Flight Tests–A Review


A review I posted to Amazon.

I knew I was about to read something most definitely not run-of-the-mill when I read the cover that showed the book was endorsed by an organization known as the Live Cowards Club. Since this is a club for which I will handily pass any and all entrance tests, it tickled the old laugh muscles.

Make no assumptions though, this is a very serious book, just written in a humorous manner: that of showing oneself capable of being a good and safe pilot to an examiner. It is mainly written from a South African point of view (so expect to stumble into words spelled weird like ‘manoeuvre’ 😉 ) although the laws of physics holds no matter where you fly. As Davis says, this little book “takes you through each flying exercise and tells you what [the examiner] expects of you.”

Each part of the check ride is examined, from pre-flight inspection to steep turns, to cross-country flying. Each section is filled with tips and the strong voice of a very experienced pilot. In essence, this book will help you get mentally prepared for the test. Here’s one from near the front of the book:

“Try to do everything smoothly. Imagine that you have your 90-year-old granny in the back, and its[sic] her first flight ever. Do everything smoothly, even small things like applying carb-heat, changing power settings or selecting flap. Passengers should not be able to notice changes of power and speed and attitude.”

With equal parts mindset framing, expounding on the philosophy of good airmanship and practical flying technique information, this is a book that punches above its weight class. Five highly recommended stars.


I read with not a little mirth that the recommendation in the old Flight Training Handbook for flying the pattern, and specifically, for descending to land in the pattern is as follows:

After turning onto the base leg, the pilot should start the descent with reduced power and an airspeed of approximately 1.4 Vs0.

Note, after turning onto the base leg. Most every pilot you meet will not be doing what ye olde Flight Training Handbook instructs them to do. Most every Flight Instructor also. What I was taught and chances are, what you were taught if you’re a student or a pilot yourself, is that reduce power abeam the touch-down point (or the runway numbers for some people) while on the downwind leg, extending the first set of flaps simultaneously or very close.

Curious, I checked the instruction manuals of several other countries including the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. All these postulated that the descent to land should be started on base leg.


I then wondered if the Handbook, which was printed in ye olde 1980s could have been updated and why, yes, it has been. The Airplane Flying Handbook is the latest incarnation of the Flight Training Handbook and it does indeed tackle the same thing with the following information:

After turning onto the base leg, the pilot should start the descent with reduced power and airspeed of approximately 1.4 VSO.


That looks familiar! It appears the FAA hasn’t changed its teaching philosophy after all, and all those flying the “abeam the numbers” method are doing it wrong. Gasp!

Posting this to a discussion board I belong to, I laughed that if a PPL candidate tried this during a check ride, the examiner would probably say the FAA-approved process was wrong and failed the poor bloke!

My smirk didn’t last long. A commenter replied that in the same book, one chapter before, the “abeam the numbers” procedure was recommended. What?! Well blow me over:

Pattern altitude should be maintained until abeam the approach end of the landing runway. At this point, power should be reduced and a descent begun.

The stupendous power of a Federal agency at play? Plausible deniability? Sheer lunacy? All of the above? I don’t know, but it gets weirder and weirder.

So people, do whichever you like I suppose. But here’s the thing, to quote one of my favorite Flight Instructors:

Back when light, fabric, two-seat tail draggers dominated the general aviation skies, airplanes were slower and glided better than today’s trainers. You could fly a tighter pattern and initiate your descent earlier with no problem. If you tried to hold your pattern altitude until your base leg, you would be up there all day and get a lovely view of the airport as the runway passed way beneath you.

Airplanes have changed. Even our light trainers are faster, heavier, are all metal, and descend more quickly than earlier aircraft. The lengthened pattern which results from holding your altitude longer gives you a little more time to plan, gives you a steeper descent which improves your visibility, and makes extending your downwind a snap because you don’t have to climb back up. So for all of the above reasons you develop better situational awareness.

So there.

Swivel Head

HeadSwivelThere’s an adage in aviation to keep your head on a swivel and outside the cockpit. It ties in with yet another “rule,” see and be seen, and yet another, see and avoid. In other words, every pilot is first taught to fly under visual flight rules (VFR), the most important word in that trio of course being visual.

There’s yet another tip regarding looking outside the cockpit: scanning the horizon in discrete chunks, stopping momentarily and starting over again. Keep your eyes moving because fixation can be deadly. I never gave too much thought to this because it was a new and somewhat scary environment and so I heeded the words of the wise. I did what I was told because I figured I’d learn why soon enough.

Well, here’s [link] scientific proof for why you have to keep your eyes moving and outside the cockpit. Try it and be amazed how much your eyes can lie to you.

This is why, in watching student pilots who record their flights in the latest glass cockpits on YouTube bother me a little. You will notice they spend most of that time heads down, concentrated on those beautiful screens.

It’s not a video game folks, keep your eyes peeled, out of the cockpit and your head on a swivel.