So, you want to come along on an FAA check-ride? If you’re a seasoned aviation pro, you probably ran away before reaching the end of this sentence. But, if you do continue to read, please remember this blog was started mainly for family, friends, and up-and-coming aviation students. It is intentionally drafted for folks with little or no airline piloting experience. While the mere mention of the words “FAA check-ride” may trigger a cold sweat, please remember that most people have never had such a pleasure.
Fortunately, the same kind gentleman who administered the oral exam was conducting the flight portion of our check-ride. Did I mention I liked the guy? It was obvious he wanted us to succeed. There would be no nasty tricks or surprises. That would make for a much easier day in the big box.
The check-ride started in a briefing room of the Airbus Training Facility. The first item of business was to test whether we knew our pre-flight walk-around. (One of the pilots must do a walk-around the aircraft before every flight.) Instead of walking around an actual Airbus A320, the FAA allows the examiner to test with photos of the aircraft. He showed a photo and asked a series of questions. For some, he just wanted to know if I recognized the item. Others involved more in-depth questions. Satisfied with my knowledge, we left the room and made our way to the simulator bays.
During the six simulator sessions, the instructor was there to teach. If we had any questions, we could always turn around and ask. But, participants cannot ask questions during the test. Once the check-ride begins, the evaluator assumes many roles in the back of the simulator. He becomes an air traffic controller, mechanic, tug operator, company dispatcher, and lead flight attendant. We can only contact him the same way we would in the actual airplane. If we contact him on the intercom, he assumes the role as tug operator. If we dial in the tower and key the radio, he becomes a tower controller. If we turn to talk to him, he becomes the lead flight attendant. (So, we could turn and ask him questions… but, most flight attendants don’t have the answers to problems we were about to face!) The evaluator plays the roles well, but, it does have some limitations. In the real world, the lead flight attendant could be talking to the captain while air traffic control was speaking to the first officer. Evaluators don’t usually find it too funny if both pilots simultaneously try to engage him/her in two different roles.
The check-ride began in a dark, un-powered airplane at a gate at the JFK airport in New York. We finished all the pre-flight items, ran all the check-lists, and called the ramp controller for push. Upon push-back, we received clearance to start both of our engines. The first engine did not accelerate to the proper idle speed. We followed the “hung start” procedure and successfully restarted the engine. The second engine started without any issues.
We received clearance to taxi in low visibility to runway 13L at JFK. The takeoff was normal with a climb to 5,000 feet. Once there, I performed a few “unusual attitude” recoveries. Then, the Air Traffic Controller (examiner) tested my knowledge of the navigational computer by assigning a different flight route. Once I was established on the new route, the examiner re-cleared us back to JFK airport for approaches.
We were sent direct to Deer Park and cleared for the RNAV (GPS) 22L approach into JFK. After descending below the clouds, the controller instructed us to “go-around” and fly the published “missed approach” profile.
From there, we received vectors (headings) to come back around for the ILS approach for 22L. Again, below the clouds, we were instructed to go-around.
Back at altitude, the evaluator stated we would make an approach to runway 4R at JFK. It was an ILS approach with the glide-inoperative. We intercepted the localizer, tracked it in-bound to the runway, and began our own descent to the non-precision decision altitude.
At the end of this approach, we were still in the clouds. So, we executed a go-around without being instructed. As soon we began to climb, the aircraft started to bang, rattle, and attempt to roll. An engine failed. Not our day.
All indications pointed to severe engine damage. We continued the climb, leveled, and finished the appropriate procedures. But, we did not attempt to re-start the engine. The evaluator vectored us back for an ILS to 31R at JFK.
Now, in the “real world,” we would use the automation to the maximum extent during such an emergency. However, in training, the FAA requires the single-engine ILS approach to be hand-flown. So, once lined up on the final approach course, I clicked off the autopilot. I followed the localizer and glide-slope indications down towards the runway. At 200 feet, the runway was in sight. This time, we were permitted to land.
Once on the ground, the evaluator declared “new airplane, new day” and re-started the failed engine. He then instructed us to taxi to the end of the runway and perform a 180 degree turn.
The visibility was lowered and we were re-cleared for takeoff. Somewhere around 120 knots, that darn engine failed again. Since the speed was below V1, I announced “REJECT!”, pulled the thrust levers to full-reverse, and kept the aircraft going straight as the auto-brakes slowed us. In this scenario, the passengers and flight attendants were advised to remain seated while fire and rescue personnel inspected the aircraft.
The engine was restored and we were warped back to the end of runway. Cleared for takeoff (again), we started to roll down the runway. This time, just after my partner called V1, an engine quit. (We really need someone to check the reliability of these engines!) We lifted off and completed the V1-cut profile and engine-failure check-lists. This time, we were able to re-light the engine to return for a two engine approach.
The weather at JFK suddenly lifted and it miraculously became a nice clear day. That was the good news. The bad news was that our flaps and slats became jammed. The runways at JFK were plenty long enough for the situation, even though we needed to add 60 knots to our approach speed. We successfully demonstrated we could handle this very fast approach and landing.
Once on the ground, we brought the aircraft back to the gate.
My partner’s declaration of “parking check-list complete” was followed by some congratulatory words from the evaluator. He was satisfied with my performance.
The bulk of my responsibilities were complete. However, over the next two days, we still had a few things to accomplish. The next day, my partner successfully completed his check-ride as I performed the duties of the non-flying pilot. On the final day, we completed a LOFT (Line Oriented Flight Training) which is like a “real flight” but still in the simulator. After so many malfunctions and training scenarios, the FAA wants to make sure newly certified pilots know how to conduct normal, real-time, gate-to-gate flights.
After the LOFT, we said our goodbyes to our instructor and walked out of the training center. We drove straight to the Ft. Lauderdale airport, returned the car, and found the first flights back to our home cities. We had been gone for almost two weeks. We succeeded in Miami and it was time to go home.
So, what’s next? My first few trips will be my Initial Operating Experience (IOE). The airline will pair me with a training captain to complete the IOE trips. The training captains ensure the new pilot is capable of operating in the airline’s environment. They are actual passenger flights, but still considered training. It makes for a nice transition between simulator training and actual operations.
The IOE trips had yet to be scheduled. No problem. It was definitely time to catch up with the family. When I walked through the door, the kids jumped all over me. That always makes for a very easy transition: goodbye pilot, hello dad. It was nice to be home.