Thursday, November 10, 2011

My PPL Checkride - Part I - Ready as I'm Gonna Be

My checkride was scheduled for 0900 PST, 1700Z on Wednesday, November 9, 2011. Early in the week the weather was looking iffy with a chance of rain or at least an approaching low pressure system with south winds. I didn't worry too much though. I had learned after months of watching forecasts like a hawk no matter what the forecast says, it will change. Sure enough, as the week progressed, the high pressure system over Northern California dug in its heels and stayed put long enough to provide me with very good checkride weather.

The three and two nights before my checkride I started having anxiety dreams... but I felt confident. The day before my checkride, I felt less confident. I met with my CFI one last time. We didn't fly. I asked the A&P to fix the soft right brake pedal of the plane I was going to fly on my checkride instead. We reviewed the route and altitudes I planned to Blue Canyon per the DPEs request. We went over my weight and balance and take off and landing distance calculations. All of that looked OK. We went over a few last minute questions and I talked through the procedure and specs for each of the PTS maneuvers. That was a good move, talking through the maneuvers exposed some holes in my thinking that my CFI was able to fill very quickly.

He asked me if I had any concerns about the oral portion.. I was a little worried if the DPE would ask me in depth questions on the airplane systems. He said that would be easy to handle, unless it is something you have to know off the top of your head while you fly, you can look it up in the POH as the DPE waits. He asked if I had any concerns about the flight portion. I said I was concerned about being able to do a soft field landing as I hadn't done many of those right. This is interesting, he said, "Great!" as he rubbed his hands together. "All you have to do is fly the rest of the flight well, you could bounce down the runway on the soft field landing and still pass. To fail you have to show consistent not meeting of the PTS standards." He emphasized again, the DPE wants to see immediate corrective action and no matter what, don't let her see me sweat. If I screw up, just keep going. As a parting instruction he told me not to bother studying or trying to "cram for the exam" that night. It was time to relax, take care of myself and get some rest and above all... no flying stuff!

Bottom line, he was totally confident that I would pass the oral portion of the test *knock on wood*. So was I. We knew I had the ability to pass the flight portion (he wouldn't have signed me off if I didn't) but neither of us was 100% sure I would. I had performed each PTS maneuver to spec, but was not consistent. Would I be to spec on the big day? We didn't know. I had told him I would step up and "just do it" when the time came. I knew I typically step up and make things happen when the time comes, but, I was a bit nervous.. would this be the one time I didn't step up? The one time that met the most to me?

I left that lesson feeling good, as I usually do after a flight lesson. I worked the rest of the day I got more and more nervous. I think I did the best possible thing I could do. I reached out to my 3 brothers and 3 sisters for support. I sent out the formal request for smart vibes and great flying vibes to my siblings.  My brothers and sisters and I are separated by large distances but we are all very close, whenever one of us has need or desire, we request vibes for whatever it is that we are struggling with or would like support for. So I sent out the request. Within 30 minutes I had three emails of support and utmost confidence from my siblings... I immediately felt much more calm. I went to bed early that night and slept like a baby. I woke up the next morning at 5:15 AM and checked my email, three more emails of support had come in over night. I had full 100% support of my siblings. With their support there was no way I could fail. I was so grateful.

It was time to get up... 5:15 in the morning. I was grateful for the time change the weekend before which helped me feel a bit better about the hour. I took my shower and went downstairs to get the latest weather information for my hypothetical flight to Blue Canyon. I needed to print the pertinent weather data so I could review it with the DPE during the oral portion of the flight and describe my process for arriving at my go/no-go decision for the flight (both the hypothetical one and the checkride). There was an AIRMET for IFR conditions (mist and fog) predicted for the central valley along the route of flight but aside from that the weather looked great. I planned on getting a standard weather briefing when I got to the flight club and to use that for my final flight plan calculations. I made sure I had all of the required paperwork and materials and packed up my car for the hour drive to the flight club.

I got to the club at 7:30 and checked out my plane. The squawk for the soft right brake pedal was still open! Oh no! I found the owner of the club and asked him if the plane was worked on.. he said he fixed it immediately after I mentioned it the day before.. he just forgot to close the squawk. *whew* I preflit the plane and everything was fine. I left the plane's checklist on my seat as a reminder to be sure to do the passenger briefing (my first) with the DPE. I called the fuel truck over to top off the tanks. When I went back in to the club someone else was set up in the room I wanted to use for my oral test... I remembered there was another student pilot scheduled to solo that morning. I figured that was this student and his CFI. So I went to the back room and set up my stuff.

I got my weather briefing and finished my flight plan calculations and made my decision regarding the go/no-go decision for both the hypothetical cross country and the actual checkride. The briefer mentioned the AIRMET as well but he also stated the satellite and data from airports along the route all showed at most very patchy fog over a small area in the central valley which was predicted to clear by the proposed time of departure. All other weather data showed good flight conditions for the checkride and even good flight conditions for the cross country. I decided the checkride was a go and I would explain to the DPE that I would take off on the cross country with a plan to turn around if the low clouds and fog were worse than expected in the valley. I knew this decision would be the first test of my abilities as a private pilot.

I took one more look at my flight plan, adjusted my reference material and set up my laptop. Then I was headed to the bathroom when I looked out the window and saw the DPE getting out of her car, 15 minutes early! Oh no! She got there before my CFI did and we had to get the maintenance logs for the plane ready. I ducked into the bathroom, took care of business, washed my face and hands and looked at myself in the mirror. "Am I ready?" and I knew the answer. The answer for this was the same as the answer for the same question before each of the 14 marathons I've run. "I'm as ready as I'm gonna be." It was time to go out there and finish this phase of my flight training.

Part II - Oral Test

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