Plane & Pilot
Monday, November 2, 2009

The Checkride Chronicles

A year in the life of a designated pilot examiner

All of my applicants are on a journey to achieve their flying goals, and many will need to overcome obstacles along the way. A 22-year-old Salvadoran whose dream is to become a TACA (Central American Air Transport) pilot and a 70-year-old Englishman who came to this country decades ago received my first two Notices of Disapproval. Yes, I finally experienced a checkride failure.

Keep in mind that DPEs really mean it when they say, “Today, you didn’t meet the standards set forth by the FAA in the PTS.” Applicants who receive Notices of Disapproval only need to receive additional instruction in the areas where they were found deficient and a couple of logbook sign-offs before they’re allowed to retest. Still, dreams can be delicate things, and when the younger applicant came back into my office, he sat down gravely and politely asked my professional opinion: “Do you think I should abandon my dreams of becoming a TACA pilot?”

I wanted to melt right into my chair; I didn’t want to be known as the “dream crusher.” Of course, he didn’t realize that acquiring your private pilot license later than originally scheduled is merely a bump in the road. [Note: A month after not passing the ground portion of the practical exam, the Englishman returned, exhibiting newfound appreciation for the knowledge he had gained. Both he and the young Salvadoran are now licensed private pilots who are, deservedly, proud to fly.]

Now that it’s all said and done, after one year as a DPE, I’ve actually completed 24 checkrides, more than double the minimum number required. My DPE status will be upgraded to that of CIRE, commercial instrument and rating examiner.

On a checkride, the roles are fairly well defined: It’s the instructor’s job to teach; the applicant’s job to demonstrate; and the examiner’s job to evaluate. I make every effort to provide a calm and relaxed atmosphere, but I don’t blur the line by teaching. As the PTS states: “To evaluate the applicant’s ability to utilize proper control techniques while dividing attention both inside and/or outside the cockpit, the examiner shall cause realistic distractions during the flight portion of the practical test to evaluate the applicant’s ability to divide attention while maintaining safe flight.” From here on out, all aeronautical decisions now are being made solely by the applicant. Remember, when you’re flying with the DPE, you’re the PIC, and whether it leads to an airline career or simply the ability to fly your own small plane, this is the beginning of your journey into aviation. Safe flying, and thanks for the ride!

Andrea Eldridge is a former TWA pilot with 757/767 type and L-1011 flight-engineer ratings. She’s a Gold Seal CFII/MEI who, currently, flies a 1947 Luscombe 8A and enjoys being a DPE.

Checkride Tips From An Examiner
1) BRING CURRENT IDENTIFICATION. Make sure all the names on your medical, written exam and application match the one on your photo ID. Also, check that the photo ID has an expiration date.

2) USE IACRA FOR PAPERWORK. Visit This FAA-integrated website filters out mistakes missed on the 8710 application form and expedites the process for receiving your pilot license.

3) BE ON TIME. Punctuality sets the tone for your checkride and the next few hours spent with the examiner.

4) BE FAMILIAR WITH THE PRACTICAL TEST STANDARDS AND THE SPECIAL EMPHASIS AREAS. A checkride is an objective and standardized evaluation, as outlined in the PTS materials.

5) REMEMBER, YOU'RE PIC, AND THE DPE IS YOUR FIRST PASSENGER. As such, the DPE does not instruct, assist or fix.

6 THE DPE DOESN'T EXPECT PERFECTION. Satisfactory performance is based on the safe and proficient demonstration of your ability. After all, you’re receiving a license to learn.


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