Consider that an entire private pilot ground school often runs around 20 hours total, while a light jet type rating ground school may easily exceed 40 hours. Given the finite resources of time and energy that can be dedicated to studying and training, it’s important those resources are spent efficiently. Looking at where sufficient energy has historically not been expended by the time the checkride comes around is a valuable “gouge” to ensure focus is applied to the right areas.
With all the material to be studied and procedures to be drilled, no one walks into the type rating checkride and completes a perfect oral and flight exam, nor is that the examiner’s expectation. Similarly, when examiners are presented with a recurrent training student 12 months out of their initial or last recurrent, the inevitable atrophy of infrequently flown procedures and unapplied knowledge again means perfection is not expected, even from pilots with years of experience in their type. But some skills and knowledge count for more than others, so let’s look at where the overlap between high priority and under-mastery frequently is found.
First, some low-hanging fruit that can be especially frustrating for an examiner to see deficient: anything that simply requires spitting out a rote, memorized answer. Memory items are a great example. Consider the first three steps of an engine fire procedure for an Embraer Phenom 300, to be performed from memory: thrust lever—idle, start/stop knob—stop, shutoff button—push in. Those steps were carefully thought out by the manufacturer to maximize the chance of extinguishing a fire and the order of operation is critical. It’s a reasonable expectation that a pilot will memorize the specific verbiage and steps precisely, yet too often pilots struggle to recall all the steps of memory items or transpose the order of actions. Given that these only require time and repetition to perfect, they can be an “easy win” to chalk up early in the oral exam, if properly mastered.
Not all the material that will be discussed during the oral exam lends itself to rote memorization, but frequently applicants present who evidently used that study style for systems knowledge. While reeling off a half-dozen steps for a memory item can be done without any real understanding of the underlying system, other questions will very quickly illuminate gaps in the pilot’s comprehension.
The electrical system provides a great example. It’s trivial to spit out a list of limitations for generator output, or minimum battery temperature for engine starts. But to provide the examiner with a cogent description of how the system will configure, and what effects will be seen on cockpit equipment following a dual generator failure, requires more than a memorized response—and being asked to do so can provoke a panicked look. Here’s where mock oral exams are invaluable in preparation, either given by an instructor, or just as valuable, in a back and forth setting with one or more training partners. Study groups after class offer a fantastic chance to probe for weakness in system mastery. What’s evident to you may be puzzling to a classmate, and vice versa.
In the air, a failure to expend sufficient energy on memorization often shows up once more. The maneuvers required for a type rating or proficiency check are procedurally complex, and the pilot absolutely cannot “wing it.” Checkride failures for transposing the order of gear and flap retraction during a go-around are too common given that, again, repeated drilling on the procedure on the ground should ensure smooth execution during flight. A proper and disciplined mindset is key to preventing these mistakes—the pilot must accept that the maneuvers should be flown the same way every time, and mentally rehearsed until they become second nature. The added stress of controlling the airplane, listening to ATC, and trying to ignore the examiner taking notes next to you means recall in the air will never be as good as it is during ground study, so this preparation shouldn’t be shortchanged.
Takeoff and landing procedures, especially those associated with operation following an engine failure, are another area in which pilots too often show laxity. The Airline Transport Pilot Airman Certification Standards specify that following a simulated powerplant failure during takeoff the appropriate climb-out speed (V2 for a jet) should be maintained within 5 knots. Often, though, pilots don’t appear to pay any attention to their speed relative to V2 and will allow the speed to increase well above the 5-knot tolerance. Given the ample thrust of a jet on one engine when operating in a low weight, altitude, and temperature (WAT) regime, the airplane will still present a satisfactory climb rate when flown 20 knots over V2, but the maneuver would not be deemed satisfactory. Should the pilot ever have the misfortune to experience an engine failure in a high WAT condition, they would find 20 knots the difference between climbing and sinking following an engine failure, so it’s critical the procedure is practiced correctly from the start.
Beyond any one procedure, this disciplined approach should carry through to the entire flight. The best checkrides are those in which it’s evident every action for the flight is deliberate and thoughtful. With a structured approach to the flight it’s not left to chance, for example, if the pilot will remember to calculate and display the landing speeds (a surprisingly common oversight), as the pilot will do it at the same point of every approach and confirm it every time with the checklist. There’s a stark difference in the relaxation level of a pilot who uses a scrupulously applied methodology to flight, versus one who moves through the checkride from task to task in a clearly ad hoc manner. The manufacturer has done the hard work of creating the desired methodology. All that’s required of the pilot is respect and attention to the procedures.