Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What a day!

I scheduled my practical exam for 9:00 a.m. today with the FAA Designated Examiner. I wanted to do some last-minute polishing of my maneuvers, so I arranged with Rich to fly this morning at 5:30. My sister Chloe is visiting, and she decided to come along (I can't take passengers until I pass my checkride, but when I'm flying with Rich, he's technically "Pilot In Command" so passengers can come.)

After I started the plane, the high-voltage light was on and the ammeter was moving back and forth. There had been electrical work done on the plane yesterday, and I knew that the power had been on while the electrical system was worked on, so I thought that maybe the battery was just low. Sure enough, when I performed the "run-up," the ammeter became steady and the light went out. Well, we rolled down the runway and took off, and the light came back on. Then it went out. Then it came on. As we headed away from the airport, Rich and I both said at the same time something to the effect that we needed to land and get the problem fixed, so I called ATC and told them we were returning to the airport. And we landed.

Chloe went on her way, and I waited around until the examiner showed up. He suggested that we do the oral portion of the exam, and then see if any progress had been made with repairing the plane. We sat down with all the paperwork and he started to look through it. He asked me where I had gone on my long solo cross-country trip, and I told him I had gone to Cumberland, Hagerstown, and back. He said, "That's not 150 miles." I pulled out my chart and the regulations and, sure enough, that trip wasn't long enough to qualify. He looked at the computer and said, 739BA is available." He handed me back the check I had given him to pay for the exam. He pointed out that I had been signed off by Rich to fly to both Lancaster and Hagerstown, and told me to go fly a loop and come back. Gaithersburg to Lancaster to Hagerstown and back to Gaithersburg would be well more than 150 miles.

So I did. I kept the plane near full power (though careful not to overspeed the propeller) and headed to Lancaster. Two hours later, I entered a bumpy pattern to land at Gaithersburg, and did all right considering the stiff crosswind.

The examiner and I then sat down to do the oral portion of the exam. First, he made me read sections of the regulations that described his role, then he went through the rest of my paperwork. We started talking about the cross-country flight he had had me plan for the checkride, and we talked through it. We went from there, and I honestly can't remember everything we talked about. At different times in the conversation we were poring over charts, regulations, the Pilot's Operating Handbook for the plane.... We reviewed the weight and balance calculations I had performed and he asked what I would do if we were at maximum gross weight and our center of gravity was one inch aft of the limit. He then gave me a formula to calculate how much weight I would need to move how many inches. He also told me a "rule of thumb" for converting fahrenheit to celsius and vice versa.

He asked me what the acronym "LAHSO" meant to me. I told him it referred to "land and hold short operations." He asked me what I would do if I were approaching an airport and was asked to land on a runway and hold short of another runway. I told him that as a student pilot, I would tell the controller that I was unable to comply (student pilots are not allowed to participate in LAHSO). He said I should assume I'm a private pilot -- then what would I do. I said it depends on how much runway they were giving me, and he then asked me where I would find that information. I pulled out the Airport/Facilities Directory and flipped to the back where the information was listed. For the airport he had referred to, I would have about 3,800 feet of runway to use, which is far more than I need even on a bad landing, and I told him that I would be willing to comply with a LAHSO request.

He then asked me what would happen if I had agreed to comply with a LAHSO instruction, and a deer ran onto the runway as I approached. I told him I would go around, and he pointed out that an airplane could be taking off on the crossing runway. It was clear that the "correct" answer as far as he was concerned was never to comply with a LAHSO instruction and always say "Unable." I asked him if he had ever followed a LAHSO instruction, and he said he had not, although he had received such instructions.

Another scenario he asked me about was a situation where I had flown to an airport and due to some system failure the flaps were stuck at 10 degrees. He said that the nearest airport where I could get it fixed was 25 miles away, and asked me whether I could fly the plane to that airport. I told him that this very question had come up recently on a couple flying instruction web forums, and asked if the answer is open to differing opinions. He said that it was, so long as I demonstrate "sound judgment." I told him that because the POH for this plane allows takeoffs with ten degrees of flaps (for soft-field takeoffs), then I thought it would be safe and legal to take off and fly the 25 miles (while keeping the airspeed well within the Vfe airspeed -- the maximum airspeed at which flaps can be extended). I also told him that Adam, another pilot in my club, was of the opinion that the flaps would have to be placarded as inoperable. He stopped and thought for a moment and said that that made sense.

On the issue of "sound judgment," he had pointed out in the regulations at the beginning of the exam that "sound judgment" in an applicant was one of the things he was looking for. He said that the definition of sound judgment is open to interpretation, and I offered my definition. I told him that sound judgment, to me, is a clearly defined set of priorities that are NOT weighed against each other. In order of importance, I told him that my safety and the safety of my passengers was at the top of the list, that safety of airplane was second, that compliance with laws and regulations was third, and that convenience/deadlines/etc. was last. If the safety of my passengers and myself was in question, then the aircraft, regulations and convenience be damned. Likewise, even if safety of the people was not in question, but damage to the aircraft was likely, then compliance and regulations and convenience be damned. And finally, even if the safety of the people and aircraft was not at issue, but compliance with regulations prohibit something, then convenience and meeting deadlines were simply non-issues. (It's helpful to note that if the safety of the passengers or airplane are in question, then it will almost always qualify as an emergency, in which case the pilot is expressly authorized to deviate from regulatory requirements, ATC instructions, etc.).

He told me that there were six activities we could perform "under the hood," but that only one, recovery from unusual attitudes, was required. He handed me a dice and told me to roll it twice. I did, and he circled two tasks I'll have to complete when we fly together. He then told me that there were three ground-reference maneuvers he could have me complete, and told me to roll the dice again. I rolled, and he told me I had "won the right" to fly a rectangular pattern.

We continued talking, and he asked me about the airplane: how many hydraulic systems, where they are, how the fuel system works, how the flaps work, and so on. At one point, he asked me what would happen if a bumblebee stopped up the fuel tank vents. "Nothing," I said. "Well, wouldn't a vacuum form as the fuel is removed from the tank, so eventually the fuel wouldn't flow?" he asked. "No," I replied, "because the gas caps are vented just for that contingency." "Smartass," he said.

At the end of the day, I passed the oral exam. I'm glad it's over, and I wish the whole thing were over. Between staying up until near-midnight last night studying, and then waking up at 4:15 this morning to go fly with Rich, plus the fatigue from a long flight and then the oral exam.... I'm pretty well worn out. And I'm still at work. And I still don't have my pilot's license.

So I may go do the flying portion of the exam tomorrow, if the airplane is flying again. The examiner called me a couple hours ago to tell me that the mechanics thought they had it fixed, and took it for a test flight only to see the problem return. There may or may not be an airplane available tomorrow to take the test. I really can't afford another day out of the office, but I'll do it if I can take the checkride tomorrow. Right now I'm going home.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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8:30 PM  

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