PilotPlanet Categories

Preparing for the Private Pilot Checkride 101

Posted in Flight Training

Tags: checkride, private pilot, examiner, do's and don'ts

Preparing for the Private Pilot Checkride 101

This is my first article for this web site. My hope is that it will help you prepare for your first check ride, the Private Pilot Practical Exam.

Preparing for the Private Pilot Checkride 101

Written By: Marc Nathanson retired Lt. Colonel USAF, CFI, CFII, MEI, DPE

I will point out not only the tasks that are required to pass the test, but also techniques that are tried and true and will help you impress the examiner thus proving your ability to safely (emphasis on safely) control your craft using good judgement and aeronautical decision making. Remember that "attitude is everything and that, in all probability, the examiner has a great deal more knowledge than you do at this point in your flying experience. He or she also has command as they will decide how the test, both ground oral and flight, will be conducted. Go with the flow, be flexible, show due respect, and perform the maneuvers as they were taught.

Do not try to second guess the examiner. If you are not clear what is being asked of you, ask. Do not perform a maneuver based on what you think the examiner wants. Know what he or she wants and remember to base your standards on those found in the Private Pilot Practical Test Standards.

Clear the airspace and remember that clearing turns are required before all stalls and slow flight. If you don't remember when to clear-clear using 2 90 degree turns in either the same or opposite directions.

The Bad Example

After so many years some of the details of my my first check ride, my Private Pilot Practical exam, are a bit fuzzy, but most of the details are very clear. My instructor had penned his signature in my logbook for the ride, I had passed the knowledge test which I had taken at the General Aviation District Office (GADO) at Norwood Airport just outside of Boston, MA while at home during my summer break from college, and I had met all the flight time experience requirements as per the FAA regulations of the 1960s. I was ready. Well, as ready as any young man who was going to take his first flight test could be; basically, I found that I was clueless about several aspects of the test. My instructor never explained what the Practical Test Standards (PTS) were. Back then, I had no idea they even existed. As a result, I did not know what the standards were for every task nor that I was to contact the examiner before the test. My instructor made the appointment and told me that I would have to fly to a different airport take the test with a Mr. Smith (not his real name). The day of the test, I saddled up one the flight schools Cessna 150 aircraft and flew to the airport where I would meet Mr. Smith, which was about 25 miles away, and parked at the far right end of a very long line of aircraft-all Cessnas, all looking pretty much the same as the 150 I was flying.

I walked into the operations area and waited in a corner too afraid to be noticed. Finally, someone very much older and with leather-like skin asked if anyone was here to take a check ride. I nervously raised my hand and he said, well, son, Mr. Smith is waiting for you in the back. I gathered myself and walked nervously to the back room where I met Mr. Smith who seemed bigger than life. He had a ruddy complexion, was a big man and had a piercing stare. I found out later that he had been in the Air Force and was a former Thunderbird.  He looked at me for just a moment  as my stomach churned away and I just wanted to run in the opposite direction. He asked me for my logbook, looked through a few pages and asked me if I had a hood (view limiting device approved by the FAA). I gulped and said I didn't think so. He stared at me and asked "why not?" I was petrified and just stood there in utter fear. He said, "well, maybe someone here will lend you one" as he proceeded out the door to the flight line. I reluctantly turned to the stern man I first met and he just stared at me. I meekly squeaked out my request to borrow a hood and he said that he would let me use one of theirs and that I should not have forgotten mine. I felt so small and ignorant.

I slunk out the door and fell into lockstep next to Mr. Smith who asked me where my airplane was. I was still in shock, but managed to locate it after an agonizing minute as I had already forgotten which side of the long line of aircraft it was. I thought he was going to flunk me for my inability to find my airplane-what a lousy way to begin the test. I thought to myself, I can't wait to get out of there, return to my dorm room and just hide. 

There was no briefing, no attempt to establish who was PIC (Pilot in Command), no discussion covering who would do what if we had a real emergency, or how to properly exchange the flight controls. Mr. Smith told me start, taxi out, takeoff, and head South of the field. By this time, I was actually feeling better now that I was in the airplane. It is an odd psychological effect simply sitting in an airplane. I tend to relax, put on my game face and get to work, even while experiencing the massive amount of "checkitis" I was experiencing.  I taxied out, performed the Before Takeoff Checks and took off heading South as instructed. It's very hard for me to remember the details of the flight after so many years, but they were hard to remember back then as well. I do remember performing at least one stall and slow flight. Then I was asked to perform a maneuver I had not heard about and had to ask what he wanted to see. Mr. Smith said "never mind" and we moved on to a couple of landings and that was it. I was sure I had failed as he did not say a word, never helped clear the airspace and appeared to be annoyed having to administer the test. I felt very small and insignificant and my dreams of a career in aviation would begin with a terrible failure on my first check ride. Although I didn't want to quit flying, I felt that I had wasted a great deal of money and effort.

I taxied to the end of the parking line, performed the shut down checklist and Mr. Smith got out and headed for the operations building without any de-brief, you stink, or any indication of the quality of my check. I tied the airplane down and headed into operations expecting the dreaded pink slip. No one would talk to me so I kept my mouth shut in fear I would make someone mad. I waited, and waited, and waited some more for what seemed to be an eternity and longer. The suspense was too much so I told the gruff fellow at the desk that I might as well return to my home base and to please tell Mr. Smith that I appreciated his time. The fellow asked, in a somewhat condescending manner, if I wanted my certificate or not? You could have knocked me over with a feather! He said that Mr. Smith was in the back room filling out the paperwork and I should wait for him to come out. Well, he never came out, rather, someone else, whom I did not know brought me the certificate. I looked the paper over realizing I had passed and bolted for the door. I wanted to get outta there ASAP!

Approaching the end of the row of aircraft I looked for my aircraft. That beautiful Cessna 150 that I had flown to my first successful flight test. I couldn't find her! I stood there stunned, thinking that she had been stolen.  Maybe I had not properly secured her as I couldn't remember if I had tied her down. Maybe that crusty old man had hidden her as a joke-no, as I couldn't imagine anyone being that cruel besides, I think they had seen me suffer enough already. Besides, I think they would have had a good laugh just watching me walk in circles trying to find my airplane. I stopped, tried to calm myself down and decided that the possibility existed that I had parked my trusty steed at one end of the long line of aircraft when I arrived and at the other end at the completion of the check ride. Sure enough, there she was. At the far end of the other side of the line. I walking behind the line of aircraft hoping no one would see me, checked her out and leapt into the cockpit and left at the speed of heat happy to be airborne on my way back to home base.

The flight back was a dream and, somehow, I made it to the ramp and back to my dorm where I was met by a couple of my pals. We celebrated as young college students do and I went to sleep still wondering what happened to me that day. 

The Question

My question to you is this; how would you feel if you were treated the way Mr. Smith treated me? Since that day, I have taken many check rides, both as a civilian, a military pilot, an airline pilot, and now as a FAA Designated Pilot Examiner and I have never been subject to the same treatment. Most FAA Inspectors and examiners I have taken check rides from were professional, courteous, and fair. They took the time to brief and de-brief the flight so there was never a question what was being asked of me, what I did well and what I needed to pay more attention to. I always learn something during a check ride as a result of the briefings and debriefings. As a young boy my father told me that people write on the scroll of paper that becomes your  memories and these inspectors and examiners did just that. I learned the proper way to administer check rides and some things that are not appropriate from these people of experience.

Examiners Do the Right Thing

As a result of my check ride experiences and training received from both the FAA and military in administering flight exams, I learned that the screaming and overbearing examiner must to be a thing of the past. Applicants spend a great deal of time and money training for their certificates and this should be recognized with a professional demeanor of the examiner.

For example, it is important to put the applicant at ease. They are nervous and adding to it defeats the purpose of the test. I will add stress at the appropriate point in the ride to see if they can handle it as per the PTS keeping in mind that the stressor (read distraction) is realistic. As an example of a real life distraction, I may announce that there is "simulated" smoke coming from under the instrument panel to test an applicant's ability to correctly handle an electrical fire. I won't compound this emergency by adding another emergency as this is unrealistic even though the possibility of compound emergencies exists. Emergencies tend to compound themselves as a result of poor judgement due to a lack of systems knowledge or airmanship. 

Modern emergency checklists found in chapter 3 of most Pilot Operating Handbooks (POH) will have emergency items printed in BOLDFACE. Memorize these or, at the very least, know what they are so you perform them in order and correctly. The airlines and military test pilots on these during every check ride.  These are in boldface for a very good reason, they are time sensitive and, in some cases, if not performed correctly could exacerbate the problem. 

Your Check Ride

When an applicant contacts me asking if I will administer their check ride I am obligated to tell them that the ride will be based on their particular rating or certificate FAA Practical Test Standards (PTS). Reading the PTS is important as the applicant must understand what is in the this document and what will be asked of them during the ride. Training for a check ride is a costly endeavor and the goal is to pass it on the first attempt.  Following the Applicant's Checklist in the PTS will help by ensuring you have done all those things required for the check ride.

You will note that this checklist also tells you what to bring such as a view limiting device (hood or Foggles), your personal logbook, aircraft logbooks, medical/Student Pilot Certificate, charts (make sure they are current) etc.

Now, with that said, here are some other things you should consider before walking through the door. Before the ride seek an evaluation from another instructor. This should be done as the last ride before the check.  The evaluation should include a thorough oral covering all areas in the PTS and those areas missed on the knowledge exam and a scenario based flight evaluation. All tasks in the PTS should be covered in a sensible manner which is accomplished by the evaluating CFI building a realistic scenario. FAA pamphlet 8900.2 covers how to build scenarios and may be viewed on the FAA site, faa.gov. This is the Examiner's handbook and you should look at it as it answers many questions concerning how an examiner conducts a test. I strongly suggest Instructors use thIs as a reference as it will answer many questions concerning certificate application and qualification. 

An example of a scenario I use is based on a cross country flight from Hanscom Field in Bedford, MA  (KBED) to one of several airports, White Plains, NY (KHPN) being one of them. I ask questions based on this cross country scenario beginning by asking about what are the required documents blending into questions about aircraft systems, pre- flight, Single Pilot Cockpit Management (SPRM), type of takeoff, and how best to find an acceptable divert field. Expect questions concerning weather and how to interpret METARS, TAFS and other weather products. What airspace you will fly through, airport information found on the charts and in the Airfield Directory, and weather and altitude requirements for the direction of flight.

Although the examiner may not ask many detailed questions  during the course of the practical exam, the evaluating CFI should go as deep as possible to ensure the applicant has the depth and breadth of knowledge necessary to pass the practical exam and, most important, is a safe pilot. Obviously, one can't know everything, so it is important for the instructor to ensure their student is capable of not only reciting knowledge items, but also understands and comprehends them.

The Private Pilot Flight Exam Profile

Here is an example of a Private Pilot Practical Exam profile:

The oral exam, conducted on the ground and must be completed before flying, should be based on a scenario such as a cross country flight as described in the last paragraph. You will be asked questions based on the cross country flight plan to include what to do if you must divert to another airport due to weather. My questions are based on those that were missed on the Knowledge test and from my personal question bank which is based on the knowledge areas required by regulations. Go to faa.gov to find the list of questions in the knowledge exam. The list will not give you the exact question, rather it gives you the general area of a question. If an applicant has difficulty answering a question, I usually ask it in a different way. Many times I find that the applicant knows the answer they just needed to hear the it asked differently.

The flight scenario may look something like this:

Short or soft field takeoff. you should memorize these procedures and the proper "V" speeds (Vy and Vx) for all takeoff types (Short, short over an obstacle, soft, soft over an obstacle, and normal climb V speeds). Remember to note the takeoff time as the cross country may be the first task to be evaluated when airborne (I have heard that some examiners will have you perform takeoffs and landings first). It is a very good idea to have a watch or timepiece with you and not rely on the aircraft clock as it may not work. Finding that the aircraft clock does not work as you are cleared to take the runway is not a good way to begin the flight.   Besides, the Examiner will wonder why you keep punching the start button of an inop clock. I would suggest having your own timepiece even when flying the cosmic new G-1000 or Avidyne systems. Why leave anything to chance. You need a reliable timepiece to determine checkpoints and for the divert.

On the first leg of the cross-country, and possibly over a prominent landmark (possibly not), the Examiner diverts you to another airport. You should know how to get an update of the weather. Calling the flight service station  by using the frequencies found just above the VOR information boxes on the charts or airborne weather advisory services are best methods. Remember that you may have to listen on the VOR frequency unless that frequency is underlined.  The underline indicates that the VOR frequency is being used for something else such as HIWAS. If so, there will be other frequencies annotated on the top edge of the box that you can transmit and receive on. You may also ask for assistance from Approach Control, but they may be too busy unless you declare an emergency.

After you figure the time and heading to the divert point, you may find yourself flying the aircraft under the hood demonstrating your ability to fly the aircraft in the weather. It is a very good idea to circle over a prominent landmark, calculate divert numbers, and make absolutely sure you fly over the landmark you used as your starting point for the divert.

You may be allowed to use VORs to help you determine where you are once you figure your heading and estimated time of arrival (ETA) over the divert field. Once you determine you are over your divert field, it is important to remember not to continue on your heading as you might be right over the field or landmark. The aircraft's belly or wing (low wing aircraft) may cover it so the best course of action is to turn and pick a landmark to base your search pattern on. Fly a circular pattern and compare what you see to what is on your chart. If nothing looks familiar, use the VOR (or GPS if the examiner will let you which I never allow) to take a fix. Use the FROM function of the VOR using radials from at least two VORs as cross references. The closer the radials are to 90 degrees to each other the better. Sometimes, we just can't see the field, but we know we are at least in the vicinity. I used an dirt runway next to a river when I gave check rides in South Korea.  There were a few applicants who could not see the field as it blended in with the river bed. I would pass them as I was quite certain they would eventually find it. I did want them to be absolutely sure they knew that it was nearby.


Once you find the divert field, the examiner may leave you under the hood to perform the four fundamentals (straight-and-level, turns, climbs, descents) and recover from unusual attitudes-normally nose high-low airspeed and nose low-high airspeed. I developed a nose low-low airspeed unusual attitude maneuver to prove that one can find themselves in this situation. It is possible the examiner may throw a descending spiral at you. If so, use the attitude indicator to roll wings level and raise the nose to level flight and reduce power if your airspeed is headed to the yellow arc. Sounds simple, but better practice with an instructor.  When you move up to the instrument rating ride, you will be asked to recover without the attitude indicator.  Roll to level using the turn indicator and raise the nose until the Vertical Velocity Indicator shows level or a slight climb. Just something to think about.

Remember that some light aircraft such as the Cessna 172 have a Utility category that you may be operating in. You may pull up to 4.4gs or 4.4 times the weight of the aircraft during the pull out. Your aircraft will most likely not have a g meter installed so how hard does one pull?  It is a pretty hefty pull so don't worry about breaking anything so  long as you don't snap the elevator control back. Just a nice firm and steady pull. Lets see... if it were for real and at low altitude, pull pretty hard or hit the ground?  Doesn't seem like much of a choice to me. Now that you have proven that you can fly under the hood and demonstrate you can control your craft through the 4 fundamentals you will be asked to remove the vision limiting device (hood or foggles).  

The next tasks you may be asked to perform could be slow flight, steep turns to the left and right followed by power-on and power-off stalls with  the power off stall entered with full flaps (and landing gear extended if so equipped). Make sure you perform the clearing maneuvers which are required before stalls and slow flight. Forget these and you could have a problem passing the test. Of course, you can clear before every maneuver if you so choose.

It is important not to fly out of the airspace you just cleared. I teach my students to reduce power in the second half of the clearing turn to slow to takeoff speed if performing the power-on stall and to flap extension speed when performing the power-off stall with flaps. Remember to hold altitude until you finish the clearing turns and before the actual performance of the climb (power-on stall) or descent (power-off stall). Begin the power-on stall by slowing to takeoff speed, then add power (full or 65% minimum if in a high powered aircraft) and raise the nose and perform the stall and recovery. 

The power-off stall requires the applicant to begin a descent before raising the nose to stall the aircraft.  This is to demonstrate the glide before the pitch-up for the stall as it would be expected to occur in the traffic pattern. Remember that we practice stalls at a safe altitude, but they occur at lower, traffic pattern altitudes with less altitude to recover before ground contact. The PTS requires a recovery from all stalls above 1,500' above ground level (agl) so know what the msl altitude of the terrain is and add 1,500'. It is wise to add a bit more altitude to this just to be safe.

I always have the applicant perform the power-on stall climbing in a left turn using only 15-20 degrees of bank. This is a worst case scenario as, if the aircraft is not flown in a coordinated manner, the aircraft could enter a spin to the left due to the left turning tendency caused by "P" factor exacerbated by adverse yaw caused by trying to maintain a bank angle with opposite aileron forcing the nose to the left.  

You should have been asked about stalls and spins in the oral. Look these up in the FAA manual, FAA-H-8083-3A.  You can find this at faa.gov or you may purchase it at a flight school or pilot shop. This is the manual that the maneuvers and knowledge questions are based. A list of other references are in the Practical Test Standards (PTS). It is important not to stall the aircraft for a second time (secondary stall) and to minimize altitude loss. An effective method to reduce altitude loss in light aircraft such as the Cessna 172 or Piper Archer is to add back elevator pressure at 60knots after the stall is broken and full power has been applied as the aircraft is now flying and will nicely respond to the back pressure resulting in minimum altitude loss during recoveries from both power on and off stalls.

After demonstrating you can safely  turn using a steep bank of 45 degrees, fly slow (slow flight), stall the aircraft and recover back to cruising speed and level flight you could be asked to demonstrate an emergency such as an engine failure. I may ask what the applicant would do if he or she smelled burning wires (electrical fire). I expect them to perform those checklist items that are time sensitive in nature such as turning off the master switch which will kill all of the aircraft power (except the engine, of course) then refer to the checklist. Take a look at chapter 3 (in most modern day aircraft) in the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) and you will see checklist items that are printed in bold. These must be memorized as they must be performed in a timely manner. There may not be enough time to look up the procedure as, in a real situation, the aircraft may be on fire or the engine may have stopped running and the items in boldface must be completed immediately in order to get the engine running or put out a fire or resolve other serious malfunctions.  

Although you want to react quickly (in a timely manner) to an emergency, it does no good to do something that makes things worse. Take a breath and, with a measured pace, go through the boldface items only as fast as you can correctly accomplish them. You can expect to descend to an altitude that will show the examiner that you could actually land on the selected emergency landing field or airport. Don't forget to properly configure the aircraft. The Pilot Operating Manual (POH) may recommend keeping the landing gear or flaps up when landing on certain types of terrain. 

It is of the utmost importance to head for a spot on the ground that will result in a properly flown downwind, base and final approach if altitude permits. Keep the landing pattern familiar, just like the one you fly when landing at an airport. Altitude permitting, this point on the ground should be abeam the touchdown point on the field or runway at traffic pattern altitude. Your lateral distance from the runway should allow a turn at the 45* point adjusting the turn for wind which may require a turn to base leg sooner with a stronger headwind when on final. The proper distance in a high wing Cessna is when the center of the landing point is half way up the strut.

Use flaps, slips, or extend the landing gear (if equipped) to help maintain a glide path that will ensure you can land in the first third of the landing surface adjusting the landing point as you near the landing area.  Watch the effects of the wind. Better to be a bit high than to be too low missing the landing surface. Lots of practice here. Note the effects of the wind every time you practice this. A good instructor will have you practice the turn from downwind and land at the airport without using power under different wind conditions until you are proficient.

The Examiner will tell you when to stop the descent. However, if the Examiner says nothing and the trees are getting big, ask if he or she has seen enough and perform a go-around. Not a bad idea to establish how low you will be asked to go during the pre-flight briefing. I usually take the aircraft at this point so the applicant can see the landing surface and have a chance to see if the approach was properly flown.

Just as an aside (and a little pearl of wisdom for your clue bag)

There are times when a system does not operate as advertised and you must find out why and either correct the situation or go to plan "B".  Consider using this little memory item; Switch, Breaker, Book.  Look at the switch. Was it positioned correctly? Did it return to its previous position unnoticed turning the system off? If it is where it should be, check the condition of the circuit breaker. Is it in our out? If it is out (tripped) don't be in a hurry to reset it. Feel the breaker and if it is warm or hot wait at least 2 minutes from the time you first recognized that it was tripped before attempting to reset it. Try to reset it only once. If it pops out again, leave it out unless it is critical to flight then, hold it in only when you need the system such as for lowering the landing gear or flaps expecting the worst-have a plan if this happens. Never reset a fuel pump circuit breaker.  Some fuel pumps are either near the fuel source (fuel tank) or submerged in the tank such as in some military aircraft. Resetting the circuit breaker could cause a short thus igniting the fuel fumes with catastrophic results. You must know if the loss of a fuel pump will affect the amount of fuel available. Sometimes, the loss of a fuel pump will reduce the amount of useable fuel if that pump is used to transfer fuel or feeds fuel from the front or rear of the tank (normally in larger aircraft). 

Low Altitude Maneuvers/Ground Reference Maneuvers

These are Turns Around a Point, "S" Turns Across a Road, and low altitude engine failure or other emergencies that require immediate action. These maneuvers are performed at 1,000' agl and within gliding distance of an emergency field if possible. Know the average altitude of the terrain or refer to your chart and add 1,000'. Think about the possibility of an engine failure, either real or simulated and have a plan in case this happens. Yes, engines have actually failed during flight checks.

Turns Around A Point

Big clue; pick points as you fly around the point that are equidistant from the point. The examiner wants you to know what effect the wind has and how to compensate for it. Consider this; if you are flying downwind, the wind will increase the groundspeed requiring a steeper bank to turn the corner and maintain your distance form the point. An increase of groundspeed acts as sort of slingshot and you must increase your bank not to be slung to far from the point.

As you turn crosswind, the wind will try to push you away from or into the point (depending if the wind is from the left or right) so you must turn to point the nose either inside or outside of the turn enough to keep the radius equal. Again, fly over a ground reference using coordinated flight controls and the distance will be correct. The effects of the wind increases and decreases as you fly into the wind, away from it, and crosswind.  

S Turns Across a Road

Like Turns Around a Point, the loops must be equidistant from the road. You should look at the diagram in your training manual or FAA manual FAA-H-8083-3A. Here is a little trick. After flying over the road at a 90 degree angle to the road, turn and at the 45* point, place the wing on the road and hold it there until you are once again flying over the road at a 90* angle. By using this method, you will correct for the wind and fly at the proper 90* angle to the road as you reverse the  turn one way to the other as you pass over the road. Remember, in a high wing aircraft, to look (clear the airspace) into the turn before the wing covers that area. Clear in a low wing aircraft when the wings is lowered and you can see towards the direction you are turning into.

Low Altitude Engine Failure

The examiner may have you fly over an area that has no acceptable emergency landing field. If you have a choice, fly the aircraft to an area that has an acceptable field when performing Turns Around a Point and S Turns. Make it clear to the Examiner that you wish to perform maneuvers in the vicinity of an emergency landing field. You may still be driven to an area that does not have an acceptable field so you must know how to land in trees or other undesirable surfaces.

The examiner may reduce the throttle to idle and announce "simulated engine failure".  What is important, restarting the engine or landing? When the engine fails there are no guarantees that it will restart. You must ensure you attain glide speed using elevator trim  to help, head for a point next to the emergency field that is the same pojnt you fly in the airport traffic area, and place the aircraft in a position from which it can be safely landed with the greatest chance of survivability for the occupants. Then, and only then, trouble shoot the problem. Fuel feed problems are the most common reason for engine failures, but finding the problem still does not guarantee the engine will restart. If you are flying an aircraft with a manual primer and nothing else gets the engine to run, try using it. You may have to pump it to keep the engine running until you make the field. I would consider using full carburetor heat as soon as you suspect the engine is having problems if you think carburetor ice may be the issue. The Examiner should tell you if the engine will restart as a result of your efforts.

Return to Base (RTB) and Landings

It behooves you to know where you are and how to get back to the airport. I allow the applicant to use the GPS and VOR at this point if they have not used it for the cross country phase before the divert as I need to know they can use it. Remember that if something is installed in the aircraft, you are responsible to know how it works. If you have a question concerning your responsibilities concerning the use of a particular piece of equipment, better ask the examiner days (not minutes) before the test.

I may have them go direct to a VOR on a radial (course to the station) that takes them towards the airport.

You must correctly enter the traffic pattern at the proper altitude and fly the pattern in a manner that allows you to flow with the traffic not going too far from the field for a particular type of landing. In other words, don't fly 3 miles from the airport when 1 mile is far enough. Expect to demonstrate short, soft and normal takeoffs and landings. I allow the applicant to choose the type takeoff on the initial departure on the cross country phase of the check then have them do the remaining takeoff and landing types at the end of the test. 

Soft Field Takeoff

When performing the soft field takeoff, remember that there is a specific attitude that you must set in order to transfer the weight from the wheels to the wings. Memorize this attitude. Make sure not to hit the tail on the runway while holding enough nose up attitude to allow the aircraft to become airborne as soon as it can.  You are expected to hold enough back elevator-usually full aft elevator, until the nose begins to rise. Then, release just enough nose up elevator to position the nose to a climb attitude as demonstrated buy your instructor during your training. Note where the horizon passes through the instrument panel as you would when establishing climb attitude after takeoff. Remember that "P" factor, which will try to yaw the aircraft to the left, will begin when the nose is raised. Right rudder is used to hold the references in the same position and to stop the nose from yawing to the left. Hold this attitude until the aircraft becomes airborne then lower the nose (reduce pitch attitude) just enough to fly just above the runway in ground effect. Remember that the aircraft is in ground effect when within one half the wingspan above the runway. Accelerate to either Vy if continuing a normal climb or Vx if the examiner tells you there is an object in the way. Check the Pilot Operating Manual for the proper procedure. Don't forget to raise the flaps if used at the proper altitude and airspeed. I find forgetting to raise the flaps to be a very common error. Do it at a safe altitude, say, a few hundred feet and at the proper airspeed. In the Cessna 172S it is 60knots.   

Short Field Takeoff

In most light aircraft, the short field takeoff begins by holding the brakes and applying full or recommended power to allow the engine to accelerate to the proper rpm. I have heard experts of aerodynamics say that the difference between holding the brakes and running the engine up as opposed to releasing them then adding takeoff power is negligible. Do what the POH says, as the test pilots determined that this is the most efficient procedure and the Examiner will expect you to perform the takeoff in accordance with it's guidance.  Allow the aircraft to accelerate to within 5kts of liftoff speed, then ease the elevator up with back pressure and set the proper attitude. Once the aircraft becomes airborne maintain the attitude that yields Vx (Best Angle of climb). Attitude is everything in this case as you don't want to hunt for it or chase the airspeed by making large pitch changes. Set the pitch, see what airspeed it yields then make small corrections to the pitch attitude that results in Vx. There are two scenarios from this point. One could be just a takeoff from a short field with no obstacle and the other from a short field with an obstacle. All that needs to be demonstrated when the takeoff is performed without the obstacle is to get airborne then climb at Vy retracting the flaps at a few hundred feet and at the proper speed.

The difference when clearing an obstacle is to maintain Vx until clear of the simulated obstacle, then accelerate and raise the flaps. The obstacle is considered to be 50' high, so, add this hight to the field elevation and lower the nose when above it raising the flaps as before.

It is important that during all takeoff rolls the aircraft be held on the centerline using appropriate cross wind controls to offset the cross wind. The rudder keeps you straight and the ailerons keep the aircraft from skipping sideways across the runway. If you experience a skipping action you are not using enough aileron into the wind. Just turn the control wheel or place the control stick more to the side opposite the skipping (skipping to the right requires more left aileron and vice versa) reducing the amount of aileron as the airspeed increases when they become more effective and almost neutral when the aircraft becomes airborne.  The FAA suggests that the aircraft should rotate about the upwind wheel when becoming airborne. Keep the aircraft straight down the runway and, when airborne, control "P" factor with enough right rudder to center the ball and level the wings. Then, turn into the wind enough to keep the aircraft track down the centerline of the runway. It is ok to look for the runway out the back window of a Cessna or bank enough to see it below and correct for crosswind. 

Soft Field Landing

Think of the soft field landing as a normal landing with full flaps except that you want to use just enough power to allow for a soft touchdown and to hold the nose wheel off the soft surface reducing the power to allow it to gently contact the surface. Landing on a soft surface may require you to hold the nose wheel off until you reach a surface that will allow steering and not result in the nose wheel becoming bogged down.  How much power should you use? Finding the proper amount of power comes with practice. You will determine what this sounds like and that will be the proper amount. Too much power will result in too high an airspeed resulting in a level landing attitude and too little will result in the aircraft touching down a bit harder with the nose wheel contacting the surface before you are ready for it to do so. I challenge the applicant to hold the nose wheel off until I tell them to reduce power and allow it to settle to the runway. Do not push the elevator control forward. Reducing the power to idle will allow the nose wheel to gently lower to the ground while you hold the elevator at the same point it was on landing increasing up elevator to keep the nose wheel light so it won't dig into the surface.

Short Field Landing

This is the more difficult of the landings as it requires you to control both vertical speed and airspeed to the degree that you can clear a 50' obstacle and land near a point on the runway and stop in the shortest distance possible. Whoa buddy-that's a lot to do, but it is necessary if you are going to pass the test and, more important, if you are actually flying into a short field, say 1,600' airport that has trees at one end of the runway and a fence at the other. 

It is ok to set up for a longer final than used for a normal approach and landing. This allows you to figure out and set up for a crosswind and to intercept the glide path from below. Know what base rpm to use with full flaps that will result in the proper rate of descent at the proper airspeed. Again, this takes practice as the effects of a headwind will change the amount power required. The stringer the headwind, the slower the descent rate. If you have a GPS, multiplying ground speed by 10 then dividing the result by 2 will give you the descent rate to maintain a 3 degree glide path. For example, if your ground speed is 90 knots, your descent rate for a 3 degree glide path will be 450 feet per minute. You may need a steeper path to clear the obstacle, but this will get you in the ball park.

You should adjust power to control the vertical speed and pitch to control airspeed. I expect that there are those of you who feel this is backwards, but the goal is to blend these two inputs to control airspeed and vertical speed. Too slow and above the glide path, simply lower the nose. Slow and below the glide path, add power and reduce the pitch angle. Manipulate the controls to arrive at 50' agl above the obstacle.  Do not reduce the power until you enter the flare. If you are on-speed (which is very slow) and reduce the power to idle you will see the aircraft fall out from under you and possibly stall-talk about a bad day! You may reduce power if the airspeed is above the required short field airspeed, but only enough to compensate for the excessive airspeed. Make absolutely sure you land on the main gear (aircraft with a nose wheel) as with any landing and hold the elevator where it is until applying the brakes. Then add more aft elevator pressure as you use the brakes to keep the weight on the main wheels and off the nose wheel. 

OK, so now your done with the flying-whew!

The check ride is not over. Taxi off with the nose wheel on the yellow taxi line (if there is one) maintaining the center of the runway then the center of the taxiway, cross the hold line and don't touch anything-no changing frequencies or raising the flaps until across the hold line leaving enough room for another aircraft behind you to clear the runway as well. Take a big breath and think about what needs to be done next.  Using a flow for the after landing checks is ok. For the Cessna, power to about 1,000 RPM, change to the ground control frequency (if there is a tower) or call on CTAF that you are clear of the runway, lean the mixture looking for a rise in RPM, raise the flaps, turn the transponder off, and turn off or on the lights as appropriate-then, check that you did everything correctly by referring to the checklist. Call ground control if there is one and try not to hit anything taxiing back to the ramp or hangar. Go slow. The examiner will let you know how you did soon enough so don't stop flying the aircraft until it is parked, shut down and secured. You are responsible until it is in the hangar or tied down. Stub your toe as you walk into operations will not cause a failure of the check. Performing an unsafe act in the aircraft will.

You Passed-What happens Now?

The examiner will give you your temporary certificate which will be either handwritten or printed depending on what application process was used. You must sign your new pilot certificate as directed by the examiner.  This must be carried by you when you fly until you receive your permanent certificate which you must have with you when you fly as well. The permanent certificate will arrive between 90-120 days. The FAA has 120 days to mail the certificate to you. If you do not receive it in 90 days, call the examiner who will help you track it down. You may not fly with the temporary after 120 days. The FAA must then issue you a new temporary with a new date of expiration. Don't forget to sign your new permanent certificate.


What if the Ride Did Not Go Well?

Ok. Your pride is hurt and you can expect to experience the emotions that accompany a denial of your certificate. Listen carefully to the examiner who will outline what you must do to pass the re-check. Have your instructor call the examiner (as an examiner, I always call the instructor to de-brief the ride) to determine what needs to be done to prepare you for the next ride. Give yourself time to recover from the disappointment, but not so long that your skills go sour, only a day or two, then get back in the saddle and concentrate on preparing for the next flight. You have the option to take the ride with another examiner if you wish, but consider that you now know the examiner you just flew with and will most likely better understand what he or she wants to see on the re-check. The chances of passing the next ride are very good if you pay attention to the debriefing and receive the training necessary to prepare for the recheck. Just practice what needs to be practiced, but remember that you are still responsible for all PTS tasks that you are necessary to get the airplane from the ramp, airborne, fly the re-check, land, and get her back to the ramp. 

There is no shame. You are not the first person to have this problem. I find that those receiving a recheck do much better and are safer as they now understand what the purpose of the maneuver is and they are not as nervous and are more focused. The examiner should make efforts to put you at ease and make what is expected of you very clear as he/she should have done this on the first ride. 

Now what?

So, now you have passed your Private Pilot Practical Exam and are a newly anointed Private Pilot who can now fly single engine airplanes. Use your newly minted certificate wisely. Continue to seek out and receive training to keep your self sharp, hone your skills and become a better pilot. Have fun, but plan each flight as you should have done in training. Don't experiment with new or contentious maneuvers until you receive proper training from a qualified instructor. 

Check out the FAA web site (faa.gov) for information. Make the effort to attend FAA safety meetings. Call your local Flight Safety District Office (FSDO) who will help you find the web site that will inform you of the meetings. You can find the phone number on faa.gov. They are informative and may be used towards the requirements for your Flight Review. 

As before, check for TFRs, the weather and local NOTAMS before flying. You spent a lot of money, effort, and time to qualify for your Private Pilot Certificate and it would be a shame to lose or have your certificate suspended because you did not go through your personal, per-flight checklist to ensure you will not fly through restricted airspace or into contentious weather. Don't rush. Stay in touch with your instructor and flight school. Don't wait for your Flight Review to train. Although flying is not cheap, keep in mind that flying infrequently increases the chances of an accident or a violation. You spent a great deal of time and money on your certificate, why jeopardize it by not staying sharp and informed. 

Have fun, but above all, stay sharp and informed.

User Comments:

PilotPlanet Home Local Flight Schools Local Airports Rental Plane Finder Compare Airplanes Aviation News & Articles Flight School Configurator