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Seems there is an interest in solo/checkride stories. And a few folks who are a bit older wondering if they have what it takes. I started training aged 50 on Sept 2010. At Dec 2018 - I'm at 1820 hours, PIC time in 21 distinct SEL types and - of course - still learning. I got off my butt to do this when 4 friends all checked in with "The Big C" and I decided it was time to do some things before I could not. At the time - I documented the whole process in a blog. If you want to read the whole story - it starts here: http://graemejwsmith.com/?p=90
CHECKRIDE - I wrote this back in July 2011 (some things have changed - iPad's and Foreflight were about a year in the future, the AFD is now the CS, PTS is now ACS and you could still get a weather brief from DUAT/DUATS):
A long weekend planning a 241 mile cross country to Elmira Corning. Just why the examiner wants that as an objective I’m not 100% clear but as I plan it out I have to deal with designated mountain areas, turbulence in the lee of ridges and most classes of airspace. I pore over the material and get the plan down in a broad brush and then refine it at least twice through the weekend. One small solace – it is almost the opposite of the route needed to get my plane back from PA so it is certainly not wasted work. My flight suit is freshly washed. My boots are shined. In the middle of the evening of our 4th July party – I sneak off and put in my first stab at the weather as I hit the 12 hour to go planning window. Back to the guests, clear up, skip the fireworks and early to bed.
Up at 05:00, shower, trim my beard – might as well look good – even if it doesn’t go well. Good impression and all that. I pull down the newest Surface Analysis Chart, Low Level Prognostic Chart, Radar Chart, Winds aloft forecast, a Full weather briefing, Notices to Airmen and Temporary Flight Restrictions and integrate them all with my plan. Print out a copy for me and a summarized copy for the examiner. I run though my document checklist:
- Aircraft Documents – in the plane
- Aircraft Maintenance Records - Filing cabinet at the school
- FAA Approved Flight manual – in the plane and my own copy
- View Limiting Device – Flight Bag
- Charts – Flight Bag
- Flight Computer and Plotter – in my Kneeboard
- Flight Plan Form – Filed at DUAT first thing and blank spare in my kneeboard
- Flight Log – In my Bag
- An AIM, AFD and other Publications pertinent to the flight – Flight Bag
- Photo ID – Passport in my Logbook cover
- Pilot Certificate – Logbook cover
- Medical Certificate – Logbook cover
- Form 8710 Application – Online in the FAA system
- Computer Test Report – Logbook Cover
- Logbook and Instructor Endorsements – Logbook cover
- Examiner Fee – Envelope in Logbook.
I head off for the school. Yes I am nervous. I’m seriously invested in this and really want to show I can do it. I use breathing exercises while driving to stay calm and go to Dunking Donuts and get donuts for the flight school crew like I usually do. Try and keep this like a normal lesson. Try and stay focused with normal routines and checklists. I arrive and the examiner pulls up in his car behind mine. We chat briefly. He was a 737 captain for Continental and flew the Caribbean routes just before he retired a couple of years ago. Now he is an FAA Designated Examiner. We wait a few minutes and my instructor arrives to open the school. We go in and fire up the computer and go online to check my paperwork, my ID is checked – we go through the application – everyone signs it online using their passcodes and then we repair upstairs to the quiet classroom to go over the game plan. The examiner outlines the way things are conducted, reminds me that I am pilot in command and in simulated emergencies I am to act that way – in a real emergency – I am still pilot in command but he is available as a team player to help get a good result. He goes through my logbook to check I have met all the flight requirements for solos, training, cross country, night flying and instrument time I am claiming. I have summarized this on a sheet of paper and this makes the entries easy to find in the log. This part goes quickly. He reviews my view limiting device to check it is suitable, I pay the fee. Any questions? I say so far it is just like the example oral exam given on the ASA CD of a sample Checkride. I get a faint smile. “The exam has started”.
I’m asked about maintenance records and when annuals are due – it is quick and I have the answer at my fingertips- we don’t spend long on it. AD’s? Airworthiness directives – I explain what they are about and example it with the recent seat rail AD issued for Cessnas.
Then my Aircraft Performance calculation for the day. I’ve prepared three. One for takeoff at Providence, another for the start of the cross country at North Central and another for landing at Elmira. I explain the spreadsheet I constructed to make this easier and how it encourages prompt and regular calculation of these important numbers. I had determined too many accidents came about from people simply not doing the numbers and thought this was because extracting all the numbers from the performance tables and calculating or looking up other material in other publications made this likely to get skipped. I had made it as simple as possible. My spreadsheet has entries for airport weather, runway length, fuel and people weight. Then it calculates – Density Altitude, Takeoff and Landing performance, Crosswind Component, Weight and Balance Limits and Center of Gravity Limits. The examiner reviews one – quickly does some math in his head. Some questions about Vne, Vfe, VApp, Vso and Vx and Vy – I have the numbers and explain the meaning.
He moves on to my Flight Plan and Nav Log. While I get out my sectional chart – he is reading my cover notes and quickly checking the waypoints I have picked. He looks at the line drawn across the sectional and then there are some searching questions about fuel requirement. I point out my fuel summary calculation and my personal reserve rules that I have incorporated. The flight can be conducted in one complete hop with no fuel stop – though I have built one in as a rest, weather review point and fuel stop if needed. More questions about the fuel. The examiner says the FAA want us to be tested on long cross country plans to see if we really understand fuel exhaustion limits. Hence the length of the cross country he set. Now forget school minimum requirements and personal minimum requirements that are set at a very conservative value. What does the law require for fuel reserves at day and night? I have the numbers.
My instructor Greg steps in for a moment and hands me the aircraft dispatch sheet. We are all set.
We move on and the examiner tests me on various chart symbols down the line of the flight. Where he can’t find one he wants he “moves” one to the line and asks about it. We cover Class D, C and B airspace reporting requirements and how to determine if you are cleared into airspace when talking to the controller. We also have a TRSA space – “not mandatory but treat as a Class C” is my response. Can I overfly this Class D without taking to them? Yes. It is raining and you are forced down to 2,500 ft? Now I have to talk to them as they control up to 2,700ft. An airport is picked at random. “You have a sick passenger and must get down – Without using your AFD – tell me everything you can about this airport from the chart symbology.” I do. Another airport is picked – “What does this RP mean”. Right hand traffic pattern on those runways is my response. Visibility requirements in the airspace? I go over it.
Sketches of Runway Markings – some questions. I answer. And if your nose wheel is there? He points – “Runway Incursion” is my response – “I may not look like I am on it –but I blew through the hold short”. He seems happy with that response.
Sketches of airplanes in the sky and who has right of way? I answer a couple and then indicate the rules are essentially the same as for ships which I have used all my life. The questions cease.
Spin recovery? I outline how to do it.
He asks to see my run up checklist. It is of my own making. He takes a moment to find what he wants. He flips it over and points at the vacuum system requirement during run up. “It reads zero” – what does that tell you? “We are not going flying” is my response, “both vacuum pumps have failed.” He smiles – oh yes – this Cessna has TWO vacuum pumps! What do they drive? I start to outline it – the Attitude Indicator and the, the, the, and get stuck for a moment – I start tracing the panel in the air to pick off the items driven by the vacuum pump. He stops me. Let’s look at a panel on the way out to the aircraft he says. Let’s go fly.
Pit stop if needed – no.
We pass a poster of a Cessna panel. What does the vacuum system drive? I immediately point out the Attitude Indicator and the DG. Fine – how many gyros? Three- the Turn and Coordinator is electric for redundancy. “Good”.
I preflight the aircraft. First check for fuel – but she is topped right off. Oil is good. I get the impression my instructor or the school manager have made a point of putting her in the right spot and she is just right. I do a careful preflight and am watched doing it. I use the preflight and my checklist as a focus. This is something I do all the time. I can ignore the man watching. I can do this well. Let’s show I can. I put in my additional checks on certain bolts you see better with a flashlight, my check of the stall warning horn and shaking the wings. I declare the aircraft ready to fly. Then I am asked specifically about where the components of the pitot static system are and how I inspected them. Then asked what this bent pipe is? The fuel tank vent and I explain how it works – including the cross tank vent feed that is notorious for not venting well – so an AD was issued requiring venting fuel caps on both tanks – which I have also checked. What happens if it is blocked? Fuel starvation and engine stops. I get a story back about a wet wing that collapsed because a fuel vent blockage and the engine sucked the fuel out the wing and collapsed it.
We get in and I am told that he is comfortable with the safety brief and I can move on. I give the safety brief anyway. I really want to get to the bit about him being an active lookout and part of the team. I suspect he is also testing that I know it is mandatory and am not afraid of him! Back on the checklist and start up. I set up the radio stack and also perform a VOT check on the VOR system. “Not required for Private Pilot” is the comment. Yes I respond but as much of the cross country is VOR navigation it would be nice to check it. I get the weather and then I completely blow it and call clearance on tower frequency. Tower put me right…… Well I have heard SouthWest pilots do it. It is not the end of the world.
I refocus and get my clearance and then out to the runup pad. I run up. All is well. I preset the radios for North Central. So I don’t need to do it in the air. Then I call to taxi. We get rolling. I’m told to short field out of Providence. I am setting the plane up but it is clear from listening to the radio that they will want me to go quickly before they bring in a jet. The examiner tells me to do a rolling short field – “what will I be missing out?” Tower – “503SP – Turn right heading 300 cleared to take off runway 23”. As I do a token sweep towards the end of the runway to maximize length I mention I will not be holding on brakes and running up to full RPM before releasing. I swing onto centerline – just manage to set the DG to centerline and start my roll. There is no wind and probably for the first time ever I Vx out at 57 knots without having to go a hair faster to allow for turbulence or gusts. “When you are at 200ft consider yourself over the obstacle”. I accelerate and get the flaps up and at 400ft turn to 300. I’m handed off to departure. I call my departure but don’t hear from them. I check the radio – no – it is good and I call again. I get a departure report back. Sounds like a new controller. Then I’m on a long climb. I get an altitude clearance but no heading clearance and I’m going the wrong way – to Scituate. At 3,000ft I call with a position report. There is a pause, an acknowledgement and then a realization from the controller. I get another call with a heading clearance too. I turn for North Central and listen to the weather. Calm. Pick a runway. I call I have North Central in sight. I’m cleared to squawk VFR and have a nice day. I switch to North Central but monitor Providence. The examiner asks if meant to do that. I reply I did because I am actually still in Providence airspace. Now I have to figure which runway to use. The examiner is suggesting I might fly a pattern and let him know. I really don’t think it will be worth calling UNICOM. The new management company has been at it just a week and are just getting their act together. I call my arrival on the CTAF again. Then Greg my instructor calls he is in the pattern with another student and using runway 5. He knows I need this bone to make my life easier and he just threw me it. I announce my pattern entry and let down to pattern altitude. Then on the only occasion in the day – I blow an altitude and drop 100ft low – I’m in PTS but only just – I announce my error and corrective action and vow not to do that ever again today. (I don’t). “Make this a short field please – your aiming point is the 1000ft marker”.
I fly my pattern and get her in. I’m maybe 100ft past the mark. I’m allowed 200. I have the flaps off her as she is touching down and I announce – “Simulating heavy braking – but we have plenty of runway so I will not burn them out” and I roll onto the next taxiway and pull off. Greg my instructor was sitting with his pupil all this time – holding short. There was plenty of time for him to go while I was on the downwind but he held off to give me breathing room. What a nice guy! You just know everyone is rooting for you. Greg departs AND announces he is leaving the area. Boy he is giving me LOTS of room. Really nice guy. From the examiner – “soft field out please”.
I taxi round and set up I ask where the soft field starts and I’m told the hold short line – so I can stop and swing both ways to check the sky which I do then roll over the hold short and get going. I have her up off the nose wheel and I get her rolling well on the mains. There is a slight squeak from the stall warning horn and I nose down a HAIR till I am sure I am flying, then into the wheelbarrow position and roar down the runway in ground effect. The examiner said “no obstacles” so I really get her cranking and at 80 pop her out of ground effect and fly. I ease the flaps off and you don’t know I did – nice! I fly a pattern. “Soft Field landing please”. Boy am I glad I tried this in high density altitude on this very upslope runway EIGHT times on Saturday. Even in a good flare the plane will smack the upslope and you need to over flare to get it right. I bring her in and flare and then some. I have the stall warning squealing and I pull back – I touch the power to soften it. It is not a greaser but it is OK – I think. I keep the nose up. The examiner says – “I have the flaps – 3,500ft left – take off” and “confirming flaps are up” as I power up and get back into the air. On the climb out – “OK start your cross country please”.
Oh boy. I pull out my flight plan. Normally I would have set up the radio stack on the ground but now I have to do it on the climb out. I punch in the VOR and bug the DG and estimate the compass and DG are probably together. Hard to tell in a climb. I announce my departure from the pattern and climb on. I swing on course to Hartford and trim the plane in the climb. I start the clock. “I would call for flight following now” – but as I suspect the examiner doesn’t want me to. “Cross country suspended a moment – maintain your heading – please climb at 70 knots”. I pitch up. ”Now 60” – I pitch up some more. I ask – “You want me to demonstrate the power on stall?” “Yes please – pitch for 20 knots – recover on the first indication of an aerodynamic stall”. I pitch on up and she stalls. The air is still – very calm, there has been no heating and no turbulence. I really feel the aileron twitch the 1/8th of an inch to the right to hold her level in the power on stall. She stalls and I recover instantly and stay level, accelerate. BANG on heading. “Back to your cross country please.” I climb on tracking the Hartford VOR and at Top of Climb – 4,500ft I level, lights off but announce I’ll leave the strobes on in the haze and I lean the engine and look around. I take a cross bearing from the Scituate Reservoir and mark the chart and check the time and I enter it in the log. Gosh there is really no wind – everything is pretty much on the money. I notice the examiner watching and as soon as I make my first time entry in the log – “OK – cross country good – my controls”.
I hand off the controls. He hands me my view limiting foggles. I put them on and make sure I can only see the instruments. I get the plane back. He asks me to fly this heading and altitude. He watches for a few minutes. Then – “Pretend you were VFR and just flew into a cloud – what’s the plan?” I outline – straight and level flight, bug my heading, standard rate turn to the left and fly a 180 till the bug is at the bottom of the DG – then fly on till out the cloud. “OK – don’t actually do it – carry on.” A few minutes later – “You didn’t come out the clouds – now what?” I announce I would immediately get help from air traffic control to get to clear air. “OK.” Then a bit of paper appears under my nose. There is a 4 letter identifier on it for an airport. I’m told ATC has found me a clear airfield and this is it. Fly there………. I have NO idea where this 4 letter identifier is. I start cautiously programming the GPS to find it. Push a button, fly the plane, notch a dial, fly the plane, push a button, fly the plane, notch a dial, fly the plane, push a button, fly the plane and so on. It takes a good two minutes or so – but I must keep the plane straight and level. I get the code in and punch “Direct To.” I get a solution. I will have to turn 120 to the right and fly 103 miles to Sandford. Where? Never heard of it! I start the turn. We have a discussion about telling “the passengers” how long it will take – my answer “an hour” and do I have the fuel to do it – “yes – I have 4 hours”. I ask the examiner if he is keeping a good look out. I’m in foggles and getting my sailor’s twitch that says “time to look around”. “Yes we are good” from the examiner and – “Will I encounter icing in this cloud?” I get the outside air temperature. 18 degrees C – “No”. What should I do about altitude? The answer is 3,500ft or 5,500ft for the direction I am flying but I also add that I would ask for ATC’s help as I now have no idea about mountains that might be ahead. “My controls” from the examiner. “Eyes shut and head on shoulder.”
In my head I’m chanting “Blue push / Brown pull” while he flips the plane around the sky. He is going to hand me her back in an unusual attitude and I must immediately correct it. The throttle is KEY to passing this maneuver and as I get to open my eyes I have to push it in if we are climbing – blue on the attitude indicator and pull if diving – brown on the indicator. I’ve never found this exercise intuitive – it is even a little artificial feeling. But you gotta get it right. “Blue push / Brown pull” in my head. “Your plane.” I open my eyes – blue – I push the throttle home and level the wings then push down to level off. I recover and get her flying again. “My plane” from the examiner. “Take your foggles off”. I do. “Your plane. Fly North at 3,000ft then steep turns please – first to the left”. I fly my clearing turns and set up. There isn’t much to set up on – it is hazy. Mount Wachusett is a possibility. The examiner tells me to bug it at North and use the bug. I get her at Va and on altitude. I roll into my left turn. Flick in a wheel of up trim and she is solid. The rivets on the cowl carve across the horizon and round she goes. I roll out. That one was perfect speed, altitude and heading roll out. YES! We pause for a moment as I re-trim. “I have checked and you are clear right – Now to the right please”. I roll right, flick the trim and round she goes. The first half is OK – then she slows a hair and I chase her back into line. I roll out. I think I was up 20 ft at most and 5 knots off till I got her sorted. Still in PTS. “Fly 120 for Providence”.
“OK – Into slow flight please but only with flaps 20”. He holds up two fingers to emphasize the 20 instead of the usual 30. I fly clearing turns first. I think I am set up. I start into it but I’m not happy. It is headed out of PTS but not there yet. “Abort” I announce. “I can do this better”. I level off and set up again and get her into slow flight MUCH better. “Turn right to 200” – I gently fly around the sky to the heading. “Now smoothly pull the throttle and recover at the first sign of an aerodynamic stall”. I do and recover. At most I lost 100ft. “Back to 120 please”. We are flying on for Providence.
“Imagine you were cycling the flaps and the breaker popped – what would you do?” I outline that I don’t need flaps on the long runway at Providence and a breaker reset might just lead to an electrical fire because I don’t know why the breaker popped. “OK – fly the rest of the mission without flaps please”. Then the examiner says he will get our clearance while I get the weather…. I set up the radio stack and get the weather. We are cleared for runway 23. “Your radios” from the examiner. I’m wondering if that was the emergency? The lost flaps? I pull out my checklist to check the flaps up landing speed. I announce I am leaning the engine below 3000ft because the Density Altitude is high and we have been flying at full rich for a while. I want to clean the plugs before the landing. Then approach asks us to turn final and make best speed and over to tower. We are still 7 miles out. Final is inappropriate. Then tower ask me to square my base – they have three planes they want to get out ahead of me. Wish they would make their minds up! I announce to the examiner I will just fly a normal approach. I am descending through pattern altitude but still high for no flaps – I announce I will slip on final to get the glideslope. I push full rich at 1,000ft as the EGT starts to twitch off the stop. I turn final as I am cleared to land. The examiner asks me to slip down to the glideslope then slip as needed to make the landing. I slip down to the red over white light and recover and fly on. As I come over the threshold at 80 knots I land fast and roll on. If I stand on the brakes I could maybe make taxiway Charlie but it would be hard on the plane. We roll on down for Tango – only it is closed for maintenance and we end up at Mike One. Sheesh – a long taxi home. I get her home, park on the spot and work my shutdown checklist. As I put the keys on the dash I announce – “Safe” and I take my headset off. It is wringing wet with sweat.
From the examiner and in a dry tone – “So as to save the suspense – you passed. It was an above average Checkride. My only comment was I think you could have been airborne a little earlier on the soft field take off. Do your housekeeping and we can go in and do the paperwork.” I write up the hours, check the plane for trash, chock her and put on the pitot cover to keep the flies out. I decide not to put in the cowl plugs. The engine is hot and the temperature is climbing into the mid 80’s.
As we walk in Rusty the ramp rat is working on the golf cart used to tow the planes. He is signaling “How did you do?” I give him a thumbs up. He is all smiles. His Checkride is coming soon. We are walking into the classroom and everyone is briefing their students for the next lesson. Trying to look casual but I have been out representing the school this morning – all the instructors want to know…. The examiner gives my instructor a thumbs up over the head of the student he is talking to. My instructor drops his lesson and races over to shake my hand. We do the paperwork. I am issued a “Temporary Airman’s License” on the spot – good for 120 days till my real license shows up. Chris – the manager – drags me out to the plane again for pictures (OK and so I could get the box I forgot to bring in).
My name is back on the school achievement board again.
9 months to the DAY since my Airman’s Flight. 130 hours flying of which 110 hours instruction. 20 hours pilot in command, 10 hours of cross country. I know JUST enough to be safe in good weather and when not to go. I also know a few good ways to get it wrong and how to avoid them. But I don’t need to ask my instructor anymore – but you can always call and ask. Guess I can go collect my plane this weekend! If the weather is good… If I have got the Flight Plan worked up…. If I check for NOTAMS, TFR’s…… Oh yeah – I bought a plane last week……