One Happy New Commercial Pilot


New Member
I passed my Commercial Pilot Practical Test on Monday, August 18, 2003. My story that follows may help you be ready for your test.

If you will be taking the CP check ride early in your career, my pilot experience may be a little different than yours. I’ve been a pilot for 12 years, have a little over 2400 hours, got my Instrument Ticket one year after becoming a Private Pilot, and nearly all my Pilot In Command (PIC) time has been Complex-Airplane Arrow or High-Performance Mooney. I took an early retirement from a 27-year career at a high-tech company that has been hammered in the market. I had been thinking of retiring and becoming a flight instructor, and perhaps flying freight or charter, but I have been wary of turning a hobby I passionately love into “just a job.” Let’s save the career discussion for another time, and get to my story, sometimes known as “gouge.”

I arrived on time at 10 AM, having studied to know everything, and was ready to fly anything, that I read in the Commercial Pilot Practical Test Standards (CP PTS). I used the ASA version of the CP PTS, along with the CP Oral Exam Guide and the CP 2003 [Written] Test Prep. I repeatedly read sections of Ron Fowler’s “Flying the Commercial Pilot Flight Test – Maximum Performance Maneuvers” while practicing for the test. I also read Howard Fried’s “Flight Test Tips & Tales From the Eye of the Examiner.” Other than the Maximum Performance Maneuvers, and a little on High Altitude Operations, I found the CP test to be a review of all the things you learned for the PP. While getting ready, I also had a lot of fun at the Mooney Aircraft and Pilot’s Association (MAPA) Mountain Flying Course in Denver, CO (BJC), and I took the free FAA one-day Aviation Physiology course with Altitude Chamber “ride” in Oklahoma City, OK.

By attending several safety seminars and CFI Workshops, witnessing a few oral examinations in progress, and generally “hanging around” the flight training center, I became familiar with the appearance and style of several Designated Pilot Examiners (DE). This encouraged me to dress casually, without a tie, but clean and pressed for best appearance. Think what you will, but clean clothes and a decent haircut will rarely hurt your prospects.

Call or meet your DE prior to your check ride and get an idea of what he or she is expecting. In my post-flight debrief, he mentioned he would have shared his Plan Of Action with me, had I asked for it. He has to prepare it, anyway, for the check ride. His was a terse copy of the PTS. You will also need to find out to where you need to flight plan, along with how much the DE and his or her baggage will weigh. He wanted a Weight & Balance, Flight Plan, Trip Log, a Weather Briefing, and the appropriate charts. I also learned he wanted course lines drawn on the sectional and that I could expect an enroute diversion that would require an ETA and fuel required, pretty much everything in the PTS.

Prepare your Airman Certification Application, FAA Form 8710-1, prior to your arrival. In fact, prepare it before you call your DE, to make sure you have all you need to take the practical test. I was embarrassed to have to reschedule the first appointment after I spent the better part of a weekend totaling my time. I discovered that I was missing two hours of VFR Dual Instruction at night. I used the Aeronautical Experience Checklist from my Summit Aviation CD/ROM. Be sure to have your instructor review, sign and date the Instructor’s Recommendation on the back. Once my DE reviewed all the paperwork (application, computer test results, logbook, AD Compliance, Airworthiness, etc…just use the Applicants Practical Checklist in the PTS) and collected his fee, we began the Oral part of the test. You won’t go to the airplane until you’ve satisfied the oral, but oral questions don’t stop just because you’re flying your plane.

You can expect questions on anything in the PTS. I noticed my DE was systematically investigating my familiarity with every Area of Operation and Task in the PTS. We discussed Minimum Equipment Lists (MELs). I had to review and explain some old (bad) weather charts he provided, since today was a pretty day. I had my first brain burn trying to explain how an IFR pilot can drop out of the clouds and meet a perfectly-legal airplane operating clear of clouds in the pattern, below 1,200’ AGL, at a non-towered airport in Class G airspace within one-half mile of the runway [see 91.155 (b) (2)]. I went over my take-off and landing performance estimates, and explained the weight & balance I had prepared. I had another brief brain lock trying to remember the word “alternator” while explaining the dual alternator electrical system in my airplane. Duh! Very basic stuff that I know I know cold, but am chagrined to report I briefly fogged before I got over it. I was asked to discuss hypoxia, hyperventilation, motion sickness, and how to deal with each. In some answers, I tried to include an example or relevant experience, but I sensed my DE wanted short, correct responses. You may think that the DE’s personal preferences may emphasize certain areas over others, but they are responsible for determining that you meet the acceptable standards of knowledge and skill of each Task in the PTS. I was impressed by my DE’s thoroughness. I felt he would rather pass me, but would be firm if I did not meet the PTS standards. There were the few times when I suffered a mental block- call it “test-itus” and I would get a rephrase of the question. I was able to recover and explain satisfactorily, so don’t loose your cool if you get stuck. I noticed I would later get a question on the mental-block matter again, even during the flight, so don’t give up after a brain lock. All his questions were PTS-based; there were no trick questions. Don’t be alarmed if he or she makes notes- mine did. He appeared to use them for further questions later, and for the debrief after the flight.

So let’s get to the flight. After about a half hour of paperwork, and about a two-hour oral, we proceeded to the airplane. It was about 12:30 and my stomach was really grumbling for lunch, but we worked straight through. I wish I had asked about lunch plans when I called my DE, and you might want to be better prepared than I was for the consequences of not eating. I did bring two full water bottles, since it was a hot day. Make sure you plan for the bio breaks you need.

After I led him through a thorough preflight inspection, he asked about airport signs and markings as we taxied to runway 15. We started out on my VFR flight plan from DuPage DPA to Rochester RST on a beautiful and hot day. I had planned for 6,500’ but I decided to remain below the scattered clouds we found forming near that altitude. As we climbed, he asked for a time and fuel estimate for when we would be abeam DeKalb DKB, along my planned route. Fortunately my calculated-in-the-air estimate was accurate, even after the altitude change. After DKB, he asked for a diversion and time/fuel estimate to Hinckley 0C2. Satisfied at 0C2, he explained he was looking for no more than a three-minute error.

Turning back north, I flew steep turns in both directions, and chandelles both directions. I demonstrated steep spirals over the private airstrip Casa de Aero. Since the PTS does not require a complete power cut for steep spirals, I explained I would follow the Mooney Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) recommendation to avoid prolonged descents at manifold pressure settings below 15 inches. In practice I found the plugs would foul and the engine would run rough after a long steep spiral, even if I cleared the engine each turn into the wind. He was OK with this, but when I then simulated an emergency approach and landing to a grass field, it was with power to idle.

I climbed back up for some lazy-eights and eights-on pylons. I rushed the transition from climb speed to maneuvering speed for the first lazy eight turn, explained that I was correcting, and started again at the right speed. I was careful to clear both ways before starting every procedure, and was able to point out traffic at least twice during the ride.

We headed back to DKB. My DE asked for a short-field landing and a 180-degree power-off accuracy approach and landing, my choice of which to fly first. I picked my spot and set up on down wind for the short-field, but I barreled around the pattern and was too high on final, so decided to go around. My DE said I must be reading his mind, because he was going to have me go around no matter what. Whew! Once again I go around the pattern, this time for a smooth touchdown just 50 feet beyond my spot. I taxied back for a short-field take off, set up for the 180-degree, eased the power to idle, and proceeded to a squeaker about five feet beyond my chosen spot. I felt wonderful!
I then did an uneventful soft-field take off from DeKalb and then a squeaker of a soft-field approach and landing back in to DuPage. On the way back, I got to demonstrate slow flight and power-off stalls.

After about two hours of concentrated flying, we were back for the de-brief at DuPage. I was so busy didn’t have a lot of time to worry about my go-around on the short-field, or my slow speed on the lazy eights, or my brain locks in the oral, so I was comfortable I did not embarrass myself nor my instructor. Thankfully, the DE spared me the agony of trudging back to the FSDO, because he climbed out and congratulated me right there on the ramp for passing the check ride! I was walking on air for the rest of the day! And I hope you do as well or better, when it comes to be your turn for the check ride.


New Member
Sounds like you mastered that flight. Congratulations. I took my Commercial SE last Thursday and pinked. I failed the short field landing - even worse the examiner took the controls from me. I have never had ANYONE take over control - embarrasing! The aircraft I was flying is a Piper Arrow T-tail which is a difficault plane to handle, but was used to that. It was 98 degrees outside and was not prepared for that plane to sink like it did. Basically I flew like [expletive deleted] and am very embarrased that I failed. It doesn't help that my CFI is a horrible instructor - he had not gone over my logbook, not looked over my 8710, and basically never helped me get mentally prepared for the practical. He never even called me after the flight to find out what happened and reschedule. He once even fell asleep at the right seat on a cross country with me. Anyway, I am trying to contact the examiner myself to reschedule since I am getting no help from my school. A week has gone by and still checkride scheduled. It seems like they just don't care. Meanwhile, I am getting rusty and very nervous about failing another maneuver on the next practical. I just want to get this checkride over with. It's just not even fun anymore.


Well-Known Member
I am taking my Comm written this weekend and hopefully the checkride later in the month. Thanks for writing up your experience, I will use it to the fullest.

Giant01, first relax. Next, go to your flight school and file a complaint against your first instructor and get another one. Only go when you are ready. DE's know that you are going to be nervous and all pilots brain fart on tests. Hell, on my Instrument check, I started to turn down the taxiway to the wrong runway...... Talk about feeling stupid, embarassed and just plain dumb..... The examiner was cool though, reminded me to breathe and away we went. We all do it. Just get some more practice and go back up. Think of it as a good lesson with a new instructor. Good luck....


New Member
jww, I feel your relief and accomplishment. Congratulations!
Your on a roll, time to go go get your CMEL or CFI.