It’s the day you’ve been preparing for and perhaps also dreading. You’re excited to officially become a private pilot, and there is just one more major hurdle you need to jump through in order to do it – you need to pass your checkride.
Maybe preparing for the checkride is keeping you up at night, or perhaps you just aren’t sure what to expect or how to prepare. If some practical guidance, suggestions and insight sound appealing, this article is for you.
Today we will demystify the private pilot checkride. We will share what you need to know along with real world techniques for learning it. Soon you will be prepared with a clear idea of what to expect and how to excel so that you can pass your private pilot checkride with flying colors. Let’s get you certified!
The private pilot checkride consists of two sections: the “oral exam” and the actual flight. If you’re like many pilots, the oral exam is probably the most intimidating portion of the checkride, so we’ll jump right into it and get you set up for success.
The Oral Exam
Before your designated pilot examiner (DPE) will even get into the aircraft with you, they will ask you a series of practical questions, also referred to as the oral exam. The purpose of the oral exam is for you to demonstrate a mastery of the practical knowledge that a safe and proficient certified private pilot is expected to have.
Your answers to the oral exam questions will allow the examiner to gauge the depth and breadth of your knowledge as well as your ability to translate aeronautical concepts to real life applications.
What to Expect
The oral exam questions are designed to walk you through making calculations and dealing with real-world scenarios that you may encounter as a pilot.
Many of the questions will relate to common everyday calculations, checks, acronyms, policies, and procedures that you should already be familiar with as a result of your training.
Other questions will be scenario based and designed to see what you do when faced with a new situation. How do you apply your existing knowledge? What would you actually do if you were in the cockpit and encountered the given scenario? This is what the oral exam is testing for: are you prepared to be a competent and safe pilot?
The bulk of the oral exam will take place on the ground before your flight, however, expect the DPE to continue to ask questions once you are in the air as well.
Wishing you had a realistic preview of what the oral exam looks like – the format, the types of questions, etc.? You’re in luck – you can actually watch a full-length private pilot oral exam online.
How to Prepare
Now that you’ve finished watching the preview of what you’re in for, the next thing on your mind may be, “How do I prepare for this interrogation exam?” Glad you asked. As you know, your examiner is judging your knowledge based on the Private Pilot Airman Certification Standards. This is good news because it means that there is no real mystery when it comes to the subject matter of the oral exam. The main question isn’t what to study, but how to study it.
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, fellow private pilots who have recently passed their own checkrides can share their proven successful study strategies with others. This gives you a great idea of what techniques work in real life and can help you to focus your study efforts.
What do they recommend? Here, for your benefit, are some of the highlights:
- Use a current copy of the ASA Private Pilot Oral Exam Guide to structure your studying and ensure you hit all the key information. It is logically laid out and covers the most common questions that you are likely to get on your oral exam. Review the questions and answers, then follow up with the referenced source material if you are having difficulty with any of the concepts.
- Add tabs to your current copy of the FAR/AIM manual. This will help both with studying and with locating reference materials if you need them during your oral exam.
- The oral exam is open book/open reference, but you should still have most of the material memorized. Information like your airplane’s V-speeds and basic aircraft specs such as weights should be committed to memory. Make flashcards to help you memorize these important pieces of information.
- Review the questions you missed on your written exam and make sure you know the answers to these and other related concepts. Your examiner will keep drilling into concepts that you seem weak on, so do yourself a favor and work on your weak points.
- Consider organizing all your printouts, flight planning worksheets, aircraft information sheets, etc. in a tabbed binder. It will help you locate materials quickly and will increase your perceived level of professionalism with the examiner.
Sample Questions and Answers
Want to get a feel for what sort of questions you are likely to encounter during your oral exam? Here’s a little sampling from the ASA Private Pilot Oral Exam Guide.
The annual inspection for your aircraft is now due and you ask several friends that fly with you regularly to contribute money to help you pay for the inspection. Do the regulations allow for these contributions? (14 CFR 61.113)
No. A private pilot may not pay less than the pro rata (proportional) share of the operating expenses of a flight with passengers, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures or rental fees.
Note: The regulation applies to “the operating expenses of a flight,” and does not allow for the sharing of fixed or long-term operating costs of the airplane with passengers.
Explain the difference between being “current” and being “proficient.” (FAA-H-8083-2, FAA-P-8740-36)
Being “current” means that a pilot has accomplished the minimum FAA regulatory requirements within a specific time period so he or she can exercise the privileges of their certificate. It means that you’re “legal” to make a flight, but does not necessarily mean that you’re proficient or competent to make that flight.
Being “proficient” means that a pilot is capable of conducting a flight with a high degree of competence; it requires that the pilot must have a wide range of knowledge and skills. Being proficient is not about being just “legal” in terms of the regulations, but is about being “smart” and “safe” in terms of pilot experience and proficiency.
First off, congratulations. If you’ve made it to this point, you’ve passed the initial oral exam. During the flight portion of your checkride, you will be demonstrating mastery of the aircraft.
What to Expect
During your checkride flight, the examiner will be evaluating your performance on demonstrating a full range of skillsets and maneuvers including:
- Cockpit management
- Airport operations
- Dead reckoning
- Radio navigation
- Soft-field takeoff and climb
- Short-field takeoff and maximum performance climb
- Crosswind takeoffs
- Soft-field approach and landing
- Short-field approach and landing
- Crosswind landing
- Forward slip to a landing
- Performance maneuvers
- Slow flight
- Steep turns
- Power on stalls
- Power off stalls
- Spin awareness
- Ground reference maneuvers
- Rectangular course
- Turns around a point
- Basic instrument maneuvers
- Radio communications
- Recovery from unusual attitudes
- Emergency approach and landing
- Emergency descent
- Post-flight procedures
How to Prepare
Master the skills
It should go without saying, but the most important piece of preparation for your checkride flight is to master the piloting skills. Look at it this way: the longer your flight lasts, the more time the examiner has to find a problem and the more time you have to make a mistake. Train to a high standard, and you will quickly demonstrate to the examiner that you have what it takes. They will simply run you through the required scenarios and skills, you will nail them and your checkride will be over.
Your examiner will be glancing down to write notes on your performance at some points in your flight. To ensure that they don’t miss anything (like you lifting the wing to visually clear your path prior to making a turn), verbalize every action. Hearing yourself confidently and calmly state your actions will also help boost your confidence.
Another way to stand out as a professional pilot and to ensure you are precisely carrying out the actions that are asked of you is to echo everything the examiner asks you to do just as you already do with ATC communications. This will serve to up the confidence of the examiner and if there is a disconnect between the maneuver they asked you to perform and the information you thought you heard, you will catch it right away.
Finally, although you’ve done everything you should in terms of learning and practicing the piloting skills that will help you ace your checkride, there are a few more administrative things that you can do to pave the way for a smooth flight.
Review your aircraft’s log books prior to your checkride.
The maintenance logs that prove your aircraft’s flight worthiness status may be a bit convoluted to read. Proactively avoid any extra stress the day of your checkride by going in the day before and reviewing the logs. This gives you time to familiarize yourself with the location of each of the relevant entries and to consult a mechanic to explain any entries that you are uncertain about. Do this, and you will look like a pro for your examiner the following day.
Confirm that you qualify to take your checkride
Imagine showing up for your scheduled checkride only to have the examiner quickly realize as you are going through your paperwork that you do not actually qualify to take your checkride. Maybe you failed to log enough total hours. Maybe your medical certification isn’t current. Did you double check your endorsements? All of this should be done before you schedule your checkride.
As a reminder, here are the main qualifications the examiner will be looking for (plus links to the applicable CFRs so you can double check the fine print):
- Meet general private pilot certification eligibility requirements (14 CFR 61.103)
- Have meet the aeronautical experience minimums outlined in 14 CFR 61.109.
- 40 hours total flight time (of which at least 20 hours must be dual instruction and 10 hours solo flight training)
- Dual hours must include:
- 3 hours cross-country dual
- 3 hours night dual (additional details apply)
- 3 hours instrument dual
- 3 hours of dual practical test preparation within the last 2 calendar months
- Solo hours must include:
- 5 hours cross-country
- 1 cross country solo flight of at least 150 NM (additional details apply)
- 3 takeoffs and 3 landings (involving flying in traffic pattern) at an airport with operational control tower
What to Bring
On the day of your checkride, you will need to come prepared. Some of the items you will want to bring are items you would take along on any other flight. Others are specific to the checkride.
Below is a list of the key checkride must-have items to get you started. Review it with your CFI and see if they have anything to add, and of course be sure you also have all of the items you would take with you on a standard flight.
- Fee for your DPE (if applicable)
- ID, paperwork and certificates
- Photo ID
- Medical certificate
- Student pilot certificate
- Logbook (totaled and signed)
- CFI endorsements
- Knowledge test paper report
- FAA IACRA 8710 form (or printout of online form submission)
- Food and snacks
- Current FAR/AIM
- Consider adding tabs to help you quickly and easily locate reference materials
- Personal minimums list
- Personal visual aids (system diagrams, aircraft quick reference info, etc.)
- Airport information (including printed taxi diagrams)
As you are nearing the end of your flight training, you and your flight instructor will start talking about scheduling your checkride. You have two choices of examiners: an FAA official or a designated pilot examiner (DPE). You do not have to pay for an examination by an FAA official, however depending on your location, there may not be an FAA official located in convenient proximity to you or the wait time to schedule an exam with the official may be so long that it makes more sense to consider paying for a designated pilot examiner.
The testing experience and type of questions asked will be similar whether you choose an FAA examiner or a DPE. The main difference is that you will need to pay for the DPE. Fees vary depending on the examiner, your location, and whether the DPE must travel to your location. Your flight instructor will be a good resource for helping you make the decision on who to schedule your checkride with.
You may also find that if you have a good, well-known instructor with a reputation of sending highly prepared students for their checkrides, that can work to your advantage because your examiner will start out with a positive impression of you based on your instructor. It will then be up to you to demonstrate that you deserve that impression and that you have mastered the knowledge and the hands-on skillsets needed to make an excellent pilot.
The main things to remember are to put together and follow a quality study program, to master the skillsets, to pay attention to detail and to prepare. Do this, and you too will pass your private pilot checkride with flying colors.
Want to learn more? Pilot Mall offers a full selection of Test Preparation material for the Private Pilot.