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Currency: How Much Is Yours Worth?

by H. Dean Chamberlain
Article reprinted with permission of FAA Aviation News

It's a new year. The holidays are over, and your holiday bills have not yet arrived. Now, before credit card shock sets in, is the time to begin planning your spring flight recurrency program. Treat yourself to a New Year's resolution to keep current. To start the year off right, you should give yourself the gift of some refresher training if you have not kept current over the winter months.

In past years, FAA Aviation Newswrote about why those pilots who did not fly over the winter months should get some refresher training to start the new year. This year is different. Because of national security flight restrictions in the country after the September 11 attacks, some pilots may not have been able to fly at all this fall and winter. For those pilots in the restricted areas, currency poses a special challenge. As we add in the stress of being restricted and not being permitted to fly, flight currency and proficiency takes on a whole new meaning. (It is hard to project what flight restrictions may be in place when you read this article since this is being written the third week of October as some of the restrictions continue to be lifted.)

But whether you are out of currency because of the time of year, lack of money, or a flight restriction, the result is the same. You may not be safe to fly. You may not only be out of FAA currency to be pilot in command (PIC), but you may also be out of proficiency. Currency keeps you legal. Proficiency keeps you safe.

So what can you do?

Last year, we would have said -- contact your local certificated flight instructor (CFI). Find one who is knowledgeable and proficient in the type of aircraft you fly and take a couple of hours of dual instruction and an hour or two of ground school. Not only would this give you some valuable training with a well-qualified safety pilot, but the time would also count towards your FAA Pilot Proficiency Awards Program "Wings" phase. A completed "Wings" phase may also help reduce your insurance costs. Ask your insurance agent if your aviation policy gives lower rates for participation in the Wings program. Another advantage of flying with your local CFI is the opportunity to complete an FAA required flight review. A "Wings" phase can also count as a flight review.

Times have changed.

First, everyone planning a flight these days needs to review the current Notices To Airmen(NOTAMS) to ensure the flight is permitted. Whether a flight restriction is an ongoing one from the initial September 11 attack or one just released because of some terrorist attack, everyone needs to make NOTAM checking a preflight habit.

Then, according to various national and local government and business leaders, everyone -- pilots, and maintenance technicians -- have a responsibility to help the economy by spending money. A great way to do that is through recurrency training. You can do your share by helping those general aviation companies that have been hit hardest by the many flight restrictions by buying training materials, and, where possible, flight checkouts or additional training. They need your help, and you may need the recurrency training. It is the classic win-win situation. It is not often you can say to your spouse, "But Dear, it is my patriotic duty to go flying."

If you live in an area still under a flight restriction, visit your nearest fixed-base operator that is operating outside of the restriction. Better yet, take a vacation to your favorite vacation spot and log a few hours once you get there. The Internet is a great source for finding flight training in any given area.

With all of the challenges facing pilots today, one of the most interesting ways to regain your flight proficiency is by adding a rating to your pilot certificate. Recently, FAA Aviation Newswas able to observe a commercial glider add-on-rating test with the permission of the applicant.

For those not familiar with a glider add-on rating, the following is a brief explanation of the two ways of becoming a glider pilot.

For someone with no flight experience, that person can become a student glider pilot and advance to private and commercial glider pilot by completing all of the glider category eligibility, training, and experience requirements outlined in 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 61. This is the way many youngsters become glider pilots since they can become student glider pilots at 14 years of age and private glider pilots at 16 years of age. Although one is never too old to learn to fly as long as the person can meet the appropriate requirements.

However, for those pilots with a specified minimum amount of pilot time in heavier-than-air aircraft, they can add a glider category rating with less glider flight time and number of glider flights than someone with no flight experience because the regulations recognize the training value of the previous heavier-than-air flight time.

For example, a glider pilot who has not logged at least 40 hours of flight time as a pilot in a heavier-than-air aircraft must log at least 10 hours of flight time in a glider in the operations listed in the regulations. If that same pilot has logged at least 40 hours of flight time in heavier-than-air aircraft, the applicant must have only logged at least three hours of flight time in a glider in the area of operations listed in the regulations to meet some of the minimum training requirements.

To meet the requirements for a commercial glider rating, a glider only pilot must have logged 25 hours as a pilot in a glider and that flight time must include at least 100 flights in a glider as PIC. The regulations CFR §61.129(f) lists the specific training requirements.

But, if you have 200 hours of flight time as a pilot in heavier-than-air aircraft, the rules permit you to add a commercial glider rating to your pilot certificate relatively easy. For example, with only at least 20 flights in a glider as pilot in command, plus the appropriate number of training hours or training flights with an authorized instructor, you only need five solo flights in a glider on the areas of operation listed in CFR §61.129(f)(2). Plus you don't have to take a knowledge test when adding a commercial glider rating if you hold a commercial airplane, rotorcraft, or airship category rating.

You need to review the regulations for all of the specific requirements for each type of glider rating.

Both means of meeting the minimum certification requirements (glider only or add-on rating) include at least three training flights with an authorized instructor within 60 days of the test.

The point of all of this is that it is relatively easy to add, in this case, a glider add on rating to a heavier-than-air aircraft rating. (In the past, we have discussed how easy it is to add a seaplane rating to an airplane certificate.)

Why would you want to add a glider rating?

Soaring is pure flying. It is basic stick and rudder flying where smoothness and coordination may mean the difference between gaining altitude in minimal lift conditions or losing altitude. Add in the challenge of getting only one landing per flight for non-motorized gliders, and you begin to appreciate the benefits of learning to fly gliders. Gliders make you think about basic flying skills, the importance of understanding weather and lift, and the value of planning your flight. Flying skills and judgment are important parts of learning to fly gliders. All of which will help make you a better pilot regardless of which type aircraft you currently fly. Although most of us tend to use the terms glider and sailplanes interchangeably, the regulations uses the term glider in outlining the various training requirements. In this article, we will use glider and sailplane to mean the same type of aircraft.

As we said, proficiency is a great reason to start your new year off flying with an add-on glider-rating course. But rather than FAA Aviation News repeating FAA recommended ideas, we would rather let our commercial add-on applicant, Richard C. Niehaus, of Galena MD, explain his reasons. First, Niehaus is a B-757 and B-767 rated pilot with a major airline. He has logged more than 11,000 flight hours.

When asked how he got started in flying, he said, "I think the first time I was in a plane was when I was two weeks old." "My official lessons didn't start until I was about 10 years old." He said he soloed four days after his 16th birthday. When asked why so late instead of on his 16th birthday, he said the weather didn't cooperate.

He said his father was a pilot with an instrument rating who would take him out of school go flying with him. "People thought it was terrible that I would be taken out of school to go flying, but that is how I ended up making my living," he said. His father died when Niehaus was 15. But he said, "By that time the seed was planted, and I definitely had a direction."

In 1985, Niehaus started flying for an airline when he was only 20 years old. He had to wait until he was 23 before he could fly as a captain because he had to wait until he was old enough to meet the minimum age requirement (23) to be eligible for his airline transport pilot certificate.

He is also unique. He not only flies "heavy iron" as the saying goes, but he also flies at the other end of the spectrum. He flies hang gliders. "I would say hang gliding is my number one aviation passion," he said. He has flown a hang glider more than 159 miles in cross-country flight. As he joking said of the six hour and 22 minute flight, "It was non-stop with no refueling." He has also been to more than 14,000 feet MSL in a hang glider.

So, why did he want a glider rating? To take his wife soaring is one reason. Although they have done some tandem hang gliding, he thinks a sailplane is a better option with her. Plus, he said, it was a challenge for him to test his flying skills doing something new. In the case of his glider check ride, the challenge was the FAA's Glider Practical Test Standard.

When asked what advise he could offer others, he said, "Even with flying as often as I do, there are aspects of general aviation that you can become rusty on. Coming out here and doing this type of flying just brings back the joy of why we are doing this in the first place."

If it works for him, it will work for you. Now is the time to think about your glider add-on rating to remove some of that winter rust you may have accumulated.

For more information about learning to flying gliders, you should check Part 61 of the FAA regulations for the knowledge and practical training requirements. You may also want to review the current Glider Practical Test Standards. Then you should visit the Soaring Society of America's Internet website at <www.ssa.org> for detailed information on soaring and how to find the location of a soaring site near you. In case you want to write to the SSA or telephone the organization, its address is P.O. Box 2100, Hobbs, NM 88241-2100. Its telephone number is (505) 392-1177. Its FAX number is (505) 392-8154.

Although many people fly their own sailplane, most people learn to fly sailplanes either in a soaring club setting or at one of the many commercial soaring centers around the country. To start off your new year by learning to soar, contact the club or soaring center nearest you. You too can learn to fly with the great soaring birds of America. Do it today. Shake off that winter rust.