CFI Practical Exam Notes

Oral Exam on Feb 2, 2017. Discontinuance after completing the oral exam due to DPE schedule conflict. Flight completed and certificate issued on Feb 19, 2017.

Summary: The DPE was decisively and repeatedly more interested in how things related to teaching than my knowledge of a subject. Basic guidance – consider every topic from that of a teacher and evaluator. He assumes you know the information. Can you convey it?

Ultimately he said I performed above average and seemed happiest not when I knew something, but rather when I was able to relate topics to a scenario, real world experience, or teachable moment. I cannot overemphasize the importance of teaching in every part of the oral exam. Further, in the flight portion I would also submit that he was more concerned with teaching than PTS performance. In fact, I would almost go as far to say as making mistakes is almost more forgivable during this practical than others provided that you; turn the mistake into a teachable moment (demonstrate why you made the error and how to correct it) and that the mistake is not a safety of flight issue.

Oral Exam:

(5.5 hours plus some time for paperwork)

General Notes:

  • My Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) was Mike DeRuggiero. Mike is both a helicopter and airplane pilot, and a senior pilot with the Maryland State Troopers. If you Google him, you’ll see a couple disgruntled posts by students, who I can only guess, didn’t pass. Additionally, I have heard some bad rumors from some CFIs about Mike. However, I found Mike to be polite, enjoyable, insightful and positive. In short he was everything you should expect from a professional DPE. Other than being a nerve racking experience I thought he did an excellent job. No tricks. No games. When my nerves were calm it was even enjoyable conversation. I would also add that Mike did give me some pointers of how to do a few things better. In fact, his instructions on doing a lazy-eight were the simplest and best I’ve received.
  • Starting off he asked me to describe my process for performing a BFR. I showed him my website ( that details my BFR process to include the aeronautical history and then walked through my concerns and how I would design the Flight Review. He had no questions and seemed very happy with my approach.
  • Teaching and finding the information were far more important than knowing the answer.
  • Speaking confidently, dressing appropriately, and presenting yourself well will, in my opinion, help with your DPEs.
  • From some of the comments he made I do however suspect that the younger a CFI applicant is – the harder he may be on While I don’t think I experienced it, I could possibly see that he could pull a thread pretty hard and far if you are either 1) unprepared, or perhaps more importantly 2) prepared but not confident. My general feeling with Mike was that confidence and attitude will take you a long way.
  • He is a fan of technology. You will not be dinged for showing videos, having homework assignments, or online lesson plans. Quite the contrary. I believe any DPE will appreciate all of this and I would recommend it. In total, you’ll probably score higher having a thorough understanding of how to use electronic media than you will with everything in a binder. The simple fact is that the world is moving towards digital media, and there are a variety of digital educational tools that are very effective.

Fundamentals of Instruction: No real surprises here. He asked about the laws of learning – with special repeated emphasis throughout on primacy. Specifically, that it’s not the first thing presented but rather the first thing learned / first thing remembered. He repeatedly tied this to the importance of teaching things properly the first time. The example he used is a CFI teaching students to push the nose down for stall recovery. He said they should be taught to reduce the angle of attack. We covered instructor responsibilities in detail. No surprises. He likes the 5 P model – so know that.

Runway Incursion Avoidance: He placed a fair amount of emphasis on the PHAK Appendix 1: Runway Incursion Avoidance. Specifically a table in there that details the various light configurations. Be sure to speak about Hotspots. What they are and why they exists. I started with a new pilot in the plane and described the challenges working my way out. Starting with the controls internal to the plane – outwards to the wings sticking out and eventually to airport configuration and communication. He was very happy with this approach. He did have me take an online runway marking quiz. A little googling found it to be the following quiz:

I got 10 out of 10 correct and he was very happy.

Logbook Entries and Certificates: We spent a lot of time here. We talked about the requirements for each stage of training from student to solo to XC solo to private pilot and went through each endorsement. Then he presented me with the scenario “A Commercial Helicopter pilot with 0 hrs in an airplane comes to you to get an airplane add-on” What are the requirements. I didn’t know the answer rote, but I was able to reference the FAR and determine the answer in detail. He gave me time to do this and was happy that I did NOT give a cursory answer and that I fully detailed the requirements. He said afterwards that he would have no expectation for me to know that answer off hand but that I should be able to thoroughly determine the requirements.

Several topics combined into one: We also covered airworthiness requirements, certificates and documents, weather information, and operation of systems. These were interwoven among several other topics and were mostly teaching or scenario based. For the airworthiness requirements he was big on the MEL and the process associated with that. Definitely a weak area for me, but he was unconcerned. He said it is one of the areas most candidates are weak in. Operation of systems was straightforward. Talk to me about the engine (I just bought an engine… so there was nothing he could catch me on) We spent time on the constant speed prop. He liked analogies. Jason’s analogy about the transmission went over well. He wanted me to explain how and why the constant speed prop works. Then I had to explain how the hydraulic landing gear system on the arrow works. While on the topic of systems we bled into the POH. This was a hot topic for him You’ll definitely score points by knowing what each section has in it (without reference – but you won’t be dinged hard if you don’t) Specifically the relationship between limitations and other sections. For example if it has a GPS – that may require a Quick Reference guide per section 9. Thus the airplane is not airworthy without it. Regardless more emphasis than I expected on this book. Read the opening paragraph of section 2. Know section 9. Know what is a limitation and what is not (not rote just limitations in general). On the topic of airworthiness – this was somewhat unexpected. He had me not teach, but rather simply assess a student pilot who is ready for endorsement for his private pilot practical based on a task out of the ACS. I used the scenario of you have equipment out necessitating a special flight permit. He liked it – but in all honesty I could have done a better job shaping the scenario. I would practice doing a couple lessons that aren’t lessons, but pure assessment.

Maneuver Lesson: Finally we ended with teaching the lesson on the Power Off 180 Accuracy Landing. This was probably the strongest single event. I nailed the topic and he gave multiple compliments. Key things I did well: 1) I asked him, the student, tons of questions and made him explain things as I went along. 2) I wrote out checklists of standards and common errors, but I didn’t cover them as a list – I covered them throughout the course of the lesson and checked them off as I went. He really liked this as well. In fact I was able to check off half the errors based off of the answers he gave me to the scenarios I proposed to him as the student. Bottom line. The lesson was absolutely all about teaching. No need to be super complicated, but practice good teaching skills. I also added in some background on how and why we do the pattern differently in the military (box vs oval pattern) and the strengths and weaknesses of each. He also was very happy with this addition. I ended the lesson by laying out my expectations of the student in performing the maneuver.


(1.8 hours Flight, 1 hour Ground)

Manuals: He was big on teaching students how to find the correct logs – not enabling via tabs. Teach students what they should find and how they should find it. Details like starting at the back of the log. Otherwise his review of performance, notams, weather, and weight and balance were cursory at best. Make sure you do full fuel and zero fuel calculations. Additionally, make sure your POH contains any ancillary documentation required such as that required for the GPS.

Pre-flight: He gave me the scenario of what would I expect to teach when instructing a new complex pilot. Also, was concerned with the safety of pre-flight. Should I pre-flight separately if teaching pre-flight for the first time? Yes.

What things should I always check even with a competent student (fuel, oil, general condition). When should pre-flight begin – when you are walking to the plane from far away. What lights should you have on? Again refer to the Appendix 1 – runway incursion table referenced earlier, however – all the lights is also a pretty acceptable answer. (Lets be honest – you’re not blinding anyone with the candle- powered landing lights in these aircraft) Primacy in relation to flight training came up yet again.

 Flight execution (in order):

  • Taxi for takeoff – How to teach a new student to steer with the rudder
  • Ground safety – Cursory review of hotspots and collision
  • Short field T/O. He will call when clear of any (Basically when to transition from Vx to Vy)
  • Enroute to practice area – explain VFR visual references for straight and level /
  • Slow flight – demonstrate and relate to pattern work.
  • Power off & power on stalls – No surprises.
  • Demonstrate a secondary stall. Only to stall First indication.
  • Steep turns demonstration. Talk through common
  • Evaluate his steep turns. He performed his extremely There was very little to say or critique and so I did just that. He was happy that I didn’t try to make stuff up or over teach. iI it was a good maneuver – its a good maneuver – don’t over complicate it.
  • Lazy eights – he doesn’t like the whole 45 90 135 180 He says trace the nose high and then low in a figure eight. Forget the checkpoint besides hitting your nose high and bank references outside the cockpit. I completely agree – and actually improved my own lazy eight considerably using his technique. The lazy eight is basically a very mild wingover. We’re probably overly emphasizing these checkpoints. Yes it’s in the manual – but there is a feel and pattern outside the cockpit that doesn’t correlate well to learners.
  • Modified steep spiral to emergency landing. He’d prefer you do these to the student’s side (turn left). Otherwise he was happy with my approach and I was able to hit my
  • Turns around a point immediately into eights on pylons. He mentioned over and over again – don’t get caught up on the perfect two Don’t worry about the second pylon until you find the first pylon. Much more important to find the wind – get altitude and speed correct. My eights on pylons were flawless – best I’ve done.
  • Back to the field – enroute – describe magnetic compass variations and how to deal with them
  • At the field short field landing followed by soft field takeoff to power off 180. I had to do a go-around on my first DO NOT press a bad or poor landing. DO NOT fear going around. They are free and he’ll be happy to see it as he was mine. All landings and takeoffs went well after that. I was a little right of centerline on the short field landing.
  • Back to the ramp. One question about post-flight and inside to sign the

About Peter

Marine, Husband, Beer Drinker, Engineer, helicopter pilot and Certified Flight Instructor. (Airplane - CFI, CFII, MEI) Owner of the world's coolest Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

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