Most people that know me would tell you that I am a bit of a perfectionist. I only like to do things once, and I like to do those things with excellence. It’s pretty rare that I do something that I’m not good at – and that’s partly because if I know I’m not good at it, I don’t do it.

I’ve spent three of the past four weeks in Las Vegas for school. ATP flies the students to Las Vegas for CFI School. CFI School is where you learn to become an flight instructor. The first four days are 8-9 hour long days of ground training. You learn everything you need to know as far as regulations go, endorsing students as their training progresses, and lots about things called “Fundamentals of Instructing” (FOIs).

After ground school is completed, you have “free” time until your check ride (test) is scheduled. That time should really be used to study – to study and to practice teaching different things to the other people in my CFI class. My check ride was scheduled for Thursday, Oct 8. It was with an examiner that ATP doesn’t typically use and he had only done two check rides for ATP previously. Luckily, one of them was with a guy in my class who had his ride on the day before mine. He briefed me on what the examiner was looking for and a basic profile of how the oral and the flight would go. The bad part is that he lives in California and flew in specifically to do two check rides. He had to leave on Thursday afternoon to head back to California. Knowing this, I had to pass.

I studied and practiced teaching different material a lot with the other guys in my CFI class. I flew three times to prepare and the instructor that flew with me signed me off. I was ready for this check ride.

I went to the ATP training center early on Thursday morning. The examiner also arrived early, so we started about 30 minutes early. The examiner is a great guy. He’s nice, pleasant and laid out his expectations for the oral and the flight very clearly. We began the oral and I began teaching him on the subjects that he requested.

There’s a lovely publication put out by the FAA for examiners called the “Practical Test Standards” (PTS). There’s a different PTS for each and every check ride. This time around, I was getting my initial flight instructor rating in a multi engine airplane – or Multi Engine Instructor (MEI) rating. There’s a PTS for that.

The PTS lays out each and every topic that’s required by the FAA for a certain rating as well as every other topic that is considered optional for the examiner. In my studying efforts – and probably everyone else’s as well – I focused on the required tasks from the PTS because I knew that I would be asked about those topics.

Anyway, I began teaching the subjects that the examiner asked about, taking breaks every 45 minutes or so. Before every break he told me that I was doing well and that we could continue. Then, after about 2 and a half hours of oral, he broke the news. I had failed. He told me that everything that I had actually taught on had been fine, but that I had missed several important topics completely.

He then asked me to open that silly PTS and read through a task that he had asked me to do. This one was specifically on “runway incursions” which is a special emphasis area for the FAA. There’s about 17 things under that task. The examiner informed me that I had maybe touched on 10 of them. He brought up another example of a different task in which I’d also forgotten a few keys aspects of the task.

The funny thing about this is that these are open-book – actually open-resource (you can use just about anything you want) – oral exams. He told me that if I had just had the PTS open and had been following along and making sure that I discussed each item, I more than likely would have passed. Boy was I mad.

He reminded me that as a flight instructor teaching a brand new student, they don’t know what they don’t know. He said that if I forget to teach certain areas to a student, that would be setting them up for failure because it’s not like they would go and look it up themselves.

How could I have made such a dumb mistake? Not only are there financial and timeline consequences, but now I have a failure of a check ride on my record. That is not OK. Of course everyone around me was supportive and kept reaffirming me and my abilities, reminding me that this check ride only has a 50% pass rate. That didn’t really help. I don’t fail.

I wanted to get out of Vegas. Fast. The ATP manager called Flight Ops, and they bought me a ticket back to Denver. I got a ride to the airport and was ready to get out of there. I ate lunch by myself in the airport and began the process of introspection. I realized a few things. I realized that I have a pride issue. I realized that because I was one of the only students in my CFI class that had never failed a check ride, I felt superior to them – like I was a better pilot or something. I realized that I felt super snobby. I also realized that failing may have been a good wake up call.

I’m always my own worst critic. It isn’t a big deal that I failed a check ride. It doesn’t make me any worse of a pilot or instructor. It doesn’t necessarily even reflect on my abilities as a pilot. I asked God to take all that crap away. I asked him to help me get off my tower of wanted perfection and to forgive myself.

Romans 5:3-4 says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”

God’s building some endurance and some character in me. I want to give up and quit. I don’t want to go back to Vegas to retest. But I know that I need to. My examiner doesn’t have availability to retest me until November 15 so I’m taking time to rest and to study and to prepare for next time. You can be certain that I’ll remember to use the PTS this time and that I’ll be checking every little box as we go to ensure that I don’t forget anything and on the evening of November 15th, I’ll have good news for you!