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Certified Flight Instructor, Commercial Pilot

Checkride Galore

January 18th, 2015

Total Hours: 152.6

Last week was a bit of a wild one. It started with my stage 3 check for the CFI in preparation for the coming checkride. After my stage check I was exactly one hour short of the one hundred and fifty hours total time needed for my commercial. On Tuesday I took care of the final hour and by Wednesday it was time for the commercial checkride. The plan was to wrap that up and then launch straight into my CFI checkride the day after. Things didn’t go quite according to plan, but everything worked out in the end.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the commercial checkride. I had heard that it would be like the private checkride on steroids. And that seemed like it could be an apt description given that we could be quizzed on any material we had studied since starting the program and on top of that we would be held to more precise standards in the practical portion of the checkride. The biggest difference going into my commercial checkride was that I actually had the self-confidence to believe that I would pass the ride and do well at it. As almost everyone knows mental attitude makes an immeasurable difference in performance. Needless to say I did perform better than during my private and it was remarkable how calm and comfortable I felt. This is not to say that it was easy or that I did not have room for improvement. While the checkride is not considered an instructional service it would be hard to say that it isn’t a learning experience. I certainly feel that I learned a lot during my private checkride and in this way the commercial was no different.

In the end finishing the commercial certificate was anticlimactic because I knew that the biggest checkride of all, the CFI, was still to come. And the day after no less! Because of this I did not feel any great relief or overwhelming sense of accomplishment passing the commercial checkride. I did feel a boost of confidence concerning my CFI ride though. In fact I felt more confident than ever about giving my best performance and truly standing out. That night I kept reviewing material but I didn’t fuss over studying too hard or too much. At that point I felt I either knew the material or I didn’t, another night of studying wouldn’t make a significant difference.

At about 8pm I got some disappointing news, my checkride was going to be cancelled. Because I was only two days away from leaving for Los Angeles and the Robinson Safety Course it looked as though I would not be able to do the ride until I got back from LA. Not a big deal, but I had really hoped (and worked hard) to finish both checkrides before my trip. Although I was disappointed I was also relieved. The cancellation meant that I wouldn’t have to think about checkrides or studying for over a week. The next morning I woke up late and was enjoying a thoroughly lazy session on the computer when I got the news that I was on again for the following morning. Yikes, just enough time to get nervous! At this point I didn’t feel completely in the game. Some part of me wanted to wait until I returned from LA so I wouldn’t have to worry about the checkride until later. But I knew that whatever I may be feeling I was ready as I could get and it would be foolish to put it off. I spent a few hours on Thursday reviewing material and trying to get excited. Amazingly I slept more soundly than I had before any of my previous checkrides. And then it was time to get started. I felt a little nervous heading into the ride but overall I was once again remarkably calm. I think this was mostly due to having a checkride just two days earlier. But it was also because I felt almost impartial to the outcome. I just wanted the opportunity to give it my best shot and I felt that whether I passed or not it would be a good experience and I would walk away that much closer to achieving my goals.

We started with a variety of questions about the fundamentals of instruction. The FOIs are all about how we learn and it can be a tough topic. I stumbled for a moment on the very first question, but after that it was smooth sailing. The next bit was all about FARs. There is quite a bit of new material for the CFI regulations. Some examples include learning the requirements for instructing (there is more to it than simply holding the certificate), how to give endorsements, how to stay current, and what is required of students to complete various types of certificates and ratings. I didn’t think this part of the ground would be hard but it actually gave me the most trouble. We are allowed, encouraged even, to use the book when looking up these regulations. I just lacked confidence nailing down the answers in the book and a few times I made the mistake of starting to answer before making sure I had it right. This is the area I want to work on the most before my next checkride.

After the regulations we got into the teaching. I had been a little nervous about teaching, but I like to teach, and that gave me confidence as we dove in. Overall it went very well and I felt comfortable with every topic I was asked to cover. Again I was not perfect, but as I’ve said before perfection is not the goal. I do think that if I can teach well enough in the checkride teaching in a real learning environment should be cake. While I have had plenty of experience teaching (non-professionally mind you) I had never really been tested on my teaching abilities before. That was a new experience and one that I think was dramatically harder than the real thing.

Before I knew it we had finished the ground portion of the checkride. Nothing left to do but go flying. I was feeling great at this point and was excited to go fly. I did not feel sure of the outcome but I was in high spirits and that was about as much as I could hope for. The practical portion is essentially exactly the same as the commercial with the addition of teaching the various maneuvers instead of simply flying them. The examiner flies a few maneuvers too with the expectation that I talk him through them and offer a critique of what went wrong. While I certainly made some mistakes at various stages of the practical it went well overall and I remained confident and comfortable until there were just two maneuvers left.

The last two maneuvers are a straight-in autorotation and a 180° autorotation. These wouldn’t be too nerve wracking except that one has to be a full touchdown auto. While I had been able to get in a few practice sessions it was always with a significant headwind and I was far from certain about nailing it. The higher the headwind the slower the helicopter moves over the ground in the final moments before touchdown and having a low groundspeed on touchdown makes everything easier. Of course the day of my checkride we did not have big headwinds. Instead of 20+ knots we had 8-10 knots, just enough to do the maneuver safely. This definitely made me nervous from the onset!

My examiner had told me that I should try and make the first auto a full down so that I didn’t feel forced on the second. That was my plan and it went well enough until those final seconds in the flare. The higher groundspeed made me unsure of whether or not it was safe to complete the maneuver and I hesitated not knowing if I should go full down or not. In the end we made a power recovery but it was later than it should have been and I felt a bit shaken by my indecision. I tried hard to recover my confidence after realizing that I was still okay to attempt the 180° and in some ways it was easier knowing that this one would have to be a full down. After some fumbling around I got the setup, entered the auto, had a good glide to the spot, and managed to pull off an acceptable full down. This was by far the hardest moment of the checkride. After that we did a hover auto and then the checkride was over, I had passed.

In contrast to the commercial I felt a great happiness and relief upon hearing the words congratulations. I felt that I was over the hump, that it was all downhill for the rest of my training, that everything would be alright. I would like to believe that there will be no more stress and nothing left to worry about for the remainder of my training but I know this will not be the case. In fact the realization that I will soon be done training and need to find work has already got me feeling a tad anxious. But there is nothing to do but continue one step at a time. And thankfully for the moment the next steps are very clear. Instrument training here I come!


About Orin Bakal-Molnar

Besides aviation my biggest passion is climbing. I love spending my free time on the side of something big! But I'm almost as happy doing anything outside in the wild. Travel, photography, and fly-fishing are a few of my other pursuits. And of course there's nothing like meeting new people and sharing good conversation.


2 thoughts on “Checkride Galore

  1. Congratulations! All of your hard work is paying off. I’m so proud of you!


    Posted by lizmockbee | February 8, 2015, 19:15

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