My instructor recommended my examiner. My instructor called the examiner before I did. When I called the instructor, his instructions were brief. We picked a date, he told me his fees and of method of payment. He asked me to use the checklist in the PTS to determine what to bring to the exam.
He said “Think of me as a neighbor who knows nothing about flying. And this neighbor is a little strange in that he asks you to show him some maneuvers, and does things like pull the throttle”.
Getting the Airplane Log Books
Try to review the airplane logs the day before the exam. I would actually suggest you do it a few days earlier, because occasionally there might not be anybody in the shop (example at lunch time on a bad weather day).
At Montgomery County Aviation, it is best to see Tom Dougherty. He shared a wealth of information with me. He showed me things which make me appreciate this school.
All the Cessna 172 in the school use a phased program. Tom showed me the phase cards, which say what items have to be covered in each of phase 1, phase 2 and phase 3. Phase 3 is done every 600 hrs or annually which ever comes earlier.
Tom showed me the dates that the specific plane got an authorization for the phased program. He showed the date the plane was ordered, and the date the plane was received.
Tom said all the mechanics working on the plane at his school are IA, not just AP. They work as a tag team. When a person fixes an item, a second IA checks it, and then a third IA comes by and checks it.
Tom printed out a sheet that says when each of the required items such as ELT battery replacement, was done, at what hobbs, and when it is next due. Caution: Some of the dates of when a specific inspection was done may read 01/01/1981. This is because no date would have been entered for the “last done date” in the spreadsheet. You have to look at aircraft maintenance log books to get this date. I had one such date on my spreadsheet. As soon as I showed it Tom, he went to a computer, entered the correct date and printed another sheet for me.
Tom knew the specific dates off the top of his head, without looking at anything, which seemed amazing. Tom also stayed back a little late while his wife waited, to show me a few things about the plane.
Another word of caution: The inspection records have tachometer values and not hobbs values. But the spreadsheet you get has hobbs values. So when you show the inspection stickers in the log book, the numbers may be off by a few hours from the spreadsheet and you will have to explain that you are not comparing apples to apples.
I brought my IACRA login username and password to the test. I also brought the FTN number at the examiner’s request.
The examiner checked my identity. He then logged into IACRA. He signed the form electronically and so did I.
He took me to the terminal building for the oral exam. It was surprising how much respect everybody showed towards the examiner. James brought him donuts and coffee. The examiner had a good sense of humor. He told James, “you are the ugliest stewardess I have ever seen, but you make a great cup of coffee” (James was obviously male)
He asked to see my log books. I gave him my log book and a printout with the dates when each of the flight experience requirements were met. He looked for those dates in the log book and made sure I had the required hours. He made several observations from the log book, such as the fact that I had flown both my solo cross country on the same weekend.
“How do you know we are ready for the flight?”
I said I checked myself first. I used the IMSAFE acronym to say that I was safe.
He asked what kind of Medical I had and what its validity was. He then asked whether that medical certificate meant I was healthy enough to fly today. I said no, and explained that the certificate meant I had met the standards of health on the date of the medical. If I had any substantial medical item, I would report it to the FAA, and may have to get certificated again. He asked me if I should report a common cold. I said no. He asked, what if you were so stuffed up, that you needed some significant medication, or your sinuses were “hurt” or damaged? I said that I will require additional research. If that happens, I would look in the FAR, consult a medical examiner and may even seek legal counsel. He was happy with that answer.
He quickly moved on to the plane. He asked who determines that plane is safe for flight and how. I said the pilot in command, which is me. He asked then how do you check the plane?
I said we start by looking at the airplane logs. I mentioned all the compliance items such as the annual, 100 hour, ELT and transponder checks. He reminded me that a pitot-static inspection has to done for IFR flight. He asked me to show each of these in the log book. He gave me numerous insights into aircraft maintenance as he quizzed me.
When I mentioned the AD records in the log book, he asked me how I knew it was complied with. I showed him the sticker which showed AD compliance. He said you trust the IA to have done his job. At this point he reminded me not say more than I was asked, because “that is how people dig their own grave”
He also asked about the mission. I said our flight is not mission-critical. He reiterated it and said we, as GA pilots can always opt not to fly.
He asked the difference between AP and IA. He also went to say that one can be just an A (airframe only, no Power Plant). He gave an example of a person at his glider club who had just an A, because the gliders he works on do not have engines
The examiner seldom asks direct questions such as when should the ELT be inspected. He starts a conversation about a subject, and expected me to demonstrate my knowledge and say specific things such as when should the ELT battery be replaced. If I didn’t say the specific item he is looking for, he would clue me to the correct question, but never clue me to the answer.
At times while examining the aircraft logs, the examiner tended to show rather than ask me. In the process, he made a few temporarily incorrect observations, probably intending to see if I was paying attention and following his train of thought. I felt it was important to correct him before he pointed that I nodded to an incorrect statement. He did this once, but I quickly got the hang of it.
Cross Country Planning
I laid out my X-C plan on the table. He folded up the map to save some space on the table. My cross country flight was from Wings Filed (KLOM) to Blairstown New Jersey (1N7)
I started by explaining why I chose the route. The direct route would have taken me through the Willow Grove Class D airspace (KNXX). So I chose a course that first took me to the town of Lansdale, then to Doylestown (KDYL), and then to Alexandria (N85), and finally to 1N7. I explained that I chose to fly around KNXX because, a couple of times, they have not responded to my calls. I could climb over KNXX, but since KLOM is so close to KNXX, I would have to climb in the pattern at Wings, which does not buy me much. He was perfectly fine with my choice of route.
I had flight plans prepared. I did not file a flight plan and there was no discussion about it at all
He said we would talk airspace next. He asked me which airspace we were sitting in. We were in class G airspace. He asked me for the weather minimums to fly in class G. Then as I climbed to 700 feet, I would enter class E. He asked for weather minimums there. Then he pointed to the airspace around KNXX and quizzed me about weather minimums, equipment requirements, requirements to enter and operate in class D. He did the same for Allentown Class C and Philadelphia Class B airspace. He also gave me examples of communication in class B and class C airspace and asked if they constituted clearance to enter the airspace. The examples he gave were similar to the following.
“N53569, say request”
“aircraft calling Allentown, standby”
“aircraft calling Philadelphia, standby”
“N53569 clear to enter class bravo”
He asked me about class A airspace. Where it starts (18000’), where it ends (60,000’), what’s beyond it (class E), what the minimum requirements are in each of these airspaces, etc.
He asked me about the gray figures around Harrisburg. I said it was TRSA. He asked me whether I am required to participate in the TRSA. He asked the approach frequency of the Harrisburg TRSA, which is NOT on the map part of the chart. It is the frequency tab, instead.
He pointed to and quizzed me about alert areas, restricted areas and prohibited areas.
He pointed to the big numbers with each lat long square, and asked what those numbers were. I said they were the highest point of obstruction or highest elevation of terrain within that lat long square, rounded to the next 100’ + an additional 100’. He disagreed and said there was no additional 100’. He said he spends time on the train, looking closely at these maps, and he can spot the highest elevation or obstruction that corresponds to this number, in most squares.
The examiner asked for the most widely accepted reason that a wing develops lift? I explained Bernoulli’s theorem and he was fine.
He asked what a stall was? Why does a wing stall? What has to happen for the wing stall to happen? Can it happen at all speeds? After I gave him perfect answers, he gave an example of nose dive in an aerobatic plane. Say, you are flying nose down at 150 knots. If you pull the nose up suddenly, the plane would still continue in approximately the same direction – downwards at 150 knots, but your wing would be stalled, because all the relative wind is perpendicular to the chord line.
So do you have a angle of attack indicator in your airplane? I said no. He asked, then how do you know the airplane is approaching a stall? I said because it becomes silent, the plane buffets, and when stalled, it feels like the bottom fell out of you. He kept cluing me to saying some number, and I figured he was asking for the stall speed. I told him the stall speed in a landing configuration was 40 KIAS, and in a clean config, it was 48 KIAS for the C172. He asked if those speeds change with load. I said yes and he asked for an explanation. I said that the higher load requires either or both of an increased airspeed and increased angle of attack. Since the critical angle of attack is always the same, the airspeed has to be higher for a higher load, prior to the stall.
Weight and Balance
He asked if I used the computer for weight and balance. Before I could answer, he said it would be stupid not to. I showed him the computer generated weight and balance. I also showed him my manual computation, of weight, moment and arm. I showed how I determined that those figures were within limits, by looking in the POH.
He asked what determines the balance of an airplane. I drew a plane showing the center of lift, center of gravity and the downward lift of the horizontal stabilizer. I explained how the movement of the cg will affect balance. I explained how changing the elevator changes the downward lift of the stabilizer. The stabilizer counteracts the weight of the plane and lift of wing, keeping the nose from dipping down. He asked how the location of cg affects handling. I said if the cg is too close to the center lift, it becomes difficult to keep the plane in balance. He asked what if the cg goes past the center of lift. I said the nose would pitch up and it won’t be possible to balance the plane. The plane would stall, and there would be no easy way to fix it. He asked what happens if you are approaching a stall and just let go off the yoke. I said depending on when you let go, the plane may correct the stalled condition by itself, because the nose would drop, decreasing the angle of attack and the wing would resume producing lift. He was happy with the answers and we moved on.
He asked a few other random questions, which I don’t remember
He asked me to do the pre-flight as I would always do, and that he is just an observer. He however asked me say out aloud what I was doing.
As soon as I opened the cabin door, I noticed the fuel on one side. I changed it to both. I told him I was going to use a checklist, if I see something that needs to be changed, I do not put it off for later. He was fine with it reminded me that he was only observer. He however asked me say out aloud what I was doing.
The pre-flight was largely uneventful. I told him everything I checked, including rivets. I also mentioned what each antenna was
Com – on top of cabin
Nav – on vertical stabilizer
Transponder – pointy antenna on underside
Glidescope – elongated antenna on underside
Gps – on cabin.
When I checked the control surfaces, he asked me what I was looking for. I told him I was looking for damage or extra material on the leading edges. I make sure that hinge screws are tight, and nuts don’t rotate when the control surface is moved. He asked about the elevator & rudder stops, which I showed him. I demonstrated that the cables were appropriately taut or loose when the control surface was moved. When he saw me check the control rod on the aileron, he advised me to always hold the aileron up firmly with one hand while I examine the rod. He said he once took his student to the ER carrying his student’s finger tip, which was chopped off when the aileron came down on it. He pointed to cables connecting the stabilizer to the elevator and asked about. I told him it was to electrically connect the body to the elevator so that static electricity could discharge through the static wicks on the elevator. When I drained the fuel, he asked me what I was looking for. I said I make sure it’s the right grade and that there is no residue in it. He quizzed me about grades of fuel, their color and use.
He asked what the three long strips under the aileron were. By the time I recollected the answer, he explained that they were dampeners that reduce oscillations of the control surface.
I didn’t give him much chance to quiz me about anything else, because I said out loud everything else I was looking for in the preflight.
Taxi & Run-up
I gave him a complete passenger briefing, and gave him no room for correction or additions. The topics I covered were
Positive Exchange of Controls
Silence during takeoff and landing
Enjoy the flight
He told me a couple of things …
In case of a real emergency, I (examinee) will still be the PIC, but that we would work together for a safe outcome
The FAA rules about what happens if didn’t complete a task and what my options would be.
He asked very few and easy questions during taxi and run-up. I don’t recall these. I told him that I was not going to enter a flight plan in the GPS, unless he wanted me to. I told him I know how to use the GPS, and that the direct function would be adequate today, if we really needed it. He quickly dismissed the discussion of the GPS as not required. I set the altimeter on the GPS, tested the OBS, and set the MFD to 10 mi scale. I setup the radio
We started with a normal take-off from runway 24 at KLOM. I announced a downwind departure to the north. Shortly after takeoff, it became obvious that we were going to have a bumpy ride. The climb out felt like it took forever. I was at about 2500’ when abeam of 24 on downwind.
I started my stopwatch when I was exiting the pattern.
The examiner dimmed the GPS MFD so I couldn’t read it.
I pointed to the railway tracks on the right and told him that I would stay to their left, to stay out of KNXX class D airspace.
The bumpy ride required corrections to trim and using elevator to keep the plane from climbing or descending. At the debriefing, he complemented me for doing a good job actively keeping the plane at the right altitude. He said “you made sure you were in control and did not let the plane take you for a ride”.
I showed him another sets of railway tracks which were converging from the right and related it to the map. I pointed to Lansdale where the tracks met and one set of tracks went off to the right. I turned heading 070 for KDYL, while staying left of the new tracks.
He asked me what my estimated time to KDYL was – 5 minutes. He noted the time on his watch. He asked if my estimated ground speed and wind direction were right. Winds were mostly light and variable, so my estimates were very close. I pointed to peace valley reservoir, and the little pond beside it. I had no trouble spotting KDYL. It was exactly at 12 o’clock. I flew exactly over KDYL.
I was expecting the examiner to ask me to divert. Instead, he asked me about my next waypoint! It was N85 in New Jersey, 16 nm away. I turned heading 030. I tuned in STW VOR, to 030. The needle was almost centered. He asked my ETE, and noted it. The flight path took me over the edge of an island on the Dealware. I was exactly over it. He asked for the name of a town in the distance and to left of the flight path. I identified it on the sectional, but there was no name on the sectional. He guessed it was Frenchtown which I after the test. He spotted N85 well before me. I was tuned into N85, so I could hear traffic at Alexandria, Sky Manor and Doylestown. I spotted N85 easily.
The examiner asked for my sectional. He looked at it, and asked me to divert to Pennridge, KCKZ.
I took the time to locate KCKZ, estimated the distance and direction by hand and turned to the heading. I estimated a heading of 240. When I turned to 240, lake Nockamixon was right there – so big that you can’t miss it. Looking at the map, I figured I need another 10 deg and changed course slight to 250. I pointed to lake Nockamixon, related the visual shape to the shape on the sectional, and showed him the dam on the map. He seemed to question the existence of the dam. When I flew by the dam, he said “ah ah – your dam is right there” to which I smiled and said “of course, sir”.
My estimated time to CKZ was 8 minutes. He was silent most of the way. 4 minutes into the leg, he pointed to the left just under the wing, and said in a serious tone “there’s Pennridge”. I looked and there was this airstrip with small planes. For a second, I thought I screwed up. But I checked the map again and looked at the strip and told him “Negative, that’s not Pennridge”. He said again that was the airport, but I showed him the sectional, showed our location and I said “I don’t know what that strip is, but it is not Pennridge”. I then looked out front, and as though magically the clearing and hanger for Pennridge came into sight. When I showed him where Pennridge really was, he smiled and said “What do I know? Remember, I am only your neighbor!”. I was relieved! I later figured that the airport he showed me was probably Vansant. I figured this by looking at Google earth and spotting many yellow gliders which I clearly remember spotting
He said we were not going to land at CKZ and that he would take control of the aircraft, at which I realized I was going under the hood
Simulated flight into IMC
The examiner asked me to relax, put my shades on and tell him when I was ready.
When I took back controls, the examiner explained the reason for the test.
He gave me headings to follow and altitudes to maintain. He gave level and climbing turns.
We did three unusual attitude exercises; nose up approaching stall, nose down, descending rapidly with high airspeed. I don’t remember the third exercise. I thought I did very well on all three. During the debriefing, he mentioned that it would have been better to pull the throttle in the nose low attitude earlier, but I did better than the required PTS.
He took controls again, so I could put my shades away. I took back controls.
He asked me to demonstrate steep turns. I did clearing turns first.
The examiner felt very cold in the plane. So he grabbed his jacket from the back. He asked me to start my steep turns while he wore his jacket. Being so cramped in a Cessna 172, he created quite a commotion while I was trying to focus on the steep turn. In spite of him bumping me, the rudder pedals and the yoke, I was able to execute near perfect left and right 45 degree turns, and staying within 10-20 feet of the starting altitude throughout the turn.
This was by far my biggest tension reliever of the test. It felt like it didn’t matter anymore and that I had completed the test already.
This was rather uneventful. I slowed the plane down to 35-40 knots with full flaps. I knew I could slow it down more, but I stuck with it. He asked for turns to the right and left, and it went flawlessly.
At the debriefing, he mentioned that I could wait a little before deploying 10 degrees of flaps. I deployed 10 degrees at 110 knots, which required me to push the nose down a little to prevent ballooning. He noticed it. In fact he noticed every little thing I did.
He asked for a demonstration of power on and power off stalls. Both these went flawlessly, although I couldn’t get a clean break either time. The plane buffeted significantly which I pointed out to the examiner, before dipping the nose down to recover.
Simulated Emergency Landing
He pulled the power when we were at 3500’ and about 3 miles from Pennridge. I slowed the plane immediately to 68 KIAS. I picked Pennridge to land on. I quickly executed the emergency checklist.
The examiner told me to shoot for another little private airstrip instead. This disrupted my focus. I told him no. I said we are landing at Pennridge. I began a 360 turn to loose altitude without going past Pennridge. He immediately told me it was a bad idea to turn my back to the runway in a 360. He distracted me significantly. I knew I had shaken him off finally, when he said “I should let you pick your field”. But the damage was done. I was too close and too high. Full flaps and all the slip wasn’t enough. I did a steep turn, but by the time I lined up to the runway, we had only 2500’ of runway left and 200-300 feet to loose. If it were a real emergency, I may have ended up in the trees.
The examiner then showed me his technique to land in an emergency. We went back to the starting point. This time I picked the private air field. He asked me to get to midfield and circle the field, noting how much altitude I lost for each 360. With this, I was able to determine when I was too low to do another 360, at which time I did a near pattern. I would have made the field.
I learnt two important lessons from this. A real emergency will be nothing like the practice. There will be numerous distractions, especially if you have a co-pilot. You have to take charge, and tune out the distractions. The second lesson was that the spiral technique is worth practicing.
The examiner asked me to descend to 1500’ at which time I guessed I was going to do ground reference maneuvers. He asked me to show him turns around a point
I picked a silo to turn around. The winds were light on the day of the test. I still picked the direction I thought the wind was coming from and started the turn from downwind. It turned out that I was right about the wind direction. I made a steeper than usual turn around the point. The turn was flawless; I was within a few feet of starting altitude. The instructor said I got a perfect circle
He asked me to head back to wings and do two landings and takeoffs – which I figured would short and soft field exercises.
GPS and flight through class D
He asked me to show how I could use the GPS to get back to Wings. I used the direct function, which took me through the edge of Willow Grove class D
I called Willow Grove and gave my position as 6 northeast, 2500. Willow grove radioed back “Cessna fife niner zero, confirm 10 South East , 2500”. Before I could respond, the examiner said “Negative” to me. Of course, I said “negative” and gave my position again. Willow Grove asked for my destination again and said “proceed enroute to destination”.
I tuned the second radio to KLOM CTAF so I could hear which runway was being used at KLOM.
When I was about to exit class D, I told Willow Grove that I was leaving their airspace and changing frequency. Willow Grove said “Cessna 590, frequency change approved, good day”
We headed back to Wings field. I did one short field takeoff and short field landing. I did one soft field takeoff and one soft field landing.
My short field landing was on the mark. For the short field landing, he asked me to imagine some 50’ trees about 500’ from the end of runway 24. He did not comment whether or not I cleared the imaginary tree (its not part of the PTS), but I am confident that I made it. My approach was steeper than my practice approaches
My landings were nowhere close to my best, but well within the PTS. He admonished me saying “you are within standards, but you must practice”.
I did it!
I was ecstatic that I completed the test successfully. The examiner helped put the plane away. He asked to talk to me privately. He gave me a thorough debriefing. He said “I have to sleep peacefully knowing that I am signing you off to fly with your girlfriend or father or mother or whoever, and that you don’t endanger anybody. I can sleep peacefully today”. It was both humbling and wonderful to hear those words.
I thought the person who got the most joy from me passing the test was my instructor. I am very grateful to him for his skills as a teacher, a fantastic mentor and somebody who instilled an enormous amount of confidence in me and trusting me to be pilot-in-command.