In order to get a key to an airplane, members must be “checked out” in that airplane. The checkout ensures the pilot is competent to fly the airplane and familiar with the peculiarities of the particular airplane. A basic checkout will consist of
- overview of the airplane’s systems
- airwork, such as steep turns, slow flight, and stalls
- takeoffs and landings (normal, short field, soft field, power off)
- instrument approaches (if appropriate)
- other items as the instructor feels are necessary
A checkout for a type of plane in which you are already comfortable may be as short as an hour, plus filling out the form. Transitioning from one type of airplane to another may take several hours and flights. Transitioning from fixed gear airplanes to a retractable gear airplane will take a minimum of 10 hours of instruction.
Filling out the checkout form
You must fill out a checkout form and submit it to your instructor for review. Any errors will need to be corrected. When all is in order, the instructor signs off on the form and drops it in the AACIT document box (located in N98326’s hangar as of May 2017). The Flight Director picks up completed forms occasionally and leaves keys as appropriate.
For some of the club aircraft, scanned versions of the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH), Supplementary Type Certificate (STC) information, and updated weight and balance information are available on the Aircraft Information page. In cases where an STC exists, it supersedes the information in the POH. N54678 and N98326 have both had their engines upgraded to 180hp via an STC. This STC increases the maximum gross weight for the airplane to 2550 lbs. Some updated performance data is provided in the STC documentation. In some cases, notably fuel flow rates, the STC does not provide updated information, so estimated fuel flows should be used.
The correct empty weight should be found on the most recent weight and balance sheet for the aircraft. If the POH and other information has not been scanned, then you will need to get access to the airplane to look at the POH and other information. Please make sure to promptly return any documents to the airplane. A missing POH makes the airplane unairworthy and inconveniences other pilots.
The checkout form is generic to all airplanes in the club, so there will often be portions of the form that do not apply. Examples:
- Questions about fuel at the “tabs” if you are flying a Cessna are not applicable (tabs are common for the Pipers)
- Questions pertaining to retractable gear, if you are flying a fixed gear airplane
- Questions about cowl flaps (only the 182RG has them in our club)
Other common issues on the form
Liftoff speed = rotation speed.
If the POH doesn’t have performance data for the exact temperature and altitudes requested, you may either interpolate or use a more conservative number. Example: If the question asks for takeoff distances for 7000ft altitude at 70F, then using a number for 7500ft and 80F will give you a slightly longer distance (and that is ok). Precision to 1 ft in these numbers is less important than knowing what is realistic. If the POH says I can clear a 50ft obstacle in 1500ft under current conditions, I will NOT be planning to take off on a 1510ft runway with a 50ft tree at the end. The numbers in the POH assume perfect technique, a new airplane and very specific conditions. I suggest a buffer of at least 50% is appropriate until you have much more experience and understand how close you can reliably come to meeting POH numbers. For the purposes of this form, numbers that are slightly conservative are just fine.
When should you do a go-around?… this is a question with many possible answers: many of which may be right, depending on the conditions and your experience and many which are definitely wrong. Let’s consider some of the issues
- If you wait too long to start a go around, you may not have sufficient distance to comfortably clear any obstacles. Remember that most takeoff data assumes short field technique and a certain airplane configuration. You will most likely not be in that configuration after a go around. The airplane will not climb as well with 30 or 40 degrees of flaps and immediately “dumping” the flaps will not help.
- If you land too late/long/fast (when you should have done a go around), you risk skidding off the side or end of the runway.
- Depending on the airplane and conditions, you are likely covering at least 100 feet each second, so how much distance will you lose between making a decision to do a go around and it actually happening? Factor that in.
I suggest taking the longer of the landing ground roll and the climb to 50 ft distance (after the takeoff ground roll) and adding at least 50% + some distance for reaction time. I then round to some easy fraction of the runway I could estimate from the air (e.g., I feel confident I could make a good estimate at a point that is 1/3 of the way down the runway). You may be surprised how precise that means you need to be on landing to avoid a go around on shorter runways. Remember that a go around is always preferable to an ill advised landing attempt
Students who have not yet soloed may get a key to the airplane for purposes of preflighting the airplane without the instructor being present by filling out the form. This process may take several iterations as the student works through an unfamiliar POH and starts to learn some of the concepts necessary to fill out the form. I get a lot of insight into the learning style of students when they start to work on the forms. While some googling can be useful for unknown concepts, be very careful about applying information meant for one airplane to your airplane. For example, the performance and numbers for a 172 can vary considerably. If unsure, ask.
I’m glad to review drafts of the checkout form between lessons; students should email me a pdf of their draft checkout form. Once the form is completed, I will need a printed version to sign and submit.