Frequently Asked Questions with a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) – Video Transcript
Beth: Hi everyone, and thanks for watching another training video presented by AeroGuard Flight Training Center. My name is Beth Brown and we have our guest Pete Reddan here with us. Hey, Pete.
Pete: Hey, Beth.
Beth: Pete’s joining us from the Memphis, Tennessee FSDO and he owns Vapor Global Aviation. So, he’s joined us again, for the final segment of our three-part series, and today we’re going to be talking about frequently asked questions. Stand by.
Beth: All right Pete, thanks again, so much for your time doing these videos.
Pete: No worries. My pleasure.
Beth: So I have a list of questions that our students have asked, and they were hoping you could help clarify some things for their checkride.
Pete: All right, we’ll do our best.
Beth: All right, so first question is: You are my first passenger but you’re also a DPE, so how do I treat you since you’re really the boss?
Pete: Okay, so it’s a great question and I’m glad it was asked. The most important thing to remember is that the applicant is the pilot in command. You are responsible for everything, from the flight planning through the pre-flight, the fueling, getting dispatched and flying safely in the airspace.
The DPE is only there as an observation or an observer of the airmen certification standards, so, are we going to tell you what maneuvers to do? Yep, probably. Are we going to give you radar vectors or headings to fly to kind of keep you in a certain airspace, so we don’t get too far into another state or into another country? Yeah, we’re going to kind of do that, and we’re going to kind of move you through the ACS, but bottom line is, you are the boss, and come prepared, come with a plan. It won’t hurt to have a plan, and hopefully that plan will mesh with what the DPE has as a plan, or it may be adjusted a little bit to help mesh with it and go out there and just be the pilot command. Make those decisions.
Beth: Good to know. Awesome.
Another question is: In Phoenix, it’s really hot in the summer, and in the afternoon, we get thermals and it makes keeping altitude a challenge. How can I handle deviations in a steep turn if I get a thermal or if I cannot keep altitude with full power during slow flight?
Pete: Another good question.
Again, being the PIC and kind of feeding on what we talked about before, when you are setting up for your maneuver maybe take note as you’re climbing through the different altitudes. Maybe 3,500 was smoother than 4,500, or maybe you want to go up to 5,500 and see if it’s a little smoother up there. Of course I think the farther you get away from the ground the more smooth it may be depending on mountain wave turbulence or what wind is coming over the mountains, but if you set up a maneuver and you begin a maneuver and you feel that it’s either going to be out of tolerances or you don’t feel it’s going to be the best demonstration of your proficiency, well in a case of steep turns, just go ahead, roll out, terminate the maneuver. Demonstrate that you’re safe, demonstrate have good judgment, demonstrate that you know what proficiency is and maybe this wasn’t leading to proficiency, because once the maneuver is done, the DPE has to grade the maneuver and there are no second chances, so it’s probably best for you to act as PIC and go, ‘Nope that that’s not a good setup and we’re going to go back to original heading. We’re going to do the setup again and do that,’ but take note of the different altitude. Maybe look at the wind charts, look at the temperature charts and kind of see where potentially the smoothest air is before you ever walk out the door.
Beth: Good to know.
Yeah, I think a lot of students are afraid to take that PIC authority to that level and kind of lay a little bit back on that, and if you have full power and slow flight and you’ve asked a student to climb to 7,500 and you can’t do, well then you just can’t do it.
Pete: Yeah, the student, you know, just as the as the applicant, as the pilot in command you say, ‘This is — we are unable, I’m identifying this’ and maybe provide a solution to the problem and say, ‘Can I first descend to 6,500 feet and then I’ll show the climb to you to an altitude maybe back to 7,000 feet?’ So don’t think the DPE is being demanding.
The DPE is just trying to assess your abilities in the given situations, and if you know that’s going to put you in a precarious position, offer up a solution or a different opportunity. I think that demonstrates that PIC risk management kind of vibe, if you will, and it would probably score well on the DPE score sheet that really doesn’t exist.
Beth: Absolutely. Good tips.
What are some trends you see, or weak areas for applicants?
Pete: This is an educational environment, so we won’t call anybody out by name, but some of the things that I do see with applicants is that they really want to get their airspeeds, just nailed. They want to be perfect. A lot of applicants will focus on the airspeed indicator and then try and pitch the airplane looking at the airspeed indicator to get that airspeed perfect and it actually works against them.
On most checkrides for private and commercial, obviously it’s a VFR checkride, so look outside, know where to put that nose on the horizon and just stick it on the horizon. It’ll keep your eyes outside, it’ll keep you clearing and as you learn and you become more proficient, you’ll know exactly where to stick the nose on the horizon and then when you look inside at your airspeed indicator, you’ll be well within tolerances of your climbout speed. You see that on short field takeoffs, you see a little bit of, kind of a PIO, pilot-induced oscillation, you’ll see that on the stall recoveries or a VMC recovery in a multi-engine situation. They want to nail that airspeed perfectly, but they just keep kind of chasing it. So, just find where that that pitch goes and then memorize it. Take a picture of it and just always bring it back to that. I think that one of the biggest critiques I have of any applicant.
And then for instruments, you spend enough time in the SIM and you spend enough time under the hood, you should know that, ‘Hey when I’m flying a PA28181 and I need to do a go-around, when I put the power 4, that nose should come up to about 7 degrees’ and then you can adjust in 1-degree increments up or down from there to help your airspeed; to gauge your airspeed perfect.
That’s one of the kinds of many things that I see over and over again.
Beth: So definitely, don’t fixate on your instruments. It’s a VFR checkride, so look outside. Probably, you see that a lot in steep turns, steering instruments and altitude because those are the numbers.
Pete: Just peak around the corner and clear out ahead of you in the direction of turn you’re going, and just have a little faith that where the horizon intersects the cowling is good. It’s good for that two or three seconds that you look outside and clear and then come back inside and double-check.
Beth: So work on training that way, and when you’re out in the practice area, train with all your visual and that’ll help you out on your checkrides, is what that sounds like.
Pete: One other thing, it kind of goes along the same lines: Be careful when you’re in cruise flight trying to chase altitude and airspeed at the same time. When you get to cruise flight, just set your power setting to where you want it and then just maintain your altitude and allow your airspeed to go to whatever airspeed you’re planning to go into and you should already know that power setting. So, if you’re going to set 2,300 rpm if it’s a PA28, it should go to about 100 knots, and just say, ‘Hey I’m planning on cruising on 100 knots’ and then the DPE measures you plus or minus off of that, but don’t try and change power and change pitch to maintain a perfect airspeed and maintain a perfect altitude because what you get into is that does that PIO and actually works against you.
Beth: It totally makes sense.
Another question: Everyone says, ‘Just know the ACS.’ This is so hard for me to read. How do you use the ACS?
Pete: That’s a great question.
So remember, flight instructors are there to train you through the syllabus or the training course outline that they have been provided that’s been developed for your school. That’s going to cover hopefully everything you need to know to be a pilot.
Now, the ACS is a specific exam proctoring tool that says the FAA wants you to know all this information. It gives you the references and you’re going to be tested on this information. And then the FAA empowers a DPE to generate what we call a plan of action.
For every individual checkride that we give or practical exam that we give, we have to generate basically a new plan of action, so no plan of action should ever really be the same, or if we have multiple plans of actions we kind of recycle them over time because we have to make sure that we’re covering every topic in the ACS over a time period. Knowing that, if you look at the ACS as a bit of a lesson plan, if you take the first task, and I’m just opening up a private pilot airplane, the first task says ‘Pilot qualifications’ and right underneath it, it says ‘References’ and it has 14 CFR part 61 6891 FAA h8083-2. I’m pretty sure that’s probably the Airplane Flying Handbook and the other one’s probably the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, there’s some advisory circulars in here. So if you take that those references and look them up, because they’re all free at the FAA website, they’re all PDFs, you can download them, and then you go through each line and you say, ‘The applicant demonstrates an understanding of certain certification requirements recent flight experience and record keeping.’ Well if you look at those references and you write three or four sentences from those references on that topic, well there you go, you got that answer, and go to the next one.
You could work through the ACS, each line by line as you go through training so you’re learning everything you need to know from your instructors, but then at the same time you’re looking at the ACS and kind of, in the military we say ‘Know your enemy and prepare accordingly’. You know that the DPE is going to go through the ACS and now you have each line by line, you’ve developed an answer that you can confidently provide to the DPE and then probably make your checkride out a little smoother instead of trying to think it up at the same time.
Now the really big difference between the ACS, and some training, is that the ACS demands that you reach a level of understanding and application, so the four levels of learning. Top level is comprehension, I think.
You have to get to the levels of application and understanding, not just rote memorization. So, as you go through, page by page in the ACS, you have to think about; ‘Here’s this information. Not only do I know it, but do I know how to apply it?’
Here, we’re talking about qualifications. Everybody likes to go right to the bold boxed items in the middle of the book. What we want to do is remind people that in the front of the book, and what we would probably call the preamble, there are four to six pages of really good information how the test has to be given, how to kind of prepare for the test, what to expect, and in the back of the ACS it gives you kind of some special instructions that are referenced out through the ACS tasks. Things like if you’re going for your multi-engine checkride, there’s some safety considerations of, ‘Hey, you can’t do a simulated engine failure below 400 feet AGL, you can’t commercial pilot, you can’t do accelerated stalls below 3,000 AGL.’ So there’s all that information in there, and you kind of need to dig through that because it’ll give you a really good picture when you’re building your mental picture of what your checkride’s going to look like. The information is there, you just have to dig it out.
Beth: I think a lot of students just go straight to, like you said, the line items that say, ‘Plus or minus 10 knots on airspeed, plus or minus a hundred’ and the ACS is the checkride. It has all the questions so you should know the answers.
How many go-arounds is too many?
Pete: Well, that’s a good question and I think that the answer may vary a little bit depending on the DPE and on the situation.
So it’s kind of like, ‘How often can I reference my reference material?’ Well of course you can reference material the whole entire checkride, but eventually we’re going to run out of time, right? So do you really know your information or do you not? I think go-arounds are the same way.
You have to do at least one go-around for the ACS – in most of the ACS. I think private and commercial demand one go-around. So you get one that’s going to be graded, and then I think it demonstrates good proficiency, good judgment, safety. If you’re not going to make your point on your short field landing, or if you know that you’ve floated too long, or you ballooned or you balanced or what have you, and you demonstrate a go-around for that, that’s a good thing. I think that’s good. You’re PIC. You’re making good judgment.
Now, if every landing you come in on you bounce and you have to go around, that could end up in a disapproval for sure. I think it’s just really situation dependent. I mean, somebody who takes their checkride on a perfectly calm day, and can grease their landings on, and then someone who has a 15-knot crosswind, the situation is different. There might be a go-around or two more because of the crosswind; the gusty winds. Situation dependent, but again, if you decide to fly on that 15-knot crosswind day, we’re going to expect you to meet the ACS. So you know, we’re nice, but we’re not Santa Clause either.
Beth: Fair enough. Maybe you’re too short one, you’re too long on another but by the third, you really need to figure it out.
Do I need to know the reg numbers from the FAR?
Pete: So the regulation numbers. Well, am I going to ask you what this FAR is? Probably not. What I’m going to ask you is, I’m going to give you a scenario that covers one or a certain number of FARs: Can you put those together and make an answer that can be comprehended by the DPE on the given scenario?
Now, if you don’t know the numbers, it’s going to be hard to find what you’re looking for, but obviously you can always go to the front in the Table of Contents and kind of look for the topic and look for the number. You go that way, but there are just a couple off the top of my head: 91.205. You probably want that. 91.213.177 I believe is the VOR testing, so a couple of those you want to be able to pull out especially if you have a little bit of a data dump in your brain. You get the question, you’re like, ‘Oh my god I know the answer, but I just forgot it.’ You have those test jitters. You want to be able to kind of just go right to the reg and point to it.
Beth: I see a lot of folks on these Facebook pages, they’re always asking what they should tab out in the FAR/AIM and I just see this question a lot, and then ‘What should I tab out?’ and it’s more of the act of tabbing the book out because you’re familiar with the book. It’s not that there’s a right or wrong thing to tab.
Pete: People ask me that question all the time, and I have a little kind of a zinger that I get back to when I go, ‘I don’t judge arts and crafts, right? I just don’t. It doesn’t impress me if you have all these tabs.’ Now those tabs, and you’re hitting on it exactly, those tabs are for you. What are your weaknesses? If you know that you always forget how to do a VOR check, well you should have that tagged because you know that question’s coming and if it’s asked because it’s in the ACS. You can just go, ‘Yep I got a tab. I’m going to open it and I’m going to give you the right answer because I know I screw this up no matter how much I studied it,’, I think that’s a valid way to use your references.
Beth: Okay good.
Is there a checkride that stands out to you where the applicant was exceptional, and what set that person apart? You can say me.
Pete: Of course, because yeah, you’re my private pilot checkride.
You know, there was one or two that really stood out and I think the reason why it stood out is because the student took the initiative from the beginning.
They showed up, they had a plan, they said, ‘This is how I’m going to do my departure, this is how I’m going to show you pilot and dead reckoning, and then I’m going to break off of this, and I’m going to go do my steep turns and I’m going to do this here, and that there, and this is how we’re going to make it all flow together’, and it was really good.
So as a DPE, you kind of want to, ‘Hey man that’s great preparation. How can I fold my plan of action into that, because the student’s really well prepared?’ You know at that point it becomes more of a, you know where the emergency is going to happen, because the student doesn’t know that and where is the divert going to happen. The student doesn’t know what direction you’re going to force them to go in a diverse situation, but that student was really well-prepared and so instead of having a whole bunch of unknowns, they only really had kind of four unknowns: (1) Where was the engine failure going to happen? (2) Where was the emergency descent going to happen? (3) Where were they going to get diverted to? And I say four, there’s probably one more in there, but I can’t think of it. I did three checklists today, so, but they’ve narrowed it down. They’ve narrowed the unknowns down to just a handful.
I had a student once who was so caught off guard on his checkride, that he was going to the north practice area here in Phoenix. It’s like, you’re planning those two points. That was your NavLog. You know you’re going there because that was your plan, so you can always consider that.
I was advised once to plan my points closer together at the beginning to have a more efficient checkride.
Pete: Well you know, there’s all sorts of testmanship.
I don’t really think the DPE would care one way or the other because there’s that plan of action that they’re going to fulfill anyway, but if you’re going to the north, if that’s where your scenario is taking you, if there’s three airports to the north, I would be intimately familiar with all three airports, because potentially we’re talking testman shift now.
One of those three airports is going to be your divert, but you’re not doing that for the exam. You’re doing that because that’s what you should be doing anyway. If you have a problem, you should know, ‘Hey, I have these three airports in front of me and I need to pick the best one out of them.’
I always tell people planning is really where it’s at, because if you take the time to plan and something happens, you’ve already solved it. If I’m flying along this cross-country and I have an oil pressure issue, I have airports on my left and I have an airport to my right, but the airport to my right, has crash fire rescue, so I’m going to go to that one. That’s better. That’s better for that. Oh, you know, mother nature calls in the middle of my cross-country. Well maybe I’ll go over to this podunk airport and just land there because going to the tower field with the crash fire rescue just might be a little too much for that situation but have those plans. Think that through.
Beth: That was really well said.
Definitely have a plan, and not just because it’s your checkride but because that’s your job as a pilot anyway.
How much weight does my written score carry?
Pete: For me personally, as a DPE, it doesn’t. It’s, did you pass, or not? If you didn’t pass, what areas do we need to cover on the checkride? And the good thing about it, is the plan of action that I brought with me already covers your deficient areas, so there’s nothing added to the checkride. If my plan of action doesn’t cover what I’ve already chosen to test you on out of the ACS, if it doesn’t cover those things, then I have to add those things to the checkride. So obviously, the better you do, you’re going to have a more efficient checkride because you’re only going to have to go along with the plan of action. The more questions you get wrong on your exam, the more that may or may not have to be added to the exam so it’s kind of a dice roll with that.
So you know, score the best you can. I’m not telling everybody to go out there and get 70s. I’m not telling you to go and get 100s, but you do the best you can. The goal is to pass the test and move forward.
Beth: I think that’s it. Do the best you can on the writtens.
I think that is all the students’ questions, except for the number one question.
Pete: Okay, I’m ready.
Beth: How do I pass my checkride?
Just like you said, be prepared, know the ACS, right?
Pete: So I would say, take the bull bot horns, come up with your plan, and if your plan is to become a professional pilot, you’re going to go from private pilot to instrument rating. And don’t look at those as two separate courses, they’re additive. So now, you’re going to be a private pilot instrument airplane, and then when you go to commercial you have to bring forward all that stuff from private pilot and instrument into commercial. It’s going to seem like a lot of the same stuff, but the tolerances are tighter, the maneuvers are a little different. And then if you have a solid foundation and you learn all you can in private, instrument, commercial, when you go for that CFI initial checkride, you shouldn’t really have to learn that much. You should now be learning how to teach what you’ve already learned. So if you’re going into your CFI, your double I, even your MEI, and you’re having to go back and relearn a lot of stuff or maybe stuff you didn’t know you were supposed to learn, you probably missed some stuff along the way. Take that as a life event learning moment and then don’t let your students in the future do that. Kind of drive home the fact that this is all additive. Because when you go from commercial to CFI double I, MEI; you’ve done all that, you got your 1,500 hours, now you go to ATP. It all carries forward. The questions on your ATP ride for instrument departures are going to be very similar to those that were on your instrument checkride and those that were on your CF double I checkride.
Beth: Good to know.
Pete: You’ve got to keep carrying everything forward.
Beth: Keep building that foundation.
Well, that’s awesome. Thanks so much for your time being here.
Pete: No worries. It was a pleasure to be here.
Beth: We love having you here.
He comes out about once a month and spends a whole week doing a bunch of checkrides for us.
So, I hope these videos helped you and please like and subscribe below and we’ll see you next time.
Thanks, bye Pete.
Pete: We’ll see you, thanks.
Beth: Thanks to Pete Reddan, our special guest, for coming out and doing this three-part series with us. I really hope this helps you get ready for your checkride, know what to expect and how to prepare. Thanks for watching and we’ll see you next time. Please like and subscribe below.