|Passed the PA-SEL practical test|
Today was the day that the whole thing has been about since the beginning – the practical flight test or, as more commonly known, the checkride. In case you can’t wait to the end to see how it turns out… I passed!
The day started early at 7.30 in a pancake house near the airport where I met with Kimberly and the examiner, JC Boylls. The marine layer had returned with a vengance and the visibility was close to nothing; I had hopes it would clear by the time I was finished with the oral part of the test.
We chatted over breakfast and it acted as a good ice breaker, JC is very laid back and witty so it all started out in good fashion. Kimberly signed all the pieces of paper that she needed to and JC and I started the oral exam by looking over the engine and airframe logbooks. This demonstrates two items to the examiner: first, that I know what makes a plane legal to fly and how I confirm that it is and, second, that the plane we are going to use is legal for the test. For the last two months we have tried to fly nothing but 733UC so that I would be entirely comfortable with it. This was soon put in jeopardy when we discovered that the ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter) battery had not been replaced within the legal time limit! We told Kimberly and she raced off to the airport to try and get it fixed before the flight portion.
For the exam, JC had asked me to prepare a flight from MYF to Boulder City, NV (just outside Las Vegas), and we started with me describing my route once we reached the airport. We explored chart symbols, obstructions on the route and the reasons for choosing the checkpoints that I had come up with. We then talked about the lighting at 61B as well as issues with the neighbouring Class B airspace at Las Vegas. JC had me identify the air spaces on various parts of the chart and then announced that he was having trouble stumping me and would move on to something else. From here we talked about how some of the items on the airplane operated and, in particular, when and why to use carburettor heat. He also asked if I would ever take a plane with a windshield crack that had been treated with a stop hole. I said I didn’t like the idea much and he gave me some horror stories of bird strikes that made me even further convinced that I would not want to. Throughout the oral exam, JC would offer stories and advice and the whole thing was very relaxed. We talked briefly about aeromedical factors (mostly alcohol, drugs and scuba diving) and JC announced that the oral exam was over and we could go fly if I wanted to. One of the items that JC had stressed at the beginning was that I would be the Pilot In Command for the flight, he would not offer advice at any time, no matter what the situation, unless I asked for it. If I broke any airspace rules, I would be responsible no matter whether he told me to or not. So the decision to fly or not was entirely mine.
During the oral, Kimberly had been out rallying the owner and the maintenance shop to fix 733UC. JC had told her to simply remove the battery and placard it as being inoperational and we could still legally fly the plane (the regulations say we can do this for 90 days). This suggestion wasn’t taken up and we were told that there was no way the plane would be ready in time. Kimberly suggested I use the plane we have used a few times before – 4625G. We checked the logbooks and everything looked good so I decided we would swap. I didn’t really fancy flying 4625G after so long, but I also didn’t want to have to go through the stress of preparing for the checkride again. I checked the weather, the mist had cleared and everything looked good. I went off to pre-flight the plane whilst JC waited behind.
During the oral, JC had altered my cross-country route so that it would include a VOR tracking portion
At the VOR checkpoint I recorded the time and concentrated on tracking the radial from the Julian VOR. I watched the checkpoint come into view and took the time. Our groundspeed was 60 knots – not quite what I had expected! The second NAV instrument showed that I had not reached the radial at the checkpoint yet so I had clearly not reached the checkpoint after all. I looked around to try and work out what was happening but continued on our way. When we eventually reached the radial, I saw another road go underneath us and I retook the measurement: 100knots, much closer to what is should have been. JC told me to look at the chart and divert to a small airport that he pointed to. I took an approximate bearing and headed in the direction I thought we needed. There was a mountain in front of us and JC asked if I thought people built runways on mountains. Obviously not, so I took my position off the Julian VOR and matched it to the chart. The runway was the other side of the hill and my estimated direction was not the best. I arrived in the general area but after circling the area I couldn’t find the runway and JC took the control and showed it to me – it was a tiny grass strip nestled at the foot of the hill.
This somewhat shaky start to the flight had me quite unsettled by this point and I was cursing my stupidity at messing up the navigation part of the test. JC had said at the beginning that if I failed any manuever he would stop the test there and then; he hadn’t said anything so I guess I was still ok. Next up was the foggles for some instrument maneuvers. I did the usual climbs, turns, straight and level. I usually do pretty well at this but I was having some trouble getting the plane trimmed and so the hood time was not as relaxing as has been. JC then put the plane into a couple of unusual attitudes which went ok, if not marvellous. I tried rembering something I had read on one of the pilot bulletin boards – focus only on the task in hand, forget what has gone before and what is to come.
JC had me turn to a heading and we crossed a small mountain ridge towards the area where we would do our manuevers. Just as cleared the ridge, JC pulled the power saying these engines are so unreliable! I pitched the plane to its glide speed atitude and looked around for some landing sites. I could not see anything I liked the look of but pointed out a field that had some trees in it, but with enough open space to make a landing. As I headed for it, I made the mock check of all the controls that I would do if it had been a real emergency. As we got a closer look at the field I could see in fact the trees were spaced such that there was no space to make a landing. I told JC and identified a different field at 90° to where we were heading. He looked at it, said that we would most likely damage the plane but not ourselves and gave me the power back, telling me to climb.
Next up we headed for some higher altitude and I did some slow flight, 55 knots with no flaps followed by a 180° turn. From there we did a power-on stall with a 20° bank turn which went surprisingly well. After that came a return to slow flight with full flaps, followed by another 180° turn. This had us nicely set up for a power-off stall, this time in a 30° bank. I had some trouble getting the plane to stall but I got there eventually and did the maneuver. After slow flight we did steep turns to the left and to the right, followed by S-turns to the left along a road.
Those completed, JC pointed out Mt Woodson (which is a visual checkpoint for Ramona airport) and said he wanted me to fly to Ramona and make a short-field landing. As we flew towards the airport we went over the Wild Animal Park and JC tried to look out for animals. Needless to say I had no time for such relaxing pasttimes. As we neared Ramona I tuned in the UNICOM and got the wind and runway advisories, there were a couple of other craft in the pattern so I headed for Mt Woodson and make the left turn to intersect the downwind leg on the 45° angle. I located the other two craft and confirmed they were no factor to us, slowed down and got myself ready for the landing. I made the pattern, was a little low on final but made the landing right where I wanted it. 4625G suffers from a terrible nosewheel shimmy on some landings and this distracted me from keeping the elevator back for aerodynamic braking. JC reminded me not to let up the back pressure and I made the first taxiway as I had hoped. From there we did a 180° turn and got back on the runway, this time for a soft-field takeoff. My soft-field takeoffs hadn’t been going too well the last few lessons and I am sad to say that this one was worse still. After we took off, JC told me to fly him back to MYF where we would end the exam with a soft-field landing.
I made my usual return trip to MYF calling up the tower over Gillespie and getting the usual cleared to land on 28L. There was hardly any traffic in the area which was most unusual – perhaps they had heard there was a checkride in the area?! My approach was fine but my airspeed was a little too high and we made a small bounce on landing, not what I was hoping for on a soft-field landing. I kept the elevator back to take the nosewheel off the ground and we taxied off the runway where I contacted ground control for my taxi to the fuel island.
As I taxied to the island I felt pretty deflated as my flying had been way below what I knew I could do, and what I had been doing for the previous two lessons. I had never really felt like the plane was at my full control and I was wondering if I should have postponed the flight test and waited for 733UC. However JC had not ended the lesson at any point and, to my surprise, when we stopped at the island, JC turned and said that I had been successful and, if I wanted, he would sign my logbook and have me sign my temporary cetificate. I told him I was amazed that I had passed and he said that I had been within tolerances on all the maneuvers and it was clear that I knew what I was doing on everything even if it hadn’t worked out as well as we both might have hoped. He also said that my flying had been at the level of an average 50 hour pilot. He signed the paperwork, told me he had enjoyed flying with me and then disappeared to get his car for his next appointment. As he left, the Crown Air fuel guy, Leonard shook my hand and congratulated me on achieving my Private Pilot Certificate – Airplane, Single Engine Land.
|Total Training Time:||47.4|
|Number of Landings:||103|
|Estimated Training Cost:||$5000.00|