Darren Smith, Flight Instructor
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GPS on the Checkride

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
IFR Checkride Reviewer, April, 2009
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Checkride Tools:  GPS on the Checkride | E6B on the Checkride | Visi-Plotter | Visi-Hold

This article is the first of two articles eschewing modern technologies in the conduct of checkrides.  The theory has always been that you'd be in real trouble of any of the battery operated pilot tools died during crunch time.  It's the same reason we've always carried more than one flashlight, pen/pencil, etc. I've had a number of students wish to use the GPS on their practical exams (checkrides).  I have always counseled students to avoid becoming dependent on handheld or onboard GPS units.  They sure are wonderful though aren't they.

After years of FAA policy prohibiting use of hand-held GPS units during FAA checkrides, the FAA Flight Standards division in Washington DC is now allowing the use of hand-held GPS units on Private, Commercial and Instrument FAA check rides. The source for this is Part 61 FAQ's, Question 170e. 

Jason, a reader from my website, writes:
Darren...I busted my IFR checkride today and I think I got a raw deal.  I am a visual guy.  I cannot do holds without a moving map display.  This is simply the way my brain functions even after numerous hours (and hundreds of dollars) of trying.  With the display, I am on it with no problems and can fly holds for hours.  On the checkride, I began attempting a hold at the final approach fix and began to rely on the panel mount GPS.  When I did, he turned it off saying he wanted me to demonstrate the maneuver with only the basic instruments.

I had significant problems.  Blew past the inbound, tried again.  On the second try I made the hold (ugly, very ugly) and was inbound totally frazzled.  I started my clock late, descended late, and my profile was way off.  I had no DME back-up because the panel mount GPS was off.  I was  about 3-4 miles past the MAP when I started the missed.

At that time the test was halted and I was busted.  The examiner turned off the panel mount, I was essentially flying an IFR stack I had never flown since my instructor allowed me to use the panel mount...which is a practice that raises no eyebrows at all.

I wrote back and told Jason, "I was surprised he let you even bring a handheld GPS to a checkride.  But he did, apparently yielding to the new thinking on the use of GPS units."

Of course the DPE/Inspector can expect you to demonstrate radio navigation on the check ride.  And if the aircraft is equipped with a VOR receiver and CDI, you must demonstrate proficiency with that unit as well.  The typical DPE may let you start with the GPS, but you should expect that he will fail it at some point and ask you to demonstrate intercepting & tracking radials, radio navigation, and holding at a VOR using the raw data.  Guidance given to DPEs include very specific ways to fail panel mounted GPS units including pulling certain circuit breakers in some cases.  You should understand those failure modes specific to your aircraft.

Flying an IFR stack on your checkride that you have never seen before raises my eyebrows.  And should yours as well.  If your flight instructor never told you that you'd need to demonstrate radio navigation and your GPS would be failed, he did you a disservice.  I would not have signed off a student for a checkride if they were not able to demonstrate intercepting & tracking radials, radio navigation, and holding at a VOR using the raw data. It appears in Jason's situation, his flight instructor did not fully prepare him for the checkride. 

The examiner was well within his authority to fail the student due to lack of situational awareness, performing the approach incorrectly (late descent), inability to demonstrate radio navigation, and failure to perform a missed approach at the MAP (missed approach point).

Some might say that performing a hold on a checkride is a waste of time because it never happens in the real world.  And that's very wrong.  During my time with my current airline, every time I've been in the operations control center, there's always been an airliner holding for some reason or another.  I too have experienced it during IFR conditions coming into Myrtle Beach SC at the exact time afternoon push was occurring (all airline departures happening at one time).  So put away those ideas that holds never occur, because its an Air Traffic Controller's best friend when he needs to put an airplane somewhere while he deals with other traffic.

I had a student sometime back who was very addicted to his large moving map displays in his brand new Cessna.  When he came to me, he stated that he needed 3 hours and a signoff to take the checkride.  The first thing we did is a bravo pattern and then I pulled out the Garmin Guidance for DPEs and CFIs and went through some of the failure modes, forcing this pilot to perform an ILS approach without the moving map.    He couldn't do it.  Needless to say, 3 hours later, I did not sign him off for his checkride.  Cirrus has a similar manual and a web search should produce that PDF if you need it.

One final note.  If you take an instrument checkride in an aircraft with a certified GPS installed, expect to perform a GPS approach using it.  The PTS requires the applicant to demonstrate two different types of non-precision approaches.  That could be a GPS, VOR, LOC, NDB(if installed), or LDA/SDF.  If a DME unit is installed, you'll most likely be asked to perform an approach with a DME arc.  Even if you are not asked to perform an NDB approach, DME arc, or GPS, you may be asked to demonstrate the use of the equipment in conjunction with another approach.  For example, show station passage on the ADF during this ILS approach. 

During the oral exam portion of the checkride, expect questions if the aircraft you'll use has a GPS installed.
1.  What is WAAS?
2.  How many satellites are required to use an LPV approach?
3.  When does the GPS sensitivity change during an approach?  How is it displayed?
4.  What does the OBS button do?
5.  How do you perform a GPS preflight?
6.  Why do you need to enter the altimeter setting?
7.  What is RAIM?  How can you check for NOTAMs regarding this feature?
8.  Can you use GPS in lieu of DME?
9.  Why do some waypoints have parentheses around them?
10.  Tell me how you can find the nearest airport in an emergency.
11.  What does the GPS/NAV button do, and when would I use it?
12.  What is AHRS?  Is your aircraft equipped with this?  What does it do?
13.  What is RNP?  When is it used?
14.  Is GPS true north or magnetic north?
15.  Is a portable GPS unit legal for IFR flight?  In what way?
16.  When is active monitoring of another navigation tool required?
NEXT:  Flight Computers on the Checkride >>

 "Navigating by the compass in a sea of clouds over Spain is all very well, it is very dashing,
but - you want to remember that below the sea of clouds lies eternity."
— Antoine de St. Exupery, Wind, Sand and Stars  

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