Back to the books

There were a lot of rumors and or notices going around last year when we published this strip in the magazines that the FAA written test questions were going to change. Some guys were worried that everything would get harder and that all of their training materials would suddenly be useless. I kind of had to chuckle a little at those rumors. I don’t think the laws of aerodynamics will be changed by the FAA. This might just be why you should KNOW your stuff if you want to be a pilot, like Julio mentioned, and not just study for the test. It will definitely help you later. The FAR’s did get a little thicker since I started flying however and I was surprised during my latest CFI renewal process how much homeland security stuff I needed to know.

But my question to all you current flight students or flight instructors among our readers is, did the FAA actually end up changing the tests last year? I never followed up on the story …

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12 comments on “Back to the books
  1. Pricey says:

    Not US, but in EASA-land they introduced a bunch of new questions to the (ATPL) exams last year.

    As reasonable as your position is, I’m sure you’re aware how badly written some of the questions are! On our side, there is no syllabus as such but learning objectives saying things as simple as “Describe the components of a simple hydraulic system.” No indication as to how much depth or what components.

    e.g. here’s a major ground school owner/chief claiming “Learning the theory won’t get you a pass with the current system, when 20% of the questions are factually wrong, as admitted by EASA themselves.”

  2. Pricey says:

    Meant to link to pprune there but either I forgot or it was eaten:

    (“Professional Pilot Training” forum, “atpl theory questions” sticky, post 720)

    Above that is an excellent discussion about the correct position to fight a fire according to EASA.

  3. Johsua says:

    The FAA did, but you wouldn’t notice most of the changes. They dropped ADF questions and added a bunch of new ones, some of which where really stupid. They had one risk management question about landing 6 miles from an active thunderstorm in calm winds. The idea was to test the student’s risk management skills but included no option to go somewhere else since the FAA recommends staying 20 nm from thunderstorms. That particular question was withdrawn.

    I saw some weird questions on my flight instructor exam too. There was one asking me what type of instrument training I could do with a single engine pilot transitioning to multi engine aircraft. Obviously I can’t do any because I’m applying for a single engine certificate but that wasn’t an option. They could have written a much better question to test CFI vs CFII instrument privileges.

  4. L says:

    Heh, this has been a pretty common complaint from some students lately. I know that at my age, it should not be a surprise anymore but I still do a double take when a student complains that they have to re-memorize the whole pool of 600 questions. *facepalm*
    I usually asked these kids how they plan on passing the oral. The deer-in-the-headlights look is always priceless. 🙂

  5. Dopey says:

    Therein lies the problem–you can know 100% of the stuff and ace the oral, and still have a big problem with the written because the questions may have no real relationship to the real world.

    With all the contradictory information that Civil aviation authorities have passed on over the years you never know what they might be looking for without memorizing the answer.

  6. JPKalishek says:

    Had a teacher in school who gave us all the answers on upcoming tests.
    Of course, he didn’t tell us what the questions were going to be, so it was a bit like playing Jeopardy. “I’ll take ‘The War Of 1812’ for an A, please”

  7. Captain Dunsel says:

    Sounds like the Microsoft exams I had to take to get my MCSE, circa 1999.

    I got a set of test questions and passed the test by memorizing them.

    Due to medical issues, I had to retire after 11 years as a school computer technician. After I retired, I pulled out the exam questions and looked at how many of them related to the work I did.

    Zilch. Zero. Not a single one! Yet, I was the lead computer tech for an entire district. I guarantee you, when I retired it wasn’t a ‘Thank God, he’s gone’ moment!


  8. FotoJunky says:

    The annoying thing with any exams are always the factual wrong answers that are considered right. Even worse I once complained about such an error at Microsoft and they answered my complaint by stating that the answer I considered wrong, was right…

    So to do some Microsoft stuff, I need to be able to run Pages?!?!?! (Pages is the Apple version of Word.)

  9. Johsua says:

    FotoJunky, this is true. Currently the FAA says that deice boots should be used when there is any ice accumulation, both on the test and in safety information. Every pilot I have met with practical experience says that deice boots need at least a quarter inch otherwise the ice will not shed cleanly. It may even cause ice bridging which the FAA insists is a myth.

  10. Bernd says:

    Joshua, not only the FAA insists, but the NTSB has evidence that ice-bridging is not a practical concern. And whatever you may think, the NTSB is not in cahoots with the FAA; their separation is real. Problems from ice-bridging are far less likely than deferring boot activation too long for fear of hypothetical bridging and running into the realm of seriously degraded aerodynamic performance as a result.

    I’m quite certain that if you ask “every pilot [you] have met”, they will always tell you of the story of a friend of a nephew’s wife’s uncle’s buddy who has had ice-bridging because of early boot-activation, but will not find one who has experienced it himself.


    – The Safety Board has no known cases where ice bridging has caused an incident or accident, and has investigated numerous incidents and accidents involving a delayed activation of deice boots.
    – Ice bridging is extremely rare, if it exists at all.

    To re-iterate: *ZERO* known incidents from ice-bridging. Nada. Zilch. None.

    *BUT* several accidents caused by delayed activation of the boots.

    If you contest the NTSB’s findings based on your own anecdotes, you should take it up with them and do some thorough research.

  11. Johsua says:

    Bernd, the fact remains that the ice doesn’t shed cleanly with less than a quarter inch and that pilots have been looking out their windows at icing conditions for nearly a century and every single one I have ever heard of says that the deice boots don’t work properly with less than about 1/4 inch of ice. Those include bush pilots, corporate pilots, and serous IFR flyers who are actually in the weather. These also include aircraft manufactures who insist that their aircraft need a 1/4 to 1/2 inch to be effective.

    The theorists can insist on how the world should work all they want but the experiment is still the indicator of what really works. Also, you know it is rather hard to find evidence for something that melts. Accident investigation is a very tricky business. And when they do the research they are talking about modern equipment fitted to turbine aircraft. Very few people actually operate that type of equipment and there are numerous pilot reports of ice bridging on everything from a DC-2 to light twins. That suggests the flaw is in their experiment, and it wouldn’t be the first time.

    For example, TACA Flight 110 suffered dual engine flame out due to water ingestion which the tests had concluded would be impossible. Experiments latter revealed a flaw in the test procedure.

    Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 2311 suffered a failure in the left propeller control unit and the propeller failed to feather properly as all the tests had determined it would.

    British Airways Flight 38, ice formed in the fuel-oil heat exchangers, something that wasn’t supposed to happen by design and standard testing did not reveal the flaw.

    The 737-200 and 300 experienced rudder hardover due to thermal shock that was undetected during the testing, certification, and several accidents. Also did not manifest itself under normal testing.

    Also, lets not forget that this is the same FAA that trained ATP pilots to pull on the yoke to maintain altitude during a stall instead of decreasing the angle of attack to break the stall until just recently. The FAA and NTSB are not infallible.

  12. YawningMan says:

    On the A&P side of things, I think the General questions may have actually changed. The Powerplant and Airframe questions are scheduled to change, as the rumor goes.

    For us, memorizing the questions helps us get through the test faster. It’s a pretty daunting test that way, since that is a pool of just over 2,600 questions for the three writtens. The orals are generally the most feared part, since the practicals are so hands-on and open book.

    I’m still working on my powerplant written, and I still have yet to do any Os & Ps.

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