In this issue, we'll deal with the planning phase of the test flight. Rather than give you a fictitious test flight scenario, I will try to provide an easy checklist of to do items prior to the flight. The preflight planning stage is one of the most critical aspects of a test flightor any flight, for that matterbecause it is on the ground you should identify potential problems and preplan for emergencies.
1. Check the weather.
2. Find out if emergency response is available.
3. Identify the location of the test flight area.
4. Verify that the aircraft has been approved for a return to service.
5. Study the Aircraft Flight Manual/Pilot Operating Handbook (AFM/POH).
6. Discuss the flight with the A & P who repaired/identified the area requiring the test flight. Go over what you are testing for, and discuss when to call off the flight.
7. List the test points on a sheet of paper.
8. Prepare a detailed what if course of actions.
9. Conduct an extensive preflight inspection using the aircraft checklist, and secure loose items in the cockpit.
10. Find a quiet location and go over the flight in your mindespecially all emergency items and what actions you will take.
11. Fly the flight plan profile, keeping the AFM/POH nearby and open to the emergency section.
12. Discontinue the flight at the first indication something is not right.
In conclusion, remember there are no provisions for the FAA to issue a Special Flight Permit (Ferry Permit) for a test flight. The aircraft MUST be approved for return to service prior to the test flight by an authorized person (A&P, Repair Station, etc.). Again, the term test flight is generic, the term functional check flight really fits the nature of most test flight operations conducted in general aviation.
The above checklist is not all-inclusive, nor is it intended to be a complete guide to conducting any flights. It is provided only to get you thinking about potential hazards and how to minimize some of the often overlooked, taken-for-granted, killer items.
While this procedure may seem like a lot of unnecessary work, especially for a simple hop around the patch, it will pay big dividends when things go south, and they will...if not today, then tomorrow. Mr. Murphy and his law are alive and well!
During the frenzy to get Part 1 of this article out, I neglected to give credit for the axioms I used throughout the article. These words of wisdom provide thought provoking statements and summarize several truisms that apply to the intriguing world of aviation. And for those of you who missed the first article, they bear repeating.
Credit where credit is due:
"The object of the game, is not to cheat death...the object is not to let him play!"
-Patrick Poteen, Sgt. U.S. Army
"At the worst possible time, the worst possible thing will happen."
"If you don't check your ego...better check your estate planning. Someone's going to need it!"
-Yours Truly, Karry Ray
"A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations that require the use of his superior skill."
-Old aviation proverb
"Go from the known to the unknown...Slowly!"
-Chris Wheal, Military test pilot
Make it right from the ground up!
Next issue: Tools!
Karry D. Ray, Airworthiness Safety Program Manager