March 2, 2007


By Ambats, Jessica


According to Cirrus, the all-gloss panels in their planes make learning to fly easier and safer than with the round gauges that pilots have used since almost the beginning of aviation rime. We weren't so sure, so we put their claims to the test. I was to earn my privatepilot license in a Cirrus SR22. -Plane & Pilot, November 2006

"Do I detect checkride-itis?" read an e-mail I received from Patty Wagstaff in response to several Cirrus-related questions I'd sent her. As much as I hated to admit it, I was stricken. With my private-pilot checkride only days away, panic increased as studying intensified. In Class G airspace during daytime, one statute mile of visibility and clear of clouds; wait 24 hours after a scuba dive before flying above 8,000 feet; TOMATO FLAMES; squawk 7600 in the event of radio failure; and don't forget to do clearing turns before maneuvers. The more I studied, the more there was to learn.

My instructor, Liz DeStaffany, of Justice Aviation (www.justice in Santa Monica, Calif., didn't seem as nervous. "You'll do just fine," she remarked. It was a statement I would hear numerous times from other pilots as well. Easy for them to say, or did they know something about the PPL checkride that 1 didn't?

The Cirrus SR22 training guide seemed to grow with each turn of a page and, for a split second, I yearned for a 172. Would my examiner be harder on me because of the high performance (310 hp) and Avidyne Entegra glass panel? Would I get stumped on a question regarding carburetor heat, something I had little experience with?

But regardless of aircraft, a checkride is a checkride. And as Liz put it, "everyone freaks out for a checkride."


The FAA's Practical Test Standards (PTS) became my best friend (and worst enemy) during checkride preparation. It outlines the materials that examiners will test and the parameters students must follow.

Liz and I practiced the required maneuvers, all of which the Cirrus handles nicely. Even at 60 knots-much Caster than a 172-slow flight was easy. Stalls were a nonevent: I waited for a drop but only received a slight buffet. It did take some practice to hold altitude in steep turns-apply lots of back pressure!

The congested Los Angeles Basin is a good training arena for understanding airspace and all of the associated regulations. On one solo flight, I departed from Hawthorne Airport for the "mini route," a VFR corridor at 2,500 feet through the LAX Bravo airspace. Because of the proximity, Liz had cautioned that climbing box turns might be needed to reach 2,500 feet in time for the corridor. However, the energetic Cirrus climbed like a rocket and we reached altitude without any turns, in time for the Bravo clearance.

Under the hood, the Avidyne glass panel seemed like a video game at first. But as the seriousness of flight took over, it became apparent that the system really does improve safety by providing incredible situational awareness regarding terrain, position and weather. And with the "six-pack" of instruments incorporated into the PFD display, pilots don't have to move their eyes too far while scanning.

The electronic situational awareness proved useful during night flight as well. In the glowing metropolitan area, it can be difficult to pick out airports-a task made easy with the MFD's moving map. Along with the "nearest" function on the Garmin 430 GPS unit, the moving map also helps when selecting an emergency landing spot. The LCD displays make for a very bright cockpit, so the screens need to be dimmed down quite a bit so as not to impair night vision.

I faced the bulk of my checkride "crunch" at home. In addition to the PTS, I reviewed the Cirrus SR22 training guide and POH-both made for manageable reading. FAR/AIM, however, is good bedtime material, no matter what time of day. 1 tabbed relevant pages for easy reference. This felt like overkill, but should I not remember something during the oral, I could show the examiner that I knew where to find the information. (Just as long as that didn't happen on every question!)

The King Schools Private Pilot Checkride Course DVD (www.kings was a helpful study tool. FAA designee J.C. Boylls takes John King through an oral exam and flight test, and although John isn't exactly a typical student, the DVD is a useful indicator of what to expect, from organizing paperwork to midflight diversions. A nonpilot friend watched it with me, and when I later grilled him on the PIS, he answered almost everything correctly.

For Cirrus-specific preparation, I relied on the Carmin 530/430 Interactive Guide DVD from VFLlTE ( Without any in- flight pressures, I reviewed the avionics at my own pace, making sure I could smoothly perform tasks such as entering a flight plan, finding airport information and creating user waypoints.

Everything was looking pretty good until two days before the checkride, when Liz and I flew a final review lesson. As a result of the last-minute jitters, my confidence had been replaced by a self- imposed magnifying glass that noticed every little detail where my flying could improve. I missed some radio calls, flew above pattern altitude and misinterpreted the winds. At the end of the day, it felt obvious to me that the checkride should be postponed.

"Good flying today. Don't stress out. I just get on students because I want to see absolute perfection, which is above and beyond what they actually look for on a private-pilot checkride," said Liz. "In fact, during my own checkride, 1 initially set up a pattern entry incorrectly!"

"Probably the best thing you can do the night before is to have a healthy dinner, get a little exercise, and have a good night's sleep," coached J.C. "Put the books away. If you don't know it by then, you won't, and cramming often just confuses things." And thus the night before the momentous day, I tried to think about anything but the checkride. Easier said than done, and 1 obsessed over each entry in the navigation log I'd prepared.

"You're probably a lot better prepared that you think," continued J.C. "One is always one's worst critic. Your instructor wants you to pass. In fact, the FAA tracks CFI's passes and failures, and that record can come back to haunt them at certificate renewal time." Liz, I hoped, was well aware of that fact.

The Big Day

My examiner, Glenn Barnum, appeared to be a nice man, with a coffee thermos and welcoming smile. Where was the stiff, intimidating FAA representative? As it turned out, my imaginary foe never appeared. Instead, Glenn's convivial attitude set the tone for the day's events.

The oral portion of the checkride felt more like a conversation than an exam, beginning with a break-the-ice chat and paperwork review. After looking at my cross-country plan (Glenn had given me 200 pounds of baggage; the SR22 baggage compartment, however, is limited to 130 pounds, so I divided it up, putting 100 pounds in the backseat), he asked questions ranging from symbols on the sectional to airspace restrictions and the aircraft's electrical system. Before I knew it, it was time to hop into the airplane.

We started with a short-field take offhold brakes, full power and lots of right rudder in the 310 hp SR22-and then began the cross- country flight. I used Avidyne's moving map (I had feared that my examiner might restrict my use of the glass panel, but instead he encouraged use of all available equipment), but made sure to keep a finger tracking our progress on the chart as well. When asked to divert, I used the Carmin G430 to fly direct to the new airport. "There's no way you can get lost in a Cirrus, is there?" Glenn smiled.

After slow flight, a stall, turns around a point, a steep turn, hood work and an engine-out landing (I was sure 1 had blown it when I changed my emergency spot midway through the maneuver upon realizing the winds on the ground were opposite from the winds displayed by the MFD's wind-direction indicator at altitude), Glenn asked for the controls. Unsure if that was a good or bad sign, 1 replied, "You have the plane." He flew circles above his new house, ostensibly to check on contractor work, but 1 think he may have just wanted a turn at flying the SR22!

The flight portion concluded with a short-field landing, soft- field takeoff and soft-field landing. Glenn didn't say too much as we taxied back to the terminal, and my brain froze. But as we pulled into the tiedown spot, "Congratulations!" boomed through my headset. It was the best word I'd heard throughout my entire Cirrus training, and quite possibly way beyond that.

Preparing for a private-pilot checkride is exciting, demanding and sometimes stressful. However, the rewards of doing so in a modern aircraft such as the Cirrus are many. Even though others had questioned the idea of primary training in a high-performance aircraft, it was indeed possible and a great educational experience.

With a private-pilot license comes not only freedom, but huge responsibility. I no longer needed to ask Liz for endorsements to fly; from now on, it would be up to me to make safe go/no-go decisions. I felt like a teenager leaving home for college: cautious but very excited.

In the days after my checkride, my phone rang a lot more than usual, and each caller had the same question. "Can you take me up in the Cirrus?"

Student pilots an require\d to hew three hours of hood time before taking the private-pilot checkride.

Justice Aviation

Santa Monica Airport

(310) 313-6792

Justice Aviation, at Santa Monica Airport, offers primary, instrument and transition training in its Cirrus SR22.

The moving map on Avidyne Entegra's MFD provides superb situational awareness, which is particularly important during night Hying.

Interactive electronic checklists on the PFD assist the workflow for pilots in the Cirrus cockpit

Words Of Checkride Advice

Patty Wagstaff

Three-time U.S. National Aerobatic Champion

Don't be nervous about the checkride. Your instructor would not recommend you for the checkride unless you were ready. We instructors are like that! In fact, you're likely to be more than ready. Achieving my pilot's license gave me a feeling of self- confidence that I'd never had before. I'll always remember that.

Joe Justice

Owner of Justice Aviation at Santa Monica Airport

For students taking their checkride in a Cirrus, slow down I Just because it can fly so fast doesn't mean that it has to. You'll need to stay slow for maneuvers anyway, and in fact, the SR22 flies quite nicely at 120 knots. Many designees complain that students spend 90% of the time looking at the glass panel, and only 10% outside. Don't get so wrapped up in trying to impress the examiner with gadgets that you forget to look outside.

J.C. Boylls

FAA checkride designee

There are already two entities who think you're ready: the FAA (you passed the knowledge test, right?) and your instructor (who has flown with you a lot). It's normal not to remember your name when you meet the examiner-welcome to the human race! But most examiners really do want you to succeed. If you flub something and catch yourself before you've finished your answer or maneuver, just say so and correct it. Don't try to bluff-the examiner has seen it all, believe me! To get off to a good start, be sure all of your paperwork is organized. Your examiner will love the attention to detail.

Erik Lindbergh

Grandson of Charles Lindbergh

My checkride was at an unfamiliar airport and my craggy examiner, clayton Scott, a Boeing test pilot, was quite intimidating. After receiving clearance to takeoff, I taxied onto the runway but realized that I had forgotten to do my mag check! I broke out in a sweat and said to clayton, "Uh, I didn't do my run-up." He just sat there with his arms folded and didn't say a word. I called tower and received clearance to taxi back to the run-up area. When the checkride was finally over, clayton looked at me and said, "You almost blew it." I learned an important lesson that day: no matter what happens, proceed step by step and fly the plane.

Dale Klapmeier

Cofounder of Cirrus Design

Although it was 28 years ago that I took my checkride, I still remember that I worried about it for a long time before the day arrived. In the end, it was a lot easier then I expected. As I recall, it was almost like another lesson.

Earning a private-pilot license is a rewarding accomplishment not just for the student, but also for the instructor. The examiner is always happy when students pass as well.


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Copyright Werner Publishing Corporation Mar 2007

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