Checkride Success! by Chuck Fox

After many hours of sweat I passed my private pilot checkride at KRHV in San Jose, CA. I was so prepared for the ground oral and flight test that I wasn’t even nervous. Frankly that amazed me. I started flying 21 years ago in college in Wisconsin, got 15 hours under my belt and came west to California, never to finish the licensee. Last year I decided it was time to get it done. I told my instructor to forget I knew anything and start from scratch. Since it takes as much as 6 weeks or more to schedule an FAA DE in the summer here I was ready awhile ago and therefore had 10-15 more hours than I probably needed. In retrospect it was a good idea since I felt very comfortable flying the airplane with a stranger sitting next to me telling me what to do. My hours when I took the checkride looked like this (including 15 hours from 1980).

Total hours: 94.7
Dual instruction hours: 56.9
PIC hours: 37.8
X-Cty hours: 15.2
X-Cty PIC hours: 10.7
Night hours (dual): 5.0
Instrument (hood): 3.4
Landings: 210

I was way over the minimums required by the FAA but I felt no big desire to take the exam any sooner. Not counting my college experience I had 80 hours, which would have been about 65-70 if I could have scheduled the checkride a month earlier. But I’m glad I gave myself the extra time to prep for oral and practice for checkride. I think my lack of nervousness and complete confidence made this a lot easier for both of us. My instructor suggested that I take a mock checkride with another instructor a few days before the official checkride. This was another real confidence booster. It also made me think about exactly how to approach the maneuvers in a practice environment with another stranger. I did the one thing the DE has to flunk you on during the mock ride. I forgot to clear the area for the first maneuver – slow flight. I felt like an idiot since my CFI had pounded that into me. The silver lining was that I could not possibly forget to do that on the real checkride. I was a little sloppy on the altitudes and headings and convinced myself that I would tighten that up on the real checkride.

The complete checkride from start to finish was 2 hours 15 mins. It was scheduled for 12:30 at Reid-Hillview. I awoke and found the sky clear but extremely hazy. It had been perfect days for the last 2 weeks until this day. The visibility was at 4 miles which makes it MVFR. I was expecting the haze to dissipate by 10-11am. It did not. When I left for the airport the visibility was reported as 6 miles. Although it looked pretty ugly over the valley I was confident that it would get a little better before a 1:30-2pm takeoff and I’d be okay. When we took off at 1:30 it was 7 miles and we were fine.

To get ready for the oral I bought a set of 600 flash cards with Q/A on each side covering all aspects. That worked great! Really gave me confidence that I could answer almost anything. I also bought the King PPL checkride video which I would highly recommend. Just watching a real checkride oral and flight test in progress was very comforting. I learned how to answer some questions as well.

The FAA DE arrived and she looked over my paperwork including the aircraft logs. Finding everything in perfect order she proceeded to explain me what she would do, what rules she had to follow and that I should ask any questions at any time, especially if I didn’t understand he instruction. She also stressed that I was the PIC of the aircraft. After about 30 mins of questions which I answered everything correctly (I think) she said to preflight the airplane. The questions she asked me (from my memory) were:

1. What privileges will this PPL allow me that my SPL doesn’t?
2. Do my privileges expire and what is the time requirement?
3. Do I have any currency requirements to be able to take passengers?
4. What documents need to be in the airplane for me to fly?
5. When does the airworthiness certificate for the airplane expire?
6. Are we within the weight and balance limitations for this aircraft today?
7. Show me your flight plan. No specific questions on it probably because it was thorough.
8 What is the weather today, can we fly to the cross-country destination? (FAT -Fresno)
9 Shedrew a wind direction for taxiway on a piece of paper. What should be the position of the controls for that wind?
10. She drew winddirection for runway. How would you take off with that wind direction?
11. could you land with that wind direction?
9. What is hypoxia, its symptoms and corrective action?
10. When is the definition of nighttime?
11. What aircraft lighting requirements are there at night?
12. Are there aircraft lighting requirements are there during the day?
13. When do aircraft lights need to be on?
14. What are the color of the runway lights?
15. What are the color of the taxi lights?

We opened the SFO sectional and looked at my flight plan route.

16. What does the blue line around SFO mean?
17. What requirements exist to enter Class B airspace?
18. If controller acknowledges my callsign can I enter Class B airspace?
19. Pointing to LSN airport: If we are flying at 1000AGL can what the VFR visibility and cloud clearance requirements?
20. Pointing to a certain spot: If your radio goes out here, what do you do?
21. Pointing to an MOA: what does this mean, can you fly through?
22. Pointing to a restricted area: what does this mean, can you fly through?

23. If one fuel gage is showing 1/2 full but the fuel tanks are visually full, can we fly this airplane?
24. Explain the fuel system in this airplane.

That was the extent of it. I expected more questions. Then we proceeded to the airplane. After preflight and taxi I gave her a detailed preflight passenger briefing that I’ll give all new passengers when I’m PIC. I wrote down a checklist for this and taped it to my kneeboard. I think she like that alot. The maneuvers that we did we easier than I remember except the damn soft field landing. The ones that she asked me to do:

1. Short field TO from RHV
2. Upon reaching 2000 feet downwind a diversion to Q99 (my normal practice airport). Very easy to find.
3. Soft field landing at Q99 – bounced this one twice…i thought that was the end of my chances right there.
4. Soft field takeoff at Q99 and stay in pattern for another Soft field landing – was she giving me a 2nd chance?
5. About 250′ AGL on final she said Go-Around. (and make a straight out departure to 2500 MSL).
6. Turns to headings w/o goggles.

Put goggles on:
7. Turns to headings
8. Climbing and descending turns to headings.
9. Unusual attitude recovery (a steep right climbing turn).
10.Constant speed climb.

Goggles off:
11. Slow flight.
12 Slow flight 180 turn.
13. Power off stall/recovery.
14. Steep turn to the right.
15 Engine failure at 3000 feet. After going to glide speed, looking for landing spots and checking for restart possibilities she said my power came back on at 2500 MSL. I thought we’d have to take it to a specific spot or at least on final.
16 She then said to take her back to KRHV and do a short field landing.

No VOR work, no power-on stall, and no ground reference (other than patterns). I was almost spot on with the headings and altitudes. When I got off even 50′ on the altitude I adjusted back to target altitude before the next maneuver. I did a one-bounce short field landing, crammed on the brakes and turned off at taxiway Charlie…I knew I had to at least do that. Until I got back to shut the plane down I didn’t know whether I had passed. I was bracing myself for her to say I needed some more work on the landings. After shutdown she just said “Congratulations, I see you inside with the paperwork”.

I now know that my preparation gave me the confidence to answer any questions and to fly the airplane in any maneuver. I knew I wouldn’t be great on everything, especially the short field landing but I had confidence I could demonstrate/explain what needed to be done even if I didn’t execute it perfectly. What a relief? I’m taking my daughter out for a trip to Livermore this afternoon as my first ride as a PPL?

Chuck Fox