Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Checkride Post, Part II. Scroll down 2 posts for Part I.

I wanted to make a good impression on the 2 Transport Inspectors who would be accompanying me on the ride, so I printed out copies of the candidate's licence info, the company SOP's, the company flight profiles, the company training program, the company Ops Manual, and all the approach charts we would be using, both at Toronto Pearson and Hamilton, the nearby airport we'd be conducting most of the checkride at.

I put the twelve pounds of paper into a binder, and made a nice pretty cover on it, hopeful that a slick presentation might be an acceptable substitute for (lack of) professionalism and skill on my part :)

I was all prepared for the ride, and the weather forecast was actually threatening to cooperate, so all I had to do was wait until the next day, then drive to the airport and get it over with.

I slept really poorly the night before the ride, which surprised me, considering it was the candidate who really was under the gun - I found myself doing flying checklists and emergency drills in my sleep. When I'm the subject of a check-ride I usually have a lousy sleep the night before and end up doing checklists in my head all night, but at least I have the drills for my own airplane memorized - in this case, I had never flown up front before, and I wasn't overly familiar with the aircraft checklists, so my brain was simply inventing things, like "sleep on your side, then rotate pillow counterclockwise 1/2 turn, then clockwise 2 turns" etc. Finally 7am came, and I got ready, then drove to the airport. The weather turned out to be great (stupidly hot, but clear skies), so that was one less thing to worry about.

The candidate was already at the airport, checking weather, double-checking his weight and balance for the aircraft, and generally fretting. I did my best to console him.

"Dude, I totally understand where you are coming from. Checkrides $%#@ing suck - I have to do them too, and I can empathize. I will give you a fair evaluation, and I have no intent to make this more traumatizing than need be."

"Thanks Sully, but you gotta remember there will be 2 guys from Transport Canada looking at me the whole time, and I don't know what their mindset is."

"Oh yeah. Now I'm stressed, thanks for that."

He smiled a little, so that was nice.

After a little while, the copilot showed up, and so did the 2 Transport Guys. I recognized one of them from a previous training course - he was a good guy during the course, so that was good to see. The other guy was a fresh inspector who was attending this session to get up to speed on how monitored checkrides worked, and I introduced myself.

"Hi, I'm Sully. Nice to meet you, let's see if we can't survive this process."
He smiled.
"Hi Sully, I'm Inspector #2. I used to be in Transport Canada Enforcement, and I don't recognize your name so I guess that's a good thing. Oh, it says that the company you work for has just been assigned to me - I'm your new Principal Inspector, so I guess I'll be seeing you again when I audit you next month."
"Audit? Next month? Ack!"

So the new inspector was a guy I'd be dealing with soon when my own operation was on the line. I crossed my fingers and silently pleaded with my various deities to not let me have a meltdown during the ride, which would not bode well for future interactions with this fellow. At least I was wearing pants, so I was hoping I made a decent first impression.

I handed the inspectors their shiny binders full of relevant information, and the 5 of us (2 Inspectors, the candidate Captain and his First Officer) sat down to chat for a bit.

Here's the cheat sheet I made up for this briefing, so that I wouldn't forget to cover all the important (ie required) points:


Company Check Pilot Briefing Guide

• Introductions

• How are you doing? Did you sleep okay? Are you feeling well?

• We are here today to renew your PPC/IFR. Once we are done the ground part, the flight should take about an hour and a half, depending on the mood of ATC. I imagine you are a bit nervous, but don’t be, this is going to be a walk in the park. The standards are no tougher than the ones you have already shown you can meet. The training you have been doing for the past few days is likely a lot more difficult than this ride, and it will probably be anticlimactic for you.

• In training you had multiple failures, one after the other. During the ride we will NOT have multiple unrelated failures, and we can go at a much slower pace. I will tell you if/when simulated equipment failures will arise. If some equipment stops working in real life, we will assess the situation and will either continue on with the ride or end the ride and return to a safe airport.

• During the ride, avoid the temptation to rush. If you find yourself feeling rushed during any part of the ride, ask for vectors or a hold to give you as much time as you need before moving on to the next phase.

• From time to time you may notice that I’m writing things down during the ride. My writing things down does NOT mean that you have screwed anything up; I could be writing good things as well as things to bring up during debriefing, or just simply writing down questions about the aircraft – I have only flown in a PC-12 once, so I might have some additional questions at the end of the flight just to satisfy my curiosity.

• During the ride you may think you have messed something up. As long as the ride is still going, the ride is still going, so try to put any perceived errors out of your mind and move on to the next phase.

• When we get to the plane assume it’s the first flight of the day, which means a black cockpit. Also, assume the weather is at IFR minimums, and you can expect the weather to be at or below minimums for the approaches being conducted. When you get to the DH or the MAP, I’ll tell you if you see the runway. If you see the runway, then land! Otherwise, conduct a missed approach.

• Now onto the ride sequences: As you are no doubt familiar, we have to demonstrate some required items, which we will quickly go over. We need to see a normal takeoff, a rejected takeoff, a hold, 2 approaches (one precision and one non-precision), at least 2 engine failures, and at least 2 landings. With your Ops Spec we will also need to see (circling) and a GPS approach, along with demonstrated single-pilot authority as well as multi-crew Captain authority. We will also have a few abnormal situations come up and will expect you to deal with them just like how you would in real life.

• During the ride, you will be evaluated in accordance with the Pilot Proficiency Check and Aircraft Type Rating Flight Test Guide (Aeroplane) TP 14727. Are you familiar with the standards? (heading, altitude tolerances etc)(If candidate is not, then provide candidate a copy of the flight test guide and allow candidate to become familiar with the standards)

• Fill out paperwork, consulting laminated “PRIOR TO CONDUCTING A FLIGHT TEST” card

• Do you have any questions so far?

• We will try to keep the ride as realistic as possible. The PF is generally expected to initiate the response to an emergency, but there are 2 crew on this ride, so help each other out as you would on a normal flight in real life. We want to see you work as a team, and operate according to ATC clearances, your company SOP’s, the AFM, the CARs, your emergency checklists and any and all other applicable publications. With 2 crew rides, this means that both crew’s licenses and qualifications are being evaluated, and a serious mistake on a ride could possibly affect the licences and qualifications of both crewmembers. You can use the automation in the airplane just as you would in real life, so don’t hesitate to use the autopilot when applicable to make your life easier.

• During the ride I may give you some instructions and ask you to relay them to ATC. If one of my instructions conflicts with a real ATC clearance, please follow the real ATC clearance but let me know. I will not attempt to trick you, and I will not intentionally give an illegal or bad instruction. That being said, you are responsible for any instructions and clearances that you choose to accept. Any situation caused by an incorrect action or response will not be corrected by me unless it affects the safety of flight.

• If you have any questions about anything, feel free to ask. During the ride, if you have any questions about a clearance, a ride sequence, or want to clarify anything I have said that might be confusing, please ask.

• I know it’s easy to say, but do your best to relax, and take your time.

• Any final questions before we head into the plane?


• This was a pass / fail, and I have a few items I’d like to go over before we are done here.
• How do you think you did (don’t let candidate only focus on errors, also highlight positive things)
• I think overall you did very well, especially (highlight above-average performance)
• Identify major / minor errors, attempt to advise not criticize
• Do you have any questions before I sign your licence?

If Pass: - Endorse Licence or issue temp licence privileges
- Complete Application for Endorsement

If Fail: - advise reasons for fail
- advise regarding re-test
- advise right to appeal to TATC
- suspend IFR rating


You may notice that I never mention the word "failure" during my little speech. That's on purpose. I figure it's a scary enough experience for the candidate and it would just add to the stress level - everyone who has done a checkride is acutely aware that it's possible to fail one, so why emphasize that?

After I gave my speech, we talked about the airplane for a while, with me asking various technical questions (detailed a little in my previous checkride post) and the Captain answering them. He got them all right, and on the ones he didn't have memorized, he knew exactly where to look for the answers (ie, the aircraft flight manual, or the CAP Gen section, or his company Operations manual etc).

Having satisfied our requirement to conduct a ground briefing, we then headed to the airplane. The Inspectors sat behind me and wired themselves into the audio system so they could hear the crew and Air Traffic Control. They had copies of my planned ride script, so they knew in advance what emergencies I was going to introduce on the ride. I wedged myself in between the Captain and Copilot, plugged myself into the intercom and watched as they fired up and taxiied out toward an active runway at Toronto Pearson.

I watched as they followed their checklist, and as the Captain carefully taxiied down the exact middle of the taxiways. The crew had flown together before, and they were clearly comfortable with each other, so that made the checklists flow quickly and easily.

I de-wedged myself from the cockpit and took a passenger seat for the takeoff, then went back up front to observe. We flew toward Hamilton and found a nice clear patch of sky to get our steep turns out of the way. The candidate did just fine, so we got a clearance to hold at a navigation beacon right by Hamilton. Again, the candidate did just fine. After the hold, we set up for a GPS approach to a runway, circling for a different runway. No problems there at all, the candidate circled and set himself up for a nice landing. I had other plans though - when we were 50' in the air about to land, I told him that a moose had strayed onto the runway, so the candidate did a low-energy goaround, (a mandatory requirement since an Air Canada crash in Fredericton a few years ago). He was smooth, calm and collected, and we climbed skyward. I then asked him to do a visual circuit for the original runway, and when we were downwind for landing, I asked him to simulate an engine failure. This is the part I was most curious about, and it turns out the PC-12 can glide a pretty great distance with a failed engine, so that was cool. On a single-engine ride it's not a mandatory requirement to be able to glide to a runway after an engine failure - the candidate just needs to be able to demonstrate the proper emergency drills and maintain control of the aircraft to touchdown - but in this case we had more than enough altitude to set up for a gliding arrival onto the runway in Hamilton. That was all the multi-crew stuff done, so I told him that the First Officer had eaten some bad salmon for lunch, and the Captain was on his own for the final leg back from Hamilton to Toronto. No sweat, he did all the checklists by himself and we blasted off from Hamilton back home.

This is the part that got a little interesting.

We were about 10 minutes from Toronto when ATC came on the radio and said "Trainer 1, Pearson is closed due to an aircraft emergency. Say your intentions." I pointed at the f/o and did the finger across the throat sign, indicating that he was to remain silent and let the Captain figure all this out - this sort of thing could conceivably happen when the Captain was flying single-pilot and it would provide me an unexpected but good source of additional information to help evaluate the Captain in the performance of his duties.

The Captain did all the right stuff - he knew that the weather was good so we could land at a few different airports if need be, but he still had a mission to accomplish (get us back to Pearson safe and sound), so he didn't want to give up just yet. He confirmed that we still had a couple of hours of gas in the tanks (a PC-12 with full tanks can go for about 7 bladderbusting hours if need be), so he asked for ATC to let us hold while they dealt with the aircraft mayday at Toronto. They gave him a hold clearance, and we headed toward the navigation fix, which happened to be out over Lake Ontario. He also climbed up so that we could glide to the shore in the unlikely event the engine failed during the hold, and that told me he had good situational awareness - he was able to think outside the box a little, and not just follow checklists, which is a sign of a good Captain. We did a few laps around the lake before ATC told us that the emergency had been dealt with. Once that was all good, we set up for an uneventful single-pilot ILS back into Toronto.

The Captain landed, taxiied back to our base and shut down, taking care not to knock the wingtip against the hangar door (people have actually passed a checkride only to fail at the very last minute by screwing up the aircraft parking and smoking a solid object with a wing). I told him he had passed the ride, and we all went inside to debrief.

The debriefing was uneventful - the Captain's performance was damn near flawless, so I really didn't have much to say. The Transport guys were also satisfied that he knew what he was doing, and that I knew what I was doing when I said that in my opinion that he knew what he was doing. I did the final bit of paperwork, the Captain got his license signed off, we shook hands, and that was that.

My new Principal Inspector seemed happy, so hopefully he at least won't be predisposed to put me in federal prison when my company audit comes up at the end of August. Hopefully.

Finally, here's a copy of the evaluation that I got from the Transport Canada Inspector who watched me. The marking scale is interesting - a mark of 3 indicated that I met the standard, while a mark of 4 indicates that I exceeded the standard in that particular field. I was happy with what I got - the only comment from TC was that I could have asked more questions during the ground briefing, so under "Scope of Flight Check" I got a bunch of 3's with extra bonus points for going above and beyond.

You'll see that the notes section says that the checkride was for the addition of SMEL, which means that now I can conduct PPC/IFR checkrides on just about any non-jet aircraft, and also conduct checkrides in the actual airplane rather than just in the simulator. This expands my authority, and will hopefully allow me to conduct a few more checkrides between now and this time next year, when my ACP renewal comes up again. I don't do it for the money, but I actually really enjoy the experience, and it's an interesting way to meet new people and see how other pilots fly.

Damn this was a long-winded post, but I hope I was able to peel the curtain back a little bit and give you a slightly better understanding of what goes on during a checkride from the perspective of the person doing the checking. Safe flights!

ps The emergency at Pearson turned out to be an aircraft that had an unsafe landing gear indication, but was eventually able to fix the problem and land uneventfully. We were only delayed about 15 minutes, so no huge deal.


mR said...

Really interesting post! Check rides are always stressful, but I've always looked at them from the point of the candidate (me) and not from that of the inspector. And when you have a guy watching a guy watching guy watching a guy, well, you said it. No pressure right! ;)

Cam MacLeod said...

Fantastic post, loved to read that and learn about the experience.

One question: can you define "black cockpit" ? I can't find anything that confirms my guess on a search so far.

Looking forward to future posts, even long ones!

Sulako said...

A black cockpit means that nothing has been fired up yet that day, so all the initial checks are required. We have a pre-start checklist for the first flight of the day and we have a checklist for all subsequent flights that day - the first flight of the day has a substantially longer checklist to follow, as we test every single one of our systems and subsystems, while we only test critical systems during our pre-flight checks on subsequent legs. Basically I'm asking the candidate to do the full meal deal and show me every little thing.

crazyscot said...

Fascinating post, many thanks - and congratulations, too :)

Aaron Martin said...

I know how much time and effort it takes to write these posts, and I have been following your blog for a long time, so I just want to say thanks for putting all the effort in, and keep it up!
Your posts are very interesting reading, and your up-beat positive attitude to all things is a nice change after all the negative (aviation and otherwise) blogs out there.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful account to someone who has no flying time and loves your writing. I had sweaty palms just readng it. Your positive approach and kindness all make this account more valuable to a casual reader. Good luck with the audit.