2/7/08 Checkride
1.3 hours today (PIC)    
74.7 hours total (4.1 from '83, 52.1 Dual, 17.3 Solo, 1.3 PIC)

Monday I had to work late, so I didn't get as much studying done as I would have liked. I also checked the weather report for Thursday, and it was saying there was a chance for rain Thursday afternoon. There was a front moving down the state, and it looked like it might be over us by then.

Tuesday night I got a decent amount of studying done. I also did everything on my flight plan that I could. The only thing I couldn't do was anything related to winds or temperature, since the forecasts did not go out that far. Also, the weather was starting to look better, as now the prediction was for rain Thursday night instead of Thursday afternoon.

Wednesday night I did some more studying, and had Christina ask me all the questions from the oral exam "gouge". I got the answers correct to just about all of them, so I just looked over the ones I missed. By now, the weather was looking better, as the front was forecast to stall over Orlando on Thursday. It was really windy and gusty on Wednesday, but they were predicting less wind for Thursday. I hope so.

I didn't sleep real well on Tuesday or Wednesday night, because I was worried about the checkride. I kept thinking about all the mistakes I could make, both on the oral exam and the practical. And it wasn't just at night, I also worried about the test all day Wednesday. I woke up at my normal time Thursday morning, because I wanted to finish the flight plan and get to the airport around 10 am so I could make sure the plane was ready. Everything went according to plan except the amount of time it took to complete my flight plan. I don't know what happened, but something that should have taken about 30 minutes ended up taking almost two hours. First, I worried if the weather was correct enough for a flight five hours later. Then I miscalculated the heading, and then I didn't notice my headings were different for each leg of the flight plan and I had to do half of it over again. I think the stress of the checkride really peaked there. But I managed to get through it by 11 am.

I wasn't sure what would be happening about lunch today, since the checkride before me was supposed to end at noon, and mine was supposed to start at 1 pm. I was afraid if they finished early, the examiner would want to start mine early and I wouldn't have a chance to eat. So I decided to eat an early lunch and then go to the airport. When I got to the airport (around 11:30), the examiner was out flying with the other student (who was doing an instructor checkride).

I went out to the plane to do a thorough pre-flight inspection. I had heard from other students that this examiner is sometimes in a hurry and he doesn't let you finish the pre-flight. I wanted to know everything was ready. I also programmed all the radios so I wouldn't have to fumble with the frequencies during the flight. The main thing I had to do was make sure the proper amount of fuel was in the tanks. The examiner is a big guy, and we would be over the planes maximum weight if we tried to take off with full fuel. I had already calculated that we needed 17 gallons of fuel, and much to my surprise, that was exactly how much was in the plane. Finally, something was going my way.

I went back to the SunQuest office and waited for the examiner to return. He came back with the other student, Joel. Joel had passed his checkride and told me the examiner was in a good mood. I was glad to hear that. I need every advantage I can get! When they were done with the paperwork, I finally met Brooks, the examiner. Then he went to eat lunch, so I had another hour to wait. I listed to Joel talk about his CFI checkride. His went from seven in the morning until noon. That's a long exam. Mine shouldn't take nearly that long.

At one o'clock, Brooks was ready to get started. We went in the briefing room and started by doing the paperwork. Brooks checked though the paperwork on the IARCRA website, and then went through my logbook to make sure I had done everything I needed to, and that I had the proper endorsements from Mike. Mike stopped in to make sure he had done everything correctly. The only thing he missed was dating the endorsement he did on Sunday saying I was ready for my practical test. He did that, and we were ready to start the oral exam.

Mike left and Brooks started by asking me what I did for a living and other "get to know 'ya" questions. It helped, but I was still a little nervous when we started. He asked about the paperwork required in the plane, what I was supposed to have on me, and what inspections were required for the plane. Then we did some questions on aerodynamics and airplane design. The only real question I had an issue with was when he asked me how a wing created lift. I answered with the common Bernoulli's principle and Newton's Third Law answers, but that wasn't what he was looking for. He finally just told me what he was looking for, when I couldn't get the right answer. Not that mine was wrong, but he was looking for something more detailed than what I told him.

Then we somehow got talking about taxes and politics. I can't even remember how we got on that topic, but we talked about it for about five minutes. Then it was back to the flying questions. We talked about the fuel system and the electrical system on the plane. Then we talked about weight and balance and airplane performance (take off and landing distances). As I was showing him how I calculated them, I realized I added 10% on one number instead of subtracting 10%. I told him I made a mistake and what the correct answer should be.

Then we reviewed my flight plan. After all the problems this morning, the only thing he talked about was how high I was planning to overfly Lake Okeechobee. He felt that I wasn't high enough if I had an engine failure over the middle of my water crossing. He was correct, of course, but the only time that was true was for about two minutes in the middle of the lake. He said I should have circumnavigated the lake. I didn't argue with him, but I would have still flown that same altitude and course in real life. He didn't even look at my calculations for the winds and magnetic course. All that worry over nothing. By the way, after the checkride, I was talking to both Mike and Joel about how worried I was over the flight plan and how long it took. They both said they had at least one checkride where they had done the exact same thing, so it seems like it must be a common issue right before a checkride.

After talking about the flight plan, we went over symbols and frequencies on the chart. He asked me maybe a dozen different things about the symbols and markings on the chart. He also wanted me to tell him the difference between magnetic and true north. Then we talked about cloud clearances in different types of airspace. After that, he told me he was ready to go flying. That was a good sign, as it generally means you have passed the oral exam, although he can still ask questions during the flying portion.

I collected my things and we headed down to the airplane. He let me do a complete pre-flight inspection, and only asked me how much fuel we had. Then we climbed into the plane and I started it up. I had a little trouble getting someone to give me a radio check, but eventually someone did. Then we headed over to 26L for the run-up and first takeoff. The first take off he wanted was a soft-field. It wasn't my best one, but it was still pretty good. Then we started on the first leg of my cross country. While we flew that, he asked me how to open a flight plan in the air.

A quick note about the actual weather today. It wasn't raining, and the clouds were sufficiently high for the flight, but the wind did not subside over night. It was windy and gusty today. And the wind was coming out of the west, almost directly against us as we flew the first leg of my cross country flight. Eventually, we made it to my first checkpoint. As soon as I told him we were over the first checkpoint, he told me to turn north and do some steep turns. I did my clearing turns, and check the pre-maneuver checklist. Then I did my two steep turns, remembering to put in some up trim. They went great. I lost a little altitude on the first one, but I stayed within the PTS and the second one was perfect, with me ending up at the same altitude I started the first one at.

Next, he had me go into slow flight. I did that and he had me do a couple turns and then do a power off stall. As soon as I recovered from that, he had me do a power on stall with a 20 degree bank to the left. I did that, but didn't get off the rudder as the plane stalled, so it turned right as the stall broke. I recovered and he told me to watch the rudder.

At this point, he has given me no indication on how good or poorly I was doing. In fact, other than telling me what to do he didn't say or do anything. It would be this way the rest of the flight.

After the stalls, Brooks had me put on the hood and we did some instrument flying. He had me turn left and right, and climb and descend under the hood. Then he had me close my eyes while he flew so we could do the unusual attitude recover. He did one descending and one turning climb. I recovered easily from both of them. Then he wanted to know where we were on the chart with the hood still on. I tuned the RNAV unit into the Pahokee VOR, and pointed to it on the chart. He told me I was correct and to take off the hood and fly him to Pahokee.

We flew to Pahokee and my first landing was a short-field. I asked him where he wanted me to land, and he said the first stripe after the numbers. This was a spot I had never tried to land on before, so I had to guess where the aim point should be. As I rounded out, it looked like I would be a little short, so a bumped in a little power. Probably a little too much, as I overshot the point by about 50 feet. But it was still within the standard, so we taxied back for a short-field take off.

That went fine and we went around for a slip to land. I started it by lowering the upwind wing and pressing on the opposite rudder. As we descended, I soon lost sight of the end of the runway, and thought I was drifting to the right of the runway, so I changed the slip to one in the other direction and took that to the runway and landed. He asked me why I changed the slip, and he said I should have stuck to the first one because I would have made it. So that one didn't go perfect, but I got the feeling he was OK with it.

Then we headed back to North County. On the way, we did an emergency landing. I selected a field and we set up for a landing, but we only went down to about 2-300 feet AGL before calling it off. Mike and I had practiced almost all the way down (50-100 feet above the ground) because Mike had heard Brooks liked to do that. Next, we did turns around a point. I set up for it and actually did a pretty decent turn. I was worried about it because it was so windy and I had been so inconsistent with them.

Then we headed back to the airport for a soft field landing. I came down and my landing was anything but soft. I tried, but it just didn't work right. I think I applied the bump of power too late. Brooks had me go back around and try it again. This time he told me how he wanted me to do it. This was a little different than I had learned. He wanted me to keep a little power in the whole time from final approach to land. At first, I was a little short, so I had to add some more power in to make the runway. Then, there was a pretty good crosswind and it was gusty. I tried my best, and it was softer than the first one, but it wasn't really all that good of a soft field landing.

We taxied back to the ramp, and he got on me for not accurately following the taxi line. At this point, I thought I had failed the soft field landing, and would have to practice those and do a re-test. I thought everything else was good, but I didn't have a good feeling about it. I pulled the plane up to the tie down, and shut the engine off. As soon as I took my headset off, Brooks says to me, "You passed, I'll see you upstairs." Whew! I was really, really relieved.

I tied down the plane, and Mike was just getting back from another lesson, so I went over and told him I passed. Then I went upstairs to the office where Brooks was finishing up the paperwork. Then he handed me my temporary Private Pilot Certificate.

Brooks on the left, Me on the right, and my temporary pilots license in the middle.

Finally, I he signed my logbook and I got to make my first entry as Pilot In Command (PIC). Sure, I had been PIC when I was solo, but never with someone else in the plane. When flying with Mike, that was recorded as dual instruction, and he was technically PIC. Now I can fly anywhere I want with passengers. The only things I can't do is get paid to fly or fly in the clouds.

You will also notice that I have updated my hours at the top of the page. I added back in the dual instruction hours I had in 1983, since they have always counted anyway. So it took me about 70 hours to learn how to fly. Not bad, the minimum is 40 hours. I think about 10 hours were related to buying the plane and getting it ready to rent. I think another 10 hours were the last few weeks of preparation where I really didn't need it, but I needed to stay fresh because the checkride was so far out. So I probably could have been done around 50-55 like I originally thought. But that is OK, since I like having a plane available now and there was nothing really I could have done about the day of the checkride. Plus, extra experience never hurt anyone, and after I bought the plane it was much cheaper per hour. Of course, it was not as cheap as it is now that I don't have to pay for an instructor! While I am listing statistics, my logbook shows 218 landings now. I have come a long way since I couldn't figure out how to taxi the plane!

Finally, one quick statistic about how unusual getting a pilot's license really is. In the United States there are about 600,000 pilots (OK, make that 600,001 now). The population of the US is about 301 million. That means about 0.2% of the US population are pilots. That is a pretty select group that I am now proud to say I am a part of.

Well, this is the end of my flight training blog. What's next, you say? My ultimate goal in flying is to be able to use the plane to fly around the country. I can do that now, of course, but to really be able to go when I want (or need) to, I need to be able to travel in bad weather. I'm not talking about terrible weather, just bad weather. To do that, I need an Instrument Rating.

One of the requirements to get an instrument rating is to have 50 hours of VFR cross country time. That is something I can do now. This will also get me some more experience in the air and landing at different airports. I have started thinking about a list of places to go, and the early list includes places like Ft. Myers, Everglades City, and Key West. I think I will probably just tour Florida by air, but I may also include a trip to visit one of my sisters in Georgia or North Carolina (when it warms up). Keep a lookout for a new part of my website showing all the airports I have been to. I figure I'll spend the next six months or so just enjoying being a pilot and then start on the instrument rating. Most people seem to recommend taking the written test before you start the flying part, so I will probably be studying for that during the next six months, too.

Plus, I am still planning on building my own airplane, and I would like to start that this year. Before I can start that, I have some projects around the house that need to be completed. Stay tuned for more information on that when the time comes.