Today December 6, 2008 was my private pilot checkride, completely by accident. I went up at eight in the morning for a mock checkride with my instructor and all went very well, I felt very good for the ride next weekend. Not too long after arriving home after the mock ride my instructor called me asking if I wanted to do the checkride TODAY! Wow, I said sure. We had originally planned on doing the checkride on the sixth but decided to postpone it for another weekend. Apparently the examiner forgot to take me off his schedule for this weekend and wanted to see if we could do it anyway. The weather was absolutely perfect, very calm wind, severe CAVU skies and the like. I very quickly got my things together and headed for the bank.
The examiner gets a $400 examiner fee so I needed to go to the bank and pick that up. Then out to the airport. I got there and got all settled in; chart spread out, books where I needed them and cross country all planned and ready to go. It was then that I realized that I had forgotten a very important book…my logbook! Oops! So back home where I left it on the kitchen table and back again to the airport. I went back and got a weather briefing- the new LM system seems okay, no wait- and filled out my IACRA registration online. Called my instructor who couldn’t be there to have him fax over his endorsement for me to take the ride and then waited for the DPE to show up. The excitement and nervousness were both rising.
He showed up and got settled in in the exam room. I was now quite nervous, the thoughts of the poor person in a dark interrogation room being drilled for information were pouring in at this point. In retrospect, the oral portion is nothing like that, the examiner was very relaxed and collected. We finished up the IACRA work and then moved on to the oral portion. I had just gotten the aircraft logs, which I had never looked at before, and very quickly skimmed through what was where. Fortunately, someone had already placed markers where all the important items like annual, 100 hour, etc. were. Of course the first thing the examiner asked was to show him that the airplane was legal to fly. Unfortunately, the 172 that I had been flying had its ELT removed about a month before. This is totally legal as long as the aircraft is used for training and within a 50 NM radius of the airport. The examiner reminded me that this was not a training flight, we had no idea what to do. I said we because even the examiner had no idea how to interpret the FARs, it was a total gray area. After a few minutes figuring out some legal issues with maintenance we decided that it would be a legal flight and continued with the checkride.
Oddly enough, he dropped the whole show me the airplane is legal thing. We then moved on to the cross country part. He asked where we were going, how long it will take and weight and balance. He was then distracted by me sweater from my church. Apparently we had both attended the same church, so we talked about that for a while, the ride was a lot of this, going off in directions other that flying, keeps it relaxed and interesting. We then moved on to chart stuff. Airspace classes, visibility and cloud clearance requirements, etc. After that he asked about flying in the mountains, what factors were involved. This lead to density altitude and what it is and what it means. He also wanted to know that I knew that the TAS is higher at the higher altitudes and you will need a longer runway to land on because of it.
He then asked an interesting question that went something like this: “I have a card that says I can legally smoke marijuana and have a bag of it in my flight bag. Can you take me up, because it is legal to do in California?” The correct answer is no because once the wheels leave the ground you are in Federal territory and it is no longer legal. He then went on to ask about hypoxia and cures and then ATC light gun signals. After that the oral was over, it only took about 45-50 minutes, not the hour and a half to two hours that some go through. Now onto flying.
He told me to go out to the airplane an get it ready and said he would be right out. I went out and meticulously preflighted it to make sure it was ready to go. He came out right as I was getting ready to dip the tanks for fuel. I dipped them and he asked what the pitot tube was and what it did and what the stall warning horn was. I answered and he asked what to look for when preflighting, I simply said anything out of the ordinary or anything that’s obviously broken. He didn’t dig to deeply into my preflighting. We got in the plane and I very carefully went over the checklists. I got to the passenger briefing and he told me he was briefed so I started the engine and headed off. I went to taxi to the calm wind runway 18 and as soon as I got turned around to do my runup a call came over the radio saying that we were switching to runway 36. NOOO!!! So I now had to taxi all the way to the other end of the runway, a nice, long downhill taxi.
I get down to the other end and do my runup and all is well keeping in with the checklists. He tells me to do a short field takeoff in front of the aircraft on base leg. I go onto the runway and get ready to stop and hold the brakes and he tells me to just go. So I do and do an uneventful takeoff. We climb out and turn on crosswind and, this I think was my major mistake for the day, I forgot to retract the flaps, arrrrggg! The examiner was nice about it, simply hinting by asking if I still needed the flaps down, no. Oh well, fly like it didn’t happen and we continue on downwind and base legs. He tells me to do a normal landing so I turn base and get all set up for the landing. I did one of my best landings, nice and soft and lined up nicely. He then told me to retract the flaps to ten degrees and do a soft field takeoff. Doing these special takeoffs while rolling was kind of a challenge but worked out well. I did the soft field takeoff and did not nose over as much as I should of in ground effect but he didn’t seem to mind. Climbed out, FLAPS UP this time and went through the pattern once again to do my soft field landing. It was the softest landing I think I have ever done and he then had me do a normal takeoff and one more time around the pattern for a no flap landing, also nice and soft. We then headed out.
I turned on my first initial cross country heading and he asked me what my first checkpoint was and how long it would take to get there. He didn’t focus too much on my cross country skills, he didn’t have me time the leg or anything. Not too long into that he said lets divert to Hesperia, so I had to get out the chart and get a heading and distance and that was it. I knew the trick for getting the heading, use my pencil and roll it over to the nearest VOR to get the magnetic heading, but as I went over the seat to grab my plotter the examiner gently reminded me that each of the lat-lon boxes on the chart was 30 NM and I caught on and guestimated the distance. And that was it for cross country work, he had me grab the hood. As I was putting it on he was bucking and weaving the plane around getting us “upset.” He told me I had the plane and I recovered from the right turning nose up attitude. He had me do the usual turns to a heading and descending turn and that was it. This was all going by so fast and so far so good, all the advice that I had gotten flowing through my mind.
It was now time for the maneuvers; stalls, slow flight, steep turns, and the works. He told me we were going to do steep turns and I told him that I was going to clear the area real fast. Most examiners from what I’ve head don’t tell the examine to clear the area before doing maneuvers and a few lucky ones get examiners who say the area is clear. So, it is up to the examine to say that the area needs to be cleared, it is an automatic pink slip (not a good color by the way) for not clearing the area. I did the steep turns in both directions and leveled out. He then told me to lower all the flaps and slow down to 50 knots. I did and we did the slow flight portion. He had me do a shallow turn to the left and then continue into a power off stall. Called the buffet and called the stall and recovered. Pulled up the flaps and he told me to do a departure stall, I pulled up and started to add rudder. Kept pulling and finally buffeted and broke the stall. That was it for maneuvers.
Now time for the engine out procedure. He pulled the throttle out however not the carb heat so I pulled that out. I then put in full aft trim and got the airspeed set in. There was a small dirt strip right behind us so I turned towards it. I went over all the items to attempt a restart, and no go we still had no engine. The examiner helped out a lot here, in fact I felt as if it were a lesson rather than an examination. I came in waaaaay high and started to slip, the examiner reminded me that flaps would greatly help here. So I put in all flaps and really started to sink, once we were about 50 feet above the ground he said I would have made it and said to get up and out. I applied full power, whoa full aft trim, and trimmed down. Slowly brought in flaps and climbed up. The examiner saw two white water tanks and told me to do turns around a point around them. I started pretty far out and the examiner said “hey my sister can do them from out here, get in closer.” Ouch, so I move in and do one nice 360 around them. I level off and he tells me to head back to Apple Valley and do a full stop landing. YES I made it. So I took us back and he said to do my short field landing. I come in a little high and slip down. By this point the winds had kicked up a little bit so I had a slight crosswind. I held in corrections and landed. It was the worse landing of the day but I recovered and taxied off. The examiner helped me push the aircraft in its spot and the camera was waiting once we landed. He took a picture with me and headed off inside. I finished up outside and went in to receive my temporary certificate.
In all I learned that the Private Pilot checkride is nothing to fear, it was overall way easier than I though it would be. It really did feel more like one long lesson rather that a test. Far any ready to move onto the checkride portion of thier training remember to do what you have been taught by your instructor, they won’t sign you off until they and you know that your really ready. Also, the attitude that seemed to get me through was the realization that it is not the end of the world if you do fail, it can happen, don’t let it get to you. I didn’t and statistics show that 9 out of every 10 applicants don’t either, so you have numbers on your side. If you are unlucky and that 1 out of 10 them you will surely be much better the next time around. Another that went through my mind during the ride was one that many people reminded me before I went on my ride; the examiner is required to let you know the minute you fail, so if you are doing your maneuvers and you feel like they went badly but the examiner doesn’t say anything, then you did good enough to pass, move on and forget about it.
I now have a license to learn, every hour is just as important as the last one, never stop learning and getting better. This is my private pilot checkride story.