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How to prepare for your flight test

We can’t do your flight test for you – but we will do what we can to help you prepare for it and make the whole experience as low-stress as possible.

Getting Test Ready

Make sure that you know what’s required to attempt the test.

Your instructor will check and certify your logbook before putting you up for test, to make sure that you have all the minimum experience requirements, but you should know what they are as well. Do you have enough total flight hours? Is the right number of instrument flight time recorded in your logbook? Have you completed the required cross-country navigation flight for PPL/CPL? Is your medical in date?

Make sure you check things early – don’t wait until the last flight of your training program (or worse, the day of your test!) to realise something’s missing.

If you’re aware of what you need to do to be ready to test, you can make the whole process of the flight test smoother for you, your instructor, and the examiner.

theory

A common misconception is that getting a pilot licence is all about the time you spend in the aircraft. Actually, about 60% of your training will be theory based. It doesn’t matter which licence you are aiming for, your flight test will start with a theory component. If that’s not up to scratch, you won’t even make it out to the aircraft to show off your flying skills.

For RPL or PPL, you will need to pass one theory exam (or two, if you do both licences!). For CPL, there are seven theory exams. Any questions that you get wrong in those exams will be summarised in a Knowledge Deficiency Report. You will then need to provide information about those items to prove you know those things. 

We like to do this by getting you to write a report providing information on each item and submitting that to your instructor (our blog post about how to do that is here). They can then assess if your knowledge is sufficient and sign off the KDR before putting you up for your flight test. The examiner can also ask you questions relating to each item. If you don’t do the report and get it signed off before your test, the examiner has to ask you about each item and if you don’t know the answer, that might be the end of your test.

Our biggest tip with theory is to study consistently. If you wait until you’re nearly at the end of the syllabus to sit the theory exam, you might end up extending the whole process by weeks or months if you don’t pass it first go. That can also cost you more, if you take an extended break from flying to study for and pass the exam, you’ll likely need more flight time to get back up to standard and be test ready.

In addition to the exam and KDR, your examiner will check your knowledge and understanding of certain items listed on the flight test form. This will include things like making sure you understand what you can and can’t do with your licence, your flight planning abilities, and your understanding of aircraft operation.

Below are some common items that students lack sufficient knowledge of when asked during the theory component by our examiners:

  • Know the basics so well, it’s second nature. You’ll come across as well prepared if you’re confident with the basics, and it’s when people struggle with the basics that the examiner knows to dig deeper – the product of that can be the end of the test.
  • Understand the scope of your licence. You will be asked about what privileges your licence gives you, like what aircraft you can fly, and where you can go… And why should you be issued a licence if you don’t know what you’re allowed to do with it?
  • Understand the practical application of regulations. For example, the application of the General Competency Rule (CASR 61.385).
  • Know your Flight Review requirements. You need to know when you’ll be due, and what might change that date. Read more about flight reviews in our blog post here.
  • VFR aircraft instrument requirements. Know the CASA regulations, as well as anything specific from the aircraft manufacturer in the AFM.
  • Emergency equipment requirements – when do you need to carry items such as life jackets, rafts, or ELTs?
  • If you’re testing for a CPL:
    • Know the difference between private and commercial operations.
    • Understand things like different types of commercial operations, and what’s applicable to the size and type of aircraft you’re testing in.
    • Know all operations, but in particular Part 135 and Part 138.
    • Know flight and duty requirements.
    • Know your aircraft and its systems – you may be asked in the theory component and during the walk around about things like the complex elements.

Time to fly

Once you have successfully made your way through the theory component, you will head out to the aircraft to complete the practical element of the flight test. Depending on the licence or rating you are testing for, this may be a short local flight, or a grueling navigation exercise to really prove your worth!

Some common pointers from examiner feedback regarding practical components include:

  • Fly the plane first! Don’t get distracted by unnecessary items.
  • Know the engine start sequence for your aircraft – for example, fuel injected vs carburettor.
  • Speed/Aspect control in the circuit, especially towards the end of the test. Don’t relax when you get home!
  • Communication with other aircraft – don’t be afraid to ask other aircraft for their position.
  • Thinking about the “small stuff” – this shows in a well prepared candidate.
    • Parking the aircraft into wind.
    • Controls in correct sense for wind.
    • Specific tendencies for the aircraft you are flying – does it need an extra prime to get it going?
    • Passenger comfort and adequate briefing of safety items.
    • Stay ahead of the aircraft.
    • Trim!
    • Follow your checklists for everything.
    • Show good airmanship.
  • Look after the aircraft – especially during a CPL test.
    • Think about how an employer would want you to treat the aircraft to minimise wear and to look after paying passengers.

Some other general tips:

  • You’ll be asked about things immediately relevant, like the aircraft you’re flying for your test, but also hypothetical situations you might encounter in the future. Remember, you need to be able to apply the concepts you’ve learned, not just the specific information.
  • Trust yourself, and don’t do anything different to what you’d normally do in flight. Your usual instructor has obviously signed you off for the test, so they think what you’re doing is up to standard. Don’t try and get clever or try a new technique for your test, you’ll more than likely just end up making a mistake.
  • Arrive early. Don’t add extra stress to the situation by arriving just before your test starts. If your test starts at 10, arrive at 8 or earlier for a PPL/CPL. Give yourself plenty of time to settle in, double check your planning, check the weather, and preflight/refuel the plane.
  • If you’re not sure about something, ask. If the cloud looks a bit low, ask someone who’s been out for a flight already that day for their observations. Get someone else to check the forecast with you if no one’s been flying yet. Your examiner can’t tell you what to do (that’s the point of the test) but it doesn’t mean you can’t make use of other resources around you.
  • Get a good sleep. Like the night before an exam, you’re better off having a good rest than trying to cram some more information into your head at the last minute. You probably won’t remember it anyway, and you’ll be able to make better decisions in your test if you’ve had adequate sleep.
  • Eat something before your flight. Don’t rely on a cup of coffee to get you through. Most tests will take up at least half the day, and you don’t want to be thinking about your empty stomach while trying to make command decisions in flight.
  • Pack your bag the night before. Make sure you have all the required documents and equipment ready to go. You don’t want to arrive and realise you’ve left something important like your headset at home!
  • Breathe! It’s normal to be nervous, and your examiner understands that you will be. Take a moment for a deep breath when you can to help settle yourself.

Remember, your examiner knows you don’t know everything. Even if you’re testing for a CPL, you are still a fresh pilot! But you should know where to look for the answers – if you’ve got that, you’ll be ok.

Finally, if you’re going for the “big one” (CPL) we recommend doing the RPL flight test along the way. The RPL flight test is shorter and less complex than the CPL, so it’s a good way to get a taste of what a flight test is really like. You might even get the same examiner for both, so you’ll go into your CPL flight test with an existing relationship. Just another thing you can do to help calm the nerves and make the whole process a little easier for yourself.

Good luck!