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Introduction to Flight Profiles

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
Getting the Most from Your Flight Training, May 2005

IFR Navigation:   General Info Instrument Rating | Instrument Rating Lesson Plans | 7-day IFR Rating IFR Adventure | Instrument Ground School | Safety Pilot | Holding | IFR Risk | Trip Reports | Flight Profiles | Rating Requirements | After the IFR Rating | Checkride Reviewer | Visi-Hold | Are you  ready?

Flight Profile Series: Introduction | Improving Safety | Instrument X/C | Commercial X/C

For cross country flying, we can divide the trip into distinct phases of the flight.  Every phase of flight has common elements regardless of the particular flight we're making.  A particular phase uses the same portion of the checklist, has different things that can be tested/learned, and even categorizes the accident stats for better analysis.

We'll talk more about this in the 2nd article, "Flight Profiles Improve Safety." Flight profiles are used to give us information on accident risks, including risk factors in our flying.  Each phase of flight provides its own unique challenges so knowing the risk factors improves our situational awareness.

We're really missing the boat in general aviation because we don't train/check/test by phase of flight.  The airlines do it this way and they've been doing it for years.  We'll talk more about that in the 3rd part of our series. 

A little vocabulary review is appropriate as we begin this task.

Phase
Trigger/Starts With
Ends With
1. Preflight/Engine Start Walking out to the aircraft.
After start checklist
2. Taxi/Takeoff Movement for the purpose of flight
Breaking ground
3. Departure(Climb) Aircraft departs the runway
Top of the enroute climb
4. Enroute Cruise Level off at altitude
Top of descent
5. Descent Instruction to descend from cruise
ATC approach clearance
6. Approach ATC approach clearance
Runway in sight, stabilized position to land
7. Landing Runway in sight, stabilized position to land
Clearing the runway, after landing checks
8. Taxi/Shutdown Movement for the purpose to park the aircraft
Aircraft is secured

Let's spend a little time talking about what's happening in each phase of the flight.  Below, I provide an example how each phase of flight has checklist items related to it. 

Phase 1:  Preflight Planning

Tasks to be completed in the preflight phase:
  • Aircraft airworthiness inspection (Required documents & inspections, physical inspection of aircraft)
  • Airman qualifications & airworthiness (IM SAFE, Current, Experience)
  • Weight & Balance calulations
  • Runway lengths & types to be used, crosswinds
  • Flight planning
  • Aircraft equipment to be used (IFR flight, flight planning tools, charts, etc)
  • Fuel Planning
  • Weather briefing
  • External pressures or barriers to the flight
  • Alternative ways to complete the flight
  • Passenger Briefing
  • Engine Start & after start checklist
Phase 2: Taxi & Takeoff    -AND-  Phase 3: Departure (Climb)

Phase 2 ends with the liftoff as described in the following graphic.  Phase 3 ends with the top of climb.

Takeoff Profile
Phase 4: Enroute cruise  -AND-  Phase 5: Descent
Flight Profile - Enroute/Cruise Phase
Phase 6: Approach  -AND-  Phase 7: Landing
Flight Profile, Approach & Landing
Phase 8: Taxi & Secure Aircraft
  • Taxi to parking
  • Engine shutdown
  • After flight paperwork, fuel, etc.
  • Locking & securing the aircraft.

After Flight Review
  • Did flight go as planned?
  • What errors were present?
  • What changes would be indicated?

"We call it theory when we know much about something but nothing works,
and practice when everything works but nobody knows why."
-- Albert Einstein

What You Said

Date: Sat, 1 Sep 2007  Name = steven p
Comments = It's a very good article for pilots who are preparing for recurrency training like myself.

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