Private Pilot Test
Aeronautical Knowledge and the Practical Test
The time you spend flying and studying will serve a dual purpose at the culmination of your training. For one, you are gaining a set of foundation skills that you will be able to expand upon to become a proficient private pilot. At the same time you will prove your proficiency to the FAA by taking a “written” exam and then passing an oral and flight check with a designated pilot examiner. While passing these tests shouldn’t be the full focus of your training, your flight instructor will be keeping an eye on your performance to ensure you are ready for them when the time comes.
What is the written exam and how do I study for it?
The “written” exam, or the Private Pilot Knowledge Test as the FAA prefers, is a 60-question multiple-choice exam taken at a designated computer-testing center. These centers are scattered around the nation and there is typically one within a short drive from where you’re doing your training, if not on the field. The required minimum score to pass is a 70%, and it is graded on a pass/fail basis. This exam may be taken at any time during your training, and the results are good for 24 calendar months; be sure you plan on completing your flight training within this time period or be prepared to re-take the written!
There are numerous study guides published which include all the known FAA Knowledge Test questions and answers, making studying a breeze. Passing this test only requires a steady time commitment on your part to review a study guide and take a practice test to ensure you understand the questions and have given adequate time to deficient areas. Word to the wise: although a study guide will help you to pass the test, it will not ensure that you have a mastery of all the aeronautical knowledge required to be a safe pilot. You should strive to learn all you can about the subjects you encounter during your ground school studying, as this will make you a more knowledgeable and safe pilot.
How about the oral and flight exams?
After you’ve met the minimum experience requirements and you and your instructor feel that you have a mastery of the subjects covered during your training, you will be ready to take the oral and flight exams. Passing these will result in the issuance of your temporary Private Pilot Certificate- giving you all the responsibility and privileges of a real pilot!
A word on paying the examiner-
If you don’t have an examiner on staff at your flight school, chances are you’ll have to hire one. Your instructor will know who to talk to and can get you in touch with an examiner, who will want to schedule a day and location to perform the tests. They must be paid separately, and cold hard cash is the general preference. Expect between $150 and $250 for the privilege of their presence, and perhaps even more depending on where you live.
The oral examination always comes before the flight exam, and it will be a time when your examiner will attempt to determine if you have the knowledge and posses the ability to make safe judgments to be a pilot. The topics that are covered are listed in the Private Pilot Practical Test Standards- an FAA publication that is available free online or a published version may also be purchased. You will generally plan a cross-country flight, including navigation, time enroute, fuel burned, groundspeed and weight and balance. The examiner will review your planning and ask you how you determined your figures; their goal is to see that you understand how to safely plan and execute a flight of this nature. From there expect another hour going over systems, rules and regulations, weather, airspace and navaids, emergency procedures and anything else listed in the PTS. The examiner may give you real-world scenarios and expect you to apply what you’ve learned to come up with a positive outcome. This will show that not only do you have a concept memorized, but that you truly understand it and can think critically to come to a safe conclusion.
If you survive the oral exam and your examiner thinks you’ve got the “right stuff,” you’ll move on to the flight portion of the exam.
For the flight portion you are responsible for providing an airworthy airplane to conduct the test in, as well as a pair of foggles. You can expect the examiner to stick with you from the preflight forward- asking questions and continuously getting a feel for your piloting skills. As you take to the skies you will fly the first leg of the cross-country flight you planned and generally use your E6-B to make a groundspeed and ETE calculation. This is no sweat- just keep fling the plane, being conscious of your altitude and track, and work out the problems like it were any other training flight. From there expect to be asked to divert to the nearest airport, and plan a course and ETE to that airport. This will test your ability to deal with dynamic and changing flight environments, and really won’t be anything you haven’t done before.
After that portion of the flight test is done you will be asked to perform the maneuvers you’ve been practicing these past 40 or 50 hours in the airplane, and you will need to perform them to the published standards to pass. While most examiners will try to keep the pressure low, simply for the fact that you’re already probably nervous enough, they will attempt to distract you as a part of their job. Many accidents have occurred when the pilot was distracted from the task of flying the airplane, and they want to see that you keep aviating your number one priority, no matter what they throw your way.
Assuming all goes well and you grease your landings, you’ll be driving home that day a licensed Private Pilot! Although the learning will never stop throughout your flying career, you have reached a major milestone and should be very proud of your accomplishment.