My First BFR
On Friday afternoon, July 1, 2011 I did my first BFR, or Biennial Flight Review. Two years before I had passed my PPL checkride in Cessna 172SP, N13151 on July 11th which meant that I had to complete a BFR by the end of the month of July this year.
In addition, it turned out that the only plane in which I was current had gone in for repairs a few weeks before this date, so I also had to be checked-out in another plane. Fortunately, there was a plane I had been approved to fly up until early this year, when my currency lapsed. That plane, N13151 was very familiar to me because of my checkride in 2009 and the preparations necessary to pass, so I was looking forward to being current again in her. Even though I hadn't flown the Cessna in 7 months, I was confident that I would pick things up again fairly quickly.
That said, there were some pressure points here. I hadn't flown anything in 2 months. My flight hours for this year so far were the lowest I'd had since I started training years ago. I was out of this particular cockpit for 7 months and I was working with a new CFI for this ride. Not exactly the way I would have wanted to arrange things!
But the CFI for this ride, Cliff Lanyi had put me at ease about the whole thing when I called up to book the flight. He said we could easily kill two birds with one stone in the time available. He also said that he likes to base his BFRs to some degree on what the pilot feels he needs to work on which sounded good to me.
The flight window at Norwood (OWD) was from 3 to 6pm but we started with an hour of ground discussion. Based on some initial comments from me about my flying over the past few years, we spent our time talking about tracking VORs on the G1000 and some airspace details I hadn't put into practice yet. I had mentioned that I had gotten so comfortable with the GPS (as I'm sure many pilots are these days) that in the past two years I had not tracked a VOR once and felt I might be a little rusty, especially on the hardware side. I also told Cliff that I had yet to fly into a Class C airport and so we reviewed a number of details about flying in and out of Charlies. This included the fact that going into and out of a Class C you need to have a squawk code and so on departure, your first call will be to clearance to get one. This is not something I'm used to as Norwood, a Class Delta. Probably old hat to many, but this was good refresher information for me.
Next we charted a game plan for our flight that afternoon. Since I was interested in using VOR's, Cliff suggested that we depart Norwood (OWD) and track to the northwest using the Gardner VOR (GDM.) We would do a landing there and then head almost due east to do some touch and goes at Hanscom or Bedford (BED.) On the way to BED, his plan was to again use the Gardner VOR but track away from it on a radial that would allow us to miss restricted areas R4102 A&B just to the south of our course. So we looked up the radial that would make the most sense and made not of that. It was the 105 radial which would also take us close to directly over Fitchburg (FIT.) We would then do a couple of landings at BED and that would complete my BFR and 172 check-out.
I liked this plan a lot, perhaps because I would be adding two new airport to my PIC landing list! I had used Gardner as a navigation point in the past, but had never landed there and for many reasons had never gone to Hanscom (BED.) BED is a very busy airport, almost too close to Norwood to be worth the trip and it's in a tricky bit of airspace.
As a bonus, because N13151 needed to begin part of its 100 hour maintenance, we would leave it at BED and fly back to OWD in another 172SP - N2081S. This was a needed repositioning and would fit in nicely with our flight plan.
So with a plane and a plan, we headed out. Light winds and a 5000ft cloud deck we took of and under the Bravo shelf, holding at about 2500ft, began tracking the VOR. I was able to refresh myself with the locations of the TO and FROM arrow and of course how to select the VOR for display with the CDI key. Cliff also walked me through some of the sub pages I didn't often have time to dial in on the G1000 while on short flights. Although I now travel with my iPad, there is of course a wealth of data available on the G1000, if only you can remember where to look in the menu system. So we looked up nearby airports etc.
I had gotten used to adjusting the GPS when for one reason or another I got further away from my original course than I had planned. Cliff reminded me why that can be a bad idea, especially if you have planned to have ground reference points along your route. You might switch the GPS or VOR to track from where you are NOW, but that new route won't line-up with places you expected to see out the window. So if you keep centering the needle with the Direct button on the GPS, you can create problems for yourself in certain situations.
Our course took us over my house, which I mentioned to Cliff as if I was a student pilot, getting some pleasure out of noticing. Soon after that Cliff showed me how to lean the mixture in the 172. In our training, we'd never really done much with leaning in cruise flight, so this instruction was golden! He then suggested that we do some slow flight, which sounded good to me as this was not something I got to practice a lot, or ever! After doing some clearing turns, I got the plane into a landing configuration and with the power at idle, we travelled for a few minutes with the stall horn sounding.
My slow flight execution was far from perfect, mostly because as I set things up I lost altitude, but it was a good practice run and I did a few turns in slow flight as well. Cliff commented that we had held our airspeed at about 35kts for a short time, which was cool to hear.
Then we headed to Gardner Airport (GDM.) The Gardner VOR is west of the Gardner Airport and the town of Gardner, so when I have the airport in site I began tracking straight in that direction. As we approached, Cliff suggested that a little engine out practice would probably be a good idea. So after getting a good look at the airport, he pulled the power at I pitched up for best glide, which in this 172 is 68kts. We ran through the restart procedures and made radio calls (not MAYDAY but normal pattern ones explaining that we were doing a simulation) as I maneuvered for a landing on runway 36. This whole process reminded me that I need to review my memory checklists for emergencies in this plane.
As we started the procedure, it felt like we were too low for this landing to work out, but that 172 sure can glide, and it turns out we had enough altitude to make it all work. But by the time we were abeam the numbers on the down wind, the site picture for landing looked perfect. Made the final radio calls, added flaps to ensure adequate landing distance on a somewhat short field and put her down very nicely on 36. It was my first 172 landing in 7 months and was quite nice.
As we taxiied back for takeoff, it was clear from Cliff's comments that I was doing great and seemed to him to be a solid pilot. Great words to hear and a nice reminder of why we do BFRs.
At the hold short line at GDM, I configured the radios for the short flight over to BED and double-checked the airspace ahead as we would be both avoiding R4102 A&B and coming in below the Class Bravo. We also left the VOR set to GDM because we would be tracking away from the station over to BED. Here's a obvious situation where resetting the VOR tracking inflight makes NO sense since you aren't tracking to a destination, but following a fixed radial. Obvious stuff, but good to see it in practice. Some of these things are being used less and less with GPS in the mix, so this was great stuff for me to work on.
On the way over to BED we dialed in the frequency for FIT to listen for traffic and heard a plane approaching from the east for a landing on runway 32. Based on our position, that would put it almost directly ahead of us as we headed west, so we began looking. We caught sight of it pretty far out and made some radio calls to confirm separation. All of this was happening near the restricted areas and I instinctively drifted away from the other plane's path but toward R4102. I never got close, and we discussed how quickly one situation can impact another.
We soon switched to the BED ATIS frequency and then called the Tower and slipped into a right downwind for runway 29 where we were cleared for a touch and go. I hadn't done a lot of touch and goes in my training. This was perhaps because most of my primary training was in a Cirrus, and touch and goes are harder on the planes. So doing a touch and go, would be a bit of a new thing for me. There were several other planes arriving at Hanscom as usual, but fitting into the pattern was no big deal and getting the right speed and flap configuration was just like I'd been doing it every day for the past few months.
There is plenty of runway to play with at BED, and when I felt I was a little fast, I pitched up a bit and landed a little beyond the numbers and slightly off center, but cleared the flaps, powered up and took off very quickly. There was a bit of a crosswind at that point on 29, so Cliff wanted me to work on that the next time around, which I did and landed fairly well.
All in all a great flying day and learning experience. I would recommend a BFR to every pilot out there and probably should fly with a CFI more often. Cliff told me as we taxiied that I was now approved to fly the Cessna at ECAC and was good for another two years on the BFR! Plus I got to go to two new airports and was now approved to fly two planes, a low wing and a high wing!
We parked 13151 and switched to 2081S for our quick trip back to Norwood which went well. All in all a great day of flying and very productive for me!