It’s been now 7 days since passing my Private Pilot checkride. After a year of training, months of general preparation, weeks of cramming, days of delay, and several hours of downright stressing out, 4 hours came and went in a blur. It’s done. I’ve kicked off the training wheels, got my ticket, and earned my wings.
Oh..but this is only the beginning….
So, how did it all go? I wish I had the gift of perfect recall but at least this time around, the details are somewhat hazy. Over days of stolen moment reflection and nighttime dreams of being back at the yoke, the general flow of that day comes back.
Flow state…in the zone? Well, close but I definitely clanked out of it a few times.
Let the debrief Begin…
Sunday (T minus 1 day)
Technically, it was more like T+5 days since my original checkride got weathered out. After a TON of preparation, this was actually a good thing to have happen. The previous Tuesday I was pretty much psyched out and not in the right mental frame of mind do anything aviation related. Having a weather delay happen (again
) caused me to snap out of the situation and do the work of getting everything rescheduled. Another chance to fly and a little more studying.
Sunday…I did get up to fly which was a good thing. I didn’t want to do too much but there a few things I wanted to make sure I kept sharp. Had to also realize I would never get everything perfect. It’s a lot like golf except that going out of bounds in flying has a much more severe penalty.
Sunday’s flight was good. Airwork was fine. I clanked the first landing but it didn’t concern me too much. I got around again and had 2 nice ones. The last one was a “soft field” landing which is essentially a landing carrying a little power with the idea to keep the nose wheel off as long as possible. Basically…land in and stay in a wheelie. I did it almost too well.
I had a plan to get some basic weather information, have my material organized and, around 9:30-10, get my latest weather and winds and fill out the last of my navigation log. As typical, I thoroughly underestimated just how long it was going to take, even with everything I did in advance.
After having a quick bite and a mini panic attack I got to work on the plan. I didn’t get out of the house until after 11. So..behind schedule.
I got to the airport and thankfully the plane was already moved up and full of fuel. That helped me to get back on the plan. Talked with my CFI for a little while about the logbooks and she did one last sign off.
I did my preflight and strapped in myself and my now 2 bags of material for the flight over to Capital City (KCXY). She said that it wouldn’t hurt if I had a little extra time to squeeze in an extra landing. I said I would consider it but wanted to make sure I was there and prepared well ahead of time.
When I made my approach to Capital City I decided to do a short field landing. I figured that would be a tough one. I pretty much nailed it and decided that was enough.
Into the aviation center I went. I got myself situated and ensured I could connect to the WiFi. Then I waited. It was now past 1 and no examiner. I asked at the desk and they didn’t recognize the name?!? That was odd in that this guy does checkrides out of there all the time. Lady said he might be in the next hangar over at the school. So I walked over there and, while doing so, called him on his mobile phone. He picked up and said he was at the aviation center! So, I missed him by a minute. No big deal.
Introduction and then into the conference room. Seemed a lot like I had pictured him which was good. Also seemed like a reasonably nice person. I’ve been told he was a “fair” examiner which is perfectly fine with me. I wanted an honest test with no tricks and good feedback. It’s definitely an exam but also a chance to show your flying skills, and, as always, learn something new in the process.
First part is always the initial paperwork. He goes up to the computer and the screen is frozen. A few minutes of whacking the keyboard and nothing. I attempt to get involved. I got underneath the desk to reset the system. It was then a lady came in and said that it must have gotten hit by lightning the night before….uhh…so she brings in a laptop. He gets to work on the laptop but the system isn’t letting him move forward. I explained that he couldn’t use Chrome for this (personal experience) and that he had to use Internet Explorer. Off to IE. That started to work but then there was a script setting that wasn’t right. I used the aeronautical phrase for handing control over of the airplane with him but changed it for a computer. Essentially…if the examiner wants to take control of the airplane during the exam he is to say “I have the airplane or My Airplane, to which I am supposed to say You have the airplane or Your airplane, after which he is supposed to say once again, I have the airplane.” I did that with him for the computer and at least got a chuckle out of him. I also fixed the problem and he was able to get through the application. Thankfully the issue with my name was somehow resolved.
NOTE TO OTHERS: Make 100% sure your name on the Knowledge Test and IACRA form match EXACTLY. Middle initial vs. Middle Name can be a major headache.
After that was done we sat at the table to begin the oral exam. Well..I had to hand over the cash first. $300.
About 1 hour
The oral exam went amazingly well. I was TOTALLY prepared for it.
I was advised by many to provide answers as if under deposition from a lawyer. Only answer what you were asked and don’t offer anything else.
Well…I suck at that. I answered the question always with the fact or regulation but often with a little bit of humor (because some of the questions are designed to be a bit of a “trick”) and I would expound a little on the answer because somehow I just knew what the next question was going to be.
No less than 3 times did I do that and he looked at me, smiled, and said, well that was my next question anyway…and then he turns the page in his book and moves on. I suppose if I started BS’ing an answer he would hang me but I knew everything he was asking.
As for the humor…an example, he was asking about Prohibited airspace. He said can you fly in it? I started my answer by saying you could fly anywhere you want…just some places are going to get you a lot of unwanted attention and military presence.
Never in a prohibited space except in an emergency. That’s the answer…I knew he was going to restricted space next so I just extended my answer to what you can and can’t do there and referenced the Camp David prohibited and restricted space as my answer. It allowed me to ask a question there as well which he was happy to answer.
We talked about airspace, weather(METAR / TAF / FA including update frequencies), medical factors (hypoxia and CO), weight and balance including forward and rearward center of gravity, stalls of all types, short and soft field operations, required inspections, night flying, oxygen requirements, runway markings, required documentation, maximum elevation figures, and a few other topics.
We then went to the cross country plan. I had put SO much time into this plan and I did joke that he picked one of the most difficult locations to fly to. I said that even though I know we aren’t going to fly it today I am going to do this one sometime just to put all the work to use.
We talked through the plan with reference to the map. I just walked him through it but he didn’t have many questions. Again, I kind of sensed where he was going with the questions. I was prepared to go over my take off, climb, cruise, landing, and weight and balance calculations as well as that damn nav log…Instead, after we had walked through the course on the map he looks at me and says, “Ok, let’s go flying.”
That’s when I finally took the earlier advice, shut up and said…ok.
I packed up my things and said I would like to get a weather briefing for the local area because there was the possibility of some weather during the checkride. He seemed impressed by that. Also that I had already referenced it on my ipad (which he wasn’t totally against either).
To the plane
He said he would watch me preflight and if he had any questions he would ask. All that went well. He asked me one question about the propeller (how to tell if a nick in the propeller was too big) and then we were into the plane.
My instructor “might” weigh 100 pounds.
My examiner was 250 and probably 2.5 times as wide. He took up 70% of the plane width. QUITE cozy.
So, I had a little bit of an issue getting things organized. Also, after I started the plane I realized my sunglasses were still in my bag. Had to do a few flexibility maneuvers to get those while keeping the brakes on. Somewhere during that my pen dropped out of my kneeboard. He said something hit him in the leg. I still had the plane secure so I looked around…he pointed it out and I was able to grab it. Seizing the opportunity I said “well, that could be considered the distraction.” Which again is somewhat funny because that was the cliche distraction used…it typically comes during takeoff when the instructor says he dropped his pen. You are supposed to ignore that and keep flying.
I got my taxi instructions and did my best to mind all the clearances, check for traffic and all the “normal” things. No questions from him. He mentioned we would start the test with takeoffs and landings and then move onto airwork.
After engine run up was ok I asked him what takeoff he would like first. He said a normal one would be fine. That was kind of odd but ok. I had already briefed during the oral on how to do a soft field so I guess he was satisfied I knew how to do such things.
He said we would be doing the landings touch and go.
OH CRAP. I’ve perhaps one formal touch and go before.
I had mentioned this to my CFI as I had read about them being used on checkrides for other people. She said we would do them but neither of us remembered. In fairness, I’m taking the blame for it because on the day we were going to do it, she started the lesson with engine out no flap landings. 3 times around and never once did I get one acceptably stable. So, no opportunity to do the touch and goes…BUT, we definitely worked on slips.
So…while attempting to do landings I didn’t have a ton of practice on, I’d have to convert it into a touch and go on a runway 200 feet shorter than my home field, on a hot, high density altitude day, with a 250lb man in the right seat judging me and..oh ya…a pretty steep hill on the departure end of the runway. This will be fun.
As we rolled down the runway I was self announcing the airspeed and my intentions of when to rotate. After we had rolled for longer than ever before I made a comment about the density altitude. We got liftoff speed and I pulled the nose off. Rather than rush to get over the hill I took a few seconds in ground effect to build up some speed and then made my climb. He seemed quite satisfied with it. We stay in the pattern and I was told to do a soft field landing.
As I am making the approach I see I am high.
My standard issue but…too high is always better than too low. I put in the full 40 degrees of flaps and the plane starts to settle. Winds were variable which is the worst (well probably not but I like to complain about the winds). I got down into the flare…wanted to make sure I had it centered. Carried a little power into it like I was supposed to and, well, the landing was NOT that good. I got a little skipped when we landed but kept the nose back at least a little and fought to keep the plane still tracking. He says..ok, let’s take off.
So..onto that touch and go portion. From the reading I did the process is 1) Make sure the plane is stable 2) Clean it up, which means get the flaps back to zero 3) Get full power in. Somehow my muscles figured out the sequence and we had enough airspeed and runway to comfortably get back in the air again. He didn’t comment on the landing but said, Ok, on this next pass I want you to do a short field landing using the 30 as the aiming point. I said “Ok, 30 as the aiming point and I’ll have it down by the 3rd stripe.” I did this because you are supposed to declare a spot and then land within 200 feet of it. 3rd stripe is 250 feet so I kind of “bought” myself a little cushion by declaring before he could. He didn’t disagree. On the approach I was again high. I put on the 40 degrees of flaps and it started coming down but nowhere near enough.
Thermals. He called them.
As we were coming in over the warehouses, the heat just kept pushing the plane up. I said that it would make no sense to dive for the runway so I am going around. I immediately turn off the carb heat, go full power and do my flap retraction. Again, I talk through this aloud so he knows what I am doing (a good trick from my CFI….”Talk through what you are doing. Never let your examiner wonder or guess what you are doing”) He says going around is a good choice.
As I am still cleaning up the airplane he says “be sure to tell the tower you are going around”. I said, “Yes, I’m doing that as soon as I get my last notch of flaps up and am in a stable climb.” Aviate, Navigate, Communicate is the mantra and he was satisfied I had my priorities straight.
Next time around I tell him I’ll extend my downwind a little further to give some time to descend. It does the trick and the short field comes right on target. It was definitely not soft but that’s not the point. I threw the flaps up and announced maximum braking (we had discussed that it would be simulated), he said “ok, let’s go..” So, onto the touch and go. Off again. So this time he says, tell the tower you’re going to do a soft field landing and then immediately go into the cross country portion. I said ok but I’m just going to tell them I am going to touch and go and then cross country…I joked and said they didn’t really care what type of landing I was going to do.
Well, that landing…kind of sucked. It is VERY difficult to do a soft field landing when you know you have to get off the runway again…but again he said “ok, let’s go”.
I am to fly a heading of 240 and climb to 3000′. It’s out to the Pinchot practice area. I had never been there but you better believe I had studied it intently. I had thought we would be doing my cross country route (or at least a few checkpoints) but decided to not say anything about it. The “normal” thing is to fly 1 or 2 checkpoints, make sure your times are correct, calculate groundspeed in your head and then divert (presumably to the practice area). He said…”oh, we didn’t start your cross country..well, I’ll tell you what. Let’s say there is a thunderstorm in the area from where we departed to just west of Carlisle. I want you to work out a course around it to get us back on the planned route.” Ok. That was totally backwards from what I was expecting but still..it was doable.
What I didn’t get was that he wanted me to do that now. I was still holding heading and almost near my altitude. He asked me if I can locate us on the map. I pointed out Pinchot lake which I had known ahead of time. He asked what the smaller lake immediately ahead of us was. I was 95% certain but I looked down on my map anyways and said it was Lake Meade. He said yes and then asked if I had the course worked out yet. I got shaken a little bit and said I was sorry I didn’t think I was doing that yet. No big deal…I pulled the map out a little bigger, grabbed my sectional scale and started the work.
The 2 benefits I got from this “stall” were that I was able to get the airplane trimmed at 3000′. Essentially, don’t have to worry about it drifting quickly off altitude (I had to keep it within 100′ of the designated altitude or I fail) and, since I was now essentially right over Lake Meade I didn’t have to guess at all on the chart. I slapped the ruler down, said it was 19 miles to get back on course and then slid the ruler at that same angle down to a VOR dial to get a magnetic heading. 290. He says “That’s a neat trick. You don’t have to be perfect, you just need to have an idea and that definitely got you what you needed.” I said thanks but then mentioned that I thought that was a “standard” thing to do. Anyways…he said, that’s enough of the cross country stuff so he offered to put my maps in the back seat. I cautiously said yes and watched to see if there was going to be a trick. Nope.
Stalls. He just wanted a approach to landing stall. No bank. I started walking through the procedure and was waiting to get into a glide…he said no need, just pull the power here and hold altitude until it stalls. Normally we would get to 65, establish a glide, pull power and haul back the yoke smoothly until you stalled. This way took a little longer but holding altitude was a fun challenge and essentially shows how you can stall without the nose pointing way up. I recovered it fine. No need for any other there.
Steep turns. Once to the left, once to the right. They were fine. As soon as that’s done he yanks the engine. I had originally spoke to him about who would do the engine clears during the maneuver and I said I would handle them. This is another “tactic” to use which can buy you some altitude if the approach looks to be short. Well, I established my glide, found my landing point (described it and why I chose it) and went through the engine restart checklist. I didn’t pull the paperwork for it but it didn’t seem to bother him as I walked through it thoroughly. I announced it was pretty clear the engine was not going to restart so I would start the formal process of approach and landing. At the same time it was time to communicate the situation. So, I simulated the emergency calls required. Then it was on to cabin securing (buckle up, shut the fuel off — simulated of course, unlatch doors, etc) and make the approach. I told him the general elevation of the area (500 feet MSL) so I would look to enter the key position around 1500′ MSL. This is standard pattern altitude. My brain wasn’t doing the math right but somehow, when I was at the key position I was DEAD on that altitude. I said,well, from here it’s essentially a standard power out approach to soft field landing. I flew the base leg. Said that we’ll keep it a little tighter here because we would rather be high and close than low and far away. I made my base turn spotted my landing area. He asked if I thought I would make the field. I said, “Yes, we’re in a good position.” He said “I agree. Go ahead and recover”.
We go back up to about 1600 feet and he says to do turns about a point. I said ok. I’ll just clear the area and start on the downwind. As I start to maneuver towards a barn silo he says “So, what is your point you will turn around?” I laughed and pointed out the barn silo. I then said something like “Aren’t you reading my mind yet?” I’m sure I told you it was that silo in my head!” He laughed. The turns were easy. We then did S turns across a road. Similar type of maneuver. I did them fine…I guess. He said he had ordered up 20 knots of wind today but didn’t get it. That makes it a LOT harder. I explained what I would do differently and he seemed satisfied.
Back up to 2000′ for some hoodwork. I put the foggles on. He says to hold heading and altitude for a little bit. Ok. No problem. I do a turn and then am asked to tune in and track Harrisburg VOR. This is where I knew there would be a potential snag. Both Nav radios had an issue. Nav 1 could hear the test tune but the CDI needle didn’t work. Nav 2…no test tune but the needle worked fine. So, I “cheated” by fat fingering the radio stack and pushing down both radio controls. That way I was sure to hear the test tone. Once the radio was “identified” I could turn those off and use Nav 2’s needle to track. I told him where we were relative to the station and then also what direction I had to go to get there. I got the needle centered and tracked fine. He was satisfied and allowed me to go back to normal flying.
“Ok…let’s head back to the airport.”
Now, I had heard from other people that if you have passed he will tell you that he will do the last landing. After I made my call to Harrisburg approach I realized I had misinterpreted one instruction. They said to expect a left base and I heard left downwind. So, I was starting to set myself up in the wrong direction. He pointed to a spot over the ridge line and said you need to go there for a left base. I owned up to the error and even made mention of the type of error. Pilots often have a “normal” expectation of the instruction they would receive and when hearing something to the contrary, essentially disregard it. I said that was exactly what I had done and that I was thinking of the conservative route back to Capital City which wouldn’t require us to crest the mountain. He said I wasn’t expected to know the “normal” way of getting back from this practice area.
He then said that he wanted me to do a soft field landing.
I had switched over to tower and advised of my approach. They asked if this would be a full stop landing or touch and go. I looked at my examiner and he said full stop. PHEW.
Ok. So I let tower know and got my landing clearance. We cleared the ridge right where he pointed out and we were perfectly lined up for the left base.
I wasn’t going to be high and I wasn’t going to be fast coming in.
I was going to carry some extra power like I was supposed to and now, since I didn’t have to worry about taking off again I was going to hold that thing in the flare until it landed.
Approach was a little high but I got it to settle. Put in that little bit of power and just let the plane hover above the runway. Got a little squirrely as the wind shifted but I kept it dead straight. Little bit of stall horn and then the mains came down, they didn’t kiss the ground as I wanted but that’s not a requirement. I pulled back that yoke to keep the nose wheel off…thankfully with the extra weight up front the amount I pulled didn’t make the plane take off again. I held it there for a few seconds and settled it down. Used a good amount of runway but that’s fine.
He said “That one was good.”
Taxi to the end of the runway and get my instructions back to the ramp. I cleared the runway and started going a little further. He kind of interrupts and says why haven’t you put your flaps up? It’s essentially the after landing checklist. I told him I was going to do that but wanted to make sure I was past the runup area and could see down the runway I had just exited. It was kind of a lie as I was still replaying that landing in my head. But…what I said actually made a lot of sense. I cleaned up the aircraft and taxied it to the parking area. Shut down the engine per the checklist secured it and then just did a big exhale.
Nice long pause as he removes his headset.
“Congratulations. You passed”.
I smiled, shook his hand and then exhaled very hard.
He said that my airwork was great. He was very impressed with my hood work. I explained that I was a simulator junkie so I got used to flying looking at instruments. If anything I always wanted to make sure I was keeping my eyes outside. He then said that last landing was a good one. I acknowledged that the others were sloppy but agreed with him on the last one.
It only takes one thing to fail you which kind of sucks and they don’t have to give you a second chance. I know the soft field landings into touch and go weren’t passing but until they say you’ve failed you must assume you are passing. Without saying it he gave me that second chance on the landing based on the rest of my performance and I delivered it.
PHEW!! My only comment was that it’s a lot easier doing a soft field when you know you are going to eventually stop. He laughed but agreed.
Off to the hangar where we would finish up the paperwork and get my certificate. Another computer had to be used and I got to do another round of IT support.
Hadn’t realized till then that I was absolutely drenched in sweat. I wore a light colored shirt though so it didn’t show too much. Got my certificate. We chatted a little bit, he signed my logbook and that was it.
Off to the plane…BECAUSE I STILL HAVE TO GET BACK TO CARLISLE!!!
It’s the never ending day.
My first official Pilot in Command flight.
And of course…right where he had indicated the fabled storm was during the checkride was a pretty mean looking thundercloud. I called my CFI to ask what it looked like in Carlisle. She said she saw the cloud but it looked like it would blow by. Wait 10 minutes.
I moved the plane to a tiedown spot but by then I could see a clearer sky. I decided to make the flight.
Once in the air I got to altitude and was on course. Passed over my first checkpoint I had planned for the test. Smiled. Then it started to rain a little. Good excuse to divert a little to the north. Allows me to go over my house on the approach. I didn’t see anybody outside nor did I see the painted sign left for me but no matter. It was a good feeling to fly over.
Landed at the airport…and NOBODY there.
A little sad but then again, I did this for myself so I got to savor my own moment.
A long journey but a truly worthwhile destination.