My Check Ride

Last modified October 25, 2005, and copyright © 2005 John DeFranco, all rights reserved.
Used with permission

This page describes my experiences from my Private Pilot Certificate Check Ride.


In the weeks leading up to my check ride were some of the most intense I can remember since college. It was also some of the most frustrating. First of all it took me a long, long time to get to this point. By the time I was scheduled for my check ride I had close to 160 flying hours in two years of lessons. There are various reasons that this took so long but for whatever reason it did.

I remember my long cross country. It was a exciting but nervous time to first Columbia (O22) near Angels Camp, California. After a small hour or so lay over it was on to Los Banos (LSN0 for my second stop and then back home to Reid-Hillview. Everything went pretty close to plan. I was slightly off on my coarse getting to Columbia but I just zeroed in on my VOR and before long there it was! All of my calculations were very close, time fuel and checkpoints.

One by one the rest of my requirements were obtained. First my required night landings, hood work and solo hours. I took my stage three check right. It was grueling, but I got through it, not with flying colors but with some good words from my examiner. He also passed on some very useful hints. Now I was ready! But as the best laid plans this did not quite work out as my flight instructor and I had hoped. First the flight club I took lessons from went from three to two to one Cessna 172 trainers. As predicated time for this plane became hard to come by. Top this off with the added problem that the problem started to have engine problems. Turns out every couple of weeks the mechanics had to replace a cylinder! Each time the engine required a minimum 25 hour break in period, during which the plane could not really be used for any training since we could not do pattern work or other maneuvers. After the fourth cylinder everyone started to look a little closer at this problem. At first the mechanics thought the problem was related to the engine being run too lean. No one really believed how this could happen however since the plane was used only for training and no one was really leaning it out. After more digging the mechanics found that the plane had the wrong carburetor! Once that was replaced the problems seemed to be finally resolved!

The problem with the plane was found and resolved but not before it affected my first scheduled check ride. I was scheduled for October 14, but the plane did not cooperate. Now that the plane was ready I was rescheduled for October 25th. The date was October 10th. Just over two weeks! So now it was flying as much as I could with my flight instructor to get all of my maneuvers within Practical test standards. Included were several ground sessions to really be able to nail whatever the FAA examiner could come up with. So I was flying almost every other day for two weeks and studying at night everything I think I ever learned during my two years of flight instructions.

Ok it was getting close. October 24th the last lesson with my instructor. As many maneuvers as we could. My weakest was (and is) soft field landings. We must have done 15-20 over the last two weeks! The ones I did this day were ok. I'm not 100% sure they were within PTS but I was counting on them being good enough. Now for a hour or so of paper work to get ready for the big day!


After we finished up the paper work we gave a call to the FAA examiner to ask him where he wanted me to plan a flight to for my test. Part of the examination is to show our flight planning skills and decision making abilities. The verdict, plan a flight from Reid-Hillview to Fresno Yosemite International. Not a very difficult task. South to about Frazier Lake, hang a left, point southeast and there you go. Hardest part for the flight plan is the weather. None of the calculations are very hard, just getting the weather translated from the weather briefer! But after a little effort there it was.

I started the day early, I left for Reid-Hillview at about 9:30am. My test was scheduled to start at 2:00PM. I finished my flight plan, getting what weather I could early. I then started going over everything my instructor and I had been studying for the last four weeks. Sitting in the busily Reid-Hillview terminal I read text, studied my notes, looked over charts, made other notes to myself.

At 1:15 I finalized the weather for my flight plan and filed it. I was not sure if we would open it but if so it was ready, so was I! At 1:55 I drifted into the Tradewinds Aviation office, checked out the mechanical logs for the plane and waited, in what seemed like the longest 10 minutes of my life. The dispatcher working the desk this day had just taken his check ride with the same FAA examiner the week earlier. I resisted any attempts to ask anything about how it went or any of his experiences. I decided that I wanted to know little to nothing about the examiner or his methods prior to my exam. This way I did not have to interpret anyone else's opinion or have any preconceived notions. I decided this was one way to remove (or at least not add) any addition stress.

As with anything like this it starts with the same thing - paper work! Then I handed over my $375.00 and we were ready to start. A few questions about aircraft systems, some about endorsements - nothing unexpected however. Then we started looking over the flight logs. I had only done this once with my instructor but the logs are organized as one would expect. The hardest part to this is knowing what is required and when. But my instructor had trained me well and it presented no real issues.

Now onto the flight plan. This is a destination that the examiner uses all the time so he knows it very well. I suspect he looks for obvious errors, like going over mountainous terrain or something like that. In any event he asked me about weather and if I thought we could go. I absolutely believe he already knows the weather and is just seeing if he agrees with my decision. Weather was good and I said we should do it. Now he asked me the one item that turned out to be the one that blindsided me. He asked if I had done a weights and balance. I said no, but I did that on purpose figuring I would do that on site. He said great go ahead. I have done many, many sample weights and balance problems for both the knowledge test and recently during my studies. But here is what threw me, although it definitely should not have. Normally with these types of problems you are given a certain amount of data and then you fill in the rest. In this case I had no data, but I was not worried because I had my very own POH. I started with the weight of the plane and then us, etc. As I was working on this the examiner asked "where did you get the plans weight from?". "Thats not our plane!". All of a sudden I realized that I needed the weight for our plane, where was I going to get that? I freaked for a second or two until I realized that it was in the weights and balances section of the POH on board. The examiner smiled and I went to get the POH. I returned and started working again. The examiner then said this was not the right weight. I was totally lost again! What was going on here. This is were I believe the examiner gave me a break. If he told me what was wrong I believe I would have failed right there. I truly believe that he did not want to do that. He said he could not help me but very gently pointed something out that made everything very clear. "What's that date?" he asked. I very , very quickly realized that I was looking at an obsolete weight. There was an updated page with the proper weight! Now I had it! I finished the calculations. I told him we were with the category we needed to be in and he was OK with. With the ground segment done I went out to preflight. Half the test down, now comes the hard part.

The examiner was not there for the pre-flight. He came out to help me push the plane out in the taxi way in preparation to start. When he got in he said, "I will not need a passenger briefing, we will not open the flight plan and we will not need to get flight following unless we end up going through someone's airspace". Ground rules set, I was ready to do my best. Starting, taxi, run up all went well, as they have for over 160 hours of flight so far. "Lets stay in the pattern and get the required take offs and landings out of the way" he told me. Sounded good to me. Take offs give me few problems. First the short field. 10 degrees of flaps, start from as far back on the runway as possible, standing on the brakes and full power. In a few seconds we were airborne and climbing at Vx. "We've cleared the 50ft obstruction" the examiner proclaimed and I raised the flaps and pitched for Vy. First landing was a soft field. I'm ok with this so I came down pretty well. Kept the nose gear off the ground until it settled on its own. One down.

Next was a soft field take off. Again not much of an issue. Now the dreaded short field landing! I concentrated on my touchdown point and keeping stable at 60kts. I may have touched down a little before I should have but I cleared the 50ft obstruction and stopped by the point he wanted me to so again I was pretty happy. The third go round was an engine failure on downwind. Short approach, nice smooth landing. The most stressful part for me was now done. Next, getting into the air and start our flight plan.

I knew from my check ride that we would not actually fly very much, if any of the flight plan. Maybe one or two legs then a diversion. Well in this case we really didn't even fly a full leg. My altitude was suppose to be 5500. As we came up on 3000 I was told to level out at 3500. Then I was told "see that dam ahead, pretend you are at that point. I want you to divert me to Watsonville. Figure out your heading, time distance and fuel needed.". Not a big issue. I figured out I needed to fly 095 degrees, that it was 18 nm, would take about 11 minutes at our current speed and use 1.3 gallons of fuel. No need to actually steer the coarse, he just wanted to be sure I could figure all of this out. From here we did some steep turns, slow flight and a couple of stalls. At this point he gave me another break. I gained some altitude when setting up for slow flight. The examiner allowed me to setup again and redo the maneuver. This time I got it and all was well.

Now he wanted me to land at South County. I believe he wanted to see if I could figure out the traffic pattern and enter it correctly. I descended to the proper altitude and made a radio call to get traffic advisories. I was told that left traffic 14 was being used so I started setting up for a 45 entry. This is where I used the one and I believe only hint my instructor gave me. He mentioned a couple of days before that this examiner likes to have you enter on the 45 at mid field. I took this advise and entered on the 45 at mid field. I landed without incident and we taxied back. We took off and I was facing my last set of maneuvers, hood work.

After I departed the pattern I put the hood on. He had me climb and to steer to a couple of different headings. Then he dialed in the SJC VOR and asked me to track to it. No real problems but it was really windy and thus pretty bumpy. After a couple of minutes I faced my last set of tests, unusual attitudes. I ducked my head and closed my eyes as the examiner twisted and tossed the plane. "Ok recover". I checked the attitude indicator which told me I was going down and to the left. A quick check of the airspeed indicator confirmed I was going pretty fast. I pulled the power, leveled the wings and pulled back on the yoke. I adjusted the power setting and put the plane back into level flight. One more of these, which I knew would be climbing. I easily recovered from this one. Removed the hood and all that was left was to return to Reid. Interestingly my examiner did this. Since we had completed all the required maneuvers he took this opportunity to demonstrate something that he commented on during other parts of my test. He did not like the way I used power to climb and descend, so he showed me what he meant. He even did the landing at Reid.

Done, no issue with the taxi back. I was feeling pretty good. I did not know if I passed but I was happy it was over and I did feel I did pretty well. I also did not ask how I did. I figured he would tell me one way or the other in a few minutes. As I secured the plane the dispatcher came out and asked how I did. I told him it went well but I did not know the outcome yet. A few minutes later my instructor came out. He had a reserved smile and asked how I think I did. I told him I thought I did well. He asked if I thought I had done well enough to pass. I told him yes. He then said that the examiner thought so as well! Like a huge heavy weight had been lifted I was as happy as I could be. A couple of pics for the board and I went in to debrief with the examiner.

After Thoughts

Just like it started the process ended with paperwork. I was given my Temporary Airman Certificate to sign and read. Last minute questions? Nope. I shook the examiners hand, thanked him more times than I can remember and started to leave. Getting congratulations on the way out I stopped to thank my now ex-instructor one last time. He was able to get me through all of this and for that I'm truly thankful.

So now what to do? Well to be honest the first thing I have to do is give a couple of rides. First to the person who got me started with lessons then for whomever in my family wants one. The other item high on my list is to get checked out in the Cherokee and the 172 sp. That way I will have some options for planes.

Final thoughts? Well this is not the end but instead the beginning. A whole new world is now opened. Like looking over the horizon, don't know what is there, just bring it on!