Saturday, November 12, 2011

My PPL Checkride - Part III - Flight

A newly minted private pilot and her (rental) plane - N5093K
I finished re-checking the fuel in the plane and looked back at the door of the flight club for the DPE. She had disappeared. Hmph. Here I was, ready to go and no flight examiner go to with me. So I went back into the club and got her :) she had just finished catching up on the news of the morning.

We went out to the plane and she asked me some questions about the plane as we walked around it… what is that? comm antenna. what are those? VOR antenna, etc.  Then she went to get into the plane. I reached in the door opposite her and told her I will be doing my passenger briefings before we pull out. I asked her if she wanted one and she did. So I went through my very first passenger briefing. It was thorough (of course). When I was done we pulled the plane out and climbed in. Time to prove not only could I talk the talk, I could walk the walk of a real pilot. I went through the checklists, started the engine, tested the brakes, gave her the controls so she could test them as well. Everything was good.

I got ATIS and requested a Calaveras (NE bound) departure from ground control. This is the departure we would fly in order to start the hypothetical cross country flight. After getting clearance, I started the taxi to the run up area at the other end of the runway. As we taxied she suggested we could stay in the pattern first and then do the departure. I agreed and told her I would request the change in clearance after we got to the run up area and stopped. Got to the run up area, requested the amended clearance and went through the run up and pre-take off checklists. Then I asked what type of takeoff she wanted. Short field. OK, 10 degrees of flaps for that. Reviewed the take off and climb checklists and we were ready to go.

The initial pattern portion was uneventful. Short field take off, flew a clean pattern, landed a good short field landing. Then we were switched to the other runway. Soft field take off next. The tower asked me to line up and wait, she said it would be OK if I had to stop, she knew I knew that isn't part of the soft field procedure. Soft field take off was fine, fly another clean pattern. Then she said she wanted a forward slip to landing. I asked if she wanted a soft field landing, she said no.. just a normal landing. OK then. Set up a bit high on final and did the forward slip to landing. After we landed she flipped up the flaps and had me take off and then request a Calaveras departure. We were done in the pattern.

I did the correct noise abatement turn and then lined up for the heading I calculated for the first cross country leg. Flew the leg but ascended to only 3500 feet because we weren't actually going to fly the cross country. She monitored my heading and altitudes to verify I did that portion of the test right. No problem there. Then came the diversion, the scenario was a medical emergency where she had to get to the Concord airport quickly. I knew in general where Concord was, so I pointed the plane in that general direction, then looked up on the chart the designation for Concord, plugged that into the GPS, gave her the time, distance and fuel required to get there. Then I had to demonstrate the radio calls I would do. I was slow in this process, mostly from messing with the chart, but I did it.

We did a turn back towards San Antonio lake to do maneuvers. I did a couple clearing turns and then she had me do steep turns left and right. I turned left, then turned right. Then when I was back on the original heading again I looked at her. OK, slow flight, some turns while in slow flight. Power off stall and recovery. Then power on stall, for the power on stall she wanted a turning power on stall. The idea was the increased bank in the turn should help the plane reach the stall quicker. Maybe it was quicker but it still took a long time. I was glad my CFI had me do a turning power off stall a couple flights earlier. I *hated* doing it, but I knew I could so I just did. It seemed to take forever to get the plane to the buffet, then I took it out of that configuration and recovered. She had me dial in to the San Jose VOR and determine the radial we were on, the radial we would be on if we flew right to the San Jose VOR and how I would know we were over the VOR.

Around this time we were nearing Calaveras again. I was wondering when we would be turning towards Tracy or at least some flatter land than the hills near the reservoir for the simulated emergency. She wanted to do simulated instrument next. I told her I wasn't comfortable doing maneuvers here near Calaveras as it was a main corridor for approaches to RHV. She said it was OK, we just did a clearing turn and we wouldn't really be maneuvering. I said OK. (Now I think I should have pushed back on this. I still don't think its a good idea to do maneuvers in a common approach corridor - nothing bad happened, but it was unnecessarily risky.) Gave her the controls, put on the foggles and we did a descent and a turn. Then she took the controls, I ducked my head and we did unusual attitude recovery.

The flying was going well. I didn't think I had screwed up yet! We were over Calaveras and it was time to call in for inbound if we were going to come back to RHV this time. This was when the simulated engine failure occurred. I wasn't expecting that at that location. OK then. Pitch for best glide, use checklist, troubleshoot, communicate, then come in for the landing. There was a large flat area at the north end of the reservoir where the water was evaporated away. I said that was my field. It was a good field. But I had problems getting to it right, I was concerned about the terrain all around me and the water at the end of the field. For some reason I didn't want to go over the water, and I didn't want to impact the terrain. So I set up poorly for the approach to the field. I initiated a go around at the right time but it was obvious if that was a real emergency it would not have had a good result. I was sure I failed at that point. She asked what I could have done differently there and I told her. And I kept calm, tried hard not to give a *&#R(*& and kept flying the plane.

She said it was time to return to RHV, I quickly got ATIS and contacted the tower for clearance back into RHV airspace. I knew if I hadn't failed yet, I had better be perfect on this approach and landing if I wanted to pass this checkride. I kept the approach airspeed under control, didn't go an inch below pattern altitude and flew a good pattern. We were cleared to land. She had said she wanted a soft field landing. When we were abeam the numbers she pulled the power again. OK, redeem yourself she said. Make the field without adding power. This should be easy, I thought. All of my landings for months and months were power off landings (I forgot the last 5 months of power ON landings practice I had been doing!). So I set up normally and came in on approach, I flew a square pattern too. She didn't like that too much, she wanted to see me set up high on the approach and I didn't do that. We glided in towards the runway and I saw that without power we would make the runway, but not make the threshold. In a real emergency that would be totally OK, but this wasn't a real emergency, so I prepared to add power. At that point she said to go ahead and add power. I added a little bit and then took it out. We made the threshold and I did an acceptable soft field landing.

We got off on Delta and she said we were done. I could taxi back to Squadron 2. I didn't know what to think. But I knew what to do… keep flying the plane. I cleared the runway, did the after landing checklist, switched to ground as instructed, and taxied back to parking. I almost forgot to breathe, I was so nervous. I had done some of my best flying in a very long time and nailed almost every maneuver but I wasn't sure I passed. Then again, I wasn't sure I failed. She hadn't closed the book and told me I failed. So, I just kept my head and took care of the number 1 job which was getting the plane parked safely. As far as I was concerned, this test wasn't over till the plane was chocked and secured.

We got back to parking and I shut off the avionics and shut down the engine. She said, congratulations, you passed, but you really needed to work on judging distances and power off approaches. She asked if I was surprised that I passed. I was. She also talked a bit more about different aspects of the flight. Then she shook my hand, said it was a pleasure and started to go to the club to do the non-paperwork. I asked if she needed my log book.. nope. It was my PIC time to log. Off she went to the club.

I stood there for a second, the plane was still in the middle of the ramp. Well, better secure the plane and get my stuff together. I pushed the plane back into its spot and started to tie it down. As I walked around the plane it started to hit me. I passed. I actually, really, passed. I did it. Woah. Well, I didn't want my first act as a new pilot to be secure the plane wrong, so I made sure to take my time and do it right. I got my stuff out of the plane, patted the nose and headed in. Still just a bit stunned.

I walked in the door and my husband says he's glad he gets to come home from Europe (he figured if I failed he may as well stay in Europe on his upcoming trip because I'd be miserable to live with). I hear the DPE and my CFI, Scott, talking in the office. So I go in there. She hands over the printed out temporary airman certificate for me to sign and shakes my hand again. Scott congratulates me. We all chat some more about kids and schools (all of us are parents of youngish kids) and then she was headed out the door. She shook my hand again and I told her I hope I would meet her again for more check rides in the future. After she left I gave my CFI a big hug. I was still stunned but the glow was starting to hit. I was now a certificated private pilot!  I don't remember what else we talked about right then… He said, when I come down, he wanted a debrief of the ride so he could better prepare future students.

Then he had another student to teach and my hubby and I had to eat something. I started taking my stuff out to the car and Scott stopped me as I went by the office. He says, "Here." and hands me a penny. "I saw this penny out on the ramp, I thought of you and remembered hearing its good luck to step on a penny and pick it up. So that's what I did. You have it."  That earned him another hug. Then he said, "Go fly! Those skies will teach you more than I ever could."

Now in my flight bag, instead of the log book I no longer have to carry I have a little pouch with these things: my government issued photo ID, my temporary airman's certificate, my medical, a picture of a cat bounding over a green field with a smiley faced sun, and a penny. The artifacts of the end of this phase of my training.

The next day it was with some sadness that I removed the weekly flight lessons from my schedule. Time for me to learn on my own for a bit. I've been pushed out of the nest now. I have a license to fly and learn on my own. No worries, I'll be back for much more formal training. I have an IFR rating and CPL to earn after all, but for now, I am going to stretch my wings a bit and see what there is to see out there.

Thank you Jeff, my other half, for patiently waiting for me to see you were right, I really DO love this flying thing. Thank you to my siblings for your magical support and thank you to my family and friends for putting up with aviation on my brain for the last 18 months. Not that aviation will ever stop being on my brain, but I'll have more time for other things for a while at least :) Thank you to all of the people that blog and email and write about aviation for providing additional inspiration when I needed it. Finally, I can never thank you enough, Scott Rohlfing, my CFI, for the gift of flight.

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