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Checkride Day!

OK, here it is ... the story of my best day of flying EVER!

I had been scheduled to go to Huntsville, AL on 25-APR and got scrubbed due to the weather - it was gorgeous outside, but WINDY!

The next opening the DE had was 08-MAY. That day rolled around, and it was IMC all day. Scrubbed again. In rescheduling with the DE, the next one he had would have been 20-MAY - but he had a sudden cancellation right before I spoke to him....for the next morning!

09-MAY-2003 - exactly a year and a half to the day of starting my flight training. My regular CFI couldn't go with me, so another CFI went with me along with a friend of his that asked if he could hop a ride to go with us to see his girlfriend at the airport in AL.

It was about an hour or so flight over to AL, and we were leaving at about 7:00 am EDT. I was up at 5:00 am finishing my flight plan and calculations.

The weather was VFR (barely) that morning, and right before we left, it went IFR. So my CFI (a double-I, thankfully) filed an instrument plan, and off we went.

I was, of course, as excited as I could be about it, because I had never been in IMC and wanted to see what it was like! I did ALL of the flying and he did the navigating and radios. Unreal. It was indescribable what I saw when we got over the relatively low tops. I did very well in the clouds, and got compliments all the way on my flying.

We cruised at 6,000' from LZU to CHA to MDQ...not exactly a direct route, but I was LOVING it! Not only were we routed north before we sent west, with the winds aloft, we made about 60 knots over the ground. The weather broke up enough for a visual approach to MDQ, and it looked like VFR for my RIDE!

We arrived at MDQ about an hour late for my checkride. My CFI explained it to him and the examiner was OK with it.

I literally hopped out of the plane and sat down for my oral...

He asked for, and I gave him my personal documents - and his fee - first. He then had me read and sign a "you are the PIC on this flight and you are responsible" form. He wanted the dates of the last inspections on the plane. I had this printed out nice and neat, and he liked that.

Then he gave me a couple of "written" tests. One was on airport signage, and the other was a 20-question multiple choice test on airspace. I didn't do as well on it as I would have wanted, but he said I did well, particularly on the airspace quiz.

He then wanted to see my cross-country planning. I showed him my logs, and my routes on the sectional. He asked about weight and balance, and I had spreadsheets calculating the takeoff and landing calculations for each leg, as well as the weight and moment plotted out on copies of the chart out of the POH for takeoff and landing for each leg. He seemed to like that as well.

We then discussed maneuvering speed, and how it varies with weight. He asked if I knew the formula for calculating it, and I didn't, so he told me. (I have since incorporated that into my "flight profile" spreadsheet!) It was an interesting discussion.

He gave me a set of "departure procedures" for us to begin the flight out of MDQ. He said, "I will give you this once, and when we take off, I will not say a word. Let's see how you do. I could write a book on what people' have done to mess this up." I took it as a challenge and SWORE to do it to perfection. It involved specific headings and altitudes and a VOR interception to get me on course for my cross-country.

We then talked about approach and departure procedures to class-C airports, the order in which you talk to ATC (ATIS, Approach, Tower, Ground, etc). We discussed the hemispheric rule as well.

He then asked me about lost-radio procedures in controlled airspace. It was the light-gun discussion! He gave me a scenario, and I nailed it ALL!! He seemed duly impressed, and mentioned that most folks don't get that all right. I mentioned that I had taken time to learn that because I thought that it was important to know "just in case." He agreed, and said it was one of two things that he believes should be memorized ... along with the emergency frequency.

He asked about the electrical system and some basic system questions. Nothing major.

He talked a little about what you should keep in your airplane for emergency situations: candles, matches, etc.

It seems like I fumbled for EVERYTHING at first because I was already so nervous and worn out from the flight over. He was patient, and put up with me. For example, he didn't seem to mind my having to run back out to the airplane for my driver's license. I calmed down as I relaxed, and the fact that the oral seemed to be going VERY well helped.

I belive that I got the "abbreviated version" of the checkride because we were late arriving, and there was someone with a checkride after me.

The oral went very well, I thought. I had studied VERY dilligently, and I believe that it paid off - not only in a good performance with the examiner, but I learned a lot!!

Then it was time to fly...

I began preflighting the airplane, and he met me out on the ramp about halfway through. He talked just a bit during my inspection, but wasn't able to "rattle" me. The wind was VERY strong. AWOS was calling it 14 knots. That is a lot for me.

We got into the airplane, and I went through my preflight checklists, and did a "passenger brief:" I explained the seatbelts to him, and told him about the fire extinguisher, and told him how to get out of the airplane, etc.

On the ground, I identified the local VOR that I was to intercept on my departure procedure. I set up the radial that he gave me. It was the 010 radial FROM that I was to intercept. What did I do? I cranked the 100 radial into the OBS!. He called me on it, and said, "You are wanting to be in my book, aren't you?". I said something smart, and we got a good laugh out of it. I then began my taxi to the runway.

On the taxi out, he chatted about family and marriage and things. We did the run-up, and he wanted a soft-field takeoff. I executed it well, but not as well as I had been practicing. I then concentrated on the departure procedures that he had given me, and exectued them to perfection.

Because of the cloud-cover, I adjusted my cross-country altitude. When I leveled off, he "failed" my VOR receiver, and had me fly to my first checkpoint using pilotage. We then did a groundspeed calculation between my first and second checkpoints. I forgot to put my watch on when we left, so I used the analog clock in the panel. I did my calculations and came up with 115 knots. WAY off, but he didn't care - he blamed it on my clock. He then told me to figure out the time to the destination based on that groundspeed.

He then had me divert to another airport that we just passed. He told me to let him know when I had the airport in sight. I looked and looked, and it was hazy, and I didn't see it. He asked me where I should be looking for it, and I told him based on my position that I was looking left at some point between me and a big road to my left. I focused my gaze closer to the airplane ... oh, there it is as BIG as life almost under my wing.

We did a simulated engine-out to get down to the runway, and once over the numbers he told me to go around. I made my radio calls, and executed the maneuvers.

On the climb out, he told me to give him a short-field landing RIGHT on the numbers. I came around and had the approach NAILED, and thought that I had my spot nailed, but didn't...and landed within PTS tolerance, but VERY ugly. He was NOT impressed. My CFI constantly DRILLED into me to go around if you aren't going to make it...and I didn't.

On the next hop around he wanted a soft-field landing. He said, "I have a dozen eggs in my lap, and I want you to land without breaking them. But before you do that, give me a forward slip to the left on final. Oh, damn. I haven't done these in a YEAR and I meant to practice with my CFI before now. So I did what I remembered. WRONG. I did a side slip. He took the yoke and showed me how to do it, and said something about CFIs not teaching slips very well. He asked me who my CFI was and blah, blah, blah.

I got control back and set up and absolutely NAILED the soft-field landing. That is ironic because I had trouble with those in practice. He was impressed, I think.

We took off again and on the climb-out, he handed me the foggles for the hood work. Turns, climbs, etc. Basic stuff.

Then came the Unusual Attitudes. I blew the first one. We were in a climbing turn, and what did I do? Yep, chopped the power. He yelled at me for that one. Complete stupidity on my part. He did a descending turn and another climbing turn and we were done. He then told me to remove the foggles.

Then he told me to set him up for slow flight. He wanted some turns, and then a power-off stall. No problem.

He said, "Now give me a power-on stall in a climbing right turn. OH NO! I have NEVER done a power-on stall in a turn!! So I set up like I normally do, and just turned and pulled up and then came the stall. I was PETRIFIED of a spin. I kept it coordinated and it came off beautifully. I was relieved!!

Then he wanted a steep turn to the left. No problem. Then came the turns around a point. He pointed around a water tower and said give me one there. I flew over and did my maneuver. Then he pointed out a road for S-turns.

Then he gave me back the foggles, and said follow my instructions. He gave me "vectors" and RPM settings and descent rates. Then he made a radio call to MDQ saying that we were on final. We touched down and rolled out!! He was setting me up for landing under the hood! It was neat!

He then said, "If you can taxi us back safely, you pass. I didn't like your short-field landing, and you know what you did on the Unusual Attitude, and you didn't enter the turns around a point downwind, but you did good." HOLY MOLY! Yeah, I didn't even THINK of entering downwind on that maneuver...forgot COMPLETELY about it!

We taxiied back and parked and he shook my hand and said "Congratulations! I have enjoyed flying with you" and climbed out.

My surrogate instructor was sitting there on the ramp by the terminal, and I could see the question mark on his face as I walked up. I smiled and told him, "I passed. I don't know HOW, but I passed."

I was shaking and was covered in sweat and I realized just how hungry I was. It was two in the afternoon, and all I had eaten since 5:00 am was a granola bar.

I went inside and sat down in his office as he typed up my ticket. We chatted about some of the paintings of warbirds he had on his walls, and then he sent me on my way. I grabbed a package of crackers and a diet coke from the vending machine and sat outside and made a few phone calls - and rested.

We debated whether or not to file IFR to get back. There were still clouds in the area, but it was VFR and we decided to fly direct because we were running behind and didn't want to get routed hither and yon flying IFR. I wasn't TOO comfortable with the decision because I was PIC (!), but since there was a CFI on board, we went ahead. I think that it was just the nervousness about making my first post-training flight as Pilot-In-Command.

I settled up with the FBO for the gas and we loaded back into the airplane. I let my CFI do the taxi and takeoff while I rested. After takeoff, I took the plane and we proceeded home at about 3,000' MSL, under the clouds. It was bumpy but there was plenty of cloud clearance and pretty good visibility.

We flew the GPS all the way home. As the clouds came up, I climbed and watched the groundspeed perk up as we got more favorable winds on the eastbound trip. We made about 115-120 knots over the ground on the way home, and made it in a little over an hour. It was the BEST feeling to make my initial callup to LZU. "Gwinnett Tower, Skyhawk 53507 is 10 miles to the northwest inbound with Oscar."

I let my CFI handle the approach and landing. He wanted to show off his soft-field prowess...and for good reason, it turns out. We taxiied back to the ramp and I tied her down, unloaded here, got my congratulations at the flight school, paid my bill (yikes!) and headed home. It was Friday rush hour in Atlanta, and I spent 2 hours making the 45 mile trip home.

Some celebratory hotwings and a couple of beers, and I went to bed a private pilot!

All in all it was a very draining day. I put over 5 hours on the Hobbs and I was exhaused. But I have never learned SO much about flying in one day.

Bill Freeman - PPASEL

Last Updated 18-MAY-2003