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Overcoming Flight Test Fear

No matter how many checkrides you take, you never completely get rid of what is commonly known as 'checkride-itis' but there are some strategies that can reduce the fear-factor.No matter how many checkrides you take, you never completely get rid of what is commonly known as 'checkride-itis' but there are some strategies that can reduce the fear-factor.

PREPARATION: The Best Remedy.
The fear we feel is the fear of not knowing an answer or procedure and getting embarrassed. There is no substitute for hard work, hard study, and hard preparation. Fortunately the checkride is a kind of 'open-book' test, because if you have the Practical Test Standards (PTS) you have the test in advance. After you have honestly put in the time by studying, reading, and asking questions, you can allow yourself a little confidence that will throw cold water on your fear.

THE ENEMY…
Examiners are actually directed to place the applicant at ease at the beginning of the test, by engaging in 'friendly' talk. Unfortunately, this never completely cures checkride-itis. What's more, when going into a checkride, it is important for you to understand that how you handle fear is a built-in part of the test. Examiners know that new pilots will face situations that could make them nervous and the examiners want to see just how well they perform when they are nervous. Dealing with the pressure and performing well on the checkride goes a long way to convince the examiner that you are ready to handle pressure when it counts -- after the checkride.

…IN YOU
Flying into a busy airport, facing a strong crosswind landing, or seeing a bolt of lightning cross in front of you will make you nervous, but when these things happen you must be at your best. It is part of the examiner's job to prepare you for these and other eventualities and to make sure that you can keep your inner demons under control.

You cannot let nervousness -- whatever the cause -- rob you of your ability to pilot.

SUB-PAR
I have heard pilots after failing a checkride say, 'I knew better than to do some of the things I did, but he got me too nervous.' To the examiner, that is the same thing as saying, 'when I get nervous, my pilot skills go to Jell-O!' or 'I'm a great pilot as long as everything is OK, but I fall apart when I get nervous.'

No wonder they failed the checkride. They displayed they were not ready to handle the potential nervous situations that are bound to come up in their piloting future. In fact, what a pilot can face from the elements can create more anxious moments than any human examiner can produce. No human giving you a test can be more scary than a thunderstorm, or ice, or fog, so if nervousness caused by the examiner produces poor performance, then its obvious the applicant is not ready to handle real problems.

WINNING STRATEGY

  • Approach the test with the understanding that your knowledge, skills, and ability to handle checkride-itis are all being equally evaluated. Passing checkrides requires complete preparation and a certain kind of mental toughness.
  • Out-smart the nervousness. Just tell yourself that you will answer questions and fly your airplane to the best of your ability no matter who is sitting in the airplane with you.
  • Aim for excellence. The test is not a battle between you and the examiner. The test is between you and your ability. You know that if you answer the questions and fly your airplane with excellence that the examiner will be powerless to do anything but type out your new certificate.
Everyone, from student pilots to Space Shuttle commanders, will experience some level of checkride-itis, but its how you handle that pressure that prepares you for the real world of flying -- beyond the checkride.

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About This Author:
Paul A. Craig is a Gold Seal Multiengine and Instrument Flight Instructor. He currently holds a total of 11 Flight Certificates including his ATP. Craig is a previous winner of the North Carolina and Tennessee Flight Instructor of the Year award, the NCVT Outstanding Teacher award and has served as the regional representative of the National Air and Space Museum. Craig is an FAA Aviation Safety Counselor and the author of eight books, including Pilot In Command, The Killing Zone: How and Why Pilots Die, and Controlling Pilot Error: Situational Awareness (all from McGraw Hill).
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