I woke up at 5AM the morning of November 1feeling good and sharp. Ready to take on the ride. I had much to do before my check ride at 9. For one I had to print all of the weather information so I could walk the DPE through my weather analysis and decision making process for the theoretical cross country flight that I had to plan. I also had to check the weather for the *actual* check flight. The night before I had decided to go ahead and attempt the check flight because the weather, while cloudy, appeared to be relatively benign with a likelihood of clouds for portions of the en-route part of the flight but conditions above MVFR and no AIRMETs for turbulence. In the morning, however, there were AIRMETs for turbulence near the route of my actual planned flight. This data was still 5 hours before the likely flight time so I decided to hold off on a final decision for the flight portion of the ride until I got to the flight club and got a weather briefing a couple hours later.
The sun was just starting to come out as I drove up to the flight club and the weather was dreary and rainy, not at all what someone wants for a check ride. But, this was an instrument check ride so it did not mean we had to cancel… not yet. I still had to preflight the plane, get the weather briefing and do my final cross fuel and time calculations based on that briefing. The DPE was supposed to arrive at 9, my CFI at 8:45 and I was there about 7:45 due to bad traffic on the way to the club.
I called flight services and got a briefing for my theoretical cross country. Then I got the real briefing for the actual check flight. The ceilings were slightly lower than predicted the night before and the cloud tops higher with more extensive coverage. It was still MVFR conditions or better but definitely more time in the clouds would be likely for the ride. This particular DPE is known for not wanting to take a long time on check rides so I figured that I may suggest not doing the ILS in Livermore as the last approach and instead doing the LPV into Reid-Hilllview (which can count as a precision approach) if the ceilings were too low to allow a VFR departure from Livermore. Then I got some news I didn't want. According to the briefer, there was an AIRMET for moderate turbulence just east of my first actual destination airport (TCY). The second destination airport, SCK, was further east than TCY and likely to be in the moderate turbulence area. It was so early in the morning there were no Pireps to confirm or deny that AIRMET. That sealed it. While I was comfortable with the idea of clouds for a portion, even a large portion, of my check flight. I was not going to go knowingly into a high stress, actual IMC, moderate turbulence situation on my check ride. That did not sound like a recipe for success to me. The flight portion was off the list for today.
I decided that I would tell the DPE that we would not be doing the flight portion before we started and why. After that I would suggest we go ahead with the oral portion because I was ready to do that and feeling very confident about that part (such a huge switch from my jitters the night before). I was hoping knowing that ahead of time would maybe get me a lower rate on the second part of the ride. Or if the rate was just too high I'd tell her we aren't going to start and we'd have to reschedule the whole thing.
I started working on my calculations for the cross country plan when the DPE walked in, about half an hour early. This was the same DPE that did my PPL check flight. When she saw me she recognized me immediately. She seemed happy to see me and I was happy to be working with a DPE I was familiar with so I was much more comfortable than I would have been with a total stranger. We shook hands and she sat down. I told her we wouldn't be doing the flight portion and why. It turns out, she doesn't like turbulence any more than I do (in spite of being an experienced pilot with type ratings for jets, etc.) so she agreed with my decision. She said normally the charge for a continuance was another $350 (on top of the $550 fee) but since we knew up front she would think about the rates. We agreed to go ahead and do the verification of my aeronautical experience, check my log book and endorsements, check the plane, etc. before we made the final decision about doing the oral or not.
My CFI finally arrived to do the endorsements in my log book and we all discussed the options regarding the ride. The DPE decided that, since we knew up front we wouldn't do the full ride to charge me $350 for the oral and then $300 for the flight. That was only $100 more than it would have been otherwise so I figured that would be OK, expensive but OK. I kicked the two of them out of the room to go verify the airworthiness of the plane and let me finish up my calculations.
Here We Go
Around 9:30 I was ready to go and I went out and got the DPE. We sat down and the test began. She started with the usual description of pass and fail criteria, what would happen if I failed, how she would evaluate me (against the Instrument PTS), etc. Then I handed over the $350 fee and we were off.
She asked me what things I would be able to do with my Instrument Rating that I can't do now. What airspace would I be able to fly in now that wasn't legal previously? how long does the instrument rating last? does it expire? what do you have to do in order to be legal to fly on an instrument flight plan, etc. I breezed through the regulations easily. Then she drew six circles on the white board and said that each circle was one of the instruments in the standard six pack. I should describe each one and how it works. So I went through and described the Airspeed Indicator, Turn Coordinator, Attitude Indicator, Heading Indicator, Altimeter and Vertical Speed Indicator and how each one worked. Then she asked me how each one can fail and what happens when they do, what would I see, etc. We discussed different naviads and how they work. What's a VOR or localizer. What's the difference between the two? What are the components of an ILS? What is GPS and how does that work? etc.
We then turned to the cross country. First I went through the weather, just as my CFI had taught me. I went through the Adverse Conditions, departure and destination conditions and forecasts, why I couldn't officially use the TAF for SJC but why I would use it to get an idea of conditions in the area. Same thing for the destination in Chico, why I would use the TAFs for Redding and Beale to get a better idea of what was going on around the airport. I explained why I would not be required to file an alternate airport (the forecast ceilings in the Area Forecast were just high enough) but why I would plan on one anyway (just because its legal doesn't mean its safe). This lead to a discussion of alternates, which airports you could and could not file as alternate and why, alternate minimums, etc. We went back to weather, I showed her the winds and temps aloft and pointed out how the difference between wind directions and speeds was my first indication that turbulence was likely. I also pointed the winds and temps aloft forecast showed conditions close to freezing much lower than shown on the freezing levels chart so I would be very alert for air temps and potential icing at those levels. By the time I was done going through all of the weather information I got the distinct impression I explained more than she needed to hear. She had no questions. I did very well. Soooo much better than I did for my CFI a couple days prior.
Time to talk about the cross country route… what is your initial altitude and why? What route? I described the route and why I chose it, the approach that would be used at the destination airport (due to winds) and the alternates I planned. I also explained the alternate would change depending on why I'd need one and what direction the weather was going. I talked through the fuel required for the flight and for the alternate, etc. what I expected at the alternate airport and why.
At this point the discussion turned to the en-route chart I used to describe the route. She pointed out various features on the chart and asked what they were. What I could do to avoid CFIT if I lost com at point X on the route. How would I continue the flight and how would I descend and land if I lost com at this other point in the route? What should I do when I land after I lost com?
What do you do if you lose GPS signal on an final approach to this airport? what if you lost signal at this point instead? Some more questions about GPS, how can you find out if GPS is working before getting into the plane?
Questions about charts and airports… how do you know if an airport has non-standard alternate minimums or take-off minimums? How do you know if you can file an airport as an alternate? what is a SID? what's a STAR? walk me through one of each. How do you know your charts are current? etc.
The topic switched to icing…. what kinds of icing are there? what's the difference between them? what would you do if you detected icing? What would you do if ATC refused your request to change altitudes? What types of de-icing or anti-icing equipment are on the plane?
We discussed a couple special emphasis areas and all of the sudden it was done. The oral part of the check ride was over and I had passed. She went out to do the continuance paperwork which gives me two calendar months to complete the ride. I packed up the notes and materials I had scattered all over the table in the course of the discussion and that was it. The actual test portion took only an hour and a half. I went out after packing up and my CFI congratulated me on the results.
Just like that I was halfway done with my Instrument check ride. I was glad I made the decision to go ahead and go through with the oral portion and very glad to have been through my mistakes with my CFI which prepared me so well for the actual test. The flight portion of my Instrument ride is now scheduled for November 20.