Preparing for First Flight

Several years ago a homebuilder assembling an amatuer built aircraft was required to have the aircraft inspected several times during the construction process. Another inspection was required upon completion of the project and yet another after the test flight program and issuance of the unlimited airworthiness certificate.

For the benefit of all parties the FAA revised the regulation to one inspection prior to the initial test flight. The purpose of the inspection is to protect persons and property not involved with the project and ensuring acceptable methods, techniques, practices, workmanship as well as issuing the initial operating limitations.

Either an inspector of the FAA or a Designated Airworthiness Representative or DAR is authorized to perform the inspection. The FAA will not charge for the inspection but may not have the resources available to perform the inspection. In such a case the FAA may refer you to a list of DAR's in your area that can perform the inspection. The DAR is not an employee of the FAA. A DAR is a private person with the proper credentials and has been designated to act on behalf of the FAA for the purpose of performing these inspections. A DAR will charge for doing an inspection and the charges are set by the DAR's themselves.

The DAR or FAA inspector will perform the inspection prior to issuance of the certificate. To ensure compliance with FAR 91 the inspection will include the inspector to look at the builders' log and photo's, the aircraft logbooks and records, and a complete check of the aircraft. The limitations for operation of the aircraft while under issuance of the limited certification will be prescribed. The limitations will normally assign an area of operation for the purpose of flight testing and the required hours of operation in the flight test program before issuance of the unlimited certificate.

The aircraft basic empty weight and balance and cg location must be checked and recorded. For more on gyroplane weight and balance use the following link.

Gyroplane Weight & Balance Considerations

I will not delve into all the required markings and placards as they vary greatly from aircraft to aircraft but there are a few markings required on all amatuer built aircraft. These markings must be in place and with the proper forms before the issuance of the initial airworthiness certificate. These markings include a fireproof identification plate as required by FAR 45.11 with information as described in FAR 45.13. Aircraft registration markings must be applied I/A/W FAR's 45.22, 45.25, and 45.27. The word "EXPERIMENTAL" must be located near the entrance (inside or out) of the cockpit and be no less than two inches and no higher than six inches in height. For aircraft that carry passengers the passenger warning data plate must be located in the cabin in a location in full view of all passengers.

Applying for the special airworthiness certificate can be processed through a DAR or your nearest FAA office. You will need FAA form 8130-6, data to idetnify the aircraft in photographs or three view drawings, a notorized FAA form 8130-12 and a letter identifying the aircraft and area where the aircraft will be tested.

On inspection day the builder should have a completed aircraft ready for flight but with the panels opened for inspection. All application forms to include 8050-3 and 8050-1 should be available. The aircraft logbooks, build log, photo journal and all appropriate entries within the documentation.

You may be issued an FA 8130-7 after completion of the certification inspection if the aircraft has been determined to be properly constructed. With this form the operational limitations will also be issued.

As generally stated in the FAR's airplane and rotorcraft with type certificated engine/propeller combinations will require a minimum test period of at least twenty-five hours. Non-certificated engine/propeller combinations will have a minimum of at least forty hours. Remember that these are minimums and based on the complexity of the aircraft the test program can be longer.

Remember too that you, the applicant, request the desired test flight area. The standard is a 25 statute mile radius from the base of operation. You may require more area if you have a high speed , go-fast, aircraft - to have enough room to conduct your testing in. You will be required to divert from flying over densely populated areas and congested airways and you may not carry passengers during the flight test program. I highly recommend getting a copy of AC 90-89 "Amatuer-Built Flight Testing Handbook".

Now that your aircraft has been inspected and has a certificate entitling you to fly your aircraft for the pupose of conducting flight testing- you need a flight test plan. In reality this should already be made out and well rehearsed before this stage but I am presenting it here.

Even though you have checked systems on the ground and broke in the engine to specifications there remains questions of controllability, performance, and operational characteristics for the aircraft you just built. You are tasked to perform a variety of checks and gather data to develop your own flight manual for your aircraft. The flight test plan should be developed in its entirity before the aircraft's first flight.

There can be quite a number of items to check and data to collect during the flight test program. Such data can include taxi tests, climb & takeoff airspeeds, runway useage, rate of climb and descent, cruise speed, stability checks, fuel consumption and so on. I again recommend getting the "Amatuer-Built Aircraft Reference Material or AC 90-89 to help you develop your flight test plan.

When developing the flight test plan it is highly recommended that you develop two other plans as well for emergencies. A ground emergency plan and an in-flight emergency plan can be extremely useful when needed.

The ground emergency plan should include: 1. The use of the canopy or door mechanism. 2. How to release the seat belts. 3. How to shut off the fuel. 4. How to shut off the electrical system. 5. How to gain access to the fire extinquisher.6. How to disconnect the battery. 7. How to properly use the fire extinquisher. 8. (I know we don't normally have them on gyroplanes but...) How to secure the ballistic chute. 9. Hospital location and phone number. 10. Fire rescue phone number if not on airport. 11. Police emergency number. 12. I.D. bracelet for those with medical issues (ground and aircrew) that medical personnel need to be aware of. 13. A readily available fire extinquisher for the ground crew. 14. Do not wear nylon, polyester or other synthetic clothes as they will stick to your skin in a fire or high heat. Wear cotton, wool, or better yet Nomex.

The in-flight emergency plan should include: 1. What to do during engine failure. 2. Fire in the cockpit or cabin. 3. Flight control problems or severe out-of-rig situations. 4. How and when to deploy the ballistic chute if so equipped. 5. A list of emergency contact numbers to include doctor, dentist and family members.

With the aircraft ready and flight test plan in place are you ready? As the test pilot are you ready? When was the last time you flew? Will you be able to handle an emergency if one arises? How familiar are you in the aircraft type? Flat out, the aircraft cannot compensate for any of your shortcomings. If your current level of proficiency is low or moderate you probably need to get with an instructor and bring that level up a bit. Even high time pilots with regular proficiency would not hurt in getting some time with an instructor and review emergency procedures. The more comfortable you are with the procedures and the aircraft the more "at-ease" you will be when and if an emergency does occur.

I realize that putting on the Chuck Yeager shoes can be intimidating but you must get beyond it and develop a real passion for flight testing. The data and results will be what you will use for future flights and you want that data to be correct.

The only approach I know of to get your mind in the "test pilot" frame of mind is to think methodically. I quite literally mean going through the test flight as if it has already been done. Think in your mind-visualize- the sights, sounds, smells and indications you would normally expect to see. Any varience outside of the acceptable range of things should quickly get your attention. O.K. so things went as planned and you continue to record according to the test plan or you have something to contend with. Approach the problem, it's not going to go away- and do something about it. Abort the flight, if needed, find the cause, fix it, and then do the test flight over again.

Having the flight proficiency, and the mental frame of mind are not all a pilot must concern themselves over when preparing for a test flight. Are you ready physically? Are you sterssed over other issues besides the aircraft and test flight? Are you tired, have a cold or any physical limitations that would deter your attention away from the act of flying the aircraft? There are many days in a year and there is no reason to embark on a critical task if you are not up to it.

I have a download version of the test plan that was used during our flight test program. You will have to develop your own but at least you can get an idea of what a test flight script looks like.

We now have an aircraft ready and authorized for flight, a test flight plan and script have been developed, we have considered what to do in an emergency both in the air and on the ground. As the pilot we have recieved an adequate amount of training to feel comfortable about test flying our aircraft and we are well rested and ready to go.

It's time for our First Test Flight see Flight Testing.

Emergency Essentials® USA, LLC