so, Dick has taken two checkrides -- one for a flight review, one for instrument competency. Both were conducted with local CFIs in simple, single-engine aircraft. Given his past experience, one would expect each checkride to be a snap for Dick.

Sounds like a setup for the overly stringent checkride, doesn't it? To the contrary, Dick thought both rides were a tad on the lenient side.

I have seen this happen many times. An old pro goes for a checkride and comes out feeling that maybe she got an easy ride. She remembers how sharp she used to be, and she knows she is far from being that sharp today. She wonders if perhaps the ride should have been a little tougher.

In truth, I remember several such rides myself. I once sought out an old friend for my own flight review. I hadn't flown much in the past year, so I picked out an old, tough CFI who was (still is) one of the best in this area. He seemed almost embarrassed to put me through the grinder. I got an easy pass, and I knew it.

Now hear this. There are times when experienced pilots are rusty, know they are rusty, and really do want the CFI to bring them up to snuff. They want a ride that will leave them confident in the knowledge that -- hell, yes -- they are safe. When the ancient pelican comes to the airport, you might just ask him, "In addition to the obvious requirements, what do you want to accomplish with me today?" You may be surprised at the answer.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying for more than 33 years and has more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating.

By Ralph Hood

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