PPL(H) – Skill Test Exam Flight

PPL(H) – Skill Test Exam Flight

Planning & Briefing

All steps up to this stage built one huge adventure with many unforgettable memories. And now the final day has arrived.

The Exam Flight, so called Skill Test Filght:  Briefing / Navigation / Exercises.

First, I get some waypoints for the navigation flight – based on this I have to prepare the Full MATED Brief.

Afterwards, I explain all the different parts of it in a briefing to the examiner. He acts like a passenger during the whole exam. You treat him like a total novice and he pretends to have no idea of flying helicopters at all.

This situation is a bit strange, but similar to other verbal exams at college or university. During the flight this will remain the same. He won’t say much – as long as you do a good job. That’s why it was very important, we had always trained to talk and verbalise all the different steps. The examiner has never flown with you before and he can’t look into your head.

The more you comment on what you are doing, verbalise your position, checks etc., the better he can judge your skills and will not start to distract you with questions. As for planning & flying in general: Always be upfront in the situation, lead it. It’s appreciated, good airmenship and makes everything way easier & relaxed and prevents any bad surprises.

Finally, I have to take the decision if the weather is good enough to go and fly the exam. It’s quite windy. And I know I do not do myself a favour but I have trained everything in even more wind and decide to go. He checks back almost five times and asks me, if I am really happy. “Yes. I am happy  – let’s go & fly!”

Part I – Navigation Flight

Leg One  & Two – Track Hold  & Track Crawl –  The Navigation Flight consists of all parts we trained during the training. Nothing is new but everything occurs. First we fly a Track Hold, straight into the edge of Gatwick‘s CTR.

The Radio shouldn’t be an issue any more and flying accurately is key at this point. Before arriving to the CTR area we are aiming for, I have to descend below a certain height to keep legal. And, I should not miss the field we are looking for – only a few miles behind is the CTR Airspace that goes all the way to the ground.

I had flown in this direction once before, but not exactly the same route. Of course, the moment arrives in which I am not exactly sure if I am really on track. Trying hard to find ourselves on the chart I simply continue to comment on what I see, pretending we are totally on track and hope to get there soon. Just trusting my heading – as learned & trained.

From here, we switch to a Track Crawl. Its direction is straight into wind and I have to really concentrate on flying accurately in these conditions. This leg takes more than twenty minutes and the examiner will just keep completely quiet.

It was really good that in previous flights I had continued to talk with my ghost instructor under the seat and later with Heclicopter Lady G. But I did not mention any sheeps this time and mentioned the amazing view only once!

Farm Spotting / OS Map  & VOR Flight – when we arrived we switched to the OS map and looked for a property on the hill. It is quite huge, but behind a forest. Here we talk about approaches to confined areas and start to follow a VOR radial.

I had no problems to tune into the VOR but afterwards the radial did not arrive for quite a long time. Again – know what you do and don’t get confused. It finally came in and we flew all the way back to the south to the area where we would start part II of the skill test.

Part II – Manoeuvres & Exercises

From here the examiner gets way more active, talks a lot on the radio, regularly takes control and it feels more like another really fun training session. First, he hands me over the foggles and we start instrument flying – 360° degree turns and then recovery back to normal flight from unusual positions. Straight from here we go for a practice forced landing.

On the way back to Goodwood he asks me about specific warning lights etc. Back down on the airfield we fly backwards and do different variations of spot turns. He does not have to test all the exercises from my training but a siginificant part of them. Of course we don’t waste time with the easiest ones.

From here he cruises the magic carpet over the field in a stunning way and lines me up for a nice Quick Stop, afterwards we land on the slope, take off again, fly a circuit and finalise the Skill Test Flight with an Engine Off Landing.


I had really enjoyed the training so far and I was almost a little sad to be finished now, it was such a great time. But of course I was proud too that it all went so well. It feels very strange walking back to the academy building, thinking that now the next step will be “hours building” – flying wherever I want to …

The training was not just fun, it was very straightforward. We never wasted time on unnecessary repetitions. We continously built up the skills until we started to fine-tune. We did all the steps so faithfully that after the mock flight I had absolutely no concerns about passing this exam.

The only thing I was afraid of was accuracy – flying out of the limitations (speed & altitude) happens so quickly – but we had also trained to continuously improve from flight to flight. During the whole exam flight I flew even better than before and could avoid some of the minor “fails” I did in the prior mock flight.

Still being a “newbie” the skill test flight feels really long, very long. All navigations on that level, then so many exercises etc. in just one flight. It is a major milestone to pass and is a major act of concentration. But, it feels absolutely great.

I have no idea why, and it sounds quite ridiculous, but the following night I had an intense dream about this (not very good) movie with George Clooney – Gravity – where he acts as an outer space cab driver. He is constantly listening to a radio station with some hillbilly music (which is not my preferred music really).

But also, he constantly talks on the radio like a “chef” and whirls around in space in an absolutely fantastic way.

Somehow, I had the impression that our exam flight just took place in space. And my examiner talked on the radio even fancier than Goerge Clooney does.

It was again: simply a fantastic flight!

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PPL(H)- Written Exams

Written Multiple Choice Exams


All written exams are multiple choice tests. There is always only one correct answer. Sometimes, it’s a set of correct answers but then they are listed as sets and only one of the sets is correct.

It is of major importance to read the questions very carefully, even though many answers are obviously wrong. Frequently, two answers can sound exactly the same and may only differ in one word or in their syntax. It’s a pity, but those little and tricky details make the huge difference between a lean fail and a brilliant pass. Assuming you understood the topic beforehand …



As English is not my first language and I tend to do things quickly, it happened to me more than once. I did not realise the difference at first glance. But, there is always lots of time, usually you are finished in half the time.

After my second exam I started to do all the exams twice. I just answered every question again on separate paper and compared my results. Usually, I found 2-3 differing answers, reread the question carefully and eliminated stupid mistakes. From here, I passed most exams with 100% rates.


Order, Grouping & Timing

You can pass the exams in whatever order you like, except Air Law and Operations & Procedures. Those two exams are mandatory before the first solo flight. This is really annoying but don’t get discouraged. They are more or less common-sense and, compared to the others, quite easy. Just try to see it as huge advantage, once passed you are allowed to start flying solo and focus on more interesting topics.

Afterwards, it is also completely up to you in what groups and timing you pass the exams during training.

However, it is really easy to move forward with flying up to skill test level, pass the Exam Flight and still miss many exams. The same as for studying & flying during training. You don’t want to pass the skill test flight and still have half the exams to pass and be unable to fly at all for a while  … It’s best to just group and spread them along the training.

Practical Radio Test

During the pratical radio test you sit in one room and talk over a radio-like piece of equipment to the examiner next door. Obviously, you are the pilot and he does all the different towers etc. It’s a full flight, from take-off to landing, that passes through different air spaces, different instructions to replay and includes mayday and PanPan calls.

After my first experience on the radio and all the following navigation flights up to the x-country flight this was not a huge challenge any more. My skills were up to a level that this test was quite easy. But, to be honest, I was also really lucky. The examiner talked extremely slowly and more clearly than anyone I have ever heard in the UK so far.

Anyway, it was again interesting how my own brain reacted in this situation. As I was used to having an enormous respect for the radio and, during training in the busy air space of London you get trained to answer quickly so as not to block the frequency, I was absolutely unable to treat the situation like a fake flight and take my time.

I generated myself a totally unnecessary stress-like situation and always answered as quickly as possible – just because my brain got constituted that way in relation to radio talks.

Finally, I can really recommend rehearsing the last section of the book about Radiotelephony before this exam. It contains five flights as practical examples in the form of conversations that cover all situations in a very similar way to what happens in the exam.


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PPL(H) – All Books

PPL(H) – All Books

These books cover everything to complete the PPL(H); all exams & information for all flights. Sometimes they cover even more than really needed for PPL(H) exams. I found all of them really well-written, more or less easy to understand and straight forward for a total beginner. This is with the exception of Air Law, I’ve read thousands of pages about law over the last 20 years.

In addition, I used YouTube to better understand technical processes such as carburetor heater, oil hydraulic systems and even flying exercises – e.g. Quick Stops etc. And Wikipedia as a reference to look up technical terms.

But, as mentioned, I enjoyed the privilege of very detailed, one-to-one & intense briefings during ground school from my brilliant and passionate instructor. Accompanying me on every single flight, even on rainy days. Such a great added value to the intense and individual one-to-one briefings at Phoenix Helicopter Academy.

Also, before every written exam I was again really lucky and got the chance to attempt an additional one-to-one brush-up course. Again, lots of additional information and hints on how the exams approach the subject.

General PPL Aviation Books – Pooley’s Air Pilots Manual


The Series of Pooley’s Pilots Manuals are the most common books to study PPL in the UK. They have been updated and republished for decades and are primarily designed for future fixed-wing pilots. But these topics are the same for helicopter pilots.

In addition to every book there is a special question & answer book to prepare for exams. I did not read them as I went for the offer of brush-up courses from the academy – but according to other students they shall be really good & helpful.

Air Law & Meteorology

These two topics have nothing in common and I still don’t understand why they are packed into one book really. But it makes sense to study Meteorolgy at an early stage as it is a crucial part of any kind of aviation. And it’s not just two completely different topics in one book – it is also the best and the worst book of the series compiled in one.

Air Law – Operation & Procedures

Personally, I found the the part about Air Law really long-winded, especially the complicated writing. It covers many details that are not asked in the exams and are not very interesting. The exam is actually way easier than I assumed during reading this book. In retrospect, I think for this topic I should have used the mentioned question and answer books.

Unfortunately, it is most likely the first book you will study. It is mandatory to pass this exam before the first solo flight. But, don’t get discouraged by this, the exam is really not that hard and is quite straightforward. It’s the same for the Operation and Procedures exam which is basically covered in that same book.


This is a really good book. Very clear, straight to the point and has very helpful graphics. It is actually not just only a very important issue for future pilots but also quite a thorough topic.

It’s years back, but I had once passed a basics meterology exam for my paragliding test and I still found it a challenge to properly understand the coherences covered in this book.

In addition to the book, Wikipedia  is a really good reference with helpful explanations and graphics. For example, explanations about clouds and this visual overview to the different types of clouds . That said, it is more of a hobby for me than serious studying. I collected lots pictures about amazing weather phenomens on Pinterest.

Air Navigation

This is definitely the longest book and a very important one, also, it is not as boring as I first assumed. I cannot stress enough that you can’t start reading it early enough in order to start practicing navigation planning. Navigating is one of the most important parts of flying and all starts in this book. It covers many different aspects of navigation and is again really well-written, straightforward and interesting. 

Human Factors & Human Performance

This is a very basic, short book and easy to understand. Depending on your general knowledge about biology etc. it is more or less a repetition of different issues you have heard of before for sure. There is no special timing to read it and it can be squeezed in somewhere between other topics at some point. Also, it is probably the easiest exam.


This is again a really good, well-written and easy to understand book. It’s not a pure theory book, but more a practical guide. It starts with a few general explanations and moves straight over to practical examples. It covers many different scenarios you will face in reality in form of play-like conversations which is really helpful.

I must admit I started to read Radiotelephony really late on. Actually, only shortly before the written and practical exams – way after completing almost all navigation flights. Up to here we had trained on all radio talks during ground school and flying. That said, reading this book was more a repetition for me. But for this task it was a brilliant book to finally bury my initial Black Box Experience .

Helicopter specific Books


Principles of Flight and Helicopter Handling

Now we come to the book that makes the huge difference between fixed-wings and helicopters. Fixed-wings have some wings and fly, more or less. Not so for helicopters. Just to clarify, I really like fixed-wings too. But, from the point of view of physics, aerodynamics and engineering, helicopters are definitely the next level.

Helicopters are more demanding to understand in many respects and feel completely illogical in the beginning. Actually, the more I started to get into it and understand how helicopter aerodynimcs work, the more I wondered how they worked in reality. They are a bit of a wonder of the world and can perform such incredbile and cool manoeuvres.

Just magical birds.

There are many different books about principles of flight, or just helicopter aerodynamics, on very different levels. But this one was considered to be the perfect balance of good enough for PPL(H) and not too complicated. I really liked the way it is built up and goes from one logical step to the next. Actually, I never got completely confused but I sometimes had to stop reading to let it sink in before continuing to the next step.

The book covers the questions for the PPL(H) Exam with ease. You know more than necessary when you really understand this book. And you do not have to calculate anything, just understand what effects influence each other and in what way.

Powerplants, Instruments & Hydraulics

This book covers all topics for the exam called “Aircraft – General Knowledge & Performance”. Piston engines & turbines, flight & navigation instruments, electric systems & hydraulics and of course all major mechanical parts of the inner workings of the helicopter and how the different parts are connected to each other.

It is the same as the book about Aerodynamics. It is written very clearly, comes with good images and is easy to understand. For me, this was the topic I had the least knowledge about but I could still understand it quickly. And, it’s when I finally started to really understand what we are actually checking on the daily A-Check.

Introduction Beginner Book & “unofficial” R22 Handbook


These two books are not really part of what is absolutely needed, but I liked both of them.

Learning to Fly Helicopter

This was my first ever helicopter book. I bought it shortly before the training started, just to have something, and I really liked it. You might have noticed I mentioned it right at the beginning when talking about Helicopter Myths.

Robinson R22 by John Swan

Finally, this was the last book I read during PPL(H). It’s very handy. A short overview and good repetition about all the essentials of the R22. It makes absolute sense to read it. At this stage, you love this machine so much and have so many unforgettable experiences, it does not feel like a “boring” handbook but more of an interesting round-up.

Basically, there is an individual & specific “Pilot‘s Operating Handbook , so-called POH, for every helicopter at the Academy anyway. The offical POH can also be found online on the website of Robinson.


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PPL(H) – All Checks

PPL(H) – All Checks





“Just one page? To fly a helicopter – seriously?”

Yes. Seriously. No joke. That’s it.

All Checks needed to properly fly the R22 on PPL(H) Level.

BUT, you have to be able to reproduce them at a rate of knots in a handstand, taking a selfie of yourself and your neighbour shouting at you over the fence that your house is burning down – or …

… during flying, listening & talking to crackling radio talks and experiencing any kind of disrupting challenge.

Instantly, Sovereign & Smiling



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PPL(H) – Fine-Tuning the Puzzle

PPL(H) – Fine-Tuning the Puzzle

The Repetition Summary Briefing

Again, it all starts on the ground. Today, my instructor starts with a whiteboard full of shortcuts. Every abbreviation stands for one exercise. It’s the full PPL(H) Training – the same as the Skill Test Programm – without navigation. During training I rarely took any notes, usually I tried to directly memorise what he explained to me or just took pictures of his drawings.

During this brush-up we briefly talk about every exercise – I quickly tell him what I have to do. Most things I remember correctly but sometimes I miss a part. It is possibly one of the most intense briefings, 4hrs of full concentration.

So this time, I take notes about everything that does not spontaneously come to mind. Afterwards, I merge those details and create my final notes to “pimp” the pictures in my brain. It’s not many, but from here I mentally rehearse them once a day until the Exam Flight. They accomplish the remaining 20% needed to fly all of the exercises really smoothly.




The next day we start to fly again. It’s more or less all about improving the accuracy and speed of completing the tasks.

 – All exercises on the ground – spot turns, landing cross wind, flying backwards, slope landings, quick stops etc.

 – All types of Autorotations from positive airspeed to extended range, including 360+ turn etc.

 – All types of limited power take-off & landings, especially running take-off & landing

 – Power check, approaches & landing in confined areas , engine-off Landing etc.

 – Practice forced landing incl. 5s, mayday call, pax-brief, touchdrills.

 – Instrument flying – Rate 1 turns in climb, 30° angle of bank turns, recovering from unusual flight position etc.

Of course, we focus on the more difficult ones or the ones I did not fly for a while. But it’s basically everything. All together in two flights. Including a special eye on verbalising everything correctly and not forgetting anything.

Exam-Mockup-Flight with Chief Instructor

Now we come to the last flight before I will fly the final PPL Skill Test. It is split into two parts.

1st Navigation then 2nd different exercises. Same as the real exam flight.

It’s actually quite funny as my very first flight (the trial lesson) was with him, Captain Toby Chamberlain. We did not fly together until my first solo flight. Here, we flew some circuits before he would climb out & clear me to fly alone.

And now we are sitting here and fly into the sky for the mock flight exam. What a milestone. We have a good flight, talk a lot and I am really happy about my progression. There is always something of course but no major failure and remarkable improvements in accuracy thanks to the final fine-tuning flights with my instructor.

Toby gives me some further tips but is happy too and thinks I am ready. He finishes the debrief with the quote.

“We cannot expect perfection but we want to make sure that you are safe to learn to fly afterwards”.


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