Integrating Written Test Prep in Your Flight Training

S05_038As I’m sure you’re aware, your pilot certification is a multi-step process that will include a written testing component – similar to earning your driver’s license. The purpose of the written test is to establish that you’ve obtained a satisfactory base level of knowledge before you can embark on a practical exam (oral and flight exam) required for certification. Other purposes of the knowledge test are to identify deficient knowledge areas requiring additional training and so that the FAA has the opportunity to communicate what is most important via the test.

While FAA appears to be taking much needed steps in correcting significant short-comings of the written test, an unfortunate development in written testing, due to substantial budget constraints (among other reasons), is a written test that is disconnected from how we fly and train.

Exaggerating the apparent disconnect is an inflexible written test delivery vehicle that only allows for one type of multiple choice question and the lack of a written testing standard. The sad reality being that you may very well be asked to answer questions on a written test that reference outdated or incorrect information or tests information in a confusing and/or illogical manner. Some questions may require you to regurgitate obscure or trivial knowledge. And some performance-based questions may require impractical interpolations. While we can hope that the future will bring a better correlation between airman testing and training, we’re not there yet. So right or wrong, you’ll need to be prepared – and proper preparation should include a dedicated written testing component.

While not recommended as a stand-alone resource, a quality, written-test preparation program, as you’ll find in Sporty’s Learn to Fly Course, has great educational value and helps round-out your training arsenal. It allows you to digest information from a multitude of sources down to what is most important for your certifying exam. Complete and accurate explanations to accompany written test questions are also a vital component that will help make for a powerful learning experience.

Sporty’s Learn to Fly Course, available in DVD, online or as a dedicated app for iPad/iPhone, features a robust, customizable test preparation tool with three Modes of operation. Learning Mode is used to select specific areas of study or to study a random mix of questions. Test Mode will provide a random mix of question to provide a simulated exam. Finally, Flashcard Mode will allow you to answer questions without seeing any answer choices in a self-graded environment.


First time users would be wise to utilize Learning Mode first which will allow you to study the knowledge test questions by topic and identify your weaker areas. Once a question is answered, it is graded immediately. The correct answer is noted in green and incorrect answers in red for a quick visual cue of your progress. Explanations are displayed with all answer choices and it’s wise to read and understand each explanation to help reinforce important concepts. You can begin this study following the completion of your core video training or after completing specific training segments or volumes on related topics.

learning mode

Once you’ve self-identified your weaker areas of knowledge, you can now build Learning Mode sessions to focus only on those areas for more efficient preparation. Your progress is continuously tracked with your number of correctly answered questions and a score relative to the number of answered questions. Once you’ve completed the study session, use the “Grade Session” feature for a score and the “Review Explanations” feature to review why questions were missed.

Flashcard Mode is similar to Learning Mode in that it allows you to study the knowledge test questions by topic and identify your weaker areas, but does not show answer choices to your questions. As with flashcards, the goal is to answer the question mentally and then display the answer to determine whether you’ve answered the question correctly. Depending on your learning style, you may choose to utilize Flashcard Mode as an alternative to Learning Mode and ONLY focus on correct responses or you may choose to graduate to Flashcard Mode to further test and correct weaker knowledge areas.


Regardless of your first experience with Flashcard Mode, it’s also beneficial as a cumulative check just prior to your actual FAA written exam by choosing a random mix of questions and focusing on correct responses. Just as in Learning Mode, your progress is continuously tracked. Once you have completed the study session, also grade your session and review explanations.

As you might expect, Test Mode functions just like a real exam. There is a time limit imposed that matches the actual FAA exam and you are given a random mix of questions for that also mimics the real exam. Once you have completed a test session, use the “Grade Test” button for a score and to “Review Explanations.” The Review Explanations option will return you to your same test session. Each test session is recorded in a separate Progress Reports tab so that you can always reference your progress or share your progress with an instructor.


As I hope is evident, a dedicated test preparation tool utilized correctly and responsibly has tremendous learning value and the more customization options, the better.

Flight Training Regulations

MC900048057Flight training, as you might expect, is a highly regulated activity.  Flight instructors must be trained and certificated to a specific level.  Flight schools can fall under further regulatory requirements.  Most airport personnel having contact with students and the students themselves fall under regulations defined by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

As a budding student pilot, it is highly recommended that you check out a number of local flight schools and interview potential flight instructors.  Some areas of the country will have more options than others.  As you talk to flight school operators and instructors, some regulatory terms may be brought up in an effort to sway your decision.  Be forewarned and forearmed by understanding the basics.

Part 61 vs Part 141

When a flight school talks about training under Part 61 or being a Part 141 approved school, they are talking about the Federal regulations (14 CFR) under which they have the authority to train pilots.  Both sets of regulations define minimum requirements for pilot training and certification.

Of the entry level certificates, you can obtain a Recreational or a Private certificate under either set of regulations.  Part 141 does not provide provisions for the Sport pilot certificate, therefore, training for this certificate is done under Part 61.

WelcomeStudentAny FAA approved flight instructor, whether associated with a flight school or not, may train a student under Part 61 regulations.

Part 141 regulations are related to the structure and approval of flight schools.  Training under Part 141 regulations is only permitted by instructors associated with an FAA approved flight school.  In order to become approved, a flight school must meet certain requirements and submit each curriculum it wishes to have approved to the FAA for review.  Part 141 approved schools are subject to regular surveillance audits by the FAA and must meet minimum pass rates for the practical exams.

Both methods of flight training require the student to meet the same standard of performance in order to obtain a pilot certificate.  Where the methods differ is in rigidity and in some minimum requirements.

MM900354391Ultimately, the way a student learns and his or her long term goals may be the best criteria for deciding the regulations under which to train.  After making that determination, the student needs to find the best fit amongst the choices within the preferred regulations.  Both excellent and inferior flight instruction may be found under both sets of regulations.

The table below describes some of the potential advantages and disadvantages for the training regulations.  It may be noted that some criteria can be both, depending on the student’s training goals.

Regulation Potential Advantages Potential Disadvantages
Part 61
  • More flexible training environment.  This may allow the instructor to modify his or her program to meet the student’s desires and goals.
  • Better for part-time students pursuing flight training on a less regular schedule.
  • Student can interview and choose the flight instructor that fits best.
  • Less structured training environment.
  • May require more flight training hours.
  • May be fewer instructors to choose from at a given airport.
  • Truly “independent” flight instructors may be difficult to find for a new student unless they have a referral.
Part 141
  • More structured training environment.
  • Better for full time, career oriented students.
  • Good students may be able to complete certificates in fewer hours if the school’s curriculum has been approved for this.
  • May be too rigid for students not planning to pursue an aviation career.
  • Faster pace may overwhelm some students.
  • School may not always provide the student with a choice on instructor assignment.  That being said, better schools will allow an instructor change if there is a mismatch.
  • May not be available at local airport.


TSA’s Alien Flight Student Program

As a result of the attacks on 9/11/2001, the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA developed a set of regulations intended to decrease the chances of flight schools in the United States training would-be terrorists.

As a new flight student, these regulations will require you to prove your U.S. citizenship prior to starting flight training.  You can do this with an unexpired U.S. passport or the combination of your birth certificate and an approved government issued photo ID like your driver’s license.  As long as you are a U.S. citizen and can prove it, this regulation requires little additional from you.

“Alien” students must submit to finger printing and a background check prior to beginning flight training.  A good place for non-U.S. citizens to start is with a review of the TSA’s  You can also find a clearer explanation on the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) website at


As a bird’s eye view, these regulations should get you through the selection of you flight training provider.  Once you get into your training, your instructor will have broader and more detailed regulations for you to learn.

If you would like to review more details on the regulations, you can check them out online.

Happy flight training!

Understanding Aircraft Maintenance Regulations

maintenanceIn aviation we often use memory aids to help us remember the ever growing list of items a pilot should know.  This can include everything from checklist items, to required equipment, to regulations.  One of the most popular memory aids that instructors use for their students are mnemonics.  One that I would like to discuss is the memory aid “AVIATE” used to help pilots recall the maintenance inspection requirements for GA flights.

The potential short-coming with using a mnemonic like “AVIATE” is that not every item referenced in the mnemonic applies to every circumstance.  As an example, many students find it difficult to differentiate what maintenance requirements apply to VFR versus IFR flight.  A common reason why students have a hard time in this particular application is because the student has NEVER actually read the regulation.

Many student pilots read the FARs, in particular 14 CFR Part 61 and 91, but tend to focus on the regulations in part 91 up to 91.205 – required equipment.  Beyond that section seems be a black hole of knowledge for many student pilots and licensed pilots alike.  Here is a good reference to help you remember and learn the actual maintenance regulations using the mnemonic “AVIATE”.

annualAnnual – Every aircraft operated under part 91 regulations is required to undergo an “annual” inspection in accordance with FAR part 43 every 12 calendar months.  This regulation applies to VFR and IFR flying and is not dependent on how the aircraft is used (i.e. for hire).   The applicable regulation is actually FAR 91.409(a).

VOR – In order to use VOR navigation in IFR flying, the accuracy of the device must be checked every 30 days.  There is a list of the types of inspections that can be performed to check its accuracy (all covered in the regulation below), but the key element of this accuracy check is that it only applies to IFR flying.  The complete regulation and required inspection types can be found in FAR 91.171.

100 Hour – In certain operations when an aircraft is being used “for hire” and specifically, for an aircraft used in flight instruction for hire, the aircraft is required to undergo a “100 hr” inspection every 100 hrs of engine operation (normally a tachometer time reading).  This would apply to either a VFR or IFR flight, but is specific for flights being operated for hire.  There are some additional rules that you should review concerning how the time is measured and when the inspection must be completed, but those can be found in FAR 91.409(b).

Altimeter/Pitot-Static System Check – Each altimeter and static pressure system must undergo an inspection to ensure accuracy and compliance with standards every 24 calendar months if the aircraft is to be used for IFR flight.  There are no circumstances where this inspection is required for a VFR flight.  Additional information can be found in FAR 91.411.

Transponder – Transponders are required to be inspected for accuracy and standards every 24 calendar months, if required.  This requirement is actually two-part.  FAR 91.413 specifies the inspection interval of 24 calendar months, but it does not state when you are required to use a transponder.  The regulation references FAR 91.215 which states when and where you are required to have an operating transponder and in which mode.

For most aircraft and students, when the regulations specify a “Mode A” transponder, think turning the transponder to ON, and when it requires a “Mode C” transponder, think turning the transponder to ALT.  Given these circumstances, this regulation applies to VFR and IFR flying.  There are some limited exceptions for aircraft that do not have a transponder due to never being certified with an electrical system (i.e. Piper Cub). These aircraft are exempt from this inspection.  Although transponders are only required in certain airspace, it is always a good idea to have it on and in Altitude Encoding mode (ALT or mode C) whenever possible for traffic avoidance.

ELT – Every aircraft (with some limited exceptions) is required to have an  Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT), and that unit must be inspected every 12 calendar months as found in FAR 91.207(d).  This regulation applies to both VFR and IFR flying.  In addition to the required 12 calendar month inspection, you should also be familiar with FAR 91.207(c) which states requirements for battery replacement and recharging under specific conditions (1 hour of cumulative use or half of the battery useful life) and is just as important as the 12 calendar month inspection.

This guide is a good overview of the rules but is no replacement for reading the  regulations.  If you have questions about these regulations, make sure and talk to your instructor to get clarification or contact the chief instructor or local FAASTeam representative at your airport.


two pilots in cockpit

The value of right seat time

Ever get asked: “How many hours do you have?”

It’s a question you’ll hear throughout your flying career, and as student pilots we’re usually hungry to add more to our total. Most of us will jump at any chance for some left seat time and another entry in the logbook. For better or for worse (mostly for worse I think), we judge pilot ability on total time.
two pilots in cockpit

But ask any experienced pilot and they’ll tell you: not all your aviation experience shows up in the logbook, and not all your learning takes place in the left seat. In particular, there is a lot to learn from riding in the right seat with other pilots. Some of my most memorable and educational flights were with me as co-pilot or observer, far away from the lesson plan or the pattern.

Why is right seat time so valuable?

  • It’s free, so you’re not rushed. When you’re paying by the hour for an airplane and instructor, it’s natural to want to be efficient. But sometimes this drive for efficiency can hurt, as you practice maneuvers in an unrealistic way or take shortcuts. When you’re not paying the bill, you can slow down and look around. And if you’re riding along on a cross country, you can get the complete flight profile–instead of simulating an approach and landing, you can see the real thing.
  • You’re not “on stage,” so you’re relaxed. No matter how well you get along with your flight instructor, you’re probably at least a little nervous during your flight lessons. It’s completely natural, since in a way you are performing. But just like some patients get “white coat hypertension” at the doctor’s office, not all pilots learn best under pressure. When you step back and simply watch someone else fly, you might be surprised at how easily some things sink in. We’re sometimes most open to new information when we aren’t expecting it.
  • You’ll get new perspectives. Seeing different pilots and airplanes fly is almost always good for your learning. For example, I had a terrible time understanding crosswind landings as a student pilot, but after a flight in the right seat of a Cessna 310 (a high performance airplane I knew nothing about), it just clicked for me. I just needed a different view of the same maneuver, with a different pilot flying. So many of the things we do as pilots are universal–they work in a Gulfstream and a 172–so don’t worry if you don’t know much about a particular airplane. It may have a lot to say.

So how do you find these opportunities for right seat time? Obviously, friends or family are great options if they are pilots. Beyond that, there’s no magic formula, but being creative and outgoing is a good place to start. Most importantly, hang around the airport and be engaged–get to know the local pilots at airport events and join aviation associations. Some pilots like to have another set of eyes as they fly, and these are great opportunities to get some right seat experience. You can help by reading checklists, helping with the preflight and even talking on the radio if you’re comfortable.

Likewise, many local pilot organizations and flying clubs have regular fly-outs to airshows or the nearby airport diner. Hitch a ride on one of these flights and offer to buy breakfast. It can be a great way to see how other pilots fly and learn about different airplanes. You might make a new friend along the way, too.

Another option that many flight schools offer is for you to ride along on a lesson with another student. This may not be “right seat” flying, but it can still be very valuable. Again, you’re not paying and you’re not on stage so you can take a more detached view of flying. Ask your flight instructor if this is allowed in your flight school.

Smart student pilots know that you can learn a lot beyond your regularly scheduled lessons. That may mean reading a book, watching a video or flying right seat with someone. Whatever it is, be creative about your flight training and never be afraid to learn from someone else.

What are your ideas for getting some right seat time? Add a comment below.

Success in Flight Training – Take it One Step at a Time

Manageable Goals Makes it Fun and Keep you Focused

Our extensive experience in aviation education; including more than 20 years managing our own flight school, has taught us that customers learn most effectively when the training process is divided into manageable steps.  These steps or modules should build on previous information, creating a building-block approach to your pilot experience that saves you time and money.  Regardless of your ultimate goal, remember, everyone must solo first.  So focus your efforts on this most important milestone and be open to what may come next.

In simpler times, the private license was the “gateway” certificate allowing a pilot to add “advanced degrees” such as an instrument rating as it became necessary.  But now, the real requirements are greater for the private than for a commercial certificate half a century ago and for many people, simply more than what you need to do what you want to do in aviation.

A Private certificate alone may take at least 6 months and 70+ hours flying time.  The journey is filled with ups and downs before you’re able to begin enjoying the fruits of your labor.  Today, a more reasonable approach, and an approach more likely to result in success, is to take on the Solo first and then utilize the Recreational or Sport Pilot as the gateway certificate.

Pilot candidates pursuing these licenses learn how to control the aircraft, master simple navigation techniques, and safely take off and land on a nice afternoon.  Once certified, they can show a friend their house from the air, look at the mountains, view the city, or cruise over a beach.  In other words, experience the simple pleasures of flight that likely attracted most of us to aviation in the first place.

The Sport or Recreational training curriculum will help develop habits and instincts that will increase your likelihood of success in more advanced training courses and allow you to build valuable PIC experience along the way.  Your total flight experience will all be credited toward your Private or Private/Instrument training so it will not create any additional barrier to your end goal and YOU decide when to proceed.

Sporty’s very own Learn to Fly Course adapts this very same philosophy.  This unique resource is delivered in a three-step format: Solo, Transition to Recreational/Sport Pilot and Private Pilot.  Plus, you can stop any time and enjoy the privileges of the Solo, Sport or Recreational Certificate – which means your training is more fun.

Pilot training is a very personal experience and you will need to consider how you will learn best and what best fits your long-term goals and lifestyle.  There is no wrong answer of how to begin.  The important first step – start flying and get to that first solo!

Trust But Verify

Trust your gauges.  Trust your gauges.  Trust your gauges.  I can still hear the chant from my instructor during my instrument training.  Even when VFR, I always find myself leveling off by looking at the attitude indicator and verifying with visual reference and other non-direct indicating instruments.  It`s a tough habit to break (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but I found a little bit of motivation for the verification step hidden in a short flight to have supper with some pilot friends.

We had six planes in all. Taking off from Clermont County Airport (I69), the destination was only 15 minutes away.  We were going to Blue Ash Airport to have the “Last Supper” as we called it.  You see, Blue Ash was closing and we wanted to land there one last time before “they” closed it.  There was a restaurant within walking distance of the parking area, so the food became a must.

I hopped in the left seat of a Cessna Skyhawk.  To my right was a recreational pilot who was close to his private license who came along for the ride.  On takeoff, I could tell something wasn’t quite right.  It took almost half of the 3500 ft runway to build up speed for rotation. Vr in this plane is 55 kts.   Around midfield, at an indicated speed of approximately 48 kts, the plane leaps into the air.  It took a lot of nose down trim to keep the plane at Vy (79 kts).

Odd, yes., but given the young apprentice sitting next to me and the short duration of the flight, I thought nothing of it.  I was confident and certainly didn’t want to seem worried so I was able to convince myself that all was normal.

On the way to Blue Ash, I notice a maximum cruise speed of 94 kts.  This plane would normally do 110kts.  Did I leave my flaps down again (story for another time)?  Is something broken?  Everything looked and felt fine, except for my airspeed.


Let’s pause the story and hit the rewind button to four months prior.  I was fortunate enough to represent Sporty`s Pilot Shop at a trade show in Alaska.  While I was there a bush pilot told me a story about when he took a 30,000 hour commercial pilot on a fishing trip in a Super Cub.  During takeoff, he gets up to speed and rotates.  The commercial pilot starts panicking and shouting “Airspeed! Airspeed! Your airspeed indicator isn’t working.”  His response to this: “What`s an airspeed indicator?”

The commercial pilot`s entire flying career was based on trusting his gauges, where the Bush Pilot flew largely by feel.  I could hear Bob Hoover in the background saying,  “The plane doesn’t know the engines aren’t running.”

Back at Blue Ash, I`ve made it to final approach.  It just so happened that the traffic in the pattern was using runway 24, meaning we had a 6 knot tailwind.  I thought nothing of it for an experienced pilot like me.  To make matters worse, Rwy 24 is a right-hand pattern.  I have special hatred for right-hand patterns.  I always end up high and fast.  So on final, my airspeed indication is getting slow.  I`m at final approach speed, but screaming down final as if I requested permission for a fly by.

With five planes behind me watching, I flared and flew a third of the way down the runway before forcing the plane to touch down. After a couple of bounces and porpoises, I was beyond midfield and not even in the ballpark of having the weight transferred from the wings to the wheels.

Luckily, this big, bad, macho pilot (me) has very little pride when it comes to going around. With five planes in the pattern, I announced my go around.  Hitting the throttle, pulling up flaps, still trusting the airspeed indicator, I climb out again with a lot of nose down trim to keep the airspeed at Vy.

The windsock at the end of the runway confirms that we had a tailwind, but not a huge one.  Glancing over at the ground peed on the GPS, it says I`m doing 90 kts while the airspeed is indicating 65 kts.  A choir of angels sings, the light bulb goes on, the fog lifts from the valley.  Looking back, I should have figured this out on takeoff, but my macho man attitude and instrument mentality had led me astray.  Remembering my bush pilot friend from Alaska, I flew the next approach based on what felt right with a couple of groundspeed call outs from the pilot sitting next to me (the verification step).  We made it down with no further issues and enjoyed our final trip to Blue Ash.

All the symptoms were there but I chose to ignore them.  The pitot tube had a partial blockage leading to a false reading, much lower than normal.  My mind was too busy showing this rookie how we real pilots fly.

Moral of the story:  If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.  Trust, but verify your gauges.  A simple cross check of the groundspeed indication on the GPS would have revealed the issue and I could have made the adjustment before I attempted a landing.