Monday, July 13, 2015

My ATP checkride

On Saturday, 7/11/2015 I took and passed my ATP-AMEL checkride! Like many others, I needed to get it done before my grandfathered-in written test expired next summer. Here's a little write-up on how it went.

My examiner was a well-known DPE from Tulsa, OK, Jennifer Wise. The aircraft was a very nice and well-equipped 2011 Beechcraft Baron G58 from Oklahoma Aviation at Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City, KPWA.

My ride for the ride!

It's hard to see, but if you look near the right bend of the pilot's yoke, you'll see a little switch labeled "A/C". Yes, it had air conditioning! I never want to take another checkride without it...


As mentioned, I trained out of Oklahoma Aviation at PWA. My instructor (Bret Wyatt) and I met on Tuesday and worked in their Redbird AATD for the first 3 days, a couple hours a day. The Redbird decently replicated the power settings and configurations of the Baron, and the G1000 panel was close enough to the real thing to be a good training tool. On Friday, 7/10/15 we went on two flights in the airplane, running through all the required maneuvers for the checkride. By the end of the second flight I felt comfortable and ready for the practical test.

The morning of the checkride Bret and I flew the aircraft to Tulsa/Riverside Airport, KRVS, where we met the examiner in her office (she was the only examiner in OK able to do ATP checkrides in a Baron).

Ground portion:

We had been told that an FAA inspector would probably be observing this checkride as part of the examiner’s annual requirement, however he was not there yet so we got started with some of the paperwork. When he showed up he briefed that in addition to the usual three possible outcomes of a checkride (pass, fail, or discontinue), there could be a fourth outcome – the examiner herself failed his observation and he would have to take over conducting the checkride. I can only imagine how painful that would have been!

The oral examination was pretty straightforward except for one thing – the weight and balance and resulting performance calculations. You see, with him on board, with the fuel load we had, we were going to be over max gross weight by a decent margin (about 50 pounds). He was insistent that he had to ride along on the checkride, so the examiner and I were trying every which way to figure out how to do it. She asked if we flew for a while by ourselves and burned off some gas, then came back and picked him up to finish, if that would be okay and he eventually agreed.

Still, at just below max gross weight the performance numbers were not too exciting, even with 300 hp per side. It was a pretty warm day which negatively affected takeoff and climb performance. Our main concern was the accelerate-go distance, the distance it would take for an engine to fail right after liftoff and for us to be able to climb to 50’ AGL. At max gross it was about 9100 feet. The runway at Riverside is about 5100 feet long, and there are some takeoff obstacles listed in the departure procedures that are closer than 4000 feet from the runway. Even worse was the situation at Okmulgee (KOKM), where we planned to go for approaches and landings. So it was a reasonable safety call for us to fly most of the checkride without him, and he reluctantly agreed to just observing one takeoff, one approach and one landing.

This is the departure procedure at KOKM. Note the takeoff obstacles listed for RWY 18 - 100 foot trees 1303' from the end of the runway, or just about 6300 feet from the beginning. With a 9100' accelerate-go distance, this was an actual concern.

The rest of the oral examination consisted mostly of questions about the various systems onboard the airplane – describe the fuel system, the landing gear system, what type of anti-ice and de-ice systems does the airplane have, that kind of thing. I was well-prepared for these questions both as a result of reading the POH and a great publication on the G58 produced by the FlightSafety company. She asked a few questions for clarification but there were no surprises. Really, she went right down the list of systems in the PTS. Couldn't have asked for more straightforward!

I will add that the ATP written test and the ATP oral exam are completely different. This was really welcome news. The ATP written was full of arcane questions like “how many flight attendants are required on an airplane with 235 seats if only 150 are occupied” and location of emergency flashlights and such. The oral exam only covered the systems and performance for the airplane being used. Thank goodness!

Flight portion:

(Note: as far as I can tell, we performed all the required maneuvers from the PTS. If I left something out it’s probably just me forgetting about it. Also, virtually all of this checkride is done “under the hood” so I had the foggles on most of the time except for takeoff and landing, and during circle-to-land maneuvers.)

The examiner and I got in the plane and taxied out, leaving the FAA inspector to join us later. Lined up for takeoff on 19R, advanced the throttle, accelerated down the runway, liftoff, gear up, and whoosh - the door came open! (Really, it wasn’t an examiner’s trick.) The airplane, like most small airplanes, flies perfectly fine with the door cracked open, it’s just noisier inside. She had closed it before takeoff and it felt secure to me, but the Beechcraft door locking mechanism is a bit tricky and takes some getting used to (I’ve had it happen myself with a student in a Bonanza). We were already climbing out, so she asked me if it was alright if she called an “audible”, changed our plan (did I really have a choice?), and instead of airwork first, we go do a single-engine ILS RWY 18 approach to landing at KOKM as our first item. Sounded like a good idea to me, so I set up the procedure and she gave me vectors, “failing” the engine somewhere before the FAF and setting zero thrust (the power setting that simulates the reduced drag of a feathered propeller). Although I couldn’t use the autopilot for this approach, the G1000 avionics, flight director and synthetic vision make simple work of staying on course and glidepath. The approach and landing went well, we exited the runway and then got the door solidly closed.

As if having a flight director didn't make it easy enough to fly an ILS, keeping the flight path marker (green circle) right on the runway makes for a perfect approach anyway! (This was taken prior to the checkride and using the autopilot to get the picture, but hand-flying was almost as easy.)
We started our takeoff roll and she “failed” an engine again with the mixture control while on the runway. I brought both throttles back and braked to a stop, maintaining centerline and runway heading reasonably well.

She gave me back the engine and we took off again. After departure she provided me with vectors for the ILS RWY 18 again, but with both engines this time. During the ATP checkride, if the airplane has an autopilot, you are expected to use it for some of the approaches under the idea of “automation management”. Each approach I would ask “can I use the autopilot” to make sure I wasn’t making it harder than necessary! Fortunately this airplane had the fully-G1000-integrated GFC700 autopilot, which is a fantastic device. I basically just watched it do its thing all the way down final. Upon reaching DA she told me to “go visual and land.” At about 50 feet AGL she tried to make up some reason for me to go around, and it came out as “elephants on the runway”, which made us laugh – good as a tension reliever anyway! So I went around and climbed back up, putting the foggles back on, back into the fake clouds.

This was followed by the missed approach into the established holding pattern at the OKM VOR. After entering the hold, she gave me vectors and a climb out to the west for airwork.

The next items were in about this order:

- Steep turns. These were 180 degrees of turn to the left at a 45 degree bank angle, followed immediately by 180 degrees to the right. These were no problem due to the power settings I had figured out in practice – 18”/2300 rpm gave about 140 kias at the entry. When rolling into the turn, bringing power up to about 21” and adding back pressure held it right on airspeed and altitude. But the best part was the flight path marker displayed as part of the G1000 synthetic vision system. Keep the flight path marker on the horizon line, and the airplane will easily stay within 20 feet of altitude.

- Stalls. A series of three stalls is required – clean, landing, and takeoff configuration. One of them was while in a turn. These were conventional and not much different than those on the Private Pilot checkride, except the recovery was to take place at the “first indication” of a stall.

- Unusual attitudes. We did two unusual attitudes, one in a nose-high turn and one in a nose-low turn. She had me tilt my head down and close my eyes while she set up for these. The first one was recovering using my primary instruments (the G1000), the second one was using the standby instruments (standard attitude/altitude/airspeed indicators, but way over on the far right side of the panel).

- Engine shutdown and restart. She “failed” an engine on me and had me go through the actions required to completely feather, shut down, and secure the engine, then start it back up again. I paid careful attention to heading and altitude control since those are what she’s really paying attention to.

- Emergency descent. I think she just told me “let’s see an emergency descent”, so I brought the power to idle, gear and flaps out (at appropriate speeds), and rolled it over into a 45 degree bank, maintaining airspeed near the top of the white arc, just like I teach my students in an engine fire scenario, for example. This resulted in a pretty rapid descent, so we made maybe only a full turn and she had me roll out.

That was about it for the airwork, and we had one more approach and landing to make before picking up the FAA inspector. She had me call Approach Control to get vectors for the KRVS RNAV (GPS) RWY 01L, circle to land. This was flown with a simulated failure of the Primary Flight Display, which was simulated by her covering it up. I went to reversionary mode on the G1000 and used the Multi-Function Display to fly the procedure. I think I probably used the autopilot on this one as well, but maybe not. We were instructed to circle to the east of the runway. In actual instrument conditions this is prohibited by the approach procedure, and for good reason – once I got down to the Circling MDA and went visual, there I was staring at the CityPlex towers near Oral Roberts University (anyone familiar with Tulsa will know what I mean) sticking 648 feet up from the ground about 1.3 nm east of the runway. She told me to just fly my downwind inside that tower which is a local procedure.

That tower rises far above anything within the immediate vicinity and sure looked close once I took off the foggles!
We landed and taxied back in to pick up the FAA inspector. Since she hadn’t told me I had failed, I knew I was passing up until this point. Just a few more minutes to go, but with double the sets of eyes watching me! Since this airplane has rear passenger doors behind the wing (and therefore well clear of the engines), we had coordinated that he would just come on out and climb on board with the engines running. Of course I verified his seatbelt was fastened the best I could, and knew that his visibility would be limited since he was sitting in the rear-facing middle row.

After takeoff, I contacted departure and was cleared direct to the GNP VOR a few miles south of the field for the full VOR RWY 01L procedure with a circle-to-land. Somewhere in here the FAA inspector unbuckled, turned around and took up some kind of kneeling-on-the-seats position so that he could watch. Quickly setting up the approach, I let the autopilot fly the published procedure turn via GPS courses. Established back inbound, I elected to fly the final approach course by hand, for one reason only – I knew I had to switch the CDI from GPS to VOR mode for the final approach segment (and announced that I was doing this), but I didn’t want to accidentally get into some weird autopilot mode depending on my timing of this change. Admittedly, this just wasn’t something I had done in this airplane, with this autopilot and equipment, so was I hesitant to try something new at this exact moment. I knew I could easily fly it by hand, though, so that seemed the safer way out.

Tower instructed us to break off the approach before I was down at MDA, and to circle to the west for RWY 19R. At that point, to comply with passenger seatbelt regulations, I had to tell the FAA inspector that he needed to turn around and put his seat belt back on. My landing went pretty well, we taxied back in, and I was able to finally relax – I had passed!

Debrief was pretty short, which is exactly what you want I suppose. She said I did well (obviously well enough anyway) and we finished up the paperwork!

Total time in the airplane maybe about 1:45, which includes taxiing back to pick up the FAA inspector. The ride went very quickly, especially since the Baron gets between airports and approaches in no time!

My overall impression of the examiner (Jennifer Wise) was that she made me feel very comfortable. Especially given the difficult circumstances with the extra observer, she made me feel relaxed and at ease. She was friendly and the quizzing during the oral and flight portions was conversational in nature. She was able to find out that I knew the material, without having to resort to trick questions or impossible scenarios. Highly recommended!

A few general notes about the checkride and really instrument flying in general. I used the power setting information available from the American Bonanza Society (they handle Barons too). Flying by-the-numbers was critical to being able to free up extra brain cells for other tasks. For instance, on an approach I used 17”/2500 rpm until just prior to the FAF. Then it was flaps to approach and gear down  to descend down the ILS. This resulted in almost exactly 120 kias and a descent rate that kept me right on glideslope. On a non-precision approach, at MDA bring it back up to 22” (since now the gear is down it takes more power to stay level). Reliable 120 kias all the time. I already mentioned the settings for steep turns. It’s the way I teach my instrument students to fly, and it really works well. Figure out the numbers for your airplane and speeds and try it!