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Checkride: Common checkride errors

Avoiding the potholes

Every private pilot applicant wants their checkride to go smoothly, but unfortunately, it doesn’t always go that way. Let’s review some of the most common errors applicants make that lead to a bad day.

All checkrides begin with the designated pilot examiner (DPE) qualifying the applicant by reviewing required endorsements, training records, and verifying experience requirements. Showing up with any deficiencies here will delay, or possibly even prevent, the checkride from beginning. Although not considered a checkride failure, it’s still a disappointing waste of time and effort for both applicant and DPE.

The FAA airman certification standards (ACS) contain a helpful practical test checklist that identifies everything you’ll need to bring with you to get your checkride off to a good start. Among the items listed are aircraft maintenance logbooks. Not being properly familiar with the contents and location of the required inspection items can lead to an uncomfortably stressful start to the checkride.

During the oral exam portion of the checkride, the examiner is required to ask questions specifically related to the subject areas that were found to be deficient during the knowledge test. A wise applicant will devote extra study time to these particular topics. Of the several additional topics required for the oral exam, weather information and the national airspace system seem to consistently give applicants the most grief. In all cases, be sure that your knowledge of the particular subject goes beyond a mere rote level. This will allow you to answer scenario-based questions as you apply your knowledge to situations you might encounter as a pilot.

The biggest common problems with landings begin with unstable approaches.After successfully completing the ground portion of the test, you will proceed to the airplane where your flying skills can be demonstrated. Considering all of the required tasks in the airplane, it’s not surprising that the skills students find most difficult to master are the ones that present the biggest problems during checkrides. Namely, landings and simulated emergency procedures, with stalls and cross-country pilotage navigation coming in a close second.

The biggest common problems with landings begin with unstable approaches. Approach speeds that are too fast or slow, combined with an inability to cross the runway threshold at the desired height, all while properly correcting for crosswind drift, result in landings that can fall well short of the required standards (see “Hops, Skips, and Jumps,” p. 30). Airspeed and altitude control on final approach are essential skill elements for consistently safe landings, whether they be on a soft or short, normal or crosswind landing runway. The common denominator for success comes from proper training and sufficient practice. Refer to the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook for all training maneuvers to ensure that you are performing the procedures correctly. Performing these challenging landings correctly and consistently demands extra practice. Showing up to your checkride with insufficient practice in any area is a recipe for failure.

The complexity and demands of the simulated engine failure procedure make this another common weak spot (see “Simulated Emergency,” September 2019 Flight Training). The bottom line: Make sure your engine-out approach remains safe by establishing and maintaining a safe glide speed and performing the several recommended steps for an engine restart, all while maneuvering to a safe landing if the engine does not restart. This skill also demands sufficient quality practice to become consistent, so again, don’t cut your practice short.

For your checkride stalls, remember that the private pilot ACS specifies that stall recoveries be made after a full stall occurs, and then recover to a VX (best angle) or VY (best rate) climb profile. Recovering from the stall at the first beep of the stall warning system with an excessively nose-low pitch attitude while accelerating to an airspeed well above VY does not meet this requirement.

With the advent of GPS navigation, pilotage is becoming a lost art. However, demonstrating pilotage is still a required skill for the checkride. So turn off the GPS and practice flying the correct headings, looking out the window, locating your checkpoints, and not getting lost.

For all of these, and other common trouble spots, careful preparation goes a long way to eliminating the problems. Let this be your guiding light to success as your checkride date approaches.

Bob Schmelzer is a Chicago-area designated pilot examiner, and a retired United Airlines captain and Boeing 777 line check airman. He has been an active gold seal flight instructor since 1972.

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