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A New Pilot's Checkride Report
Posted by Randy H. to Sport Pilot Talk
Used by permission

A write up of my recent check ride for those who may be nearing the mark.

I took my check ride on March 1, 2013. The DPE was very thorough. He starts by explaining the process with a flow chart so that the student understands every step. Next he moves on to paperwork. In my case we hit a few snags. My instructor and I had missed a few digital signatures in IACRA, my log book was vintage 1989 stock and did not have some of the newer SPL/LSA endorsements. Additionally, we had overlooked the signoffs on my student pilot license for solo and solo cross country. All that took almost an hour to resolve.

Next was the oral part of the exam. The DPE asks questions in an open ended manner - no multiple choice like the written here. He is looking for you to demonstrate complete understanding and not just memorized answers. I would say the best prep for the oral is the pre-solo tests along with a good understanding of the sectional and the sectional legend. The DPE asked me questions about runway/taxi way markings that I had not been asked before - he did allow me to use reference material to answer a few questions that stumped me (I had the AIM and PHAK on my iPad).

Be sure to get a WX brief the morning of your check ride, and know if any airports on your route are affected by NOTAMS or TFRs. Be able to explain what may be going on in nearby MOAs, and know where to look on the sectional for the details for each. Have all the documents needed for flight out on a table: POH, WB, AW cert, registration, logbooks. Be able to explain how much fuel is on board and why, be sure you are not over gross, explain where you plan to re-fuel during the cross country, and make sure that airport has fuel!

The DPE had given me a destination airport for cross country planning that was inside a Mode C 30 nm radius veil. I told him I could get him as far as the closest airport outside the veil, because we were not equipped with a transponder. He then wanted to know if I could get him to the airport if we had the required transponder. This stumped me at first, because I knew I did not have an endorsement for Class B,C or D airspace, and I wanted to say no. But a closer look at the sectional showed that the airport was not in controlled airspace, just inside the mode C veil - so the correct answer was yes. After the check ride the DPE informed me that you can ask for a waiver to fly into the mode C veil without a transponder, and that carrying said waiver during the flight would make things legal.

The actual check ride: Be deliberate and thorough with the pre-flight, use the checklist. Brief the DPE on what is expected of passengers, seat belts, watch for traffic etc. Know what runway you plan on using by listening to the AWOS and checking the wind socks - but be flexible. As I taxied out, a light quartering head wind favored 29, but there was traffic in the pattern, and one plane ahead of me that were using 11. With 11 being a left hand pattern, and 29 being right hand I felt the safest option was to use 11 and stay with the traffic, rather than risk a head on during down wind.

We started with a soft field take off, followed by a short field landing. With the wind I got a bit of a push on final for 11, and opted to go around. On the go-around I still had a bit of a push on final, and my short field landing was a bit long - I thought I had failed it, but unless the DPE tells you that you have failed, just keep going! Next was a short field take off, followed by a normal landing. Then we were off with a normal take off to the first two check points of the cross country.

We then did stalls, power off and power on. Next was slow flight with a 90 degree turn.

During the slow flight, the DPE informed me that we had lost partial power, and he asked me what I was going to do. I picked a dirt strip at a nearby ranch, and headed toward it. He asked if we were going to make it, and I said yes, if the engine did not fail any further (it was making 1700 RPM). He then informed me that we had lost all power, and wanted to know what the plan was. I told him we were going to die... Then I picked the closest road and set up for it.

At ~800 AGL we magically regained power and recovered. Steep turns both ways were next, followed by turns around a point both ways. Then, he asked me if I knew what direction the airport was in. I indicated that I did, and headed that way. He then informed that there was a thunderstorm over the airport and wanted to know what I was going to do. I told him we would divert to the first airport on our cross country and sit it out, and headed in that direction.

Next was the in flight distraction. The DPE asked me what would be prudent to do if we were actually trying to avoid a thunderstorm. I mentioned that if it were an emergency, we could declare so on 121.5. He wanted to know what we would do if it was not an emergency but we just needed some help getting to the first clear airport. I said we could radio the FSS and ask for assistance, but I did not have the frequency handy. He wanted to know what I could do to obtain that information. I suggested an app on my iPhone and asked him for assistance in finding the FSS. He indicated that he was not familiar with that app. I then asked if he could hold a heading while I looked it up, he complied and we exchanged positive control using the customary "I have the controls", "you have the controls", "I have the controls" model.

I quickly found the FSS frequency, we exchanged positive control again and headed for the home airport. Near the airport an autogiro pilot indicated on the CTAF that he was in our general area near our same altitude. Neither of us was able to spot him, so I diverted to the North and then entered the pattern for runway 11 on a 45.

The DPE asked for a soft field landing, so I complied by keeping the weight off the nose wheel and extending the taxi so heavy braking was not needed. During the long taxi, I kept the plane on the left side of the runway. My instructor had taught me to do this as safety measure, should it become necessary to quickly exit the runway. The DPE thought I should taxi on the center line, but accepted my explanation for hugging one side. We taxied to the hangar and put the plane away. He told me he wanted to talk some things over, and we met for a debrief back in the office.

The DPE started the debrief by indicating that I had passed, and then went over a few items from the oral, and the flight. I told him I was sure I had failed the short field landing. He let me know that it was long, but that he had taken in consideration the variable light winds that had given us a bit of a push. He explained that I knew the technique and executed well enough for the conditions.

If I had it to do again, I would pursue the endorsement for controlled airspace. Not so important where I trained, but more relevant where I live - and it would have helped with some of the oral questions. From the flight, my biggest take away was that clause about becoming familiar with all aspects of the flight. I had done all of my x-c work and the vast majority of my training to the South East of the airport. My check ride cross country destination was to the North West and the majority of the flight took place there as well. My instructor had taken me out to the area for a flyover and a practice check ride, but I was generally more comfortable with the area I had trained in. That being said, I was very focused on the check points and not getting lost to the North West of the airport. I should have given more thought to alternates and had the FSS frequency in my notes.

Overall, the experience was great -- not the easiest thing you will ever do, but one of the most rewarding for certain!

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