The Flight Training Process:
The Feds insist on a minimum of 250 hours of flying before you can take the commercial pilot practical exam. (If you attend a Part 141 flight school, FAA says that you can get your rating in a shorter amount of time, but those schools are expensive and, quite frankly for the most part, not worth the money you’ll spend. So there.) As with most certificates or ratings there is a commercial pilot knowledge exam that you are required to pass with a score of 70% or better.
As a commercial pilot, you can get paid for your flying. For the most part however, people don’t want to pay brand new and grossly inexperienced commercial pilots until they’ve earned some (experience, that is). How to get that experience? Well, you could become a flight instructor. Lots of people make that choice and some of them become good at it – others are just putting in the time until they acquire enough hours to get a slightly better low-paying job than that about which I’m going to write. That low paying job would be working for any number of companies that pay you very little and work you very hard under very trying conditions (including sleeping in dorms with mattresses on the floor alongside your sweaty, smelly colleagues – what fun) and flying airplanes that scare the whoopee out of most pilots who don’t have to fly them.
The commercial flight training is, basically, an advanced private pilot course. You’ll do specialty takeoffs and landings (short field and soft field) until you can perform them in your sleep (although it’s always better to be awake when you’re flying – lives depend upon it). You’ll practice 50° banked steep turns and you’ll learn some new maneuvers: the Chandelle, the Lazy Eight, Eight’s on Pylons, Steep Spirals and, my favorite and the most practical, the Power-Off 180° Accuracy Approach and Landing (as FAA describes it; we humans call it, the “spot landing”).
You’ll become a whiz at expanding your basic skills and push the envelope as you develop new ones. You’ll become a font of knowledge about all the systems in your airplane because, if you don’t, you won’t pass your check ride – so the study can be demanding. (But if you think of it, as a commercial pilot you should know everything you can about the airplanes you fly. On the odd chance that something did go wrong, you’ll be well served by knowing what to do to overcome the problem.)
Let’s talk about the commercial maneuvers. The Chandelle was developed in WWI as a maneuver to evade an attacking airplane. It is, quite simply, a high performance course reversal, the first half of which requiring constant bank (30°) and ever-changing pitch; the second half requiring constant pitch and ever-changing bank.
The Lazy Eight (so-named because if you were looking at it from above and the airplane was emitting smoke – and there was no wind … lordy what a bunch of qualifiers – you would see described below you a figure eight) is an elegant maneuver, one which tests all of your flying skills. It demands finesse, precise control and an understanding of what is happening at each stage of the maneuver. It is ballet in the sky – and you don’t have to wear the tights or the tutu.
Pylon Eight’s (all right, Eights on Pylons) are a variation on the turns around a point that you did as a private pilot – the difference being that you’re turning around two different points all the while keeping a reference line on the wing virtually attached to the point about which you’re turning. It also requires an understanding of a concept called “pivotal altitude” which gives you a little more math to comprehend – more than I care to bother with right now.
The Steep Spiral might become a very important maneuver if you ever have an emergency and need to land. If that emergency occurred (let’s say you lost your engine) you’d, of course, set the airplane’s speed to best glide, then you’d look for a place to land. You’d try to restart your engine, make a distress call if that failed, and then begin to prepare for the emergency. Once you found your place to land, and assuming you had a lot of altitude to lose, you’d employ the technique you’ll learn in the Steep Spiral. It’s, basically, a turn around a point while you lose altitude. The maneuver requires three complete turns around your point, all the while maintaining the same distance from it. It’s a gas.
The spot landing (I refuse to type that elongated name FAA insists upon, again) would be the natural extension of the Steep Spiral. Once you’ve spiraled to a point that is your key position (the place from which you can make your approach and landing), the spot landing skills you’ll learn will take over. In your training, you’ll close the throttle abeam your intended point of landing. From that moment on, you’ll adjust your approach based on your altitude and the effect of wind, you’ll use flaps and/or a slip to control your descent so that you land no earlier than the spot you’ve chosen and, at most, 200 feet beyond it. The practice is great fun and the skills you develop will make you a better and safer pilot in the future.
The commercial certificate is great training – fun training – that can be very demanding, at times, but is incredibly rewarding. The other benefit is that you’re required to have a minimum of 10 hours of training in a complex airplane (one with a constant speed prop, retractable landing gear and flaps) so you’ll begin to understand the old aviation axiom about people who fly retracts: “There are those who have (landed gear up), and those who will.” Try not to be one of them.