Note: The FAA has temporarily unpublished the SFAR to make updates. The new ruling will be published on May 4.
The FAA has published on April 29, 2020, a SFAR (special federal aviation regulation) regarding the extension of certain pilot and technician recency of experience, testing, and medical certification requirements in response to the international crisis triggered by the COVID-19 outbreak. The agency addresses in detail the specific areas of mitigation involved, and the actions and financial burdens expected from compliance—or that would be precipitated if the FAA took no action.
Most relevant to active pilots and instructors are the sections covering recency of experience requirements, flight testing, flight reviews, and medical certification requirements. In part, these are outlined below, but please reference the text of the SFAR for detailed guidance, and for areas of special operations, including those for technicians and IAs, and remote-piloted aircraft operators.
Flight reviews due during the period from March to June 2020 have up to a three-month extension. According to the SFAR: “The three calendar month extension applies to pilots who were current to act as PIC of an aircraft in March 2020 and whose flight review was due in March 2020 through June 2020. To mitigate any safety risk, the pilot must have logged at least 10 hours of PIC time within the twelve calendar months preceding the month the flight review was due. This flight time must be obtained in an aircraft for which that pilot is rated.” Pilots must complete an online seminar for WINGS credits sometime after January 2020 to meet the requirements of the extension.
Instrument pilot currency or recency of experience has been extended. The FAA has granted an additional three months to the normal six-month cycle, under certain provisions. “The FAA is extending the six calendar month requirement of §61.57(c)(1) by an additional three calendar months. This will enable a pilot to continue exercising instrument privileges, provided the pilot has performed the required tasks within the nine calendar months preceding the month of the flight, instead of the preceding six calendar months. To be eligible for the relief, a pilot will need to have some recent experience in instrument flight. More specifically, the FAA is requiring that the pilot have logged, in the preceding six calendar months, three instrument approaches in actual weather conditions, or under simulated conditions using a view-limiting device. Eligible pilots may exercise the relief in this SFAR through June 30, 2020.”
Private pilots conducting charity flights and other essential operations are permitted under certain criteria. The SFAR gives guidance that pilots must meet recency of experience within the past 12 months in order to qualify. “This relief applies to some operations conducted by pilots exercising private pilot privileges, provided the pilot has at least 500 hours of total time as a pilot of which 400 hours is as PIC and 50 of the PIC hours were accrued in the last 12 calendar months. The kinds of operations permitted are those that are: incidental to business or employment, in support of family medical needs or to transport essential goods for personal use, necessary to fly an aircraft to a location in order to meet a requirement of this chapter, or a flight to transport essential goods and/or medical supplies to support public health needs.”
Valid period for medical certificates has been extended. Because the medical exam is by necessity in-person and not an emergency or urgent examination, the FAA has lengthened the period during which a pilot can renew their certificate to the end of June 2020—if the pilot’s expiration month was as early as March 2020. In addition, pilots must still adhere—wisely—to the restriction from flying with a known, disqualifying medical issue. “The FAA notes that the provisions of this SFAR do not extend to the requirements of §61.53 regarding prohibition on operations during medical deficiency. These prohibitions remain critical for all pilots to observe, especially given the policy of emergency accommodation announced here and the health threat of COVID-19. Accordingly, the FAA emphasizes that under §61.53, no person who holds a medical certificate issued under 14 CFR part 67 may act as a required pilot flight crewmember while that person: (1) knows or has reason to know of any medical condition that would make the person unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate necessary for the pilot operation; or (2) is taking medication or receiving other treatment for a medical condition that results in the person being unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate necessary for the pilot operation.”
Pilot knowledge test expiration dates have been extended. Depending on the certification level, the results of a knowledge exam are generally valid for presentation at a practical test for a period of 24 calendar months—60 months in the case of the multiengine ATP. The FAA figures that roughly 60,000 pilots took knowledge exams whose valid period may be expiring during the period between March and May 2020. “To ensure these individuals are not penalized by having to take another knowledge test, the FAA is extending the validity of knowledge tests by a duration of three calendar months. Therefore, this SFAR will allow an individual who has a knowledge test expiring between March 2020 and June 2020 to present the expired knowledge test to show eligibility under §61.39(a)(1) to take a practical test for a certificate or rating issued under part 61 for an additional three calendar months.”
It is often said that a first-time airplane buyer should buy his or her last airplane first. The reasoning is, it makes little sense to invest in an airplane the pilot will outgrow or become bored with. A more expensive option may, in fact, prove to be a better long-term value by serving as a more permanent solution to the pilot’s needs.
Still, a budget is a budget, and while mission requirements vary considerably from one pilot to another, one common goal is to find an airplane that remains interesting and fun while minimizing the cost of ownership. In this respect, the Cessna 120 and 140 offer an intriguing blend of qualities for the new pilot and/or first-time buyer.
The 120 and 140 were some of the most successful postwar light aircraft in the US. Nearly 8,000 were built between 1946 and 1951, and more than 2,500 remain on the FAA register today.
The 120 was developed as a budget version of the 140, initially lacking flaps, rear side windows and electrical systems. Over the past 70-plus years, however, most of the 120 fleet has been modified with electrical systems and other upgrades.
Today, the presence of flaps is the primary difference between the two models, and with many 140 owners reporting little difference in performance with flaps down, the 120’s lack of flaps should not be considered a significant disadvantage.
The most desirable variant of the family is the 140A. Introduced in 1949, it offered a metal wing with more effective flaps and a redesigned instrument panel. The 140A was also available as the Patroller model, which included Plexiglas doors, a message chute, and a whopping 42-gallon fuel capacity that provided an endurance of around seven hours.
As of early 2020, there were 14 140s and two 120s listed for sale in various places, with a median price of $25,000. The most and least expensive examples were significant outliers at $40,000 and $16,000, respectively.
While all the typical factors such as airframe time, engine time since major overhaul and general condition affect these prices, two particular items affect the 120 and 140 more than many other aircraft types—fabric condition and engine type.
Excluding the aforementioned 140A with its standard metal wing—and other 120s and 140s that have had their fabric wings converted to metal at some point in their lives—most 120s and 140s are equipped with fabric wings. While good, modern fabric can last for several decades when properly cared for, it’s wise to determine the age and condition of the fabric as part of a pre-purchase inspection.
With owners reporting $8,000 to $10,000 costs to replace the fabric and address minor internal repairs that are commonly found during the process, fabric replacement can approach half the total value of many airplanes on the market. Accordingly, purchasing an airplane with old, deteriorating fabric is not unlike purchasing an airplane with an engine in need of overhaul, and the selling price should be adjusted appropriately.
There are multiple engine types found in the Cessna 120/140 fleets. The most common—and, typically, the least expensive—is the 85 hp Continental C85 that came equipped in most examples. The noticeably more powerful C90 is less common but very well-liked for its blend of low weight and higher power.
A popular upgrade is the ubiquitous 100 hp Continental O-200, but because the rated horsepower is only attainable at higher rpm, many owners prefer instead to upgrade their C85s with an O-200 crankshaft as an STC. This provides additional power at a lower, more usable rpm range than the O-200.
Finally, some examples are fitted with the more powerful 108 hp Lycoming O-235 and 125 to 135 hp O-290. While the additional power makes a 120 or 140 perform notably better on climbout, these engines are also heavier, and payload can suffer. Additionally, because the O-290 is no longer produced or supported, parts have become both difficult to find and significantly more expensive than the alternatives.
Current FAA records indicate 674 120s, 1,653 140s and 235 140As are on the registry. The relative rarity of the 140A combined with its more sought-after features commands a premium over the others, with prices that are commonly 20 to 30 percent higher than the rest.
Ultimately, the most desirable examples have a recently overhauled engine, newer wing fabric, a well-kept interior and a reasonably up-to-date, ADS-B-compliant panel.
Because the 120 and 140 are essentially tailwheel predecessors of the first 150s, the flight qualities are very similar. Unfortunately, so is the limited useful load. The maximum gross weight for the 120 and 140 is 1,450 pounds, and 1,500 pounds for the 140A. All have a standard fuel capacity of 25 gallons and empty weights that range from 800 to 1,050 pounds, resulting in a rather-limited payload.
With a heavier O-290 bringing his airplane’s empty weight up to 1,050 pounds, one owner reports having only 250 pounds left over for people and bags, underscoring the concern about the heavier, more powerful engine options. Similarly, most pilots prefer the fabric wing because it tends to weigh 30 to 50 pounds less than those that have been metalized.
The tailwheel configuration is, of course, what makes the 120 and 140 so vastly different from the 150. And the relatively benign handling and ground manners make it a great introduction to tailwheel flying. Visibility over the nose is fantastic, and the effective rudder makes takeoffs straightforward.
Once in the air, the 120 and 140 do indeed feel akin to the 150, providing a typical cruise speed of 100 to 110 mph with similar cabin comfort, space and handling qualities. Fuel burn varies by engine choice, but 4.5 to 5 gallons per hour is common. The fabric wing provides nice flying characteristics, with a light, crisp roll and an exceptionally docile and predictable stall.
Full-stall, three-point landings are almost a nonevent in the 120 and 140. By the time you milk every last bit of lift out of the wing and settle onto the runway, the remaining speed and energy is so low, very little effort is required to manage the otherwise typical tailwheel characteristics as you roll to a stop.
Wheel landings require more attention, particularly on lumpy grass strips. While most bounces on landing tend to be the result of a misjudged flare or an effort to force the airplane onto the runway, the Cessna’s undamped spring-steel landing gear is quick to convert an errant runway lump into an unplanned trip back into the air.
Early on, the 120 and 140 earned a reputation of being prone to nosing over while braking. Though many blame this on the positioning of the landing gear, the belief was more likely a result of brakes that were unusually powerful for the time period.
In that era, other light-tailwheel-aircraft types typically came equipped with relatively weak, cable-actuated brakes activated by tiny heel pedals. The 120 and 140, on the other hand, came with much more effective hydraulic toe brakes. This resulting combination of leverage and power ended in nose-over accidents when unsuspecting pilots jammed on the brakes.
To address this, many 120s and 140s have been modified with gear extenders, which aim to prevent these incidents by placing the wheels slightly ahead of the gear legs. While these do help to reduce the nose-over tendency, some owners and maintainers complain that they also introduce torsional flex to the gear, which can weaken and fatigue the attachment points to the fuselage. It’s wise to inspect this area closely during a pre-purchase inspection.
Later 140s and all 140As addressed the concern with redesigned gear legs that were themselves slightly swept forward to help counteract any nose-over tendencies. The gear attachment points on these models were strengthened accordingly to handle the torsional loads from the forward-swept gear.
Ultimately, the 120 and 140 provide a great introduction to tailwheel flying. With predictable handling, a very effective rudder and sturdy landing gear, they are forgiving to newcomers while still providing the endless satisfaction that comes from mastering a tailwheel aircraft.
Plenty of aircraft types provide a low operating cost on par with the 120 and 140, but few also offer the retro, 1940s-era character and tailwheel flair. Together, these characteristics combine to make every flight that much more interesting, rewarding and memorable than those in more common entry-level types such as the Cessna 150 and Piper Cherokee. Park one of the former on a ramp, and they’ll often go unnoticed; park a 140 on a ramp, and you’ll soon be making new friends as they meander over to swap stories and memories.
And while the 120 and 140 lack the necessary qualities for true STOL operations, many owners find it to be a rugged, reliable machine for accessing poorly maintained grass and dirt strips, particularly when larger tires are fitted. Indeed, without a relatively fragile nosewheel attached to the firewall, the simple and beefy main gear is poised to take significantly more abuse than tricycle gear counterparts. Additionally, pilots in colder climates can install skis to open up entirely different flying experiences and adventures.
It’s this blend of character and qualities that make the 120 and 140 stand out. Though easily surpassed in one measure or another on a spreadsheet, they demonstrate how an aircraft can fall short in many commonly held metrics while offering a wonderful blend of less tangible strengths. Provided an owner can live with a limited payload and leisurely performance, these are airplanes that keep their owners interested and enthusiastic for a long time. Indeed, many owners we know vow they’ll never sell theirs, and it’s not uncommon to hear those who have express regret that they did.
This story appeared in the March 2020 issue of Flying Magazine
Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) provider Aviation Performance Solutions (APS) said on April 28 it is now offering a fresh line-up of free and paid online UPRT course options. Participating pilots can credit costs of the paid courses toward their future on-site UPRT programs. The new classes are targeted specifically at pilots impacted by changes in their flight departments caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
APS is offering two different types of training: traditional work-at-your-own pace online courses and webinars. Web-based classes offer deep training on core academic concepts related to airplane aerodynamics and upsets, Loss of Control In-flight (LOC-I), as well as recovery concepts and techniques. Specific courses include Stall Awareness, Recognition and Recovery for All Airplanes, Six Essential Considerations in All Airplane Upset Recoveries and more. The company is offering 50 percent off every online courses for a full 3 months for anyone signing up before July 31, 2020.
Additionally, APS has released a series of free webinars as well as the option for flight departments to take the academics portion of their UPRT course remotely through live-interactive 1 to 3 hour webinars. The sessions work for 1 to 2,000 participants using APS UPRT experts, or some other pre-designed scheduled webinar presentation.
“APS’s new online training options help to meet the needs of pilots who are currently unable to fly regularly during this unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic,” said Paul Ransbury, CEO of APS. “We are honored to support the safety training needs of the aviation industry during these challenging times through the mobilization of our elite UPRT instructors’ expertise and technology to support this initiative.”
Some 100 FAA control towers around the US will soon have their operational hours temporarily culled due to significant COVID-19-based reductions in local air traffic. The agency said in a news release, “Making these adjustments allows for continued safe operations throughout the national airspace system while minimizing health risks to our workforce.” The control towers affected are located at airports with primarily GA operations.
The FAA plans to make the majority of closures during the nighttime hours to minimize traffic disruptions. “Adjusting the operating hours will…reduce the possibility of temporary tower closures from COVID-19 exposures by ensuring enough controllers are available to staff the facilities during peak hours. It also will enable us to allocate difficult-to-source supplies where they are most needed.” In Casper, Wyoming, for instance, tower hours there have been cut in half according to the Casper Star Tribune. As to how long the cuts will be in effect, the agency responded in the release with, “As operational traffic counts and our resource factors associated with COVID-19 change, the FAA will make appropriate adjustments consistent with the agency’s mandate to operate the NAS safely and efficiently.” The changes are expected to take effect on Monday, May 4.
The aviation training legacy now under the care of Boeing Global Services began in 1968 when Sanderson Films—led by legendary instructor Paul Sanderson—was purchased by Times Mirror, and then in 1974 merged with Jeppesen to create the company Jeppesen Sanderson. Over the intervening decades, Jeppesen used its reach and technical expertise to deliver aviation education to flight schools and prospective pilots around the world. (Full disclosure: I worked in Jeppesen’s aviation training department from 1997-2000 and again from 2012-2014).
After Boeing’s acquisition of Jeppesen in 2000—and the acquisition of Peters Software GmbH in 2015—that expertise has evolved to address the challenges of delivering training both directly to student pilots and for aviation training organizations to use to oversee pilot development. With its new Boeing Learning Solutions learning management system, the company now provides nearly 100 aviation training organizations and flight schools globally with a dashboard housing a host of materials and functions to streamline student learning and flight school operations.
From the flight school’s point of view, the dashboard forms the central repository for monitoring both student and instructor progress, and resource management within the training milieu. A clean interface provides an instant read of key metrics, including attendance, flight operations, and instructor schedules. The ability to track elements such as classroom usage and aircraft utilization help the training provider to forecast more accurately. The system is scalable to fit a wide range of ATOs from a size and syllabus perspective, with both EASA and FAA courses used within the LMS—including the latest revision to the EASA syllabi available in May.
From the student’s perspective, the LMS provides a hub for the progression through study materials, interim question-and-answer sessions, and stage testing. Both EASA and FAA materials—in the form of eBooks—can be studied through the LMS, using a iPad, tablet, Mac, or PC, depending on the user’s preference. Jeppesen’s Guided Flight Discovery eBooks that follow the FAA private-pilot syllabus are included in the system as well. Students can use typical functions such as highlighting and note recording to ensure challenging topics are returned to and understood. Instructors can assign questions from the data bank and track student progress.
“The team does a release every two weeks with updates and new features,” said Sascha Neusser, program manager for the BLS, which drives user feedback into the system and keeps it fresh. Reports can be customized for the specific ATO or university, including crew, training, and flight log reports. Because it is optimized for each ATO the pricing for the LMS is by the system, per student, and varies according to the features selected.