The 61.55 Currency Ride

The 61.55 Currency Ride

The 61.55 Currency Ride

With A “Long Armed” PNF

We are eastbound out of BVS, just north of Seattle, headed for Spokane (GEG) on our way to FL 450 in a Lear 40, with the airplane very light and climbing at over 4,000 feet per minute through 17,000. Just for the experience, I have been hand flying since takeoff, and I am trying to be on top of my game, since we are using this flight as an update for my soon-to-expire “61.55” currency. Fifteen seconds later, we shoot through FL 180 doing nearly 60 mph in the vertical and,  consistent with the recommended cockpit resource management (CRM) procedure, I ask TL, the pilot not flying (PNF) sitting to my right, for that checklist.

Unlike airline or Part 121 operations, where, by necessity, all pilot actions are very standardized, in Part 91 flying there’s a lot of individuality in how flight crews work together. On this flight, I am fortunate to have TL as the PNF, but he’s also conducting my 61.55 checkride. TL is regarded within our pilot group as someone who knows a Lear 40 absolutely cold, and when acting as PNF he just takes care of whatever needs to be done with every switch, dial or lever in the cockpit, regardless of its location, as soon as the situation dictates. For this reason, he is sometimes referred to as “Long Arm Lewis”.

All this being the case, as soon as I request the FL 180 checklist, there materializes into my line of vision a long arm covered by a brown shirt sleeve, reaching way across the panel to manipulate the required knobs on the left side. All I have to do is sit there with my left hand loosely on the control wheel, taking an occasional jab at the trim switch to keep our airspeed at 275 knots. Some pilots resent all the extra help, but not me. My take on CRM is that I should happily use all resources available, particularly when on a FAR 61.55 check ride in an airplane I have not flown for a while.

FAR 61.55 is the applicable regulation dealing with currency in jet aircraft for those planning to fly as SIC (second in command), and it can be used even by pilots already type rated in the aircraft. It is almost an FAR oddity, in that it only requires you to do four relatively simple things annually in order to be current:

Review and be familiar with operational information specific to the aircraft.

Complete three takeoff and landings to a full stop as sole manipulator of the controls.

Demonstrate engine-out procedures while executing the duties of PIC.

Demonstrate that you have had crew resource management (CRM) training.

The really nice part is that, if you are still legal, all of this can be done while the airplane is on a trip somewhere, which vastly reduces the cost. The needed logbook endorsement can also be signed by a “qualified management official” within the company, as opposed to a designated pilot examiner (DPE). On this trip, TL is the “qualified official”, and although characteristically “long armed” and helpful, he is taking pains to see that we follow the requirements of FAR 61.55 to the letter.

In spite of being cleared to FL450, I decide, given our proximity to GEG, that we might as well level off at FL320. We inform the Seattle Center controller of this, and he responds by clearing us directly to Spokane. TL is punching the FMS buttons even while the controller is still speaking, hits “direct”, looks at me briefly until I nod, then pushes the NAV button on the autopilot panel, which starts the airplane on a 20-degree turn direct toward the airport. Since we are still at FL 320, I begin thinking about heading down, but find the PNF is already ahead of me, with the ATIS frequency dialed in, and the VNAV display already up on the FMS. GEG is clear, but has changed its runway to 3 from 21, the one I had initially programmed. More prompt button pushing by my long-armed PNF, and we are quickly set up for the ILS to 3. However, a few minutes later, I can see the airport from 20 miles out and decide to save some time by just hand-flying the approach visually, so we cancel IFR and I turn off the autopilot in order to set up for a wide left-base entry.

It’s always interesting to make vertical path decisions purely on the basis of how things look out the window from some distance away. As it turns out, I miss it slightly; when we roll out on a six-mile final, all four of the VASI lights are white. I pull the power all the way back, call for full flaps, and as soon as their drag drops the IAS below 150, ask for the gear. Fairly quickly, one of the white VASI lights turns red, and when another starts to turn pink I push in power to maintain Vref, trim out any control pressure, briefly take my hands off the wheel, and say to TL…“that looks about right, what do you think?” He replies, “yeah, looks fine to me, but you might want to stay five knots above Vref; we have lots of runway and it will give you a little more time in the flare.” Good idea.

Using the helpful landing hint, I touch down gently and we make exit G3 about halfway down the runway, which happens to be almost in front of the FBO. The tower clears us to Signature Flight, even while still on tower frequency. I call for the after-landing check list, which TL, with a bit more of “long arm” reaching, has already about half completed. The ramp guys have us park right in front of the FBO door and lend us a van to get dinner at the nearby Longhorn Steakhouse, where we get seated right away. The trip and check ride are going very well indeed.

It is well after dark by the time we get back from dinner. The Lear 40, all white and floodlit, with its engines looking like they are half the diameter of the fuselage, shines brightly just outside the FBO door, surrounded by orange traffic cones. We drink coffee and yawn until our VIP pax finally arrives at 10:30 and, while I get the clearance back to Seattle, TL briefs our pax and closes the door. As we taxi out, the controller voluntarily offers runway 21, even though runway 3 is being advertised as the active on the ATIS. That gives us a nearly straight shot at our destination of Boeing Field (BFI), and with a Lear’s low altitude burn rate, probably saves well over what we paid for dinner in fuel… good thinking on the controller’s part.

Ten minutes after takeoff, we are at FL 320 and shortly thereafter can see the entire Puget Sound basin from Olympia to the Canadian border, all lit up like a flat Christmas tree. Somewhere within that mass of light bulbs there is a beacon and two parallel lines of lights belonging to the runways on Boeing Field. The controller informs us to expect a visual approach to runway 31L, which, even after a fair amount of visual groping in the sea of lights below us, we just can’t make out. So I just turn inbound when the needle centers on the ILS that “long arm” has conveniently already set up.

We land and drop off our passenger at Clay Lacy, then immediately take off again. Five minutes later we are at 4,000 feet heading directly for BVS, which is just about 20 minutes away. I have the airplane on autopilot, with heading and altitude mode activated and pulling about 65% power, with the airspeed just below 250 knots. Everything is going just fine until I notice the airspeed slightly fading. This puzzles me until I see TL has used a “long arm” to sneakily reduce the left engine to idle.

An engine failure at reduced power is not commonly practiced and can sometimes be initially confusing, because you do not get all the other cues, such as engine noise changes, or sudden deceleration and rotation about the vertical axis. In addition, when an engine operating at low power goes to idle, there are no warning lights and the autopilot in a Lear 40 does a remarkably good job of quietly sacrificing airspeed in order to maintain heading and altitude. Fortunately, I clue in to what is happening before anything bad happens, click off the autopilot, push in power and rudder on the right side, announce a left engine failure and ask for the checklist, which TL again handily takes care of, using his “long arm” method.

By the time we have finished with the engine-failure exercise we are near our destination. The conditions are CAVU and I elect another visual approach, but this time I cheat slightly because I know the location of OPIXE, the IAF (initial approach fix), by ground reference, and so I just head the airplane to that location while descending to the crossing altitude of 3,000 feet. When we get there and turn from base to final, the VASI lights show two white and two red, like magic. The last landing of the required three is completely uneventful, although I do have to fuss more than I would like, getting the reverse-thrust levers stowed.

Ten minutes later, we are standing at the counter in the office doing the paperwork when “Long Arm Lewis” reaches way over from the other side to sign off my FAR 61.55 logbook entry…done for another year.

There is a lot to be said for a PNF with “long arms”.

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