Preparing for your private pilot checkride: Here’s what you need to know

by mcastellon on November 11, 2012

Preparing for your private pilot checkrideIn October I passed my private pilot checkride after 18 months of flight training.

I scored well on my written exam, but by the time my instructor signed me off to take the checkride I felt a degree of uncertainty. Part of this was due to high expectations I set for myself, and part of it was based on my knowledge that the examiner I was scheduled to test with had recently failed a number of students for various reasons.

I’m fortunate to have trained with a flight instructor who drives high standards and expectations. In addition, she’s a natural teacher who is able to communicate complex information effectively. Rather than just memorizing fragments of information, my CFI taught the whys and hows of systems, operations and regulations. But the checkride exams –– divided into an oral and a practical flying segment –– filled me with uncertaintity.

I channeled my nervousness into more studying and more flying. The end result paid off. I performed well and was issued my pilot’s license; When my examiner shook my hand and told me the job was well done, I felt like I had let out a breath I had been holding in for weeks.

To help other student-pilots out during this grueling process, I prepared the following guidelines on what to expect on the day of your checkride. I also provide a list of likely questions and topics that will come up during both your oral exam and your practical test.

What to expect

The checkride is divided into two parts: an oral exam and a practical flying test. You will sit with an examiner for about two hours where just about every detail about your airplane, logbook, regulations, decision-making and flying are fair game for questioning. You will be given scenarios and will be expected to talk your examiner through them. The ASA Private Pilot Oral Exam Guide is an excellent guide of questions and answers you are expected to know.

Following the successful completion of the oral exam, you will take a practical flying exam that requires you to fly as pilot-in-command with the examiner on board. You will be graded on your completion of a number of flight maneuvers and emergency procedures. The maneuvers you will be tested on are contained in the Practical Test Standards (PTS). The PTS details what constitutes successful completion of each. If you are unable to complete any of the maneuvers, you will fail the checkride and will need to retest. Similarly, if the examiner ever needs to take control of the airplane for safety reasons, you will fail and need to retest.

How to Prepare for Your Private Pilot Checkride

Read the FAA Practical Test Standards and ASA Private Pilot Oral Exam Guide as much as possible. These two publications contain everything you will be tested on.

Prior to your exam date, you will need to complete a series of administrative tasks including:

  • collecting engine, airframe and propeller maintenance logs;
  • obtaining the proper logbook signoffs and endorsements from you instructor;
  • completing the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application;
  • gathering your official knowledge test results; and
  • collecting current and up-to-date publications and documents such as the FAR/AIM, Airport/Facility Directory, sectional charts, and more.

Remember that presenting for the practical test with out-of-date publications, incomplete forms or incomplete logbook endorsements is grounds for the examiner to send you home without your license. Spend ample time collecting this information and making sure it’s in order.

· Remember that this checkride will be very much like the mock checkrides you took with your flight instructor. You wouldn’t be at this point if your CFI thought you weren’t prepared.

· Fly at the examiner’s airport as much as you can, even if it’s just 3 takeoffs and landings before your exam. Become familiar with the pattern and taxiways. My checkride was 120 miles away from my home airport at an airport I hadn’t flown before. It helped to fly throughout the area the morning of the exam to become familiar with the elevation, taxiway and runway nuances.

• For your oral exam be prepared, neat and organized. Having the information retrievable and neatly laid out inspires confidence.

• Use 3M sticker flags or Post-It notes to flag pages in your documents: airframe and engine logs, key logbook entries (see below), key sections in the FAR/AIM and AFD, and POH.

• Have your flight plan, METARs and latest weather from FSS available. You will likely ask about winds aloft. Know them in advance.

• Yes or no answers are fine in many cases. Don’t “go into the weeds” with your explanation –– you’ll likely stumble into an unfamiliar knowledge area.

• If you don’t know an answer, make one or two thoughtful guesses. If you honestly don’t know an answer, say you don’t know. Admitting you don’t know an answer demonstrates more acuity and confidence than bluffing. In all likelihood you’re going to be asked questions that weren’t part of your training and that are not in the oral exam guide. Relax. Listen.View the checkride as just another lesson. Pete will occasionally give you sound and sometimes profound aviation advice during the checkride. This is because he assumes that you’re going to be a new pilot in the next hour or two unless you give reason to the contrary.

• Do not rush through either the oral exam or practical test. “Reset” the aircraft and your mind before each maneuver. Count to 10 and breathe. The examiner will appreciate you carefully considering your next moves far more than you rushing into a task.

• Keeping the airplane well-trimmed frees you to consider your tasks and maneuver standards. Rather than wrestling with maintaining airspeed and altitude, stay well trimmed, watch for traffic and execute your tasks. Always be aware of what is happening in, to and around the aircraft. Remember, you’re pilot in command.

Oral Exam Practice Questions

  • What type of medical certificate do you have and how long is it valid?
  • Show logbook sign-offs for this checkride
  • Maintenance logs: Show the current annual, 100 hour. How long are they valid? When can you fly over these times?
  • What if your annual inspection expires?
  • Show weight and balance using the Center of Gravity Moment Envelope in the POH.
  • How do you find density altitude? What information do you need to calculate density altitude?
  • How do you find pressure altitude?
  • What are the minimum safe altitudes for our checkride maneuvers today?
  • Identify types of airspace on the sectional charts.
  • Victor airways and military training routes
  • Can a student fly into Bravo class?
  • How would you recover from a spin?
  • What would you do if you got lost?
  • Which way to turn if approaching another aircraft head on?
  • Hemispheric Rules
  • What is an isogonic line? How do we use it?
  • Which way to enter S-turns?
  • What are the following values for your aircraft? Va, Vfe, Vne, Vso, Vs1
  • What are maximum baggage weight for this airplane?
  • How much of a takeoff roll do we need today? (see POH)
  • How much horsepower is this aircraft?
  • What instruments would be affected by loss of suction?
  • What instruments do the pitot-static system drive?
  • Could you ever fly with a passenger who was drunk? Injured?
  • Are there any hydraulics on the plane?
  • How do you activate runway lighting at night?
  • How would you find the frequency for Flight Services when departing the airport today?
  • Why is the pitot tube fat at the top?
  • What do you look for in the air filter and inside engine cowl?
  • What would you do if the alternator belt slipped off its wheel?
  • What does the ELT antennae do?
  • What color is hydraulic fluid?
  • Which way the nose would go based on horizontal tail trim tab?

Practical Test Maneuvers

On my practical test, following the preflight inspection I conducted a normal startup, and listened to the local AWOS for a quick weather check. After taxing to the runway and completing the engine runup, my examiner asked me to perform a soft-field takeoff and depart on the heading as indicated on my flight plan.

Once we were on course, he asked me to identify landmarks on the sectional –– a small town, a highway and some power lines.

He then asked me to turn out to a practice area, at which time we conducted steep, 360-degree turns, slow flight with turns, and power-on and power-off stalls.

He then asked me to put on a view limiting device, and asked me to perform one nose high and one nose low recovery.

Following unusual attitude recoveries, the examiner asked me to complete turns around a point. My point was a rural church steeple.

I was told to fly to the nearest VOR station while wearing the view limiting device. I had an index card on my kneeboard that contained the local VOR information, but I still double checked it on the sectional chart.

My examiner noted that common mistakes made by many applicants include dialing in the wrong frequency, confusing “To” and “From” on the VOR indicator and not knowing how to find the VOR frequency on a sectional.

I flew us to the VOR station for another 2-3 minutes before the examiner asked me to fly us back to the airport.

En route to the airport, the examiner simulated an engine failure by cutting the throttle. I followed the engine-out procedures: achieved best glide speed, identified a landing field, turned to final and initiated the emergency checklist. Once I established glide speed and was properly setup for a final approach to the grass field, I simulated the engine restart procedures, squawked 7700 on the transponder, set the comm radio to 121.5, and began stowing loose items in the cabin, set the fuel tanks selector to off, set the fuel shutoff set to on, and noted to unlock the cabin doors prior to landing/impact.

Once the field was “made”, the examiner set the throttle to full power and told me to fly him back to the airport for landing and takeoff maneuvers.

Once in the vicinity of the airport, the examiner asked for a series of takeoffs and landings, including soft field, short field, and forward slip to landing.

He then asked for a normal landing. Once I was on final approach for the “normal” landing he announced a go-around due to simulated traffic pulling onto runway. I applied full power and raised the flaps incrementally once a positive rate of climb was achieved.

We came back in for one more landing to a full stop, at which point we were done and he advised that I had successfully passed. The entire flight was just over an hour.

I hope this guide helps, and I hope that if you have questions you’ll reach out to me.

Good luck!


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