Checkride Insights

My checkride was five months away...but E-pilot was getting me ready to think beyond my current learning threshold and look ahead to the flight test. Some things to think about...

94/02/19 17:58

From: E-Pilot To: DIPLOCAT Judith Bradt

I understand what you're going through, in terms of learning; getting frustrated when things get difficult or the learning gets stuck on a threshold; and when you get angry about getting frustrated or angry. It was an experience that I repeated time and time again in my instrument and ATP courses.

I discovered that when I started becoming frustrated, I was -- in reality -- approaching a threshold which I merely needed to recognize (for what it REALLY was) and crash through. Instead, I became fixated on my frustration and further impeded my own learning.

Learning is a process. You can't expect to sit down with a book on nuclear physics and expect to absorb all that you read. You can't expect that you'll understand or master everything at first glance.

Learning is a process whereby you become familiar with various elements, or, elemental building blocks upon which you add the higher structure in subsequent lessons. Some of us get stuck in the stage of re-arranging the foundation blocks for time eternal until we realize that it isn't necessary to reach an ideal level of perfection before adding to a solid foundation.

What I'm attempting to communicate in my normally verbose way is that perfection is a result of experience -- the roof, as it were, which we add only when the weight-bearing walls of learning and practice are in solid combination and harmony. The roof of perfection helps us weather all that circumstance and our own foolish choices may throw at us.

Perfection isn't going to happen at this stage of the game for you. Not because you can't be perfect, but because it happens when you're ready for it. THAT takes experience. So getting frustrated only hampers your learning by eroding the confidence which helps you to crash through the barriers.

Thus, when you find that you're getting frustrated, recognize it as a signpost for "THRESHOLD COMING" and know that you're about to make a breakthrough.

We all like to impress examiners. Keeping your mind on what you're doing, knowing at ALL times where you are on the approach and being prepared for the next step -- whatever it is, expected or not -- are the keys to impressing an evaluator. Fly a perfect approach and the examiner may think that you were just lucky.

A word about flight checks/examinations: no matter whether you're in the oral or practical flight exam, it's important to let the examiner "teach" you something. You WON'T know as much as the examiner -- ever -- and you certainly won't know everything that he or she knows. Period. Accept this know and you'll do better on every flight check you'll ever take. There are no substitutes for adequate study, preparation and skills -- but you have to accept that most examiners will know whether you're going to pass in the first ten or fifteen minutes of your oral/flight check. Show them a solid, well-rounded knowledge and excellent habits, and 95% of the time you've already passed. If they teach you something (or show you something new), don't let it rattle you. They're only trying to help, and they appreciate an applicant who can carry something extra away from the checkride.

The same applies for making mistakes in the checkride. Accept that you're probably going to make errors during your checkride. Unless it's a really BIG blunder, you'll probably pass if you make timely and appropriate corrections to the mistakes you WILL make. Most examiners are more interested in seeing what corrections you make -- and when you make them -- than they are in seeing a perfectly-flown checkride. When you make a mistake, correct it quickly and appropriately, and move on. Don't let yourself start thinking about having made a mistake, because it distracts you from your mental game and DEFINITELY will erode your confidence. Move on.

Also, recognize your errors and correct them immediately. As a strategy, never, never continue an approach if you've descended below or strayed outside of protected airspace. Knowing what your protected airspace is in your enroute, approach and holding segments is MINIMUM AERONAUTICAL KNOWLEDGE.

That's a hint.

Know how holding airspace is constructed. Know how approach corridors are built. Know the limits for MOCA/MRA/MCA/MEA (what clearance you must have for underlying terrain).

If you stray outside of protected airspace, make an immediate correction. Aborting (or missing) the approach -- in some cases -- is a very good idea.

But don't fool yourself into thinking that an examiner will respect someone who is overly-cautious and needlessly misses an approach. If you're in the limits of protected airspace AND you can salvage an approach (or hold) without making huge corrections, do so.

A GOOD rule of thumb: don't make heading changes or bank angle changes of more than 5 degrees inside a final approach fix, or once you've passed the LOM/OM on an ILS.

In terms of knowing where you are: more fatalities occur in general aviation during instrument flight due to a loss of situational awareness than any other cause. This includes continued flight into known icing conditions; fuel starvation; continued flight into meteorological conditions which exceed the structural limits of the aircraft (such as TRW or CAT); getting lost; forgetting (or not knowing) where you are on an instrument approach, etc, etc. The number two cause of GA fatalities is failure to meet or maintain targets -- such as minimum airspeed, climb or descent rates, power settings, altitudes, etc, etc.

Another way to keep yourself out of trouble is to brief an examiner that at all times under 10,000 feet, there is a sterile cockpit rule in effect. If they ask what you mean, brief them that only that conversation which is pertinent to the safe operation of the flight is permissible. If they want to chat, politely tell them "Sterile cockpit, please." They'll get the message. (This might eliminate some of the distractions they intend to spring on you.)

Also, if they start asking questions during the flight -- questions more appropriate to the oral -- remind them about the sterile cockpit.

Impressing an examiner with good habits includes clearing turns -- especially when you're going to do basic hood airwork. When I'm doing a checkride at where I work, I ALWAYS brief the check airman that I want -- and fully expect -- them to clear my turns for traffic, weather and obstructions in ALL phases of flight.

I used to hand my examiner the checklist and instruct them that all checklists are to be done in "challenge and response" style. It's appropriate for general aviation as well as commercial aviation. I also had examiners tune and identify my radios. (By the way, don't forget to listen to the audio portion of the ADF during any approach using an NDB -- no matter whether it's an NDB or ILS approach -- if the NDB is a part of the published approach. And while I'm at it, never forget to flip up the switch that allows you to hear the fan markers when you brief the approach.)

When I'm flying, I have any person in the airplane hold the approach plate so that, once I've briefed the approach, they can remind me of the DA/MDA and/or missed approach instructions. If the person flying with me is also a pilot, all the better. Use them. That's what you're paying the examiner for, in this case.

For you, it might be a good tactic to expect distractions -- no matter whether the examiner has a bad case of the yaks (yak yak yak yak yak yak) or turbulence or intestinal gas or whatever -- and have a strategy to deal with it. Adapt the mindset that "the harder you make it on me, the cooler I'm going to become: no matter how much you pry at my fingers, I'm not letting go because you can't make me." Get tough mentally. The harder things get, the "cooler" you're going to become.

Remember to breathe.

Knowledge of the ATC system is very important, so I'd make several suggestions in that regard. Visit the Center: the more you know about what they do and how, the better. Same for the tower: know how IFR works for a tower, especially if they're served by a TRACON.

Knowledge of the overall ATC system -- and the regulations pertaining to IFR (Part 91 and the AIM!) -- are crucial. There is no substitute for competence in this regard.

Also: more than 1/4 of the oral, in my experience, has been weather or weather-related questions. Icing, winds, etc -- part of what the examiner is going to determine in your flight planning. Mentally give yourself some options when planning -- don't try to stretch your range so that you arrive with bare minimum IFR fuel at destination. 45 minutes is a very short time when it comes to violent east coast summer and/or winter weather, or, holding number 20 at low altitude because your alternate is the only one for 300 miles and EVERYONE else is going there, too (to shoot ILS approaches to mins). Check your weather package -- if you're handed one --for icing, known, reported, forecast, or the what-does-your-gut-level-feelings-tell-you suspicions. Try to ferret out hidden danger when looking at the weather.

When looking at winds and computing your fuel usage, increase your aircraft's maximum range speed by 10% when flying into a headwind, and reduce it by 5% when flying with a tailwind. Use the new value for calculating TAS and fuel consumption, g/s, etc.

To maintain the maximum range indicated airspeed, reduce the indicated airspeed by 10% for every 20% decrease in aircraft weight. This will require that you periodically reduce the power to maintain the best speed.

The biggest problems I've encountered with instrument pilots and applicants (speaking as a former check airman and Chief Pilot) is that pilots didn't understand their instruments and the errors they were subject to. The BIGGEST problem -- as a single, common denominator -- was that pilots didn't know how to use the mag compass, didn't know the errors or how to use it.

Question: if you're flying IFR (on-top) at night and suffer a total electrical system failure (so that you have NO gyro instruments and no radios), in what direction would you let down and how would you do it? Why?

The second biggest deficiency was that pilots didn't really know their Jepp charts. I STILL have to study them in depth periodically. Know the enroute charts and, it probably should go without saying (but I won't let that stop me): know every symbol you can see on a terminal chart. Everything!

Also, know your aircraft systems! Too many pilots would come to me for a checkride review and couldn't tell me how they'd troubleshoot a radio going dead. (They didn't know where the circuit breaker was for the comm or nav radios.)

Many pilots couldn't accurately plan their fuel for a cross-country! So, spend some time planning fuel consumption and performance for the 172.

Those pilots who knew the ATC system, the regs, their aircraft and its systems/instruments really very well, and could fly well, did well on their checkride.

Remember to play the game: your examiner isn't out to flunk you. Concentrate on what you're doing (how you're doing it and why, as well), FAR more than how you perceive that he/she might be thinking that you're doing. Catch your own mistakes and correct them early.

Spend an hour or two brushing up your steep turns, stalls and unusual attitude recoveries (in VFR conditions).

On the checkride itself, organization and effective cockpit management are essential keys to starting the checkride successfully. If the examiner tells you that they're a "passenger" for the purposes of their checkride (ignorant non-pilot type), use them to hold a chart or approach plate, instructing them not to put them down, and not to talk with or distract you. Don't be shy about continually asking them CLEAR RIGHT? when maneouvering, especially while under the hood.

Create time windows for yourself, points at which you can delay and take a moment to catch you breath, get reorganized, and review what's next. Don't spend a minute thinking about what went wrong: if you're still flying and you haven't heard otherwise, you're still batting 100%! (Maybe your flying was soooooooooo boring that he/she fell asleep, and didn't notice that you got 6 knots slow on approach.

Keep the mind active, but in a good sense.

Next: Checkride Prep

Judy & JJ
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