Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Obscure Minutae

So I'm sitting, sipping my late morning tea (yeah, I've given up coffee, but that's a whole 'nother story) when I see a neighbor coming up the steps with a letter in his hand. He pauses, starts to put it in our mailbox, then thinks better of it and knocks on the door.

"Hey Stephen, what's up?" I ask.

"Hi John, the mailman delivered this to our house and ... I thought it might be important." He hands me the official-looking envelope and I glance at the return address: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration.

I suspect he thought I was getting some sort of official notice about something bad. After all, how often does one get good news from the Federal Government? But I suspected the contents of this letter wouldn't be all that unpleasant.

The National Examiner Board (NEB) wishes to congratulate you on the successful completion of the examiner predesignation test(s) ...

The first thought that went through my mind was "Cool!" It's important to acknowledge that this is just another step in the process and it's certainly no guarantee of becoming a Designated Pilot Examiner. I have no idea whether or not my local FSDO has need for another DPE, but at least I'm "in the pool."

A few weeks ago, I had finally carved out enough time to really prepare for the knowledge test. Like all FAA knowledge tests, this one was peppered with questions that one must parse very carefully. Frankly, the answers to some of the questions are incorrect. For example, one question gives you a portion of a VFR sectional and asks when you'd need to talk to ATC on a trip from one airport to another at a specific altitude. It doesn't take much experience to realize that the proposed route will take you through Class C airspace, but the "correct" answer says "when entering Class C airspace." Now we all know that VFR aircraft must make contact with ATC prior to entering Class C airspace.

This sort of sloppiness normally doesn't bother me, but many test questions have several answers that are basically correct. The "distractors" are somewhat correct answers that are supposed to discriminate between people who know the stuff pretty well and those who know it really well. The people who know the stuff really well will choose the most correct answer. That's the theory, anyway. So one answer is more correct than the others and this teaches you to read the question very carefully and thoroughly. Spending so much effort concentrating on each sentence makes the imprecise, yet correct answers all the more annoying.

My application and test results are both good for 24 calendar months. DPEs and DPE candidates must also maintain a current flight instructor certificate and possess a third-class medical. If I'm selected, I'll have to present my logbooks and certificates, then take a practical test, then attend a standardization seminar in Oklahoma City. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I've completed only the first two steps. Now the waiting begins.


Eric Gideon said...

Congratulations! I just passed my CFII checkride this morning - it must be a day for good aviation news.

The vagueness of a lot of FAA questions has baffled me for years, to be honest. It wasn't until my CFII written, however, that I discovered something I will tell every student from now on: there are keys to just about every chart in the binder of test materials. Ft/nm to fpm conversions... approach lighting systems... name anything, and it's probably there.

On the other hand, the approach plates they use for the exams are at least fifteen years old. The new NACO format? Nowhere to be seen. Instead, applicants are required to interpret charts that aren't even in the FAA's own Instrument Flying Handbook. Time to modernize, guys.

Mike said...


You'll make an excellent DPE. I hope there is room in the pool for you.

The Federal Government is notorious for these types of exams in all regulated areas. I remember taking some required securities licensing exams where there were 4 answers for every question. 1 is clearly wrong and 3 are correct. Which of the 3 is the most correct? Good times.

Like Eric said, the FAA could stand to update their tests a bit. Is it really necessary to do ALL the perfomance calculations on a 727 or DC-9 for the ATP? How many new captains will be calculating MAC, by hand, for an old 727?

Good luck in your DPE endeavor. The FAA needs good guys like you.

Shane said...

Congrats, John! I hope that you are selected at a DE. I think that your detailed, yet practical approach to flying will translate well into working as an examiner.

What you really need at this point is a DE nickname so that you will fit in with "Scary Larry", "Silent Shiflett" and the others. Hmmm, maybe "The Hat" - as in "Uh oh, I'm doing my Commercial checkride with The Hat!"

John said...

Thanks for your support, guys!

And Shane, "The Hat" ... I like it. It sure beat Chrome Dome!