Flight Check on Deck — Making the Right Moves
By Susan K. Parson, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine Editor
If you use an airport with any sort of instrument navigation capability, an FAA flight inspection team will visit that airport from time to time to inspect and validate the integrity of its space- and ground-based systems. You can find full details of who, what, how, and why in this issue’s “Flight Check: Please Keep Your Distance!” feature. But let’s focus here on what you need to know if you hear the “flight check” call sign when you are out and about.
Flight Check — Please Keep Your Distance!
Who We Are, What We Do, and How It Matters to You
One of my favorite maxims is the one about how much of our success in life comes from two simple acts: (1) show up; and (2) pay attention. Paying attention is super important if there’s an FAA flight inspection team in your aerial neighborhood. As the feature article notes, these teams may be flying opposite the traffic flow in the pattern or operating at nonstandard altitudes for VFR or IFR. You will need to add the “flight check” aircraft and its maneuvers (more on those later) to your mental map of other traffic. Of course, you will also need to keep that mental map moving to update your situational awareness as flight inspection mission maneuvers progress.
Know the Moves
The feature article offers details of the standard flight inspection maneuvers. If you are working in or near the traffic pattern, you’ll especially want to know that low approaches — 50 feet above the runway all the way from one end to the opposite threshold — are SOP for flight inspection. There will be flight check orbits of navigation beacons like VOR, Tactical Air Navigation Systems (TACAN), or even Non-Directional Radio Beacons (NDB) that may be located on or near the field. Other maneuvers in the flight inspection playbook include the ROC (required obstacle check) sweep around the airport circumference, and a flight inspection arc typically conducted 1,500 feet above field elevation and 35 degrees on either side of a localizer course. Knowing what to expect will help you stay clear, stay safe, and stay out of the way.
The concept of “first come, first served” is a staple of both popular culture and aviation culture. But unless you have a no-kidding-gotta-get-down-now sort of emergency, giving way to a flight inspection aircraft is a mark of good manners and good airmanship. As the feature article explains, the FAA’s flight inspection teams have a critical safety job to do, one that requires management of many moving parts while adhering to a very rigid “script.” The quickest way to get a flight inspection bird on its way to somewhere else is to avoid getting in the way of its work. The magic of airplanes is that they can quickly transport us to other places, so why not take advantage of that? Find another aerial place to be until the flight inspection airplane moves on.
Enjoy the Show
While I have flown in some of the country’s busiest airspace, I’m sorry to say that my flight activities have never coincided with those of an FAA flight inspection team. Given how we in aviation love watching airplanes, I would have enjoyed perching at one of my old airport’s patio picnic tables with a cold beverage in hand, watching the true pros of aeronautical precision make some of those low approaches over the runway. If you have that opportunity, enjoy the show, and offer a salute or a toast to the teams who are keeping our system safe.
Susan K. Parson (email@example.com) is editor of FAA Safety Briefing and a Special Assistant in the FAA’s Flight Standards Service. She is a general aviation pilot and flight instructor.