Checkride! The term often conjures fear and long bouts of nervousness for pilots facing down the requirements for one-on-one checks of their skills and knowledge. Any pilot that has obtained a certificate or rating will likely regale others with the tribulations endured in pursuit of new pilot certificates and ratings.

For career pilots checkrides are a normal part of life. Pilots have already gone through several checkrides by the time they can fly for a living. Depending on the job market, pilots that are seeking new positions will go through pre-employment simulator evaluations. For most pilot jobs employers will initially certify new pilots for operations and airplane(s) and will then have ongoing recurrent training and checking requirements for pilots.

Pilot check rides are nerve-wracking, but they don’t have to be. This article gives an overview of what to expect with professional pilot check rides and how best to prepare for them.

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Types of Professional Pilot Checkrides

There are several types of checkrides that professional pilots have to go through. These will depend on the type of operation where they work and the airplane(s) they fly.

Pre-Employment

Pre-employment checks often go by other names such as ‘technical evaluation’ or ‘simulator check.’ Whether or not this is a part of applying to a pilot job depends on the operator and the job market. When there’s a large supply of pilots employers are able to pick and choose from many applicants and will often evaluations of pilot ability as part of the interview process. When there are more positions to fill than pilots available some employers will abandon these checks as they are no longer able to be picky and having a pilot skill evaluation can scare away some would-be applicants.

Part 141 Flight Instructor

Multi Engine Training AirplaneThere are two broad classifications of flight schools. Non FAA-approved flight schools operate under Part 61 of aviation regulations. These flight schools still use flight instructors certified but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) but the school themselves do not operate under a curriculum approved by the FAA.

Flight schools approved by the FAA operate under Part 141 of aviation regulations. This approval includes curriculum and student checks that the FAA specifies.

Flight instructors that teach within an FAA approved Part 141 program must be certified to do so. The flight school has to conduct checkrides for flight instructors for one or more of the curriculum that the instructor will be certified to teach. They will also have to certify instructors that conduct student stage checks. The Chief Flight Instructor or an assistant designated by the Chief Instructor conducts the checkrides for certifying other instructors.

Aircraft Type Rating

Pilots have to have a type rating to fly specific airplanes. These are airplanes that weigh more than 12,500lbs or have turbojet/turbofan engines or are deemed as excessively complicated by the FAA. Type ratings are earned by attending training and then getting tested on flying that airplane.

Training and testing for type ratings is often done at Part 142 flight simulator centers such as Flight Safety or CAE. They are authorized to conduct the checkrides required to get a type rating and will do so as part of their aircraft specific courses.

Some employers are able to conduct type rating checkrides internally and these checks will be done alongside other checks that employer has to do – such as checks required for Part 135 or Part 121 operations.

Part 135 Checkrides

Part 135 operator rules govern commercial aircraft, such as non-scheduled charter and air taxi operations. These operators are allowed make themselves available to the public for hire but don’t meet the requirements to operate as air transport carriers. Part 135 is more strict than general aviation operations but is less strict than Part 121 Air Carrier Operations.

Pilots that fly for part 135 operations can fall under two broad classifications. Visual flight rules part 135 operations must stay in visual conditions and cannot operate on an instrument flight plan. Instrument flight rules part 135 operations are allowed to fly in instrument conditions.

Part 135 visual flight rules pilots have to be certified for the operation with an initial competency checkride. They then have to be trained and tested at least once a year. Some operators may have additional training and testing requirements.

Part 135 instrument flight rules pilots have to be certified with an initial competency and proficiency checkride. They then have to be trained and tested every six months. Some operators having additional training and testing requirements.


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Part 121 Checkrides

Part 121 of aviation regulations pertains to Air Transport carriers. This is what regional airlines, major airlines, legacy airlines, and cargo carriers that fly large jet airplanes operate under.

Mesa Airlines CRJ900Airplanes that operate under part 121 have multiple crew positions with each position having different unique checking requirements and potentially different check intervals. Captains typically have to have a checkride every 6 months with other positions, such as first officers, being checked less frequently.

Airplanes that operate under part 121 will require a type rating as mentioned above. The type rating is earned as part of the initial training, transition training from other airplane types, or captain upgrade training at an operator.

Some 121 operators train and test under an Advanced Qualification Program (AQP). AQP approval allows carriers to deviate significantly from traditional training and checking but is usually more detailed and with more training on a recurrent basis. AQP programs vary significantly between employers but pilots can expect a wider variety of types of checkrides.

Who Conducts Checkrides?

When pilots are earning their initial certificates and rating they are usually tested by designated pilot examiners who are authorized by the FAA. The checkrides can also conducted by the FAA, or by a flight school if they have self-examining authority.

Checkrides that professional pilots are subject to are typically conducted by simulator training centers, the FAA, or by checkairmen that the FAA has designated at each employer. That is, checkairmen are employees at a specific operator that have been authorized by the FAA to certify pilots for just that operation.

In most cases designated checkairmen conduct most professional pilot checkrides.

CheckAirmen are Not Unfeeling Atomotons

Guess what? Checkairmen are people too. They have often had similar experiences as you during their professional pilot careers. They face the same challenges and don’t like taking checkrides either.

Checkairmen want you to succeed. It can benefit them personally as proper staffing levels means less work for the pilots within an operation. And an unsatisfactory checkride adds a lot more headache into their work routine.

Disclaimer – some checkairmen are ass holes. These will be the type that study into the night finding new and unique ways to fail applicants, or may be the type to look for reasons to fail an applicant during a checkride instead of keeping a clear mind to evaluate each item from a neutral perspective. The assholes are the exception rather than the norm.

Checkairmen being human has a flip side. If you have a bad attitude, are unpleasant to be around, or are coming into training/checking events without preparing then they will be less inclined to work with you through these events. Checkairmen are line pilots too and won’t want to work around people with bad attitudes.

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Employers Want You to Succeed

Employers want pilots to succeed in training and evaluations. Employers are financially invested in pilot’s success, with this investment often being quite large. Employer’s operations depend on having appropriate staffing with a failure in initial or recurrent pilot checking making this significantly more difficult.

CheckAirmen Are Aware of Common Mistakes

Checkairmen are often among to the most experienced pilots within a pilot group. This means they’ve committed many of the common mistakes themselves. And if that person has conducted a lot of checkrides they have seen, and are well aware of, common mistakes or holes in knowledge.

This means a couple things for pilots being checked:

  • Don’t try to hide your mistakes. Chances are it has been noticed. Continue to the fly the airplane appropriately for the maneuver you are flying. If need be, verbalize the mistake you’ve made. In fact, testing standards allow for pilots to deviate from testing standards if they recognize doing so on their own and correct for the deviation.
  • Don’t try to hide your lack of knowledge on a question. Most checkrides are open book. That is, the applicant is allowed to reference materials that would be available to them during the operation of an airplane. There are a few exceptions to this, primarily that limitations and some emergency procedures are required to be memorized.

Tips for Passing a Checkride

Stay Calm

Man MeditatingA confident and relaxed test taker is going to more easily recall information and perform at a higher standard than a person wracked with nerves. Few things will improve your chances more than going into a checkride with a calm and collected approach. A few ways to help yourself stay calm include:

  • Practice positive self-talk. Make a conscious effort to think positively about your abilities and readiness for the checkride
  • Don’t fixate on negative outcomes.
  • Laugh a little. Try to find levity where you can. Think about a funny joke or two before meeting the examiner.
  • Take deep breaths.
  • Ask for a break or two. And take a few minutes to collect your thoughts before beginning your flight/simulator evaluation.
  • Loosen up your seated posture. This includes keeping your feet grounded on the floor, relaxing your arms and hands, and putting your back against the backrest of a chair rather than hunching forward.

Get Rest

Prioritize getting a full nights sleep heading into your checkride. You may be tempted to get in some last minute cramming but the benefits of being fully rested for your checkride far outweigh any last minute tidbits of information you might be able to commit to memory. The time to prepare is the weeks leading up to your checkride, not the night before.

Admit When You Don’t Know an Answer

Don’t try to fake your way through answering a question. The evaluator knows when you are doing so and this will only dig you into a hole. Make sure you know the layout and contents of company manuals and where to find information. During an oral exam readily admit when you need to look up an answer.

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Acknowledge Your Mistakes

When you make a mistake say so. Many maneuvers allow for deviations from standards so long as the applicant acknowledges their deviation and corrects for it. The examiner is better able to allow for this correction when they know you are aware of the issue vs if you are trying to hide your mistake. Chances are the checkairmen is aware of your mistake or deviation.

Don’t Give Up

If you think you’ve committed a fatal error, don’t stop flying the maneuver/flight. Stopping a flight or specific maneuver will be grounds for not passing the evaluation. Most checkairmen will let you know immediately if you have failed a maneuver, so don’t just assume that you have done so.

Only Answer Questions Being Asked

When a pilot evaluator is asking you a question during an exam they are likely looking for a tight scope on your answer. Don’t expand beyond answering the question you were asked. If the checkairmen wants more detail they will ask follow on questions. But don’t voluntarily open your self up to deeper questioning or further lines of questioning.

Be Willing to Learn

You are being checked by an experienced and likely very capable pilot. Most checkairmen will also want to help you improve as a professional pilot. Set aside your ego and be willing to learn from critiques and other lessons conveyed. You may end up being evaluated by the same check airmen many times during your employment at one place – learning form each checkride will make you better at subsequent checkrides.

Effective Study Habits for Pilots

Make Studying a Part of Your Everyday Life

Notebook Open For StudyingPilots experience long periods of boredom. Either waiting for flights or enroute while staring out the window. Employers often have policies that prevent extraneous activities while flying. However, these policies can allow for pilots to study operations manuals and other company material while in cruise flight.

You don’t have to spend all of your flight time studying. But making a point of going through manuals, limitations, and memory procedures on a regular basis will go a long way to keeping this information cemented in your memory.

Use Mental Hooks

Memory aids for pilots come in many forms and include mnemonics, acronyms, and aphorisms. Learning to use memory aids can help pilots in two specific ways:

  • free up working memory during routing operations
  • focusing the mind on required actions during periods of uncertainty or intense activity

Memory aids are ingrained in pilots from day one of student pilot training. Most professional pilots are familiar with them. If mental hooks are not readily suggested by instructors then work to find your own.


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Familiarize Yourself With the Test Requirements

Get an outline of what you are expected to know. Some employers may have this in written format. If they don’t then work on piecing together your own outline to work from. This will help you to better focus your studies and will provide you with a checklist to work from as you test yourself during your study time.

Study With Others

Most people learn faster working within a group versus working alone. Group settings provide the opportunity to explain concepts, review material, exchange ideas, and disagree/reason with one another about why one person’s answer differs from another.

Learning within the professional pilot environment increases the opportunity for group study. You will typically go through training with several other pilots and many training programs will even pair you up with a training partner. Professional pilots are highly motivated to succeed and it is usually pretty easy to approach others to form study groups.

Schedule a Study Time

Committing to a specific schedule for studying makes it more likely that you will actually take the necessary time to learn the information. It also lessens the opportunity for distractions. You may need to have several shorter blocks of time scheduled throughout the day or it may work better to set aside one large chunk of time for studying. Schedule periodic breaks throughout your study time.

Take Notes During Lectures

Taking good notes during groundschool and other lessons will help you stay organized and provide a clear, succinct method for remembering key topics during review. Good note taking should call back to mind the sequence of topics presented.

Highlight Textbooks and Other Study Materials

As you work through your course textbooks and other study material use a highlighter to mark appropriate information and sections. Highlighting makes it easier to find key information during your follow-up reviews. Rather than spending extra time digging through text to find information you need it will be readily available in a highlighted segment.

Highlighting reference material helps you to get a better perspective on what and where information can be found within operations manuals and other company materials. This can be handy during a checkride when you are looking up an answer.

As you highlight don’t use it as a substitute for note taking. When studying by highlighter you are in more of a passive mode than when you are actively formulating notes.

Break Up Information Into Segments

New hire pilots are inundated with vast tomes of information. This will make training seem an insurmountable obstacle. Break up the information into manageable sizes – and even consider categorizing the individual areas of study from there. This will make it far more approachable and help you maintain the motivation you need throughout training. Breaking up the information dovetails nicely into scheduled study times as you can then assign specific chunks of information to individual study sessions.


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About Greg Thomson

Greg started his professional pilot journey in 2002 after graduating from Embry Riddle. Since that time he has accumulated over 7,000 hours working as a pilot. Greg’s professional experience includes flight instructing, animal tracking, backcountry flying, forest firefighting, passenger charter, part 135 cargo, and flying for a regional airline. Greg took a 5 year hiatus from flying and worked in software development and marketing. He has since returned to flying as a cargo pilot. Greg enjoys educating and helping pilots improve their professional lives and is passionate about applying technology and new methods to help with traditional challenges.