Eye of Experience #17:
I Can’t Believe They Did That!

So, you think you pulled some dumb pilot tricks on your last checkride? You weren't even close. In his 17-year career as an examiner, AVweb's Howard Fried has seen it all. Here's just a few examples of the mistakes, goofs and stupid pilot tricks he's seen.


Eye Of ExperienceIn17 years as a designated pilot examiner, I administered over 4,000 flight testsfor a variety of certificates and ratings. During that time, I was witness to agreat many unusual performances by all kinds of applicants. Some were humorous,some tragic, but all were interesting. I wanted to take this opportunity to sharea few.

“I’ll Take A Visual”

Loading for Not too many years ago, an applicant for an instrument rating was required toexecute only one approach on his/her checkride, and the applicant coulddesignate just what kind of approach he wanted to demonstrate. In other words,an applicant could bring the examiner a CE-150 with a single VOR receiver andtake his flight test in that airplane. I had an applicant come in for aninstrument checkride once with a well-equipped airplane – full IFR with ILS/LOC/VOR,DME, ADF, and glide slope receivers. He gave me an excellent oral, and then Iexplained just what we would do in the airplane (climbs, descents, turns to aheading, holds, VOR tracking, etc.) and I told him, “When we come backwe’ll do an approach to a landing. You get to pick the approach. What kind ofapproach would you like to do for me?” He instantly shot back, “I’lltake a visual!” I’m sure that’s not what the FAA had in mind when theywrote the Flight Test Guide, and I told him I couldn’t accept a visual approachon his checkride, but one certainly had to give the fellow credit for trying.

Make A Plan And Stick To It

The single-mindedness of some applicants is amazing to behold. I once had anapplicant who did an excellent job of planning the cross-country portion of theprivate pilot flight test. Since we were going northwest, she followed thehemispheric rule and planned for 4,500 feet MSL. When we got to the airplane andstarted off on the cross-country TASK in the Practical Test Standards (PTS) forthe Private Pilot, she established herself on course and started climbing, As wepassed through 4,000 feet MSL (only about 1,000 feet AGL), she headed straightfor a large, fair-weather cumulous cloud in front of us. She obviously intendedto fly right through it. I asked her what on earth she was doing, and the replywas, “My instructor told me to make a plan and fly the plan as made.”

I explained that while that was generally good advice, a pilot must beflexible and be prepared to change her plan as conditions dictate. I’ve seenmany examples of applicants getting married to a plan and sticking to it eventhough conditions dictated that they should make an adjustment, but this oneperhaps best illustrates the point.

Navigation The Easy Way

This one didn’t happen to me, but a friend of mine (also an examiner) tellsof the applicant for a private certificate who came in for his checkride and wasgiven an assignment to plan a cross-country flight, per the PTS. The examinerwas shocked when the applicant instantly said, “OK, I’m ready.”

Plan your flight, fly your plan.The examiner asked the applicant, “Where’s your trip plan?”

“I don’t need one. I’ll just punch in the destination in my GPS andfollow what it gives me.”
The examiner went ahead and let the applicant do it that way, although he knewthat this method was unacceptable.

After completing the rest of the oral portion of the practical test, theywent out to the airplane, and following the preflight inspection, started up andtook off on the cross-country as programmed in the GPS. After travelling about20 miles, the examiner reached over and turned off the GPS. The applicantinstantly became hopelessly lost, and the ride was terminated with the issuanceof a disapproval notice (pink slip).

Here again, I’m sure that this kind of planning is not what the FAA had inmind when the test was designed, but again we have to give the fellow credit fortrying. This one is a good example of just why it is necessary to be prepared toback up your avionics with pilotage or dead reckoning.

Where Are You Now?

As an examiner, my policy was to schedule the checkrides with either theschool from which the applicant was coming, or with the recommending instructor,but occasionally an applicant himself would call and schedule a checkride. Onone such occasion, I got a call at home one evening from an applicant, and wescheduled his appointment for three days hence. The next day his instructor, whoran a one-man flight school, called and cancelled the appointment, explainingthat the applicant had not yet met the night requirement for the privatecertificate. A few days later the instructor called and rescheduled the flighttest. He told me that the previous evening, although the training had beenaccomplished at a non-towered field, he had flown with the applicant into and outof no less than seven airports with control towers, ending up back home, wherethey completed the 10 required night landings. The guy owned a Cessna 150, butsince his airplane didn’t have a working VOR, he would use the school’s 150 forthe checkride.

Where'd he go NOW?On the day and at the appointed time for the checkride, I got a call from thesupervisor on duty at our local control tower advising me that my applicant wason the way up and would I please counsel him. The airport where I am located isso busy that there are two tower frequencies in use when the traffic becomesheavy. The airport is divided down the middle from east to west, and arrivalsand departures from the north use one tower frequency and departures andarrivals from the south use the other. This procedure is announced on theAutomatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS). It seems that my applicant, whowas coming from an airport about 40 miles northeast of my field, called thesouth tower, announced his position as 10 northeast, and said he had theinformation on the ATIS.

He was advised to switch over to the other tower frequency and report on aright downwind north of the tower. He was next heard from, still on the southtower frequency, but now it was correct, on a left downwind, south of the tower.He was then cleared to land, and after landing he asked the ground controllerhow to find me.
When he arrived at my office, I used an airport diagram and a sectional chart toexplain just what he had done wrong. I explained that he could have beenviolated, but that we have an understanding Tower Chief who likes to keep suchthings in-house and that I had been asked to counsel him.

We then went forward with the flight test. After he gave me a marginal oral,we went out to the airplane, and after a good preflight inspection he startedup. He carefully tuned the ATIS and listened while he was told, “All IFRdepartures contact ground for your clearance.” (We only use the clearancedelivery frequency when the ground frequency is congested.) The guy promptlycalled clearance delivery for taxi instructions. After getting this littleboo-boo straightened out, we taxied out and completed a satisfactory run-up andwere cleared for takeoff.

I had called for a soft-field take off. Instead, he crammed on full power,rolled out on the runway and held the airplane on the ground until it was doingabout 80 miles per hour. At that point he abruptly yanked it off the ground andstarted to climb. On reaching 1,200 feet AGL, he leveled off and turned oncourse for the cross-country. Still at 1,200 feet AGL and still with full power,he went charging along. Meanwhile, the tower was frantically calling traffic offour right, a call which he ignored. Keeping my eye on the traffic, after thethird call from the tower, I nudged the applicant with my elbow and said,”Hey, they’re calling you!” At this point, I took over control of theairplane and returned for a landing so I could issue him his pink slip.

The aftermath to this story is also quite interesting. His recommendinginstructor habitually issued his applicants a one-way ticket for theircheckrides. He would endorse them for a cross-country to my airport for thecheckride, but not for a return, on the theory that if they passed they wouldn’trequire an endorsement to return home, and if they failed, they could very wellwalk home. When I gave this fellow his Disapproval Notice, he asked if I couldlend him money for cab fare back to his home airport (some 40-odd miles away).Instead, I did his planning for him, carefully explaining just what he must doand what radio calls he must make on what frequencies. In fact I wrote it alldown for him, and then I signed him off to go home.

When he left my office to go out to the airplane, I called the tower on thetelephone and said, “Look out! Here he comes.” I then called hisinstructor and requested that he call me when the guy got safely back. The finalpage to this story is that the guy never came back for a recheck, and as far asI know he never did acquire the private certificate for which he had trained.

Still on the subject of “Where are you now?” I had anotherapplicant who planned his cross-country to an airport some 60 miles southwest ona magnetic heading of 245 degrees. When we took off, this one climbed to theappropriate altitude and promptly established himself on a heading of 190degrees and started off. I let him go, curious to see what he would do next,hoping that he would wake up, realize his mistake and make a self-correction.What he did was to simply keep going, fifty-five degrees off course. When we hadtraveled some 15 miles and were on the verge of entering the Terminal ControlArea (now Class B airspace), I took over the airplane, terminating the flighttest, and we returned for the issuance of the pinkie.

Where Are We Going?

Not a VOR, but where are you?When asked to tune a specific VOR and fly right to it, a surprising number ofprivate applicants very carefully tune the station and tweak the OBS until theneedle on the CDI is dead centered, but with a FROM indication. They possibly dothis because they were taught that to identify a radial one always displays theFROM flag. These people then establish themselves on course to fly directly awayfrom the station. Of course, with this configuration they get reverse sensing sothat their corrections are toward the deflection of the needle, if any. Thisperformance prompts me to make a remark to the effect that if we don’t lose thesignal in 50 miles or so, then we might get there after numerous fuel stops, butthat we’d get mighty cold as we flew over the polar regions on our way aroundthe world.

Along the same line, another problem I would see quite frequently was theinability of many private applicants to turn a sectional chart over and continuethe course line on the other side. This happened despite the fact that thecharts have printed instructions on them on how to accomplish this task.

How Not To Use The Checklist

As an examiner, I had a couple of techniques that I used to emphasize theimportance of really paying attention to accurately following the checklist. Thefirst of these would occur when the applicant and I boarded the airplane. Iwould carefully adjust my seat, leaving the seat belt hanging loose over my lap,unbuckled. I would just sit there and wait for the applicant to note on hischecklist, item one, “Belts and harness: Adjust and secure.” More thannine out of 10 (and not just private applicants, but those seeking advancedratings as well), would simply brush by this item without checking to see thatit was complied with.

After taxiing to the runway and completing the run-up the applicant wouldinvariably reach for the microphone to call ready. At this point I would stophim/her and the following conversation would ensue:

Me: You ready?

Applicant: Yep.

Me: You sure?

Applicant: Yep.

Me: Cover everything on the checklist, did you?

Applicant: Yep.

Me: Recheck it, would you please?

Applicant: OK (Starts with the pre-takeoff part of the list)

Me: How about item one?

Short Final. Did you pass?Whereupon the applicant would look down and see my belt unfastened. Asheepish grin would appear on his/her face as I would be informed to fasten mybelt. Although I certainly could have done so, I didn’t bust applicants for thislittle oversight, but it did give me the opportunity to explain to privateapplicants that as a pilot I could be expected to fasten my belt, but if I wasto issue them a certificate today, they can go right out and carry children inthe airplane.

Then to emphasize the safety factor, when we returned from the flight, as wetaxied in I would suggest that they let me out to start the paperwork while theysecured the airplane. I would then disembark with the engine running if theypermitted me to do so (and most did). This also provided the opportunity forcounseling. I explained just how dangerous it is to let someone on or off anairplane with the prop going around. In an encounter with a propeller, peoplejust don’t win.

The foregoing are just a few of the more interesting things an examinerencounters as he or she goes about the business of administering practicaltests. There are a great many more, but I’ll save them for a future column.

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