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Pass Your FAA Checkride - 10 Tips You MUST Know
by Jonathan Money

08/08 - Of all the tests you'll take in your life, the FAA practical flight test is one you don't want to repeat. Months of flight training and ground school have led to this one moment - the culmination of your aviation knowledge. Here's your chance to shine, to show the FAA examiner everything you've learned both on the ground and in the air. By following the 10 tips listed below, you'll not only pass your FAA checkride - you'll do it with skill and confidence.

Preparation is Everything - Days before your FAA checkride, have your homework done early. Know the practical test standards (PTS) inside and out, especially the suggested minimum altitudes for each required flight maneuver. Did you research your examiner? Have you talked to other pilots who might've gotten their license through him? You may be able to find out if there are certain aeronautical areas the FAA examiner stresses more than others. Are you taking your flight test at your home airport? If not, you'd make sure you take at least a few practice flights there. Know the runways, the taxiways - learn everything you possibly can beforehand, and arm yourself with that knowledge going into your flight test.

Get a Good Start - Not many people understand this, but your FAA checkride starts the night before. Forgo studying... getting a good night's sleep is way more important than anything you might cram into your head at the last minute. Wake refreshed, relaxed, and eat a solid breakfast. Think back to your flight training, and try to remember the good days: your first solo, your sharpest maneuvers, and all the best landings that you ever made. Get yourself into a mental state of cool confidence. Being a bit nervous is normal, but remember that to have reached this point you already know your stuff.

Have all your Paperwork Ready - Believe it or not, many pilots show up to their FAA checkride without all their identification or paperwork in order. Go over your 8710 airman certificate application with a fine-tooth comb, then ask your flight instructor to do it also. Inconveniencing the FAA examiner by having to fill out a new application during your flight test is going to leave a bad taste in his or her mouth. Check your sectional charts to make sure they're current. Ditto for your airport directory. Get two weather briefings: a standard briefing the night before and an abbreviated one the morning of your flight test. Write everything down and bring it to the test with you. Check and re-check your logbook, to make sure you have all the minimum flight hours for each area of your training. Have your CFI double-check to make sure you've been signed off on all necessary ratings and endorsements, and that all your dates are straight. Having everything current, neatly filled out, and in proper order will start your checkride off on the right foot.

Know your Route - Understand the route the examiner asked you to plot for your flight plan, as well as the route to your alternate airport. While you probably won't be flying the full length of the plotted course, you should know everything about these routes inside and out including altitude minimums or airspace requirements. Prepare a lapboard cheat sheet the night before, with all necessary frequencies of surrounding airports written down and easily accessible. Mentally prepare contingency plans based upon an in-flight emergency anywhere along those routes, because your examiner might pull the throttle on you at any time.

Know that you Don't Know Everything - The oral part of your FAA flight exam is just as important as the flying portion, and you should certainly treat it as such. However, remember here that you're an aviation student, and the FAA examiner is most likely an experienced pilot or aviation professional. The examiner isn't expecting you to know everything, but he or she is looking for serious holes in your aeronautical knowledge. Don't give the examiner a reason to fail you by not knowing the basics - you should know the fundamentals of flight inside and out. On the more complicated subjects you should have identified your weaknesses and worked on strengthening them before arriving at your checkride. Giving one word answers will demonstrate a lack of knowledge; always try to elaborate when answering a question but don't give false information or guess at the answers. You'll be asked situational and hypothetical questions as well. The instructor will not only be looking for the right answer, he'll be more interested in seeing if you know why your answer is correct. It's okay if you don't know everything, but it's not okay if you're showing the examiner a lack of having studied the material in your practical test standards.

Organize your Airplane - Don't show up to your checkride with under-inflated tires, low on oil, or anything else that could ding you right off the bat. When the preflight inspection starts, you're going to be concentrating on your checklist. This isn't the time to have to dig through the plane for your AROW and aircraft documents, so have them readily available and accessible way beforehand. Double check that you have the instrument visor or foggles within easy reach during the flight test. Clean the floor of the airplane of any charts, debris or other clutter, and make sure the seatbelts are adjusted correctly and in good working order. All of these little things add up to a smooth preflight and runup.

Maintain Balance - While flying, try to maintain a good balance of attention both inside and outside the aircraft. The examiner wants to see you scan for traffic, so when you do it, make it overly obvious to him. However, don't allow yourself to get lost in the world outside the cockpit for too long. You need to maintain airspeed and altitude minimums according to the practical test standards, and you also need to keep the aircraft within it's acceptable limitations. Trim the airplane as soon as you can, usually upon reaching cruise altitude. Not only will this help you concentrate more on flying and less on making small constant corrections, but it will also show the examiner that you value control. When asked to demonstrate steep turns, stalls, or any other flight maneuver, make certain you're at the proper altitude and airspeed (according to the PTS) before beginning. If not, announce to the examiner that you're going to climb, descend, or adjust your speed, then make your clearing turn before starting.

Use your Checklists - Just as the FAA examiner wants to see that you prepared for your checkride, he wants to see you prepared during your checkride. During every phase of your flight, make sure you use your checklist. Don't speed through the motions out of nervousness either - take your time and do things correctly. Aside from your standard checklist and sectional map, you should have a piece of scrap paper on your kneeboard with a pencil readily available. Use this during your preflight to jot down the ATIS information and wind direction. Before arriving for your flight test, you should also have neatly listed all of the frequencies you'll need during your flight. Don't be afraid to refer to this information during various stages of your checkride, but never forget to maintain control of the airplane.

Acknowledge Mistakes - Very few student pilots will fly a perfect checkride - mistakes happen. If you make a mistake during your flight test, don't expect it to go unnoticed. The best thing to do is announce the mistake, explain why it was a mistake, and then ask the FAA examiner if you can repeat the maneuver. Most likely you'll be given another chance to do it, and the examiner will appreciate that you recognized the failure before having to be told. If the examiner points the mistake out, once again apologize and ask to repeat. Don't make excuses or try the manuever again without asking the examiner. Maintain positive control of the aircraft, and try not to overcorrect when repeating the procedure the second time.

Fly Confidently and Safely - More important than just about everything else, you must be master of the airplane during your flight test. Put your nervousness aside and remember that flying the aircraft comes first before anything else. Make smooth movements through the throttle, and make coordinated turns with your rudder. Confidently announce your intentions to the instructor during various stages of the flight, such as when making clearning turns or leaning out the mixture. Throughout your flight test the FAA examiner will be writing things down - this is neither good nor bad, so don't let it distract you. If you don't fixate on the fact that you're being tested, you'll be more prone to relax and fly the plane a lot more smoothly and normally. If you need to, mentally remind yourself that you've flown and landed your airplane dozens of times before.

To pass your FAA checkride, you'll need to remain calm and focused. By following the tips above, any student pilot will begin and end his or her flight test by making a positive impression on the FAA examiner. In closing, remember that the flight training involved in getting to your checkride should have been the hard part. The checkride itself should be nothing more than nice day of flying.