In the words of the clubs head instructor, a Biennial Flight Review is, "a review of your flying ability to make sure you are safe to operate an aircraft within the parameters set by the CAA for the license you hold (in my case, a PPL(a))". Some people think it's identical to the PPL checkride but it differs in one important aspect, it is not a pass/fail test. It is a potentially ongoing inspection of your ability as a pilot. If you screw up a maneuver here, miss a check there, the appropriately qualified instructor overseeing your BFR may require you to undertake more dual flights to work on aspects that need work. Once the head instructor (in my case) is happy that my flying is of a sufficient standard then he will sign off on my groundwork, complete the paperwork which gets filed with the CAA and endorse my logbook for another 2 years.
If you read my 2008 entries regarding my first BFR I had several attempts at getting the flying part out of the way, but because my BFR falls due in July which for those readers not familiar with the southern hemisphere seasons, is in the middle of our winter and is normally a fairly unsettled time with low temperatures, high winds, poor visibility and rain. This time round I chose to move the date back into our Autumn which generally has the most settled weather of any time of year.
The lead up to my BFR started back in March when I went up alone to see if I could remember those parts of BFR flying which I do not get to do very much when flying cross countries, namely stalls and forced landings. Then I took some time off work last week to do a decent dual session with one of the C Category instructors to ensure I hadn't gotten too sloppy in my flying.
One of the new things they had me do was slow flight. This has been recently added to the NZ PPL (a) flying syllabus to bring us more inline with other countries who have been teaching it for some time now. I cannot remember when exactly it was added to the syllabus, but at least after my last BFR. I must say, I quite enjoyed it. You really get to examine the aircrafts performance in that part of the flight envelope, but flying accurately at such a low airspeed requires a mixture of skills which took me a while to get the hang of. Its like low flying except you are not low flying, its like flying an approach except you are not flying an approach. But the skills necessary to fly both of those come together in slow flight. Once I figured that out it became a lot easier.
After the dual session I went up alone and practiced the areas the instructor identified, namely slow flight and forced landings until I was happy with them.
Then the day came when I had to show the Clubs head instructor that I still had the chops to keep up this flying business. I had booked WAM because I prefer the 172 for BFRs due to the decent glide characteristics. Head instructor Roger said to me, "we'll go up for a bit of a scenic flight and I'll ask you to do certain maneuvers here and there and we'll see how we go."
I chose to head out east because its normally fairly quiet out there. Once we had taken off I was pleased that the engine didn't fail like it always seems to when I take off from Hamilton with in instructor aboard! When we cleared Hamilton airspace I was asked to perform a climbing turn. Piece of cake! Then we did a steep turn which wasn't too bad, I had a bit of a problem maintaining my height because WAM wanted to keep climbing but I saw the error and adjusted for it and things came out more or less within limits. Then it was a run through the stalls which went pretty well, a compass turn which I nailed first go, and then the forced landing.
Roger requested and we were cleared into the eastern low flying zone so after a discussion on paddock selection I chose a suitable paddock and the engine promptly died. I ran through the various checks fairly well, we missed the 1500 foot area but we were getting fairly low so I chose to track direct for the 1000 foot point and continued running through the checks which were paced quite nicely because of the excellent glide characteristics the 172 enjoys.
I thought my base leg was about right for the windspeed (5 knots) but we were a bit high on base, so Roger asked me what my options were. I said we could S turn or deploy flap, he said we could also fly through the centreline and turn back towards the field, and then said another option was to forward slip. When I said I had never been taught to slip he demonstrated one for me and before I knew it we were on glideslope. The ability to slip is certainly a nice skill to have in the tool box.
After the forced landing I climbed us back to 500 feet AGL and we did some low flying, including a coastal reversal turn and a precautionary landing which to my utter amazement I remembered all the procedures except I started my descent to the low level inspection pass at the wrong time.
Then it was off to the same country strip that Roger had taken me to on my last BFR. This time round the wind favoured the opposite direction to what I remembered and was also blowing across it. We did not have sufficient height for an overhead join because we were still in the Hamilton control zone and had to stay at around 1000 feet AGL so I orbited the airfield to determine the windsock direction and once we picked our approach I joined downwind and set up for a precision approach.
We had a crosswind to contend with so I told Roger I was going to add on a few knots for the crosswind and we did the approach at around 65 knots. The crosswind died as we crossed the threshold so I rounded out and flared as normal and we came to a stop.
We taxied back and Roger asked for a max performance takeoff so I picked my spots, lined us up, stood hard on the brakes and after running up to full power we were off. I climbed back into the circuit and Roger asked me to do another with a lower approach speed to see what would happen. I chose 60 knots and we pulled up a good 4 lengths shorter than the previous landing. We then backtracked and performed a normal takeoff and headed back to Hamilton.
We joined for Grass 07 and on downwind Roger told me that my flaps had failed. After extending downwind a bit I managed to end up quite high on finals so Roger suggested a slip so I tried one on my own. Being slightly timid I chose to slip at 70 knots instead of my chosen 65 knot approach speed and after finding the correct glide slope I managed a truly awful landing to end the flight, we bounced once but the second time I managed to control the rate of descent enough to land properly.
As we taxied back to the Aero Club Roger said he was generally happy with my performance and despite the fact we have only flown together once since my last BFR he noted that my 159 hours are starting to show in my confidence and my ability to point the plane where I want it. I thought that it was a solid enough effort, but there are a few little details I need to work on. There always is something you can do better.
So with the flying part out of the way, its just a bit of paperwork and a ground exam and I will be good to go for another two years.