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The FAA Oral Examination | FAA Ramp Check Survival

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FAA Oral Examination

The FAA Oral Examination – I Have Been Asked These Questions

I am in the sunset of my aviation career, as a muse about days past I recall certain times that were sometimes bazaar, sometimes humorous, sometimes insane…and yes, some times somber (I have had first hand experience with crashes; those I intentionally forget). What follows are two of those recollections; a requirement with becoming a pilot will, the FAA Oral Examination.

In the United States there has evolved a standardized procedure involving the FAA and an aspirant aviator, the “Practical Examination”, this ritual (Right of Passage if you will) is composed of two parts, the Oral Examination and the Flight Test. In days gone by the standardization was not as it is today, when I was tested for my private pilots license the examiner was at liberty to ask just about anything and everything, such as:

Q: What is the function of the landing gear?

A: It saves wear and tear on the bottom of the plane.

As my aviation career progressed I underwent numerous exams. What follows is a question I was asked during the oral for my CFI (Certified Flight Instructor).

Q: You are flying a J-2 Cub (note J-2, Not J-3), you are about take off, you need to make a 90° turn onto the runway, the wind is right down the runway. Which way do you hold the ailerons?

At the time (during the test) I thought that the check airman was totally full of el poop-po de Toro (male bovine fecal matter). I didn’t know the correct answer.

Correct Answer: Opposite the direction of turn i.e. if you are turning left onto the runway, hold the ailerons full right.

My opinion of the examined changed when I flew a J-3 Cub for the first time, guess what, the guy was right! There are some significant differences between the J-3 and the J-2, those differences make the answer to the forgoing question much more relevant. The J-2 doesn’t have a tail wheel, it’s a skid, and the J-2 doesn’t have brakes, the J-3 does.

There is a little jingle that is vanishing under the sands of time, disappearing because in today’s airplanes, the pilots think that the rudder peddles are something to rest your feet on. “Stick and rudder, stick and rudder, don’t use one without the other”.

Why? “Adverse Yaw”.

To make the plane turn, you take the stick or yoke and move it in the direction of the desired turn. One aileron goes up, the other goes down, and the plane rolls into a bank and turns. The adverse yaw is caused by the down deflecting aileron, anytime you make lift you also make drag; consequently the aircraft will yaw opposite the direction of turn. It’s the drag…If you ever fly a J-3 remember this. It really does make a difference which way you hold the ailerons while you are taxing for take off.

Next is a question for which I tutored, a question that at the time I thought was even more male bovine fecal matter than the above, and also a question that until relatively recently had no provable answer:

Above I have related the story concerning a question I was asked during the oral exam for my CFI (Certified Flight Instructor). Well…next step after the CFI is the CFII (Certified Instrument Flight Instructor). At the time, a member of the military could use the GI Bill to fund higher education, this included aviation.

I was stationed at Camp Pendleton in southern California and took advantage of this at a GI Bill approved flight school at the Palomar airport (now KCRQ). Since Uncle Sam was providing 90% of the funding, after I passed everything required for the CFI I continued with the CFII.

There is a segment of the academic training that (at the time) didn’t have ridged standardization, i.e. the preparation for the oral exam. The question I am about to relate I am sure that you will think I am absolutely out of my mind. But…this is as serious as a heart attack.

A slight digression: There was an examiner at the San Diego GATO who was notorious for asking absurd, irrelevant, inapplicable, etc. etc. questions that had no purpose other than to show off some superior knowledge of an unimportant detail of something that nobody cared about anyway.

Such as: Which way does the gyro in the turn needle rotate? I mean…who cares? Is it a pre-flight item? Oh, this particular examiner asked a similar question to an applicant, the applicant answered with “Who cares?”, the examiner replied with “I care!” and busted him. So, my instructor asked me a question that was on the list of cacamainy (spelling correct for my usage) questions that I might be asked.

Question: On an ILS approach, how would you track the localizer needle if you flew the approach inverted?

What?? My instructor assured me that if this particular examiner was assigned to me, there was a high probability that I would be asked this question. I suppose that the purpose of the question was an exercise in visualization.

My instructor and me get into a royal urinating contest. Each of us accused the other of being so full of dog stool that he shouldn’t be allowed to live. I mean, what are you going to do, get in a plane and fly an ILS upside-down?

Time goes by and a proof positive answer was never found. Then, I build my simulator and I remembered this question. So I asked myself: “Will the planes on this simulator fly upside-down?” Answer: Yes. Next question, “Can I fly an ILS inverted?” Answer: Yes (sort of)…actually, after you practice enough it’s really not that difficult. The hard part is when you get to DH, flipping the plane right side up and landing.

The correct answer to the question; “How do you track the localizer needle if you fly an ILS inverted?”, demonstrated by computer simulation is: track the localizer normally. The only thing that is reversed are the pitch corrections.

End note: The simulator that I built for myself is based on the Microsoft 2004 Century of Flight program, the planes fly upside-down just fine (I use the CH Products yoke, throttle quadrant and rudder peddles). If you have occasion to take training at SimCom or Flight Safety, their simulators don’t fly inverted very well.

FAA Ramp Check Survival

I’ve been ramp checked twice. Both times occurred while I was securing the plane after a flight. I was going about my business and getting everything squared away, when a man who I had never seen before comes up to me and starts talking about the weather and asking me a bunch of questions.

Getting ramp checked by the FAA is really not a big deal–so long as you’ve got your shit in order. The first time, it took me a minute to figure out what was going on. The second time, I knew what was happening and I was ready for it.

During the process of a ramp check, the FAA inspector is going to check a number of things. Most of it is common sense and these are things you should already know from your flight training; ie, most of this should be a review for you. And If it isn’t, go find your old CFI and kick their ass.

So what should you do and what should expect during the process?

  • Know who you are talking to. Ask for the person’s name. Find out what he or she is doing there. They could be anybody. And this being post 9/11, everyone needs to know who’s walking around on the flightline.
  • If the person is a FAA inspector, you need to know it as soon as possible. If they are, ask to see their FAA Identification card.

Personal Documents

When you get in the plane to fly, you are required by FAR 61.3 to have three personal documents with you.

  1. Your Pilot Certificate
  2. Your CURRENT medical certificate <— must be the original certificate issued by the Airman Medical Examiner and be CURRENT
  3. Your driver’s license or other government issued ID <–must have your photograph on it.

These are the first things the Inspector will want to see, so you better make sure you’ve got them.


Although you are not required by the FARs to carry your logbook(unless you’re a student pilot),the inspector may ask to see it.

I always tell pilots not to bring their logbook with them when on a flight for two reasons:

  • If you’re in an accident and it’s destroyed, you won’t have documentation to prove your currency and flight time. So, to fix this problem, I suggest you keep a photocopy of your logbook in some other place.
  • If the Inspector asks to check your logbook, you will have to show them the entire logbook. Instead of having the inspector review more than they need to, I would rather have the opportunity AFTER the ramp check to simply give them photocopies of the pages that they would like to review.

Required Aircraft Documents

The inspector will want to check the aircraft documents during the ramp check. FAR Part 91 requires certain documents be on board.

Remember ARROW?

A – Airworthiness Certificate (N-number should match with the AC)

R – Registration Certificate (N-number should match with the AC)

R – Radio Station License (Only if you are flying outside of the US)

O – Operator’s limitations ( Aircraft POH)

W – Weight and Balance Data (usually in the POH as well)

Remember this: An inspector cannot inspect the interior of your aircraft without your consent. So, rather than having to give consent, I recommend that you personally remove the requested documents from the aircraft and give them to the inspector.


Pilots are required by FAR Part 91 to be familiar with all available information for each flight. So, an inspector may also ask to see the aeronautical charts you have used on your flight. Make sure the charts you have in the aircraft or your flight bag are current and appropriate to your flight.

This may seem like a “no-brainer,” but you would be surprised how many pilots are flying around with sectional charts that are several years old or instrument approach plates that are more than 56 days old.

Interacting With The Inspector

During the ramp check, do not volunteer any information. Remain respectful, but don’t give the Inspector any more information than is required.

Don’t try to argue with the Inspector either. You won’t win the argument anyway. Instead, you’ll just piss them off and it will usually just cause you more trouble. So don’t do it.

Play nice and show some respect.

Don’t Worry!

While you will most likely never find yourself undergoing a ramp check, it’s important to remember that if you do, it’s survivable.

– Shawn Hardin CFI/CFII

Robby Davis

Robby Davis

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At CoastPrivate, we’re more than simply a jet charter company; we’re a full-service private aviation brokerage offering a wealth of solutions, from ad-hoc charter and elite jet card membership programs, to airliner charters, private jet leasing and private jet sales worldwide.

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