Soon after obtaining my instrument rating, my instructor Beth and I started training for my commercial pilot certificate check ride. Hours of study on regulations, weather, commercial operations, and aircraft systems resulted in my passing of the Commercial Pilot written exam. Speaking of regulations, it may be helpful to understand what FAA privileges and limitations exist for a commercial pilot.
According to Federal Aviation Regulation Part 61.133, a person who holds a commercial pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying persons or property for compensation or hire, provided the person is qualified in accordance with this part and with the applicable parts of this chapter that apply to the operation. You might think the before-mentioned legal lingo allows the bearer of a commercial pilot certificate to just put himself or herself out for hire, and fly anything and anyone, anywhere. However, there are other parts of the regulations that stipulate additional requirements for air carrier operators so, the commercial pilot certificate alone has its limitations. The holder of the certificate is allowed to conduct (within aircraft and additional certification requirements) the following operations: flight instruction, nonstop sightseeing flights, ferry or training flights, crop dusting, seeding, spraying, and bird chasing, banner towing, aerial photography or survey, fire fighting and power line or pipeline patrol, to name a few.
All that being said, before I could ferry aircraft, crop dust, banner tow, or fire fight (none of which I planned on doing), I had to complete a lot of training, and I had to meet the minimum hour requirements:
- 250 hours total flight time
- 50 hours of cross country
- 3 10 hours instrument training (already completed)
- 10 hours of training in a retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable pitch propeller or is turbine-powered
- One 2-hour cross country flight in a single engine in daytime conditions that consists of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure;
- One 2-hour cross country flight in a single engine airplane in nighttime conditions that consists of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure
- Ten hours of solo flight time in a single engine airplane: One cross-country flight of not less than 300 nautical miles total distance, with landings at a minimum of three points, one of which is a straight-line distance of at least 250 nautical miles, and 5 hours in night VFR conditions with 10 takeoffs and 10 landings (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower.
You may think that this training plan was intense and for the most part it was fairly challenging, but the areas of training where I spent quite a bit of time, included learning to fly a complex airplane, and learning how to demonstrate properly the commercial pilot flight maneuvers. First, we began my complex aircraft training in a T-tail PA28-200 Piper Arrow. This aircraft had a 200 horsepower engine, significantly more “growl under the cowl” than the 100 hp Cessna 152’s and 165 hp Cessna 172’s I had been flying. Also, the Arrow had a variable pitch/constant speed prop and retractable gear both of which, brought two new operational systems into each phase of flight.
First, the variable pitch/constant speed prop is just that; variable and constant.Constant speed propellers work operationally, by varying the pitch of the propeller blades. As the blade angle is increased, it produces more lift (thrust). At the same time, more torque is required to spin the prop, and the engine slows down. The opposite is true when the blade angle is decreased: the torque required is decreased, and the engine speeds up. At higher altitudes when the air becomes less dense, the pilot can improve the efficiency of the aircraft engine, by increasing the pitch of the prop, and maintain the RPM of the engine, in order to “take a bigger bite” out of the air. That way when the air is thin, increasing its pitch can increase the propeller’s efficiency. It may sound complex (no pun intended), but it allows the airplane to be more fuel efficient at different flight phases.
The Arrow also had retractable landing gear. You can imagine that in the takeoff and landing phases of flight, there are a whole new series of checks and procedures related to retracting the gear (takeoff and cruise), and lowering the gear (hopefully before attempting a landing). Even so, as a commercial pilot candidate, I had to learn the intricate details of both of these systems, how they operate, how to troubleshoot in the event of a failure, and what to do if a gear failure occurred. Landings were the critical phase of retractable gear operations and in this training I learned a new aviation acronym: “GUMP’s. On final approach, once lined up on the centerline of the runway, my instructor taught me to call out and verify GUMP’s (GAS – fuel pump on, UNDERCARRIAGE – gear down and three green lights, MIXTURE- mixture control rich, PROP – constant speed prop forward, SEATBELTS/SWITCHES). It was a constant reminder to make sure we landed with gear down, and that the prop was set in case we had to execute a “go around.” In time, I was able to master (or at least feel comfortable) flying the Arrow, and I came to love flying this airplane nearly as much as I now love flying Cessna 172’s and 182’s.
In my next blog post, I will share with you the flight lessons that taught me to execute the commercial pilot flight maneuvers: Lazy 8’s, Chandelles, “180 degree spirals,” and “Eights on Pylons.” It took some time, but I was able to learn these performance maneuvers well enough to take and pass my FAA check ride. More later.