On April 14th, 2021, I passed the commercial pilot practical test and officially became a commercial pilot. A commercial pilot certificate replaces the private pilot certificate and allows one to operate an airplane for compensation. Here are the minimum flight experiences needed to earn a commercial pilot certificate. See Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 61.129 for the specific flight and training requirements.
The basic flight experience consists of:
Total Flight Time – 250 Hours
Pilot-in-Command – 100 Hours
Cross Country PIC – 50 Hours
Instrument Training – 10 Hours
Technically Advanced Airplane or Complex – 10 Hours
To meet the flight experience requirements for the commercial pilot certificate one must log a 300 nautical mile solo cross country flight, with at least 3 landing points, and one of the legs being of at least 250 nautical miles. To meet this requirement, I chose to complete a flight from French Valley (F70) – Chandler (KCHD) – Buckeye (KBXK) – French Valley (F70). This flight was a total of 536 nautical miles with the longest leg being 268 nautical miles.
Chandler Municipal Airport is located in Chandler, Arizona about 20 miles southeast of Phoenix, AZ. KCHD is a located in class D airspace and has two parallel runways 4L/R and 22L/R with the longest runway being 4,870ft. The airport and airspace is busy but easy to get in and out of with the help of Chandler tower and Phoenix Approach control.
Buckeye Municipal Airport is located in Buckeye, Arizona which is 35 miles west of Phoenix, AZ. KBXK is an uncontrolled airport located in class G airspace. It has one north/south heading runway (17/35) that is 5,500 ft long. The airport is set apart some distance from the town of Buckeye but from their website appears to be active providing glider rides and instruction and parachute operations.
Chandler Airport (KCHD)
Buckeye Airport (KBXK)
The flight to Mojave Air and Space Port served a couple purposes. First, I haven’t landed here so it fit my mission to land at all of the public airports in California. Second, I’m working on earning a Commerical Rating and one of the flight experiences requires a cross country flight of 100 nautical miles with a flight instructor.
Mojave airport is located on the west side of the Edwards Airforce Base complex and within Class D airspace. The airport contains three runways (12/30, 8/26, 04/22) to accomidate the shifting winds often found in the Mojave Desert and sits at an elevation of 2801 feet.
“The Mojave Airport was first opened in 1935 as a small, rural airfield serving the local gold and silver mining industry. In July 1942, the U.S. Marine Corps took over the field and vastly expanded it as the Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Station (MCAAS) Mojave. In 1961, Kern County obtained title to the airport. The airfield’s name was changed to its current name at the start of 2013” (tour.mojaveairport.com). Mojave airport, located on the west side of the Edwards Airforce Base complex, has a strong history and active presence of aviation research and development. Mojave has the only civilian test pilot school in the United states and is home of notable airacraft such as the Voyager and SpaceShipOne. In addition, due to Mojave dry and low humidity climate, many airline companies use the facility as a storage and scrapyard location.
On June 13th, 2020, I passed the Instrument checkride and officially became an Instrument Rated pilot. While all my flying has in some way or another prepared me for instrument flying, my formal training for this rating started in the summer of 2019 when I started studying for the Instrument Knowledge Exam. I determined to first complete the FAA required knowledge exam prior to starting the flight training for two reasons. First, having this exam completed would allow me to completely focus on the flying portion and further develop my knowledge learned studying for this exam. Second, the knowledge exam is valid for two years. If you do not earn the Instrument Rating within the two years, you have to take the knowledge exam again. Therefore, this put me on the “clock” and helped motivate me to complete the rating. On August 14th, 2019, I passed the Instrument Knowledge Exam.
In late October of 2019 to February 2020, I started the formal flight training in an actual aircraft. I completed 4 flight lessons with a Certified Flight Instructor – Instrument (CFII). Upon completing the 4th lesson, he recommended that I spend the next few months flying with a a safety pilot to build time in order to meet the 40 hours of simulated time required for the rating. I was able to fly with a pilot friend for three additional flights before focusing most of my next phase of instruction using an Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD) to build time.
Staring in January 2020 through April 2020, I had the opportunity to use Precision Flight Control’s CRX Max Advanced Aviation Training Device and receive flight instruction from a CFII friend to log 20 hours of simulated flight time. The FAA allows pilots to log and credit 20 of the 40 simulated instrument condition hours needed for the rating to be conducted in an Advanced Aviation Training Device. Once I reached the maximum credited hours in the simulator, I transitioned back to training in a Cessna 172 to finish out the Instrument Rating requirements.
From May to June I completed the required 250 nautical mile cross country with three different instrument approaches conducted 6 more flights to refine my skills and prepare for the checkride.
On June 13th, I completed my Instrument checkride out of Cable Airport (KCCB). An FAA checkride consist of two components; oral and flight. The oral portion was reasonable and pretty straight forward. The examiner worked through a series of questions to assess whether or not you are knowledgeable, thoughtful, and safe in your planning and decision making. The flight portion was also straight forward in what is required. We took off from Cable airport and flew a simulated departure procedure that the examiner created for these checkrides. After departure, the examiner gave me some altitude and vectors to comply with and then conducted two unusual attitudes. Once that was completed, we contacted SoCal approach and set up to fly the practice ILS into Chino airport followed by the Localizer approach into Chino, and then the VOR approach back into Cable. The two approaches into Chino were last minute changes made in the air after the ILS went out of services at Bracket Field (KPOC) just prior to departure and then the wind direction become unfavorable at San Bernindino (KSBD) when checking the ATIS enroute. That is what flying IFR and aviation is all about, being prepared for the unexpected.
Next step, the Commercial Rating!
Van Nuys airport was the second of three approaches to meet the flight experience requirements towards an instrument rating. After departing Meadows Filed – Bakersfield on an instrument flight plan, we flew the VOR-B approach and landed on 16 Right at Van Nuys. Upon landing, we taxied back, picked up an IFR clearance to French Valley – F70 to complete the third and final RNAV approach.
Van Nuys, located in the San Fernando Valley, is the busiest general aviation airport in the United States. Van Nuys is a towered airport in Class D airspace operating parallel runways 16R and 16L. The documentary One Six Right: The Romance of Flying features the history of Van Nuys airport and the value of general aviation to the region and country.
ATC vectored us to Grans Intersection which is the Intermediate Approach fix where we intercepted the 155 degree radial and flew the course inbound.
Meadows – Bakersfield is located in Class D airspace North of Los Angeles and in the southern part of the California’s Central Valley. The airport is serviced with two parallel runways 12/30 at an elevation of 510 feet and provides ILS, RNAV, AND VOR approaches. Meadows is one of only two airports in the Central Valley providing commercial flights. American Airlines and United offer a couple flights a day.
This was a chosen destination on this particular date to accomplish the cross country requirement for the Instrument Rating. To qualify for the Instrument Rating, an applicant must complete a filed IFR flight of at least 250 nautical miles and make three different instrument approaches. Bakersfield was the first of three approaches on this trip. For the approach into Bakersfield we flew the FASTO TWO Standard Terminal Arrival Route (STAR). This took us over Lake Hughes VOR, IBWEN, and then to FASTO where we intercepted and flew the Landing Instrument System (ILS) Runway 30 approach.
One of my aviation goals is to acquire additional ratings and certificates. For some time, I’ve been thinking about starting my training for the Instrument Rating. In August of 2019, I decided that the best way to “start the clock” on completing the rating would be to pass the Instrument Rating – Airplane Knowledge exam. The exam expires in two years if you haven’t passed the practical exam earning the certificate. On August 14th, 2019, I passed the IRA Knowledge exam with a 95%.
To earn the Instrument Rating a pilot needs to have 50 hours of cross country time, 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time, and receive 15 hours of instrument flight training from an authorized instructor for the Instrument Rating. In addition, you must complete a 250 nautical mile cross country completing three different kinds of approaches while on an actual instrument flight plan.
The FAA provides three ways for a pilot to acquire simulated/actual instrument time:
- Receiving instruction in an airplane from a Certified Flight Instructor – Instrument (CFII)
- Receiving instruction from a CFII in an FAA approved Advanced Aviation Training Device. The FAA allows up to 20 hours of simulated instrument time to be logged in AATD.
- Flying under simulated instrument condition (a limited viewing device) with a safety pilot in the copilot position.
I currently meet the 50 hour requirement for cross country flights and have logged 28 of the 40 hours simulated/actual instrument time required. Thus far, I have had the opportunity to utilize all three ways of acquiring instrument time flying in a Cessna 172 and acquired over 20 hours Precision Flight Controls CRX-MAX AATD.
Imperial County airport is located south of the Salton Sea, five miles east of the El Centro Naval Air Facility, and within an array of Military Operation Areas (MOA) and Restricted Airspace . The airport has two runways that are almost perpendicular but do not intersect. On this particular flight, we had not planned on but we landed on both runway 26 and 14. On our initial approach, the winds were light but out of the west so we elected to land runway 26. Upon landing, we taxied back, and prepared to takeoff for our return trip. On departure all appeared to be normal, other than the Blue Angels practicing five miles away at El Centro Naval Air Facility. As we climbed through 1,000ft AGL, heading north towards the Salton Sea, the airplane started to shake and vibrate accompanied with a loss of RPM. After a quick thought of “This isn’t happening”, I reduced the power, pitched the nose down, and turned direct to the airport and headed for runway 14. By reducing the power to near idle, the shaking and vibration was minimized. As we headed for the airport, we determined suitable off-field locations to put the airplane down should the engine quit. As it turned out, the engine did not quit, and we made an uneventful straight landing on runway 14. We ended up waiting around for about three hours, walking the airport, meeting like minded aviators, and watching the Blue Angeles practice five miles to the west before a Cirrus SR22 arrived to take us home. The cause of all this excitement was a couple fouled spark-plugs that needed to be replaced.