The Private Practical Gouge


New Member
After an intense and concentrated three weeks that have left me with just over the 35 hours required at a 141 school, I sucessfully completed my Private Practical yesterday! For those of you who are getting ready to take the test yourselves, here are my experiences and observations . . .

Note that the Oral was given on a Monday morning and the Flight was on a Tuesday afternoon.

In preparing for the oral, I scoured the Jepp Private Manual and the FAA AFM. If it was in the book, I wanted to know it. I used flashcards, the questions at the end of the chapters, rereading, and anything else I could think of to give me an edge.

I also had to prepare a flight plan for a cross-country given to me by the examiner the night before. I took extra time and tried to make sure I thought of everything I could before planning the flight. Though it wasn't the case, I assumed for the sake of planning that there was some little, easy to miss thing the examiner was trying to trip me with. I made sure that all NOTAMs, TFRs, forecasts, weather reports, field information, diversions, alternates, frequencies, weight and balance, density altitude, takeoff and landing distances, and navaids were considered and accessible as I made the plans. If something was potentially relevant to the flight, I made sure I knew what it was and what it required.

When the oral actually started, I wasn't too nervous because I had done a LOT of prepping. I felt confident that even if I didn't know the answer, I would be able to use the resources available to me to find it or figure it out. In reality, most of the questions posed were situational and not knowledge based. Being a long-time sea kayak guide, I used my past experiences to make judgements about the scenarios posed and answer the examiners questions to the best of my ability.

One of the most interesting things that I learned during the oral is that the examiner felt I was TOO cautious at times. He would give me a hypothetical situation and I would err on the side of safety and, for example, land at an uncontrolled airport rather than going fifteen miles further to a controlled surface with more available resources. He pointed out the importance of the difference between landing as soon as POSSIBLE and as soon as PRACTICAL. In a non-critical situation (inop alternator during a night flight was our example), there is no reason to not fly the extra 7 or 8 minutes to a controlled field. Manage the electrical load and go to the safest option, not always the closest.

I also had to point out that our cross-country flight would certainly not have left the ground. Not only was the weather at the destination well below VFR mins, but the ELT had been removed from the aircraft two days before (as noted in the weight and balance section of the POH). Uncooperative weather AND an unairworthy aircraft are a bad, bad combo.

Aside from the "too cautious" thing, the only other mistake I made was not knowing SVFR proceedures as well as I should have. After I got home, a quick look at the AIM cured those ills and I redeemed myself the following day before the flight.

Now, the flight was not quite as trouble free as the oral. We'd resecheduled from 7 am to 3 pm . . . a time when the dreaded thermals of Fresno are really kickin'. That didn't bother me too much, but was in the back of my mind as we preflighted. I should also mention that I should have updated the flight plan from the previous day to reflect our new "departure time" and the current winds aloft. We weren't actually flying the xc, but I think he would have liked to have seen that initiative.

We left FAT and moved east to the Academy practice area. On the way there, we discussed various things that I was doing in the flight - flow checks, navigational proceedures, traffic scaning, radios, etc. Nothing monumental. Once in the practice area, he told me to begin slow flight when ready. I achieved our maneuvering altitude, cleared the area, did a flow check, and began the maneuvers portion of the flight. Everything went well and I passed that section without trouble, though I had certainly done better in the past. I think that a combination of the thermals, obstruction turbulence and updrafts from the foothills, and nerves got to me. Usually I can hold altitude with in +/- 20 or 30 feet, but I was close to being 100 feet to HIGH a few times. That stressed me out and I started to cross reference the altimeter and VSI a lot, rather than keeping my eyes outside where they belonged.
That said, it was still a pretty good showing, I think. We did power on and off stalls, steep turns, basic maneuvers, hood work, unusual attitudes, slow flight, MCA, VOR tracking, and other PST stuff. Pretty standard, I guess.

When we did the engine out, forced landing proceedure, I trimmed to best glide speed (aviate), found a landing site (navigate), did a quick flow check and then busted out the emergency checklist (investigate), and simualted a mayday call (communicate). On the way down, when close to the first landing site, I decided that I had the height and time to achieve a better location. I altered direction slightly, hit the key points and announced at about 800 AGL that I was confident that the landing was assured and I was going to reapply power and climb before we were within 500 feet of the rural homes below. I think the combination of not fixating on a mediocre site when a better one presented itself and exercising PIC to avoid violating a FAR by declaring the maneuver to be over before he said it was reflected well on me.

Then came the crutch . . . We flew to the east of our diversion airport, did some ground reference maneuvers, and then were going to head in to Reedly to do shorts and softs. There was a Cessna who had just departed the pattern from 33 and was moving to the west (away from us) and a helicopter who was messing around on 15. The winds were favoring 33 and the chopper had given the Cessna priority and right-of-way on each approach, so I thought I would gain the same courtesy. Knowing the winds (as we had just finished the ground reference stuff), the traffic situation (Cessna departing, helicopter seemingly happy to make way), and being only a few miles from the threshold of 33, I called a straight in approach for 33.

Bad move. Though my instructor and I had done the same thing both at that airport and others, the examiner was quite unhappy with my decision. He informed me that not only should I have overflown to verify the wind and look for traffic without radio communications, but I also should not have assumed that the helicopter would make way for me as he did for the Cessna. At that time, another Cessna on the ground announced that they were preparing to takeoff on 15 as well. Rather than land against the traffic flow, I entered the left hand pattern for 15 on the downwind and approached for a shortfield.

The first go-around was because, coming through about 100 feet, I noticed that our flight path (a standard glide path) was going to send us, incredibly, right through a set of telephone poles. Not being sure if there were lines strung or not, I went around and looked to verify that they were buried where they crossed the approach path. They were. So, around we go for another shot at a short field. This time, my approach was stable, airspeed was good, but I couldn't get the plane to settle (remember that I'm not on the favored runway - I have a quartering tailwind but am moving with the traffic flow). After floating a ways, around we went again. This time I dump a few knots on short final, hit the pavement just past the numbers and stop in an acceptable distance. Taxi back for a short field takeoff, again on 15 with a tail wind but moving with the helicopter and closed-traffic Cessna, we take what feels like a year to get off the runway and into the air. Not bad, except for the tailwind . . .

On the way home, we compute groundspeed and do a soft field landing at good ol' FAT. All goes well and we taxi back to parking.

In the debrief, he restates his dissappointment with my decision to go straight in and with assuming that the helicopter would hear me on the radio and give way as he had earlier for the Cessna. He also felt that, knowing the wind favored 33 and not 15, I should have waited until everyone was on the ground or out of the pattern, then landed 33, or made a radio call to suggest a runway change to everyone who was active in the pattern. Landing an unfavorable runway for a short field was not a smart move . . .

Though frustrated with myself, I understood his points. My judgement and actions were those of a new pilot, and though I don't think I was reckless, I wasn't as safe and cool as I could have been. He passed me, saying that I am a good pilot, but I need to gain experience and learn from my errors. I was in agreement and happily took the pass. At this point, with only 37 hours, I realize that I made a mistake and could have shown better judgement, but I'm not sure just how grevious my errors were . . . but I'm guessing that the responses to this post will let me know!

So there you are. A good flight with a few goofs . . . I'm bummed and thrilled all at once!
Cool summary!

Yeah I hate that bittersweet feeling of knowing you could have done better. But hey you got the white card, and that's what you set out to get!

By the way... that's really amazing how you got your private in so little time! Congrats!

Would you mind giving a quick runthrough of how you managed to do it so fast?
Yeah I hate that bittersweet feeling of knowing you could have done better.

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Glad I'm not the only one. I've had three checkrides to date and I passed all three on the first go - BUT - I KNEW I could have done better.... MUCH better.

Great summary! Congrats!!

I don't want to rain on your parade, but aren't you a little surprised that you passed? Based on my experiences as a commercial pilot and instructor, I don't think I could find an examiner who would pass a PPL candidate that chose to do a straight in landing on the wrong runway at an uncontrolled field during his first ever checkride. Even if everything was within PTS, not checking out the traffic and landing with a tailwind is definitely a safety of flight violation and should probably be a pinkslip.
Thanks for the comments! First, I have been able to move quickly through the Private stage because I am at a 141 school. For those of you who are unfamiliar with 141 schools, the minimum time required for a private via 141 is 35 hours. NOT that I think 35 hours makes a competent, safe pilot, but, as I plan to finish the instrument, commercial, CFI, and multi programs as well, I'll still have a lot of time with an instructor and plenty of practice.

As for Hammer's comment, I was surprised that I passed, but considering the circumstances, I think that the examiner did what he felt was appropriate. I have had three stage checks during the private stage and all have gone very well. We were also at an airport that we often use for training, the wind was known, the pattern and freq had been monitored while we did ground reference maneuvers, airplane traffic was well established in the departure, and the helicopter traffic had shown that they were happy to give way to traffic on the favored runway (and, the chopper pilot was actually one of our rotorwing instructors). At the point that I decided to do a straight in for the favored runway, the only traffic that was a factor was the chopper whose pilot knew I was up for a Practical - it wasn't until after the straight in set up and announcement on CTAF that the other traffic announced that they would be taking off as closed traffic for 15. It was that announcement that made me decide to land on the unfavored runway (about a 3 knot tail wind component), rather than suggest they reverse their pattern during their takeoff roll.

I'm not trying to justify my mistakes. I realize that it was a failure in my decision making process. However, I think that because the examiner knows that I have demonstrated safe practices in the past, knew what factors were influencing the decision to fly straight in and then the unfavored runway, and also recognized that it was an action that I would certainly not repeat, he felt justified in passing me. As I have thought about it and spoken with my instructor and the examiner, I have gotten the feeling that it was a mistake, but, considering the situation and the circumstances, was understandable in a fashion.

Never-the-less, yes, I feel that I got a good break and have done what I can to learn from the situation. Please don't take the above explaination to be a smug, "do-no-wrong" attitude. Much to the contrary, I am just trying to explain why I think the examiner gave me a break and felt justified and confident that I had learned more than enough in that experience to prevent future errors of that type.

For whatever it's worth, cheers!

Excellent response and congrats on getting your license. I know that getting a checkride out of the way is a huge burden off your shoulders.
Excellent response and congrats on getting your license. I know that getting a checkride out of the way is a huge burden off your shoulders.

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True, but there are (hopefully!) many more to come . . .


Thanks for the congrats, and, more importantly, thanks for reading about my experiences and giving me your feedback! I love the support and knowledgeable opinions that are free for the asking here!

See you in the air!

I have been able to move quickly through the Private stage because I am at a 141 school. For those of you who are unfamiliar with 141 schools, the minimum time required for a private via 141 is 35 hours.

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Yeah, just that most people take much more than that regardless of 61 or 141, whether it be for infrequent flying schedules, weather problems, etc.

I mean I know it's humanly possible, just that it's pretty rare for someone to actually meet the minimums! Did you set out to get it really fast from the start? Did you have your ground school done already? Written? How often did you fly, etc....

Just curious, answer only if you want and congrats again!
Now I understand what you were after, SkyGuyEd! I am one of those career-changing fools who walked away from a sucessful business ownership, moved across the country, and jumped straight into the fire. I am at Mazzei Flying Services in Fresno, CA, and have been flying at least once (often twice) five days per week for the last three weeks. I arrived in CA with a passion for airplanes that has been in my heart since childhood, a taste of flying thanks to the many hours spent in small planes with friends and for business, and a burning desire to be the best pilot that I can be. Three weeks ago I had zero logged hours, had only read flying magazines and memoirs, and had nothing but a dream to put towards my flight career.

Luckily for me, flying seems to be coming fairly easily so far. With the time and ability to dedicate all of my time to learning to fly, the knowledge and ground school is a snap. The maneuvers and handling of the plane have also fallen into place quickly. The only downside is, as I said above, there hasn't been much time to refine the ADM skills that are unique to flying. Luckily, aside from the occassional error on a checkride,
ADM is remarkably similar to the seamanship and outdoor leadership skills that I have used as a professional sea kayak guide/instructor and avid adventure sport fool. I try to be cautious in the plane and look forward to gaining the practical decision making experience that I lack.

Again, 37 hours made me a pilot who is prepared to continue in the professional pilot's track, but not a pilot who is ready to buy a plane and stop learning. I recognize that I have a long way to go and am thankful that I have the commercial, instrument, multi, and instructor phases still to go. I don't think that, even when a student has a high aptitude, Mazzei would consider it prudent to hand them a PPL in 35 hours if they weren't continuing in the program. I just don't see how 35 hours is enough to account for all contingencies and situations.

Without sounding like a posing recruiter, I do need to recognize that Mazzei Flying Service has been a large part of my sucess so far. They work very hard to place students with instructors who fit their personalities and learning styles, they utilize wonderful teaching methods (and coming from this snobbish, critical kayak and photography instructor, that says a lot . . .), believe in attitude flying, and have provided me with all of the tools needed to suceed. The planes are older, but immaculately maintained by in-house mechanics - my only problem was a lost comm during climb out on my first solo (loose connection that gave up the ghost). The schedule and atmosphere is professional but relaxed and allows students to move at the pace that is most comfortable to them. No uniforms, no strict scheduling, and no failure to treat you like the $38,000 customer that you are. I'm sure that they aren't right for everyone, but they have been ideal for me. Props to my instructor, Lee. I owe him big time. And thanks to jdflight for his obscure post that lead me here!

Now that I've written a novel and said "Thanks" like an Emmy winner, I'll stop typing. If you or anyone has more questions, let me know. Whether about Mazzei, my experiences as a student pilot, photography, or kayaking, I obviously don't mind sharing!

Catch you later!