ROTOR Magazine2019 FallKeeping Up

Preparing for Your Practical Test

By September 19, 2019March 26th, 2021No Comments

Tips for a successful checkride.

As a designated pilot examiner (DPE), I’m often asked, “What can I do to ensure a successful checkride?” Well, that’s easy: know the Practical Test Standards (PTS) and/or Airman Certification Standards (ACS).
But that response, while true, isn’t particularly helpful. So let’s look at some potential checkride pitfalls and how to avoid them.

First, gather the documentation that you’ll need to present to the DPE. This includes a valid photo ID, such as a passport, driver’s license, or military ID; a valid medical certificate appropriate to the rating for which you’re being tested; and your original (raised-seal version, not a copy) completed knowledge test (note: the DPE will retain this document).

The DPE will also need the logbooks of the aircraft that will be used during the flight test, so that he or she can verify its airworthiness, including whether the inspection is current, whether all airworthiness directives are current and in compliance, and if the aircraft registration date is valid.

The DPE must review documentation of your flight times. Before your checkride appointment, total your logbook. Tag sections pertinent to the rating sought, such as solo cross-country time, to make it easier to find these details.

The DPE will also check your logbook for the endorsements that verify ground instruction. It’s frustrating for everyone when an applicant shows up for a check ride without this information. In that situation, if you can’t contact your instructor, the checkride is over.

Some applicants are confused by the timing of the oral and flight tests. First, the flight portion can’t happen if you don’t pass the oral portion. Second, DPEs can’t plan to do the oral part one day and the flight part another day; they have to have a reasonable expectation of completing the entire test in one day or they can’t proceed.

The performance of applicants on the oral portion of the practical test is always a mixed bag. Yes, you’re allowed to consult reference material during the oral part of the exam, but you shouldn’t have to look up every question. You should have a good working knowledge of the information to be discussed.

Many applicants are well prepared. They either know the answers to the questions or they know exactly where to find them. However, others are disorganized. They bring tons of reference material to the oral, yet when asked specific questions, they struggle to locate the information.

The DPE won’t be impressed by your ability to cart around a bunch of reference material. The goal is to show your familiarity with the material and demonstrate your ability to easily and quickly access the needed information.

During the flight portion of the practical exam, many applicants struggle with landings, particularly crosswind ones. Some applicants simply land sideways and don’t maintain the runway centerline on landings. The ACS specify that the applicant must maintain centerline and land in a controlled manner.

Another area of the practical test with which many applicants struggle is emergency descents. If the engine fails, applicants are expected to immediately enter an autorotation to a suitable nearby landing area.

Many try to fly to a perfect field many miles away and fail to make their target. Remember, a good autorotation to a so-so spot beats a so-so autorotation to a good spot every time. Additionally, some applicants are so concerned about getting to that perfect field that they forget to perform their checklist for possible engine restart or to notify air traffic control of their location.

While DPEs may develop small differences in their approach to the practical exam, as designated representatives of the FAA, all will adhere to the ACS or PTS appropriate to the rating for which the applicant is being tested. The standard is the standard, and there is no room for interpretation. The FAA wants to ensure that all pilots who hold a certain rating have met a consistent standard of performance.

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Steve Nixon

Steve Nixon

Steve Nixon is a retired corporate pilot with 9,000 hours of flight time. Steve is a flight instructor and DPE who lives in Virginia.