What’s it like? Three Checkride Nerves

Hello everyone and welcome back!

For this weeks what’s it like segment I’ve decided to share with you an old post from my first blog that focuses on the nerves going into checkrides/stage checks.   I hope you all enjoy.   More new content is on the way soon as well as more interviews from all corners of the aviation world.


Chief Flight Instructor Whitesell
isn’t a very tall gentleman, and really isn’t all that physically imposing at
all. However he is quite, he has a sense of humor, but is very difficult to
read. When he walks into a room full of chatter, things get quiet in a hurry.
Not that he makes it that way that’s just how it happens. And you hear the
stories of the dreaded stage checks with Rick, all throughout the hangar and
the classrooms. It was kind of comforting but not at the same time knowing that
I wasn’t the only pilot who felt that way. To me he’s like the guy from the Dos
Equis beer commercial. Rick’s facial expression doesn’t change when he’s upset
or when he’s happy. You just never know what the man is thinking.


After my first solo flight, our part
141 course curriculum mandates that the student’s next flight be what’s known
as a stage check with Rick or his assistant Mike. A stage check is no more than
a practical test of the material covered in the prior “chapter” if
you will, whereas the final check ride is more like your final exam that covers
the whole curriculum. Our school divides the private pilot course into three
stages. Solo/Maneuvers, Cross-County, and the final check ride. If you’re a
pilot already reading this you’re probably familiar with
“check-ride-itis” which is the same as the “Rick effect”
that I spent the weekend dreading. Hoping I wouldn’t forget everything I
learned and make myself look like a fool. As an athlete I’m no stranger to
pressure situations or the big game but for some reason this was different. I
didn’t know which maneuvers I’d be performing or what type of mood Rick was
going to be in at the time either. Honestly I probably wouldn’t know anyway. I
had to wait until 0800 on Monday July 1st to find out. If all went well it
would be the first flight of a very busy week.


I chose a morning flight purposely
because I knew that the air would be smoother than it would be at 3:30 in the
afternoon for sure and I needed every advantage I could possibly get. Honestly
though, the “Rick Effect” had gotten into my mind so bad that I almost
started to consider it a disadvantage. At least if I struggled some during the
afternoon thermals and turbulence I would have something to blame it on. Mess
up in the calm smooth morning air and it would be all on me. While driving to
the airport I called and spoke to my Mother who told me to just relax and fly
the airplane. She told me I’d been doing fine all of this time, so it shouldn’t
be any different today. As usual she was right and I slowly began to relax.


Once I completed the pre flight
inspection Rick joined me in the airplane and we went over the pre flight
brief, then started up and taxied out to runway 1 instead of the usual 19.
Remember when I said in my last post that nothing seems to go according to
plan? This would be only my third departure from runway 1 which meant unless
the winds changed I’d be performing my landings on it as well. You’re probably
asking yourself what’s the big deal? Well due to helicopter operations and some
airspace restrictions on the western side of the airport we fly a non-standard
or right traffic pattern when runway 1 is in use. Last time I actually landed
there it was my second lesson and my instructor set up and flew the 45 for the
entry, so it would be my first time doing that as well. Any other time I
would’ve hardly noticed, so I guess you can blame it on the “Rick


After takeoff I began to feel more
comfortable because I had less time to focus on Rick. On the way to the
practice area conversation was very little and Rick was just as stone cold as
ever. “Oh Boy” I thought to myself. Once we arrived I performed a
power off stall, slow flight, emergency procedures which included a slip to
landing, and one or two more maneuvers and then he said “take me to the
airport”. All the anxiety I felt was pretty much gone at this point. I had
nailed the maneuvers and now all that was left to do was enter the pattern do
one touch and go, come back around and land. Interestingly enough on the way
back, and in fairness some other parts of the flight too, Rick started up a
conversation that lasted all the way up until I entered the pattern for
landing. Word’s can’t describe the relief I felt but I also felt quite stupid
in a way. There I was all worked up dreading something thinking Rick was this
terrible guy when in all actuality he’s not. All I had to do was fly the
airplane and he would have no reason to complain. Flying the airplane and
focusing is exactly what had brought me through the maneuvers and again during
landing. My landings on runway 1 were the best I’d had since I first started
flying there on the 8th of June. If the “Rick Effect” made me grease
it on like that particular morning, then I wanted him to be on board for every
flight. We taxied in and I shutdown the airplane and it was all over. Rick had
some advice for me which I took in and planned to adhere to during future
flights. The “Rick Effect” was over and as it turns out it really
wasn’t much of an effect at all. Just the typical case of nerves commonly
referred to as “check-ride-itis”. My next stage check should have fewer
reservations about it prior to the actual flight.


With the stage check complete I was able to resume flying
and move on to the cross country phase of my training. A well planned, and later
executed with the willingness of my instructor, week allowed me to fly as much
as possible and cover 5 lessons in 3 additional days of flying. During that
week I’d also enjoy my first out of the traffic pattern solo flight to the
local practice area, my first night flight and cross country. One more each:
dual day cross country, a night cross country, and a day time solo cross
country are all that remain before I will have my next encounter with the
“Rick Effect” for my cross country stage check. Difference is this
time I’m actually looking forward to it. In less than a month I’ve experienced
tremendous growth in my own abilities as a pilot and have been humbled as well,
and I’ve meet great people and unfortunately some not so great. I say that to
say this is more than a future career it truly is a journey, or a voyage of
sorts. There will be ups as well as downs but when you’re doing something that
you absolutely love to do, nothing can keep you away.



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