Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Transport Canada - Aviation Safety Letter Aviation Safety In History - ISSUE 4/2009

Aviation Safety In History - ISSUE 4/2009

Flying the Flying Machines

by Jim Dow, Chief, Flight Training and Examinations, Standards, Civil Aviation, Transport Canada

How would we measure up to the first generation of pilots of flying machines? Could we pass the tests these aviators had to pass to get their pilot certificates? The original international standards for aviation had only two kinds of pilot certificate for flying machines: the Private Pilot’s Flying Certificate and the Pilot’s Flying Certificate for Flying Machines used for Purposes of Public Transport. The requirements for these certificates were set out in 1919 in the Convention for the Regulation of Aerial Navigation, requirements that were first established at the Paris Diplomatic Conference of 1910.

There were some rules for the conduct of the flight tests. The first rule was the examiner stayed on the ground, and the candidate had to be alone. All the tests had to be completed within a month. The tests could be attempted in any order, but only attempted twice. For the practical tests, candidates had to carry a barograph, too, and have the graph signed by the examiners and attached to their report. Candidates also had to be medically fit.

The Private Pilot’s Flying Certificate required two practical tests: an altitude and gliding-flight test and a skill test.

Test for altitude and gliding flight
The test for altitude and gliding flight required a flight of at least an hour at a minimum altitude of 2 000 m above the point of departure. The descent had to finish with a glide, the engine being cut off at 1 500 m above the landing ground. The landing had to be made without restarting the engine and within 150 m or less of a point fixed in advance by the official examiners.

Test of skill
The skill test was a flight without landing around two posts (or buoys) situated 500 m apart. The candidate had to make a series of five figure-of-eight turns, each turn reaching one of the two posts. All of this was to be done at an altitude of not more than 200 m above the ground (or water). On landing, the engine was shut off on touchdown, and the flying machine had to be stopped within 50 m of a point fixed by the candidate before starting.

Test of endurance
The test of endurance was a further requirement for the Pilot’s Flying Certificate for Flying Machines used for Purposes of Public Transport. It was a cross-country or oversea flight of at least 300 km with the final landing made at the point of departure. This flight had to be made in the same flying machine within eight hours with two landings at points fixed by the judges, but not including the point of departure. At the time of departure, the candidate was informed of his course and furnished with the appropriate map.

Night flight
This was the only experience requirement in the standards—a requirement for the public transport certificate. The night flight called for a thirty-minute flight made between two hours after sunset and two hours before sunrise at a height of at least 500 m.

Technical examination
After the practical tests were passed, candidates were summoned to a technical examination on the following subjects:

Flying machines

  • Theoretical knowledge of the effects of air resistance on wings and tail planes, rudders, elevators and propellers;
  • Functions of the different parts of the machine and of their controls;
  • Assembling of flying machines and their different parts; and
  • Practical tests on rigging.


  • General knowledge of internal combustion engines, including functions of the various parts;
  • General knowledge of the construction, assembling, adjustment, and characteristics of aero engines;
  • Causes of the faulty running of aero engines and of breakdown; and
  • Practical tests in running repairs.

Special requirements

  • Knowledge of the rules as to lights and signals, and rules of the air; rules for air traffic on and in the vicinity of aerodromes;
  • A practical knowledge of the special conditions of air traffic and of international air legislation; and
  • Map reading, orientation, location of position, elementary meteorology.

These were the earliest international standards for pilot certificates. The standards adopted in Canada under the air regulations of 1920 added a requirement for left- and right-spin recovery, experience requirements, and modified the cross-country distances and skill altitudes. The standards reflected the safety needs of the era, particularly a high degree of skill in dealing with engine failures.


This article was published by Transport Canada in TP 185E -. Reprinted with permission