Flight 48: Checkride
Once in the airplane, my first major blunder took place. I had to provide an intercom (which connects our headsets so we can both hear the radio and each other), and my flight instructor let me borrow his. Whenever I flew with him, he always hooked it up, and I had just assumed I would be able to do so, since the parts are labeled. However, the push-to-talk switch complicates things, and I didn’t have the intercom instructions.
I had already started the engine without checking the hookup, so I was trying to fix it while holding the brakes, trying not to look like too much of an idiot. The best I could do was to arrange things so that we could both hear the radio, and I could hear the examiner, but he couldn’t hear me, so I would have to yell.
It’s a good thing intercom connection is not one of the tasks on the test, so he couldn’t fail me for that, but he had to be wondering why I didn’t learn to connect it properly before taking the test.
I gave up trying to improve the intercom setup, and we went off on the flight that would determine whether I would get my license today. I was asked to stay in the pattern and do short-field and soft-field takeoffs and landings (one of each). Mine need work (for some reason I often get the two confused), but I did well enough to pass.
I taxied back to the runway and arranged my cross country materials for that part of the test. I took off, started climbing to my planned cruising altitude of 3500 feet, and got on the correct heading. The examiner told me to climb to just 2500, since we weren’t really going to Melbourne.
I yelled the procedure for opening a flight plan, but did not make the radio call. When we got to the first checkpoint, he was satisfied that I understood the basics of cross country flying, and told me to divert to Gainesville. He wanted me to figure out the proper heading to get us there, and tell him how far it was and how long it would take to get there.
I knew Gainesville was north, so I immediately turned that direction. I was careful to maintain my heading and altitude and keep scanning for traffic while reaching back to get my electronic flight computer, really just a specialized calculator.
I had planned all three legs of the flight, so I thought I would just look at the Gainesville-to-Tampa leg and reverse the heading. I estimated that we had gone about fifteen miles, so I looked at the distance for the leg and subtracted that. I did the same thing with the time estimate.
I announced that we had 115 miles to go, not even thinking about it. I knew that Gainesville was only about 100 miles from Tampa, and we had been flying a while, so it should have been obvious that was the wrong answer.
The examiner said, “Are you sure?”, and I realized what had happened. I was looking at the wrong sheet, the Melbourne-Gainesville leg!
I got out the right sheet and gave more realistic estimates, wondering if I had failed the test. Apparently not; I think he was more concerned with my maintaining control of the plane with the distractions than the exact number of miles or minutes to go.
(In real life, if I had been in that area and decided to divert to Gainesville, I would have landed at the airport that was in sight and planned the new course on the ground, unless I had someone with me who could either do the planning or take the plane.)
My next task was some hood work. I put on the foggles, and he had me climb, descend, and do some turns by instrument reference. The air was fairly smooth, so this part of the test was not tough. He gave me a VOR frequency and had me get on a heading to fly to that VOR while still under the hood.
Once I got on the heading, I took the foggles off. We were still close to the cruising altitude (2500) he had specified, which was a good place to do the stalls that he requested next. Stalls were one of the things I was dreading being tested on; ever since my spin, I had been uneasy about them. Somehow I did one of each (power-off and on) fairly well.
Next he had me put on the foggles to do some unusual attitude recoveries. He would adjust the trim, power, pitch, and bank into an odd combination, then my job was to get the plane back to straight and level on a specific heading. We did three or four of these, which I found to be one of the easier tasks of the day. By now I figured the test was about half over, and somehow I was still passing.
Throughout the flight, I realized that the examiner had efficiently arranged the tasks to be done in a short amount of time, mostly by altitude. We lost some altitude doing the stalls and attitude recoveries, which got us down near the 1500 foot range where I was asked to do steep turns. These consist of a 360-degree turn, at a 45-degree bank and a constant altitude (within 100 feet up or down), first to the left, then to the right.
The turn to the left was close to ideal, the best one I’ve done: my bank was just right, altitude almost constant, and I rolled out to the original heading within a few degrees, well within the test standards.
Then I did one to the right that was not pretty. My altitude varied much more than I wanted it to, and I probably would have been legitimately failed, but all the examiner said was that my left turns were much better than the right turns. That’s generally true of any kind of turn, since I’m on the left side of the plane. Maybe my right turn was just barely within the standards, but I think that since the first one was well done, he figured I understood the concept and gave me a break. (I wasn’t going to argue!)
Then we did an emergency drill. The examiner pulled the throttle to idle as if the engine had stopped, and told me to handle the situation. I established a glide at the speed that would give us the longest time in the air and started a shallow turn so I could look around for possible landing sites. I explained how to troubleshoot the instrument panel to try to restart the engine, then he said assume the engine could not be restarted and asked me what I should do.
There was an airport that was directly behind us when the drill started; I was looking for a “trick” like that. I’m not good at judging distances yet, but I thought the airport was too far to glide to and said so. I still headed toward it, because there was a field on the way that would make a good landing site.
Luckily there was a smokestack nearby so I could judge the wind, and I set myself up for a pattern over the field as if I were going to land there. When we got down to 1000 feet, he said that was good enough, and restored the power. That put us at the proper altitude to do ground reference maneuvers. He had me do a couple of S-turns and turns around a point. They weren’t great, but apparently still acceptable.
At this point, the test was essentially over. I was told to head back to our home airport, and assumed that unless I made a big mistake getting there, I would pass the test.
There was a stiff crosswind when we got back, and my approach was not pretty, but the landing itself was OK. The examiner told me that I passed the test, but he wanted to see me try that approach and landing again.
It was hard to keep myself calm for the last trip around the pattern, but I didn’t want him to change his mind at the last minute, so I managed to do better the second time. I taxied back to the fuel pump and parked.
We went inside, and he typed my temporary airman certificate (commonly known as a pilot’s license; the permanent one will be mailed to me). As soon as he handed it to me, I left before he could say he’d made a mistake.
I went to get lunch, and realized I hadn’t told anyone at the airport that I passed the test, so I went back. My CFI was out for several hours, so I told him later.
Thanks for everything, Dave. It was a lot of fun.
Not The End
2018 update: 22 years later, earning my private pilot certificate is still the coolest thing I’ve ever done in life.
Today: 1.4 hours
Total: 67.3 hours
Total Solo: 25.6 hours
On to the Instrument Student Log.