What is a checkride anyways? I remember asking this question when I first starting training, so here is your answer: It is the final test you take, including ground and flight, to get your license or rating. In this post, to keep it simple, I'll only talk about the private pilot checkride, but keep in mind that all checkrides follow the same basic principles. If you are ready, checkrides don't have to be nerve-racking or stressful. If you are prepared, they will be no big deal.
In my last blog post, I talked about the different phases of Private Pilot training that help to prepare you for the checkride. Click HERE to go to that post. Once you have completed all that training you should be ready for the checkride. When I was a CFI, and before I ever sent my students on to their checkrides, I did a mock checkride with them; I asked them questions similar to what an examiner would ask, and treated the flight like the real deal- I was 'the examiner', not their flight instructor. This gave me and my student a good gauge as to whether or not they were actually ready.
Before you go to your checkride, here are a few things to keep in mind. Many examiners prefer cash, so make sure you hit up an ATM before you meet with the examiner or ask beforehand how they would like you to pay. Bring everything you can think of that you have used during your training with you to the checkride. Some things may include: Foggles, Headset, Weather Charts, Flight Planning Tools, Logbook, FAR/AIM (and know how to reference it)... I am sure there are a few things I am forgetting, but if you are in doubt, bring it. Other things you also need to bring are your completed IACRA form (and your confirmation code from submitting it), your driver's license or govt. issued ID, current pilot's license, and your medical (your medical pairs as your license when you are a student pilot).
During my private pilot checkride, I didn't know an answer to one of questions the examiner asked, so he said I could use the FAR/AIM to look it up; problem was, I didn't even know how to reference this book. It probably took me 20 minutes of pure stress to find the answer. Not fun! After that checkride I learned my lesson and went through and tabbed some of the important stuff so I could find the answers quickly, if I needed, for my next checkride. It might be a good idea for you to do the same. There is a list of pertinent FARS for each phase of training in the front of your book that you could use as a starting point when tabbing your FARs.
Though this isn't required, I would recommend that you dress nice for a checkride. No jeans with holes or sandals or baseball caps. The nicer you dress, the better you feel about yourself, and the better you will most likely perform on your checkride. You are taking a test to become a professional pilot, so dress like one. I always wore nice black dress pants and a white shirt for checkrides.
Plan to show up for your checkride at least 30 minutes in advance so you have time to de-stress and make sure you have everything in order. You could also do a quick preflight of the airplane to make sure there isn't anything major missing or damaged before you go out there with examiner.
The checkride consists of 2 segments: ground and flight. The ground portion must be passed before the flight portion can begin. The shortest ground portion I ever had was 1.5 hours, and the longest was 4 hours (that examiner was particularly chatty). Most examiners try to keep it around 2 hours. The examiner can ask anything from the Airman Certification Standards (ACS) during this ground portion, so it is important to thoroughly study all the material outlined there (including all the information in the Introduction). Click HERE to go to the FAAs website where the current ACSs can be found.
Most checkrides require that a flight plan be completed beforehand- the examiner will give you a cross country flight to plan, which will include the amount of bags and passengers you will take on this pretend flight. Bring everything you used to plan the flight to the checkride in case he asks you to show how you got a specific number, such as a distance from point A to B. This is not required, but a good idea in my opinion-- also bring all the weather charts you used in your flight planning. These charts may include:
METAR, TAF, and FA.
surface analysis chart.
radar summary chart.
winds and temperature aloft chart.
significant weather prognostic charts.
convective outlook chart.
AWOS, ASOS, and ATIS reports.
SIGMET s and AIRMET s.
icing and freezing level information.
As a side note, I have a book I created as a CFI to help prepare my students to more easily learn the weather reports and charts. I have updated it and it is available purchase (I'm actually quite proud of it). Click HERE to view the book from my website or to purchase it. This book is something you can use through all phases of your flight training and as a flight instructor. It is an eBook, so you can choose to print it out or use it as a digital book.
Why is it good to bring all of these items mentioned above? Because you can look them all over and make sure you know how to read, use, and interpret them all. If you have your own weather charts, the examiner might just use those for the testing instead of his own, which is great since you have those charts studied to a "T". I always had my students do that and none struggled with the weather portion on a checkride.
The flight planning is usually a big portion of the checkride, as the examiner can tie so many things into the fight plan, such as, "If you get lost, what are you going to do?" or "If you have an engine failure at point X, what will you do and where will you land?" or "What airspace are you in at point X at the altitude you have planned to be at?" or "How can I find out more information about this airport?" I think you get the point. The examiner can check a lot of boxes off during your flight planning portion by asking you scenario based questions.
Make sure you are familiar with all the ground items outlined in the ACS. It is not a secret what you will be asked. So study!
Once you have passed the ground portion you will move on to the flight portion, the fun part. Most examiners will look through the maintenance logs with you and make sure all the required inspections have been completed. If everything is correct in the maintenance logs, your flight portion will begin. The examiner may walk with you during the walk around and ask questions about the aircraft, such as fuel, antennas, weight limitations, engine operation, etc. Know your stuff, but don't worry about knowing absolutely everything; that's impossible. I once had an examiner ask me what color the fuel would be if you mixed two different types of avgas. I had no idea. He told me to write it down and look it up later... the answer is clear (much different from the brownish color I had imagined).
After that comes the flight portion. If you had to plan a flight for your checkride, you will probably fly the first portion of your cross county on departure. The examiner wants to make sure that you can actually fly the route you planned and that your times match up. Once you pass that portion, you will move on to the maneuvers, in whichever order the examiner decides. The flight portion is usually 1.5 hours long. Make sure you relax. If you make a mistake (like lose 200' altitude), correct it immediately and don't beat yourself up about it. The examiner cannot fail you for 1 or even 2 mistakes... you have to consistently exceed tolerances to fail a checkride. So correct the error, speak positively to yourself, and nail the next maneuver. Don't dwell on your mistakes or it could most definitely be the downfall of your checkride.
Once you have passed all the required maneuvers and have landed the airplane beautifully, continue to stay in 'testing mode.' The checkride is not over until you have safely parked the plane and chocked it or placed the tie-downs on it. Once that's all over and the examiner has told you good job, you are done! And you will feel the most relief and success you have ever felt. Each checkride is a huge accomplishment- seriously. It takes a lot of time and effort to pass a checkride, so make sure you celebrate afterwards!
If you have any questions about the checkride that weren't answered in this post, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you, and Happy Flying!