I passed my private pilot check ride!
I’m officially a certificated private pilot, and its only just beginning to sink in. This past Monday was the day, and what a day it turned out to be. If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you know that I was first supposed to take my check ride back about a week or two ago, but after the oral portion, the flight test was discontinued due to weather (wind). It was then rescheduled for last Friday, March 31st, but that day ended up being a complete IFR day, no chance at a check ride. After last Friday’s wash out, we (my instructor and I), were completely unsure of when we would be able to reschedule for, as the examiners availability was sparse for the remainder of the month. Over this past weekend, while at my friends wedding, I got a call from my instructor, “Great news! We can get the check ride done on Monday”. Right away I said yes, grab the spot. I was feeling completely ready to go and confident and was bummed out that the weather didn’t cooperate last time around. So, we scheduled the check ride for Monday at 1130 AM, which was also nice because it meant I didn’t have to wake up at 4 or 5am.
On Monday morning I got to the airport at 8am, preflighted the plane, and went up with my instructor to do a few laps in the pattern. I wanted to just do some last minute practice nailing my touchdown point for short field landings, and also slip to landing. The weather was great, winds calm, smooth smooth air. After about 4 touch and go’s, I landed and headed back to the ramp. It was now about 9:30 AM and I had just over an hour until we had to depart to the airport at which I would be doing my check ride. I topped off the plane with fuel, got an updated weather briefing, and finished up my calculations in my navigation log. Around 10:15 AM, Savannah, who is another student at my school, arrived. She scheduled to come with my instructor and I as she too had to finish up her check ride.
At 10:45AM, as we loaded ourselves and our flight bags into the plane, my instructor’s phone went off — it was the examiner. His message read “Sorry to do this, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it today. In a test, and they are saying it won’t be starting until 2pm.” Here we all were, sitting in the plane, about to fire up the engine, a beautiful day, ambitions running wild, and just like that, it seemed as though it wasn’t going to happen. I’ll fast forward here, but for the next 5 hours we sat around the school waiting to hear from the examiner. We told him that we didn’t care what time we had to stay until, we wanted to get it done today. Civil twilight didn’t end until 7:50pm, so as long as he was able meet us at the airport at a somewhat reasonable time, we would be able to get the check rides done.
Around 4:30 PM, we got a message from the examiner that he was on his way home, had to drop his wife off, and then could head to the airport. Still not knowing the exact time frame for his arrival, we simply replied “see you there”, and headed for our 35 minute flight to his airport. The plan was for Savannah to fly the three of us (me, my instructor, and Savannah) to the airport. She wanted to get some last minute VOR tracking practice in. I would then go first for the check ride, she would go second, and I would be at the controls for the flight back. I climbed into the back seat of the Cessna 172, a place I last sat in October 2005 in Daytona Beach Florida, during a discovery flight at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I worked on relaxing my mind, controlling my nerves, and overcoming the fatigue setting in from an already long day. The winds were picking up, but sitting back there on our way to one of the most important days in my new career journey I realized something. I realized that things just aren’t going to work out perfectly. There had been several attempts to get this check ride done, and none of them went perfectly as planned. I realized that instead of getting upset about the changes, to embrace them. In aviation, the real tests us pilots will have come not when things are going as planned, but rather the complete opposite.
We landed, taxied to the terminal, and met the examiner. I told him that I would be going first and he ran through short speech of what to expect, etc. We had all had a long day already, and the examiner made it clear that he would request maneuvers and demonstrations at as fast a pace I was comfortable performing them. I was pumped up. Ready to go. Zero nervous. Seriously though, absolutely no nerves. I had been flying very well up until this and when it came time to show my knowledge and proficiency, there was nothing that was going to hold me back.
We taxied for takeoff, winds gusting to 20 knots. Not a word from me about the winds. I did my checks, said my briefings, and made my radio calls. I taxied out onto the runway, and demonstrated a short field takeoff to start. As I climbed out toward my first point on my navigation log, the examiner said, “Why don’t you go into a power on stall right here, lets knock that one out”. Oh——K. I replied back “do you want me to set it up as I normally would, flaps, power out, then increase power?”. “Just pull some power out and pitch up, then recover. As you wish, sir. We then continued our climb, and I arrived at my first checkpoint. I then turned to my new course heading, continuing my climb. My top of climb came next, followed by my next two visual reference points. All the while, I was tracking a VOR inbound, and my timing and calculations were right on. This was enough for him to be satisfied with my pilotage and dead reckoning, and the scenario based testing started. He said “you’ve flown into a cloud, why don’t you put on your foggles”. I put on the view limiting glasses and we were now in the part of the test. I started a 180 degree, standard rate turn back in the direction from which I had come, hoping to “get back to clear air”. I then started a descent, plugged a nearby airport into the GPS, and started flying toward it. He then said, “what else could you do in this situation”, and I replied, contact ATC for help. After some maneuvers while under the hood, that part was done, and he told me to take off the foggles. We were heading to the diversion airport which I had put in the GPS, and completed our remaining takeoff / landing requirements, and departed back toward the airport from which we took off. Next up were steep turns, slow flight, and unusual attitude recovery. All went well, and I was already heading back toward the airport. Around 2500 feet with the airport in sight, he gave me the following: “You’ve had a electrical fire, you need to get the plane down as fast as possible, you can’t extend your electrically operated flaps”. With the runway just off my nose, 2500 feet, I started slipping the plane. I slipped the plane the ENTIRE way down and came over the threshold at 120 knots! Power was at idle and it took all but about 600 feet of the 6000 foot runway to get me stopped. I was touching the main wheels down around 85 knots trying to slow down. I finally got it down and stopped. I guess that was the point right? If I had a smaller runway I would have done things differently (or so I hope). At this point he reviewed the standards we had a few more things we had to do. We took off, flew the pattern, and did a go around. We flew the pattern again, he had me land, and I was a newly minted private pilot in just over 1 hour on the Hobbs.
I’m planning to do a more extensive write up on my thoughts and advice about the entire private pilot check ride, but what I’ll say for now is; it wasn’t as ‘difficult’ as I expected. I feel that demonstrating understanding and proficiency is the most important thing you can do. My philosophy on the check ride was that I didn’t feel I was ready until I didn’t feel like I needed to study any further. Basically I knew how to fly the plane and do the maneuvers to standard. So my advice to others is: Be comfortable and don’t rush it.