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Feb/Mar 2000

Beyond The Checkride

Pilot Travel Guide

AIM/FAR 2000

(available at

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The $100 Hamburger
Hutchinson, Kansas
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SW Aviator Magazine
3909 Central NE
Albuquerque, NM 87108
Phone: 505.256.7031
Fax: 505.256.3172

The Practical Test
by J.D. Huss, Albuquerque FSDO
One of the nicer parts of my job is the occasional opportunity to escape from the phone and go flying with some of you. You may not choose to see it exactly that way - since this is usually a checkride for you. However, some recent events have caused me to question whether many of you really understand what we (I’m going to classify FAA Inspectors and Designated Pilot Examiners as the same) are looking for in your Practical Test for a certificate or rating and, more importantly, what you, the applicant, are entitled to expect.

First of all, this is your flight test - it is a “practical test” of your knowledge and skill. You are going to be the pilot-in-command - which gives you some privileges and some responsibilities.

There are three (3) possible outcomes to your practical test:
• Successful - and we issue you a Temporary Airman’s Certificate.
• Discontinued - something happened and the test was stopped without being completed (more on this later).
• Disapproved - you did not demonstrate the minimum standards required for the issuance of the certificate.

There are no secrets to a Practical Test. You should have your own copy of the Practical Test Standard (PTS) for the certificate or rating you are applying for. Your flight instructor should have been using his copy of the PTS to assist in your preparation for the practical test during your instruction. If he or she did not do this, or doesn’t know what the PTS is, you need to change instructors! Each PTS has a fairly lengthy Introduction. Take a few moments to read this, as it may save you some embarrassment later. There is also a checklist of items to bring along for the flight test (you have no idea how ridiculous an applicant looks when he or she is there for an Instrument Instructor rating and hasn’t brought a view-limiting device, or a multiengine applicant that tells us he is not allowed to shut-down an engine and feather the propeller on the aircraft to be used).

As the applicant, you are entitled to our undivided attention. We should have an area that is out of the way of the FBO’s normal lobby traffic so you can have a distraction-free environment to work. You should expect us to brief you on the plan of action we will be using to insure that we cover each item on your practical test. We will also brief you on transfer of the flight controls, our responsibility as the “Safety Pilot,” performance criteria, and repetition of a maneuver. After that, if you have no other questions, we will begin asking ours. While it may seem the ground portion of this goes on forever (and it may if you are just meeting the minimum standard) it is not a test of your endurance. You may take a moment to get a cup of coffee, soft drink, or visit the restroom. Just ASK!

While everyone answers “yes” to block I - G on the application - that we “read, speak, and understand English” you may not understand the question that we just asked you. If that is the case, tell us and ask us to restate or clarify the question. Obviously, there are times when you do not know the answer. If that is the case, say so. If you stumble around, you give us the opportunity to find out how little you really know about the subject. You don’t have to know everything about aviation! What you must know is generally what is being outlined in the individual Areas of Operation (AOA’s) of the PTS for the certificate or rating you are applying for. High scores on the written test are great! They tell us that you have the knowledge to apply rote learning and understand basic principles. What we are going to be looking for is (CFI applicant’s take note - this is a BIG part of your 4 to 5 hour question and answer period) the ability to apply these basic principles and correlate them to a new or unusual circumstance.

With the majority of the questions answered, it’s finally time to go to the aircraft. (If you are taking a practical test with an FAA Inspector, there is a difference here. We usually have an Airworthiness Inspector review your aircraft’s maintenance records and inspect your aircraft.) You can expect to be quizzed on limited areas of aircraft maintenance. Owners are authorized to perform certain items of preventive maintenance, so you should be familiar with them.

As I stated earlier, you are the pilot-in-command during this flight. Do not let the examiner, line-boy, ATC, etc., rush you into doing anything before you are ready. We are looking for someone who is in control of themselves as well as their aircraft. During the flight portion of the test, examiners have special emphasis items which they are required to observe. The most important of these is your “collision avoidance” scanning. Failure to actively scan for other aircraft is grounds for disapproval of your application. Other areas are Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) (this means the charts you need are next to you, not in the baggage compartment), and using a checklist. Unless there are unusual circumstances (collision avoidance, a misunderstood request, or flight safety), we will not allow you to repeat a flight maneuver on the practical test, so it needs to be right the first time. Take your time and do your best. We’ll be the judge of whether or not you met the standards.

When the flight is completed, we’ll return to the briefing area. Usually, congratulations are offered, and the Temporary Airman’s Certificate is prepared. We should discuss the high-points of the flight as well as the errors. You should have the opportunity to critique your performance and the examiner’s performance as well. There are two other possible outcomes: you did not meet the required standards, which will result in your application being disapproved (and let me emphasize there is no quota for required failures), or the test was discontinued.

Discontinuing a practical test is not uncommon. There are many reasons that it can happen, and some of those reasons can be generated by you. Remember what has been mentioned about this being your test. We are expecting you to exercise good judgment at all times during the test. We hope this is an indication that you will continue to exercise sound judgment after you receive your pilot certificate. When we go out to the aircraft, if the winds are blowing stronger then you are comfortable flying in - SAY SO! If you find something on the pre-flight that would keep the aircraft, or it’s installed equipment from being fully operational - TELL US! (We have probably already noticed it as well.) If, way back in the ground portion, you sense the practical test is not going as well as you want it to - STOP! In each of these cases, there is a high degree of difficulty. You are primed for the test, you’re nervous and stressed, and it will be almost impossible for you to step back and critically appraise the situation. We have probably formed a course of action that we will follow if you elect to continue.
When you elect to discontinue a practical test, many of us are relieved because you have demonstrated the good aeronautical decision-making traits that we are looking for. These traits are not measurable, but they are part of that mystique that accompanies all aviators - it is called “Airmanship.”

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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publishing, Inc. and the staff neither assume any responsibilty for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising out of it. Fly safe.