FAA SPORT PILOT EXAMINER SCHOOL
by Jon Thornburgh
In the month of June 2005 I was a member of the first class of Sport Pilot Examiner candidates to attend the FAA Examiner Seminar in Oklahoma. All previous seminars were held in Sebring, Florida. The FAA is headquartered in Oklahoma City, so the seminars were moved to Yukon, Oklahoma, about 15 miles west of Oklahoma City.
This article is primarily directed to pilots who are thinking of applying to the FAA to become Sport Pilot Examiners (SPEs.) The intent is to give the reader an idea what the school is about and what is expected of the students.
The first step in becoming an SPE is to apply to the FAA. You do not have to be an FAA pilot in order to apply. Highly experienced ultralight instructors may qualify, as well as FAA pilots who have flown ultralight-type aircraft. An application is available from the FAA web site at http://forms.faa.gov/forms/faa8710-12.pdf.
The minimum flight experience for airplane and weight-shift control (trike) SPE applicants is 500 hours total pilot-in-command time, 250 hours in ultralight category, 200 hours of ultralight instruction given, and 50 hours in the past 12 months. For powered parachute applicants the respective numbers are 250 hours total, 100 in powered parachutes, 100 hours of instruction given, and 25 hours in the past 12 months.
It is highly advantageous if the applicant has an FAA pilot certificate in addition to his ultralight license. Even a private pilot certificate is helpful, although a commercial certificate would be even better. The FAA's highest preference is a person who is an ultralight examiner (AFI) and an FAA Certified Flight Instructor (CFI.)
The class dates for the Examiner seminars for the remainder of 2005 are July 12 to 19, August 9-16, and September 13 to 20. There are no classes scheduled for October, November, or December. Normally the FAA selects eight candidates for each class. An updated class schedule is available at www.faa.gov.
Note: if the reader does not want to type a long URL into his browser, he may obtain the documents mentioned in this article by going through the links provided at www.faa.gov.
After reviewing the perspective examiner's application, the FAA notifies the candidate that he is eligible to take the Sport Pilot Examiner Knowledge test. A list of the questions asked on the knowledge test is available at http://av-info.faa.gov/data/airmanknowledge/sea-seb-seg-sel-sep-sew-sey-sia-sib-sig-sil-sip-siw-siy.htm . A passing score for Examiner is 80%.
The applicant must also take the Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI) knowledge test, if he has not already done so as a CFI or ultralight instructor. The knowledge tests are taken on a computer at various FAA-sanctioned test centers, known as LaserGrade or CATS. The location of the testing sites are available on the FAA web site at http://av-info.faa.gov/data/computertesting/activesites.pdf, or from LaserGrade at http://www.lasergrade.com or CATS at http://www.catstest.com.
The Sport Pilot Instructor/Examiner knowledge tests, as well as the FOI are available from commercial publications. The Gleim web site is http://www.gleim.com/aviation/sportpilot and the ASA web site is http://www.asa2fly.com.
After submitting the results of your knowledge tests to the FAA you will be notified that you are in a "pool" of candidates, awaiting a class date. About three weeks before the selected class date you will receive a letter from the FAA entitled, "Dear Sport Pilot Examiner Candidate."
This two-page letter will give you the specifics of registering for the class and obtaining hotel reservations. There is a registration fee of $150. The seminar is held in a conference room at the Best Western hotel in Yukon, Oklahoma. All of my classmates stayed at the hotel, which offers free breakfast and a Wi-Fi wireless Internet connection. Near the Best Western a popular restaurant is the Interurban, located a block away at 11316 West Reno Street.
If you have a laptop computer I strongly suggest that you take it to the seminar. It was a valuable tool for me to print out our homework assignments, and to look up FAA regulations on their web site at (http://faa.gov.) I also took a copy of the Aeronautical Information Manual, the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25,) the Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-3A,) and the Aviation Instructor's Handbook (FAA-H-8083-9.)
The invitation letter also contains a copy of Order 8710.7, the "Sport Pilot Examiner's Handbook." It consists of 80 pages and nine chapters. The applicant is expected to read the Handbook and complete a 25-question Study Guide before reporting to class. The Sport Pilot Examiner's Handbook is available at http://www.airweb.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgOrders.nsf/0/c5136d3dd30b463186256f4d0056d295/$FILE/Order8710-7.pdf
On the first day of class there is a "Welcome Aboard" introduction in the morning, and an overview of the upcoming activities. There is also a review of Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) part 61 and 91. At the start of class the candidates turn in their answers to the 25-question Study Guide.
At present there are three FAA instructors: Marty Weaver, Larry Clymer, and Mark Aldridge. A fourth instructor, Jay Tevis, will be available in the near future. All the instructors are personable and dedicated to presenting the finest seminar possible. However, the FAA is very serious about awarding the Examiner designation to only highly qualified persons. Many applicants have been excused from the course for failing to meet the FAA's exacting standards.
On the afternoon of the first day there is an oral examination, the first of three oral examinations and three flight tests.
If the applicant is strictly an ultralight pilot who does not have an FAA pilot certificate the three oral examinations and three flight checks consist of the following:
First the applicant is tested for his pilot knowledge and flying skills and, if successful, he is issued an FAA Sport Pilot certificate.
In the second flight he is tested for his ability to teach aviation to a student. The FAA evaluator acts as a student, and the SPE applicant demonstrates maneuvers in flight and explains how to perform the maneuvers. The FAA "student" then tries to perform the maneuver as explained by the "instructor" and the instructor corrects any errors. If the SPE applicant successfully passes the second oral exam and flight test he is awarded an FAA Sport Pilot Instructor certificate.
In the third flight the SPE applicant acts as an Examiner, and the FAA evaluator acts as a student who is attempting to pass a practical test in order to earn his Sport Pilot certificate. The "Examiner" determines if the Sport Pilot applicant is properly prepared for the flight check, and if the applicant should or should not be granted a Sport Pilot certificate. If the prospective Sport Pilot Examiner successfully passes the "Examiner" check flight, he is awarded the Sport Pilot Examiner designation.
If the applicant is exceptionally proficient the FAA may offer the Sport Pilot Examiner an additional authorization to conduct practical tests for Sport Pilot Instructor candidates.
If the SPE applicant is already an FAA pilot (or CFI) he undertakes the same three flight evaluations, but instead of actually being awarded the Sport Pilot certificate and Sport Pilot Instructor certificate, the previously-rated applicant receives a "validation" of his skills. If he is already a CFI his instructor's certificate will be renewed.
The flight checks are conducted on the second, third, and sixth day of the SPE seminar. The other days are spent analyzing the Federal Air Regulations, the paperwork requirements for examiners, the items required by the Practical Test Standards (PTS,) and how to create a "file" for each pilot candidate.
Near the end of the course the examiner candidates develop a "Plan of Action" for a fictional flight test. The Plan of Action is a blueprint of the practical test. It includes the questions and flight maneuvers for both the oral exam and flight check portions of the practical test.
Practical tests must be tailored to each applicant's individual situation. The test would be different for a pilot applicant compared to an instructor applicant. It would also be different for someone who was already a rated pilot. For example, a person who was already a trike pilot would be tested differently for a fixed wing privilege than a person who was already a powered parachute pilot.
Designated Pilot Examiners (DPEs) who administer practical tests to general aviation pilots also use a Plan of Action. The "Plans A Plenty" web site contains sample Plans of Action for general aviation DPEs, but not for Sport Pilot Examiners. The URL for the site is http://plansaplenty.com/poa.html.
The Sport Pilot Examiner authorization is only good for one year. Each year the Examiner must take another oral and flight evaluation.
The aircraft available for the flight tests are a fixed-wing Quicksilver Sport 2S and a Quicksilver GT-500, a Pegasus trike, and an Infinity powered parachute. Each of these aircraft is an "N"-numbered experimental light-sport aircraft. See the accompanying sidebar for details about the Quicksilver certification.
The flying is done at Page airport, located about six miles west of the Best Western hotel. It is an "uncontrolled" airport without a control tower, but it does have an RNAV, GPS, and VOR approach to runway 17R/35L. The prevailing wind was from the south. Runway 17R is 6,000 feet long and runway 17L is 3,500 feet. The Traffic Advisory frequency is 123.0. The airport is not busy, and very accommodating to ultralight and light-sport aircraft.
The aircraft are kept in a hangar owned by Dale Owens. He maintains and refuels them and manages the flight schedule. The aircraft are available for the Examiner candidates to fly in order to familiarize themselves with the aircraft if they have not flown these particular models before. The FAA does not require that the applicants fly the aircraft before taking their flight tests. However, the FAA expects the applicants to be completely proficient in the aircraft, so it behooves them to fly the school aircraft enough to feel comfortable.
John Riffey is the instructor available for familiarization flights. He is an FAA employee, but not one of the seminar instructors. He teaches privately on his own time, and he is a delight to fly with. He's proficient in the aircraft, and very personable. He's available in the afternoon, so that the candidates can fly after class. His telephone number is 405-954-6093. Dale Owens telephone number is 405-376-4730. The candidates are expected to pay for the use of the aircraft, even when they fly with the seminar instructors on their flight checks. The rental fee varies between the aircraft, but averages $110 per hour.
The FAA asks the SPE candidates to complete a comment form about the seminar. Based on previous comments, the content and form of the material has improved since the first class last January. One significant change is that the seminar has been extended from five days to seven. There is a great deal of information to absorb, especially when one considers the extra study required to prepare for the oral and flight checks. It is definitely a long and demanding course, and the SPE candidates can be proud of what they have accomplished when they graduate.