EASA ATPL Theory: The Exams are done!

Today was The Day! I passed all the rest of the EASA ATPL theoretical exams. All 14 exams are done! I am so excited about it! I remember my university master’s degree thesis, when I was studying days and nights during some months to get it done.

It took about 7 months, countless sleepless nights, hundreds of studying hours, one trip to Poland and three trips to Czech Republic, and some grey hairs.

Was it challenging? Absolutely. I did not even imagine that it would be that hard. Probably I would have taken a time off from work for that period if I knew that. But I do need money for further practical part, so I kept working too.

At some moments I even wanted to drop it (and who did not?), but in that case I would have started from scratch. I know and I always knew that I need it to be done. I had The Aim.

It was the most difficult part so far. The subjects are interesting, but under that pressure it could be a little demotivating. You should study whatever you feel, whatever happens. Every day except Monday you should take a test. Three attempts with less than 75% result is a fail. One minute after midnight submission is a fail. Three failed tests is a course fail with no-refund. You should really take it serious.

I was studying during commuting in subway, during my meals, during my weekends with parents, before work, after work, in the washroom – in any available moment. And that lasted 6 months. I had similar experience during my university exams preparation, but that usually lasted no more than 2 weeks for each session.

I passed all my tests. Some tests were passed from the second attempt, and mainly because of timeout – some questions remained unanswered. I submitted some tests literally 5 minutes before a deadline. But I passed everything with average result more than 90%.

I passed all my CAA exams from the first attempt too with a 90% rate in average. I supposed that I would have my scores from the CAA, but actually all I have is a document confirming that I passed. I kept my records by myself, and I am kind of proud of my result ๐Ÿ™‚

Czech Republic requires online registration for the exams. Some of them were available in June, some in July, and some only in August (for example, Meteorology).

I can say that Oxford or Bristol ATPL books are really good for preparation. Apart from that, I highly recommend using some question bank to track the progress. It does not really matter which one (BGS Online, AviationExam or ATPL Questions), but I prefer AviationExam due to the best UI, large database, nice detailed explanation and large community. Of course the real exam differs, but if you know the subject and understand it, it should not be a problem.

Now I am going to describe my last session.

Meteorology

84 questions, 2 hours, my result is 93%. I found some strange question like ‘setting altimeter subscale to msl/zero elevation’. I know about altimeter subscales, but the formulation was very ambiguous.

Some questions were about ceilings, cloud base, METARs, TAFs, winds, weather maps, cold/warm fronts, true altitude computation, temperature gradients (DALR, SALR, ELR).

For me 2 hours was more than enough for the exam.

Instrumentation

60 questions, 2 hours, my result is 91%. I suppose that 2 hours is even too much, and the exam is rather easy. I remember questions about datalink, CPDLC, FMS, FMC. The rest is a piece of cake. I found even 2 almost the same questions about advisory light color.

Flight Planning and Monitoring

43 questions, 2 hours, my result is 85%. There was a thick supplementary materials book, and additionally it was the only exam where Jeppesen Airway Manual was available. There were the questions about fuel reserves, no-return points, isolated airports fuel, routes, NOTAMs, wake turbulence, equipment, charts for time and fuel for reaching the flight level. I barely made it all in time, but I really enjoyed the questions – they are very practical.

I have some additional notes, and probably I will write something more about them when I have time. Good luck with the exams for those who is on the route!

Seaplane Rating

Now I am studying theory for the EASA ATPL exams, and sometimes it is very tiring and boring (sometimes it is fun though). Anyway, I decided to take a small vacation and go flying (I am a pilot, right?)

I mentioned that I have been training for my IPC, and since I am in the US it makes sense to have some fun apart from essential tasks. I decided to get a seaplane rating. It still counts towards my total time, but adds a very different experience.

I’ve chosen Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base due to good reviews and very nice and clear communication. The costs are also not so high in Florida, and the school is not so far from the place I am doing my IPC.

They offer training in different airplanes, and I’ve chosen the least expensive one – Piper J3 Cub. It’s light and easy to fly, and I suppose it’s perfect for initial training.

Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base

I don’t have enough words to describe the experience, it’s absolutely unique and amazing. Piper Cub does not have an attitude indicator and turn coordinator, only CDI, ASI and RPM meter. I asked my instructor just in case if there is an attitude indicator, he laughed and replied: “look out of the window – isn’t that enough for you?” =) It’s true stick-and-rudder flying!

Piper J3 Cub on floats

I have some tailwheel experience, and this Cub flies very similar to Citabria, both in the air and on landing. During the take-off it is essential to keep the nose slightly up (but not too much), and during landing the stick should be pulled very gently and constantly.

Ready for take-off

The airplane is really slow, and out-of-engine glideslope is terrifying at first. Floats add a lot of drag and weight. But the main difference is still in taxiing, take-off and landing.

For example, there is a step taxi procedure, when the aircraft lifts a little bit allowing the wings to carry some load, but still maintaining contact with the water surface. It’s like a high-speed boat ride. Taxi turns in this mode are frightening at first – it looks like the plane is ready to rollover, but in reality it does not even bank, just sliding.

It’s possible to turn almost in-place, like in a sailboat. A lot of fun.

Probably some of you are curious how to do a run-up without stepping on the brakes. So, it’s perfectly possible, the only difference is that the airplane is moving, so make sure that you have enough space ahead ๐Ÿ™‚

As I already mentioned there is no attitude indicator, turn coordinator and GPS, so the visual piloting skills are essential. The landing is also some more tricky – seaplane is much less tolerant to high vertical speed on landing than the cessna trainer. The water seems soft, but in reality it is not, and it is also somewhat ‘sticky’.

Another fun is a confined area takeoff. It is the procedure when you start the takeoff with a crosswind and slowly turning into the wind upon gaining speed. There is no runway on the lake, so it is perfectly possible and useful if the lake is not so big.

One of the most complicated maneuvers is a glassy water landing. When you try to land on a glassy surface you cannot really fell the height, and it’s possible to either flare too early or meet the water with a high vertical speed, so you should not flare as usual. Instead you should find a landmark where you still see the ground, then keep the landing attitude and wait for it. Probably wait for it pretty long, but it’s the safe way to meet the surface with low vertical speed and proper attitude. That requires longer landing distance.

Sometimes it is impossible to find a landmark. In that case it’s possible to fly closer to the shoreline and use it as an altitude perception. It it is not an engine-out landing, better to configure the airplane for landing earlier – it will take more distance to land, but it is safer. And never ever use a glassy water as a surface reference.

Apart from glassy surface, the landing is almost as in a landplane: watch the ground, flare, touchdown.

Lake View

I highly recommend this experience for every pilot. It is usually not what we have during flight school (like out-of-aerodrome takeoffs and landings and pure stick-and-rudder flying). Have fun and fly safe!

FAA IPC

It is essential for every pilot to be not only current but proficient. Without practice skills degrade and can even fade away some day.

That’s why FAA requires BFR (Biannual Flight Review) for any type of flying and IPC (Instrument Proficiency Check) for instrument pilots who did not fly enough instrument procedures during the last 6 months. To be more specific, one needs at least 6 instrument approaches during previous 6 months to act as a PIC for flying IFR.

If a pilot do not have the required approaches, and it is less than a year since a pilot was current, it is still possible to fly the approaches under simulated instrument conditions with a safety pilot. Safety pilot can possess just a PPL without Instrument Rating since the flight can be conducted under VFR (Visual Flight Rules) in VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions).

After a year if the requirements are still not met a pilot must pass an IPC with a CFII (Certified Instrument Flight Instructor) or a FAA examiner.

It is different in Europe where the Instrument Rating must be just renewed every year with an examiner. Another difference – in Europe during training of flight tests one should just fly under IFR, even in VMC without view-limiting devices like foggles or hood.

My FAA IR currency already expired, and I decided to regain my skills and pass an IPC. I still don’t have a EASA IR, and I have no idea where I can find a FAA CFI in Europe, that’s why I decided to fly to the US. It could be even less expensive due to flight hour prices.

What can I say about it? More flying is better! And it always pays off to renew theoretical knowledge. I greatly recommend to take some courses from https://www.faasafety.gov (a lot of them are free!) and use these books.

During all this ATPL theory preparation I really missed flying. So good to take off again!

In The Sky Again

Since the beginning of the year I spend almost all my spare time on exams preparation, and now I have only 3 subjects ahead. One of them is Meteorology (which is not so easy), but it’s still only three exams of 14.

I foresaw that it would be very challenging, but still did not know it would be THAT challenging. Mainly it’s because of psychological pressure – you should constantly study all the time, every day, every free hour. I still have a full time job which made it even worse.

I am assured that health is essential though, so I decided to make a small break, and the most rewarding part of all that is flying. I made a gift to myself and went to the US to renew my Instrument Rating and fly some hours for staying current and, eh, just for fun.

Today I have my first flight in a low-wing airplane: really, I’ve never flown low-wing before! I’ve chosen Piper Arrow. I used to Cessnas, and I did not know what to expect, but it turned out that it is not that different in the air. The landing differs, you should take into account stronger ground-effect, but apart from that all principles are the same.

I must say that the practice is crucial. After long breaks, especially with not so many flight hours under the belt, skills are deteriorating. Landings are dirtier, patterns are less rectangular, approaches are not as smooth as I want.

I enjoy flying. Every flight hour, every minute in the airplane. It’s the best reward for all study hours and sleepless nights. I am so happy, it’s going to be a great vacation time!

EASA ATPL Exams: AGK, RadioComm, PoF, Performance, HPL

This is the second EASA ATPL session for me: as I mentioned, I already passed 6 EASA ATPL exams. Yesterday I passed two more subjects – Human Performance and Limitations and Aeroplane Performance. In my ranking these are the easiest subjects after VFR/IFR Communications.

Today I am taking three exams: Aircraft General Knowledge, Radio Communications, and Principles of Flight. Of course it’s not Operational Procedures and not even Air Law, but they still contain a lot of information to memorize.

I am way less nervous since it’s the second day of the second session, so I noticed some details. For example, in Czech Republic ECQB3 is used (in July 2019), but it seems to be highly modified ECQB3. I haven’t met any type-in question yet, all questions are multiple-choice with 4 available options. Paper materials are all dated by 2018 and older, so my old books from 2014 were still relevant for the exams.

I also haven’t met any “what option is wrong” question, so basically it’s a decent knowledge test without too complicated traps. There were a lot of questions with two statements and 4 answers like “true/true”, “true/false”, “false/true”, “false/false”. Basically I don’t remember any obvious RTFQ (Read the F**cking Question – pretty common abbreviation for a very tricky question when you need to be extremely attentive).

Now some more details about the subjects.

Aircraft General Knowledge

80 questions, 2 hours, my result is 93%. It’s more than enough time for the subject, almost zero computational questions.

There were a lot of questions about turbines and props, some easy questions about electricity and fire detectors.

There is no possibility to leave a comment (I saw some advice to leave a comment if the question seems ambiguous), so in that case just try to figure out what examiner wants to check and fire the best guess.

For example, there was a question about the reaction turbine. I know that the pressure is constant on nozzles and drops at a rotor, but sometimes EASA considers impulse-reaction turbine where the pressure drops everywhere.

Apart from knowledge-related questions, there were some computational tasks like bypass ratio computation.

The subject is very well covered by popular question banks, so it should not be too hard.

Radio Navigation

66 questions, 1.5 hours, my result is 88%.

Initially I became a little frustrated: was not sure in the first question, in the second one, in the third one… What’s the hell? OK, after the fourth one it came back to normal, but it’s really unsettling.

About the questions itself – skip-zone, night-effect for NDB (who is still using NDB?), a lot of questions about GPS (totally understandable), some questions about GALILEO (is it already working?). Some questions about MLS (the project was a failure though), a lot of questions about ILS-markers and frequency bands. Some questions about reflection-refraction-diffraction. A lot of questions about the position with RMI/ADF/HSI.

One question was about TACAN which required General Navigation supplements. I asked the surveillance person, and she gave me the materials, so don’t be shy to ask if you’re uncertain.

Sometimes the wording is ambiguous or uncommon. For example, something like “bending of light beam while passing around impenetrable obstacle”.

The timing is OK if you’re good with quick position/course/direction computation.

Principles of Flight

44 questions, 1 hour, my result is 95%. Everything is logical and familiar: props, wings, stability factors, wing polars, different forces. There were some questions with strange wording, but nothing special.

I remember very well a question about load factor: the airplane’s speed is 1.4 Vs, and the airplane experiences a gust of load factor 1.7. What would be the load factor for the same gust for speed 2 Vs? The answer options were “2.0”, “1.96”, “1.4” ะธ “irrelevant because for 1.4 Vs and LF 1.7 the airplane stalls”. I know the proportion, but I still don’t understand why load factor is proportional to speed and not the square of speed. Probably I just need to study the questions in detail.

The timing is OK, but better to track the time on computational questions (good advice for all subjects actually). Apart from that, the subject is not so hard.

Performance

35 questions, 1 hour, my result is 79%, which is the worst among all other exams so far. This is still a pass mark, but a personal failure for me since the subject is extremely easy. The key is proper plots reading and interpretation, and quick computation. There were a few ambiguous questions, but just a few.

The reason of that result is very simple: I had a very time-consuming project at work during this topic in my ground school, and even there I got about 80%. And, of course, it is not a miracle that I got almost the same result at the exam.

The advice is very simple: just solve enough questions for this subject, and that will do the job. Almost no memorizing, just practice.

Human Performance and Limitations (HPL)

48 questions, 1 hour, my result is 95%. There are almost zero computational questions for the subject, it’s all about knowledge. A lot of facts for memorizing, but the subject is actually very interesting even for general purpose. For example, some questions were about Maslow’s and Rasmussen’s models, risk factors, aviation-related body state problems (hypoxia, hyperventilation, optical and vestibular illusions, abdominal problems etc.).

From my opinion, the subject is relatively easy, but requires remembering some facts. I suppose that it requires to remember even more facts than Air Law, but that’s some sort of general info instead of some numbers.

For example, in AviationExam it’s possible to flag a question if it makes sense to review it later once more (or more than once). I flagged about 60% of the questions in HPL, and for other subjects I had about 30% flagged questions.

This session is over now, I passed all the planned exams, and I am very happy that I’m done with the most difficult subjects. I still have Meteorology, Instrumentation and a bit of less challenging subjects ahead, but I definitely passed the equator in my sessions ๐Ÿ™‚

EASA ATPL Exams: VFR communications, Air Law, M&B, Operational Procedures, General Navigation

The most difficult subjects for me in the EASA ATPL theory course were Air Law, Operational Procedures ะธ General Navigation. Meteorology is also rather challenging, but much more interesting. I don’t know what was in my mind when I booked the exam slots, but I have all these three in my current session.

Today I am taking the General Navigation exam. Yesterday I passed Operational Procedures and Air Law. I think that was the most challenging day in my entire EASA ATPL session, and I am so happy that it’s done now!

I’d like to describe all subjects in the session:

VFR Communications

The exam contained 24 questions, the time limit was 30 minutes, and I passed with 95% mark. It’s the easiest subject if you already have a PPL (Private Pilot License, which means at least 45 flight hours), and everyone who takes ATPL theory exams definitely must have a PPL. Of course, not all of these 45 hours were in the controlled airspace, but even on circuits we use some radio callouts.

There was some strange question about instruction sequence: clearance delivery, startup request, engines ready, request departure. I don’t remember exact wording, but isn’t it possible to get a clearance after startup?

Air Law

44 questions, 1 hour, my result is 93%. That’s one of my “favourite” subjects. The only way to pass is to memorize all the required information (which is really a lot). Of course I optimized it a little which led me to about 4 A4 pages of the most important facts, but the entire subject is a bunch of some information to remember. There is more than enough time for answers though.

Mass and Balance

25 questions, 1 hour, my result is 96%. The subject is easy, just requires very careful calculations. I am a little nerdy and meticulous, so I prefer to check and re-check everything, so it was greatly important for me to track my time and don’t sped too much on a single question even if I am not totally sure in the final result. Thank to my time management I made it on time, but barely on time, so I could say that proper time tracking is crucial for this subject.

Operational Procedures

45 questions, 1 h 15 min, my result is 84%. That is my second “favourite” subject. Again a lot of facts for memorizing plus some extraction from Meteorology, Air Law, Mass & Balance, Human Performance and Navigation. I had a strange feeling of taking the FAA CPL exam. I feel so relieved that it’s done!

General Navigation

60 questions, 2 hours, my result is 79%. The subject is not very hard and does not require a lot of specific knowledge. It’s totally enough to know how to solve about 10 types of typical problems, and that’s it. But you should think fast, be extremely careful and thorough, and pay close attention to the timing.

Actually I like the subject, it’s all about thinking and calculation. And I am ashamed of my result. But I believe that I was just too confident or even presumptuous about the subject. It’s not enough to KNOW how to do it. The subject requires to do it FAST, and the best way to succeed is to solve 5-10 problems of each kind before the exam. I concentrated on the questions which required knowledge – GPS, astronomy, gyrocompasses etc., but the exam mainly contained computational questions, and I spent way too much time not being used to the methods.

I advice everyone who is going to take the exam to create a table with problem types, find some question bank, and fill the table with question numbers. At about a week before the exam solve once more at least 5 problems of each type from the very beginning to the final result. It is not about knowledge only, it is also about a habit or skill. And it is not only about computational tasks, this is also applicable, for example, for timezone tables. You will spend one or two days for that (of course I assume that you were already ready for the exam knowing the methods).

Another advice for booking the slots – try to equally spread difficult subjects between sessions. Of course there are several attempts available, but better to pass from the first time. And good luck ๐Ÿ™‚

EASA ATPL Exams: IFR Communications

I started taking my EASA exams in the Czech CAA. Public transportation is very convenient in Prague, so it is not necessary to rent a car here. The CAA is located near the airport terminal 3. I am getting used to this building ๐Ÿ™‚

It is still impossible to pay by card, only cash is accepted, and only in Czech crones. But all the tests for ATPL are computerized (PPL exams are still on paper). Like for the FAA exams, there are additional materials like paper charts and plots.

I was taking the IFR Communications exam today. This subject is relatively easy, all questions were in multiple choice form (no type-in), and I saw the majority of them during my preparation with question banks. The subject understanding is critical though, as like the very careful reading the question and answers.

Pro-tip: it’s possible to take another subject exam even without booking it in advance, if there are available spots. I was extensively studying only this session subjects, but it was possible to pass everything earlier, probably in two sessions rather than three.

I made two mistakes. I still don’t know how, the questions seemed very easy. The system does not allow to review the mistakes, so you know only the quantitative result. Mine was 91%, which is a pass rate, and I am a little disappointed and happy at the same time.

EASA ATPL Exams

I finally decided where I am going to take my EASA ATPL exams. I am going to Prague, Czech Republic. I’ve chosen Prague mainly because of the following reasons: they have a great online booking system, I already have my PPL there, and I am going to get my CPL there.

The application was easy, and I got access to the booking system very quickly. There are not so many available slots though, but I managed to book Air Law, Operational Procedures, General Navigation, Mass & Balance, IFR Communications and VFR communications in the beginning of June.

Performance, Human Performance, Aircraft General Knowledge, Radio Navigation and Principles of Flight were available in the beginning of July.

Meteorology, Instrumentation, Flight Planning and Monitoring were available only in the beginning of August, but that’s probably even an advantage since I will have more time for preparation, these subjects are not so easy.

So, if everything goes well, I would be able to obtain a frozen EASA ATPL by the end of the summer.

My EASA SEP rating (Single Engine Piston) was about to expire too, so I flew 1 hour with the EASA FI. I met the flight time criteria as well, so I just asked for administrative revalidation and got a new rating for the next 2 years.

I still was not able to get my night rating (which is required for the EASA CPL with IR), but it is not critical for now.

For different jurisdictions license holder it’s critical to keep all papers in order, and the main problem is a pilot’s logbook. EASA and FAA count PIC hours differently. Now I have a separate columns for FAA and EASA PIC hours, but instrument time, amount of approaches and some other specific stuff should be logged too. I use the ‘remarks’ section for as much additional info as possible, and fill both electronic and paper logbook versions. Electronic logbook greatly helps to count different kind of flights, and the paper one contains all primary info and signatures.

At the Controls Again

It’s been quite a long time I did not fly: my previous flight was in Warsaw in October. I was studying ATPL subjects since then and did not practise at all.

Today I made a flight to renew my SEP (Single Engine Piston) VFR rating. We used Cessna 152, and I remembered the feeling of acceleration with 2 people on board on a grass runway – it seemed way too slow.

The weather was not perfect, but nothing critical, so we performed all required maneuvers. It’s so good to feel the flight controls again!

The bird
The weather does not look so good

ATPL Theory is done

Finally the EASA ATPL theoretical course is done and I got a certificate of completion. I can take exams in the CAA with this document.

The course was really tough. 4 months is definitely not enough without any prior knowledge, but even with some preparation it’s challenging. I took tests every day except Mondays, and I was studying about 7-8 hours per day. It was a nightmare.

From the other hand, I completed everything in less than 5 months: 4 months of online studies and 2 weeks in class. But, again, I already had some prior knowledge.

I was making some notes (actually I am still doing that), sort of condensed knowledge for each subject. Basically it’s some numbers and facts for a quick checkup before the exams. I have no more than 3-4 A4 pages for each subject, so it’s not a big deal to go through them in some minutes. I am adding some info to this website too, but I don’t have enough time for that.