I did have one more 'cleanup' flight before my checkride, but rather than bore you with the details of that mundane flight, I'm going to use this entry to round out the saga of my journey to become a Private Pilot. After this post, this blog will shift from a record of training flights to a record of adventures...
January 4, 2016
The plan was to meet my CFI at the airport early, get a head-start on the ~1 hr flight to KMNV for my checkride at 0800 CDT, and put some last-minute polishes on my power-on and power-off stalls on the way. The evening before he had put the Skyhawk in the front of the hangar so we could just pull her out, I could do my preflight, and we'd be on our way. Best-laid plans...
I arrived at the hangar at 0630 local. He arrived a few minutes later. No one else was there. When we walked out to the hangar, the KingAir and the Citation were both in front of the Skyhawk. Frustration point. We had to wait for the FBO crew to get in at 0700 to get them moved and pull the Skyhawk out. This put us behind our plan by 30 minutes. It was cold, around 30F. I was wearing gloves when I could during my preflight, taking them off when necessary. As a result of this on-off cycle, my preflight took longer. Another frustration point. Finally we were seated in 34Q and ready to get started. Takeoff was uneventful, and we were shortly on our way westward.
There had been recent flooding in Southern Illinois, and the magnitude was very evident from the air. I'd never seen flooding this extensive up close on the ground, let alone from this vantage point. It was quite a sight.
Watching the time the entire flight, it became very evident we were going to be pushed to get there on time. Another frustration point. With this realization it became clear there would be no time to practice anything on the way. ANOTHER frustration point.
We landed at KMNV with around 5 minutes to get in the door and get started. Of all the times he and I have gotten in and out of this plane, during this time, he got his headset cord tangled. He had no choice but to untangle it so the DPE could use his. So I had to stand there, flight bag in hand, and wait. Frustration level: Volcano.
After we finally made it in the door, completed introductions, and sorted out the payment for the exam, it was time to get started with the oral portion of the practical exam.
90 minutes of nervousness, queasiness, and a few stick-to-my guns answers later, I was done with the oral portion. Result: Satisfactory. Now, the fun begins.
Take a look at the picture above. See those clouds? They aren't supposed to be there . And most of them had cleared to the East when we got to MNV, but more were just to the West, heading our way, at the same altitude as those in the picture, about 4,500 MSL. That'll come into play later.
I could go into detail about every maneuver, and I'd honestly like to, but I'll stick to the ones that gave me the most cause to think I wasn't going to get a satisfactory result (even though he made it clear that if at any time he wasn't satisfied with a maneuver, he'd call the checkride then and there).
The most rattling and frustrating maneuver, which should have been easy on any given day for me, was diverting to another airport during the first leg of the cross-country flight. Here's where the clouds come into play. I'd planned for a 6,500 MSL cruising altitude to the airport he'd instructed me to plan for, M71, on the other side of the STL Class B. The clouds were at 4,500, so he told me no need to re-plan since we're not flying the whole route, we'll just level off at 2,500. This put me at top-of-climb in, give-or-take, half the time and distance I'd planned for.
Once we were at cruise, he told me, "Ok, now I want you to get me to a different airport nearby. I don't care if it's the closest one, just get me there." Easy, right? Well, it is, if you know where you are. I started looking at my sectional and determining general direction of flight based on top of climb - my *planned* top of climb - and calculating roughly how long it would take to get there and how much fuel we'd burn, telling him once the calculations were complete. Then I flew as planned, but couldn't find the airport. I was getting nervous, and more frustrated. Thinking I was farther West than I was. Then I realized, there should be a 4-lane highway to my left, but it wasn't there. So I turned back West until I found it, followed it to the town near the airport...but couldn't find the airport. I advised him I was going to turn back around to the South and see if I'd overflown it. It was at that moment I caught a glimpse of a taxiway just at the bottom right corner of the windshield. I said, "Standby on that turn I just said I was making," rocked the right wing down a bit and there was the airport, with very, very poorly-marked runways, right below me.
He then instructed me to descend, and had me proceed with ground reference maneuvers before telling me to get him back to the airport. I started to look at the sectional, and he said in a frustrated tone, "No, I want you to look out the window and figure out where you are before you try to figure out where to go." Embarrassingly, I looked up, and there was MVN about 6 miles off my nose. I made a location call and started descending to pattern altitude.
He had me do a short-field landing, and then, since the wind was straight down the main runway, after takeoff, had me change runways to the crosswind runway. But, he told me the wrong runway - I was landing with a 7-kt left quartering tailwind. Once I started my roundout, he noticed the wind sock and said, "Oh no, I told you the wrong runway. I immediately pushed the carb heat in and started to apply power. "No, no, you're ok go ahead and land, it won't count against you." I looked at the fact that we were already 1/4 of the way down the runway, retracted flaps to 20 and applied full power, then called my go-around, which I knew was a necessary maneuver to demonstrate, but that's not why I did it. I didn't feel safe with the landing. I went straight out, did a right teardop per his instructions, then came in for the crosswind landing. It wasn't my best, by far, but I put it down & then taxied off on the main runway then the first taxiway to the ramp. Just before I made it to the hold short line, he blurts out, "Well, you passed!"
Did he just....?
"Thanks," was my dumbfounded reply. I didn't take time to process it. I completed my after-landing checklist, taxied to the FAA office, then completed the parking checklist. We got out of the plane and headed in for the debrief. My CFI greeted me as I came in the door. "Well?"
"He passed! But let's sit down and talk this through, I do have some things I really want you to work on."
We proceeded with the debrief. Biggest item on the list - turn coordination. I haven't mentioned it yet, but the turbulence I encountered on this flight was about the worst I'd ever seen, the same as I saw in this area during my long cross-country. That had me struggling to keep the ball centered almost the entire time. I know he was taking that into consideration. In addition, some of the wind gusts were so strong during my maneuvers that we were losing and gaining 500 ft of altitude at a time in about a second, so he gave me some leniency on my altitude margins.
Then came the talk about the diversion. "You were just about out of time." 5 minutes is the allotted time to find the airport. I was at just about 4:50 when I found the field. "If you had turned that airplane around, I was going to end the checkride there. You can't just be looking way out in front of you, you have to look right below and in front of the plane as well."
I agreed with all his assessments, he was right about every single one. Then we completed the paperwork, and he handed me my temporary certificate. As of that moment, I was, and am, a certificated private pilot. The flight back to HNB was surreal. My CFI, well, former CFI since he was now my first official passenger, and I debriefed the flight along the way, and also talked a little more after we landed. After we finished talking, we shook hands. He congratulated me, and I thanked him for everything he taught me. I got choked up as I pulled out of the parking lot, collected myself, then went to go see my daughter.
It took about 2 1/2 months for my official certification card to arrive, as the FAA was several weeks behind and backlogged.
Even then, it took many, many more weeks to really sink in. I'd done it. Something I've wanted since my childhood. A dream I've always had, but never thought I'd be able to fulfill. After all the delays, the stops and starts, months at a time between flights due to all the setbacks with 34Q, the weather, illnesses, it finally happened. I am a pilot.
As I said at the start of this post, there has been a lot more that has happened this year. Not all of it is related to aviation, but I'll share the parts that are. This is just the beginning.
Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two-Seven