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Golden Age Aviation, Inc. 

Checkride Foibles


Designated Pilot Examiner and president of Golden Age Aviation, Earl C. Downs, says he can’t spill the beans on all the questions and answers you will deal with during the checkride, but he can report where he sees weaknesses in checkride performance.  He calls these weaknesses, “Checkride Foibles.”


When Checkride Foibles show up, Earl says applicants rapidly advanced from a level 3 or 4 on the nervous scale (it’s a 1 to 10 scale) to the anxiety level red-line (that's a 10). Obviously, this can lead to further problems as the checkride progresses. Earl is dedicating this page to give you some examples of Checkride Foible areas he’s experienced when performing practical exams.


Earl will be updating this page on a regular basis to help applicants be better prepared for their practical test.


Earl’s “Foible Fighting Tips”

  • Instrument Rating - Ground-Based Navigation - During the instrument rating checkride, you will be asked to demonstrate intercepting VOR radials and establishing airway tracking and holding patterns by use of the VOR. Because of this, you will be asked questions about symbology on the IFR en-route chart relating to VOR and airway operation. Also, At least one of the instrument approaches tested will also be based on VOR/ILS procedures.

  •  All Checkrides - Navigation questions? Doesn’t my ForeFlight APP do that for me? NO, IT DOES NOT. CFI APPLICANTS must be able to teach the fundamentals of VOR navigation, dead reckoning, and other navigation sources. CFI’s must teach the fundamentals of using a navigation chart to develop a cross-country flight log. ALL APPLICANTS must understand the terms: true course, true heading, magnetic course, magnetic heading, compass heading, and track., you must be able to explain what is involved in the calculations. You may be asked to calculate a wind angle computation on an E6B. Know how to use your plotter on a paper chart.


  • Private, Commercial, and CFI - Be able to explain aircraft maintenance airworthiness requirements. What regulation addresses airworthiness maintenance? CFI applicants must teach these subjects. Where do we find the annual aircraft inspection endorsement? Does the engine receive an annual inspection? Be able to explain when the hundred-hour inspection is required and what starts the counting point for the 100-hour inspection.


  • CFI -  When should a new Learner (AKA: Student) open an IACRA account? How is a Student Pilot Certificate issued? Be ready to be questioned about the helpful information links that are available on the IACRA Home page.

  • CFI - Explained when BasicMed can be substituted for an FAA medical certificate.  Must all new Learners (AKA: Students) start off with at least a third-class FAA medical?

  •  All Checkrides -Special VFR. It allows instrument-rated and non-instrument-rated pilots to fly in less than the VFR weather without an IFR clearance.  Be assured, I will be asking questions about special VFR.


  • All Checkrides -  Brush up on the fact that the FAA Rules that address when airspace is IFR or VFR are different from the terms IFR, VFR, and marginal VFR that are offered during weather briefings. Any airport in controlled airspace is VFR if it has a ceiling of at least 1000 feet and visibility of at least 3 statute miles. Anything below this is IFR. In uncontrolled airspace, VFR means at least 1-mile visibility in airplanes must remain clear of the clouds.


  • All Checkrides - Everybody seems to show up knowing that they should listen to AWAS/ASOS/ATIS automated broadcast. In just a few seconds of listening you can determine if the airport is operating under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), or if a Special VFR clearance may be what you need. Be ready to listen, copy, and explain the rules that need to be followed. What is the minimum visibility and ceiling for a class C, D, and E airport to be operating under Visual Flight Rules (VFR)


  • All Checkrides - The wonderful world of iPads and tablets combined with navigation apps makes navigation easier than ever. However, these devices can…and I must have some sort of bad karma regarding these things because it seems that these devices often fail during my checkrides. Are you ready to switch immediately to navigation alternatives? Low-tech VOR’s and paper charts can sometimes save the day (and the checkride)!


  • PVT/Comm Checkrides - Everybody seems to get nervous about short field landings and often tend to force the airplane to “hit the mark” even if it results in a hard or possibly unacceptable landing. You are not only being tested on your ability to meet the test standards for a short field landing, but you are also being tested on aeronautical decision-making skills if the landing looks un-saveable.


  • All Checkrides - Good health and mental attitude prior to a flight are important and the FAA has come up with an acronym called, “IMSAFE”. Look it up, it’s a nice shortcut for addressing these issues.


  • All Checkrides - Aeronautical decision-making (ADM) is another issue covered on the checkride that can be kind of hard to put into words. Check out what the FAA calls the “DECIDE” model. It gives you a pretty cool way to get your thoughts in order.  

  • All Checkrides - Valuable information can be obtained in-flight from Flight Service, but only if you know how to establish radio contact. Make sure you can find the in-flight frequencies and that you know the proper procedure for initiating contact.

  • IFR Checkride – What is the VDP? Is it for precision or non-precision approaches? Is it tied-in to the missed approach or is it related to obstacle clearance? You will get questions on this!

  • PVT/Comm Checkrides - Pilotage navigation is evaluated on the checkride and is usually demonstrated by identifying checkpoints. However, don’t make it hard on yourself by choosing such minute checkpoints that they are difficult to locate. Topographical features such as rivers, mountains, and lakes can make excellent checkpoints even if they are not directly on your route of flight. 

  • All Checkrides - Despite what you’ve heard, VOR navigation is not dead. Be prepared to demonstrate tracking a planned bearing or radial (if a VOR is installed in your aircraft). Can you preset a radial, intercepted it, and track it to or from the station? The FAA is keeping many VOR’s in operation into the future. IFR and VFR... GPS may not be reliable. Learn more about GPS Interfearance Testing from AOPA on THIS LINK

  • IFR Checkride - Can you recite the required reports specified in AIM 5-3-3? You must use them on the checkride.


  • PVT/Comm Checkrides - Short field landing problems: Feel confident in picking landing spots that are not the same that you have practice on. Do not rely on VASI guidance. Practice spot landings at different places on the same runway. 

  • IFR Checkride -  An airplane with a high tech EFIS does not require the vacuum pump to provide any information to the EFIS. The vacuum pump is for standby gyros. You had better know which gyro or gyros I’m talking about. Understand your systems!

  • All Checkrides - Understand your airplane systems! Be able to explain what you’re doing when you check the magnetos. We all know the magneto RPM drop has specific limits, but what if the RPM doesn’t drop at all when you make the magneto check? (Click here for more magneto info) Know your electrical system and any emergency backup systems. Why do some planes have a "split" master/alternator switch? What could happen if the fuel vent is blocked? Very important on Commercial and CFI checkrides.

  • IFR Checkride - When can you descend from your last assigned altitude when cleared for an instrument approach? The answer comes from a deadly lesson. Use this link to learn the answer. 


More to come

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