In February, I completed my CFI practical exam with Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) Mike DeRuggiero. It was a thorough and complete check ride. The oral was nearly 6 hours and then a 2 hour flight. At the end, Mike said that my performance was above average and he thought I’d make an excellent instructor. It was nice to hear, particularly considering I’m not nearly as proficient as I once was. Getting back to a decent level of proficiency after a gap of many years is a challenge. In fact, I will likely never reach the proficiency I had in 2007, but I digress.
Immediately following the CFI, I put my sights on the CFI-I. Unfortunately, I was very tied up with work, and running out of GI Bill funds to allocate to the process. Between the February CFI Practical, and the July 30th CFI-I Practical – I only logged 4 flights in an actual plane. Three of these were in the Piper Archer. Originally, I was scheduled to take the CFI-I Practical in early June, but then the Archer went down for maintenance. I rescheduled for later in June only to find out the Archer would still be out of service. My back up plane, the Piper Arrow, was also down for maintenance. I rescheduled for July 30th. Surely, one of these two planes would be back up after two months? Regrettably, neither were. I was left with a choice, either cancel the check ride for the third time, or take the check ride in a plane I hadn’t flown recently. I opted for the latter. They had a 2002 C172S available for the day of the check ride, and I was able to log one preparatory flight the day before the practical exam. I was quite worried about this. Sure, I’ve flown a Cessna, and yes they fly at the speed of smell, but going into a check ride of any type with unfamiliar equipment is not a recipe for success. Further compounding this was the GPS, a KLN 94. I had never flown behind a KLN 94. The Garmin 430 is frustrating enough from time to time, and I wasn’t eager to learn a new system.
Luckily, the KLN 94 is fairly straight forward. In fact, I would say that its user interface is more logical and straight forward than the 430, even if the unit as a whole is slightly less capable. In the end, I wound up doing the practical in with an airplane that I had flown twice in the past 12 months, and after a nearly 7 week break from flying. Because of this, I was more nervous about the check ride than I would normally be. In the end, the nerves were unfounded. The check ride went smoothly.
The oral portion of the exam lasted between two and three hours. I lost track of exactly when we ended as I needed to get lunch, preflight, and have the plane fueled. As expected the oral exam with Mike was by the book. Many CFI’s avoid Mike DeRuggiero as a DPE. He has a reputation as giving very long and tough oral exams and being a generally tough and intimidating examiner. Mike is certainly by the book, and he should be. But he is by no means unfair or unpleasant, and he certainly doesn’t play games. Quite the opposite in fact. I find Mike to be polite and knowledgable. I have walked away from both check rides having learned, and that is an important point. Even during the exam, Mike is eager and willing to share his knowledge.
The oral exam followed the PTS rather dutifully. He quizzed me on endorsements and regulations including requirements for the instrument rating. He had me prepare for a student undergoing an Instrument Proficiency Check. As I knew this was a scenario ahead of the check ride, I created a course on my Moodle instance at cfi.papalimabravo.com that provided direction and materials for a pilot under going an IPC. Part of this material included a survey on the pilot’s aeronautical history. The week before the practical I sent Mike a note telling him I had created an account for his pretend IPC student, and that I would ask any pilot flying with me to complete the survey on their aeronautical history so that I could tailor the IPC accordingly. Mike followed suit. He logged in and completed the survey. With this information I designed a course of instruction that included preparatory work, ground work, and the route of flight. I made sure that the tasks outlined in this contained the minimum IPC requirements from the new ACS.
This is a good point to emphasis the obvious but seemingly often overlooked. The CFI and CFI-I practical exams are less about how well you can fly and much more about how well you can teach. Confidence, good instructional technique, well prepared materials, and a positive professional attitude will go a long way towards success. If you are a pilot preparing for your CFI practical – do not neglect the teaching part of training. It is by far the most important skill the examiner is assessing. Ultimately the examiner is determining if you can safely teach others.
Topics covered during the oral exam included, the vacuum system, pitot static systems, ATP instruction considerations for a CFI-I, and a detailed discussion of VOR tracking. The VOR tracking included discussions on holding entries and techniques as well as how to instruct brand new students on VOR tracking. It also touched on localizer tracking and localizer reverse sensing and how this compared to VOR tracking. The operation of VOR ground stations and aircraft VOR equipment were also examined. We covered GPS components, IFR approaches, and charts. Mike simulated that he was the pilot doing the IPC and demonstrated to me how he would plan for the flight I had assigned. Mike used Foreflight for this demonstration, and for the most part the pretend-IPC-pilot hit all the major planning considerations. However, his planning order was a bit convoluted. He started by charting his course, and then looking at weather and adjusting from there. My critique of this was that weather should be the first consideration, as it will affect your decision as to whether or not the flight and route is even viable. After weather, I would generally look at NOTAMs. NOTAMs could also greatly affect the route selection. Approach facilities could be out of service, or minimums could be temporarily raised (the second was true for the intended route of flight and naturally I had done my homework and knew this beforehand.) I left my critique there. Sure, I could go into every detail – but the simulated pilot clearly knew most of it, he just needed to re-cage his process. Mike seemed very happy with this response. You do not need to show the examiner you know everything – again he is testing your ability to teach as much, if not more, than your knowledge. A new student will be hindered by overly long or complex explanations.
When the oral exam was complete, I told Mike I would need to get lunch before we flew. I hadn’t had breakfast and with the early morning, I knew I’d need some calories. I ran out to grab a quick bite and then did the pre-flight. We discussed the flight portion in detail before going out to the plane. As the route we would fly was not what I had planned for the pretend IPC, I asked Mike for some time to study the charts and do my pre-flight planning. He gave me all the time for lunch and planning that I needed. The pretend IPC I had planned was based off a recommendation from Jason Cobb. It started with the ILS 26 at KMRB and proceeded to the VOR A at KOKV and ended with the RNAV RWY 5 at KFDK. However, Mike wanted to take off from KFDK, perform the unusual attitudes, and proceed to the RNAV RWY 16 at KDMW as a coupled approach. We’d then do a circle to land and proceed direct to EMI for the VOR RWY 34. This would likely be partial panel and end with a missed approach back to EMI and hold. Following the hold at EMI we’d return to KFDK for the ILS 23.
The actual flight was spot on to our flight plan. There were only a few changes. He flew the initial take off as an instrument take off under the goggles and had me critique him. No critique was necessary. He flew the instrument takeoff as well as most people perform a VFR takeoff. We then setup for unusual attitudes and he had me take the foggles and he put me in an unusual attitude. No sweat here. Then the coupled approach. I was a bit worried about this. After all, I had exactly one flight behind this GPS, and this autopilot. If it didn’t work the way I wanted, my ability to troubleshoot would be limited. The procedure turn entry to the RNAV 16 at KDMW is a holding entry. I set the GPS up for the approach as well as the autopilot, but neither the GPS nor the autopilot grabbed the holding entry leg. Shit! Just what I was afraid of. Well, there was nothing for it, so I pointed out that it hadn’t picked it up properly and switched to heading mode. I used the heading bug to enter the hold. When established on the proper final approach course I reselected the leg in the GPS and it finally armed with the autopilot and flew the approach. I was a bit sloppy with my power settings through the approach. Circle to land was easy and we broke off before even turning base. Then it was straight ahead to EMI for another holding entry for the VOR approach to KDMW. This was, as foretold, a partial panel approach. Again, easy day. In a slow stable platform like the Cessna, partial panel isn’t tough. I was, however, sloppy on my power settings again. Missed approach back to KFDK for the ILS. KFDK was busy. There was a lot of traffic and Mike was great at this point making sure we each knew what the other was doing and de-conflicting VFR traffic with tower. This is an area where things can get very messy, particularly in training, without clearly defined roles and good communication. The ILS approach I did was without a doubt my strongest procedure of the day. I had that localizer and the glide slope absolutely pinned dead center all the way down to minimums with a substantial crab for a 90 degree crosswind. It was a great note to end on. After landing, all that really remained was the paperwork. Mike did show me around his Grumman Cougar he flew out to the checkride. It was in great condition, and I’m excited that I’ll be doing my multi-engine add on in the same model starting next month.