Erick Johnson’s Check Ride

First let me set this story up with a very important fact. I passed the written exam in October of 1997, but due to family and work responsibilities it has taken me two years to complete my lessons and log in 51.2 hours of flying. It is now October 21, 1999 and the FAA examiner is leaving town tomorrow. This will probably be my one and only shot if I want to complete this process. As if the check ride itself wasn’t enough to turn a normally steadfast adult into a neurotic mess.

I got to the airport early to get the weather briefing, the maintenance logbooks, and to check out the rental plane. Even though I seemed calm, there were some butterflies.

I walked out to the tie down area to start the pre-flight but I could not find the plane (a very important part of any check ride). My fear was that it would be in the maintenance building with the engine disassembled. My hope was that it would be in there just so there would be no frost on it. As I entered this area and looked around at the 5 or 6 planes being worked on I saw no 152’s.

There are 3 or 4 other 152’s at this airport, but they had already been reserved for the day. Now I was starting to panic. I had a check ride in 45 minutes that is a 20-minute flight away and no plane.

After a few minutes of searching, with the help of the head instructor, we found the plane parked in the back (they are never parked back there). The good news was that it was clean of frost and full of fuel.

Everything went find with the preflight of the plane. A I was getting settled in the seat, shoulder harness and seatbelt already on, I decide that the seat needed a slight adjustment. It’s a little tough to adjust so I decide to get out to adjust it. I got back in and went through the start up procedures. After the engine started running there is was very disturbing banging/flapping sound coming from the outside. I began to wonder what was wrong with the plane.

After what seemed like minutes, but was actually only a few seconds, I realizeed that I forgot to put my seatbelt back on and it is hanging outside the door flapping against the side of the plane. I got this corrected, settled myself down and went through the checklist again.

I taxi’d down to runway 15 and then flew to Muncie. It was a very smooth and uneventful flight, this boosted my confidence.

The exam began with the oral portion, including going over my cross-country planning. I felt well prepared going into it and it went rather well. I answered nearly every question with ease.

Things were going great, until Denny (the FAA examiner) asked me to change the weight and balances for his weight. I had guessed 200 lbs. He wanted me to correct it to his weight of 180 lbs. He left the room and I began making the changes. I pulled out the small solar calculator that I always use and it picked today to go dead. I figured out the numbers with out it. This was another little thing that seemed to happen just to keep me a little anxious.

Denny then asked me to give him the take off and landing distances “without the 50 foot obstacle”. I had already given him these “with” the 50ft. obstacles. I repeated the question to him to make sure that I heard him correctly, and I had. At this point the nervousness set in and I went blank. I start looking through the POH to find this chart, but the only one I could find was “with” the 50ft. obstacle.

I must have turned every page in the book front to back 3 or 4 times. After what seemed like an eternity, I asked him if he wanted the ground role distances. Yes, that was all he wanted. DUH!

As we went outside, he mentioned that the wind was picking up quite a bit. I was thinking about crosswind landings, the requirements to keep the plane within the 100ft. altitude tolerances during the maneuvers and the fact that a 152 can be knocked around quite easily.

The good thing about the check ride is that it keeps you so busy that you don’t have time to continue thinking about things like that.

The check ride went very well, until we arrived back at the airport. During the final approach the wind started gusting a little more than I like. The landing was OK, but not my best by any stretch of the imagination. At that moment I thought my worst fear had come to fruition. The next words I heard were “let’s taxi around and see if we can improve on that”.

The landing was much better the second time. Though not my best, it was a good one. We taxi’d back to the tie down spot. I felt good about the flight, but the pessimist in me took over my thoughts. Did I pass or fail?

I started thinking about every little thing that may have been short of perfect. We did not do every maneuver, did he stop the test short because I failed something? Denny said, ” when you get your things together, come in and we will finish the paper work, all you need is your logbook”. What does that mean? License or pink slip?

As I walked back to the building I went from happy to disappointed to mad to confused, all within 20 seconds before I went inside.

He said nothing to me as I sat down. He began to type up what appeared to be a license. I PASSED!!! I AM A PILOT!!!

I could think of only one thing on the entire flight home. My thoughts were of my wife, who purchased the discovery flight and the ground lessons for me on my 40th birthday, and then pushed me to finish. Gina’s only motivation was that she knew this was a dream that I have had all of my life. But, I never dreamed that it could or would actually happen. There will never be enough words worthy of the appreciation that I have for what she did for me in this endeavor.

I will never take the controls of an airplane or even look at my pilot license without thinking of Gina, the most wonderful person in the world.

Tomorrow I am taking my kids on their first ride in a small plane. My 15-year-old son already has decided he wants to become an airline pilot. We’re giving him ground school for a Christmas gift.

Erick Johnson
Lucky Husband, Proud Father and PPASEL