The Big Day: Tips for the Checkride

by HPA · October 1, 2013

The Big Day: Tips for the Checkride

by Lina C. Wiik

The day has finally come for you to demonstrate your exceptional pilot skills to a Designated Pilot Examiner. How many pilots are under the impression that it will be a flawless flight, the best of their training career? Odds are, not many. But neither does the examiner. When stress and nerves set in, it can easily lead to anxiety, distraction and misinterpretation. However, if you start your checkride strong, confident and organized, it tends to put your nerves at ease and help you focus on the task at hand. Here are a couple quick tips:

Prepare your paperwork. Ask yourself if you have all the necessary paperwork completed. The last thing an examiner wants is to spend an hour trying to find endorsements and flight requirements. Become familiar with your logbook, know your endorsements and total up the hours in your logbook. Don’t forget to have the aircraft maintenance logbooks available and know where to look up the required inspections.

Plan ahead. Check the weather for your route of flight. Gather METARs, TAFs, FAs, NOTAMs, etc. If there is a TFR or other restriction that will be a factor for your flight, have it mapped out clearly so you can quickly and accurately show the examiner that you have informed yourself with all available information pertaining the flight. Make sure you have your weight and balance completed for the actual flight. Though the examiner will assign a weight and balance scenario for the purposes of a ground discussion, one reflecting the conditions for the actual flight should also be prepared.

Bring your PTS! Bring any other applicable resources while you’re at it. If you don’t know the answer to a question you are expected by most DPE’s to be able to look it up for an accurate answer. However, don’t read verbatim from the book. Show your examiner where to look it up and form your own answer to their question. Most importantly, make sure you are familiar with the Practical Test Standards and the requirements for your check ride. Know your items and tolerances for each maneuver. If you have read the PTS carefully, you will note what is stated under Unsatisfactory Performance: “Consistently exceeding tolerances stated in the Objectives.” Consistently usually means more than once. If you exceed your tolerance slightly on an item or two, it does not necessarily mean a failed checkride. With that being said, there are a few critical items on various checkrides that does not allow for any deviation: spin recovery procedures, DH/MDH altitudes on IFR check ride, VMC speed on multiengine check rides, etc.


Be concise. During your oral exam, stay on the question and answer firmly and confident. Don’t go into detail unless asked. For example, if the examiner ask you about the color of your shirt, “red” will suffice. Do not tout it as a Tuscan red with a hint of raspberry. It will only confuse the examiner and elude the purpose of the question. The next question out of the examiner’s mouth will most likely be, “Define Tuscan red.”

Checklist Usage, Visual Scanning, Collision Avoidance. These are hot items with the FAA, along with the rest of the Special Emphasis Areas found in the front of each PTS. Don’t forget to back up your emergency memory items with your checklist. Don’t forget to be continuously doing clearing turns. Two 90 degree turns or one 180 degree is widely accepted by examiners. Some pilots are under the impression that a steep turn can substitute for clearing turns. I would caution against that since it is not recommended by the FAA.

From a personal standpoint, having signed off somewhere around 45 students for various checkrides, about 85% have the worst flight just before their checkride due to “performance anxiety”. Remember to stay calm, relax and remain confident throughout your checkride. Remember that you have passed the FAA knowledge exam and your flight instructor found you proficient to pass the oral and flight exam. Trust yourself!

A few Do Not’s:

  • Do not stay up all night studying. Do a quick review before bed and call it a night!
  • Do not forget breakfast. Fueling your brain and body right is the first step to success.
  • Do not dwell on the past. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it and move on!

With confidence and a bit of luck, you’ll emerge from the day with a smile and a paper pilot certificate with your name on it!

How it Started

One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.

Training Begins

It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.

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The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.

First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).


At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.

Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.

Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.

In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.

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