What you are feeling is very common and, in fact, a good sign that you have what it takes to become an excellent pilot—that self-critiquing analysis you do when faced with a new or difficult challenge. This trait keeps lots of pilots out of trouble and has helped many pilots succeed in passing their checkrides.
Upon completing the flight training syllabus, many pilots feel more confident with their flying skills than their knowledge, leaving them more apprehensive about the ground portion of the practical test, often referred to as the oral exam. Others may feel just the opposite. Either way, you know in your heart you’ve got some more work to do before your big day arrives. The FAA airman certification standards (ACS) specify the individual elements and tasks required for the practical test in addition to minimum completion standards for many of the flight maneuvers. It is wise to begin your final review for the test with a thorough understanding of the ACS document, available on FAA.gov.
So, how do you know when you’re really ready? Most flight instructors assess overall checkride readiness with a complete mock checkride given by either themselves or another experienced CFI. As you and your instructor review the topics required for the test, dig a bit deeper by always asking the “Why” question. Understanding why we do the things we do in airplanes takes us to a new, higher level of learning (correlation) that all DPEs seek during checkrides. For example: Why do we check for nicks on the propeller? Why are the VFR rules different above 10,000 feet msl? Why do cumulus clouds form in cold fronts? The list goes on. Don’t simply know the correct answer to every question, but know why it is correct. If you can do this, you will ace your oral exam with even the toughest of DPEs.
When it comes to the flight portion of the test, consistency is the key. As you practice the required flight maneuvers with your instructor, bear in mind that during the checkride, you must do them correctly, within the stated tolerances on your first attempt, every time. There are a few reasons for permitting a maneuver “repeat” during a checkride, but blowing the maneuver is not one of them. You’ll want to know that you can perform each maneuver acceptably, even on your bad days. Be sure to practice every maneuver, especially the tougher ones, not just until you can get them right—practice until you cannot get them wrong.
Statistically, the toughest flight test maneuvers are the simulated engine failure maneuver and the various takeoffs and landings. Mastery of these skills is most demanding since elements of nearly every other flight maneuver task is embedded into the performance of consistently safe takeoffs and landings, especially when the engine has failed.
Another time to ask why is when performing the instrument flying tasks. Why do private pilots practice instrument maneuvers at all? Simple—to survive an accidental encounter with instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). Practice your instrument skills with the IMC emergency escape maneuver as your motivating factor. Since DPEs are required to use scenarios to evaluate their applicants, the accidental IMC encounter is perfect for testing these instrument survival skills.
And before you head off to meet your DPE, be sure you are very comfortable with the contents of your airplane maintenance logbooks and with locating all the required inspections that constitute an airworthy airplane. This alone will go a long way in helping you to enjoy a low-stress, successful checkride.
Every day won’t be severe clear—blue skies, no clouds. And while everyone loves to fly in CAVU (ceiling and visibility unrestricted), the day will come when you wish you could go, but the weather says no. Is it time to get your instrument rating? A good question to ask yourself before you start instrument training is, why do you want this rating? The answers can usually be grouped into three areas. One common answer is that it’s a good thing to have in your pocket just in case you need it. Next is that it’s another important step to a career in aviation. The third reason is that you want to increase the productivity of your personal or business flying.
There are different ways to obtain training for your instrument rating, and the reason you want the rating may affect the training method that you choose. Should you enroll in a highly regimented FAR Part 141 school? Perhaps a full-time or part-time instructor at your local airport could do the job. Or, maybe an accelerated course that may have you finished up in 10 to 12 days. What’s the best? That depends on you.