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When training for a pilot certificate or an additional rating to an existing pilot certificate, at some point you will have to take Practical Examinations (Checkride). The FAA is responsible for performing these Checkrides, but they do not have enough personnel dedicated to doing this job. That’s where the designated pilot examiner (DPE) comes into play.


Earl Downs has been in the DPE business on and off since 1964. To this date, he has administered approximately 1,700 Practical Examinations and is the guy to go to if you want details about how the DPE system works. Here is what Earl has to say about passing your Checkride.


By Earl C Downs DPE/ASE

Okay, you have passed your knowledge test with a score of 70% or better and your flight instructor has endorsed you for the Checkride. However, you still may not be properly prepared for the Checkride.


While it is easy to look at the test as having a ground portion and a flight portion, there is more to it than that. This hidden portion of your examination is the pretest evaluation. In other words, the DPE must verify that you are qualified to take the test and this part of the examination often sets the stage for how the other parts are carried out. It is the first view the DPE will have of your ability to be pilot in command.


Here are some of the things the DPE must check or verify before the test can even be started:


  • The first thing the DPE will be reviewing is your identification, in the form of a government-approved photo ID. The DPE could also ask for verification of your US Citizenship. Know how to do that.


  • The DPE must review your 8710-1 Checkride application form in a computer program titled the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA). You will be required to utilize this program to verify that the information is correct. You must have the ability, at the time of the Checkride, to log in to IACRA to electronically sign your 8710-1 form.


  • The DPE will ask you to present your logbook and verify that you meet certain training requirements. It’s your responsibility to prove that you comply with these requirements. Know the training requirements and be able to quickly reference them in your training record.


  • You will have to prove to the DPE that the maintenance records of the airplane show that all aspects of the airplane and the equipment are airworthy and can be flown legally. You need to know what these maintenance records are and how to interpret them.


  • All Checkrides require recommending instructor logbook endorsements. For a Sport Pilot or Private Pilot certificate, these could be numerous. For more advanced certificates or ratings, it may be only two or three endorsements. You must be able to find these, understand them, and explain them to the examiner.



Now that you have your foot in the door, are you ready for the oral exam portion of your checkride?


  • The knowledge test (everybody calls that the written exam). is a multiple-choice test; a correct answer is always before your eyes, and you simply must find it.


  • During the ground portion of your Checkride (commonly called the oral examination), you must answer questions and explain things to demonstrate that you have a good command of the ACS/PTS knowledge and risk management subjects.


  • Are you ready to talk your way through it? Did you get a 100% score on your knowledge test? Are you ready to explain the correct answer to any questions you missed?


  • It has been my experience that more disapprovals occur on the ground than in the air. Have you actually practiced demonstrating your knowledge of aviation questions by explaining your answer to a question verbally?


  • Be ready to talk about personal minimums.


You have passed the oral exam, now let’s go flying.


  • During the preflight of the airplane, you will be expected to use your checklist and you will be questioned about some of the preflight items. Once again, are you ready to explain these things?


  • Demonstrating your piloting skills with the examiner is different from being guided through them with your CFI. Remember, the DPE is not allowed to provide any hints or any help on any of the maneuvers.


  • The DPE may be asking questions about specific maneuvers while you are performing the maneuver. Just answer the questions; this does not mean you are in trouble.


  • Whether you are taking a Checkride for a Sport Pilot certificate, or a higher certificate or rating, you should project an image of being a professional pilot. You are the pilot in command on a Checkride.


Remember, the DPE is charging a fee and it’s common to base that fee on the amount of time that the examination will require. The more complex the exam, the higher the fee. If the applicant shows up and delays the Checkride by not being thoroughly prepared with the pretest requirements, the examiner has the option to simply not perform the Checkride (Possible cancellation fee $$) or to help you get all the things that are not correct straightened out. The last thing in the world you want to do on a checkride is waste the examiner’s time because you are not prepared. Even if the Checkrides continues, you have now openly shown the examiner that you lack preparation skills.


Last, but not least, show up 30 minutes early for your Checkride, and your appearance should be in line with how you would present yourself for a job interview.


You need to ask yourself this question, “I have met all the training requirements, but am I ready for the Checkride?”

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