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Learning lessons the hard way. Commercial Pilot Checkride gone bad

IMG_1635My life has been a bit of a blur lately. First it was my signoff for the commercial flight test back in June. Followed by examiner availability issues, then an annual inspection for the aircraft.

At the same time I needed to prepare for our flight to Oshkosh for EAA AirVenture 2013. I needed an Instrument Proficiency Check and to change channels back to my IFR cross-country flying methods (no lazy eights en-route).

I finally gave up on scheduling the examiner that my school normally uses and decided to call my local DE with whom I did my Instrument flight test.

We booked the test at first for last week, then moved it twice for weather but finally it all came together –or so I thought-. 

The test was scheduled, the weather looked good, we were a go! I took off of work early on Wednesday and flew the 172RG for the second time in two months. I did well given the conditions (windy) and felt confident that I would be able to pull it off with a little luck.

That night I ran the final weight and balance numbers for the test and prepped everything for the morning. I would have to get an early start. First I had to take care of my I.T. work (systems checks etc) after that, I had to fill out the navlogs with the latest wind data, take my shower (an important step when you fly in a tiny airplane), drive an hour to the airport and fly back to Lincoln Park to meet the DE. In short, I needed to get up at 5:00 AM.

The plan was to get to bed early but that didn’t work. All I did was lay there until 12:30am but eventually I slept a bit.

At 5:00 am the alarm went off. I dragged myself out of bed, took care of my stuff and departed my home at 7:00am. I arrived at the airport at 8:10, met with my CFI to go over my logbook one last time and had a “wheels up” time of about 8:45.

While en-route I used an RPM / MP combination that would yield best forward speed. I was glad this bird was faster than my 172sp. I arrived at n07 (Lincoln Park) just as my DE entered the pattern.

I entered the pattern and landed runway 1 with a firm but acceptable landing.

We met and went over the standard paperwork. Check to the examiner (a whopping $400.00), ICARA application, Aircraft Logs, Pilot Logs and this is where it went bad.

As we went through part 61.129 (Aeronautical experience) -shown below- we ran into the following issue. You would think, my CFI had just reviewed everything, but she made the same mistake I was making.

We were reading the FAR like a checklist and ignored the section that the statement was under. In our case, the two statements highlighted in red require an instructor on board since they fall under section (3) “training” but the statements do not mention the need for an instructor.

(a) For an airplane single-engine rating. Except as provided in paragraph (i) of this section, a person who applies for a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane category and single-engine class rating must log at least 250 hours of flight time as a pilot that consists of at least:

(1) 100 hours in powered aircraft, of which 50 hours must be in airplanes. CHECK (over 500 hours)

(2) 100 hours of pilot-in-command flight time, which includes at least—

(i) 50 hours in airplanes; CHECK and

(ii) 50 hours in cross-country flight of which at least 10 hours must be in airplanes. CHECK

(3) 20 hours of training on the areas of operation listed in § 61.127(b)(1) of this part that includes at least—

(i) Ten hours of instrument training using a view-limiting device including attitude instrument flying, partial panel skills, recovery from unusual flight attitudes, and intercepting and tracking navigational systems. Five hours of the 10 hours required on instrument training must be in a single engine airplane; IFR RATED CHECK

(ii) 10 hours of training in an airplane that has a retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable pitch propeller, or is turbine-powered, or for an applicant seeking a single-engine seaplane rating, 10 hours of training in a seaplane that has flaps and a controllable pitch propeller; CHECK

(iii) One 2-hour cross country flight in a single engine airplane in daytime conditions that consists of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure; MY FLIGHTS WERE SOLO– NO GOOD!

(iv) One 2-hour cross country flight in a single engine airplane in nighttime conditions that consists of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure; MY FLIGHTS WERE SOLO– NO GOOD and

(v) Three hours in a single-engine airplane with an authorized instructor in preparation for the practical test within the preceding 2 calendar months from the month of the test. CHECK

(4) Ten hours of solo flight time in a single engine airplane or 10 hours of flight time performing the duties of pilot in command in a single engine airplane with an authorized instructor on board (either of which may be credited towards the flight time requirement under paragraph (a)(2) of this section), on the areas of operation listed under § 61.127(b)(1) that include—

(i) One cross-country flight of not less than 300 nautical miles total distance, with landings at a minimum of three points, one of which is a straight-line distance of at least 250 nautical miles from the original departure point. However, if this requirement is being met in Hawaii, the longest segment need only have a straight-line distance of at least 150 nautical miles; OSHKOSH 2012 SOLO CHECK and

(ii) 5 hours in night VFR conditions with 10 takeoffs and 10 landings (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower. OVER 60 HOURS AT NIGHT LANDING CHECK

So, due to the two flights above being solo and not with an instructor sitting next to me, the check ride was over before it began.

I let my CFI know and she didn’t think the interpretation was correct since the items do not mention the need for an instructor so I called the FAA FSDO and spoke with the lead inspector.

He informed me that this is one of the most debated training requirement questions. Too bad it cost me $400.00 plus the cost of the flight $241.03 to learn that lesson.

Reality sets in:

Now, I am out of money, I owe my flying club a small fortune, I need a club checkout to take a plane on the cross country flight (yearly requirement), and on top of all of this, I was just informed that IBM is cutting my overtime.

This may take a while.

Update 9/4/2013:

The required cross country flights have been completed but the funds are depleted so I need some time to re-group.

I am also trying to salvage the end of the summer with my family.

Update 2/28/2014:

I am now a commercial pilot! Read about it here.

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  • Brett

    The hint is where it says you need “20 hours of training”….in a flight training environment we don’t self teach, so when you are training, a teacher is involved.

    • http://www.110knots.com Mike Bennett

      I agree, but the 20 hours are accounted for in items i and ii. You are correct -according to the FSDO- since it falls under section (3) “training”.

      • Sam Mogren

        What about your long XC for your Instrument Rating? Assuming you did it during the day, with an instructor, more than 2 hours, and went to an airport more than 100 miles from departure?.

        • http://www.110knots.com Mike Bennett

          That flight was logged as simulated instrument. The requirement was for a VFR cross country. I tried that as well.

  • Frank C

    Bad fortune to be sure, however your CFI is partially culpable as he/she signed you off as meeting the requirements. The regs are quite clear. The two cross country rides are subsection referenced to the 20 hours of instructor training required. I would bet you were the first commercial check ride candidate of this instructor.

    Frank C.

    • http://www.110knots.com Mike Bennett

      You are correct Frank. I was my CFIs first Commercial student. Now I am questioning her understanding of the PTS as well. She kept telling me “don’t worry about that, you are doing fine”. I have never walked into a check ride doing “fine”. When I master it, I am ready. When I fly better than Martha King in the training videos, I am ready. That’s just me.

  • Tracey

    Holy moly. This post just saved me from the same situation, dog-gone-it. Sorry for your misfortune. It seems that your cfi should have at least offered to pay half of the fee you lost since they signed off on you. It would’ve been the honorable thing to do.

    • http://www.110knots.com Mike Bennett

      Hello Tracy, I am glad my post helped you! Best of luck with your check ride. I passed the check ride on Friday 2/28/14. I was just going to post the story. I ended up switching schools and got it done in 3.5 HOBBS hours.

      • Tracey

        Congratulations!

        • http://www.110knots.com Mike Bennett

          Thank you.

  • Jon

    Hello! I just passed my commercial CheckRide today, and I wanted to let you know your post saved my butt! Was up late last night apprehensive about this, and googled commercial CheckRide and started reading stories. This post came up, and I realized my instructor and I also thought they could be solo! I had to make my instructor get out of bed at 11pm to go fly with me for 2.6 hours, to get this night XC done. Got back at 3am, CheckRide at 8, slept on the couch in the FBO. Crazy night but I’m so glad I saw this!! Thanks a ton!!

    • http://www.110knots.com Mike Bennett

      Hello Jon,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to send me your comment. It’s comments like this that make the work I put into this site worth it. Congradulations on your sucessfull check ride!

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Amanda Michelle (Younkin) Franklin 3/14/1986 – 5/27/2011 Click for information on Amanda