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
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,
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
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.
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
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,
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.