Checkride Disasters


Confession is good for the soul but can be embarrassing. Here, now, the unscientific tabulation of readers’ responses to “Brainteasers” quiz 194‘s question, “How did you screw up your checkride?”

Before pointing snarky fingers, I’ll confess that my Private pilot checkride performance 40 years ago was lame. I remember the examiner snarling, “I don’t want you demonstrating stall/spins here on base-to-final …” hinting that the coordination ball should appear in the center other than while slamming from full-left to full-right deflection.

While demonstrating a soft-field takeoff on my commercial checkride, I inadvertently unlatched my seatbelt just as the mains pulled free from the simulated muck. With the loose belt riding under my armpits, the stall horn warbling and the tower saying, “Contact Departure,” I managed to click the belt and make the call.

Fairly smug as I leveled out, I couldn’t understand why the Beech Sierra, which normally cruised around 130 knots, was dogging along at 110. The examiner remained ominously silent as I reviewed my post-climb checklist: Power/prop — set; Trim — set, Flaps — up, Gear — down, three in the green. We were still slow, so I repeated the list twice more (slow learner), until pausing at “Gear down!” Cramminy! I was flying with the wheels hanging down like a stiff-legged Sundowner.

Hoping the examiner might not have noticed, evidenced by his continued silence, I reached for the gear handle as the examiner mumbled, “Don’t care if you fly all day with the wheels down, so long as they’re down on landing.” I knew this would be a long ride.

Now, let’s hear from readers who braved the fires of checkrides gone sour and the showed the moxie — or lack of good judgment — to share their horrors. Submitters’ names have been redacted, because we assumed they were bogus to begin with.

Short But Not Always Sweet

On the Private checkride, I couldn’t do slow flight. On the Instrument, my oral was way off. On my glider ride, I came in short on landing but, luckily, got the chance to do it over.

It gets better.

On my Commercial ride, the examiner called my Lazy 8’s “El Stinko.” In some countries, that’s a compliment.

My student was at the end of the runway, and the examiner asked him whether he had finished his checklist. Examinee replied, “Yes.” Examiner asked again with the same reply, at which point the examiner instructed him to taxi back to the ramp with a pink slip.

Apparently, while the Cessna’s door handle had been pushed to the down position, the door was still open. I had to give the student a lesson on checklist usage in the airplane, and then sign him off for another checkride 20 minutes later, which was successful. Shortest “flight” for a checkride failure I’d ever seen.

Here’s a checkride flop with a stiff-upper-lip tone: I forgot to change to area frequency and forgot to change squawk code to 1200 VFR after leaving aerodrome vicinity (Class D). Flared too high on one landing and thumped it down. That’s about it.

It was 1976 at Jefferson County Airport (North of Denver) when I took my Private pilot checkride. The examiner was easily 300 pounds. For the weight-and-balance calculation, he said he weighed 150 pounds. My instructor had weighed 135 pounds, and I’d never flown the Cessna 150 over gross (that’s my excuse).

Everything went great until a simulated short-field landing. At 10 feet, the C-150 fell out of the sky. We hit so hard that I thought that I had lost a couple of fillings but managed to keep the nose up. I stammered something about “getting behind on that one,” while the examiner motioned me into the first turn-off. I figured that was it, but he passed me anyway. Maybe he feared having to go up with me again.

I’d been cautioned to always turn toward runway/airport after losing power in the pattern. On the Private checkride, I got a power-out at the beginning of the base leg, so I turned toward the runway and found myself over the numbers at 700 feet. Sheesh. Hammered in a huge slip with a transition to landing and serious braking while the examiner went into a fake coronary. I passed and started learning to fly.

On my 1973 Private pilot checkride, anxious to do a perfect power-off short-field approach over a 50-foot obstacle, I turned base way too soon (OK, twice) and was at least 100 feet above the runway. The examiner gave me one last chance to get it right, and thankfully I did.

Ya Gotta Know The Territory

[And this candidate did not: ]

I was an Iowa flat-lander spending two weeks in Idaho, prepping for my Private pilot ride. After barely skating through the written, I was to take the checkride in Missoula, Mont. The examiner wanted me to plan a cross-country to places I’d never heard of, and after scouring five sectionals, I confessed that I had no clue where we were supposed to go. “You’re not from around these parts,” was her comment. “Oh, hell. Let’s go fly anyway,” she said in her best Martha Lunken impression. I remember absolutely nothing about the flight other than she had put that Grumman in one nasty unusual attitude and calmly said, “Your airplane.”

It was 1980. I was 18 years old and on my checkride at the Gainesville, Fla., airport where I worked. I was nervous. The examiner asked me to flightplan for Crystal River, Fla., on the Gulf of Mexico and left me alone to plot my course, obtain a weather briefing and then preflight the aircraft, while he sipped coffee and chatted with my coworkers who were all there to see me become a licensed pilot.

I was ready, and as we climbed into the aircraft, he asked my initial heading. Sure of myself, I said, “018 degrees.” I obtained permission to taxi and gave the tower my direction of flight. My mind was racing and my palms were sweaty when, halfway through my run-up, I realized I had given the examiner and ATC the reciprocal heading for my intended destination. I was going to end up in Georgia!

I confessed to a major goof and asked if he wanted me to taxi back to the FBO. He laughed and said he just wanted to see what was going to happen once we were airborne. I called the tower and corrected my error, but the bad part was our FBO had a loudspeaker on the ramp, so everybody heard my mistake.

I passed, and three months later I was at Keystone Airport (42J) and heard a guy on the radio report, “Downwind Runway 77.” I guess 22 can look like 77 upside down and just figured the poor shlub was on his checkride.

My ICUS (in command, under supervision) checkride was to be an aeronautical navigation flight. This was way before GPS. I had to plan a three-hour VFR flight that was fuel-efficient and hit the return-to-base ETA within five minutes.


I simply wasn’t ready for it. I had a rough idea of the checkpoints’ general locations but got all screwed up in the planning phase by messing up the weather, using wrong expected TAS figures and more.

The CFI didn’t say a word. About two hours after departure, I was thoroughly lost and started making landmarks “fit” the map. It wasn’t until we were getting close to a busy airport’s control zone, about 50 miles east of where I thought we were, that the instructor asked, “Where are we?” I confidently answered, “Here,” while pointing at the map.

“No, we aren’t,” he replied and added, “My controls while you work out where we really are and then how to get back to base.”

And that was it, checkride busted. Mortified, I determined our location, the route home and rescheduled the checkride.

I almost didn’t make it to the flight part of my Private pilot exam because of a mapping scenario. My home airport was on both sides of the Chicago sectional, and I’d never had to plan a flight from one side to the other. Naturally, the examiner wanted to see me do just that. Wasn’t pretty. Additionally, he quizzed me on everything he could possibly find for two hours. Then, on the flight, my VOR stopped working. Thought I was skunked but passed nonetheless, with the examiner saying I was a “good airplane driver.” I think that was a compliment …

[And one from the student-bites-examiner file: ]

The examiner ordered a short-field landing, and when I selected less than full flaps, he berated me and insisted that I show him exactly where it says that my technique was acceptable for that airplane. He began fishing through the POH.

Granted, I probably did do it wrong. The only smart thing I did that day was telling him that I wasn’t going to discuss it in the air, and that we could look it up once we were safely on the ground. Hey, it worked. I passed.

After not flying for 20 years, I was on a checkride that wasn’t going so well. High on approach, I slipped to reduce altitude but slipped away from the wind, which felt really weird. Fortunately, I landed on the runway, although, the examiner wasn’t impressed.

Before my tailwheel checkout, the instructor showed me a shattered propeller in the briefing room, explaining that it was the result of a downwind landing. This illustrated his opinion of such carelessness

Off we went to fly.

There was a brisk wind, so I was being careful of my control positions as I slowly taxied to the runway … the wrong end of the runway, setting myself up for a downwind departure. Blush!

While landing with full flaps the examiner called a go-around. Slow and about to touch the runway, I added full throttle but couldn’t arrest the descent, so the wheels touched the runway.

Additionally, a wing dipped and I corrected with aileron only. This got me into an oscillation, banking left and right because of the lack of compensation for the induced yaw. I was able to recover and did pass my checkride, but the examiner told me I needed to use the rudder pedals.

Snatched From The Jaws of Failure

My instructor warned that the examiner was a real stickler for performing clearing turns and had flunked many applicants on that single item. Of course, when the examiner called for steep turns, I immediately banked without the clearing turns. Defeat was imminent, but when he commented, “Hope no other airplanes are up here with us,” I explained through a sweaty grin that my first steep turn was, in fact, a clearing turn. It didn’t fool him, but he accepted my dumb explanation, and I made it through the rest of the examination. Whew, that was close …

I was horribly nervous on my Private checkride, babbling through the oral despite trembling knees. The flight didn’t settle things as the examiner requested a steep turn.

Immediately, I dropped 50 feet within the first 10 degrees of turn but managed to arrest the descent at 120 feet below target. As I climbed back up, the examiner said, “Now that you’ve gotten that out of your system, let’s do it again, only correctly this time, shall we?” Happily, the rest of the turn, indeed, the rest of the checkride, proceeded with minimal burbles as I remembered a bit of advice from my instructor: “Remember to breathe. You already know how to do everything else.” Surprising just how much self-induced hypoxia can affect performance.

The examiner pulled the throttle to idle to simulate an engine-out. I selected a suitable landing site after making sure that the aircraft was in the proper glide speed, stabilized with trim set. I said that I would try to restart but, failing that, I’d head to a nice, flat, grassy field to land. I circled and at 500 feet, set up the approach with flaps. Wind was gusting with low-level turbulence shear. As we approached the pasture, a gust caught the airplane and suddenly we were looking at the ground from the passenger-side window because the wings seemed almost vertical. I leveled the airplane and looked at the examiner. His hands were almost on the yoke. “All right,” he said, “Add power and let’s head back to the airport.” Returning to the airport I bounced twice but managed a three-pointer on the third try. I passed the flight exam, but learned that you really shouldn’t scare the crap out of the check pilot, as evidenced by the 30-minute post-flight lecture.

IFR Foibles

On my instrument checkride, I set the ILS frequency but didn’t notice that it was on standby. When the approach wasn’t working right, I figured out what was wrong and initiated a missed approach. So far, so good. Unfortunately, I skipped a step on the landing checklist (fullest tank) and ran out of gas. I responded instantly, and the engine picked back up, but by then the checkride was over.

On my instrument checkride, I was doing a missed approach, and the examiner said to climb and maintain 1800 feet. I leveled off at 800 feet, because it felt like we’d been climbing long enough to be there when the long needle approached 800, at which point I failed.

On the ILS during my IFR checkride, I accepted an ATC request to increase speed. I should have refused but wanted to impress the check airman with how cool I was under pressure. Not cool at all when I blew the approach and the rest of the ride.

Instrument-Checkride-Day weather was crappola when we launched, and I immediately turned the wrong way (away from) the VOR for my first approach. Had to re-schedule so that I could show that I knew the difference between TO and FROM.

During my helicopter ATP checkride, when completely brain-dead, the examiner asked me to enter a holding pattern.

Easy, until I flew the pattern in reverse direction and flunked.

Never Give Up! Never Surrender!

In 1966, with 36 hours logged, I went to a designated examiner, a grizzled old timer who made me do commercial maneuvers and then requested that I do an instrument approach. When I protested that I was only there for a Private license, he said, “Son, if you want a Private license, then my requirements are that you fly an approach.” I took the approach plate that I had never seen before and flew the approach. Thinking that I had aced the ride, my ego was shattered when he said, “Amazing how you made it within sight of the approach end of the runway even though you used the NDB chart and flew the VOR approach.”

[Being told that your Lazy 8s are “El Stinko,” might seem like the ultimate checkride putdown, but this examiner’s comment to a busted applicant wins the truth-shall-set-you-free award: ]

“I don’t believe you should continue flying. You’ve shown me every negative skill a pilot could jamb into one single hour. If you love flying that much, ya gotta start all over at ground zero.”