Saturday, April 19, 2008

Getting my Commercial Certificate (3/2008)

I have been wondering about getting my Commercial Certificate for a while. I have the hours and most of the required experience. But I have been doing other things like taking the Idaho Mountain Flying course and gaining other kinds of experience.

My wife has combined our talents and desires into an Aerial Photography Business, so I now had a reason to get my Commercial Certificate and also maintain biennial currency.

We own our own plane, but it does not have retractable gear. So I was going to have to rent. Wow, that looks expensive after owning! Well, it is isn't much different if you only rent or only use your own plane. But I was paying to have my own plane and then having to pay the premium of renting. Oh well, I needed to do it.

Experience Requirements for Commercial (Abbreviated)
Details in FAR 61.129 (Online FAR regulations)

  • 250 hours
  • VFR day Xcountry with an instructor 100nm distance from start
  • VFR night Xcountry with an instructor 100nm distance from start
  • Solo VFR Xcountry 250nm distance from start and 300nm total with 3 landings
  • 5 hours night flying solo with 10 tower controlled takeoff and landings
  • 10 hours training in a complex aircraft, 3 hours prep for the practical test.
Most of these requirements I had already. I had over 450 hours, check!

I did a mountain check ride with Dick Bevington in Colorado klmo-k20v-kgws-kase-klxv-klmo, check!

I have many long distance Xcountries, but most of them are with my family. I did end up getting one at the end of my Idaho Backcountry Seminar; I had to make sure I got my 3 landings in which I almost forgot. That would have been annoying to do a 561nm trip and not have it fill the requirement. I remembered so that worked. kmyl-ku87-kfnl-klmo Check!

The last one to work on was the night flying. I had done this for my private, but not much since. I went up with an instructor initially to get current again, and found it to be easy with more hours under my belt. So I got my time in with 2 solo trips (klmo-kbjc-kfnl-klmo, and klmo-kbjc-kapa-kftg-klmo) and 1 with an instructor (klmo-kpub-klmo). Check!

I had 6.6h of training in a Mooney 20J and a C172RG and I had 15.2h total Complex time, so I was most of the way towards the 10h complex training requirement.

Picking a School and Instructor

I only needed 3.4h of complex training and had practiced the maneuvers a little in our C182, so I didn't think I would need much time to refine my skills and finish the commercial. But most of the places around here either wanted 25 hours retract or 10 hours in type which would mean more than 10 hours of rental. In the end, I found a place that had a good deal. McAir Aviation has a new 2004 Piper Arrow that rents for $145/hour and only required 5 hours in type to go solo. I had already gotten my IFR at McAir Aviation, so I also knew I liked the school. I definitely recommend them.

I asked what instructors would be good for my situation only needing to prepare for the test and ended up with Keith Hammond. I had met him before and he was a flight instructor by choice and a past university professor. I nice combination for my interest.

I think it is always good to interview instructors for your ratings, especially ratings that will take a while like your private and instrument. You want to make sure that your styles of teaching and learning will be compatible. It is a little awkward if you do not choose somebody, but it is very important. If you switch instructors in the middle or are not compatible it is money and time wasted and maybe a bad experience. Flying should be fun!

Getting used to the Arrow

It has been a while since I flew the Mooney 20J, and the Arrow was certainly different from the C182. Some quick differences are manual flaps, low wing, switching fuel tanks, and retractable gear. I have been using Cessna POHs for a while, so I was a little surprised to see the performance tables in a different fashion. Still saying the same information, but a different format. The emergency gear procedure was much nicer than the Mooney; pulling a breaker and flipping a switch to free fall the gear. Wow that is easier than handcranking 20+ rotations that is required on the Mooney. One thing that I was surprised at was the plane was not that quick on takeoff considering it had a 200hp engine.

As far as gear procedures, I liked lowering the gear on midfield downwind in the pattern or when approaching the airport and getting close. When lowering the gear or raising, it is nice to hold onto the lever until the gear is verified up or down (3 green). One of the instructors told me this and I like it.

McAir had a nice booklet for all the maneuvers and general numbers to use during Arrow operations.

Some numbers I used...

  • Takeoff: 25 degrees flaps for short/soft takeoff, full power, liftoff at 65kts normal, 60kts for short field, accelerate to 78kts normal, 72kts for short field, gear up and safe, 90kts normal, 78 kts until clear of obstacle.
  • Crosswind: reduce RPM to reduce noise.
  • Downwind: 18", 2300RPM, 100kts, gear down, 3 greens.
  • Abeam touchdown: 14", 10 degrees flaps, 500fpm descent
  • Base: 25 degrees flaps, 90 kts
  • Final: 40 degrees flaps, 80kts, prop forward, 3 greens, 75kts short final, 70 kts for short field.
Go-around, Stall recovery:

  • Full Power, Flaps 25, 78kts, positive climb, gear up, 90kts, positive climb, flaps 10, flaps up.

  • 18", 2300RPM, 100kts.

Practicing the Maneuvers
A good description of the maneuvers on-line
Chandelles, Lazy 8s, Eights on Pylons, emergency landings, power off 180 landing, steep spiral, steep turns.

8s on Pylons. These were not too hard except during higher winds. The critical altitude or altitude to fly the maneuver is Ground Speed^2/11.3. If you have no wind, this is around 1100' AGL at this altitude. If you have a 20kt wind, it will vary theoretically between 1500' and 700'. It doesn't end up that much because you end up in a climb when your ground speed goes up which slows down your speed which means a lower critical altitude. Having the objects lined up correctly with the wind makes a big difference if there is significant wind. I would normally just watch for the object to start moving forward or backward on the wing. If it moves forward on the wing, go lower in altitude. If it moves backward on the wing, go higher in altitude. Realizing what is going on with a big wind can prevent you from falling behind the curve too much. One other problem is that most of the time I did not get strong winds, so it was not easy to practice the effects of it.

Lazy 8s. There were a couple things that really helped me here. My instructor mentioned to think to myself "pitch, pitch, turn". This is not meant to do separately, but to remember that there are 2 amounts of pitch for each increase in turn in the beginning. 2nd 45 degrees, I told myself to "keep the turn coming" while slowly reducing pitch. Similar kind of thoughts on the 2nd 90 degrees. Another thing I made a mistake in the beginning with was trying to cross a road in the same place. This is not important for the maneuver as it is for the private S turns maneuver. Another thing that seemed interesting to me is that the Arrow seems easier to do lazy 8s than C182; I think due to the extra power in the C182.

180 power off landings. This took a little getting used to with how the Arrow descends so quickly. I hear it is worse in the summer. One thing that was interesting was that moving the prop control to slow RPM made a big difference on the Arrow for increasing the glide distance. This did not seem to make the same difference on the C182 for some reason.

Emergency landings. Always a good one to practice. After identifying a field, it helps to think of a high position and a low position abeam the touchdown point. If you need to loose 1500+' at the high position, a steep spiral can be good. Otherwise, slow turns can help while give you more time to diagnose problems.

Coordination... This is always important for commercial maneuvers. It was interesting that this was not too hard in the Arrow, but in our C182 it was a bigger challenge due to the higher powered engine.

The Check Ride

So it took me 7.6 hours to get ready for the check ride including a practice check ride. Not too bad. I did do some extra practicing in our C182 in between Arrow instruction. I think this helped.
I used Alan Carpenter for the check ride, and I would recommend him. For a highly stressful situation, he made it as comfortable as possible. The night before the called for high winds which would have caused problems, but in the morning things were reasonably calm at the airport.

My ground time went pretty well with knowing most of the items well. In the air it was a bit more of a challenge and intense. I remember doing tracking an initial Xcountry course, soft/short field takeoffs, short/soft field and 180 power off landings, Chandelle, Steep spiral, emergency landing, 8s on pylons.

There were a couple of things that were more challenging than others. There was wind in the air which made the 8s on Pylons a challenge. I also had a interesting time with the 180 power off landing. I was doing a right pattern to KEIK and there was other traffic. Those two things messed me up just a little and caused me to extend my downwind a little more than I liked. By using the correct mixture of no flaps and pulling the prop to low RPM, it worked out to be perfect.

One interesting comment on the check ride was knowing well the Va versus the 100kts+10kts leeway. In the end, Va is 110kts or over since we are lightly loaded. But if you were heavy, this could be a concern.

I got to the end of the check ride (1.4h), and he commented I did well. Yeah!! I felt I could have done better on a few things, but I think most people probably feel that way.

Next Steps

CFI some day. Tailwheel Endorsement, Aerobatic training, float plane rating, and plenty of other things.

There is always something to learn in aviation and ways to perfect your skills.



Brian said...

Jack's Flying Blog posted a very nice list of items he was asked and performed during his Commercial Pilot Certificate checkride. Check it out.


Jack said...

Hey Brian, belated congrats to you as well for the CP certificate. Nice having it, eh? :-) Thanks for the comments/link to my post. I got the idea from here: while I was searching for other folk's check ride experiences.