Read CHAPTER VI of Learning to Fly A Practical Manual for Beginners , free online book, by Claude Grahame-White Harry Harper, on


The sport of aviation is controlled throughout the world, and flying tests and events of a competitive character are governed, by the International Aeronautical Federation. To the deliberations of this central authority are sent delegates from the Aero Clubs of various countries; and to these Aero Clubs, each in its respective country, falls the task of governing flight, according to the rules and decisions of the central authority. In Britain, controlling aviation in the same way that the Jockey Club controls the Turf, we have the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom; and it is this body, acting in its official capacity, which grants to each new aviator, after he has passed certain prescribed tests, a certificate which proclaims him a pilot of proved capacity, and without which it is impossible for him to take part in any contests held under the auspices of the Club. The certificate, which is of a convenient size for carrying in the pocket, contains a photograph of the pilot for purposes of identification, and specifies also the rules under which the certificate is issued and held.

The theory of these tests, as imposed by the Club before it grants its certificates, is that the novice should so far as is possible in one or two flights, made over a restricted area, and in a limited space of time be called on to show that he has a full control over a machine in what may be called the normal conditions of flight. He is asked to ascend, for instance, and gain a fair flying altitude; then to make such evolutions as will demonstrate his command over the control surfaces of the machine; and finally to show that he can, with his motor switched off, descend accurately in a vol-plane, and bring his machine to a halt within a specified distance of a mark. The tests are set forth, officially, as follows:

A and B. Two distance flights, consisting of at least 5 kilometres (3 miles 185 yards) each in a closed circuit, without touching the ground; the distance to be measured as described below.

C. One altitude flight, during which a height of at least 100 metres (328 feet) above the point of departure must be attained; the descent to be made from that height with the motor cut off. The landing must be made in view of the observers, without re-starting the motor.

The rules drafted by the Club to govern these flights are set forth herewith:

The candidate must be alone in the aircraft during the tests.

The course on which the aviator accomplishes tests A and B must be marked out by two posts situated not more than 500 metres (547 yards) apart.

The turns round the posts must be made alternately to the right and to the left, so that the flights will consist of an uninterrupted series of figures of eight.

The distance flown will be reckoned as if in a straight line between the two posts.

The alighting after the two distance flights in tests A and B shall be made:

(a) By stopping the motor at or before the moment of touching the ground.

(b) By bringing the aircraft to rest not more than 50 metres (164 feet) from a point indicated previously to the candidate.

All alightings must be made in a normal manner, and the observers must report any irregularity.

These flights as specified to-day, though they present no difficulty to the pupil who has been well trained, are more stringent than they were in the first scheme of tests as prescribed by the Club, and as enforced for several years. In those early rules the distances were the same as they are to-day, but in the altitude flight the height required was only 50 metres (164 feet) just half the height specified to-day. It was not laid down, either, in the first rules, that the engine should be stopped in this altitude flight when at the maximum height, and that the descent should be made in a complete vol-plane, without once re-starting the motor. As originally framed, indeed, the rule as to the control of the engine in this altitude test was the same as in regard to the distance flights i.e., that it should be stopped “at or before the moment of touching the ground.” What the present rule means, in this respect, is that the pupil must be really proficient at making a vol-plane, without any aid at all from his engine, before he can hope to pass the test; and such a proved skill say in the making of his first cross-country flight, should his engine fail suddenly may spell the difference between a safe or a dangerous landing.

The test flights for the certificate, undertaken only in such weather conditions as the pupil’s instructor may think suitable, are watched by official observers appointed by the Royal Aero Club. It is the business of these observers, when the prescribed flights have been made, to send in a written report concerning them to the Club; and acting on this report, after it has been considered and shown to be in order, the Club issues to the pupil his numbered certificate. With the successful passing of his tests the pupil’s tuition is at an end. He is regarded no longer as a novice, but as a qualified pilot.