Checkride Anxiety: Much Ado About Everything

By Rod Machado

An FAA designated examiner once told me about the most anxious private pilot candidate he ever experienced on a checkride. Aside from sweating and mumbling during the oral exam (the applicant, not the examiner), the ultimate demonstration of in-flight nerves began when the examiner requested a steep turn. “We were about 180 degrees into the turn,” confessed the examiner, “when the student hurled up his breakfast. Were it not for the g-force, I might have worn a breakfast burrito. Thank goodness I didn’t ask Hurlman for a stall.”

Yeah, he might have gotten the whole enchilada.

Perhaps you’ve never been that nervous on a checkride, but many people experience nervousness and discomfort to such a degree that it inhibits their performance. Interestingly, studies show that a little anxiety can enhance your checkride performance. Too much, however, certainly works against you. So how can a person deal with performance anxiety on a checkride? Here are four strategies that might help.

One of the most effective ways of reducing your pre-checkride anxiety is to actually take the checkride before taking the checkride. Think of it as déjà preview. If you anticipate a case of checkride nerves, give those nerves a trial run by taking a simulated checkride with an FAA designated examiner. That’s right. Contact the examiner (or any examiner) several weeks before your checkride and see if he or she will fly with you for an interim evaluation of your flying skills. There’s nothing unethical about doing this. Some flight-school-based examiners provide stage-check evaluations for students before giving them their actual checkride. You might also elect to simulate only the oral examination, or the in-flight examination instead of the entire checkride, depending on your degree of anxiety.

Of course you’ll have to negotiate the fee with the examiner, who might charge his hourly instructor rate, or her typical checkride fee. This strategy isn’t for those on a tight budget. Either way, making a checkride dry run (which also means you’re unlikely to throw up on the examiner) is a great way to make your actual checkride a less stressful experience.

Another strategy used to reduce performance anxiety involves drugs. Wait, don’t call the DEA. These are actually legitimate prescription drugs in the beta blocker category. Beta blockers help reduce the body’s reaction to adrenaline, which can produce the feelings associated with situational stress. Reduce those feelings and you diminish your checkride anxiety. In fact, a 1982 study of more than 2,000 symphony orchestra musicians found that 27% took beta blockers to reduce performance anxiety. Now, I’m not a fan of using drugs to handle normal cases of checkride anxiety, but some folks just don’t behave normally (think Hurlman). Just to be clear here, I’m not a doctor, but your aviation medical examiner (AME) is. That’s why you should consult with him or her about short term use of beta blockers to reduce performance anxiety, and what approval if any is required.

Many other strategies for reducing performance anxiety involve what I call the “Breathe deeply and think happy thoughts” method. Some are effective and a few are downright whacky. Fortunately, there is one method that works well and doesn’t involve robes or a trip to India.

In his classic book, “The Relaxation Response,” Dr. Herbert Benson published a simple five-step method of calming your body that you can use before taking your checkride. You begin by sitting in a comfortable position (1), then closing your eyes (2), followed by progressively relaxing all your muscles from feet to face (3). Next you breathe through your nose and think about your breathing. As you breathe in and out you say the word, “One” silently to yourself (4). Breath in (say, “One”—or any soothing sound), breath out (say, “One”) and so on. Continue this exercise for 10 to 20 minutes (5). With enough practice, your body will produce the relaxation response automatically by breathing to your pace word. And yes, you can synch your breathing to your pace word at any time during your checkride to induce relaxation. I wouldn’t, however, recommend saying your soothing pace word out loud, especially if you choose the word, “parachute.”

Finally, I’ve saved what I believe to be the most useful technique for last. An excellent solution to checkride-itis is to look at the experience from a different perspective. This is somewhat like renting the movie “The Godfather” and playing it backwards. Now you see a story about how a horse gets its head back and the humanitarian Mafia movement uses baseball bats to heal broken knees.

This strategy involves letting go of what you want in order to get what you want. Think of the checkride as an evaluation of your ability to be safe, not a pass-or-fail Inquisition. After all, you wouldn’t want to fly if you weren’t safe, would you? Of course not. You’d be exposing your family and friends to potential harm. That’s why you should see successfully passing the checkride as a confirmation of your ability to fly safely. If you fail the ride, then a part of you should feel grateful about knowing that a wise designated examiner spotted a deficiency in your flying skills. Correct that flaw and you can then have confidence that a representative of the FAA believes in your ability to pilot an airplane safely.

So there you have it, four strategies for dealing with checkride anxiety. While one size doesn’t fit all, one size is sure to fit you.

By Rod Machado | | All Rod's Posts, Flying Anxiety, Technique | 0 comments
next post → ← previous post

Comments

Leave a comment

Stay in Touch

Physical Product Ordering Only (800) 437-7080

If you'd like to order a PHYSICAL product by phone, please call the number above. Digital (downloadable) products can't be ordered by phone.

Latest Posts

  • The Middle-aged Aviator

     By Rod Machado Over the years, I’ve heard many stories about middle-aged pilots (45-65 years) who gave up flying due to a sudden onset of anxiety. Apparently this wasn’t induced by any specific aviation trauma nor inspired by the relatively... read more

  • Cargo Cult Thinking

    By Rod Machado  Early in the 20th Century, pilots visited remote islands by air, dropping off goodies for Tarzan and Jane. On subsequent visits, these pilots noticed that the natives had built flimsy stick-and-twig replicas of their airplanes. Anthropologists named... read more

  • Recent Changes to Part-61 and Why They Are FANTASTIC!

    By Rod Machado Am I happy about the recent changes to FAR Part 61? You bet I’m happy. These changes will be helpful to general aviation in much the same way a corkscrew is to a Frenchman on Bastille Day.... read more

  • FAR CHANGES THAT BENEFIT GENERAL AVIATION - BIG TIME!

    The FAA has just released several "final new rules" that will have a positive effect on general aviation. The FAA deserves props for these changes and I want to be the first to congratulate them. You can read the rule making... read more

  • ACS Changes? Don't Celebrate Yet

    Flight instructors! Remove those party hats, collect the confetti and deflate those balloons because this is no time to celebrate. Celebrate what? I'm speaking of celebrating the FAA's semi-reinstatement of full-stalls in the June 2018 Commercial Airplane ACS. It turns out that... read more

  • How Is Maneuvering Speed Determined?


    If you've ever wondered how engineers find an airplane's maneuvering speed, here's your chance to understand the concept in non-technical terms. That's right! No math here. Sit back, relax and let Rod Machado help you better understand Va and how... read more

  • Why Maneuvering Speed Changes With Weight


    In the previous video titled, "Understanding Maneuvering Speed," I explained how maneuvering speed helps prevent structural damage to the airplane. In this video, I explain why maneuvering speed changes with a change in the airplane's weight. You must watch the... read more

  • Why Vx & Vy Change With Altitude

    If you've ever wondered why Vx (best angle of climb speed) and Vy (best rate of climb speed) change with altitude, here's a short explanation of the concept by Rod Machado read more

  • The Proper Attitude for Making a High Density Altitude Takeoff

    Not knowing how to select the proper attitude for departure from a high density altitude airport means you might accidentally clip the top of tall pine trees near the end of the runway (or worse). This is no way to... read more

  • Teaching Students How to Think Ahead of the Airplane


    Here is a simple but very effective behavior modification technique I've used with my students over the years to train them to think ahead of the airplane. It's based on the principle of associative conditioning. Use it to train your... read more

  • Rod Machado's Five Step Teaching Process (For Any Teacher/Instructor)

    Here is a 5-Step teaching strategy that I've used for decades—both in and out of an airplane cockpit—with great success. It's useful by any teacher in any training situation because it provides a strategic approach to changing a student's behavior.... read more

  • Leaning the Mixture for a High Density Altitude Takeoff

    Here's a short video showing you several ways to lean your airplane's mixture for a high density altitude takeoff. This piece covers leaning for normally aspirated engines having fixed pitch and constant speed propellers. (www.becomeapilot.com) read more