Check rides: I have known and loved

Most of us remember notable things about our flying, check rides for example. When I was starting out and collecting certificates and ratings, it seemed like I was constantly either preparing for, or taking check rides. Some were more fun than others and I can honestly say that none made me nervous.

Temporary Airman Certificate
Earning that coveted temporary airman certificate is sometimes easy, sometimes a real struggle.

Like most all pilots, my first check ride was for the private certificate. It was conducted by Lamar Brodnax, designated examiner who was the manager of Camden Flying Service in Arkansas, where I took my initial training. The airplane used was a Cessna 140, N1808V and the date 2/14/1952.

Lamar was a pretty laid-back guy. We basically just went flying. First, he had me plan a cross-country trip and the ride started as we began that trip. After a few miles he was satisfied that I had noted the time off, and was flying the heading and identifying the landmarks as they passed beneath. Then we did some of the maneuvers I had been practicing and after an hour and a half we landed and Lamar congratulated me. I was a new private pilot. As best I recall, he didn’t make the speech about it being a license to learn.

The commercial came next, five months later on 7/14/52. I flew with Bill Carson, the FBO at another airport, and we used a Champ, N1154E. This one didn’t involve a check of my navigational skills, was almost entirely spent on maneuvers, and took just over one hour. It was a lot like the private check ride.

A couple of months later I took my multiengine check ride in a Cessna T-50 (Bamboo Bomber) and it was pretty simple. The airplane didn’t have feathering props and on one engine it would go forward and down. Vmc was not a problem because of a huge rudder compared with pretty wimpy 225 horsepower Jacobs engines.

At that, I was done with the easy part. Next would be what was then called a flight instructor rating. It could be conducted only by an FAA inspector from what was then called the GADO and is now called the FSDO.

When I first talked with the inspector, Al Meyer, who had a reputation as a hard-ass, he asked me how old I was and how many hours I had. I was informed that he would give me the ride if I insisted but added that I was really too young and inexperienced, to come back later.

I waited a while and spent some time talking to other pilots who had flown with Al. By the time I took the ride on 8/24/53 I was 19 and had 730 hours.

We flew in my Super Cruiser, N3389M. I was familiar with the airplane and had practiced everything I had been told to expect.

The precision spins, lazy 8s and chandelles went fine and then we turned to one of Al’s favorites, spot landings.

I did a couple, hitting the spot. Then Al told me to fly my normal pattern but not to pull the power until he said so.

I was on final, ridiculously high, when he said to pull the power and hit the spot without slipping or s-turning.

What the FAA wanted at the time was to see how an applicant did at flying the airplane right at the edge of the envelope.

I slowed to well below the normal approach speed, close to a stall, and the rate of descent increased by a lot. I could feel it as the airplane almost stalled and I played it down a final approach slope that led to the spot. As it was going, I knew I didn’t have enough energy to flare so the last little bit of technique was to gauge the right time to reduce the angle of attack and gain enough energy to flare.

I managed the last little bit of that game of aerial chicken well and the landing was on the spot and normal.

After spending but an hour with me, Al said it was a good ride and that I was ready to start signing off the dual that he knew I had been giving but that someone else was signing off.

It had been the most intense hour of flying I had done to that point but I thought Al was imminently fair.

To show that over the years the FAA has never been consistent, the recently issued Advisory on stalls and stall training is pretty far from that slow final they wanted way back when. After the ride, I took that out of my repertoire and resorted to much safer slips to deal with a high approach.

I flew with Al Meyer again for my instrument rating, on May 9, 1955.  The ride this time was in my Pacer, then N7785K, later to become N125RC.

At the time the only acceptable view-limiting technique was to cover the inside of the windshield and the side windows with specially-fitted orange plexiglas and to wear goggles with blue lenses that precluded seeing anything through the orange. It was cumbersome but I had been doing it for my instrument training so was used to it.

The instrument ride took but an hour and included a low frequency range and omni (VOR) approach, some partial panel and a couple of unusual attitudes. Al did remark that my Pacer looked like a flying bird cage because of all the antennas on it.

The next notable check ride didn’t come until 7/10/58. I had no real use for what was then called an ATR (now ATP) but I wanted one. Few pilots other than airline guys had this and I was told that I had best get one of them to prepare me for the ride and make the recommendation.

It was required that an ATR applicant fly with an FAA air carrier inspector so after the Trans-Texas DC-3 captain I had been flying with said that I was ready, the GADO set the wheels in motion to get the appropriate inspector.

Twin Bonanaza
The Twin Bonanza, quite the airplane for an ATP checkride.

I was in Little Rock at the time and the inspector had to come from the FAA regional office in Fort Worth. Inspector Joe Werbke made a special trip to Little Rock to administer my test in Twin Bonanza N4305D, which I was flying for a highway contractor.

The oral exam took a while and covered such minutia as required tire pressure and minimum and maximum allowable engine parameters. This was all learned without the benefit of ground school or special courses but I was told what to expect and was ready.

The flight lasted two hours and 20 minutes, my longest check ride. We did everything in the book and by the book. One maneuver was the canyon approach. Descend straight ahead for 1,000 feet, then a steep 180 degree turn (to get out of the canyon), climbing at max power and the best angle of climb speed. The angle of bank had to be considered when calculating the speed.

I had been told to expect an engine failure in that climbing turn and Joe did not disappoint. I had also been told that you had a 50-50 chance of picking the wrong engine in a steep turn and that if I wasn’t certain I should complete the turn and get the wings level before identifying and securing the dead engine. That was what I did and it was okay.

It was July in Arkansas and by the time we finished the inside of that Twin Bonanza smelled like a gymnasium. I passed, which was what counted.

There was one big difference in my check rides and the ones given today. I never paid for a ride. All were free.

There were other check rides along the way but those were the main ones. I always wondered exactly what a check ride accomplished.  A lot might have been learned preparing for the ride but nothing new was learned or uncovered during the ride itself. In retrospect I guess a check ride is just a hurdle and we all need occasional hurdles to keep us sharp.

Did you find any value in your check rides or did you have any special check ride moments? Do tell, right here.

12 Comments

  • I found that the check ride is about the accomplishment more than anything. With the private it was about getting my ticket but for my instrument it was about setting goals and accomplishing them. I have considered a commercial and CFI ratings but don’t have any justification other than the accomplishment. Still, I may do it because that is reason enough for me. Unlike Mr. Collins I do get nervous, even though I’m always well prepared.

  • Since I don’t have my log book handy the dates slip my mind, however I will never forget my flight instructors ride. I. Got my private and commercial both at Oklahoma A & M, but by the time I took the instructor it was Oklahoma State University. At the time the university had a very active flight school headed up by Tyner Lapsely , with Hoyt Walkup as airport manager, chief cook, bottle washer and anything else required to make the airport run smoothly. My wife, Sally who trained at Stephens College, was working on a masters degree and teaching flying at the same time. I moved quickly through the private, then built time flying anything, anywhere, anytime in order to get the required time for my commercial. Each time I think I approached the check ride feeling it was a formality and no question I would pass. Then came the instructors ticket. Let me start by saying one of the instructors I had, flunked it three times, Tulsa at that time was tough. I might add that Lowell had been an instructor inB29s in WWII. The last seven that had been ridden by the examiner, Dick Schultz, had flunked so it was standard to have a do over.rides were hard to get as they were short handed and sometimes it would take a couple of months to get a ride, therefore it was standard to call to get the ride before you had completed the requirements as you would have plenty of time to finish. Going on this theory Hoyt told me to call for my ride even though I was short about five hours.as I recall this was on a Wednesday when I called. Guess what, they had a cancellation for Saturday 8AM and they would see me then. Needless to say the pressure started. We drilled and drilled on the oral till I think I could have done it in my sleep. I managed to get in another couple of hours and then the final check and recommendation by Hoyt.no one dreamed I would pass but at least it would get me ready to pass the next time. The appointed time arrived and just my luck they were training a new man and he would give the oral and Dick Schultz would listen in and aid him in doing it. Short story oral started at a few minutes after 8 an finished a little after 11. At first I was sure I wouldn’t even get the ride, then Dick looked at me and said, lets go fly. A65HP Champ on a windy day in Oklahoma is a lot of fun if you want to be a passenger, but try shallow eights on a pylon and you learn how things can move around. We did high work with precision spins, which I nailed, stalls, accelerated maneuver stalls, which were just coming in, and of course all landings were crosswind that day, short field, soft field , and wheel. We flew so long we had to take a restroom break and that’s when he told me, he was going to have to bust me for not being able to hold the pylon on the eights on. I argued with him that wasn’t fair in all that wind but all he would say was you have to fly the conditions you get. Since I wasn’t expected to pass anyway I wasn’t too down, then on the way back he said, how about giving me a steep 720 on, it was the chance I needed. I nailed it like I was glued at the wing tip to the pylon.thats when he said take me back and when you land drop me at the gate then park and come in. I dropped him at the gate expecting to go in and listen to a lecture which he normally gave when he flunked some one. As I went in to the building I met the secretary coming out and she smiled and said congratulations , I damn near fell over she had type it up and when I got inside Dick handed it to me and said great job , I could have fainted. Wonder I didn’t lose it because when I got back to Stillwater I buzzed Hoyt, Lowell and another instructor that lived just off the end of the runway. No one could believe I had made it on the first try. Years later, I met Don Duncan, who at that time was flying 747s for American. He knew Dick Schultz well and we shared lots of stories about him.

  • My PPL checkride, 9/26/02 was, with a DFE, Jim Drollette, a great guy. My instructor brought his C-150 over from Malone-Dufort late, due to having to change plugs because of fouling. I was sweating bullets, as I only had so much time before having to get back to work, (luckily on the airfield we were flying from.) After the oral, upstairs in Jims hangar, he had me plan a flight to Syracuse. Ofter we got off that 12,000 foot runway, he told me to head north, as we weren’t going to the planned destination. As we were going along, Jim asked me what I was doing, talking to myself. Answer, make sure he understands exactly what I’m doing, just before I do it, so there is no confusion. Got a pat on the back for that, as it lessened chance for confusion in the cockpit. The rest of the ride was standard maneuvers, but I was still sweating by the time we headed back to the airport. Jim had me aim for the middle of the runway, from the northwest, and start slowing down, Next thing he does is telling me we’re losing power, where are you going to land? Nothing but trees, hillside, and a narrow perimeter road in my view. Told him that perimeter road is clear, that’s where we’re going. He advanced the throttle, and told me to take us home. after we landed, and taxied back in, I saw my instructor standing near the hangar, with a big grin on his face. That is, until he saw my face, shiny with sweat, and eyes kind of scrunched up. We came to a stop, and Jim told me, we have to go upstairs to do some paperwork. I figured it was to schedule another ride after I had some more training. He must have had some kind of remorse, because it was after I had tied down the plane, he got my instructor and I both aside and told me I’d passed. He even went on to use my cameera to take a picture of instructor and I shaking hands, under the wing of the plane. Both the instructor, (no longer with us,) and the DFE were great people I’m proud to have flown with.

  • I don’t remember a whole lot about my rides other than I was always apprehensive. I don’t think I paid for any checkrides either. Private came on 7-17-71 in C150 N6795S at Norman, Ok with Frank Howard. I was part of a CAP National Flying Encampment. The Commercial was conducted at Owens Field in Columbia, SC on 9-15-73 in C150 N7264S with John Savarance under the GI Bill. The CFI came on 10-16-73 in C150 N7008G with the Columbia, SC GADO conducted by Tony Goble. Instrument on 2-2-74 also with John Savarance in PA-28 N16449 at Sumter, SC. The Multi was done with the Columbia GADO on 12-26-74 in C310 N3113L by Tony Goble. The ATP was 3-29-78 at Winston Salem, NC FSDO in DC3 N166E by Al Koleno. The Multi CFI in C310 N4927A on 9-10-80 at Fayetteville, NC by George Pope. Passed all of them on the first attempt.

  • My check ride for me was nerve wracking at first, but my examiner made me feel at easeright from the start. I went into the exam knowing that I hadn’t spent as much time as I needed to prepare for the ride as I was just a few days from deploying to Afghanistan. With all the additional training that I had to go through for deployment, I was amazed at how much I remembered during the oral and practical. When I arrived at McGregor Regional in Central Texas, I was so nervous about the check ride that I nearly blew the landing, fortunately I was able to get control again and not have to go around. That would have been embarrasing, not to mention blowing my confidence. Even though I felt that I was as prepared as I could be, when it comes to taking tests, I still sweat bullets!! I completed the check ride and passed the first rattle out of the box, and the smile all the way back to Draughon Miller airport in Temple could not be wiped off of my face even by a drill sergeant!

    The feeling of accomplishment is something I’ll never forget. Once I get back home, I am going to start on my instrument rating so for me the journey is just beginning, but what a journey it will be!

    I took my practical in a Piper PA28-151 which is the aircract that I flew for the majority of my training. Although years earlier I spent a lot of time behind the yoke of a 1952 Cessna 150 owned by a very close friend of mine, and he taught me many things that made my transition into flight school so much easier. Thanks Paul Milton, Jerry McClung, Darrell Knight, and my CFI Ty Collier at Central Texas Flight Training.

  • My most recent checkride was only a few days ago, so right now it is the most memorable. Bob Johnson, a retired navy pilot, gave me my biannual checkride and all went well. On the way back to Brown Field, San Diego from Ramona we went out to the beach and turned south. He said we will take the scenic route so we contacted Lindbergh Field and dropped to 500 feet about 1/2 mile off shore. They took us along Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, Point Loma and then we contacted North Island, climbed to 800 feet and continued right down the middle of San Diego Bay.This was very memorable because I grew up here and have been flying around here for 38 years and never took this beautiful scenic route. It was a gorgeous day and a fantastic ride thru familiar landscape. A checkride I will never forget and plan to repeat!

  • Just took my multiengine check ride last week, yes I passed. The flight examinaner was a gem. He was pleasant, made me feel at ease and before we started he went through the book outlying what I had to demonstrate. We went out, I demonstrated it and we were done. I was nervous until we started flying and then it all seemed to come together. I wish there was some way I could let the FAA know how great this guy is.

  • My most memorable check ride was my Multi-engine Instructor ride. The flight to the check was the first time I soloed the airplane which was a thrill in itself. The examiner was very knowledgable about teaching in the Seneca, but did start the flight by saying the last time he had given a check ride to a women she had turned the airplane nearly upside down during the Vmc demo. I managed to keep things in the proper orientation and learned a lot during that ride.

  • re: “I always wondered exactly what a check ride accomplished. A lot might have been learned preparing for the ride but nothing new was learned or uncovered during the ride itself.”

    As per the FAA, the checkride is not intended to be a teaching experience. It is an evaluation of the knowledge and skills of the applicant.

  • In July 1952, after 35:10 hrs I was interested in getting the Pvt. check ride accomplished ‘soon’ as the new CAA ‘reg.’ requiring the passage of written exam would soon be in effect. Up to this point just a verbal ‘quiz’ was required, and no requirement for the use of radio for comm. or nav. My instructor ‘Trig’ was a DPE so it was a pretty relaxed affair, in his Champ, except the 3 mi. vis. haze layer, top about 2K. Passed OK, ditto for the Comm. ride conducted by Bill Fritchey out of his strip in western NJ. Nice guy, passed in my new (to me) Chief.

    The CFI came next in July ’56, with the chief of the FAA GADO/FSDO at ABE, Ken Kress, whom I believe later went with NASA. Nice guy, relaxed flight, passed first try in my no-radio Champ. Used the red/green/white lights from the ABE tower. In May of ’57 “Shorty” VanEck, my instrument ground instructor and a DPE-Instrument, out of ABE, gave me the check ride with my instructor-boss Trig observing from the back seat of his C-172. I used the GI Bill to help pay for this course. Good ride, passed OK…even did a four-course radio range approach (listen for the “A-s” and “N-s” and solid tone- on course to the “Cone of Silence”, then the turn to the airport. Finally, the multi check ride, again using the GI Bill (I paid only 10%) in ABEs Cessna 310, with FAAs Irv Budoff the examiner. No surprises but I was kinda nervious on this one for some reason. Back then if you held an IFR and Multi rating along with your CFI, you could give dual in both without a seperate indorsement.

    By 1962 the (now) FAA ABE Chief John Doster asked if I’d be interested in becoming a DPE. By this time I was working for Art Turner at his field near Willow Grove NAS north of Phila. So I ended up giving maybe a thousand or so Pvt., Comm. and Multi Engine certification check rides l962-71 before I resigned, to move to FLL and my new Pvt. Pilot-wife Mary, a former student of mine. Below are a few anticdotes of some memorable check rides I conducted:

    I had this Pvt. Pilot going for his multi in an Apache. We shot some landings at Quakertown, PA and after one take-off, just over the departure end of runway 29, I ‘popped’ the door open. I used to include this im my multi training sylabus. He reached over and brought both throttles to idle…I asked what he had in mind…he said “land straight ahead”, (trees, woods and brush). I had him advance throttles and told him I’d hold the door shuts as best as I could, to alleviate much of the buffetting. YOU fly the pattern and land, which he did. Lesson: fly the airplane if it wants to. At altitude, It’s possible to get the door closed by doing a parabolic arch, push over to zero G at the top, to ‘unload’ the wing, power back, and you’ve got about two seconds to pull the door closed and lock the top latch. I don’t know if this works single-pilot! (be like a one-armed paper-hanger!). Guy flew OK, I passed him.

    In a Cherokee 180 pvt. ck. ride, on downwind, opposite the numbers, I asked him to close the throttle and make Turners runway 32. He “just” made it but dragged the horiz stab thru the mature corn just short of the threshold. He made it, I passed him and spent much of the afternoon knockiong the dents out of the leading edge of the stab.

    A pvt. applicant came over from the nearby Warrengton Airport in a Colt. He parked and we did the oral portion, then commenced with the pre-flight walk-around. He lifted the right side cowl, checked the oil, looked inside a bit, closed it up and said he was ready to fly. I asked him if he ever looked under the left cowl..nope. I said lets take a look. The engine mount was ‘chrushed’, rusty, like nobody had looked at in weeks. Warrington had somebody fly another colt over, he checked it out ok, we went flying, flew OK, I passed him, knowing that he wouldn’t make ‘that’ mistake again. Somebody flew the first one back I suppose, it was gone when we got back.

    Another nearby flight school, operated by an airline pilot and his wife sent an elderly gentleman over for a pvt. ck. ride. His instructor accompanied him, which I thought odd. His air work was OK, then in the pattern work, on short final, I asked him to GO AROUND. He hesitated then finally pushed in less than half power, carb heat still on, drifted to the left of runway 32, nearly draging the gear thru the tree tops. Now he had his hand on the flap handle. They were fully extended. This doesn’t look good, so I positioned my left arm in such a way that I could prevent him from dumping flaps. Airspeed was minimum all this time. I finally couldn’t take it any more, gave full throttle, carb heat off and milked the flaps up. Came around, landed…failed!

    Another applicant for pvt. came in a Colt, parked it on Turner’s flight line (Turner airport was ‘just too small’ IMHO…everything, taxxiways, runway, too short), anyway, after the oral and preflight, this guy, on the taxxiway, clipped the rudder of another of Turner’s Colts, nestled up to the gas pump, as he taxxied by. Just slightly bent the trailiing edge. I got out, put my knee against it and straightened it out like it never happened. He was rattled but I said relax, lets go fly. He calmed down, flew good, I passed him, knowing that he wouldn’t do ‘that’ again. (I’ve heard of airline flight crews doing this!!) Stuff happens. Old Jim

  • My Grandfather was Lamar Brodnax. His passion for flying never ended. He talked about it till his last day. It was really nice reading about your experience with him. Thank you

  • Great memories, thank-you! “Check Rides” reveal a lot more than the skill, knowledge and judgment of the applicant; like durability psychological coping skills (and I guess that is part of the point). After examining 20 years, I think our primary DPE responsibility is calming down the applicant so they can breath (and hopefully fly) even while rattled. Very few are “calm”. Adding instruction during a flight test is no longer allowed/tolerated by the FAA. It is just the “government test” (but everyone is different and interesting!)

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