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My Private Pilot License - The Checkride Oral Brief

This is a summary of the oral portion of my checkride for my private pilot's license.  I made notes soon after this day, June 30, 2009 so that I could remember as much as possible, and hopefully everything is here and I have remembered it correctly.  For those working toward a checkride, my main bit of advice is to review things with those around you.  They should know the specific DE you'll be testing with and what he or she might be looking for.  There are clearly practical test standards and knowledge standards on which you will be judged, but a lot also depends on the margins the DE feels are safe and appropriate. - Rick
002June 30, 2009 - Norwood Airport (KOWD)

Had planned to meet Guido Coppolla, my current CFI at Norwood Flight Center (NFC) at 7:30am.  The DE was scheduled for 8:30am, so that would give us plenty of time to get things organized.  We had even talked about pre-flighting the plane early, but as the day got closer it became apparent that we might only get the oral portion done, so pre-flighting wasn’t going to be crucial.

Got up early enough to get my cross-country planning updated with current winds and to get a current weather briefing.  Grabbed the winds aloft from the web, and updated the plan.  Then grabbed the DUAT weather brief for the proposed route to Syracuse International (SYR) but noted that the winds aloft were somewhat different.  Might not have even noticed, except that the previous winds aloft had Boston at 3000ft as calm, but the DUATS info had real numbers there.  So I spent time re-working the cross-country plan.  That mean I would be leaving the house about a half hour later than scheduled, but it felt necessary.  It probably wasn’t necessary since the difference was minimal and we might not be flying, but if we did, I wanted to be sure I had current information.

I arrived at Norwood Airport (OWD) a little later than planned, but still had about 40 minutes before the DE would arrive.  Got my stuff set-up in the main conference room there and chatted with Guido.  We agreed that I should review the DUAT weather stack (many pages of weather with translations) that I had two copies of and use a highlighter to emphasize the information that was most relevant to the flight.  This was just in case I needed to note anything.  So I spent some time doing that while waiting for the DE.

He arrived about 10 minutes early and in fairly short order we began talking.  We chatted a bit about the weather and how it was wreaking havoc with his check-ride process.  Lots of delays in June for sure, and we discussed how we would at least get the oral portion done this day and then see what might be possible for the flight portion.

Then we began and he gave me an overview of the entire process, which I had expected from reading other pilots’ prior experiences on the web.  We would do the IACRA “paperwork,” review my logbook, my written test result form and my medical to make sure everything was in order.  Obviously I also needed to produce a form of ID, which I did.  Then the oral brief would consist of some plane system stuff, airspace discussion, right of way rules and we would review the flight plan I had prepared as a point of departure for some of those discussions.  Not too many questions about the regs since the written test had covered that already.

He also covered a few important points about the flight portion even though we might not get to it that day.  We would start with take-offs and landings and then head away from the airport.  He admitted that obviously we would not be flying all the way to SYR, but would begin heading on my plan to evaluate cross-country planning and flying skills.  Then he would have me divert to another airport and likely use a different form of navigation to demonstrate proficiency.  We would then do the maneuvers to PTS standards.  He also emphasized that I would be PIC and should act as such.  Should any serious situations arise, we would work as a team and he would make his desires firmly known, even to a point of flying the plane if necessary.  All of that made sense.  He also said that he would pull no tricks in the plane, short of adjusting the throttle for a simulated engine emergency.

As I look back on it, what seems most clear is how well organized the DE was.  He clearly knew what information he felt was most important and how to move from topic to topic so as to cover it all without having it feel too daunting.  His generous tone was also very helpful to put me at ease.  He knows how stressful these situations can be and you can tell that he tries to mitigate that as best he can.

So we began.  At Guido’s suggestion I had a folder with my official paperwork in it.  This included a hard copy of the IACRA form 8710 endorsed by Guido in case we needed the information offline or in case IACRA gave us trouble, my third class medical and my official written test results.  The DE then began the process of going through my logbook to find the required flight experience.  He joked that this was often the hardest part of his job and I understood.  It must be hard to open someone’s logbook and deal with sloppy handwriting and unique notations.  He noted that I had about 2/3 of my experience in Cirrus aircraft and the rest in the Cessna.  I commented a little about making that transition and then he asked me a question.  As someone who had only flown glass and who transitioned from Avidyne to Garmin, what did I think of each?  I told him that my memory of the Avidyne was that it was easier and that the transition to the Garmin was hardest because of the many extra switches one had to learn.  He basically agreed with that thought.

We went to the older XP computer in the main part of the office to get on IACRA and had some trouble getting it to let us work through the process.  After several tries, we moved to another office which has a newer computer and things went well.  I reviewed the application information several times and basically signed it electronically in the DE’s presence.  Once the “paperwork” was complete, we returned to the conference room.

The actual order of topics covered is hard to recall precisely, but here are my memories of things we discussed.

- We started by reviewing the calculated weight and balance data for our trip.  He asked to see the pages in the POH where the final number was shown to be within limits, and I had marked both for easy review.

- We then moved to the take-off performance for our flight using a short field, 50 ft. obstacle scenario.  I had done this calculation two different ways for changing winds, but either would have worked.  He liked that it was clear I had calculated initially based on pressure altitude and then worked out the headwind component separately.  My spreadsheet made it clear that I knew what I was doing.  I also had to show him the chart where I grabbed the initial data.  Really glad I market the chart and flagged the page.  Love those post-it tags.

- He asked when an annual inspection would need to be completed if the last one were done on April 14, 2009.  Which is April 30, 2010 of course.  I had to say, “30 days hath September…” to be certain of the final day for that month.  Also, who is responsible for making sure that work gets done?  The owner/operator.

- We discussed annual and 100-hour inspections, and he then asked me to talk about Airworthiness Directives.  I told him that ADs are the means by which the FAA communicates information about faulty parts or systems in airplanes and what corrective action needs to be taken.  And of course that they are regulatory in nature and are mandatory.

- Right-of-way.  The DE drew several examples of planes meeting in the air.  One, where my plane was the plane on the right and one where the planes were head-on.  I had to tell him who had the right of way in the first example (me) and what course of action to take in the second example (both planes turn to the right.)

- The DE asked me to explain the difference in the rules pertaining to access to Class C and Class B airspaces.  I gave those answers with reference to similarities (mode C and 2 way radio needed for both) and differences (radio contact with call sign mentioned in C and permission granted in B.)

- He asked me what the cloud clearances were in the D, C and B airspaces.  I correctly answered those.  I asked him why B seemed so much more lenient and he delayed his answer but came back to it.  Because every plane is under positive control, there is less need for strict cloud clearance rules, thus the “3 miles visibility and clear of clouds” stipulation for class B.

Checkride Plan- As we reviewed my cross-country planning, we discussed things like airspace near the Utica airport known as KRME or Griffiss Airbase … a TRSA airspace.  It was a good conversation, intended to explore the unique ATC functions in a TRSA.  The short summary is that ATC functions as in a Class Charlie are available if pilots choose to make use of them, but this is not mandatory.

- Emergency radio contact.  The DE suggested a scenario that placed us heading toward rapidly worsening weather conditions.  Not an actual emergency, but a situation where we would want to call someone.  Our position at the time was 20 to 30 miles east/southeast of Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts.  I suggested that I might start with 121.5 since Flight Service monitors that.  He said that would work, but it was really an emergency frequency and there was another thing to try first.  I suggested the frequency 122.2, which is universally available for Flight Service.  Again, another valid option, but the one he was looking for was a closer alternative.  He pointed out the airport at Pittsfield and we located an RCO, remote communications outlet.  Through this one frequency 122.05 you can reach the Burlington FSS and he suggested that would be the best first option.  This was primarily because you could more than likely guarantee line of site reception.  I hadn’t noticed RCO’s previously so this was a really good tip.  This was the part of the review that was more like a ground school lesson.

- After that we focused on the airport at Pittsfield, MA KPSF and the DE asked me to look at the sectional and tell him everything I could about that airport, just from the sectional.  I got a lot of information right, but said that the frequency 122.7 was the control tower frequency because the letter C was next to it.  Of course I completely spaced on the fact that the color of the airport symbol indicated that this airport had no control tower.  In fact the frequency is the CTAF frequency.  But the DE didn’t jump on this too heavily and led me to the correct conclusion.

- Near our route of flight, the DE pointed out two different tall tower symbols.  One that is shorter and looks like a tent, the other taller and looks more like a transmission tower.  He asked what height determined which symbol was used.  I thought for a while, wasn’t sure of my answer but said that 1000 feet was the dividing line.  That was the correct answer, but then he asked me if that height was MSL or AGL.  I guessed MSL primarily because the bold height next to these symbols is always MSL.  He told me it was AGL, so I got that one wrong, but he then reviewed with me why that was and it didn’t seem like a big mistake.

- At some point he asked me what the universal emergency frequency is.  I answered 121.5.

- He asked what color the light on the pilot’s wing (left) was.  I was thrown a little because it’s one of those things you just know, and I remember verifying it once about 6 months into my training… but I didn’t want to get it wrong and so I froze.  But then I said red and we moved on.  He was using it to cover when a plane in the distance would or would not be a factor.

- We covered that to fully exit a runway, the entire plane needed to clear the hold short line.  Glad I said “entire plane.”  We reviewed what a displaced threshold is and how that it would be different if the markings leading up to the displaced threshold were chevrons.  For this we used an aerial shot of  KOWD on the wall in the conference room.

The DE asked a few questions about night lighting.  What color/colors is the beacon at a Class D airport?  I answered alternating white and green.  How is a military airport different?  There are two bursts of white for every green.  What color are taxiway lights? Blue.  What color are runway lights?  White.  Glad I studied these a bit.

Not sure what the final question was, but when all was said and done, he said “here’s the part where I would say, let’s go fly… but clearly that’s not happening right now. “  We took a break and then met with the flight school staff to review our options.  The weather had promised to clear at some point near noon or 1pm and he had a commitment for another check-ride at Hanscom (KBED) that he felt was solid although he hadn’t heard from the guy yet that morning.  So we had some time to kill to see if the weather would clear in time for us to fly that morning before he had to leave.  He suggested that I go out and pre-flight Cessna N13151 (a 172SP/G) in case we got a good weather clearance.

I did the pre-flight and then went back inside to see where things stood.  The ceiling was hovering at about 1,000 to 1,200 feet but sometimes dipping down to 700 or 800.  Lots of special METARS that morning.  Oddly, the weather on the islands at that time was totally clear, which is the opposite of what usually happens.  So we waited and the longer it went on, the more I was hoping that we would fly another day.  The oral had taken a lot of energy and I felt I’d do better on another day.

After an hour or so, we ran out of time.  He had to go to Hanscom and the weather was still bad.  We talked about trying the next afternoon, but that was cancelled later via phone.  This was a Tuesday prior to the 4th of July weekend, so we talked about maybe trying to get it in on Friday morning.  Ultimately he called me on Wednesday afternoon to reschedule for the following Tuesday.

When Tuesday came, the weather just wasn’t working again, so we moved it one more time to the next day … Wednesday, July 8th, 2009 at 3pm.  The flight school called to reschedule it and commented that the weather was iffy for that day too, but we’d give it a try.  The remainder of the check-ride story will be continued in the next flying post -  My Private Pilot License - The Checkride Flight.