I emerged from the bathroom, not refreshed, but determined. I went back to the room my materials were set up in and saw another headset there. The DPE must have found my stuff and knew what was going to happen there :). Time to face the music. I went out to the main room of the club. As I turn the corner I see my CFI, my husband and the DPE chatting. I almost forgot my husband was coming down to the club to support/heckle me. It was good to see the two familiar faces. I introduced myself to the DPE and we all chatted a bit. My husband and I thought this same DPE had done his checkride several years ago, it turns out she did not. His checkride was with another female DPE who doesn't work in the Bay Area anymore.
Preliminary chatting done my CFI and I went to prepare the maintenance logs for the plane I would fly today. By "prepare" I simply mean flag the pages I would need to prove the airworthiness of the aircraft according to FAA requirements (Annual, 100 hour, 50 hour, ADs, ELT, Pitot/Static, Transponder inspections and maintenance). Then it was time to start. The first step was for the DPE to log in to the online application system, IACRA, and put in my ID information and then validate I meet the aeronautical experience and ground and flight requirements for this application by reviewing my log book and endorsements. My husband heckled/helped from the background :) It was very nice to have him there.
Next the DPE, my CFI and I went to the back room to get started on the actual checkride. The checkride encompasses both oral and flight portions and the whole thing is a practical test. My CFI stayed in the room for the "preamble" where the DPE explained the process, her "plan of action" which described the things she would be testing me on, the fact that she cannot test me on anything that is NOT in the published PPL PTS, the three potential outcomes (pass/fail/continuance), what would constitute a fail, what she would cover in the oral and flight portions, etc. She said very simply, if we are walking out to the plane, I passed the oral test and if we were taxiing back to the ramp and she had not said I was not within standards, I passed the flight portion of the test. So don't ask her about it if we are walking out to the plane. :)
She mentioned that she had just gone to a DPE meeting where the FAA highlighted specific areas they want focused on in the checkrides. She also said that an FAA person would be coming to observe *her* checkrides at some point soon, but there was no examiner here today. She asked if I believed we would be able to do the flight portion of the test and I said yes. At that point I handed over her fee, $500. Yeah, that is steep… but its worth it. I believe it was at this point that my CFI left the room after patting me on the back and wishing me luck.
With that the core of the test begins. I get asked standard questions, what privileges can you exercise as a private pilot? what privileges can't you exercise? how long is your pilots license good for? how do you remain current? what are there requirements to carry passengers? what class medical is required? how long does it last? What do you have to carry with you when you fly? What do you time do you have to log? Have you brought an airworthy aircraft? show me how you know it is airworthy (take out the maintenance logs and walk her through the sticky notes placed in the logbook earlier). The test seemed to jump around a bit. As I answered a question, something I would say would trigger the next question. The flow of the test made sense and I forgot that I was being tested and just answered questions as I would if any person interested in aviation was asking me questions. Good thing my answers were correct!
We discussed a couple scenarios around required equipment and what you do if it was not functional and what to do if non-required equipment was non-functional. What is required to fly with non-functional equipment? With that the discussion turned to the hypothetical cross country flight plan. Show me your take off and landing calculations, weight and balance calculations. Why does the plane perform less well at higher altitudes? what is density altitude? What route would you take to get to the destination? Walk her through the route and the visual and navigational aide checkpoints. What cruise altitudes would be used? why? How long would it take to get there? how much fuel would be required? how much fuel must you have in reserve? how many minutes of flight are required on reserve fuel? All of this seems daunting if you aren't familiar with the concepts and practice.. but by now, this was relatively easy for me to answer. I had not only my own cross country flights but over 30 hours of cross country flying with my husband in the last 12 months with most of our cross countries recently having me handle nav/comm and fuel calcs.
Tell me about the weather for the flight. Would this flight be a go or no-go? In this case I am very happy with the way my CFI taught me how to go through this. I am not an amateur meteorologist, but I had to demonstrate my knowledge of the weather. The way we did it was relatively easy. I walked the DPE through the weather situation following the same process a weather briefer would (and did!) walk me through it. Hazardous conditions, big picture, current conditions at home base, destination and en route, forecast conditions at home base, destination and en route. I told her my conclusion that I would start the flight and explain to my passenger that we would turn back if there actually were IFR conditions in the central valley.
More scenarios: you are flying to Blue Canyon and the mountains and there's a fire with a lot of smoke. You don't know where you are, what do you do? you realize you will have to offload fuel in order to take off from where you are but you won't have enough fuel to get to your destination, what do you do? a plane is approaching you on a head on collision course, what do you do? What special precautions/equipment do you carry for night flight? You are on approach to a large airport and are cleared for LAHSO, do you have to accept the clearance? how do you find out what runway length is available for LAHSO?
More knowledge questions: what lighting is required for night flight? when? What color are the lights on the edge of a runway, the approach end, the departure end, the taxi way? What beacon is used for civilian airports? military? explain the requirements to enter and operate within Class A, B, C, D, E and G airspace, what are the VFR weather minimums for each. Point to the chart, what airspace is that location in? what are the rules for that airspace? how do you get information on special use airspace?
Some other questions happened but all of the sudden we were done. She suggested a brief break for her to eat some food, I could go out and verify the fuel truck did fuel the plane and we could go on with the flight portion. I had passed the oral test! Happily, I packed away the extra reference material I had and put it away in my car. Then I picked up the airplane's maintenance log and I was taking that back to the club's owner when I ran into the CFI and student who was Soloing today. My husband and that CFI's other student were there as well. I greeted all of them cheerfully, after all, I had just passed the oral portion of my PPL checkride.
My husband made a cryptic remark that I'm lucky I'd still be able to fly today. That stopped me in my tracks! "What? What happened to my plane!?" I asked. "Nothing," they said. It turns out the student who was going to solo this morning did, but with less than happy results. His CFI had him to do touch n' go landings on his solo instead of full stop landings. On one of his landings, he lost directional control on the touch or the go (I don't know which) and ended up crossing the field, crossing another runway and ended up in a corner of the airport property. Somehow he managed to do all of this without damaging the plane, the airport lights and signs, innocent bystanders or himself. He was one very lucky student pilot in that regard. As a result, while where was some excitement that could have prevented my flight, everything was fine, for me anyway. I felt very bad for that student pilot though. I hoped he wouldn't let that experience stop him from pursuing his dream.
As I went out to the plane to check on the fuel, the DPE wanted to catch up on the happenings of the morning. So my CFI chatted with her and my husband told me our friend, Paul, said good luck. The way he said it made me wonder if they were up to something.. but he said no. Hmmm.. I've known my hubby too long to completely trust him when he talks like that, but I went on out to the plane.
When I got out to the plane there was a note on the pilot's seat (my seat!) on the paper it said simply "Good Luck! Jeff and Paul :) " on the other side of the paper was an idyllic scene in charcoal color, a happy kitty bounding over a green field with flowers, blue sky, a couple puff ball clouds and a smiley face sun. Inscribed in happy script was this quote, "And not a single fuck was given that day." I laughed. I knew what this was about. This was Jeff and Paul's way of reminding me not to let mistakes fluster me as I do the flight test…. if I mess up, I should not give a *&$(*#. I should just keep on flying the plane. I carefully folded the note and put it in my flight bag.I resolved to make sure not to give a ($*#&$ if stuff happened, as I knew it would. It was a good thing I did.
Part III - Flight