EASA Instrument Checkride

I completed my competency-based instrument rating course and recently got my night rating. The examiner was able to squeeze my exam into his schedule on Sunday, and the weather was perfect, so I had my checkride today.

It was my second attempt since previously the attitude indicator failed in the school Cessna 172, and we were not able to make a flying part.

The practical part seemed less difficult than in the US. There were some important moments though: for example, in Czech Republic transition altitude is only at 5000 feet, and usually students have to change the altimeter setting during the checkride.

We flew from Roudnice to Karlovy Vary and back: LKROLKKV-LKRO. Our airport is uncontrolled, so we picked up our IFR clearance in the air after take-off. This time instead of following my route I had vectors from the ATC. The important part is switching to the standard pressure after 5000 feet. We climbed to FL80.

Before and during the descent it is important to switch the altimeter to QNH before that transition level, make an approach briefing, set the avionics and get the weather. I got the ILS29 approach, and then GNSS11 with circle-to-land for 29. After the approaches I had to depart visually and climb to FL80 again even though we flew to the East – ATC assigned that level for some reason. Since we were in a piper, I had to switch tanks, and it’s better to have some airport in sight while doing that just in case.

The rest was pretty straightforward: descent, cancelling IFR clearance, closing IFR flight plan and visual landing.

I outlined the following important moments:

  • DO NOT forget about a transition altitude and transition level! In the US we usually fly below them, but in Czech Republic transition altitude is generally at 5000 feet;
  • do not forget about the second altimeter when changing altimeter setting! Forgetting to do that will be a fail;
  • my examiner asked to set both NAV1 and NAV2 for the ILS approach. I used to set NAV2 for the missed approach, but Karlovy Vary does not have a VOR for a go-around, so better to not waste NAV2 and use it for a cross-check;
  • request for descent could be made without desired altitude which means that we prepare for landing according to the flight plan and leaving the assigned flight level;
  • circle-to-land must be made by timing only, not just staying in the safe area with a runway in sight;
  • don’t forget to report departure time during flight plan activation in the air;
  • it is essential to make a start-up request at a controlled aerodrome;
  • IFR clearance should be requested before taxiing;
  • non-precision approach can be made using the DME or GPS for measuring distance to the airport instead of timing;
  • DME is pretty common in Czech Republic;
  • always fly the airplane: keep the course and altitude, follow the glideslope, never fly below DA/MDA without 100% assurance of safe landing, properly estimate holding entry, know the airplane instruments of the particular airplane.

Basically the checkride went as a usual flight. It is even possible to get the examiner involved – for example, ask to set the second altimeter. But in that case it is also essential to check that it was really set properly – some examiners could check your PIC skills by intentionally failing some tasks ๐Ÿ™‚

I also prefer to verbally comment all my actions. It clearly shows the intentions and situational awareness. It could also highlight wrong decisions though, but I suppose that it will help in future while acting as a crew member. For example, some of my basic callouts were “airspeed alive”, “positive rate, no runway – gear up”, “we have L, QNH 1016, RW in use 29, slight headwind, no crosswind”, “gas – left, undercarriage – gear down, mixture – full rich, props – full forward, seatbelts – fastened, please check yours”.

As a result, I have the fresh EASA Instrument Rating ๐Ÿ™‚

EASA Intrument Checkride: Nice Try

Yesterday I got my EASA NVFR (night rating), and today I manage to schedule my IFR checkride. It does not make sense to wait if the examiner is available and all lessons are done.

Usually students fly to Vodochody or Karlovy Vary for instrument checkrides because these airports are controlled, and they have published instrument approaches.

I got the route to Vodochody. The airport is very close to our flight school, but the instrument approach route is almost as long as the one to Karlovy Vary. Probably the picture will tell more than words:

Planned route to Vodochody

Route to Karlovy Vary is much more direct:

Planned route to Karlovy Vary

Oral part was much easier than the FAA one.

Practical portion finished during a runup check: the attitude indicator failed to level. This instrument is essential for IFR, and this airplane was the only IFR-equipped Cessna in our school. We also have a P28R (Piper with retractable gear and more powerful engine), but our school requires a checkout for any new type, and the examiner was not able to wait for it.

The examiner agreed to fly with me on Sunday, and I decided to get checked in P28R just in case. I was not sure that the ADI will be fixed by Sunday, and wanted to have a backup.

So I scheduled a checkout flight for this evening. The airplane is a complex one: it has a retractable gear, flaps and constant speed prop. It also has a 200 hp engine, so it is faster and more stable in the air. But it requires to think quicker. There were also some more differences like HSI (Hrizontal Situation Indicator) instead of conventional CDI. And this piper is more expensive.

I have a very strong feeling that we will use this airplane for my checkride. And if I get the route to Karlovy Vary (which is very likely since Vodochody tower is usually closed on Sunday), the total cost will be almost the same as in Cessna due to less flight time. This piper is really faster than our diesel C172.

Wish me luck!

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!

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.

Question Bank for the FAA CPL written

I am in doubt: I feel that generally I am ready for the FAA CPL written test. I went through the official FAA materials, but I’d like to use some question bank for the evaluation.

With EASA subjects it is pretty easy: there are only 2 providers (bgsonline and aviationexam), and both are really cool.

So, after some research I found these services:

  • sheppard air. It seems that it is a leader in terms of materials quality, but they don’t have an online version, and they are kinda expensive.
  • ASA. Users’ feedback is pretty good, slightly worse than sheppard but still acceptable. They have android version, online version, offline version… Possibly it can be a better option.
  • Dauntless. I found some mentions, but nothing more. They don’t look alive.
  • Gleim. It was great for my IR, but not sure about the CPL materials.
  • Aviationexam. Their interface is great and works on any teapot, their EASA materials are astonishing. But I am not sure that they are OK for FAA tests, not so many questions exist in their database.

Possibly somebody has any experience with these providers? Does it make sense to buy Sheppard Air? They seem like state-of-the-art.

FAA IR(A) Written Test

What to do in a bad weather? Of course, the best choice is studying! I felt pretty confident about my knowledge, so I decided to take a written test. The exam itself is not so hard. The program interface looks exactly like gleim’s software, the pictures are the same as the ones available in all popular question banks (for example, gleim, jeppesen, sportys, aviationexam).

The questions are not exactly the same as in preparation books, but nothing special. Take your time, read the question very carefully, don’t hurry up, and you’re done. The point is knowledge.

One more advice for those who prepares for the FAA IR tests: apart from reading the books (which is essential), use question banks to get the idea about your knowledge. I heard a lot about Sheppard, but less expensive alternatives work too. For example, I used gleim and aviationexam (both are good, the latter also offer monthly subscriptions – very convenient if you want only refresh your knowledge) and got 87%. Not an astonishing result, but not bad too.

EASA PPL Written Exam

Today I passed the rest of my written exam subjects. There is a nice point: retaking is totally free. I supposed that I have to pay for all attempts, but I was wrong, in Czech you pay only once.

This time the exam was easy for me. I was better prepared, I knew what to expect, and I went through all of questions in aeroweb.cz. Nevertheless, I am happy that I read the books. I heard that every pilot should do that not just for passing an exam but for solid knowledge, and I am totally agree with that.

Today I saw some students from Hong Kong with graduation certificates from “Flying Academy”. As I know, they did not pass all subjects from the first attempt. Unfortunately I did not have enough time to ask about that school.

I am happy that now I can study in English! ATPL subjects are approximately the same in all EASA countries, but PPL varies significantly. The exam questions in Czech are perfect, but there is not enough evaluation tools in English before the exam. British resources do not work: you can have 95% result in average there and still fail that subject in Czechia. British books help though. Nevertheless, now I am on the ATPL track in terms of theory. I believe that ATPL books and Question Banks match the questions in all EASA countries. Of course, I am not talking about FAA: English is a first language there. I still did not make a final decision about EASA vs FAA track.

EASA PPL Written Exam

Today I took a written test. Actually there were multiple tests, because the whole exam contains 9 subjects. I remember my student years, when I used to not sleep at night before exam, and tried to fulfill all possible blind spots in my knowledge.

Generally speaking, I am a passionate leaner, if the subject is interesting for me. That’s why I don’t suffer from the theoretical part of my education. Possibly only Air Law bothers me a little bit: I don’t understand why I should remember a year of Rome convention on something like that. But to be honest, most of information is relevant and important.

Every time I am very nervous before an exam. I can do nothing with that. This time it was the same: I entered the room, got the question list. Initially checked every question multiple times. And, as usual, after some minutes my brain starts working on the subject itself: I am pretty well prepared, and I should just carefully read the question and select the best answer.

At about 6th subject I felt like that: “ONE MORE? Oh, I supposed that it was the last one!”

Generally I got a very unexpected result: I failed the subjects I was the most confident in before the exam. Of course, during the exam after getting the question lists I approximately understood that I am in danger with those subjects, and possibly I have to retake.

I failed Navigation, Aircraft General Knowledge and Principles of Flight. About Navigation – everything is OK with charts and computations, but compass turning and acceleration errors, magnetic north drift, AIP GEN 1-2-1… Uhh. About Aircraft General Knowledge and Principles of Flight – I just have to study some more, it is not so simple as it seemed to me.

I have to tell some words about question banks. I used to read the books, but I also use question banks to estimate my level. For PPL I used ppltutor.com (heh, now they provide only FAA version, but in 2017 they gave EASA) and pplcruiser.co.uk. None of them is a good idea for Czech. Later I also found aeroweb.cz, and it is great. The only problem is that it is in Czech, and google translate works (or worked in 2017?) terribly with that language. Anyway, oxford books works in any case.

I am not very disappointed. Of course I am not happy, but not a big deal. The main point is that I passed Air Law: I have to do it before the first solo. I am still not ready to fly solo according to my instructors, but it is always good to finish at least the paperwork. The next exam is in one month, so I have plenty of time to prepare just 3 subjects. Especially because now I better understand my weak points.