My Checkride

May 7, 2001

You're supposed to get a good night's sleep before your checkride.

Yeah, right. :-)

I did ok, I guess, on the sleeping part. I was to meet my examiner at 9:00 in the morning in the FAA building next to Rancho Murieta Airport. I was expecting a 3 hour oral, and a 3 hour flight. Well, maximum. I'd been told neither would actually be 3 hours, but to plan on that so I'd have time.

Backing up a bit: A couple of weeks before the test I had reserved 20305 to do it in. This is the trainer the club liked the students to use. It didn't have as complicated a radio and stuff, so it was less imposing. It is also the one that filled with Smoke, and I had never forgiven it for that, but I figured it was good to take the test in one that was as uncomplicated as possible.

So the day before the test, I got a call from the club telling me that plane was in the shop, and wouldn't be out in time. Great. That's what I needed. I was tempted to get 9737V, because I liked that plane best, but it was an IFR (instrument) trainer, and just looked imposing, so I figured I didn't need that during a test. Flying it was fun, but I just didn't want to deal with the extra equipment. So I signed out one of the other planes.

The day of the test comes. That plane is out of commission for some reason. Great. I need that more than I needed it the day before. Fine, I bowed to the inevitable and signed out 9737V. Which probably worked out to my advantage, I had been flying it a lot lately, and was actually quite comfortable in it.

After all that was straightened out, I went to the exam room to wait for the instructor. He showed up at about 9:20, apparently he had thought we were starting at 9:30. That's ok, I wasn't sitting there stewing in my own juices thinking something was wrong, or anything. But he was cool, so I didn't beat him up or anything. ;-)

There's three people that really want you to pass your checkride. You, your instructor, and the tester. He doesn't want to have to give it to you twice any more than you want to take it twice. His main purpose is to see that you can operate the airplane safely and know what you're doing. You don't have to be perfect, they don't expect you to be an expert pilot, you just have to be able to do the manuvers safely. A pilot's license is also known as a "license to learn". Just like driving, they can teach you how to operate the machine and how to get where you're going, but you have to go DO it for a few years before you're "good" at it. But you do need to be safe, and know how to do all of the required maneuvers.

Given all this, I was only slightly paniced when the test started. He went over my paperwork (including an endorsement in my log book from my instructor saying I was ready for this test), my written test score, etc. He didn't even look at the weight and balance sheet he'd asked me to do. :-) Or maybe he did, but quickly enough that I didn't notice. He did check out the course to Fresno I had worked out, then started asking me stuff.

I was doing pretty well, I think. At least he wasn't rolling his eyes and sighing heavily. One of the tasks is to go over a sectional map, and identify every mark on it. Well, each type of mark. He got to one I drew a blank on. I had heard it was ok to look on the map ledgend, as long as you didn't do it a lot, so I asked him if I could. He said no, just figure it out. I stared at the mark for about 4 weeks, and then finally I remembered it. It was the mark for an airport that's not towered 24 hours a day. You are supposed to look in the flight guide to see what the hours are. A few minutes later he hit another one I had never seen before, but I remembered it much more quickly than the other one.

There were a couple of things I had learned that had changed, like that you are required to have a mode C transponder (altitude reporting) when you fly over the top of controlled airspace. It used to be you only needed that type of transponder to fly THROUGH the airspace, but when people without them flew over, the controllers couldn't tell how high they were, so didn't know that they were over the space. So they changed that. Makes sense, but the ground school coursework I had taught it the old way. That wasn't the kind of thing that would fail me on the oral, though, just something he wanted to make sure I knew.

After about an hour and a half, he said we were done, and needed coffee or something. He DIDN'T say we were done and I'd passed, just that we were done. I imagine he did that on purpose. :-) I had passed, though, he was satisfied I knew what I was doing (so far). He was going to find coffee and a bathroom while I went and got the plane ready.

He came out and I went through the pre-flight. I was jabbering all the time, talking out loud about what I was doing. I'd been told to do that. Not only did he know what I was doing and why, but he didn't have to stop me to ask me questions. Not as often, anyway. So we climbed in and taxied out.

I went through the standard run-up, all the while expecting the engine to fall off or something, but it was fine. We got ready to go, and he said "Ok, there's 6 inches of snow on the runway. Go take off." Which meant he wanted me to do a soft field take off. Cool. I could do that. I did, still talking my way through it. He may have thought I was the biggest chatterbox on the planet, but it did actually help me through what I was doing.

Once we were in the air, I was to follow my course towards Fresno until he told me differently. He wanted to see if I could hold to my course, and stay within 100 feet vertically of my chosen altitude. While we were climbing, he had me demonstrate how to use the VOR (navigational aids), and we talked about that for a while. Partially to see if I could keep on my heading while doing something else, I believe. We got to the proper altitude, and I made my first turn right on time, and he said "Ok, there's a thunderstorm a mile away. Do something about it."

Meaning go the other way. It's been said "There is absolutely no reason to fly through a thunderstorm in peacetime." Thunderstorms have nasty winds that do nasty things to airplanes and the people in them. So they say, and I don't feel like trying to disprove them. I turned off, and he gave me a destination that I had to figure out how to get to in mid air. Not as easy as it sounds, since you gotta fly and manage a map and plotting stuff all at once. But not that bad, either.

Then the real test started, as far as I was concerned. Stalls, steep turns, instrument flying (with a hood on so I couldn't see outside), unusual attitudes (which are actually pretty fun to do), short and soft field landings, turns in the wind, and so on. Despite being nervous over this being a test, I actually had fun. We went and circled a pond his son was at, they were going to be flying model airplanes there after he was done with me. That was actually a turn-around-a-point test, but I'd figured that out and handled it pretty well.

After that, he said to head back to Rancho. We got there, and were coming in for a landing, and he said "There's a deer in the runway!" which was to see if I'd abort the landing and go around, which of course I did, and said "Ok, go ahead and land, we're done." Once again without any mention of pass or fail.

He did say I had completed it successfully while we were taxiing back, but it didn't hit me until later. I had to call home, my parents, my friends, everyone I could think of to brag. My mom was especially thrilled - she hates flying, and thinks I should, too. :-)

Next, I suppose, is an instrument rating. But not until I hit the lotto. And like a friend of mine said, "Instrument ratings are for flying in weather I wouldn't go up in." :-) So for now I'll just spend the money on flying in good weather.

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