It’s check flight time
Whether you are a new PPL holder or an experienced pilot (career or recreational), lockdown has provided us the chance to review our skills. Now that restrictions are beginning to lift, it is a prime opportunity to think about flying with an instructor and getting a fresh perspective.
After you have been grounded for a while, it is a good idea – and often a legal requirement – to have a check flight. This is a short review of your skills and you are expected to get everything right first time – but you should not feel daunted. An instructor shares her thoughts…
What happens during a check flight
A check flight is conducted by any aviation school/club with a professional flight instructor. It consists of general handling, where the likes of PFLs, stalls and steep turns are assessed, followed by a circuit session on return. The instructor is looking for a consistently good performance throughout, watching things like your spatial awareness, lookout and radio liaison. As instructors, we also make sure the pilot is able to cope with any eventuality in flight, so a simulated inflight emergency is not uncommon. This could be anything from an engine failure after take-off to an open door in flight.
While a check flight is the safest way to start flying again, the instructor is looking for everything to be good first time. If you feel like this may be too much pressure after so long on the ground, opt for a training flight instead. This way you can carry out a mock check flight with your instructor without the pressure of ’passing’. If you get something wrong, it doesn’t matter! You are there to learn and improve. Once you are happy, and have received your instructor’s approval, you can go up for that check flight with much more confidence.
Preparing for your check flight
You can prepare for the upcoming flight before you get to the airfield. Firstly, you should check that your licences are still valid. (COVID-19 licence exemptions can be found via the CAA). Re-engage your brain by immersing yourself in resources like the Skyway Code. Familiarise yourself with your flying apps, practise decoding those TAFs and METARs, read through your old PPL notes and source the latest NOTAMs. Start thinking flying!
On the day of your check flight, your instructor will be expecting you to act as PIC. You need to take full responsibility for things like checking the aircraft over, calculating the weight and balance and making sure you have sufficient fuel for the flight. As an instructor, I also make sure to go over the Threat Error Management model before the flight begins. This is the best way to discuss the biggest external threats and errors that pose a risk to the flight. We then confer about how we are going to manage them to minimise risk.
Before you fly, talk to your instructor. Make them aware of any worries or questions you may have. Run through the ‘I’M SAFE’ checklist with them. It is important to be able to bond with your instructor and feel relaxed so you can get the most out of your flight whilst receiving feedback with a clear head.
It is your flight so have a think if there is something you have always wanted to try but prefered having an instructor with you for the first time, because this can be incorporated into the flight. At my school, we often encourage experienced pilots to add something new into a check flight if they feel comfortable enough to do this. This could be anything from landing at a new airfield to going through some tricky controlled airspace you would otherwise just avoid. The flight can be anything you want it to be. Remember that instructors are not just there to make sure you are safe and competent, but also to help you build on your capabilities and confidence too.
In the debrief, your instructor will present you with their view of your performance. If you have been recommended to do another check flight before flying solo again, do not be disheartened, and do not leave it too long before you try again. If you have passed, great news; but make sure you do not fall into the trap of rushing to take passengers up again. Ease yourself in slowly. Go for that serene solo that you have dreamt about during lockdown first. Or fly with another pilot.
Ensure you are being fair on yourself. Although flying with an instructor will incur an added cost, you need to make sure you are considering safety first. If you are not concerned about becoming current again, why not just take an instructor and go for a relaxed, no fuss flight. Get out the camera and see how summer has graced the country. Explore the Black Mountains and wave to the walkers on Pen Y Fan. There is so much you can do! Whatever it is you choose, make sure it is the safest option, and make sure to have fun in the skies again.
Refer to CAP1919 for the latest CAA guidelines when returning to flying.
Laura Mayer, Flying Instructor