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Private Pilot Checkride, What to Expect

FAA Private Pilot, Single Engine Land Checkride Experience.

May 2012

This post describes my experiences, to the extent that I can remember them, during my FAA Private Pilot check ride. The whole process was much less stressful than I had anticipated. I think you’ll find that as long as you are prepared, you will quite enjoy it.

My DPE was very friendly and reasonable. She is definitely there to do the job entrusted to her by the FAA, but she is not at all difficult or intimidating during this process.  As expected I found interviewing and flying with her to be easier and less rigorous than it was during my mock check ride.


The day started by her reviewing my log book to ensure that overall hours minimums and specific requirements (Long solo XC, etc) were met. She then reviewed my 8710 form, photo ID, etc to ensure all was in order before we began.  Once satisfied that all the requirements were met, she accepted my payment of $400 and the test began.  She mentioned we can pause the test at any time if we need a break for water, bathroom, etc.

She made sure to tell me to answer all questions from the point of view of a Private Pilot, not a student pilot. This seems obvious, but after several months of learning the rules of a student pilot’s license, this may be a helpful reminder.

My actual PPL checkride
My actual PPL checkride
Part 1: Oral Exam

Here are the topic areas we covered, and any specific items I can recall.

  • The privileges and limitations of a private pilot. What documents you need to carry as a private pilot.  Be prepared to discuss legal passenger cost sharing, business flying etc. She will ask if you must carry your logbook and if you must log your time.
  • Currency requirements. Biennial flight review, as well as passenger currency requirements for day/night/tailwheel flight.
  • Required airplane documentation. Know your A.R.R.O.W. documents
  • Airplane inspection and logs. Be sure to review all of the required VFR inspections (A.V.1.A.T.E.), and be prepared to discuss Airworthiness directives. It is wise to pre-tab these items in the airframe/engine logs book for easy access. The examiner will be happy you did this.
  • Day/night Fuel requirements for cross country flight
  • VFR Cruising altitudes for cross country flying based on magnetic course
  • Requirements for complex/high performance/tailwheel aircraft operations
  • Review of the previously requested cross country flight plan. You will be asked in advance (when you make your appointment) to plan a flight from your home airport to KEAT or KMMV, depending on where you are located. Expect to use this flight plan for several sets of questions coming up, so know it well and keep it handy.  She will want to see each climb/cruise leg individually calculated.
    • Be prepared to walk through the entire flight plan on the chart including your reasons for choosing your waypoints, cruising altitudes, etc.
    • She will do a quick check on your wind correction angle, magnetic variation, etc on a leg or two to make sure you are planning correctly. I did not include compass deviation in this flightplan, and she was fine with that, but be prepared to explain what it is.
    • While you will not actually file a flightplan, you will be expected to have the standard FAA flightplan form (or equivalent) completed, and she will ask you to explain each item.
    • She will check your work on the weight an balance, and ask you if we are within the limits for this flight, both on takeoff and on landing (after weight changes and CG shifts due to fuel burn)
    • You will be asked about your TAS values during cruise and climb, and how you came up with them. If I recall we talked a bit about the difference between TAS, CAS, and ground speed here as well.
    • You will also be asked to explain your fuel burn for at least one climb and one cruise leg of the flight.
    • I suggest calculating both takeoff and landing distances for both the departure and destination airports. She was pleased that I had done this in advance, and didn’t feel the need to quiz me on them accordingly.  Be prepared to discuss several factors that will increase or decrease your takeoff/landing distance. Specifically we touched on density altitude, head/tailwind, runway surface, and aircraft weight.
    • Know the pattern altitudes, pattern direction for each runway, and generally familiarize yourself with the departure and destination airports. She will ask you about a few scenarios for approaching the airport from a different direction, and with different winds.  It is a good idea to draw out the runway/pattern diagram on your flight plan.
    • Airspace. She will ask you scenario-based questions, using your cross country flight plan when possible, or using nearby areas on your chart.
      • You will be asked to identify several airspaces at different altitudes and points on the chart that she selects
      • You will then be given a hypothetical scenario where you are sitting in a rocket on the surface and launching straight up to 60,000MSL + and you will need to explain each airspace you will pass through. She may ask you about weather and equipment minimums during this scenario, or after (see below)
      • VFR Weather minimums
        • She did not ask me to recite each and every cloud separation requirement for each airspace, but I get the sense that this was because I had the first few she asked me memorized well. She spot-checked my knowledge here. If I recall she asked be about B, G (day and night), and D. Just in case, be prepared to discuss the minimums for every airspace (G, all the way through A), day and night, above and below 1200agl/10,000msl.
        • Special VFR. She will give you a scenario where weather is below VFR minimums and ask how you can continue your approach to land. Then you will be asked about the day/night requirements for SFVR, etc.
  • Equipment & communications minimums
    • Be sure to know what equipment if any (e.g. mode-C transponder, radios, etc) are required for in (and above when applicable) airspaces B, C , D, E, and G. You can also expect to be asked about the Mode-C veil around class B airspace.
    • Know what communications are required (if any) to enter or operate within airspaces B, C, and D.
  • Special use airspace
    • She pointed out MOAs, Restricted, Prohibited airspaces on the chart and asked me to explain each and asked if I could fly in each and under what circumstances. Expect to be asked to look up operating hours, etc in the margins of the chart as well.
    • Be prepared to discuss military training routes, and the difference between IR and VR routes. She also appreciated hearing the difference between 3 digit and 4 digit route IDs.
    • TFRs. Know what they are, why they are used, and what it means to you as a pilot. She asked for some examples of recent TFRs in our area.
    • Weather sources and route information
      • You will have been asked to bring a printed RAW (not decoded) copy of  today’s weather for your cross country flight to the test. Be prepared to decode and explain any METARs, TAFs, FAs,  NOTAMS, PIREPS, AIRMETS and SIGMETS that exist in your actual weather, including Zulu to local time conversions.
      • You may be asked to point out the specific portion of a TAF that is relevant to the arrival time at your planned destination, and what runway to expect to use, etc based on that information, for example.
      • We did not look at any graphical weather products
      •  Minimum equipment
        • You will be asked a couple of scenarios about minimum equipment required for VFR day flight. I was asked if it was permissible to fly with a broken magnetic compass, or a broken turn coordinator. I answered these correctly and she did not press me on others, but I get the feeling here she had further questions at the ready as well. Know your T.O.M.A.T.O F.L.A.M.E.S
        • You will then be asked about VFR night requirements. F.L.A.P.S
        • Aircraft systems
          • Explain the fuel system your aircraft uses (injected vs carbureted), etc.
          • How the heater works and why it is important to know this (CO poisoning)
          • Electrical system, including detail on the separate buses and the voltages of the battery and alternator
          • What the magnetos are and how they work
          • Emergency scenarios. Be prepared to discuss the basics of how to handle a few in flight emergencies.
            • Electrical fire
            • Engine fire
            • Flight into clouds (one minute standard rate turn 180)
            • Communications failure scenario, light gun signals, etc.
            • Stalls & Spins
              • What is a stall? Explain what creates a stall and that it can happen at any speed/phase of flight.
              • What happens to stall speed in a bank vs wings level flight
              • What is a spin and how to recover from one
              • Aeromedical factors. Be prepared to discuss CO poisoning, hypoxia, hyperventilation, and motion sickness, as well as the rules relating to scuba diving and flying.



Part 2: Flight test


  • Briefing and Go/no-go decision
    • Call a flight briefer or pull an abbreviated briefing and make a go/no-go decision for the cross country based on that data.
    • You will be briefed that you are the PIC at all times, including an actual emergency on this flight.
    • Pre-flight
      • Perform a thorough pre-flight walkthrough explaining each item you are looking at and what you are checking for. Make it obvious that you are referencing your checklist
      • As the PIC, you will be expected to deliver a pre-flight passenger briefing. Be sure you touch on the exits, seats/belts, fire extinguisher, and ELT. Make it clear you know that you are and will remain the PIC throughout this flight.
      • Starting/taxiing/run-up. Be sure to use your checklists.



  • Takeoff, Cross country flying, and diverting.
    • She requested a soft field takeoff to begin and we climbed out and began flying the cross country as planned. It is very important that you note the actual takeoff time, and remember to start your clock for the leg timing.
    • Once you leave your departure airspace, it is a good idea to simulate opening your VFR flightplan. No problem if forget though.
    • You can expect to fly to your first or second checkpoint before being asked to divert. Make sure you keep your altitude and airspeed in line with your plan.  During this time, keep a close eye on your actual vs estimated en route times and write them down at your checkpoints. You will be asked if we are ahead/behind schedule and by how much at some point. These checkpoints will come quickly (mine were 4 miles and 8 miles out) so the timing is very easy, but don’t get distracted.
    • You will then be asked to divert to a local airport. You can expect this to be any airport along your route of flight, but be prepared for anything. Once this request has been made you will be expected to come up with an approximate course, turn to it, and then calculate an approximate time/distance/fuel to get there. You won’t be going far so this shouldn’t be too hard to figure out in your head, but  she is ok with you using any tools available to you (GPS/iPads/etc) as well if you prefer.  The PTS tolerances here are +/- 5 minutes on the time to arrive at your diversion location, and you will only be flying for a few minutes most likely, so there is plenty of cushion.  If you did simulate opening your flight plan earlier, simulate closing it now. Once it is clear you have found your destination and will get there within a reasonable amount of time, you will break off to begin the maneuvers.
    • Maneuvers. This is the order that I was asked to perform my maneuvers, but it will likely change from checkride to checkride.  Remember that you are the PIC and expected to select your altitude, heading, and airspeed for these maneuvers. Be prepared to discuss why you have chosen them too. At times you may be asked questions during the flight such as what is your Va (maneuvering speed) and why it is important. You are also responsible for ensuring you do clearing turns when appropriate. You can (and should) ask for help in looking for traffic, but don’t rely to heavily on the help. You will be watched to ensure that you are performing an appropriate traffic scan.
      • Steep turns – take your time and get yourself setup on your altitude  and heading, and trimmed or straight and level flight before entering. You will do one each direction.
      • Slow flight – wings level, then turns each direction to specified headings.
      • Power off stall  wings level flight– you will be asked to go directly into a power off stall. It is acceptable to treat the turns you just accomplished in slow flight as clearing turns, just be sure to make it clear you are aware of that. She did not ask me to perform a stall in a bank, but indicated that may change in future checkrides
      • Power on stall – good idea to do specific clearing turns before this one
      • Hood work – positive exchange of flight controls when getting situated, then basic hood flying. Climb and maintain, turn to heading, constant speed descent, etc.
      • Recovery from unusual attitudes – You can expect one nose up (airspeed slow and decreasing) attitude and one nose down/spiral (airspeed high and increasing) attitude to recover from.
      • Emergency scenario – shortly after removing the foggles she pulled the power on me to initiate the engine out scenario. Pitch for best glide, identify your landing spot, engine restart checklist, forced lading briefing, securing engine checklist. There is a lot going on and it is a good idea to talk through this so the examiner knows what you are thinking. I was given my engine back earlier than I had expected once we were setup nicely for an approach to a large field.
      • Turns around a point – again, you are the PIC. Select a point, choose a safe altitude, determine the downwind leg to enter on, and don’t forget clearing turns. Make sure the examiner knows what point you have selected and when you are entering the maneuver
      • Back to your home airport for landings. The order that you experience these may be different.
        • Remember to select and maintain an appropriate altitude and cruising speed for your trip back to base.
        • Shortfield landing stop/go. You will be given a point to hit. Keep your airspeed under control on base and final. Use a go-around if you think you will be long or short.
        • Shortfield takeoff. It will be your responsibility to call out the 50ft obstacle.
        • Engine out approach. Expect to have your power pulled somewhere on downwind around the key position abeam the numbers. Cut your downwind leg short and glide it in to a stop and go.
        • Forward slip to a landing. Keep your approach high/long and slip to loose altitude once you have turned final. Be sure to respect the recommended slip/flap combinations on your aircraft (e.g. start your slip with 20º flaps in a C172, and wait to apply 30º until you have transitioned back to a standard approach)
        • Soft field landing. Add a touch of power on round out and hold the nose wheel off as long as possible.


The debrief

Upon rolling out from your final landing, you will know how your test went. Hopefully, you will be told that you are now a private pilot as you roll past the runway hold short line, but be sure to perform the proper after landing checklist and taxi checklist. Assuming this is the outcome, you will head in for a debrief and receive your temporary certificate on the spot.


Here are a couple of my own comments from this experience, that may be helpful to others:


  • Examiners really appreciate you talking through everything you are doing. Tell them what altitude you are climbing to, what heading you are going to select, etc. Also feel free to tell them that you are taking a minute to get the plane trimmed out for straight and level flight. Don’t leave them wondering.
  • If you are off by a little bit on your altitude, heading, airspeed, etc, it is OK. The PTS allows you to exceed tolerances from time to time as long as you are not consistently outside the threshold, and as long as you do something to fix it. Tell them you are off and what you are doing to correct it. The statement I read while preparing for this checkride that really resonated with me is: “Your examiner knows exactly what the plane is doing, what they don’t know is if you know what the plane is doing”. In otherwords, if you are off by 150ft in a maneuver or while cruising, don’t think you can get away with it and they just won’t notice. Make sure they know that you noticed it too and are actively working to correct it.
  • Study and memorize. While you are allowed to look things up in the FAR/AIM if you get stumped during the oral, you will be setting yourself well ahead if you don’t need to. Memorize the airspaces, memorize your plane’s Vspeeds, memorize checklists,  and memorize equipment lists.
  • Have fun. It is daunting at first, but I found my checkrides (mock and actual) to be enjoyable. You get to do a lot of interesting flying in a short period of time and by the time you are signed up for this, you should be well prepared. Good luck and have fun!



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