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Sport Pilot Checkrides
Alyssa Pasquale – October 21, 2018
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- Alan wanted me to not be nervous, after I’d mentioned I was. He asked me about my last name and asked if I spoke Spanish. I speak Italian. We chatted for about half an hour about his recent trip to Italy, and then talked about Albuquerque and how he is a balloon pilot and was out for the ABQ ballon fest.
- About an hour of paperwork. So much paperwork. I’d mentioned over the phone that I had a paper application due to an IACRA snafu. When he asked for my certificate I had to figure out which was which, and he asked about my other certificate (my AGI).
- Alan was very glad that I had all of my endorsements flagged with sticky notes in my logbook. I have a ton of endorsements so it made both of our lives easier.
- I think because he knew I had an AGI that he went really deep really quickly with my oral questions.
- About the first thing was part 61 vs. part 91. I had gotten them confused so I read the titles in the FAR to clear things up.
- Then PAVE / IMSAFE. We went through just about everything (but I don’t think we got to the E in PAVE). He went into a lot of detail. He asked about night flying restrictions, and because I’d prepped so much for private I wasn’t sure. It’s 29 minutes after sunset. I looked up restrictions for sport pilot in the FAR and the definition of night in §1.1 which is about as clear as mud. He said that I’d demonstrated that I could use the FAR and if needed could have eventually found where it says 29 minutes.
- He asked me something about alcohol because I mentioned I almost never drink. More looking things up in the FAR.
- I can’t remember what else he asked about but he definitely had me look up something in the AIM to demonstrate that I understood both halves of the book.
- Gave me some situations about flying with friends. What happens when you turn on the heat and your brother falls asleep (hypoxia, turn the heat off and open all of the vents, emergency land at the nearest airport). What happens when your best friend is breathing very rapidly as you fly up the skyline (hyperventilation, ask her to take slow deep breaths).
- Went through the airplane mx logs. He asked me how do I know if the airplane is airworthy? I’m really glad I’d taught that ground school class a few weeks back. Only thing I forgot was how often the registration has to be renewed (3 years).
- Situation: you are flying with your best friend and get to Waterloo. Then a bad front rolls in, you’re stuck on the ground, and you’re now two days past your annual. How do you get home? This one I did well at. I need to call FSDO to get a special permit. Alan actually had one that he showed me, which I thought was cool. It has all of the restrictions right on it. I knew no pax, but also the special permit says that you also can’t even bring their luggage. So my best friend and her luggage get an Uber back to Aurora. Do you fly the most direct route home? Special permit says yes but you can’t fly over any congested areas, so most direct given that restriction.
- He had me break out my chart. He asked me about how I chose my checkpoints. Big airports, interstate highways (they have distinct interchanges and an interstate/interstate interchange is about the gold standard for checkpoints in my opinion), railroad tracks, and rivers are my favorite daytime checkpoints. He asked me where the highest elevation on the chart is (I’d already had it highlighted). Then he broke out a Phoenix chart and had me repeat the process with an unfamiliar chart. He asked me what my intended cruising altitude was and how I’d chosen it. We used that as an opportunity to discuss altitude limitations for sport pilots and what happens if I’m flying someplace like Phoenix where elevations can be 12,000’. We discussed how high AGL a sport pilot can go over 10,000’ MSL, and how it’s a really bad idea in mountainous areas. Asked me about isogonic lines. Minimum elevation figures got us into how to use clues on the chart to figure out how low we can fly over an obstacle vs. natural terrain.
- He asked me something about airspace that got into “look for white boxes” which is the approach frequency for nearby airports like MDW. Who do you call if you need more detailed wx information? We discussed how to call FSS over a VOR.
- Can you use the back of the TAF for navigation? Hint: read the back of the TAF. It clearly says no.
- We went through my weather briefing. I’d printed out the whole thing (28 pages). I’d highlighted key things and made comments in the margins. I was so lucky to have VFR weather (10 mi / clear skies at EVERY airport en-route) and decent winds so it was easy to go over. I’d printed out a bunch of wx charts. He asked me to go over them and I said I’d go big-picture to small-picture. (He liked that.) Started with the CONUS surface analysis chart (what does this tell us? what is it good for?), then CONUS wx depiction chart, I had a visibility chart for midwest, ceiling chart for midwest, then a printout of the AIRMET tango (low altitude) that was on the wx brief. He asked me about it. I said I had a hunch that we wouldn’t get that far but I’d keep it in mind in case we got close to Iowa. He asked about the difference between METARs and TAFs. Anything notable on the wx briefing? I said the notable thing was how nice the wx was, and at about 8 p.m. RFD TAF had LLWS, but that it wasn’t legal for me to fly that late anyway as a sport pilot this time of year. I was SO glad I taught ground school on wx services one week ago!
- He brought up a secondary front on the surface analysis chart. Two cold fronts back-to-back. I hadn’t heard of that before but apparently it’s a really bad thing. He asked me what different types of fronts were. Stationary, cold, warm. He asked about what I would expect winds to be in Chicagoland (high pressure, good wx, isobars far apart so not a ton of wind), then pointed to an area where isobars were closer together (higher wind). Then he asked what a trough was and what I could expect as far as wx goes (bad).
- Alan brought out a picture from his binder. It was a runway with a wind tetrahedron aligned exactly 90 degrees crosswind. He asked me what runway to land on. I was even more glad that that exact same question had come up during the ground school session I had taught literally the previous day. Answer: crosswind from the right is the way to go. Also, know which way the wind tetrahedron points!
- I know we discussed a lot more but I was still kind of nervous and have since forgotten a ton. A lot of questions he asked me were real mind-benders and I said “that’s a good question” a LOT. I’m pretty sure he was testing my limits by about 10 minutes in to the oral.
- Pre-flight of the airplane. Alan watched and asked me “not to instruct him” and that he’d ask me questions later as needed. Asked me where the static ports are and what instruments they are connected to. What will happen if the pitot tube gets clogged? Where’s the transponder antenna? Is the airplane airworthy?
- I did a full takeoff briefing including seatbelts, door usage, environmental controls, transfer of controls, using his eyeballs to help look for traffic (airplanes, drones, and birds). He was particularly glad that I asked him to look for drones.
- Starting the airplane. I was about to turn the key and Alan said “it won’t start.” Turns out I’d forgotten to turn on the master.
- Alan brought up the right-seat altimeter, which I set using the elevation showing on my altimeter after dialing in the correct barometric pressure on the EFD from ATIS. The Kollsman window is inop on the right-seat altimeter so you can’t adjust it with the pressure setting.
- He said he would want proper cross-wind taxi controls which reminded me to dial the wind in using the bug.
- I asked Alan if he was good to go, checked the brakes, taxied over to where the tower could see me. Got clearance from ground (27 via alpha). It took a bit of power to get going and during the debrief Alan said that when I get my ground clearance I should taxi without delay. He asked me for a short-field takeoff (“let’s get one of the non-normal ones over with here at Aurora.”)
- Runup was fine. I verbalized what I was doing. Went through the short-field takeoff checklist before taxiing onto the runway. I asked Alan if he was good to go before takeoff. I remembered to record the time at takeoff for navigation!!
- Takeoff was fine even with some crosswinds and bumps near the ground. Tower had cleared me for a right turn-out, but then had me fly a runway heading. I didn’t hear back from them after they spoke with the conflicting traffic so I asked for approval to get back onto my heading. I told Alan that I would be a little farther south than I was expecting.
- Visibility was easily 50 miles, so I could see DeKalb airport (checkpoint 1) easily. I showed Alan some of the spots on the chart that I used to get my bearings and make sure I was on track. Dialed the AWOS and CTAF to maintain wx and situational awareness. I made position reports (estimated my distance) a couple times, about 8 miles out and just south of the airport.
- Alan asked me how long it took to get to checkpoint 1, how long I expected to get to checkpoint 2. Checkpoint 2 was I-39. I pointed out Rochelle airport when I saw it, and Rockford, and the cooling towers for the nuclear power plant. I dialed in RPJ AWOS and CTAF and mentioned that I wanted to stay clear because there were jumpers out.
- He didn’t even get me as far as checkpoint 2 before giving me an “engine out” simulation. Luckily I was directly over a private strip which I said I’d use as my landing spot. He was very impressed with that decision (thanks to Jack for making sure I’m always on the lookout for private strips!).
- Steep turns were next. I felt a little cramped being between DKB and RPJ and not in the practice area where I normally did maneuvers. I mentioned this and said that I would do my clearing turns in a direction that would keep me away from the airports, and maintain a south heading. I also mentioned the wind turbines nearby that I had to be cognizant of. Did a clearing turn. I was +20/-0 on my right and +20/-20 on my left steep turn. Rolled out on a good south heading. I love the NS-EW roads in the midwest.
- Slow flight. Did clearing turn first. He had me turn to another heading. I mentioned that I needed to keep my turn rate nice and slow. He wanted a power-off stall. I asked if the turn to a heading would count as a clearing turn and he said yes. Lost about 200’ before recovering.
- Back up to speed for a departure stall. Clearing turn first. Slowed down and then did the stall. Lost about 50’.
- I can’t remember what order we did this in but we also did an accelerated standard rate turn stall after a clearing turn. I remembered 2 minute turn but didn’t know the bank angle which is about 10 degrees. I had almost never practiced these. He had asked during the oral about which wing will stall first (the high wing, due to higher AOA). Don’t touch the power and don’t change the bank (which was hard not to do), just keep the nose up to maintain altitude and you’ll stall. It took me a while before I stalled because it was tricky to nose up rather than increase bank. Stalled, the high wing stalled first as expected. Recover. I lost about 200’ but only because I increased bank rather than pitch. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as much if I had done the stall correctly.
- At some point he asked me about what flight control surface becomes effective first in an airplane. I was 99.99% sure it was rudder so that’s what I said. He asked me what’s the most important surface for recovering from a spin (RUDDER, thanks spin training!) and from a stall (rudder and elevator), etc. This confirmed my hunch that it is the rudder that becomes effective first. My spin and aerobatic training has made my feet really good at keeping coordinated and that was something he was impressed with throughout my entire flight.
- Had me turn to a 50 degree heading just to screw with me because it’s too easy to fly NS-EW with the roads and farms out here. Was satisfied that I could do it and then had me fly an east heading.
- Guess how lucky I was? A second engine out! I chose a field to land in (no private strip this time, I looked). I said I would fly to my key position (he was glad that I used that terminology) which I chose based on surface wind (from the west) and do turns to descend. He informed me that the ground was at 1500’ indicated so that was where I should expect to pretend to land. I would have made a really hard landing if it had been 1500’ but he was satisfied.
- Stay at 1500’ and do turns around a point. Which way is the wind going? I knew surface winds were from the west and he pointed out the little wind direction arrow on my EFD. It was smooth as whipped cream at 4500’ and bumpy at 1500’. Wind direction was all over the place. I pointed out smoke coming from a chimney indicating definite west winds on the ground. He was happy that I was using visual cues to figure these things out. I had to head north to be downwind. I said I would fly south past the intersection that I had chosen and then turn 180 degrees which would also act as my clearing turn. My turn around the point was a bit tight and fast, which was another item he brought up in my debrief. He had said during the oral that I was not allowed to use a house as the point of reference for the maneuver.
- Climb to 2500’ and let’s go to DKB for some landings. Listened to AWOS and made reports on CTAF (estimated my distance, still not allowed to use the GPS). Wind was right down 20 which was perfect. I did teardrop entry. I saw an aircraft on the taxiway doing a runup and said I’d keep my eyes open. I think somebody was also on base or final (no factor). Alan asked me to find a wind indicator. There’s a windsock just about midfield and it was pointing right down the runway as expected. Uncharacteristic of me, I hadn’t written down TPA for DKB but I had my chart on me so I knew to expect ~1900’. He wanted a soft-field landing full-stop. Guy doing the runup took off, other traffic was about 3 miles out, no factor. My landing was a bit side loaded due to wind changing directions and Alan said I needed to keep more aileron correction. Otherwise I suppose it was reasonably soft. Got off the runway, did my after landing checklist (minus turning fuel pump off) after clearing and announcing I was clear of 20.
- Taxied back to the runway. He wanted a soft-field takeoff. I went over the checklist. I love soft-field takeoffs. I’ve never done one on a paved runway before! Announced my intention to depart, did a great soft-field takeoff. Stayed in the pattern.
- I asked what kind of landing he wanted next and he said “a safe one. Put it down on the numbers.” Somebody was landing, I made good usage of my eyeballs. Announced my positions. I was a bit high when turning base so I did a forward slip through to final. Was right about to put her down on the numbers when he said “LOOK, AN AIRPLANE JUST TAXIED OUT ONTO THE RUNWAY! GO AROUND!” so I went around. (There wasn’t really an airplane, he just wanted me to go around.) Established good rate of climb but was slow putting carb heat back in. He said “that’ll kill you.” Slow getting my flaps back up. The Remos is a forgiving airplane, but others aren’t.
- The next landing was… yes! another engine out! “The engine went out on downwind and you need to put the airplane down on the 1000’ marks.” I got her down on the 1000’ marks more or less and did a touch and go.
- Alan thankfully let me use the GPS to get back to Aurora. I didn’t even have to ask. He said I could now use any of the equipment available on board the airplane to make my life easier. (YAY!) Got the ATIS, radioed tower. Enter right downwind for 27. Winds were like 210, 10G16. The worst possible crosswind, and gusty to boot! Nothing I couldn’t handle though, I’ve done cross-windier landings in the Decathlon. We chatted about tailwheel flying here and there throughout the flight.
- Alan asked me what would I do if the engine started running rough. I had a hard time with this one. I suggested carb heat, he said carb heat was fine. He kind of prodded me into “what do you check during runup?” and we got to talking about mags. He said find the good mag and fly with that one.
- Had a hard time finding the airport and finally had it in my sight. Reported 3 out as requested and tower said “stand by”. There was departing traffic. Tower called another airplane 448RA so I thought there was another plane with a similar tail number. I thought he called the other airplane and he gave some instruction. Alan asked “was that for you?” And I said “I don’t know” so I asked tower for clarification. They said yes it was for me. I asked them to repeat the instructions but they didn’t. Thankfully Alan stepped in and said that I needed to fly south of the field and enter a left downwind. Fine, I prefer left traffic anyway. Got a little high (~1900’) in the process so I bled altitude.
- Midfield tower cleared me to land. Alan said he wanted a short field and asked me where I intended to put the plane down. I said the threshold, and he said “good choice.” Did some good wind correcting by doing some nice shallow turns on base and final. I kind of did a trapezoid entry rather than a rectangle. I turned base but realized it was probably too soon so I flew diagonally north-east before making nice shallow turns to final. I was still a little high and knew I’d need to slip as it was and didn’t want to make things worse. My forward slip helped also to maintain cross-wind correction as my aileron was already in and I was flying a good runway heading. I was on the ground by A2 and off by A3. Best short field landing of my life!
- Every time I landed (DKB and ARR) I said “I’m watching my airspeed, going to keep it around 70, maybe a little faster for gusty winds, I’m watching the site picture” and said if I was a little high (which I know by the time I turn base) and corrected with slips and verbalized it when necessary. I love doing forward slips and am SO GLAD I practiced doing them from downwind with Jack. I don’t know why but previously I’d thought you could only do them on final. Learn how to do them from base, from downwind, from wherever, and correct for being too high early on.
- Taxied back to the ramp and Alan said congratulations or something to that effect. Honestly I’d had no idea how well I’d done because I’m good at pointing out anything I do wrong but do not always acknowledge the things I do correctly and well (even though I knew I did my stalls and steep turns pretty well, etc). He took some photos of me with the airplane.
- My debrief was really short. He said I performed to commercial and at times ATP standards. He said I had great situational awareness. The things he pointed out were my initial taxi after ground clearance (too slow), turns around a point being too tight and fast, and being too slow with flaps and carb heat on my go around.
- Lots more time dealing with paperwork. I don’t know how this goes for an IACRA application but there was so. much. paperwork.
- Alan was really nice. He said he looked forward to doing more checkrides with me in the future and that I should definitely get up into a hot air balloon some day.
- Nothing was unexpected. Alan never tried to slip me up on purpose or throw me for a loop. He was clear about the entire process and said not to be nervous when he writes things down (thanks to Dave Smith I was already used to that).
- Engine outs (of which I had three) he tapped my hand. He did tell me about that beforehand but I always double checked with him. He said that at no time would he mess with any flight controls unless he did the standard transfer of controls. So if at any time something was acting weird, it was not because of him. Good to know!
- At any time when I wasn’t sure of something I asked him. He was really great about making sure that everything was clear at all times. He even said, “if you’re not sure if what we just did counts as a clearing turn, ask me!” He said no more than two maneuvers in between clearing turns.
- The experience was great. I’ve already said it but I’ll say it again. Alan is a great DPE.
Private Pilot Checkrides
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Let’s try this again… Here’s the summary of what my checkride was like. The events won’t be in any particular order, I’m just writing them down as I can best remember.
We started off with looking over my logbook, and then he explained what the checkride was going to be like. After that, he asked me to show him the maintenance records of the airplane were. In doing that, he gave me a scenario of an FAA figure coming up and asking me about the airplane and my credentials. I then explained him all of the required documents on board the airplane and myself, he was satisfied. It was a HUGE benefit having that inspection sheet filled out before hand. He only had me show him 2 or 3 of the inspections, and he was satisfied.
After we got inspections and requirements for flying out of the way, we started jumping into real world scenarios as if we were flying. Some of the scenarios he asked were:
- Assume you’re flying in Phoenix with your sister, looking at beautiful scenery, at 14,600 feet, but your sister is asleep. Why might that be?
- What would your concerns be if you were taking off in Denver with a very high density altitude, the runway length is 2000 feet, and you need 2000 feet to takeoff?
- He knew that I flew Cessna’s at Liberty, so he asked me about mixture. When would I lean it, enrichen it, how adjusting the mixture effects my engine at different altitudes, etc.
- He asked me questions about having INOP radios, transponders, and landing at towered airports and looking out for light gun signals.
- One of my passengers had ear aches during decent. What should I do?
- One of my passengers starts to hyperventilate. What should I tell them to do?
- One of my passengers felt motion sickness during the flight. What should I tell them to do?
- He asked me if we were flying along to Waterloo, and the weather began to get bad, how much cloud coverage and visibility would I need to be legal to fly and what airport could I divert to? (Airspace question)
- As of right now, that’s all the scenarios I can remember that he gave me.
He did ask me questions about the MEL for the Remos. Specifically, he asked me if the fuel gauge on the panel wasn’t working, would we be able to fly? I said yes, because there’s the fuel monitor in the back that has an accurate reading of fuel. I also mentioned that fuel gauges only have to be accurate when the tank is empty. We also talked about 91.205. I showed him that regulation because I didn’t want to miss any.
He asked me questions about the sectional. Questions about airspace, symbols, and airport identifiers came up. He asked me about HIWAS and how I would tune into a VOR both for navigating, as well as opening up a flight plan.
We talked about my cross country and the weather for the flight. He asked me about personal minimums. I showed him the pilot matrix sheet you told me to print out as well, and he loved it. He asked me what my concerns would be if I had a higher score vs a lower score. Then he had me read him some METARs and TAFs along the route of flight, and he was satisfied.
When we talked about weight and balance, he asked me about forward and aft CG, airspeeds, and where the plane’s CG was for that flight and if it was in range.
He asked me about night time and day time currency. Can night landings count for day, and vice versa? When do you count night time? When should you turn on nav lights?
There were some questions that I completely blanked on and had some brain farts with. For example, he asked me what ways a pilot could prevent water from storing up in the fuel tanks. The answer was to fill the tank full of fuel, but I blanked on that answer.
You were right about not showing him papers if he didn’t ask about them. I pulled out the Airport Diagram for Waterloo during our XC discussion, but I accidentally called it a “hotspot sheet” and he satrted asking me questions about it. I instantly corrected myself and called it an airport diagram, but it was too late. What’s a hotspot? Why do they exist? How are they depicted? Since we’re looking at this page, where’s the tower? How would you set up to land on this runway? What if you had no radios and had to look out for light gun signals? That was at least an extra 5 minutes added to the oral exam, just because I brought it up. He also pulled out some airport flashcards during this part, and told me to pick 3 cards, but he had 3 pushed out that he wanted me to pick. I remember they were stranger and more unusual marking, but I did fine with them, and he was satisfied, so we moved on. Now we move onto the flight portion.
He had me do the walk around, and when I was done, he asked me some questions. What color is the left nav light? Where’s the ELT and transponder antennas? What if you saw red fluid coming from the tire area? What if the elevator trim tab was stuck an inch high? What if the fuel comes out clear when you check it (in another airplane than the Remos)?
I gave him a passenger briefing, safety briefing, made my radio calls to tower, used checklists as appropriate, and we lifted off. He told me to do a short field takeoff, but I misheard and dis a soft field, which was fine with him because i did it very well. He didn’t ask me any questions along the cross country part of the flight. He just let me do my thing. We flew to my 4th or 5th checkpoint, and he had me divert towards Rochelle. Once I told him how long it would take to get there, we broke off and stated getting into flight maneuvers.
The first maneuver we did was steep turns. After that, we did slow flight. Then, we did some stalls. We did power on, off, and turning stalls. We did turning stalls to the left, and he asked me which wing would stall first. I said the right wing would stall first, which it did. He also asked me how to recover from a spin, and which flight control is the most important for recovery. After the turning stall, we started ground reference maneuvers. We only did turns around a point. he asked me what altitude I was going to do my maneuvers at, and I said between 600-1000 feet AGL. I began clearing turns, as I did with all of my other maneuvers, and began my turn around a point. During the debrief, he said I actually flew through my own wake!
For VOR navigating, he only asked me to tune the JOT VOR and what radial we were on.
We also ran through a couple of emergency scenarios. He had me simulate an engine out and engine fire. We never made any actual landings, he just asked me what I would do and the checklists I would use. He also had me perform an emergency decent, and asked me which field I would land on in that situation.
After that, we started to head back to the airport to some more takeoffs and landings. At this point, he started to feel more like a CFI or a coach than a DPE. We entered right downwind for 27, and he told me to bring the speed to the bottom of the yellow line and hold it there to see how well I manage energy. Then, as I reported midfield, I began to slow down and tower told me to extend me downwind. I did, and Alan began giving me advice on slowing down my airspeed to 60 mph or so, in order to save some distance on the extended downwind. When we got back, we did a short field takeoff and landing, as well as a soft field landing, and a go around. During the laps around the pattern, he was giving me all sorts of advice to make my landings better, use the plane’s energy, slowing down on extended downwind, how to make my slips better, things like that.