I begin each flight review by asking the pilot what kind of flying he normally does. This often happens ahead of time, on the phone, when we are scheduling the review. I also want to know what licenses he carries, and I let him know that I want him to plan a cross country. I usually tell him where to plan right away but sometimes I want to think about it and I will call him back later.
I generally choose a destination a few hundred miles away that will require more planning than the typical private pilot cross country. I like to find a destination that will require a lot of airspace knowledge and some challenging terrain or a water crossing.
The pilot’s experience and normal flying habits weigh heavily on my decision. I want to give them a hard scenario that will force them to grow and remember the necessary skills that they may not have used in a while.
My goal for the cross country is to create a large scenario that can guide the ground portion of the review and serve as the starting point for the flight portion.
The pilot’s planning process is what it is. I make sure to tell them to plan it however they normally would plan any flight. If I’ve provided a challenging enough destination then they won’t show up with no plan at all. There is no point in asking them for a navlog if they are never going to use that once I’m out of the plane.
When the ground review begins I let the scenario guide the discussion. They bring out their flight plan, whether it is a printout from a flight planning site, a traditional paper navlog, or a tablet with the plan onboard.
We start from the beginning of the flight and work from checkpoint to checkpoint (or I just mentally chunk it apart if they don’t have checkpoints). I ask them about each checkpoint and how they will handle the different airspaces they encounter. I want to know what they will do in an emergency along every part of the route, and when they expect to arrive.
I ask some questions that may seem like gotchas! But my goal is to find knowledge gaps so I can fill them. The flight review is a test, but most pilots have the humility to listen and let me remind them of the things they may have forgotten. I always learn a few things from giving the review as well!
The discussion about the plan easily takes well over an hour, and I make sure to cover as many topics as I can to find knowledge gaps. Once we have discussed the plan I get into other general questions that didn’t fit the scenario until I am satisfied that I have given them the ground they deserve and they will leave with a lot of new information, and hopefully some new questions they will look into on their own.
We head out to the plane and I watch them go through their normal preflight. As before I offer tips and advice. In some cases, they do things in a way that is perfectly fine, and I am just telling them another way that they might consider. For example, they might walk around the plane with the checklist in hand and read each item before checking it. I might suggest a flow in which they finish the preflight and then check the checklist to verify that they didn’t forget anything. Both of these methods are fine and depend on personal preference.
We start up and begin the cross-country. I have already planned when I will give them a diversion. It is usually at a specific point on the route. I don’t tell them where to divert to, but I try to begin the diversion when we are at a place with an obvious choice.
I usually have the diversion airport in mind for a reason, but I let them choose something else as long as they can give a good reason why they are making that choice. For example, if they are diverting somewhere far when another airport is right below us I will want to know why. If they say that the runway below us is too short for their comfort, I might tell them to plan for it because I’ve discovered something that they might need more practice at, short field landings. They have done the right thing by having personal minimums, and I acknowledge that, but with me on board, it is a good time to get some practice.
But they might give a scenario based reason instead. Perhaps my diversion was medical, and they know there is a hospital next to the airfield at the other airport. That is smart thinking, I love it!
I don’t always use a medical diversion. Sometimes I will simulate an emergency with the engine by simply stating, “You notice that the oil pressure is dropping below minimums and the temperature is rising.” This simulated emergency will require them to plan a nearby airport and may include a simulated engine failure along the way.
After the diversion is over and we are approaching our home base I ask for a few maneuvers, simulate some emergencies, and then we do some landings. Once these are done it’s over. Time to head back in and do the paperwork.
A flight review is not something that you can fail. No CFI should ever be writing a failed flight review into your logbook. Instead, they should record the time as dual given if the flight review can’t be signed off just yet. I have done this before when I’ve flown with someone who was pretty rusty and we simply repeat the process again later, focusing heavily on the areas that they need more help in. I want to make sure that pilot’s leaving a flight review with me have everything they need to handle the situations they may encounter in real life.
If you find a CFI who is just signing your book and only doing the minimum, ask them to give you more. You are paying them to teach you new stuff and get over any personal hang up they may have about giving you disappointing news. If you really are deficient in some skills or knowledge then a CFI is not doing you a favor by signing your book.