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Subject:PPL Checkride - the rest of the story [really long]
From:Peter H. Schmidt
Date:Fri Nov 17 06:06:10 2000


As promised, this post has the full details of my private checkride,
which I completed successfully day before yesterday, 11/15/00. (Yeah!
At the risk of damaging the entertainment value of the story ("Always
them wanting more," my dad says), Ive tried to report as many of the
details as I can recall, since I got a lot out of other peoples
detailed checkride posts. And before I get into it, let me say that
this group has been a tremendous resource for me over the past 5
months. Thank you all for your stories, comments, links, and advice!

I have been flying with Executive Flyers Aviation out of Hanscom Field
(BED), Bedford, Massachusetts USA. This is a busy Class D GA airport,
with an increasing amount of commuter (Dash-8), corporate (Hawker,
Citation), and charter (727) traffic. EFA is a high-class outfit, and I
feel like Ive gotten a rigorous flying education there. I started in
mid-June, so my training has occupied 5 months. I had a bit over 70
hours before my checkride, meaning Ive been able to log a bit under 4
hours per week.

My progress was pretty steady, though they closed runway 5-23 for
resurfacing just as I was trying to polish my landings for solo.
Coincidentally, the wind was almost always 220 at 11 for the next month,
which meant I learned to land on 29 in a 70 deg left xwind. This took
me a bit longer than planned, and going on vacation for 3 weeks didnt
help. 5-23 is supposed to reopen next week, but anyway...

My instructor recommended Ray Collins as the right DE. He is a Delta
captain and frequent examiner with a reputation of being rigorous but
fair. His fee was $200. My checkride was originally scheduled for last
Thursday, the 9th.

On Sunday the 5th, my CFI and I met and filled out form 8710 with all my
info and logbook times. He wrote it, which is good, because his
handwriting is much neater than mine. He had me pull together the 8710,
my sealed written test report, my student pilot/medical certificate and
my logbook. He then copied the checklist out of the front of the PTS
and made sure I understood what other items I needed to pull together.
He stressed the importance of having all the paperwork correct and well
ordered. Lastly, he assured me that if I just flew like I did with him,
Id have no trouble passing.

I got a couple good tips from him and the Chief Pilot:

o If youre en route west on your (pretend) xc at 4,500 feet, and he
asks for a 180 deg turn, dont forget to descend to 3,500 feet, or to
<= 3,000, since youre now headed East! (Im sure this would have
caught me...)

o Dont forget to add half the gust speed to your approach speed, if
its gusty.

I was assigned to plan a xc from BED to Utica, New York. I picked UCA
out of the AFD as the "right" Utica field, though theres a smaller
Class G field nearby, not to mention Griffis (ex?) AFB.

The xc planning took a little longer than usual. The first decision was
whether to refuel. Even with pretty strong headwinds (23kts, say), the
flight would take about 2.5 hours. The plane (C152) carries about 3:45
usable (assuming a conservative 6.5gph burn rate), so even with a 1
hour, 6.5 gal reserve, the flight would leave 15 mins of fuel before
starting on the reserve.

Yah right! Of course I decided on a fuel stop - it was an opportunity
to demonstrate "a disciplined conservatism about fuel use." I would
probably have planned the stop even if it wasnt my checkride because an
hour and a half in a 152 is plenty long enough so I need to stretch my
legs. Going the full 2.5 without stopping doesnt appeal.

Next question was how far I could use the Gardner VOR (GDM), and would I
be able to pick up the Cambridge (CAM) VOR without losing GDM? For
this, I got out my AIM and found the section on VOR service volumes.
Very educational - above 1800 ft, you get 40nm radius. GDM and CAM are
about 67nm apart, so no problem. I did mark the overlap on my course
line, noting a good river/highway combination to use as a waypoint for
switching. This let me go around the Albany Class C without adding
unduly to the distance.

Then I looked and saw the straight shot to GDM VOR took me through
R-4102, a restricted area near our practice area. Wasnt going to be
caught by that one! I picked my first leg to go north of it via
Fitchburg (FIT). The sectional (at the bottom) says 4102 is only active
on Saturdays, but I asked FSS and they said every day. So, that
confirmed my plan to go around.

Lastly, I saw that UCA lies inside the Griffis TRSA, so I read up on
those. Looked to be little different from flight following or Class C
operation, so no big deal. I can turn to a heading and hold an
altitude. Still, I had to applaud the DEs assignment - it ensured
I had to grapple with some issues my student solo xcs hadnt raised.

Once I was done with the xc plan, I started studying for the oral. I
spent two days of moderately hard review, focusing on FAR part 91,
sectional symbology (reputed to be a pet subject of the DE), and the
PTS. In particular, I made sure I understood all the PTS requirements.

I flew with the Chief Pilot Monday morning, and the airwork went OK. He
had asked me what I wanted to practice, and I said steep turns and
ground reference maneuvers. I did OK on those, thought he helped me
clean them up a bit. He threw some hood work and unusual attitudes at
me, and that was fine. However, my landings were a bit ugly. He
properly diagnosed that I was fixating on the ASI, and "chasing" it
with pitch and power changes, making it hard to establish a good,
stabilized approach. The result was I was a bit low and slow on
final, leading to somewhat dropped-in landings.

On Tuesday morning, I was going to solo in the pattern to work on my
landings, but my CFI bummed a ride. He promised to be quiet, but I
think the bossman had spoken to him about my landings, and he was
looking to see how I was doing. I wasnt much better, so he went into
coaching mode, and that helped.

On Wednesday afternoon, I went to the hangar and got a tour of the mx
logs so I could show off the annual inspection and the ADs. That was
educational, and the mechanics were all really helpful and nice. I put
a big postit on the 5406Hs logbook saying "DONT TOUCH - checkride
11/9" and went home.

I was still bugged by the landing issue, so I got out "Stick and Rudder"
and flipped to the section on glides. And there I was! He described my
error explicitly as one of the typical student errors, and had the fix.
I needed to stay higher on short final than I had gotten into the habit
of flying, and keep the nose pointed at my aiming point, especially as I
went to 30deg of flaps. That plus trusting in the landing configuration
and not chasing the ASI would fix things, I felt sure. See, I had
gotten in the habit of flying kind of nose high ala slow flight on
final, and if you pick up excessive sink rate that way, theres not much
you can do about it that close to the ground.

I got up on the 9th, and the wx was as crappy as forecast. Low ceilings
and IFR. However, the Worcester TAF held out hope for the ceiling
lifting to 4,500 by 1pm, high enough to do the checkride. My CFI had
said it would be a bad idea for *me* to cancel the checkride for wx, so
I had to go ahead and finish preparing. I got my actual wx briefing and
the one for my pretend xc to UCA. The answer on that was an easy No Go
due to IFR conditions. Nevertheless, I worked my E6B and filled in my
magnetic headings, groundspeed and fuel burn for both legs. I was
interpolating up a storm - it was beautiful.

I couldnt do the weight and balance, though - I had forgotten to get
the weight and balance info the day before. I filled in what I could,
packed up and headed over to the FBO at about 12. That gave me an hour
to retrieve the logbook, check the ARROW docs in the plane, and finish
the weight and balance. I had put on the biplane tie and tie-tack my
wife had gotten me for luck, so while nervous, I was also eager to get
it done.

I grabbed the book, grabbed the keys, checked the papers, noted the
basic empty weight, the arm and the moment, and headed back inside. It
was about 12:30. Thats when I heard from my CFI the DE had scrubbed
due to the wx. I was pretty disappointed, especially that he hadnt at
least wanted to do the oral. I was eager to get the talking out of the
way before I forgot the Class G VFR rules again. Not only that, but the
wx was forecast as lousy for several days, so it wasnt going to happen
soon. I kind of stalked out of the FBO, harrumphed my way to the hangar
to drop off the logbook, and decided to go drown my frustration in a

Of course, the ice-cream place was closed. I didnt bite anyone, but
went home and growled for most of the rest of the afternoon...

CFI rescheduled for Wed the 15th at 10 am. I didnt think that would
work, since I had a meeting at 2 pm and would need to be in my car
departing at 1:30. DE said hed get it done by then for sure, so we
went with it. I actually found that encouraging, because it meant a 3
hour oral (like Ive read about here) would be impossible.

Sun afternoon and the wx was nice, so I grabbed the chance to solo.
Sure enough, I fixed my landings! Phew. Also saw a Pitts and an Arrow
flying formation in the pattern behind me, but not on purpose! They
were less than 75 feet apart, with the Pitts at the Arrows 12 oclock
high. I was trying to figure out what to say to ATC when the Arrow
clued in and slowed up. ATC didnt call them on it, but it was a near
thing. Never a dull moment at BED, especially on a nice, "remain
outside the Class Delta, right 360, extend your downwind, Ill call your
base, square your turn to final, can you give me some S turns, go
around", busy, Sunday afternoon.

Forecast for Wed looked bad, but CFI encouraged me to prepare anyway,
and what else could I do? He also cautioned me not to over-study, which
I am wont to do. So I tried to take it relatively easy. I did go
through the PTS again and filled in the actual 152 speeds for all the
"1.2 Vs0 +10/-5" bits. I even "chair flew" some maneuvers like steep
turns and stalls while wearing my headset at the kitchen table.

Spent 7:30 to 9:30 Wed morning re-working my xc plan with the actual
wx. Once again, the UCA call was a No Go due to icing and SHRASN (rain
and snow showers) west of Albany. However, ceilings and visibility were
good for the checkride!

Only issue: wind was forecast as 30018G32. I thought about that a bit.
On the one hand, 32kt gusts are pretty big bumps. On the other, theyd
be right down the runway on 29. Id flown in 27kt gusts and done OK with
my CFI along. Plus, I remembered all the posts here from pilots in
Kansas and Oklahoma about how they always fly in winds like that. I
decided to go.

(I also figured the wind would make a good cover story for any
sloppiness on my part...)

Got to the FBO, grabbed the logbook again (I had called the afternoon
before to make sure it would be there), grabbed the key and went out to
pre-flight. Got back inside at 10pm on the dot, feeling smug the timing
worked so well. Then I waited 15mins for the DE. I had just decided
that he must have scrubbed again on account of the wind and my CFI
hadnt got his message yet when the DE walked in.

I introduced myself, calling him "sir" and "Mr. Collins." I had my
biplane tie and tie-tack on again with khakis and penny loafers - I was
trying to look like Id dressed up a bit for the occasion, but without
overdoing it. I think it helped some. He had on slacks and a flannel
shirt, no tie.

He was very businesslike, and was not trying to make a friend of me. He
asked for the paperwork, which I was able to lay out before him handily
due to having gone through the PTS checklist in advance. That was a
plus Id say. He looked it over, did not pause over the 97 score on my
written (I was a bit in fear that Id get extra grilling because of
that) and quickly filled in a couple boxes on the 8710. Then he told me
the basic outline would be review of paperwork, logbook, mx logs, xc
plan, W&B, oral exam and then flying.

He then went through my logbook, apologizing for how long it would take
and mildly complaining that this was the hardest part of his job. We
spent about 10 minutes of silence while he did this, but fortunately I
had everything done and totaled, so there was no issue.

Then we went over the mx logs, and he actually read most of the annual
notes. He lectured me that despite looking at the logs, its very hard
for a renter pilot to really know that the plane is legal. You must
rely upon the competence of the FBO, but should not take that for
granted. You need to assure yourself the FBO is good, and he noted that
fortunately, EFA is. I found this refreshingly sensible.

We discussed the xc, and I started with a summary of the plan. Then I
noted the No Go call and showed the TAFs I had printed off of to support the decision. He asked some
questions: why the fuel stop, what about R-4102, whats up with the
TRSA, what are your pilotage landmarks? Pretty easy to answer. He
looked at both the chart and my plan/log pages while we talked.

Then he told me wed only use the first leg - and only part of that - on
the simulated xc portion of the flying. Said if we got more than 20nm
from BED, something would be very wrong. That made me happy, since I
didnt want to keep up the "Im going to Utica" charade more than I had
to. We also agreed that the 6,500 feet Id put on the plan wouldnt
work locally at that time, and so picked 3,00 feet as our target
altitude. (And I silently stopped worrying about descending from West
to East and vice versa.)

At this point, he went into a several minute description of how hed
evaluate me (no tricks - phew!), what hed be looking for, and what he
didnt want to see. For the oral, he wanted to focus on sectional
symbols (yes!), some systems, V speeds, a bit of National Airspace
System, wake turbulence avoidance, right of way and the new anti-runway-
incursion questions. Didnt plan to cover regulations much because that
had already been covered on the written.

For the practical, he explained that he would select one maneuver from
each section of the PTS, not all of them. Might be any of the ground
reference maneuvers, but not all. One stall, but could be clean or with
flaps, power or not, turning or level. We would do all of normal, short
and soft takeoffs, as well as normal, short, soft and no-flap landings.
Hood work, one unusual attitude, steep turns.

As for no-nos, he said to make sure I was looking outside of the
aircraft, that was his most important warning. (I mentally chanted
"Dont fixate on the ASI, dont fixate on the ASI.") Dont fail to use
the checklists. Dont begin a maneuver until Im ready, because once I
say Im in it, hes judging it. He stresses that _I_ am PIC, and hes a
passenger, so "fly like youre PIC."

Then it was oral time. He asked the questions as hed outlined them.
We did spend a lot of time on the chart, and I handled everything except
that I forgot what an L means on an airport label ("lighted"). I fessed
up promptly, said I knew where to find it, and he was satisfied. He
drew two runways with displaced thresholds, but one had arrows and one
had chevrons. He asked me what the difference was, and I erred
slightly: I knew chevrons meant no taxing or takeoff, but I thought
arrows meant taxi only. However, arrows mean taxi and takeoff, just no
landing, as he explained. So those were my oral errors.

The rest of the questions I could answer. It was a brief exam. I guess
I looked like I didnt have an attitude, as he displayed no need to
establish that I dont know everything despite my written score. I was
glad of that, as I will freely admit I dont know everything - I didnt
want it proven through an inquisition.

Then it was time to fly. I re-checked the fuel, oil and control
surfaces, since my pre-flight had been over an hour previous. He asked
me what the fuel vent was (I knew), what the cabin air vent was (ditto),
and what the little scoop intake on the side of the cowling was for?
That I didnt know - he said its to let in air to cool the avionics...

We got in, and I started the checklist. From that point on, I was
verbalizing everything I did and why. Checklist went fine, though I had
my lapdesk on my lap instead of the floor because I wasnt certain when
Id need to refer to my xc plan. I explained that "this is where I
would brief my passenger on the door, the seat belts and what to do in
an emergency" instead of role-playing an attempt at an actual briefing
(tip from CFI).

I got cleared to taxi to 29, so I looked for people nearby, pulled out
and checked the brakes _gently_ (tip from Chief Pilot), then I invited
him to check his (tip from my CFI), and he did. I picked the path with
fewest turns and made the appropriate xwind corrections as I taxied. I
kept it on the yellow line and was scrupulous about saying "clear
left/clear right" as we approached intersections.

No one else was flying (scared of the wind?), so for a change, we had
the runup area to ourselves. I pulled up nice and smooth and did the
engine runup checklist. My nerves showed in that I skipped the ammeter
check, but I caught it immediately and took care of it. Did my flow
check and DE said well do the pattern work first since its empty.
Wanted to see a normal takeoff followed by a normal landing, whereupon
Im to set the flaps for a soft field takeoff.

I pulled up to the hold short line and called "Hanscom Tower, Cessna
5406H holding short, like to stay in the pattern." Get told to hold
short for landing traffic, but the radios a bit hard to hear - uh oh
(DE diddled the squelch just as I was thinking to reach for it and all
was fine thereafter). A Piper landed and we got cleared to position and
hold. DE
said hes changed his mind and wants a short-field takeoff, so I put in
flaps 10 and pulled out, as close to the end of the runway as I could

As I pulled out, Tower cleared me to take off. I acknowledged, lined up
on the centerline, held the brakes and went to full power, but just for
a couple seconds. I had discussed and cleared this in advance with the
DE - since BED is so busy, once youre cleared to go, you cant sit at
full power for 30s as per the POH, youll surprise the controller and
screw up the sequencing. I released the brakes and off we went. Engine
instruments green, air speed alive, xwind correction out. At 54kts I
pitched up and hoped like heck I had the Vx pitch attitude because I was
only glancing at - not fixating on! - the ASI.

Leveled, accelerated, flaps up, and pitched for Vy. Scanned for
traffic, then around the pattern in left closed traffic. I was careful
about rudder use on the turns, but the plane is rigged poorly and needs
a little right rudder in a left turn. Im sure I could have been better
coordinated, but I tried to not use the rudders much at all, and it
worked out.

Whoops, I got more than 100 feet above pattern altitude - doh! I began
to suspect the tach was reading low, because I was going too fast and
with too much lift for 2000 rpm. No comment from DE on altitude, hoped
I was OK. Cleared to land, told DE Im using flaps 20 due to the wind,
and we discussed adding 1/2 the gust to approach speed. He says in an
MD-11 they add all the gust plus half the wind - but this isnt an
MD-11, so do what I think is right.

I was high on final, so I did a slip to a landing, probably my best
ever. Took care of _that_ requirement. Slowed down, went flaps 10,
added full power, pulled back on the nose, and off we went on the soft
field takeoff. It worked OK, although my ground effect flying was not
long lived. He says this is the start of the xc, so I call the
tower and request a straight out departure, which is granted. I forgot
to take out the flaps until he pointed this out at about 600 ft -

I scanned for traffic, recorded the departure time, and then realized
Id forgotten the VOT during runup. So I quickly tuned the NAV to
110.0, got the ident sounding, and verified 000 gave FROM and 180 gave
TO. Then I tuned in GDM and set the course to show Im thinking ahead a
leg. (I shouldve done both things during runup - doh.)

My xc flying was the worst Ive ever done. I was S-ing over my heading
+/- 10 degrees and at one point managed to gain 200 ft. I never do
that! Also, with the engine at the firewall, the tach reads just 2300
rpm, further evidence its miscalibrated. Thats why Im gaining
altitude, yeesh. But I think the wind covered for me.

I switched to the practice area frequency and made a call - nobody
there. Then DE spotted a Cessna at 11 oclock about 200 feet above us.
I elected to descend to about 2600 and it passed well over us. Finally,
I was relieved when he told me to put on the hood. Positive exchange of
controls, and he had me turn and climb, turn and descend, then climb and
descend wings level. I remembered to work the carb heat and throttle
appropriately, and did ok (Ive never had a problem with hood work).

One mistake was, on my first turn, I got impatient with standard rate
and increased the bank angle. The nose started to come down, and he had
to mention it. I confessed my impatience, and his reply was to "Focus
not on getting around to the desired heading, but focus on doing the
maneuver right - then you wont feel impatient." Good advice.

Then it was unusual attitude time. Quick set of bounces and I had no
idea which end was up. He called the recovery and I looked at the ASI -
increasing! Reached for the throttle and actually bumped it up (uh oh!)
a bit before pulling it out while leveling the wings and leveling off.
But he didnt fail me on the spot, so I was still hopeful.

He had me take off the hood and I saw we were over Lowell, about 10nm NE
of BED. He asked me to show him slow flight at 50 kts, heading 090, no
flaps. I pulled power to 1500, slowed it down until the stall horn was
screaming its first pitch and the ASI showed 50. No problem! Until he
pointed out I was losing altitude. I caught it just after 100 ft, but
rats. After that, nailed the turns while maintaining speed and
altitude, AND I remembered to scan for traffic. Spotted some, too, but
no factor. He had me recover, which was a simple matter of full
throttle, carb heat in, 3000 ft, power to cruise.

He then picked out a mountain to be my visual reference and asked me to
show him a steep turn to the left. Now, something was niggling at me
about my setup, but after a couple seconds of hesitation, I started the
turn. He said, "Youre going to need more power to hold your altitude."
Sure enough, when I had reduced the power earlier, I had gotten it too
low for the steep turn. I added power and around we went. It was good,
fortunately! I think that was the first time I did a steep turn to the
left correctly on my first try.

But at this point Ive had altitude excursions and hes had to prompt
about 4-5 things. In the back of my mind, I was really wondering
whether Id have to do the whole practical over again.

He suggested we get the ATIS and head back to land. After a brief
discussion about where we are, wherein I find I have two major highways
confused and so am 90 degrees off (ack - another mistake), I
acknowledged he was correct, and he chuckled and said "Thats why they
pay me the big bucks." This was his first bit of any sort of joviality,
and it rekindled hope in me. I got the ATIS, reset the altimeter,
called the field, got told to report midfield right downwind, and did a
pre-landing check. Spotted some more traffic before the DE did. (My
final score was 3 for 4. :-)

I descended smoothly at 500fpm all the way to pattern altitude at entry
(yes!), and mentioned that, due to the wind, I was aiming considerably
upwind of midfield. As we got close, a King Air was crossing behind and
above us. ATC cleared it number one, so we had to keep an eye on it as
went behind, passed on the left, and got in front. DE said he wanted a
short field landing, so I turned base as soon as the King Air turned
final. Brought it in pretty high, but still made it with a nice steep
descent at 60kts (added a bit for wind) and landed it OK despite a bit
of rolling during the flare due to gusts.

Was off by the first taxiway no problem, and then realized I couldnt
find the checklist. I had sort of nonchalantly tossed it behind me, and
now I couldnt feel it, doh. I explained the situation, told him I had
it memorized, and he said fine. So flaps up, carb heat in already,
mixture max lean, radio to ground. Got my taxi clearance and headed
back, with xwind corrections the whole way.

Pulled up and did the engine shutdown checklist from memory. I was
afraid to say anything, but the first thing he said was, "Well, you
passed - congratulations." Then, he went over his feedback. Good
things: hood work, landings ("You werent bothered by the wind at all"),
comms, pattern, taxiing. Not so good: S-ing around on xc portion, being
behind the airplane sometimes, like entering the steep turn with too
little power. "However, you showed you were ahead of the airplane with
your comment about aiming upwind on pattern entry," quoth he, so maybe
that one comment saved my bacon!

He said Id done well overall and not to be thin-skinned about his
criticism. Which I sure wasnt - he was dead right, and Im comforted
that I know I average better. I think I was a bit task-overloaded due
to nerves and verbalizing everything.

He headed in to do the paperwork and I tied 06H down and gathered all my
junk. Went inside and got my temporary certificate and a reiteration of
the feedback. Then he shook my hand and I got the heck out of there - I
wanted to leave before he changed his mind! My CFI walked over to the
hangar with me while I told him the brief version of this story, and we
shook hands.

I still cant believe Ive done it. Its sinking in slowly. Next comes
172 transition and then flying friends for $100 hamburgers. Im really
looking forward to those!

So anyway, thats my ridiculously long checkride story. I hope someone
finds it helpful, if only to see that its not as hard as the PTS would
lead you to believe. I guess it was easier than I expected, but I flew
worse than Im capable of, so it evened out.

Blue skies! -- Peter
Peter H. Schmidt Lifting Mind Inc. _/ Speaking \_ 2 Ewell Avenue \ for myself / Lexington, MA 02421
fax: 781 863-5444 tel: 781 883-4818

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