Monday, July 2, 2007

The Checkride.

So... to tell the tale!

After getting up at 5:30 to finish up my flight planning and make sure everything was in order, I headed out to the airport around 7:30. By 8:45, I was in the air and on my way to OKV! The flight over was easy and smooth as silk... almost boring! (a good kind of flight to have) It was such a cool feeling to fly somewhere for a reason! I had an appointment-- and I was flying to it! After having horrible landings on Saturday, I decided to try a short-field landing at OKV... it went ok, but wasn't great. I tied down the plane and met the Examiner on the ramp as I walked in to the airport, right on time.

We started off with the oral... 2 1/2 hours of paperwork, regulations, weather, aerodynamics, charts, flight planning, etc. It was pretty grueling, though the examiner was pretty nice. I got a little twisted around on airmets/sigmets, and explaining aerodynamics in steep turns (why there's an increased stalling tendency). Otherwise, I think that part went pretty well, though 2 1/2 hours is a long time to do anything!

The one thing that bothered me during the oral-- he asked me about transiting through Class D airspace and whether I needed clearance... I told him I would need to establish two-way communication (i.e. the controller needs to have repeated back your call sign) before going through the airspace. He told me I was wrong, that I needed to get a specific "you have clearance..." from the controller. I started to argue, but decided that I didn't really want to get in an argument with the Examiner... so I let it drop. I looked it up later, and I do think I was right... it kind of annoyed me that he got such a basic thing wrong.

A little past noon, we finished up with the oral portion, and took a little break to check the weather and get ready for the flight. After preflighting (I was worried he might grill me on all that I was doing then, but he just kind of looked around the airplane a bit), we got settled and began the runup. After the runup, he asked for a short-field takeoff, so I began briefing him. He started to tell me I had the wrong speeds for takeoff (I use the POH guidelines-- but these use different speeds than the typical Vx (best angle of climb) and Vy (best rate of climb) combo for shortfield), but I assured him I was following the speeds in the POH. We then had a discussion about how manufacturers will make the speeds lower to make the performance data look better-- but that puts you very close to a stall speed at a critical time. He finally decided I could use the speeds I learned, but that he wanted to talk to M because he said the PTS call for using the Vx and Vy speeds. I later looked this up and PTS actually says that either the Vx and Vy speeds or the POH recommended speeds may be used.

In the time that I was inside doing the oral, the wind really kicked up. I even thought about whether or not I should do the flight-- but decided that though the gusts were pretty strong (up to 20 knot gusts), they were mostly straight up and down the runway. In any case, it was pretty choppy up in the air. But my maneuvers all went reasonably well. We jumped one to the next very quickly. I realized later that it also seemed fast because there was no 20 minute trip out to a practice area like we have to do from JYO (to get past the ADIZ). Before I knew it, he was instructing me to go back to OKV for landings.

First up on landings was a shortfield. Because we were so close to the airport, I was already on the 45, entering downwind before I realized where we were. There was a ton of traffic-- and the planes weren't necessarily all making their calls. As we turned on downwind, I thought-- I don't have my weather. We also had to slot in between two planes that were doing some crazy things-- one extended his downwind about a mile beyond where you normally turn base. I felt completely behind the airplane (I was already past my aiming point, and if I waited till I was abeam the other plane to turn base, I would be way out of sync to do a shortfield)... and just wanted to get out of the pattern and get set up properly. So, I told him that I was going to do a 360 for separation (there was also another plane doing a straight in). He told me he didn't think that was a good idea-- there was another plane entering the 45. I decided to go ahead and turn out to the right, though-- and just fly out a ways, and then plan to get back on the 45. I did this, got the weather, and tried to go far enough out to be behind the other plane. But they now weren't making calls-- and all of a sudden they turned toward us, so we had to quickly turn away to go around them. I finally got back on the 45. Then about to turn downwind, another plane turned early from the crosswind-- without any calls (departure, crosswind, or downwind!). As we were already turning, we had no choice but to make a hurried call and hope they saw us. The only problem was that the frequency was full of College Park calls, so it was a few second before we could get a word in. We finally did, and thankfully, the other plane finally acknowledged seeing us.

I thought we were in the clear at that point (remember, I'm still just trying to do that first landing), but then there are 2 planes coming for a straight in-- and they're using IFR (i.e. meaningless to VFR pilots) calls about their location. Luckily, we're able to fit in between them. We do this, and I'm finally pretty set with my airspeed, and I think all I have to battle with now is the wind-- but I'm wrong. As we turn final, I hear over the radio from another plane "Uh, Cessna on final, do you know the elevation of the airport? You are really low." Yeah, that's right, I get criticized over the radio by another plane on my checkride! I shoot a quick glance at the examiner like "WTF?". He tells me I'm doing fine, just to ignore it. I do my best to just keep focused on the landing. But my landing is horrible. I'm all over the place- the wind is just blowing us around. I probably should have used only 20 degrees flaps for the wind-- but was worried about being able to get slow enough for the shortfield. We got hit by a gust just as we flared, and then started to drop as I added power, unsure whether or not to try and land it or do a go around. Unfortunately, I didn't drop the nose as I added power, so we still sort of fell out of the sky. A big bounce, and we veered hard to the right and then the left, going almost over the side of the runway. For a split second, I panicked-- and I saw his hands start to go for the controls. Then I got control, braked, and called "Maximum braking, flaps up".

I was sure I had just failed. I was almost in tears. I taxied us of the runway, and braced for him to tell me I had failed. He told me to clean it up, which I did, and then he told me to taxi back. Taxi back to where? The parking area or the runway? He sounded surprised when he said for departure. Whew, so I wasn't finished yet! So, he gave me a minute to get myself together and then we went up again and did a forward slip to a go-around, then attempted a soft-field. I went around on the first soft-field attempt. The second soft-field, I made it in. Not the best soft-field, but not horrible considering the wind was now gusting 19 knots and variable. The last landing was an simulated engine out. While I was thankful to not have to look for a field (the part I struggle most with), we got a surprise as I was trying to get us trimmed for best glide speed... another plane appeared-- without any radio calls- on a straight in as we curved around toward final. The Examiner was really annoyed-- he had been looking for traffic, and neither of us saw this guy coming. I quickly gave a "on final, simulated engine out" and again just hoped the plane saw us in front of them. With all the craziness, I didn't have time to run the checklist, but I think he understood. We landed long, taxied off at one of the last turnouts. I had to wait a second to make my clear call-- and realized as we did, that the plane behind us had landed, taxied clear, and made his call before I could. Crazy.

At this point, I wasn't sure what to think. Drenched in sweat (even though it was a pleasant 75 degrees out), shaking, and completed exhausted, I was just glad to be done. Then the Examiner asked if I knew what it meant that we had finished, and he hadn't had to stop the exam... I hoped I did! I asked if that meant I passed-- and he said yes! He helped me tie down, and then we did a debrief and the final paperwork. I was now a pilot! I was so happy, I almost hugged the plane after we landed. Hungry (no food since breakfast that morning), exhausted (I had been with him for over 5 hours), drenched, and happy, I sat and enjoyed a Twix before flying myself back to Leesburg. I was so exhausted, I ended up having to do a go-around on my first approach because I was too tired to successfully battle the winds! But it was so worth it! Now, I just can't wait to take Husband for a ride!

My trusty steed.

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