glad we took the practice test. It was a good
mental exercise and caused us to use muscles we hadn’t used in years.
We soon came to the conclusion that this
test isn’t just for student pilots—it’s also a
great resource for experienced pilots.
A SOLID FOUNDATION
The FAA’s knowledge test is used in primary training to help lay a foundation,
upon which a student pilot and instructor
can then build practical flying skills. The
test covers a wide range of topics, from
aircraft performance calculations to reading weather maps and understanding
As with any foundation, once the
house is built, the foundation is quickly
forgotten even though it continues to
support the house. Taking this mock test
after becoming a pilot felt like a foundation inspection. Naturally, none of us
were eager to undergo this
If we’re honest with ourselves, we
avoid these self-inspections because we
are afraid of failure and being discovered a
fraud, no matter our level of skill. In fact,
the more we have to lose, the more we try
to hide and cover up our weaknesses and
shortcomings in fear that we’ll lose something we treasure so deeply.
As pilots there are subjects many of us
know only enough about to choose the
right multiple choice answer. We secretly
fear one day we’ll be cornered on the
topic and be exposed as a bad pilot. Take
a deep breath. You’re not a bad pilot, and
neither am I.
All five of us who took the test
confessed we found areas we were embarrassingly weak in. This didn’t make us
bad pilots. I’d personally fly with all of my
co-workers who took this test (even the
ones who flunked). Bad pilots are those
who are content and don’t care to find
those areas they should learn more about.
One of the most experienced pilots
who took the mock test admitted he
wanted to become reacquainted with an
old friend, his manual E6-B, and again
learn how to use it for the sixth time.
Another pilot confessed he dug out his
aircraft’s operating handbook to look up
some landing figures he used to know like
the back of his hand but had long forgotten. Another pilot laughed as she
“Take a deep breath.
You’re not a bad pilot
and neither am I. ... Bad
pilots are those who are
content and don’t care
to find those areas they
should learn more about.”
confessed she couldn’t determine the
weather over Nebraska because “who can
tell the difference between all those rectangular states when they’re not labeled?”
We laughed and knew exactly how she
felt but weren’t as brave as she was to say
it out loud.
So go ahead, take a look at your foundation; take a practice test and see if there
are some areas in which you could use
DOING THE MATH
In the age of Garmin’s faithful magenta
line, online flight planners, and weight and
balance apps on our phones, we asked each
other if doing the math manually, which the
test requires for many questions, was even
valuable to the practical flier.
The obvious and easy answer was that
any of our new modern tools can fail, but an
even more convincing answer soon surfaced. By taking this test and slowing down
to do the math manually again, it reminded
us how to think as pilots. Our fancy gadgets
can calculate groundspeed, weight and balance, and takeoff performance much better
than any of us can on paper, but if we’re not
thinking about wind as a factor, or the location of that 50-pound bag, or what density
altitude affects, we’re in trouble.
Working through these questions by
hand was a great reminder of all the small
factors we should be thinking about on
every flight, whether that’s takeoff distance
over a 50-foot obstacle, understanding how
fuel mixture affects cylinder head temper-
atures, or knowing how fast you can
legally fly in controlled airspace. The
written test covers all of these areas and
thinking of these topics again was a great
Brady Lane, EAA 808095, is a multimedia journalist for EAA and a sport pilot. Visit www.SportAviation.org to take a practice test and for links to Brady’s flight-training videos and homebuilding blog.
TIPS FOR STAYING SHARP
• Celebrate the anniversary of when you passed
your knowledge test or flight test each year by taking
another practice test, just to see how you do. Find a
link to the test at www.SportAviation.org.
• Help a current student pilot study for his or her
• Teach your passenger about density altitude,
how to calculate weight and balance, or what all
the various V-speeds mean.