Tuesday, March 24, 2015

No Pilot is Perfect

I can't tell you how many times I've heard another pilot say to a good landing, "Well, that wasn't my best landing."  I think specific types of people become pilots.  They are thinkers, they are smart, they have a hard time sitting still in a cubicle or at a desk, they are competitive, and they are also perfectionists.  How do I know this?  I am a recovering perfectionist pilot myself, and I saw it in my students time and time again.  But nobody is perfect, that's impossible.  So for all those perfectionist pilots out there, this post is for you.

Yes, I think it is good to be a little hard on ourselves, because that is how we improve; however, if we are too hard, negative learning occurs.  What do I mean by that?  I was a stage check instructor for a few years during my flight instructor days.  I knew when students came to me, they were a bit nervous as this was a test they had to pass before they could move onto the next phase of training or their checkride.  Because of that, I always gave them a little bit of slack, just as an examiner would do for a student on a checkride.

There is one student in particular I remember having to fail because he was one of the first I failed... and it ate at me because I knew he could have passed.  The ground portion went well, but when we got into the air things started going downhill.  He messed up on a simple maneuver and couldn't move on mentally.  I told him it was fine and that he could make a few mistakes, as long as he stayed safe and performed the rest of the maneuvers well, he would pass just fine.  However, he kept beating himself up about that one little mistake.

Because his mind was still on the last maneuver, he screwed up on the next one, and the next one, and before we were even halfway through the maneuvers, he was mentally gone from the test.  He'd already told himself he couldn't do it, that he had failed, that he had met with me before he was ready.  I wanted to pass him so badly, but I hadn't seen satisfactory performance and didn't feel safe letting him move onto the next phase of training without flying with him again.

I could tell when we got back on the ground that his spirits were dashed.  But I knew he was better than that.  I knew he could do it, he just didn't know that yet.  He didn't understand why he had performed so badly.  We sat and chatted for a bit and I explained to him what had happened- he was way too hard on himself and needed to just move on from his one mistake and let it stay at that... just one little mistake.   I reminded him that he was a good pilot, and that he needed to start telling himself that.  I knew once he was able to gain his confidence back he would be able to pass the checkride with no problems.

And guess what?  I was right.  He met with his instructor before meeting with me again, and when we did fly together again, he passed with flying colors.  He just needed to know that he was being too hard on himself- he hadn't realized it before our flight together.  He needed to know that it was okay to make a little mistake as long as he moved on and performed the other maneuvers well.

I'll be the first to admit, I was super hard on myself when I began my flight training.  If I lost more than 100' during a maneuver, I would beat myself up about it.  If I had a hard landing, I would insist on doing it again and again and again until I had a softer one.  I was this way during most of my flight training... until I realized that I needed to simmer down, and stop being so hard on myself.  I don't think I could have ever passed my CFI (Certified Flight Instructor) checkride without letting myself make mistakes and being okay with it.  No pilot is perfect, and especially no CFI is perfect.

The good news about all this?  Not even the PTS requires us to fly perfectly, as that's impossible.  The PTS has all the checkride standards set, but in the introduction, it says a student would have to consistently exceed tolerances to fail.  Does that mean you can mess one thing up?  Yes.  Two things?  Probably.  As long as you aren't consistently exceeding the tolerances, you'll be just fine.  The important thing is the examiner wants to see you fly safely and mostly within the standards.  If you mess up once, realize you have made the mistake and move on.  If you don't do it again, you are free and clear.  If you dwell on it and make the same mistake over an over again, then it's game over.

Nobody is perfect.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The All-Mighty Checkride

What is a checkride anyways?  I remember asking this question when I first starting training, so here is your answer: It is the final test you take, including ground and flight, to get your license or rating. In this post, to keep it simple, I'll talk only about the private pilot checkride, but keep in mind that all checkrides follow the same basic principles.  If you are ready, checkrides don't have to be nerve-racking or stressful.  If you are prepared, they will be no big deal.

In my last blog post, I talked about the different phases of Private Pilot training that help to prepare you for the checkride.  Click HERE to go to that post.  Once your have completed all that training you should be ready for the checkride.  Before I ever sent my students on to their checkrides, I did a mock checkride with them; I asked them questions similar to what an examiner would ask, and treated the flight like I was an examiner, not a flight instructor.  This gave me and my student a good gauge as to whether or not they were actually ready.

Before you go to your checkride, here are a few things to keep in mind.  Most examiners want cash, so make sure you hit up an ATM before you meet with the examiner.  Bring everything you can think of that you have used in your training with you.  Some things may include: Foggles, Headset, Weather Charts, Flight Planning Tools, Logbook, FAR/AIM (and know how to reference it)... I am sure there are a few things I am forgetting, but if you are in doubt, bring it.  Other things you also need to bring are your completed IACRA form, your driver's license or govt. issued ID, current pilot's license, and your medical (your medical pairs as your license when you are a student pilot).

I didn't know an answer to a question on a checkride so the examiner said I could use the FAR/AIM to look it up; problem was, I didn't even know how to reference this book.  It probably took me 20 minutes of pure stress to find the answer.  Not fun!  After the checkride I went through and tabbed some of the important stuff so I could find the answers, if I needed, for my next checkride.  It might be a good idea for you to do the same.  There is a list of pertinent FARS for each phase of training in the front of your book that you could use as a starting point when tabbing your FARs.   

Though this isn't required, I would recommend that you dress nice for a checkride.  No jeans with holes or sandals or baseball caps.  The nicer you dress, the better you feel about yourself, and the better you will most likely perform on your checkride.  You are taking a test to become a professional pilot, so dress like one.  I always wore nice black dress pants and a white button up shirt for checkrides.

Plan to show up for your checkride at least 30 minutes in advance so you have time to de-stress and make sure you have everything in order.  You could also do a quick preflight of the airplane to make sure there isn't anything major missing or damaged before you go out there with examiner.

The checkride consists of 2 segments: ground and flight.  The ground portion must be passed before the flight portion can begin.  The shortest ground portion I ever had was 1.5 hours, and the longest was 4 hours (that examiner was particularly chatty).  Most examiners try to keep it around 2 hours.  The examiner can ask anything from the PTS during this ground portion, so it is important to thoroughly study all the material outlined there (including all the information in the Introduction).  Click HERE to go to the FAAs website where all the PTSs can be found.

Most checkrides require that a flight plan be completed beforehand- the examiner will give you a cross country flight to plan, which will include the amount of bags and passengers you will take on this pretend flight.  Bring everything you used to plan the flight to the checkride in case he asks you to show how you got a specific number, such as distance from point A to B.  This is not required, but a good idea in my opinion-- also bring all the weather charts you used in your flight planning.  These charts include (from the PTS):
  1. METAR, TAF, and FA.
  2. surface analysis chart.
  3. radar summary chart.
  4. winds and temperature aloft chart.
  5. significant weather prognostic charts.
  6. convective outlook chart.
  7. AWOS, ASOS, and ATIS reports.
  8. SIGMET s and AIRMET s.
  9. PIREPs.
  10. windshear reports.
  11. icing and freezing level information. 
Why is it good to bring all of these?  Because you can look them all over and make sure you know how to read them all.  If you have your own weather charts, the examiner might just use those for the testing, which is great since you have those charts studied to a "T".  I always had my students do that and none struggled with the weather portion on a checkride.

The flight planning is usually a big portion of the checkride, as the examiner can tie so many things into the fight plan, such as, "If you get lost, what are you going to do?" or "If you have an engine failure at point X, what will you do and where will you land?" or "What airspace are you in at point X at the altitude you have planned to be at?"  or "How can I find out more information about this airport?"  I think you get the point.  The examiner can check a lot of boxes off during your flight planning portion by asking you scenario based questions.

Make sure you are familiar with all the ground items outlined in the PTS.  It is not a secret what you will be asked.  So study!

Once you have passed the ground portion you will move onto the flight portion, the fun part.  Most examiners will look through the maintenance logs with you and make sure all the required inspections have been completed.  If everything is correct in the maintenance logs, your flight portion will begin.  The examiner may walk with you during the walk around and ask questions about the aircraft, such as fuel, antennas, weight limitations, engine operation, etc.  Know your stuff!  I once had an examiner ask me what color the fuel would be if you mixed two different types of avgas.  I had no idea!  He told me to write it down and look it up later... the answer is clear (much different from the brownish color I had imagined).

After that comes the flight portion.  If you had to plan a flight for your checkride, you will probably fly the first portion of your cross county on departure.  The examiner wants to make sure that you can actually fly the route you planned and that your times match up.  Once you pass that portion, you will move onto the maneuvers, in whichever order the examiner decides.  The flight portion is usually 1.5 hours long.  Make sure you relax.  If you make a mistake (like lose 200' altitude), correct it immediately and don't beat yourself up about it.  The examiner cannot fail you for 1 or even 2 mistakes... you have to consistently exceed tolerances to fail a checkride.  So correct the error, speak positively to yourself, and nail the next maneuver.  Don't dwell on your mistakes or it could most definitely be the downfall of your checkride.

Once you have passed all the required maneuvers and have landed the airplane beautifully, continue to stay in 'testing mode.'  The checkride is not over until you have safely parked the plane and chocked it or placed the tie-downs on it.  Once that's all over, and the examiner has told you good job, you are done!  And you will feel the most relief and success you have ever felt.  Each checkride is a huge accomplishment- seriously.  It takes a lot of time and effort to pass a checkride, so make sure you celebrate afterwards!

If you have any questions about the checkride that weren't answered in this post, feel free to email me at trendypilots@gmail.com.  I look forward to hearing from you.