Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My Private Pilot (PPL) Checkride: Part 2, The Flight Test

This article is the second 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 swaynem13@gmail.com. Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions. 

After successfully completing the first half of my checkride, the oral exam, it was time to prepare for the second half. After the oral finished up, my examiner asked for me to re-plan my cross country flight plan with current winds and temperatures (to my first two checkpoints). In my case, this was Short Pump Mall and the Luckstone Granite Quarry, about 5 minutes flight time to each checkpoint. He let me know that I'd be the PIC on the flight, and we'd only have to exchange controls when needed for instrument flight. In a real world emergency, he let me know that I'd be the one in control and making the decisions. This is a big deal for any student pilot, it's the first time you get "Pilot in Command" time while someone else is in the plane with you. My examiner let me know before the flight that he wasn't expecting perfection, and that if I was above or below practical test standards, to audibly tell him "I'm high and correcting" for instance. 

My checkride's route

Check out my route of flight for yourself via this CloudAhoy link: Click Here

We took a quick break for water before we went out to preflight the plane, Tecnam Eaglet N16HV. When we were about ready to go outside, the examiner told me to head out and that he'd catch up with me in a few minutes. In a way this was unexpected, as I thought he was going to be following me through every step of the preflight. This assumption couldn't have been more wrong in my case. When he did come outside, he sort of just stood at a distance, occasionally looking over to see what I was up to. I think in doing this, he was trying to asses how I do my preflight check without anyone hovering over my shoulder. I had anticipated and prepared being quizzed on everything that I was doing, but that never ended up happening. 

Once we were ready to go and the plane had been thoroughly inspected, we got in and started it up. I remember that the first time I turned the key, I only got the prop to spin, but the engine didn't start. I took a deep breath and turned the key again. This time, the engine got up and running right away with no hesitation. 

  • I'll take a quick pause to explain a really great strategy for the flight portion of your checkride. Make sure you are very vocal with your examiner about what you are doing and why. He isn't in your head, so go through the checklist aloud, say what you're looking for, what decisions you're making, and why... all the way through the checkride. As you'll see in a little bit, there were a few times that it was especially good to explain why I was making certain decisions or veering from a normal procedure. Also, remember to make checklist usage a big part of your whole flight, it has become a real focus in the PTS. 

After getting the weather, checking radios, and determining the runway to use, we began our taxi. Each of us checked our brakes, and we were off! I made sure to turn CloudAhoy on, on my iPhone, so that the flight's 3D path would be recorded for later analyzation. On my lap and in-between my legs, I had my: tri-fold kneeboard with flight plan, sectional chart, and electronic E6B flight computer. All of that plus a stick vs. yoke configured airplane makes for a serious lack of space! 

On our taxi out to Runway 16, I made sure to keep my speed down and under control. The FAA generalizes a safe taxi speed to be nothing more than a brisk walk. I did have to ride the brakes a little to keep the speed down, but it was well worth it. The Tecnam P92 Eaglet I fly is equipped with a multi-function display on the pilot side, a Garmin 496 GPS in the center, and has most of the flight-essential instruments in old fashioned gauges surrounding. I was surprised that the examiner didn't dim or turn off either of these glass displays. Even though I wasn't using the GPS, I still found interesting that it was still up and I could see my location. Some examiners will choose to cover up or turn off glass displays, so beware that you might be in that situation! 

Upon reaching the hold short area, we began our runup with no issues. As we were about ready to go, a plane was about to being its turn to final from base. Under normal circumstances, we would have had plenty of time to go, but I was asked to perform a short field takeoff for the first takeoff. With these takeoffs, you have to back taxi a little on the runway, to use all available runway, stop and apply full power, and accelerate to Vx before rotating. All of this takes more time than normal, so I decided to wait for the traffic to land. I explained to my instructor why I chose to wait it out and that it would just be better to be patient in case we were to have an issue. He said "very good," and we waited. 

After traffic left the runway, we lined up and began our first takeoff of the day. There were light winds and everything went perfectly. Shortly after departure, we turned to heading and I started my timer. After about 4 minutes, we reached the first visual checkpoint, Short Pump Mall. Timing was pretty good, just about 40 seconds off. From there, we continued to my second checkpoint, which was off by just about 40 seconds as well. 

At this point, as expected, he gave me a hypothetical situation and subsequent diversion. He told me that there were thunderstorms directly ahead of us and that we'd have to divert to another airport. I told him that we had two options, to return directly to Hanover OFP, or to plan for Chesterfield FCI. He let me know that for our purposes, it'd just be better to pick FCI. All he wanted to see was that I knew a generalized heading to FCI, distance, and time enroute. We were 15nm away from FCI, needed a heading of about 145 degrees, and had groundspeed of about 95kts (as read from the GS chart I made before my flight for different directions). This made the math pretty simple, and I told him that it'd take us about 10 minutes to get there. To see how close I was, we hit "nearest" on the GPS, clicked "enter" for FCI, and saw our route to be 142 degrees and that it'd take us just over 10 minutes... not too bad! 

Diversion calculations done, we headed NW for instrument work

We didn't actually end up flying to Chesterfield, it was just a hypothetical situation posed by him. It was time to do some simulated instrument work. We exchanged controls with the standard 3 point system, I got on my instrument hood, and we began some testing. Here's what he had me do: 
  • climb to a given altitude 
  • descend to a given altitude 
  • straight a level flight
  • turn to a given heading
  • unusual attitude recovery 
    • he put the plane into a high, left climb, and cut the power - I had to correct the airspeed and attitude 

The only comment he had for me about my slow flight was that I could use more rudder input. To let the plane maintain straight flight, apply more right rudder. When you want to turn left in slow flight, release this rudder pressure, and the plane will bank left (from left turning tendency). 

From that point, we moved into slow flight situations. Here's what we did:
  • straight and level slow flight at 43 kts
  • turns to given headings
  • recovery from slow flight 

Shortly following slow flight, we did both a power on and power off stall (both straight, non-turning). Stalls were done in takeoff configuration for power on stalls, and in a landing configuration descent for power off stalls. Both stall situations went well, and I only had to do them once each. 

After stalls, we moved into steep turns. Before each steep turn, we did a left then right clearing turn. They were standard steep turns, entering from a given heading (in my case, North - 360 degrees), staying within + or - 100 feet, and exiting on the same heading. We did one right and one left steep turn, so nothing too hard! 

As I expected, he gave me a simulated engine failure, that would bring us down to a lower altitude for ground reference maneuvers. I picked a large field and entered on a right downwind. Going through the normal steps, I explained what I would do had there actually been a real engine failure. Essentially: pitch for best glide, fly to intended landing, begin restart procedures, communicate, and prepare for the landing (following the plane's checklist). I made sure to stay high, as you can always do S-Turns or slip the plane in to get down quickly. In general, in these situations, it's much better to be high than low. Since I did end up on a high final, I let the examiner know that I was going to do some S-Turns and then would slip in for a landing. About 150 feet above the ground, he said "ok, we've probably annoyed the neighbors enough, go around. Our intended field of landing is shown below: 

At this point, we went around, and climbed to an altitude of about 700 feet AGL for ground reference maneuvers. We only did one ground reference maneuver because the first one went so well, which was a turn around a point. As you can see in the photo below, we did a full left turn around a barn that I picked out: 

Following this ground reference maneuver, he asked me where I thought Hanover OFP was, and I correctly pointed out the right direction. The examiner asked me to fly us back towards Hanover at an altitude of my choice, saying that we were moving on to the final landings of the ride. For our navigation back, I was allowed to use the GPS. Since there were lots of planes in the pattern, we wanted to make the most accurate position reports possible. 

The first landing was to be a short field landing with a touchdown point of my choice (I chose the 1000 foot threshold bars). Heading back to OFP, we were on a direct, long final for Runway 16, but I opted to enter a midfield crosswind, as I had always practiced short field landings from the pattern vs. in a long final. We kept our ears and eyes peeled, as there were 2 planes on downwind, 1 landing, 1 turning final, and 2 waiting to depart... a pretty busy day! 

Entering our midfield crosswind, I saw that a plane to our right had turned downwind, which was going to create a sequencing conflict. I had to choose pretty quickly what our fix would be. After having crossed over the field, I turned in an upwind direction until the plane passed by, at which point we followed the plane through the pattern. This was the only issue my examiner had with the checkride. It's not safe to be flying counter-direction to the pattern, especially with so many planes in the air. He said that I made the right choice given the situation, but that it could've been avoided had I crossed upfield vs. midfield. In the photo below, I've circled this incident from our route: 

The first landing (short field) went great! I came in with just enough power to even out our descent, and touched down right in the center of the thousand-footers! That was a great feeling and super smooth landing. After this full stop landing, we taxied back to Runway 16 for a soft field takeoff and landing. The takeoff went just as well, staying in ground effect until Vx, and rotating out. I made sure to make a point of keeping back elevator pressure for our simulated takeoff, doing a wheelie down the runway. A video example of the technique is shown below: 

The final item of the day was our soft field landing. On short final, I took a deep breath, knowing I had passed everything so far, and told myself not to mess up the very last thing on my checkride. One smooth landing later, we were done. I had a feeling that I had passed and was pretty happy with my performance. After clearing the runway and shutting down, I was greeted with the much appreciated handshake and congratulations! 

We then headed inside and got some paperwork done. You can see more photos from the day here: Newest Licensed Pilot in the USA

Overall, I was surprised by how easy the checkride felt. I was over-prepared, as most students are who go into the exam. I actually enjoyed being tested on my knowledge and skill with different tasks. If you're well prepare, you'll be surprised to find that you enjoy being tested on everything. I learned a whole lot from the experience too. Flying with the examiner, he pointed out small things I could fix or improve to be an overall better pilot, which was awesome! 

Another view of our flight

As my english teacher would say, you should be happy to have the opportunity to "show what you know" through testing. The checkride isn't something to dread, rather something to get excited about. An endorsement from your instructor to take it symbolizes the fact that if she or he were given the opportunity, they'd feel safe giving you the license on the spot. The checkride is in place almost to serve as a second opinion on this decision, so it's not supposed to be something extremely hard once you've gotten to the point of taking it. 

Thanks for reading! My first flight as a private pilot is scheduled for this weekend, with my grandfather!
-Swayne Martin 
Twitter: @MartinsAviation


  1. I was on the edge of my seat. You sound so well-prepared, Swayne. You can fly me to Short Pump Mall anytime.

    1. Thanks! Short Pump looks pretty cool from the air!

  2. Excellent post. And something that all future pilots could use to see an example of a checkride. You are awesome!

  3. Great write up, congratulations!

  4. Thanks so much, Karlene! I hope this will give some insight to student preparing for the checkride!


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Many Thanks, Happy Flying,
Swayne Martin