helicopter check ride Oct 23, 2018
Chapter 2: The Practical Test Standards (Some content in this chapter references Private Pilot Practical Test Standards FAA-S-8081-15A)
Do you need help preparing for your Helicopter Check-Ride? Are you overwhelmed by the amount of information there is to know?
One major key is the Practical Test Standards, or PTS. That is what it's going to take to get you through your Check-Ride, knowing the PTS. Over the years, I have been surprised to see how many people never pull out the PTS and really use it. I can harp and harp, but a majority of the time, I cannot get helicopter students to use it and I do not know why.
This is your Check-Ride laid right out in front of you. After training a bunch of people over the years, Jed, Danny, Doctor Nick, Gary, Justin, another Justin, I can tell you people do not want to use the Practical Test Standards. I do not know why. Let's talk about your Check-Ride day, your appointment with the examiner and what I think is the most important page of all, Applicant's Practical Test Checklist for Helicopters.
When I first started training, a long time ago, the company sent me out to fly a little bit with the designated pilot examiner that we were using. On the way out to the aircraft I said, "So, as a new instructor, give me some tips on how to prepare people and how to be a good instructor." He said, "I have a lot of problem with people showing up and not having what they need. Make sure you go through the PTS, and everything that's in there, you have," and that is it. I can tell you after 15 years of doing a ton of Check-Rides with the same examiner; I have seen it happen repeatedly.
I can give you horror story after horror story. You have to go through the checklist in the PTS and make sure that you have everything. Do not ask, "Well, do I have to have this? Do I have to have that? Well, why do I have to have this?" If it is in that checklist, make sure it is there and with you, and start preparing a couple of weeks ahead of time. Do not wait until the night before to be trying to round this stuff up. I can tell you it is a major pain. Let's talk about some of the things in the checklist like Acceptable Aircraft.
In addition, what do you have to have in there? Of course, you will need the aircraft documents, airworthiness certificate, registration certificate, operating limitations, and your weight and balance information. Every single Check-Ride you take in your helicopter career, whether it is a Check-Ride to get your license or a 135 Check-Ride later when you are flying professionally, examiners always ask this question because you have to have these things in the aircraft. They have to be valid and in there. Every examiner is going to ask you. Anytime you are on the ramp, if the FAA walks up, they are going to expect you to have these things. It is easy for some of these things to get misplaced sometimes.
Let's say somebody goes and grabs the Pilots Operating Handbook, or POH, to do a little bit of training and they forget to put it back in the aircraft. You have to make sure you have this stuff with you and ready to go for every flight. Other major documents, such as Aircraft Maintenance Records, logbook record of airworthiness inspections and AD compliance, are very important too. It's very common, if you're getting your maintenance done somewhere else, for you to take the maintenance records down for the mechanic to fill out and they'll tell you, "I'll finish this up and get it to you tomorrow," or next week, or whatever the case may be.
Now, Check-Ride day comes and you are scurrying around. You are running around trying to find the Aircraft Logbooks and you do not have them. Guess what...you are not taking the Check-Ride today. Again, these simple little things can trip up a Check-Ride and cost you huge headaches.
The Pilot's Operating Handbook, FAA-Approved, also known as the Helicopter Flight Manual, has to be in the aircraft and accessible to the pilot. Another favorite Check-Ride "don't", in Enstroms, would be to take the POH and put it in the baggage. Well, that is not legal. It has to be in the aircraft and it has to be accessible by the pilot during flight. If, and only if you are flying out of the country you will need an FCC Station License.
During every flight you will need your personal equipment, current aeronautical charts, the computer and plotter, a flight plan form, flight logs, the current aim, the airport facility directory, and any other appropriate publications. As far as I know, at this time, you still have to have all this stuff. There are many people asking, "Well, can I use my iPad, or my iPhone?" or some other electronic gadget.
Unless something has changed that I have not heard about yet, you still have to have the Airport/Facility Directory, or A/FD. It is an $8.00 little book and you have to have it. You must have the aircraft manual, everything on this list, and have the hardback form. Again, make sure a couple of weeks ahead of time you are starting to get this stuff ready to go. Make sure you have it because it is extremely important.
I have seen it repeatedly. The night before, nine o'clock at night and you are trying to figure out where to get a chart. There is nothing worse than getting ready for a Check-Ride, last minute rushing around. Trying to put everything together because, believe me, I have done it. I have been there, and it is not fun. It is stressful on the student, it is stressful on the instructor and it is just plain not cool. You also need your personal records, identification, photo, signature ID, pilot certificate, current and appropriate medical certificate, your completed FAA Form 8710, as well as the Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application with the instructor’s signature.
I have a quick story on this one about one of my very first Check-Rides with my first couple of students. Both people were, I thought, prepared and in good shape. One of them was an airplane pilot and businessperson. He had just finished his Airplane Proficiency Check-Ride, and appeared to have his act together. Then five minutes before the examiner is set to show he says, "All I have is just a copy of my medical." I said, "That's not going to work. The examiner is not going to be happy." He said, "Well, it's just going to have to do." Well, guess what? No, the examiner was not very happy. Luckily, the other student was ready to go. So, the examiner takes the other applicant and gets started with him while the businessman takes off, goes back to his office, and scurries around trying to find his medical. In the end, everything came out okay.
Talk about a bunch of stress right off in the morning! Two people, ready to go, and the one person does not have his medical. You have to check these things yourself as a student and, as the instructor; you have to make people physically take this stuff out of their wallet. "Do you have this with you on a daily basis? Pull it out and let me see it." Here is another good one, Airman Written Test Report. I know a person who flew from Cleveland to Toledo with his instructor. He was going for an instrument helicopter Check-Ride. He shows up for the practical test and discovers he took the written for airplane instrument rating. A whole day wasted, hours of aircraft time, hundreds of dollars because the person took the wrong written test. Again, all these little tiny things take a lot of time. You have to make sure every single one is handled.
Pilot Logbook with Appropriate Instructor Endorsements
As a new instructor, I was helping a person do an add-on helicopter rating. He was my first student, and an airplane CFI. He told me, "Always over endorse." And I've always done that and I've never had a problem. It is better to have too many endorsements than not enough. For the instructor, it is his responsibility to make sure your logbook is signed. You, as a student, need to do the same thing.
Look at your pilot logbook and make sure you understand what he has endorsed, where that endorsement is at, and make sure it is the right one. The examiner is going to check these things right at the very beginning of your test. To avoid problems, make sure you have all the right endorsements.
Notice of Disapproval (If Applicable)
I failed my first private pilot Check-Ride. When I went back, I had to have the little pink form that says I failed the first time. You need an approved school graduation certificate, if your school has one, not all of them do. Depending on who you are taking it with, there may or may not be an examiner's fee. Make sure you know how much the fee is, if he is a designated examiner, does he take checks, does he take cash, and how he wants to be paid.
Emergency Operations & Power Failure
Let's talk a little more about the PTS and some of the areas in there like Emergency Operations, Power Failure to Hover. It doesn't matter what aircraft you're flying, there's a tolerance to how far the nose can be to the right or to the left from the point where you started.
When you are going for private or commercial, there are so many degrees that the helicopter can be from where you start when you enter the auto. Knowing these things helps you in your training. You should be using the PTS from day one all the way up to the day of the Check-Ride.
You should be going through this thing over, and over, and over again. It's giving you the tolerances for all this stuff and you can be prepared for what's coming up.
Power Failure to Altitude
It's explained in the PTS that, sometime during the Check-Ride, the examiner is going to give you a power failure. You are going to need to know where the wind is. You are going to be looking for a spot. You need to get your autorotation established and start turning towards your spot. It is all in the PTS, so study it well.
System and Equipment Malfunctions, Settling with Power
One of my favorite subjects I love talking about is settling with power. When you are going into a confined area, and it's high, hot, humid, there's a lot of things to consider in order to prevent settling with power. And, again, it doesn't matter what aircraft you're flying, settling with power, across the board, is something that wrecks a lot of helicopters. And you can be sure the examiner is going to be making sure that you know your stuff.
Low Rotor RPM Recovery
Is there anything else more important than RPM? Its priority one, especially when flying the smaller aircraft with the lower inertia rotor systems.
Something I just started talking about recently is Ground Resonance. I was involved in a ground resonance accident in 2005. After five years of answering questions and going before a roomful of attorneys, I can tell you that I'm glad I understood ground resonance and I knew exactly what it said in the Rotorcraft Flying Handbook about its causes, effects, how you get into it, and how you can prevent it.
Really, going through the PTS, knowing and going through your flight manual, The Helicopter Flying Handbook; a good pilot uses his resources.
Knowing Your Stuff!
This is probably a good time to go ahead and just really expand on what I am trying to tell you about knowing your stuff. When I failed my first private pilot Check-Ride, I struggled through the oral exam. I did not get to fly because I did not pass the oral portion. I took it with an FAA examiner and this guy was tough, but I knew he was tough going in. In the end, after he stopped the test, he said, "It's pretty obvious you're struggling." We even took one break where we went outside and talked a little bit, and went back and hit it again, and he said, "You're really struggling here, and I want you to know your stuff. I do not want to be investigating your accident.
When I ask you about settling with power, I want to hear a rate of ascent 300 feet per minute or greater, using 20% to 100% of power, airspeed less than ETL. You have to know this stuff, because, if you're struggling sitting here in the room with me, then how good are you going to be when you're out there in the aircraft under a stressful situation?" I can tell you now, after living through a violent helicopter accident, my law enforcement training came back to me, the will to survive.
I was trying everything and anything to stop that aircraft from destroying itself to the point I bent one of the foot pedals trying to stop the spin. I find a certain amount of comfort in the fact that I understood ground resonance. I knew causes and effects, and I knew corrective action. In this particular instance, the elastomeric damper failed. The blade was so far out of phase, there was nothing we were going to be able to do. This is the point where I would like to talk about the bad judgment chain. I am a firm believer in the bad judgment chain. When you investigate an accident, or read about an accident, there are all different things that led up to the accident where the pilot probably along the way should have aborted that flight. It is not usually just one thing.
It's usually a series of things that happened that lead up to that accident. When I first started training many years ago, I watched a special on the JFK, Jr. crash. There were so many reasons why he probably should have never flown that day or, at some point, he probably just should have said, "You know what? We're going to wait and go tomorrow." On the day of our accident, everything was fine, and the weather was beautiful. We did a pre-flight, two pre-flights, and we left on time.
The weather was beautiful, everything was picture perfect before this happened. Even though I understand the bad judgment chain and believe in it, things can also go bad on the very best day. Knowing your stuff is the A number one thing that is going to keep you alive and keep you out of trouble. Yeah, we are talking about Check-Ride preparation, you want to get the license, and you want to go out and be a safe and prudent pilot. However, most of all, you want to stay alive and you want to be able to get out of trouble when bad things start to happen.
Things just happen and being very familiar with your aircraft, with helicopter aerodynamics, helicopter emergencies, general helicopter safety, and knowledge is power. The more you know, the safer you are going to be. Maintaining a clear head or trying to stay calm is really, truly one of the biggest things. I know in my five years with EMS flying, we had computerized training we did every quarter. Every time we went to the survival part of it, they made it very clear the biggest way to survive an emergency is by staying calm. I am a firm, firm believer in that.
Low G Conditions
"Apply gentle aft cyclic to reload the rotor system. Then correct for the roll. Do not apply lateral cyclic until positive G-forces have been established. Everybody needs to know this no matter where you're flying and what you're flying."
Night Operations - Physical Aspects of Night Flying
There really is a lot of stuff to night flying and it really is, as you say, the difference between night and day. It is amazing the difference there is in flying at night. It is definitely one of those skills that you need to exercise to stay proficient. That's why we have the different rules and regulations that we do as far as night flying.
Lighting and Equipment for Night Flying
Lighting is huge. There is lots of little, silly things to know like, if you are flying late in the day and you are going into night, do not forget about the dial for the dimmer switch. It sounds somewhat silly. I have personally done it. I am flying along. It is starting to get dark. I turn on the panel lights, no panel lights. I am getting all paranoid. Pretty shortly I figured out, dimmer switch. For some reason, I think the dimmer switch in helicopters like to just vibrate and turn to "off."
Post Flight Procedures after Landing and Securing
I know early on, one of the mechanics where I first worked told me, "You learn more from post-flight than you do pre-flight." I can go along with that. When you finish flying, you should be looking at the aircraft. Does the aircraft have any fluids leaking? Has anything changed during that flight? So, post-flight can be just as important as a pre-flight. Okay. Now, I want to back up a little bit and expand a little more on the PTS and a couple of things that I have said. I want to back up to the first few pages of the PTS.
I know from experience that many people, when they do use the PTS, skip over some stuff that I think is important in the beginning. I want to cover a few of these things and interject a couple of stories. A lot of you that have followed us on the internet know Danny Martin, and Danny argued with me. When I kept saying, "Everything is in the PTS," he kept saying, "No, it's not. Not everything's in the PTS." What I am getting at is the PTS is a guide that you go through prepping for the test. Yes, you still have to resource other materials. Not every answer to every situation is in there. Every subject area, all the things you are going to do, and all the tasks are in there. When you are going through the PTS, you are going right through the list. If you know something, that's great. If you come across something and you think, "Hmm.
I am not so sure about that. I need to look that up," then you are going to go to your other resources. Whether it is your POH, or the Helicopter Flying Handbook, or whatever other source of information you might have to go to in order to understand that information. I understood Danny's point, but he always wanted to argue and say, "Well, not everything's in the PTS." No, not everything as far as every single word you need to know, but the PTS is your test. If you go through that, there will not be any surprises on your Check-Ride day. Now I want to talk about Jeff, who I rented a room from when I was a new instructor. We hung out all the time so he got the benefit of me being around all the time to help him through his ratings.
We did his private, commercial, and CFI. On his private, the examiner said, "In all the years that I've been teaching or doing Check-Rides, that is one of the top Check-Rides I've ever given." Jeff, because we were together all the time, hanging out in the evenings talking about helicopters, he listened to what I told him. He understood the importance of the PTS, worked through it step-by-step, and had one of the best Check-Rides that this examiner had given in 15 years. The point is, use the PTS. Work through it step-by-step. If you know the subject material, that is great, move on. If you are not so sure about it, then you go to your other resources and use whatever tools you need to make sure you understand that information. This cannot be stressed enough!
Let's move on and talk about Use of the Practical Test Standards book. Quoting the PTS: Private Pilot Practical Test Standards FAA-S-8081-15A "Private pilots shall be evaluated in all tasks included in the areas of operation of the PTS. The examiner shall also emphasize wake turbulence avoidance, low level wind shear, in-flight collision avoidance, runway incursion avoidance, checklist usage." The first ten or twelve pages of the PTS book, I think, helps with just preparing mentally for the Check-Ride. If you look down through there, it makes complete sense.
These are all important things that get people into trouble, and that is what the examiner's doing. He is not setting out just too purposely fail your Check-Ride. Through experience, he knows what gets people into trouble and causes aircraft to wreck. He wants to make sure you are going to be a safe and prudent pilot. Can you make a mistake on a Check-Ride and maybe answer a question in not exactly the way he wanted to hear it? Yes. They expect terminology, sometimes, to be messed up a little bit. But, you MUST understand the concepts or you will not pass.
The following steps must be completed before scheduling your Check-Ride: • Private Pilot Practical Test Requisites • Pass the appropriate pilot private knowledge test • Obtain the applicable instruction and aeronautical experience • Hold at least a third-class medical certificate • Be at least 17 years of age • Have a written statement from a certified flight instructor, meaning he has signed you off to take the test. Aircraft and Equipment Required for the Practical Test The private pilot is required to provide an airworthy certificated aircraft for use during the Practical Test. Private Pilot Practical Test Standards FAA-S-8081-15A We talked about this already. You have to make sure everything is good with the aircraft. You must have all the maintenance manuals and all work completed. You have to go through and check the maintenance manuals yourself.
As a student, the instructor needs to check. It is very easy to miss one little thing like a transponder check or something along those lines. You have to make sure the aircraft's ready to go and you have fully functioning dual controls. The examiner may want to show you something during the Check-Ride. Maybe he will say, "Hey, that's pretty good, but let me show you something else." In addition, he needs to have controls in case things get ugly and he has to take the controls, which we will talk about that again in a little bit. That is where we get to that point of maybe not passing the Check-Ride. Be capable of performing all appropriate tasks for the Private Pilot Certificate.
Again, he is evaluating you on everything that you are doing the whole entire flight. The test actually starts in the morning when you get there. Here is where I want to throw in another point, if your Check-Ride is at 8:00 am, get there at 7:00. Get there an hour before, have all your stuff laid out nice, neat, and organized. Get everything done, be prepared. Showing up, being on time, and having everything you need is half the battle. If you can start the Check-Ride out on a good note, you are probably going to have a good Check-Ride. Just like setting up for a normal approach, what is the key to a good normal approach? A good set up. The key to get through your Check-Ride, be early, have all your stuff, be there and ready to go when the examiner walks in.
Positive Exchange of Flight Controls
During the Practical Test, there must always be clear understanding of who has control of the aircraft. In the beginning, most instructors are careful and worried about a novice causing an accident. As you get more comfortable with somebody, with time, you will start to trust him or her. As instructors, sometimes we have to back up and say, "Hey, you know, this is still important to make sure we understand who has the controls." You have to use the Positive Exchange of Flight Controls the whole test. I hope that you are already doing it. If you started slacking off, polish those skills up and make sure that you are using good exchange of controls.
There should never be any doubt as to who is flying the aircraft. Use of Distractions during the Practical Test Is he going to give you a distraction? Most likely, yes, he is. Many accidents have occurred when the pilot has been distracted during critical phases of flight. The examiner will cause a realistic distraction during the flight portion to evaluate the applicant's ability to maintaining a safe flight. Again, the guy's not out trying to fail you. The examiner is just evaluating to make sure you are going to be a safe pilot and prudent pilot. Do not get freaked out over a distraction. Another story, I failed my first Check-Ride, as I keep saying. Then, when I went back to take the second one, I did great on the oral exam. Then, in the flight, I screwed up and I got lost.
I could tell the examiner knew that I was lost, but he did not say anything. He just sat there. I turned around when I got my bearings straight and he said, "You just kind of screwed up, didn't you?" I said, "Yeah. I wasn't sure where I was at." "What are you going to do now?" he asked. I said, "I'm going back to the airport and I'm starting over." I went back to the airport, turned in my correct course, and got on my way. He said, "Okay. There. I'm buying on that one, but don't screw up again the rest of the flight." So now, the pressure is on. We go through the test, he gives me my distraction and I handled that okay. We go back, I get my license.
We go to have supper next door, we are discussing everything after the fact, and he said, "You know, I almost failed you when you got a little bit off track, but I just sat back and watched. What is this guy going to do?" I kept calm, turned around, went back. I got started on my trip again, and then did everything within the standards. He said, "At least I know that you can have an issue and you can think through it. That is huge. When a person smokes the whole entire Check-Ride, sometimes, as an examiner, you wonder, "Well the guy did great. But, how is he going to do under pressure?" Again, the key is to stay calm, be prepared, and know your stuff. Applicant's Use of Prescribed Checklists The applicant is evaluated on the use of the prescribed checklist while accomplishing the elements of the objective would be either unsafe or impractical, especially in a single-pilot operation.
Private Pilot Practical Test Standards FAA-S-8081-15A
Again, we harp checklists all the time. I hope that you are already using it. Use it on pre-flight, start-up, cruise flight, pre-landing, shutdown, and securing the aircraft. It is very easy for some people to get sloppy and think, "Oh, I don't need the checklist for that." USE THE CHECKLIST!!! If you get through the oral portion, when you go out to pre-flight the helicopter, have that checklist in your hand the whole time you are performing a pre-flight on that aircraft.
Checklist usage is huge. Flight Instructor Responsibility An appropriately rated flight instructor is responsible for training the private pilot in all subject matter areas, procedures, and maneuvers included in the task within the appropriate Private Pilot and Practical Test Standard. Instructor should exhibit a high level of knowledge. The applicant must be able to perform safely as a private pilot, should be competent to pass the required Practical Test. The instructor is responsible for emphasizing the performance of effective visual scanning, collision avoidance, and runway incursion avoidance procedures.
Private Pilot Practical Test Standards FAA-S-8081-15A Again, it still falls back to being aware of your surroundings, paying attention to what you are doing, taking your time, clearing your tail, pre-takeoff checks, and good visual scanning. All that stuff is very, very important. Examiner Responsibility The examiner is responsible for determining that the applicant meets the acceptable standards of knowledge and skill of each task to avoid unnecessary distractions. Oral questions should be used judiciously at all times.
The examiner shall test to the greatest extent practicable of an applicant's correlative abilities rather than mere enumeration of facts throughout the practical test. Throughout the flight portion of the test, the examiner will evaluate the applicant's use of visual scanning and collision avoidance procedures.
Private Pilot Practical Test Standards FAA-S-8081-15A Are you seeing a theme here? It is all about being aware and looking around you. I have always liked pointing out the "correlative abilities rather than mere rote enumeration of facts throughout the Practical Test", meaning do you have to know everything word-for-word, by the book, the way the book says it? No. Understand the concept. He wants to make sure that you are not just spouting off the three things that get you into settling power, without understanding how it really applies to you in flight.
The examiner is checking to make sure you understand the concepts and how they apply to you when you are flying the aircraft. Satisfactory Performance Satisfactory performance to meet the requirements for certification is based on the applicant's ability to safely perform the task specified in the areas of operation for the certificate or rating sought within the approved standards. Demonstrate mastery of the aircraft with the successful outcome of each task performed, never seriously in doubt. Demonstrate satisfactory proficiency and competency within the approved standards.
Demonstrate sound judgment in Aeronautical Decision Making, or ADM. And demonstrate single pilot competence if the aircraft is type certified for single pilot operations. Unsatisfactory Performance If, by the judgment of the examiner, the applicant does not meet the standards of performance of any task performed, the associated area of operation is failed and, therefore, the Practical Test is failed. Private Pilot Practical Test Standards FAA-S-8081-15A This reminds me of a story I heard when I started flying. The story that I was told was an examiner was giving an applicant a Check-Ride.
The applicant did not perform a maneuver correctly, and the examiner gave the person a chance to try the maneuver again. The aircraft ended up crashing while performing that same maneuver. They are very serious on this. You have to perform the maneuver right the first time. You do not get a second chance when you are out there performing the maneuvers. Examiners cannot, let you perform a maneuver you messed up the first time. Does it have to be by the book exactly on every single maneuver, right to a T on the airspeed, on the limit, this and that? No, but it needs to be close. If you are starting to get a little bit out of a tolerance, as long as you are catching it and getting it back where it should be in a reasonable amount of time, it is not going to be a problem.
If you keep making the same mistake, that is going to be a problem. You want to get through the Check-Ride the first time, but some of us fail. In my case, it may have been the best thing that could have happened! It is what made me really sit down, and really learn and study, and work to get the knowledge where it needed to be. Just do not freak yourself out over the fear of failure. The good news is, during the Check-Ride, after you get through the oral portion, you go out and fly. Let's say you're having a pretty decent Check-Ride, and you do mess up a maneuver, and he has to fail you for that maneuver.
You go get some additional training on that particular maneuver and, when you come back, you get credit for the things that you accomplished correctly the first time! Not all is lost.
Areas of Unsatisfactory Performance
Any action or lack of action by the applicant that requires corrective intervention by the examiner to maintain safe flight, failure to use proper and effective visual scanning techniques to clear the area before and while performing maneuvers. Private Pilot Practical Test Standards FAA-S-8081-15A If things get scary and he has to take the controls away from you that is a failure.
Some other things that can get you into trouble are consistently exceeding tolerances stated in the objectives, which I just mentioned a minute ago. Small issues, as long as they are corrected, are not a big deal. If you keep making the same mistake repeatedly, as I said before, that is a problem.
Failure to take prompt, corrective action when tolerances are exceeded, if disapproval notice is issued, the examiner will record the applicant's unsatisfactory performance and tasks not completed in terms of area of operations. Private Pilot Practical Test Standards FAA-S-8081-15A Spend some time, when you first start using the book, to read these things in the beginning. It helps with getting into the proper mindset of how the Check-Ride is going to go.
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