Thursday, March 22, 2007


That's "Private Pilot - Airplane Single-Engine Land." Which is what I am as of today! It was a long day, and when I got home I walked the dog, then poured a hot bath, grabbed a cold beverage, picked up the latest copy of Flying magazine, and cranked the stereo. Jodie came home and stuck her head into the bathroom and burst out laughing. Then she went and got my logbook and read a bunch of the entries over the last YEAR AND FIVE MONTHS, then finished up with the last entry: "Private Pilot Checkride Satisfactory."

The day started early, at 5 a.m. The airplane was finally fixed and flyable, the weather was good, the FAA Designated Examiner was available, and I could sneak away from the office for a couple hours. Everything just lined up. So I got up at 5 and met Rich at 6 to put a little spit and polish on my maneuvers. We flew with Eddie, his puppy, asleep in the back seat, and just ran through the airwork again, then landed back at Gaithersburg.

I grabbed a breakfast sandwich and went to see the DE. "Come in, said the spider to the fly," he said when I knocked on his door. I went in, sat down, and we chatted for a minute. I had heard that one of the things he liked to do during a checkride was to plant a foot on the rudder pedal, so I asked him a question: what's the authority of a PIC to use physical force with a passenger that's interfering with the flight? He said the authority was pretty much unrestricted, as far as he knew, though he didn't know of a situation where it had been tested. We talked about a few other things, then he sent me out to finalize my preflight inspection and said he'd be out in a minute.

I had checked over the airplane after Rich and I landed, but I gave it another once-over just in case, then the DE and I got in the plane. I gave him a standard passenger briefing about seatbelts, doors, emergency procedures and the like, then I told him a story about an Alaskan bush pilot who had been taking off in a back country runway with a passenger who freaked out during the takeoff roll and grabbed the controls. The bush pilot elbowed the passenger in the head, knocked him cold, and safely got off the ground. I told the DE that I understood that he had the authority to take control of the plane at any time, but unless that happened I was PIC and I did not want him taking the controls unless he was taking control of the airplane. I thought this would keep his foot off the rudder, but I was wrong.....

He had me do a normal takeoff and I turned downwind, then exited the pattern toward the north. I started the timer as we passed over Davis airport and noted the time when we crossed I-70, my next checkpoint. The DE asked my what our groundspeed was and how long it would take us to fly to Capitol City. I spun my E6B flight computer and told him. He then told me to divert to Clearview airport and asked me when we'd be there. Several months ago I measured the width of my thumb on the scale of my sectional chart. I eyeballed the direction to Clearview and turned ten degrees east. Then I put my thumb on the chart and figured it was about a thumb and a third, or roughly nine miles. I told the DE we'd be there in five and a half minutes. Then I placed the edge of my E6B on the route to Clearview, moved it over the a nearby VOR compass rose, and got a more accurate magnetic heading, then adjusted our heading a couple degrees. A few minutes later we flew directly over Clearview, within seconds of my forecast arrival time. So far, so good.

The DE then had me put on the hood, turn to a heading, then climb and turn to a different heading, then descend and turn to another heading. I discovered a while ago that I have a tendency under the hood to bank to the left. It's just what my inner ear does without visual stimulus -- everyone's different. And it happened. I was on the correct heading, looked up to confirm altitude and airspeed, and the DE said, "What heading are we on?" Aargh! I had drifted about eight degrees to the left off my assigned heading! I held my breath, wondering if he would tell me the test was over (indicating that I had failed), but he just took the controls and told me to look down at my lap. While I was looking down, he put the plane through some gyrations, then had me look up at the instruments. The airplane was in a left descending turn, and I quickly leveled the plane. The ball stayed out to the left. "Tell me to get my dang foot off the rudder," he said. "Take a lesson from the Alaskan bush pilot and get your dang foot off the rudder," I told him. He laughed and took his foot off the rudder. We did another recovery from an unusual attitude, and he had me take the hood off. So far, so good.

He then had me do some steep (steeply banked) turns, which I did, remembering to ask him if he wanted me to do a clearing turn. He asked me which way I was going to turn first, and I said left. He asked me why, and I didn't have a good reason -- it was just a preference. We then had a nice discussion about the rules of one airplane passing another (on the right) and how turning to the left avoided the possibility of turning into a passing plane. I did a steep turn to the left and then to the right. Halfway through my turn to the right, he told me to take my hands off the yoke. I had given the plane two turns of nose-up trim as I entered the turn, and the plane pretty much held the turn and altitude with my hands off.

He had me turn to a specific heading and then told me to do a power-off stall. I did, no problem, announcing the stall warning and break. He asked for a power-on stall. I configured the plane into a steep climb, and the airspeed bled off. But --- no stall warning horn, and no break. I was hauling back on the yoke, but all I got was a gentle buffet and mush. I thought he wanted a full break, so as the nose lowered a little, I pulled it up again. "That's good," he said. I asked him about the stall warning not coming on, but he didn't seem concerned. I had kept the heading and the ball centered throughout the procedure, as I was supposed to, and he was satisfied.

We then headed to Carroll County airport. We weren't far from the airport, it was in sight, but we were a thousand feet above pattern altitude. The DE asked me slip the plane down to the correct altitude and enter the pattern on crosswind to see me fly a rectangular ground reference pattern. As I flew downwind, he told me to do a short-field landing. He pointed out the centerline markings on the runway, and told me to be 100 feet above the ground as I crossed the threshold, then to land by the third centerline marking. I had been over and over this by myself, making nearly every landing a short-field landing over the last few months. On final, I had 20 degrees of flaps and my airspeed was about 65 as I crossed the threshold. I was just exactly 100 feet above the ground as I crossed the runway threshold. As I crossed it, I put in the other 25 degrees of flaps, pointed the nose down, and chopped the power. I descended steeply in the 61-63 mph range, then flared. With those big Skyhawk flaps hanging out and my airspeed nice and low, the roundout has to be almost nonexistent - going straight into a flare. So I flared a little closer to the ground than with a normal landing -- I think it might have made him momentarily nervous because I saw his hands move out of the corner of my eye, but it was a good landing and we touched down baby-soft on the third centerline. I dropped the flaps, and we easily made the first turnoff.

We stopped briefly so I could get a (not stiff) drink at the FBO, then taxied toward the departure end of the runway. The DE told me to do a short-field takeoff, so I did. There were some clumps of dirt on the first ten feet of the runway. Typically, I would have positioned the plane as close to the end as possible, but I told him that I didn't want to risk the prop picking up one of the dirt clods, so I started out 10-15 feet from the end of the runway, held the brakes, put in full power, then started rolling. I held the plane down slightly past Vr, and rotated as the plane approached Vx of 69 mph, then held the nose at the sky as we climbed through the first 75-100 feet, then nosed down for a Vy climb.

As I turned downwind, the DE told me to prepare for a soft-field landing. Then, just after I passed alongside the arrival end of the runway, he reached over and cut the power. No problem, I thought, I can do this, but..... Wait a second! A soft-field landing requires adding a touch of power at touchdown to keep air flowing over the elevator and the nosewheel light. I said, "Soft-field with no power?" He responded that my engine would be magically working and available as soon as the wheels touched the runway. Okay, I thought, I can do that.

In the past, I had reacted to simulated engine failures by turning immediately toward the runway. I always ended up too high and landing halfway down the runway, so I continued on downwind for a little bit, then turned base, added ten, then twenty degrees of flaps. Once I had the runway made, I added full flaps and touched down nicely, adding a bit of power to keep the nose light. After we were down, as I adjusted my feet, my toes touched the brakes (I have size 13 feet) just enough for it to be noticeable. "No brakes in a soft-field landing," the DE said. I held my breath again to hear him say that I had failed, but he was silent. I breathed a silent sigh of relief and turned off the runway.

"Give me a soft-field takeoff, but instead of turning cross-wind, give me a heading 0f 200 on climbout." He spun the OBS on the VOR. "We'll intercept the 213 radial and go back to Gaithersburg." The test was almost over and he hadn't ended it yet!!!

I called to activate my ADIZ flight plan and get my transponder code, and held my assigned heading and altitude on the dot. The flight back was uneventful. We chatted while I flew, then the DE took the controls and gave me some instruction. He showed me how with the airplane trimmed, pulling the power from 2350 RPM to 2000 RPM would give me a 500 foot-per-minute hands-free descent. I recalled when Rich had me fly some instrument approaches under the hood and mentally filed this away for my future instrument training, which will probably take place in this same plane.

I made a good landing, turned off, and completed my after-landing checklist. As I taxied toward the ramp, I said, "You're having me taxi to park the plane, you haven't ended the checkride.... I'm wracking my brain for everything I can do to screw this up between here and the parking spot." He replied, "The checkride's not over until the chalks are in and the plane's tied down."

I knew I had it made, and I already had a big grin on my face. After the plane was parked, he said, "Well, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't go type up that white form. Congratulations!" He shook my hand and headed toward his office while I secured and cleaned up the plane, then I headed to his office. "Come in, said the spider to the fly," he said when I knocked. He slid a white piece of paper across his desk. "Last question of the test, pass/fail, and you have only fifteen seconds. Tell me where you're supposed to sign this." I looked at the form while he counted out loud, and after 13 seconds found the signature line running vertically up the left side of the form. It was NOT intuitive.

We chatted briefly. I told him I wanted to fly the VFR corridor between and below the BWI Class B airspace and the DC Flight Restricted Zone to Kentmorr airport, a grass field on the Chesapeake Bay, but that I wanted an instructor to go with me the first time. He said that was a good idea, that he'd be happy to fly with me anytime, and to call him if I wanted him to go with me. I asked him if there was anything he had seen that I could work on, and he said that he likes pilots to hold their maps up in front of their face so they don't have to move their heads up and down to look at the map and outside, which he said could lead to spatial disorientation. Other than that, he said that Rich (and John) did a fantastic job training me.

I left his office and practically ran to my car, resisting the urge to jump and click my heels together or hold my arms out like wings. What an amazing feeling! On the way to the office for a meeting, I called Jodie, then Rich, then my dad. I had to be serious during the meeting, which lasted 4-5 hours, and by the time I got home around 7:30, it had been a LONG day. My smile was still plastered on my face as I poured the bath, grabbed a cold drink, and my latest Flying magazine. "Private Pilot Checkride Satisfactory."


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