I attended another CFI workshop session but on by the FAASTeam in the Reno area. This workshop covered two modules, the Sport Pilot rules and the process of submitting certificate online known as IACRA.Preflight Inspections are one of the problem areas seen on Private Pilot checkrides.

Both modules were good overviews of their subjects and we had some nice discussions among the attendees. There was a sparse turnout this night – probably because the weather here in Reno has finally turned good enough to fly. We’ve had a terrible Spring so far – lots of clouds, cold temperatures and wind. I believe  one of the ski hills is still in operation – now mid-June.

As usual, the really interesting part of the evening came at the conclusion of the formal presentation when the three DPE’s (Designated Pilot Examiner) in attendance told us about the ‘problem areas’ that they have seen on check rides since the last workshop. Eye-opening once again.

One area – not teaching students to handle anything other than a total engine failure. Huh? Yes, it’s nice to put some emphasis on what to do if the engine quits – establish that maximum glide, look for a landing site and then, if you have time, troubleshoot the problem. But what if that’s not the problem?

What if the examiner says “You have black smoke and orange flames coming out of the cowling.” Some, but not all, students remembered to turn off the fuel. But then the vast majority followed up with – establish that maximum glide, look for a landing site and then, if you have time, troubleshoot the problem. Sound familiar? Dude! Why are you not pointing the airplane directly at the ground and putting it anywhere on terra firma before the fire burns through the firewall – or an engine mount? Not even a hint from the examiner like “Gee, the floor seems to be getting hot” made a difference.

There are probably a dozen or so emergency procedures in the manufacturer-supplied operating manual. Your student should be intimately familiar with every one of them. Face it – it may be the only time they are and they need to know that those procedures exist and how they work.

While we’re on the topic of finding that landing spot – What happened to the concept of energy management? One of the DPE’s gave a student the engine failure virtually abeam a runway – at altitude – and the student missed the 6000′ runway completely.  After lots and lots of maneuvering he arrived over the numbers at 1000′. Another at a different airport did a little better – he missed a 4000′ runway.

Sounds like these students were being taught to the ROTE level – unable to analyze the situation, adapt procedures to existing conditions and make corrections to ensure a successful outcome.

The DPEs also had a few failures before they even got into the airplane – just on the preflight alone. They attributed it to the instructor telling the student to go out and get the preflight done, he, she would meet them at the plane in a few minutes.  The examiner asked the student random questions during the preflight about what they were looking at and why – simple enough, right?  Many could not identify what a particular antenna did. One thought the aileron counterweights were metal stiffeners. And another identified the nosewheel shimmy dampener as part of the hydraulic system that controlled the nosewheel brakes.

I really don’t understand all this. Did the instructors for these students just not care what they were teaching their students – or did they not even know the material themselves? Yes, students will usually be pretty nervous for their check ride but the examiner will  take that into account. These examples weren’t due to nerves – they were a lack of knowledge and ability.

There’s always an argument about the cost of learning to fly – these students were not getting what they paid for – and that’s the problem with the cost of learning to fly. Quality is not expensive – crap for the same price is.


5 responses to “More CFI Workshop Notes”

  1. Ryan Sommers Avatar

    While I agree with almost everything, I disagree with the end of the third to last paragraph. You expect PPL candidates to know what a shimmy dampener looks like? I just did a search over the Airplane Flying Handbook and Aviation Knowledge Handbook and I found no reference to “shimmy dampener.”

    I consider myself a competent pilot and I have passed multiple checkrides to DPE satisfaction, yet I couldn’t tell you what the shimmy dampener is on my plane. I would be able to tell you if something was broken, however, because I’m very familiar with what my plane looks like when it is functioning properly. Same thing goes for the antennas… At one time I knew what each one did, but not anymore. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recognize when one was broken.

    Isn’t the important point in a preflight to be able to detect any anomalies that might adversely affect the safety of the flight? Do you have to know what each piece of plastic or metal is and does on a plane to perform that task? I think the important thing is to know what the plane looks like in its non-broken state so you can identify when something doesn’t look right. Even if a student doesn’t know what a piece does, if they can correctly identify whether or not it is broken they can choose to discontinue the flight until it is checked out by a qualified person.

    I once heard this principle described as the toaster principle… I don’t have to know how each component of the toaster works to use it and do so in a safe manner. That doesn’t mean that knowing how all the components work doesn’t make me a better toaster user (or pilot)… Just that the important thing for a new pilot is to correctly identify anything that would affect the safety of flight. It is a license to learn. It was always my understanding that it was a certification that they know enough to safely pursue that learning experience without the constant oversight of an instructor.

  2. Tracy Avatar


    You’re right in that you don’t have to know how everything works on the ‘inside’, but you have to be able to identify the equipment and you have to know how it’s supposed to work in order to tell the mechanic that something is wrong. Not all nosewheel aircraft have a shimmy dampener installed – it’s that hydraulic cylinder on the nose strut, usually oriented parallel to the ground. It helps in keeping the nosewheel from vibrating back and forth during taxi, takeoff and landing. It can look perfectly normal and not work at all.

    If you don’t know what it is and how it’s supposed to work, how do you know if it’s broken? How do you accurately explain a problem to the mechanic if you don’t know what it is?

    If it’s not your airplane it’s not your problem, right? Just tell the mechanic that the nose is wobbly when you land and let him charge the school whatever he wants while he tries to troubleshoot the problem. Bad tire, bad wheel bearings, loose strut, low strut pressure, bad dampener, etc., etc. No way that would effect rental rates… If it’s your plane you’ll find out really quickly how long it takes a mechanic to track down a poorly described discrepancy – at $80/hr.

    The more you know about the airplane you are flying, the safer, more competent and more confident a pilot you will be.

    I don’t fault you for not knowing, I fault the instructor who didn’t bother to teach you what you needed to know to be a good pilot, rather than what you needed to pass the checkride.
    Big difference.


  3. Ryan Sommers Avatar


    To your point, I agree, knowing all those things does make one a better pilot. That is why I spend lots of time learning as much as I can about it all. For the record, I’m not sure if my instructor taught it to me, but I do know what a shimmy dampener is used for (since the Cardinal RG I fly has one) and how to detect that it isn’t working correctly even if I’m unable to locate it on the a/c. (Although knowing that it only applies to the nosewheel, that it’s hydraulically actuated, and general direction of motion would certainly give me a good chance of identifying it on the spot.)

    As one that has had a fair share of Aviation Bucks go down the drain due to troubleshooting, I’m also well aware that how well you explain the problem can determine how quickly or costly a problem can be. However, my original point was just to the safety of flight. I think we’d all agree that DPEs aren’t supposed to ensure PPL candidates are the cost effective pilots but that they are safe pilots. 🙂

    That’s where I was coming from, I just don’t see how not knowing where the shimmy dampener on the a/c is makes that PPL candidate an unsafe pilot. After all, even a candidate that knows where the part is on the a/c may not know how to identify its failure modes.

    For example, if one student was only taught, “if you see pink fluid on or under a hydraulic cylinder, don’t fly until it’s been checked out by a mechanic,” and another was only taught, “this is a hydraulic shimmy dampener,” I think we’d agree on who the safer pilot was. The first would know how to spot an unsafe condition without necessarily knowing what that component was, while the latter might know how to name the components without knowing what a failure looked like.


  4. Tracy Avatar


    I agree totally. The DPEs are tasked to determine if the candidate exhibits the knowledge and skills necessary to be a safe pilot. They cannot fail a candidate that lacks knowledge in areas not specified on the test guides. But those guides are pretty general and the specific items that the DPE asks may not be individually identified in the guide. However, they can always be put into one of the general categories.

    I believe this particular DPE was listing several specific items where the candidate was lacking systems knowledge – all taken together showing enough of a lack of general aircraft systems knowledge to present to the examiner a less than acceptable result. For all we know, the individual barely made it through the oral part of the evaluation and these were just the last straws.

    Thanks for the discussion…


  5. Ryan Sommers Avatar

    True… I guess I was only thinking about those specific examples, instead of thinking that those were likely not the only issues the DPE had…

    You as well.