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Flight Review

I sat in my venerable, elderly Miata with the top down, waiting for the security gate to close behind me. The stars were out in the Summer sky as the dusk deepened. I was feeling content, having just completed my biennial flight review in our club's A36 Bonanza with my instructor and fellow club member Debby, a very experienced CFII and commercial pilot.

I hadn't flown that airplane in quite a while, so I'd spent a couple of hours reviewing the pilot's operating handbook and filling out an aircraft checkout form that Debby and our club President Anders had prepared. It was a really valuable review.

"The form asks for the recommended short-field procedure, but the POH doesn't say much about it," I said to Debby.

"You're right, there's not much in there," she replied. "Tell me about what you usually do."

"Well, on takeoff, Rick taught me to leave the flaps up, line up on the runway and hold the brakes while going to full throttle. Then lean the mixture for the density altitude using the fuel flow gauge, do the usual takeoff-roll instrument scan, and if everything looks good, release the brakes and go," I said. "On landing, he recommended full flaps and 80mph on final and firm braking once all the wheels are on the ground."

"OK, sounds good," Debby said. "That's pretty much what I do."

We went on to review emergency topics, including engine failures, glide ratios with the propeller in both low and high pitch, and gear position and pre-landing checklist items for off-field landings.

After completing the pre-flight inspection, we were ready to fly. The biggest challenge for me was just remembering where all the instruments and switches are on the panel. It would be really useful to take a photo and make a poster to help me review my procedures on the ground.

"I'm going to be really methodical with the checklist today," I told Debby.

"Good," she said. "Take your time."

Sitting in the runup area, I reviewed the takeoff-roll instrument scan.

"Manifold pressure, fuel flow, RPM, oil pressure, oil temperature, EGT, airspeed. OK, I'm ready."

The flight went pretty smoothly. We did steep turns, slow flight, recognition stalls, and other airwork, and then some takeoffs and landings at nearby Hollister airport.

"Gear down, 19 inches of manifold pressure, trim for level flight," I called out as we entered the pattern. "That should give me about 110 mph." It was pretty close. The pitch, power, and configuration changes in the pattern all felt natural, and the takeoffs and landings were pretty good.

I was surprised how quickly I got comfortable with the Bonanza again, despite a long period of flying only our club's Cessna 172, a much simpler airplane. I think it's because I'd already developed and practiced consistent procedures in the A36, including performance profiles, and because I reviewed and mentally rehearsed them before the flight. Especially in the Bonanza, where everything happens a lot faster than in a 172, having approximate numbers in mind for pitch trim, manifold pressure, propeller RPM, and fuel flow is a must. As it was, because the airplane was even lighter than usual, I found I needed more than the usual 12-15 degrees up on the pitch trim to maintain 90 mph on final, but starting with 12 degrees gave me about 100 mph and it was easy to adjust from there.

The flight brought home for me that a big part of legitimate confidence in the cockpit is just having solid, reliable procedures.

"All right, you're all signed off," Debby said, handing me my logbook. "Good work!"

"Thanks!" I said. "I had a great time!"

"Me too!" she said as she got into her car. I locked up the hangar and headed out. Driving home under the stars in the cool breeze, I reflected on the evening. I was still enjoying the flight!

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