Saturday, February 22, 2014

My Private Pilot (PPL) Checkride: Part 1, The Oral Exam

This article is the first of two articles, both of which go into detail about my PPL Checkride. Questions, topics, and trouble-areas from my checkride have all been included with no filter. My email is Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions. 

My examiner began the oral portion of the checkride by explaining that he was going to follow the PTS, but had his own sheet to make things flow a little better, and to touch on topics on which he wanted to focus specifically. He reassured me at the beginning that he wasn't expecting perfection, and that this truly is a license to learn. I was told that if there were a few questions that I didn't know the answer to, I could use "my library of resources" that I brought with me to find the correct answer. He let me know that this would be ok for a few questions, but that I shouldn't need to look up answers for more than a few. (It ended up being that I didn't have to look up answers for really anything). Basically bring every book you used to study to the checkride itself. In my case, I had my Jeppesen and Gleim as well as the required FAR/AIM, AF/D, etc. 

The oral portion of my PPL checkride began as expected. The primary questions were about what information, documentation, and equipment that I would need to begin my flight. This includes knowing currency requirements for day and night flying, ARROW documents, required equipment and instruments for day and night flying, appropriate aircraft logs (and entries), etc. 

There was only one issue with this beginning portion of the checkride-- the aircraft maintenance logs. Here is a piece of advice for students who are about to take their checkride: double check (the day before) the aircraft logs and familiarize yourself with the proper entires and locations. I incorrectly assumed that my aircraft's logbooks and their currency would be up to date. As we were going through the aircraft logs, my examiner and I noted a procedural oversight that resulted in a last minute scramble to get everything in order (as it stood in the logbooks, the aircraft was technically "un-airworthy"). This could have been completely avoided had I thought the day before to double check the logs. 

While my examiner reassured me that the responsibility for the oversight was not mine, nonetheless, I should have checked the logs earlier. As far as he was concerned, I did the only thing any pilot could do-- identifying the mistake, and having it corrected. If need be, go out to the airport the day before and meet with one of the mechanics to go through the books, and get an explanation of what each entry means and for how long it is valid. 

After that isolated incident, the oral portion went smoothly for me other than a handful of missed questions. Below, I'll go through more stages of the checkride, including some of the questions I was asked. 

Shortly following the opening section on requirements to fly that day, we moved into discussion about the cross-country flight that I had been asked to plan for that day. I was requested to make a 290nm xc flight plan from Hanover KOFP to Asheville KAVL (North Carolina), with the examiner weighing 200 pounds, and with 40 pounds of baggage. Normally, students are requested to make such a long xc flight plan for the checkride. This flight plan alone required me to order 4 new sectionals (one just an updated version). For a flight from KOFP to KAVL, I had to have the Washington, Cincinnati, Charlotte, and Atlanta sectional charts. Most examiners will ask for a flight plan near the max range of the aircraft, to test your fuel calculations and fuel stop planning. I believe it was my examiner's intention to do this, but I ended up being well within range of Asheville, with 8 gallons (or 2 hours flight time) to spare. 

As I laid out my sectional charts (which had already been marked for route and checkpoints), he went over my flight planning sheets. I was allowed the night before to use Foreflight forecasted winds aloft for my flight plan, which made the process a little easier. I took screenshots on my iPhone for each forecasted winds aloft page, and printed them out, as shown below. In the margin, I wrote the interpolated values for temperature, speed, and direction, for my altitude. There were five legs total in the trip; I waited to plan the first leg (OFP-FVX) until the morning of, so that the weather would be more current. The night before, I had printed out TAFs, NOTAMs, and TFRs that were along my route, so that he could easily go through some of those. He never ended up asking to see them, but it was good to have them nonetheless. You can see some the flight plan sheets and information below. 

I paid special attention to terrain avoidance heading into Asheville, as it's a pretty mountainous area. I planned the flight to head through low points and passes in the mountains, following highways, so that I wouldn't have to explain terrain avoidance, or plan an additional climb. (Make your flight plan simple to follow!). Below, you can see the route I took into KAVL: 

We then moved into some information about my specific aircraft. Topics and questions he asked about are listed below: 

  • Powerplant
    • I was asked about the Tecnam's engine and some simple specifications, such as that it's horizontally opposed, etc. 
  • Weight and Balance
    • Max and minimum weights 
    • Basic vs. empty weight (which I should have but did not have filled out for my aircraft) 
    • Make sure that you have with you an official POH for your aircraft that has all of the required information and weights that are specific to your aircraft, signed and filled out by a mechanic

After those topics (with which I had no issues), he quizzed me on some basic sectional chart knowledge. Here's what he asked:

  • He put his finger on different classes of airspace: 
    • asking what the requirements were to fly during the day and night in those areas 
    • asking what the "bases and tops" were for different airspace
    • asking what equipment and procedures are required for different classes of controlled airspace 
  • I was asked about isogonic lines and their meaning
  • He asked what information (and frequencies) I could read about an airport directly from the sectional, and what types of information I'd have to refer to the AF/D to get more knowledge on 
  • Special Use Airspace
    • pointed to an MOA and asked what to do when flying through them, how to find if it's active, etc
    • pointed to some restricted airspace and asked about that
  • He pointed to a VOR and asked about how to ID one and how to enter it into my NAV system, what frequency to use, and how to contact the associated FSS (how one receives and transmits on different frequencies) 
  • He pointed the the white square box around Charlotte and asked what that was for (to signal a terminal chart area) 
  • He pointed to a military training route, just wanting me to ID it separately from a victor airway essentially 
  • Pointing to Mountain Air (cool airport, look it up), I was asked what I could expect flying into an airport at a higher elevation, on hot days, being heavy, etc. 

That was it for the sectional quizzing. The only question I missed was when he asked me what the "L" stood for when we looked at an uncontrolled field on the sectional. I mistakenly said that it signified left traffic, when it actually is information about airport lighting. When I missed that, the examiner simply asked where I could find the correct answer. I told him the chart legend, and we flipped over to it, and read the correct information together. I almost said that the military flight route was a victor airway, but quickly corrected myself when I paid closer attention to the black color of the line he was pointing to. Other than that, quizzing on the sectional was easy, going completely as expected. 

Following the flight plan and sectional information, we went through aviation weather. He asked me the simple question: "What do you do when checking weather before a flight." After that, we moved on to reading some basic prog charts and radar summary charts. He asked me about different lines and their meanings on the charts. We went through cold and warm fronts, what to expect, what an AIRMET and SIGMET is, and what the difference is between them, and when structural icing conditions can occur. Listed below are a few points that I missed in relation to this section: 
  • When he asked me what kind of weather I could expect from a cold front, he gave me the options cumulus clouds or stratus clouds. I said stratus, which was the wrong answer. Cold fronts are often associated with cumulus clouds, thunderstorms, squall lines, etc. 
  • I missed a question when he pointed to an isobaric line on a prog chart. I believe I said something like "those lines have to do with cloud cover." He corrected me, and we moved on, so it was no big deal. 

We then moved into other sections, briefly touching on various topics with about one question each. This is basically how it works - if you can answer the first question correctly and confidently, the examiner is most likely going to move on to another section. If you answer incorrectly or hesitantly, he'll probably quiz you more. Below are topics and questions I was asked: 
  • Aeromedical factors
    • What is spatial disorientation and when does it occur? 
  • Aircraft systems
    • What is the Pitot-Static system and what does it do? 
      • Explain what were to happen if ____? (if blank were to be blocked..)
  • ADM
    • What are some situations that could require good aeronautical decision making? (Resignation, "Macho," etc. - all from the PTS)
  • Runway Incursions
    •  How do you avoid runway incursions and what are your personal procedures to avoid them? 
  • LAHSO Operations
    • What is a land and hold short operation and what are your responsibilities when issues a LAHSO clearance? 
  • Lost procedures 
    • What do you do? 
      • The 4 C's: Climb, Confess, Communicate, Comply 

After successfully completing the oral portion (a huge relief for me!), he told me to revise my flight plan for the first leg, to plan my xc flight to the first two waypoints, and to add current weather information. We then took a short break for some water, and headed out to the airplane to pre-flight.

So there you have it. That was the first half of my PPL Checkride! There will be an article coming soon that details the flight portion and closing. Make sure to email me if you have any questions. 

Thanks for reading,
-Swayne Martin 
Twitter: @MartinsAviation


  1. I am so happy for you Swayne! When you work so hard for something and have a passion, success is the only word!

    1. Thanks so much Karlene! It's a great feeling.

  2. Congratulations on getting your private ticket. I would highly suggest that you get some upset recover training. I was fortunate enough that the flight school I took my primary training in also teaches aerobatics to IAC unlimited category, and they their PPL graduates to getting some aerobatics training in for very cheap (maybe even free). So, loops, rolls, wingovers, and spins I went for some 30 minutes; unfortunately, half a tank of gas on a Decathlon doesn't last very long when the mixture is in full rich and the throttle at full power almost the whole time. I mean, learning to get out of a 3-turn spin as part of pre-solo stage boosted my confidence in the pattern. Learning to execute wing-overs, loops, and aileron rolls just took my confidence to a different level. If anything, you have an idea what upside-down looks like from inside your airplane; maybe you'll realize that "professional pilot" to you actually means joining the flying circus.

    1. Hey Keith,

      Thanks for the comment! I have plans this summer to do some acrobatic training in a Decathlon with OBX Airplanes. Until then, I might look more around my area for people that do upset recovery training, etc. It sounds like a pretty good skill to have, and fun too!

      Thanks again,

    2. If you're planning to actually do aerobatics, then you'll be really good with upset recovery. My suggestion, save your money for the aerobatics course and the tailwheel endorsement. I'm actually getting my tailwheel endorsement in a few months myself in a J3 cub.


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Many Thanks, Happy Flying,
Swayne Martin