One of the nice things about being a pilot examiner is I get to see lots of pilots earn their various certificates and additional ratings. Even though my checkrides stay pretty much the same from one applicant to another, each pilot adds their own personal twist to their ride. In this artical, I wanted to share some of the good things that pilots have shown me during a checkride. These stories are examples of how well some of the applicants are prepared for the checkride. Please keep in mind that I didn’t ask the applicant to do these things, the applicants just did what they were taught to do.
Preflight Briefings and Cockpit Management: Ho, Hum, pretty boring stuff right? I have had two pilots actually make briefing cards on 3 x 5 index cards. These cards covered exactly what they wanted to say during a passenger preflight briefing. Both pilots covered the required material and added several “creature comforts” such as the use of air vents, location of bottled water, snacks and sick sacks. These two pilots were concerned about my well being during the flight.
Engine Failure: I have had one commercial and two private pilot applicants show me skills above and beyond the requirements. I’ll start with the Commercial applicant.
After we completed the cross country portion of the commercial checkride we did a couple of chandelles to work our way up to altitude to complete the steep turns and other stuff. With those maneuvers out of the way, I threw in an engine failure with the intent to lose altitude to do the ground reference maneuvers.
I started the scenario with a partial power loss. The applicant handled the problem well by maintaining altitude, turning toward an airport and completing the checklist. Since we were still at altitude, I pulled the power to idle to simulate a total power loss. This is where the applicant really pulled out his “Chuck Yeager” flying skills.
With the airplane trimmed for best glide, he set course for a little used airport with a paved runway. We were slightly southwest and downwind of the airport at approximately 4000 feet. I sat there quietly waiting to see what he was going to do. The applicant told me he was going to do a steep spiral over an intersection and enter the pattern on the down wind. He did exactly that. After three and a half turns we were at 1900 feet on the down wind. We reached a point directly across from the numbers and he asked me when he should terminate the maneuver. I asked him if he continued to a landing where would he touch down. He replied on the second dash past the numbers. I said let’s do it and he did. He lowered the gear, made two more radio calls and put the airplane on the second dash. Absolutely outstanding!
We combined three commercial maneuvers into one. I wouldn’t ask an applicant to do this on a checkride but on this day it all fell into place. One thing I would like to point out, the airport we were at was completely dead. I wouldn’t want to attempt this on a sunny Saturday at Watertown!
About a year after that commercial checkride, I had a private pilot applicant do something similar. On the cross country we experienced a simulated engine failure from 4500 feet. The applicant picked the airport as a landing area, completed the checklist, and declared the emergency. The applicant glided the airplane to a left down wind to a grass runway, turned base and final in the landing configuration at the proper airspeed. I asked him where we would touch down and then we did a go-around.
This pilot had almost flawless situational awareness. He knew where the closest airport was, he knew where the wind was from and he knew how far he could glide his airplane under the existing conditions. Again, outstanding!
Around the same time I had another private pilot applicant do something no one has ever done before or since. After the engine failure, he flew best glide, picked his field and completed the checklist just like everyone else has done except for one thing. After the engine failure was well under control, he gave me an emergency briefing. He told me the engine had failed and despite all his best efforts it would not restart. He said it was no big deal, and we would glide to that field over there and land. He then asked me to slide my seat all the way aft and make sure it didn’t move. He had me tighten up my seatbelt, unlatch the door (simulated), and place my jacket and a pillow from the back on my lap. He told me that after we landed he wanted me to get out of the airplane as quickly as possible.
This pilot had shown me that not only was he the master of the aircraft, but that he was concerned for the safety of his passengers. Very cool!
Instrument Stuff: I have two examples of good instrument work. One example comes from a private pilot applicant and another from an instrument rating applicant.
In the first one, we were flying a brand spanking new C-172. The private pilot applicant was performing very well when we had approached the hood work portion of the checkride. I asked the applicant to put on the hood and gave him a minute of straight and level to get comfortable. I set up the scenario by asking “What would you do if you entered the clouds at night.” Most applicants would tell me “Do a 180.” This pilot however, turned on the autopilot and used the head and altitude modes to make the 180 turn. I asked him why he used the autopilot. His reply was with only 4 hours of hood time, the autopilot could do a better job of flying the airplane than he could.
He was right. Continued VFR flight into IFR conditions has killed many a pilot. I was impressed; this pilot used an available and valuable resource to help with a potentially bad situation. Unfortunately, the PTS doesn’t allow for use of the autopilot during the instrument portion of the private test. The applicant still had to hand fly basic instrument maneuvers and unusual attitudes and did so with smoothness and accuracy.
The second example came during an Instrument checkride a couple of years ago in a very nicely equipped C-182 RG. We had gotten to the part where partial panel skills are required. We were cruising at altitude and I covered up the attitude and directional indicators. Some pilots at this point would declare an emergency and request no-gyro vectors.
This pilot added a couple of steps that really helped him out. The first thing he did was establish a power setting to slow the airplane down and then he lowered the landing gear. This made the airplane very stable to fly and eased his workload under the partial panel conditions. Not only did he request no-gyro turns, he brought up a page on his GPS that showed his approximate heading for added situational awareness. This pilot flew one of the nicest partial panel approaches I’ve ever seen. Another job well done!
As I review what I’ve written, I’ve noticed a few things. First, these applicants demonstrated skill and knowledge above what is required by the PTS. Second, most of these pilots demonstrated exceptional skills during an abnormal or emergency situation. Third, all of the pilots had thought about and had practiced these skills. All of this can be accredited to you, the instructor. For all the knowledge, enthusiasm, dedication, and hard work you give your students, I thank you!
The MKE FSDO has been assigning some of the initial CFI rides to slected DPEs. There are 5 of us. While the applicant doesn't get to choose who he gets at least he/she gets to go with the DPE. That's good and bad news. The good news is the DPE rides are a little shorter. The bad news is the applicant has to pay the DPE.
Let me tell you a little about my Initial CFI check rides. First of all the oral is designed for 3 hours for the average applicant. Depending on how well the applicant is prepare it may last more, or less.
The flying part of the initial CFI lasts about 1.5. The applicant will do most of the flying but I will play student pilot during some of the maneuvers. This way the CFI applicant can critique my performance and provide solutions to my errors. This seems to work well for everyone.
Some of the problems: There are parts to the CFI PTS that are required to be tested during the ride. I've seen a couple of applicants that weren't prepared for these areas of the PTS. With a prepared applicant these areas take about 20-30 minutes to cover. I've also seen problems with determining the airworthiness of the aircraft and airspace knowledge.
The biggest issue with the flight portion of the initial CFI is not being able to teach and fly the flight maneuvers correctly. For example one CFI applicant demonstrate a private pilot steep turn at 70 degrees bank with a loss of 400 feet of altitude. I had one applicant enter and incipient spin during a stall demonstration. The FAA flight training handbooks and applicable PTS are two valuable sources of information you'll need to know for your check ride.
Enough fear mongering. The good news....... I like a low key, fun check ride. If the applicant is relaxed the ride will go well. So, I'll joke around and try to lighten the mood. I know the stress is high but try to relax and breath. We'll take plenty of breaks. We WILL take lunch! Hopefully you'll walk out of the ride saying "That wasn't so bad"
Loss of aircraft control has hit the NTSBs Top Ten list of problems in aviation. You've got the Buffalo NY accident, the Air France accident and the Kirksville Mo accident where the pilots stalled the aircraft and didn't recover correctly. Granted these are airline accidents but I'm willing to bet these pilots had problems with stalls throughout their training.
I'm starting to see issues with stall recovery on check rides. It's not just at the private pilot level. I've had a couple of initial CFI check rides where the applicants performed poorly. One of the initial CFI applicants entered an incipient spin because he did not use the correct recovery technique.
So a question I get asked is....Chris, What do you want to see? Well, It's not what I want, it's what the FAA wants. (Typical FAA/DPE answer). The answer lies here.....
That's right from the FAA's Airplane Flying Handbook. It's a boring read but it's good information. Other manuals from Jeppesen and Rod Machado are excellent sources too.