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What To Expect On Your Private Pilot Checkride: The Flight Exam

Nicolas Shelton

You've passed your oral exam, and you've have demonstrated that you can talk the talk. But now it's time to walk the walk in the practical exam.

Yesterday we talked to Nicolas Shelton about his experience taking the private pilot oral exam. Today, we're talking about the flight.

Nicolas had to wait several weeks between his oral and flight because of the weather (read about June Gloom here). But eventually, the sun came out and he was ready to fly.

Here's how it went...

Q: Going into the flight, what did you feel most comfortable with?

A: Going into the flight I felt confident that my cross-country calculations were accurate. In the past, I had been able to work out my flight plan to be consistently accurate within 1 minute on my waypoints, so I had a level of confidence in my routing.

Q: What did you feel the least comfortable with?

A: Stalls. While I had done them throughout my training without any problems, a few lessons before my checkride I was having trouble with getting the plane to a 'full-break' in the stall. On my checkride, I just slowed down everything, and said each action out-loud to make sure I didn't make a mistake. I controlled the maneuver and recovery almost perfectly.

Nicolas Shelton

Q: How did the flight portion start? Take us through the first 5 minutes.

A: There was about a month gap between my oral exam and flight exam, because of constant weather delays (typical in my region). So after a thorough pre-flighting and passenger briefing, it was time to start up. After getting our taxi clearance, I made sure to take out an airport diagram and guide my Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) through the routing and potential hotspots.

As we taxied and did our run-up, I talked my way through it, explaining what I was doing. This seemed to minimize the number of questions he had because I was answering them without being prompted.

Q: What kind of takeoff did you start with, and did you start your flight on a cross-country?

A: My DPE asked to start with a soft-field takeoff. Before every takeoff, I made sure to brief the examiner on exactly what he would see. This allowed him to ask any questions and to break up any confusion on how a maneuver or departure should be performed.

After we took off we made a right downwind departure and started our climb-out along our route of flight.

Q: Take us through your cross-country portion of the flight. What kind of questions did your DPE have? Any failures?

A: My examiner asked questions about my flight plan during the oral exam, so there wasn't much to discuss on our cross-country flight while in the plane, besides the amount of time to the next checkpoint.

The biggest mistake I made on my checkride was not starting the timer on the takeoff roll. I realized it while departing the pattern. I told the examiner of my error and told him that I would subtract the 2 minutes I had added for take-off and pattern flying from the original time.

My examiner elected to only go through the first 3 checkpoints. After he was satisfied with the accuracy of my calculations, he provided a simulated 'rough engine' in order for us to deviate from our route of flight.

Nicolas Shelton

Q: How about emergency procedures?

A: My examiner provided me with two main emergency procedures, both relating to the powerplant of the aircraft. The first was a rough engine paired with a diversion. He wanted me to pull out the Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH). This demonstrated to him that I was able to use all the resources available to me, even in a stressful situation. The second failure was a loss of power on the upwind segment of our departure.

Q: Take us through the maneuvers on your flight.

A: I was asked to perform steep turns, stalls, ground reference maneuvers, as well as slow flight under simulated instrument conditions.

I tried to fly each maneuver methodically, saying my actions out-loud, almost as if I was teaching it. Talking through each maneuver boosted my confidence, and every maneuver went well.

Q: Did you do all of your landings at one airport? Take us through the different landings you did

A: I did my landings at my home airport, McClellan Palomar (1/3) as well as a nearby airport, Fallbrook Airpark (2/3). Fallbrook was selected by me, because it was the closest airport to me when he gave me a rough engine. We completed short, soft, and normal landings all to a full stop.

Q: What was the least expected thing that happened during your flight?

A: A simulated power failure on departure. I had only practiced this scenario once before with a CFI. I stayed calm and tried to make the best decisions I could during the failure.

I attribute my success in this situation to my detailed briefing before each takeoff, which helped me to plan and execute the scenario. I simply pitched for best glide airspeed, found the best spot to land within 30 degrees of the nose, and then attempted to restore power.

Q: How long did the flight take?

A: My flight was 1.5 hours. There were times where my examiner gave me the option to make a touch-and-go or a full-stop landing. I always elected to make a full stop landing. This gave me more time to collect myself and get ready for the next takeoff.

Q: How did your examiner tell you that you passed the flight?

A: When he told me to taxi back to parking I knew that I was in a good position, but he informed me that I had passed the exam by telling me that he would print up my temporary airman certificate after we shut down.

Nicolas Shelton

Q: Any words of advice for other pilots going into their checkride flight?

A: Focus on the present task. If you feel like you made a mistake on a past maneuver, don't dwell on it. If your examiner didn't say anything, the maneuver met standards.

Don't let your stress snowball. Everyone around you is confident in your abilities, otherwise, you wouldn't have been signed off by your instructor for the checkride, and your examiner would not have passed you on the oral exam.

Nicolas Shelton
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