That sort of announcement was generally met with a chorus of happy cheers from students who were grateful they wouldn’t have to spend all weekend memorizing every detail of the Spanish-American War. I say something similar in my pre-checkride brief to applicants. “The checkride today is going to be open book, but there are a few caveats.”
First, any resource you use needs to be current. That means you should not bust out your 2015 FAR/AIM when trying to look up required equipment in FAR 91.205. No, that list hasn’t changed for as long as I’ve been flying, but plenty of regulations have, which is why the FAA is a stickler for current books. Approach plates, sectional and low en route charts, the chart supplement—these things all go out of date, so make sure you bring the most current version on the day of your exam.
We all know how much bad information is out there, so if you are using a search engine, use it only to look up where to find the correct answer.Only official resources are permitted. I don’t allow personal notes (with the exception of CFI lesson plans) in my exam room. I know some other examiners do, however, so make sure to check their policy when you schedule the test. Am I just determined to be the meanest one out there? No. Allow me to explain. When I was a student pilot, I made copious notes to help me memorize the overwhelming amount of new information. I have absolutely no idea where those papers are now. But I know exactly where my Airplane Flying Handbook is if I want to look up an answer. I want the same to be true for my applicants. In 10 years, when they forget what the acronym AVIATES stands for, they need to be able to find the answer in their current FAR/AIM so they can have a legal aircraft to fly. They’re going to struggle if they’ve never used that book before. For the record, Google is not an official resource. We all know how much bad information is out there, so if you are using a search engine, use it only to look up where to find the correct answer. For example, you could search for “Tomato Flames,” to find that the regulation is FAR 91.205. Then you open your FAR/AIM to the actual reference. The FAR/AIM index also works great if you know how to use it.
Are digital resources acceptable? I say yes. I personally carry every resource with me in digital form on my iPad because I never know where I’ll be giving a checkride and I would need a back replacement by now if I were still carrying around all those books. The problem I’ve seen when applicants use digital resources is that they’re not familiar with how to access information. For example, they’re using ForeFlight. I ask a question about the sectional chart. Some people push on the actual chart trying to get answers to pop up, rather than going to the documents section and pulling up a legend there. Or for the instrument folks, make sure you know where to find the nonstandard alternate or takeoff minimums if you aren’t using the paper book.
You cannot look up in-flight scenarios. For example, you and the examiner are discussing right-of-way rules. “Another aircraft is approaching you head on, what should you do?” I won’t let applicants look up this answer. If you are in flight and this situation happens, there won’t be time to get out a book.
You cannot look up every answer. The resources are to be used in the rare instance you cannot remember a specific detail. However, if an applicant needs to look up every answer, it quickly becomes obvious that he or she doesn’t possess enough information to safely plan and execute a flight. Especially on the first questions, you want to nail those answers to gain confidence-building momentum. So, review the airman certification standards and be able to rattle off the answers to that first section in your sleep. For a private pilot, that’s the “Pilot Qualifications” section that asks about required documents, currency, and privileges and limitations.
Hopefully, you can rest a little easier knowing you have some help from your books and charts if you forget a detail on the checkride. Just make sure you know when and how to use those resources.
Natalie Bingham Hoover is an FAA designated pilot examiner for the state of Mississippi.