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CFI Practical Test General Information

By Earl C. Downs


"It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill."

                                                                                                                               -Wilbur Wright


Wilbur Wright hit the nail on the head when he made that statement. As an applicant to become a flight instructor, you become the one who can prove that Wilbur knew what he was talking about. A good pilot does well for himself or herself, but a flight instructor can affect the safety of flying into the future. It’s an awesome job and it’s full of responsibilities.


You have probably heard that the Flight Instructor Practical Exam is about the hardest test you will ever take. To some extent that’s true, and it should be that way. Proper training is the foundation upon which aviation safety is built, and you will be providing that training.


However, with proper preparation and the right attitude, you’ll find the flight instructor practical examination to be rewarding as well as challenging. The key thing to remember is that you are now being tested on your ability to teach and communicate as much as you are being asked to demonstrate pilot skills.


Are You Ready?

Understanding aviation regulations is more than part of the examination, is also a critical part of your qualification to take the test. Make sure you are qualified and can answer questions about your qualifications. This also includes questions about the qualification of the flight instructor who has recommended you for the checkride.


Your flight instructor:

Your recommending flight instructor must meet the qualifications specified in CFR 14 part 61.195 (h). You will be asked about these qualifications.


Your required training and qualifications could fall under three different regulations. They are:

  • CFR 14 Part 141 Subpart J

    • Commonly referred to as an FAA Approved School, you will need your graduation certificate and be prepared to verify your training records.

  • CFR 14 Part 61 Subpart H

    • Titled, Flight Instructors Other Than The Flight Instructors with a Sport Pilot Rating, this is the section of the regulations that the Practical Test Standards PTS are based on.

  • CFR 14 Part 61 Subpart K

    • Titled, Flight Instructors with a Sport Pilot Rating, this certification allows sport pilot training only.


Whichever set of regulations you are seeking certification under, make sure your qualifications can be verified at the time of taking your practical examination.


Be Prepared

This is an open book examination. Take a look at the practical test standards (PTS) and go over every area of operation and task with a fine-tooth comb. Bring reference material with you that will allow you to be prepared for things you’re not sure of. I won’t expect you to have perfect recall knowledge on every regulation that’s involved in flight training. However, I do expect you to have a good handle on where to find the information you’re searching for in your reference materials. Nobody is perfect, and everybody makes mistakes. But it will go a lot easier if you come prepared.


Consider the following:

  • The test is based on a flight instructor who is teaching students under 14 CFR part 61.

  • Bring your marked-up copy of the Flight Instructor PTS with you.

  • Have copies of the Private Pilot and Commercial Pilot ACS with you or available electronically.

  • Study the certification rules for all pilot certificate levels.

  • Bring a book or an electronic reference to the regulations.

  • The same holds true for the AIM... Be ready to dig in.

  • Consider bringing props such as a model aircraft, diagrams, or drawings.

  • Be sure to show up with all your tools which include such things as charts, plotters, and computers.

  • Be prepared to teach subjects at the most basic level.

  • Consider using a digital presentation as a teaching tool.

  • Be ready to present yourself as a professional instructor.


The Oral Examination (Area of Operations I through IV)

You can expect the oral examination to run about five hours, including some breaks. The reason it takes this amount of time is that this part of the examination will be extensive and different from previous check rides.


When being asked questions that lead to pilot certification, the DPE is supposed to ask questions that are direct to the point. For instance, a typical question for a private pilot applicant might go something like this: “What are the dimensions of class Delta airspace?” Your answer would be simple: “it’s a radius of four nautical miles around the airport and extends up to 2,500 feet above the ground.”


However, when that question is asked during a flight instructor examination, that question will be phrased something like this: “Teach me about class Delta airspace.” As a flight instructor, you are aware that there is a lot more to know about class Delta airspace than simply its dimensions. You must also have the ability to provide the information to a student, and then evaluate that the student has actually received the information.


The bottom line is… you are being evaluated as a teacher, not just as a pilot.



During the examination, we’ll be working with scenarios and teaching tasks. Scenarios are something you need to prepare for because it could involve 10 or 15 minutes of teaching for each scenario. Teaching tasks will simply be short briefings regarding various maneuvers. Here’s an outline of the scenarios you can expect to perform.


Scenario 1

Be prepared to present a briefing program of about 15 minutes. This scenario will be used to evaluate your fundamentals of instruction skills and your understanding of the certification system.


You are meeting a 55-year-old man who now believes he would like to learn how to fly. He has the means and the time to do this. His meeting with you is to find out what learning to fly involves and you are the first flight instructor he is talking to.


Give a “broad-brush” presentation to briefly explain the privileges and limitations of the following pilot certificates, Student Pilot, Sport pilot, Private Pilot, and Commercial Pilot. This does not need to be an hour-by-hour curriculum explanation.


Scenario 2

Plan to present about 10 minutes of ground training appropriate to this situation.


You are meeting with a private pilot for a Flight Review who has about 300 hours of flying time in a Cessna 172. In the last two years, this pilot has flown about 40 hours. He does not hold an instrument rating.


Scenario 3

Prepare a ground briefing that will run about 10 minutes regarding the issue of operations in a large airport and the safety issue of preventing runway incursions. Pick an airport of your choice and present a pre-flight briefing related to incursion issues at that airport. Use whatever props you feel appropriate to introduce your student to this important subject.


Scenario 4

 (10/15 minutes) You are meeting with a new primary student to explain instructor supervision responsibilities. This ground training session is designed to explain how the various flight instructor logbook endorsements are required as the student progresses through the ground training.


You will be expected to know which endorsements are required from the beginning of private pilot training through pilot certification. Other endorsements will also be questioned. Remember…this is an open book exam. AC61-65H may be used for referring to the exact wording of endorsements.


Scenario 5

Prepare a training lecture of approximately 15 minutes to address the issue of stall and spin awareness.

This will be directly addressed to me to indicate your understanding as well as your ability to present the subject. Reference FAA-H- 8083-9A, Aviation Instructors Handbook.

Teaching Tasks


While a teaching scenario is more like a prepared ground training session, a teaching task is to be presented as part of a preflight briefing. Be prepared to present a briefing based on the tasks listed here. For the purpose of the CFI examination, these teaching tasks will assume that your student is at a level of training appropriate to the subject covered in the tasks.


Teaching Task 1: For the next five minutes teach me about the basics of aileron-rudder coordination as it relates to rolling into and out of banks. Discuss adverse aileron yaw and be prepared to teach and demonstrate this in flight.  


Teaching Task 2: For the next five minutes, use a sectional chart to draw a line between two points. Teach me how to start with a true course and end up with a compass heading. You may use a calculator, but do not use a flight planning program.


Teaching Task 3: For the next five minutes, teach me about the various ways I can receive weather information. Is one system better than the other? What are ways to check whether while en route?


Teaching Task 4: choose a system on the aircraft we are flying and take five minutes to explain the operation of one of the aircraft systems. Consider the following systems:


Teaching Task 5: for the next 5 to 10 minutes, teach me about determining takeoff and landing performance for the aircraft that is being used for today’s check ride.


Teaching Task 6: prepare a preflight briefing of 5 to 10 minutes for the purpose of explaining the Chandelle maneuver to a commercial pilot trainee.


Teaching Task 7: prepare a preflight briefing of 5 to 10 minutes for private pilot training regarding the performance of turns around to point and S turns across the road.


During the Flight

As we fly through the various areas of operation, you will be both instructing and performing maneuvers. Your maneuvers' performance will be held to the standard of a commercial pilot test applicant.


I will be taking two roles during the flight. The first is a role that I’m accustomed to, and that is to assure you meet performance standards in the maneuvers. My second role will be to simulate a student being trained. I might be a bright student, or I might be one of your challenging students. It wouldn’t surprise me if you even teach me something that I actually didn’t know before.


As a DPE, I’m not allowed to provide instruction during the checkride. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if we do some exchanging of ideas as we go through the various flight maneuvers and training scenarios.


What’s in store for you?

Think about it, it won’t be long before you’re standing on the ground watching the first solo flight of a student that you have trained from the beginning to the first solo. You have a right to be proud of making that happen.


CFI Initial Practical Examination Fees:

Cancellation Fee: $100

This fee will be collected if the applicant does not meet pretest qualification requirements or if the aircraft is considered to be unsuitable or not properly equipped as required in the PTS. This fee is not charged if the examination is canceled for reasons beyond the control of the applicant.


Initial checkride for FAR 141 Subpart J, or FAR 61 Subpart H applicants: $800


Initial checkride for FAR 61 Subpart K applicants: $600


Payment is accepted in the form of a check, cash, or credit card(credit card fee of 2% will be added. Discover and American Express cards not accepted).



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