Checkride

The checkride, officially known as the practical test, is the final step towards your pilot’s certificate. Pass the checkride and you’re a pilot. It’s natural to be nervous about the day, but with a little insight into what to expect and good preparation, you can alleviate the anxiety and pass the checkride.

What’s it like?

In my experience, the average practical test takes a little more than 4 hours. There’s some preliminary discussion & document review, oral questioning, flying, and ultimately a debrief and finishing of paperwork. The airman certification standard (new version effective June 2017) lays out in detail what maneuvers and areas of knowledge will be tested.

Scheduling

I usually schedule a time with the examiner about 1-2 weeks ahead. You have to find a time that works for you, the examiner, and when the plane is available. AACIT allows students scheduling their checkride priority over other pilots. If you have a deadline, like leaving town after graduation, it’s best to plan for the checkride a little before that final deadline. Weather and airplane problems have an uncanny ability to force you to reschedule, and there is always the possibility of needing a retest.

Examiner

Most students take their checkride with a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE). A DPE is a person approved by the FAA to give checkrides. They are not FAA employees. It’s possible to take a checkride with an FAA examiner, but the wait is often long and some people feel your chance of passing is lower.

DPEs set their own rates, though there tends to be consistency among examiners in an area. As of 2016, the going rate near El Monte is $700. Most examiners will require payment at the start of the checkride via cash or cashier’s check. (I can imagine a student who has just failed a checkride trying to stiff the examiner in some cases).

Requirements

For each rating, there are specific requirements you must meet, in order to be eligible to take the checkride. Some of these are experience, some are paperwork. Just make sure that you have met, or expect to meet those requirements prior to the checkride. For the Private Pilot, Airplane Single Engine Land, I’ve prepared a checklist that I use.

One item that is often finished just before the checkride is the written (aka knowledge) test. I recommend planning to pass the written test about one month before you expect to be ready for your checkride. Why? Much of what you learn for the written test is applicable to the oral portion of the checkride. For most people, their recall of some of the more obscure items drops off quickly after passing the written test. Putting the two fairly close together helps reduce the need to brush up on those areas.

The airplane

For AACIT airplanes, make sure to let the maintenance director and supervisor know that you have a checkride scheduled in the airplane. First, they’ll know to avoid maintenance that might run into the day of your checkride. You should also take a look to ensure you don’t expect to run into a deadline for one of the inspections. You will need to arrange to get the maintenance logs before your checkride. In some cases, the logs are kept by an A&P (mechanic) and in other cases, they are kept by the owner or the club. If possible, arrange to spend some time with the person most knowledgeable about the particular airplane’s maintenance. You need to be able to show the examiner that the airplane is indeed airworthy, by finding all required inspection entries and AD compliance information.

Remember that the maintenance logs can easily constitute 25% of the value of an airplane. Keep the logs safe and return them promptly after your checkride to the appropriate person.

Application

An application is required each time you take a checkride. Most examiners now use IACRA, the on-line application site. It is also possible (and sometimes necessary) to fill out a paper application form (8710). Either way, it is very important that you carefully and correctly enter all requested information. At best, an error may cause a lot of re-work. At worst, it could cause your application to be denied or delayed.

As soon as you schedule your checkride, I recommend registering on IACRA (if you don’t already have a login there). You shouldn’t complete the application until closer to the checkride (and all the requirements are met), but registering will assign you an FTN; your instructor and examiner will both need this FTN.

With IACRA, your instructor must electronically sign your application; in paper form, he must physically sign the application. With a paper form you must submit your knowledge test result in paper form. In IACRA, your instructor will need the knowledge test ID in order to connect the knowledge test with your application (I ask my students to send me a scan of the knowledge test report for my records as soon as they pass the test).

Notes on fields:

  1. Most students elect to enter “DO NOT USE” for their SSN; recommended, but not required.
  2. On IACRA, you need to select a specific airplane model (e.g. “CE172-P”). However, you can report all of your time in 172s under that entry (as opposed to separating out CE172-L from CE172-P)

Organization/Checklist

There’s a lot of stuff you need to take to the checkride. I suggest you make a checklist and go over it before you leave for the checkride to make sure you have everything and know where it all is. The ACS has a checklist of items, but here’s a starting point for your checklist (much of it copied from the ACS)

  • Airworthiness certificate (ensure it is in the airplane and visible per 91.203)
  • Registration (ensure it is in the airplane and current)
  • POH/AFM (know where the legal one in the airplane is located)
  • Required markings and placards (make sure they are legible)
  • Aircraft maintenance records (aka logbooks + AD information) – make sure you can locate all required inspection entries (AV1ATE) and AD compliance
  • Pilot logbook with all necessary endorsements (valid solo, solo at the checkride airport, practical test, etc.)
  • Medical
  • Unexpired, government issued photo ID (passport or driver license)
  • Student pilot certificate
  • Testing fee (cash? amount?)
  • Application (printed/signed 8710 or IACRA completed +  FTN/login info)
  • Knowledge test report (original embossed)
  • Letter of discontinuance (if required)
  • Chart(s)
  • Airport information (diagrams, chart supplement-A/FD, app, etc)
  • FAR/AIM (with certain sections marked/highlighted)
  • POH (know where the legal one in the airplane + have a copy for the checkride?)
  • View limiting device (I loan one to most of my students)
  • Assignments – nav log, weather products, W&B, …

The Day of the Checkride

Once you arrive at the checkride, you’re likely to spend a little time in introductions and talking about the process. After that, the examiner will review your application and logbook to determine that you meet the requirements. You should be able to identify where in your logbook each requirement is documented, whether that be an endorsement or a particular flight.

Once the examiner determines you meet the requirements, it’s time to pay up and move to the oral portion of the checkride.

Oral

It is possible to pass the written test through rote memorization and have no real understanding. The oral portion of the checkride is a chance to determine if the student truly understands the topics, but also to examine the thought and decision processes of the candidate.

The examiner will normally give some assignments to the student. These assignments must be completed and brought to the checkride. For example, the student is likely to be asked to prepare a weight and balance, plan a cross-country flight, and get a full weather briefing for the planned flight.

The ACS gives an outline of the topics that will be covered, but they can occur in any order. Some will be given as straightforward questions, requiring lists of answers. For example, “What instruments and equipment are required for day VFR flight”. Other questions may be scenarios where the examiner wants to see if you are able to apply the appropriate rules and determine a course of action – “Tell me about the planned route of flight, the weather along the route, and whether this is a flight you would take”.

When answering a question during the oral, keep in mind a few basic rules:

  1. Keep the answers simple. There’s a tendency to show how much you know. Unfortunately, it more often exposes something you don’t know. Stick to answering the question and if unsure of the question, ask for clarification. If an answer takes over 1 minute, it’s likely you’re talking too much.
  2. Don’t guess or BS. The examiner knows the material better than you do. If you are unsure of an answer, say so, and then indicate what you believe the answer is and how you would determine if you are right.
  3. Don’t argue. There might be cases where the examiner’s interpretation of a rule is different than yours or your instructor’s. There’s nothing to be gained by debating the point. Accept the examiner’s interpretation and commit to some follow up investigation and move on.
  4. Be prepared to back up your answer with references if requested. In some cases, the examiner may allow you to confirm an answer by looking in the FAR/AIM, POH, or other appropriate reference. I always have some of the key sections of the FAR/AIM flagged for quick reference.
  5. The examiner will find a question you can’t answer or a topic you don’t understand. Take the process as a learning experience with a much more experienced pilot.

Maneuvers

Read the ACS. It is not that long a document and will give you clear information on what is expected for each maneuver. {NOTE: As time permits, I’ll add info on each maneuver and common mistakes.}

A few things to remember:

  1. You are always being tested. It’s tempting to think of the flight portion as a series of disconnected maneuvers, but are you always being tested and evaluated. If you lose 500 feet between maneuvers, that says something about your piloting. Always have in mind what you are doing, where you are, and where you are going.
  2. Safety first. If you need to stop a maneuver for safety – do it. Better to roll out of a steep turn early to avoid traffic than to have to explain why you got within 500 feet of another airplane.
  3. Keep the examiner informed. If you need to change altitudes or configuration or direction, say so and why. Don’t let him confuse your intentional change for an unintentional one.
  4. Question if unsure. If you didn’t understand an instruction, or don’t remember an assigned altitude or heading, ask.
  5. Go slow, but don’t take forever. There’s no need to rush the process, but if you fly for two minutes trying to get the airplane in perfect trim before doing a maneuver, that’s taking too long. A little prep time between maneuvers is reasonable.
  6. If you make a mistake, correct it, and move on. You can’t change the past, but you can affect the future. Don’t let a perceived failure or mistake distract you and lead to worse mistakes. Don’t assume you have failed, unless the examiner says so. Don’t give up.
  7. Understand what a maneuver is simulating. While landing a few feet short of the threshold at EMT may not pose a threat to safety, doing so on a short field landing simulates you landing in the dirt short of the concrete on another runway.

A few simple rules

  • Get a good night sleep the night before.
  • Eat something and stay hydrated. If you need a break at some point for food, water, or bathroom, ask for it.
  • Arrive on time or a little early. Being late to your checkride is not the way to get things started. Make sure you understand exactly when and where you are to meet the examiner.
  • Be organized. Arrive with your materials so that you can easily find what you need. This goes for both the oral and flight portions.
  • Remember that you are PIC. The examiner wants to know that you have the right balance of skills to make you a safe pilot – those skills include physical, mental, knowledge, and most importantly, decision making. Exercise those skills.Don’t allow yourself to be pushed into an unsafe situation. As an example, during my CFI checkride, I made the decision that the conditions exceeded my comfort level for a soft field landing. The examiner didn’t object and I passed the checkride.

What if I fail?

It happens. Everyone can have an off day or find an unexpected gap in training. In most cases, when you fail a maneuver, you’ll be told right then and given the option of continuing the checkride. I recommend that you do continue.

If you have only a maneuver or two that were not up to snuff, you’ll need to do some training with your instructor, fill out a new application, get a new endorsement, and go for a re-test on a future day. Examiners vary as to how much that re-test costs. In most cases, assuming you re-test within 60 days, you’ll be given credit for the maneuvers you performed and only need to perform the tasks which were deemed unacceptable the first time around.

Documents

Assuming you pass, you’ll be given your temporary certificate that day. The FAA should send the permanent one before it expires, but always best to keep an eye on the calendar and ask before the temporary expires

If you didn’t complete all the tasks, you will be given a document showing what was not done.

Document

Help the next person out by documenting and sharing your experience.

Other questions

Can I take my oral on one day and the flying on another? In general, examiners will not plan for such a scenario; occasionally, the weather or other factors can result in that happening however.

Example Questions

For my students, I have a list of typical questions and scenarios that we will cover in preparation for the checkride. While some of the oral prep books can be useful, be careful that many are specific to a type of plane and that I have frequently found out of date information in them. Here’s a small number of example questions from my list:

  1. What is a spin? What is required to enter a spin? How would you recover?
  2. Hypoxia. What is it? What are the symptoms? Why should a pilot be concerned? What can you do you do about it?
  3. Under what conditions is oxygen required in an airplane?
  4. What are the standard and special “squawk” codes? When are they used?
  5. Does the nosewheel of a 172 turn in flight when you press the rudder pedals?
  6. On a 172, is is possible for the left flap to be deployed and the right retracted? If so, what would happen and is the airplane flyable in such a condition?
  7. What would you do if you noticed a sudden loss of oil pressure?
  8. Draw a basic diagram showing the pitot/static system/instruments
  9. Draw a basic diagram of the electrical system, including the alternator/generator (which is it), battery, switches (ignition, master), circuit breakers, starter, and instruments.
  10. What turning tendencies does this airplane have and under what conditions. What contributes to those tendencies?

6 thoughts on “Checkride

  1. Just thought you should know how helpful this website has been for me. I’m getting close to my checkride and I’ve definitely used your hints along the way! Thank you! 🙂

  2. Mann… Im soo upset and disappointed amd somewhat confused.
    Ive been prepping and studying for weeks for my phase 4 and when i finally got it schedualed. All this Happened.
    The Chief Pilot kept flipping the questions and i we had interuptions and then we eventually had to discontinue the Mock Exam. We didnt even get past PAVE.

    I thought it was just me or MY CFI trained me wrong. (Flash Cards and Online references)

    I think they should keep it simple with direct questioning and answers.
    For me… it was like Playing Charades.

    I hate charades!

    This info helps a little. I’ll have to try to remember this next Sunday when i try my Phase 4 again. Smh…..

  3. I am a Gold Seal CFII with over 10,000 hours of instruction given. We started working with a new DPE about 2 years ago. Every private pilot checkride starts at 9:00 am in the morning and if they are lucky they will fly by 2:00 in the afternoon and finish by 4;30 to 5:00 pm. I feel this is a very long checkride for a private pilot. The dpe is very nice and fair how ever I feel the applicants are exhausted before they enter the airplane. Any inputs especially from a CFI or Dpe would be greatly appreciated.

    • I agree that seems a bit long for a private checkride. The DPE I used mostly for years averaged 4-5 hours; I always considered that about the limit (and often the long ones the candidates were partially at fault for making it long). I have one DPE now that seems to get it done in 2.5 – 3 hours, which might be pushing the other limit for me. Do they at least get lunch in that time? What’s the pass rate like with that DPE?

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