Powered Parachute Flying at Sunset

Gary Hamilton takes to the winter sky in his powered parachute in Greenville, IL.

Photograph by Roy Beisswenger

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Preparing for a Powered Parachute Practical Exam

Step 1. Start at the beginning.

Before you are able to take the Practical Exam, you have to first get a recommendation to take the exam and you have to take and pass the appropriate FAA Knowledge Test for the rating sought. It does not hurt to prepare for the practical exam before these two other things are done, but realize that the practical exam is the end of the process and not the beginning.

Step 2. Learn what is going to be tested.

The great thing about the FAA testing program is that it is very standardized. So much so, that all of the questions for the Knowledge Tests are published, as well as the answers!

Unfortunately, preparing for the second half of the process, the Practical Exam, is a little more challenging. The Practical Exam is a one-on-one interview with an FAA examiner where you have to demonstrate your powered parachuting knowledge and also show that you can preflight, fly, and land a powered parachute as well as perform certain maneuvers. There is still good news to be found, though. The practical test also has a very structured format. While the exact questions can't be published (since all examiners word things a little differently) the exact topics ARE published.

The documents containing the topics are called the "Practical Test Standards". There are only two standards that apply to most powered parachutists.

For those wanting to fly at the Sport Pilot level, FAA-S-8081-31, "SPORT PILOT Practical Test Standards for Weight Shift Control, Powered Parachute, and Flight Instructor" is the document to refer to. You can download the document for free by clicking on the link or you can order a hard copy version from Hamilton Training Systems for a nominal amount. This document has the standards for both the pilot and instructor levels in it.

For those wanting to fly at the Private Pilot level, FAA-S-8081-32, "PRIVATE PILOT Practical Test Standards for POWERED PARACHUTE (PPL and PPS) WEIGHT SHIFT CONTROL (WSCL and WSCS)" is the document to refer to. You can also download the document for free by clicking on the link.

These documents list all of the areas to be discussed, and list many of the references that the questions refer to.

Step 3. Gather your study materials.

The Practical Test Standard (above) is of course the main document to refer to when preparing for the Practical Exam. However, there are some other references that are great both for study and for bringing to the test. A short list is:

  • FAR/AIM (Federal Aviation Regulations/Airman's Information Manual)
  • Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge
  • Powered Parachute Bible
  • Sport Pilot Check Ride Book by Paul Hamilton

The FAR/AIM lists the regulations that will be discussed during the Practical Exam. This is not a book to be memorized, by any means. It is a book to be reviewed and understood. Since the practical exam is an 'open book' test, it is far more important that you know how to extract the appropriate material from it. The 'AIM' half to the book spells out a lot of airport procedures, airspace facts and other things that you should know how to get to. Source: Hamilton Training Systems

The Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge is an FAA document that is well written and informative. It talks about subjects like airspace, aerodynamics, and aero decision making that will be covered during the exam. Source: Hamilton Training Systems

The Powered Parachute Bible is a book by George Begué that discusses a lot of the principles of flying powered parachutes. It is a book that any powered parachute pilot should have and read. Source: The PPC Bible.

The Sport Pilot Check Ride Book is about the closest thing you can get to the actual questions that a Designated Pilot Examiner will ask you during the practical exam. Paul Hamilton (a DPE himself) organized a series of questions and their answers under the PTS format. If you can answer all of the questions Paul presents, you will pass the oral part of the exam with flying colors. Source: Hamilton Training Systems

Step 4. Methods of study.

If you are transitioning from one of the ultralight pilot or instructor programs (EAA pilot, UFI or UFIE; ASC pilot, BFI or AFI; or USUA pilot, BFI or AFI) and you held the rating on or before September 1, 2004, you can get a letter from the appropriate ultralight organization recommending you for the practical test. That means that (if you choose) you can do all of the study and pre pa ring by yourself.

If you are not in that situation, you will at some point need to get a recommendation from a Certified Flight Instructor - Powered Parachute Land (CFI-PPL) in order to take the practical exam. That means it may be appropriate to contact a CFI early on to get his or her recommendations for study.

Preparation should be divided into ground preparation and flying preparation.

The bulk of the time of the exam will be spent on the ground going over regulations, flight planning, weather, aero decision making and other subjects that can be done in a classroom or office environment. These subjects can be prepared for by reviewing the PTS and studying the references listed above. For some people, that works best because of the lack of availability of instructors.

There are other ways, though. One is by going to a sport pilot ground school. One of the best in the country is run by Jim Sweeney of SweeneyCorp. He schedules training events around the country that help students pass both the knowledge and practical tests.

Another is by working with a CFI from another flying discipline. Most of the rules, regulations, airspace, and weather questions are common to most pilots. That means that you can get a lot of help by going to your local airplane CFI at the airport and scheduling some one-on-one time with that local CFI. The CFI can even role play the part of a DPE (he's been through the process himself more than once!) and can help you feel comfortable with the process.

Step 5. Practice the flight maneuvers.

The check ride flight is something that the airplane CFI can't really help you with. This is an area where you need to work with a powered parachute flight instructor. Through the end of January, 2007 you can get that instruction from an ultralight powered parachute instructor from either ASC, EAA, or ASC. Contact the instructors in your area to see if they can help you with the flying.

One of the difficult areas is the ground reference maneuvers. These maneuvers (turns around a point, rectangular pattern, and S-turns) kind of need one-on-one coaching. They certainly need to be practiced BEFORE the check ride. This is an area that trips up a lot of applicants.

If you are a 'pre-9/1/04' ultralight pilot or instructor and are working with a letter from ASC, EAA, or USUA as your recommendation; it is possible to review the flight maneuvers (and anything else) with your DPE BEFORE the check ride begins. That is usually possible for an additional fee if time is available.

Step 6. Contact a DPE and Schedule the Practical Exam.

Even though this is "Step 6" it doesn't hurt to contact a DPE early on to get an idea about scheduling. 2006 is going to be a busy year for a very limited number of DPEs trying to transition an unknown number of powered parachute pilots. Talking a to a DPE early can get you on an exam schedule, help you get some training tips, and help you learn more about the process in general. Just realize that the steps above should be completed before you actually go in for your test.

I hope that this guide helps you to get prepared for your sport pilot powered parachute rating. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me by either E-mail or telephone!

Roy Beisswenger
roy@easyflight.com
(618) 664-9706

2000 World Champion pilot, Eddie Johnson, taxis to the edge of the field in his Powrachute after providing a tandem flight at Sun 'n Fun.

For More Information
Roy Beisswenger
PO Box 38
Greenville, IL 62246

(618) 664-9706

• E-mail Roy •