Private Pilot Checkride Story

4:51 PM Thursday, January 20, 2011

So, I read a lot of checkride stories leading up to my ride so I thought I would put down what I can remember to help out the future pilots out there.

Well, I woke up at 3:30am and never could fall back asleep, so I got up at 4:30 and showered and sat down to look at the weather. Since I live in the midwest and it is January, of course it was snowing. My exam was scheduled to start at 8am and the weather was saying I would be clear by 10am so I was crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. I reworked my time and fuel based on the new wind numbers that were predicted and did a bit of last minute studying (probably not worth the effort).

At 7am I headed for the airport to meet up with my instructor, Tim, for some last minute advice and check over my cross country. When I arrived we talked about a few things and then he took off for Des Moines and I was left alone in the lounge watching the snow outside, which would have been peaceful if I wasn't such a nervous wreck.

8am rolled around and the FAA Examiner, Chris, came out to get all my paperwork. He disappeared for about 20 minutes to fill out all the forms and came back and said we were good to get started. He explained the exam, what he expected, how much it cost, what would happen if I failed or couldn't complete the exam etc. Then we started...

The first 30min were easy questions, I was feeling quite confident and happy with my performance, I was even beginning to hope that we would be done soon. Well I guess he wanted to dig until I was stumped and once he found my weakness he kept digging. My weakness was density altitude. I know what it is (pressure altitude corrected for non-standard temp) and I know that it decreases performance in the airplane, what I didn't know was the science behind why it decreased performance. Needless to say, now I do, and I will never forget it (warmer air = less dense = less horsepower and high ground speeds for landing). Ugg, then he asked me about spins, and I proudly told him how to get out of a spin, but he wasn't satisfied with that he wanted to know why we did each step and the science behind it. Since we are not allowed to practice spins, I had just learned what I needed to do to get out of one and never really thought about each step and why we would do it that way, now I will never forget that either. Then we moved on to some questions I did know and I was regaining some confidence. Then he said ok, check on that weather and let me know if it is a go or no go. I guess that meant I didn't fail the oral, woot!!

I started looking over weather and the numbers were quite different. I looked at a bunch of different sources and everything indicated that we could probably go around noon. Our cross country was planned from KDVN to MSP and the numbers were even indicating that we could fly the whole thing (even though I knew we would be flying a very small portion of it). I informed Chris of my decision and we parted ways for a couple of hours.

I am very glad I choose to wait, for one, it gave me time to recover from the oral and convince myself that the hard part was over, I could fly the plane, in fact I knew I was pretty damn good at flying the plane. Second, the weather changed drastically for the better.

Noon rolled around things looked great. I had the shop guys pull the plane out so I could preflight. I got all my papers situated and calmed myself down. I went inside to get Chris and we headed out to fly.

I started up (a little bit of an issue since it was cold, damn midwest January) but got her on the third try. Listened to ASOS, and of course it started to say wind...missing, sky condition...missing, great, today of all days. I let it cycle though and the next time around the only missing number was the sky condition. I could see a scattered layer about 2500-3000 feet. I mentioned it and said we would see what it was like when we got up there. Off we went for 33. I remembered my taxi inputs, which is something I usually forget, and my instructor always let me know about. We did the run-up and I wasn't happy with the oil temp so I said we would wait, like all my instructors had me do in the past (I will come back to this at the end). Then I took a look around and decided we were good to go. He asked for a short take-off, so short we did. Yay it was good and I held Vx over my 50ft, I am pleased. We turn crosswind and he asks for a short landing. I set it up, I use my checklist, I don't quite get the power back quick enough when I level off and we get a bit fast, but I think I am still ok. Short landing goes well. Soft take-off. I get it off ASAP and hold in ground effect until Vx and climb while cleaning up and accelerating. Yay things are going great. He then asks for a soft Field landing. Set-up is good, approach is good, landing is so-so, I ballooned a bit but I kept the nose off the ground and he doesn't end the exam so I shake it off and move on. He says do a normal take-off and start on the cross country. I pull out my papers. I note the time and I depart 33. Once up I make a radio call that we are departing to the northwest, heading 334. First checkpoint is in 7 min, I am climbing for 4500 but he has me level at 3000. I am watching close to make sure I am on course and staying at altitude. As we approach the river I see the bridge I check my watch, 5 min. I wait until we are almost over it, and say that we are over the bridge and we are right on 7 min. He says ok, take me to Cedar Rapids. No problem, I know that it is going to be mostly to the west, so I start turning. I tune to the VOR and listen to identify. I tune the OBS and I am right on course. I track to it for about 30 seconds then we are headed for some clouds so I say I am going to descend to get below them, he says how bout you put on the foggles instead. So I do, and we do some turns to headings, climbs and descents and unusual attitudes. Things go well and I am done. Next are stalls, things go well. Next are steep turns, my nemesis, I told myself I could do it and not to chase the instruments, I started out ok, but my second turn wasn't awesome, I ended a bit fast and a bit too low, but he didn't say anything and he didn't end the exam. Again there were some clouds so I said I was going to descend and he said ooops lost your engine, so I did my checklist, looked for a Field and set-up to land. In my practice ones with my instructor we stayed pretty high, once he was confident we would make it he had me go around, well the examiner let me damn near land. There were power lines right before the Field I picked and we came down almost to them, I really thought we were going to land. Finally he said go-around, phew. Next was ground reference. I brought us to 1500 feet and we did turns around a point and then we did s turns around a road, both went excellent (in my opinion). Then he said take me back to the airport. We were pretty close so I radioed that we were 6 to the NW and inbound for landing on 33. I listened to the weather. I radioed we were 3 out and I set up for a normal landing. As I am almost on flare he says go-around (which I was kind of expecting but I was concentrating on landing and had forgotten) so I went full throttle and climbed out. He said to do another normal landing, so I set-up and my approach was good. My landing was soft and pretty nice if I may say so. He said taxi back via Delta and park.

I park and shut down. Now we discuss a couple of things. My checklist use, he pointed out a few things that I didn't do, and to my surprise I didn't even know they were on the checklist, specifically that on run-up I should be pulling the throttle full aft following the runup and if the engine doesn't falter I am good to go. Well I had been taught that since it was cold to keep the rpms up and get it warm. He said that was bull crap and we could wait all day, it was just wasting money and fuel. Ok, point taken. Second my steep turn wasn't very good, watch my pitch and it would have been fine. Next he says, well I don't have any major areas of concern, then he got out and left. What does that mean!?!?! Did I pass, I think it meant I passed. I packed all my crap up, and did a few deep breaths. Got out and pushed the plane back (not an easy feat on and icy ramp). Then I went inside. As I walked in, Chelsea (the brains at Carver) said I had a horrified look on my face, I said, it was a horrifying experience. Then Dan (another well oiled cog in the Carver chain) asked if he yelled at me while we were flying, I said no, and he said you passed. I am pretty sure that I did at this point but I am not jumping for joy until I have that paper.

20 very long minutes later, Chris hands me a temporary certificate and says congratulations!!!! OMG, I am a frickin' pilot!!!

Well, I have to say it was an exhausting day but I was so excited when I left. And today I am even more excited, I can't wait to take my husband up this weekend, my very first passenger.


  1. Thanks for posting. Hope I can do as well as you did.


  2. Small world. I'm working on my PPL and KDVN is my home airport too...also studying at Carver!! Happy to read your story as Chris is still the examiner there, so I feel like I'll have a slight edge. Congratulations!


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