Learning to fly

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Flight #55 (Checkride)
Nov 9, 1999 1pm
(1.5 PIC) 77.4 total

After lunch we got back to the airport and Don was there waiting for us. While Karen visited the potty, we introduced ourselves and went up to the office above the FBO. He looked over my logbooks, test score and application, then found we needed to total up and break out some of the hours we had forgotten about. So that took a bit of time before we could finish the application. Then he made out a receipt for the fee and Karen left to top off the plane and leave us alone for the oral portion.

He started off by showing me the practical test standards, step by step, and letting me know that he would be using them for the evaluation. I asked if he would want me to know without having to tell me, what altitude to enter maneuvers specified in the book, but he said “Don’t worry, you’ll be at the right altitudes for each maneuver at that time.” He went over the Weight & Balance I had made out with the info he gave me beforehand. I had done 3 different versions because the plane exceeded weight limits with full tanks. So I did one with full tanks, one with partial tanks to get within limits and the baggage in the baggage compartment, and a third within limits with the baggage in the back seat. He seemed to be pretty happy with covering all the bases.

Then the oral began. I had stayed up late last night with last minute studying and going over the V-Speeds, but I was still a bit nervous about the oral. I was afraid all the details would leak out before I had time to use them. It actually turned out fairly easy. He said my 98% written score eliminated a lot of questions that he would have asked otherwise. Generally he asked about: A/C performance (rear CG/forward CG effects), MELs, currency requirements, Airmets/Sigmets, wind shear, V speeds and their significance, color codes on the airspeed indicator, everything on the charts, everything about the airspaces and visibilities, NOTAMs and the diving restrictions. It was fairly conversational and when I had a bit of trouble articulating exactly what I meant, he stepped in and gave me a leading question to help. But for the most part, I was very surprised when he closed the book and said “Let’s go fly.”

So we packed up and headed out without a weather brief. Since I had gotten one for the flight to 6A3, he was satisfied that I knew what to do. He followed me around the plane as I did the preflight and I explained everything that I was looking for: cotter pins in place, loose bolts, cracks, excessive leakage, anything odd or out of place. I ding the propeller with my knuckle to get a bell sound and maybe get a better feel for a crack that might be invisible. Maybe it won’t, but I feel safer doing it. After the checklist is done, I’ll go back around the plane one more time looking at the overall picture and maybe see something that I wasn’t looking at before. A seatbelt hanging out the passenger side door..., etc. He seemed happy with it.

We strapped in and I noticed that as he did, he put on his shoulder harness. Bells and whistles go off in my head. Hmmm, we’ve never put them on. They’re a pain and restrict movement, but it is in the regs and he did it, so I pull out mine and buckle it, then casually loosen it so it’s out of the way.

On to the startup checklist, making sure to recite everything loud enough for him to hear, even though he seems outwardly unconcerned and inattentive. He doesn’t even have his headset on, but I figure he’ll put it on when he’s ready. As I near the engine startup he puts them on and settles in. After the startup, with my kneeboard holding the sectional and flightplan ready to go on the clipboard, we taxied out to the hold line for the runup. Now a slight breeze has picked up and I remember to hold the ailerons the correct way, so I think that’s a good sign.

The first maneuver he called for was a soft field takeoff into the pattern and back around for a soft field landing. No problem. Then taxi back for a short field takeoff and landing. The takeoff was ok, but I was concerned more about the landing. I knew I could hold the airspeed low enough to make it easy, but I didn’t want to scare the heck out of him doing it. So I held it just out of range of the stall horn and put it down easily within limits. Ok, it did drop a bit harder onto the pavement than I’d have liked, but I’ve done worse and it stayed down without bouncing back into the air. Then we did an intersection takeoff to start the cross-country

A little more nervous now, here we go. Check primer, mags... Oh great, I touch each item as I read them off the checklist and I just shut off the mags. Turn them back on you idiot. Don’t look at him. Not a word from him. But I can tell his interest level has gone up a notch. I finished the checklist and pulled onto the runway for takeoff. Into the air we have a bit of time before my first checkpoint and I comment on how nice the airport is, although a bit claustrophobic because of the closeness of the hills. A smile from him and he nods, yes. I double check my OBS settings because my first checkpoint is the 314 radial of the Harris VOR. Intercept and fly it outbound. I was a bit sloppy when I did it with Karen, so I kept a sharp eye this time. Ha! Nailed it. This might just work out.

Then we flew straight and level for a few minutes and he called the divert because of "bad weather" back to Blairsville. Since he only had 2 logical choices, I was ready for either. So I turned around and headed for the Harris VOR and drew a line to it on the sectional from my position. Forgot to measure the distance, but got the heading nailed fairly quickly and the OBS set up right. From the Harris VOR it is just a short hop to Blairsville, so he was happy and called it off.

On to slow flight now which I thought would be no problem. Modestly, it’s one of my strong points. Except he wanted it done at 60 knots not 50 as is usual for 75E. Well, hell. It took what seemed like forever to get it stabilized at altitude, airspeed and heading because I had no idea what the power settings should be. I automatically set them as if I was doing it at 50 knots but he said no, 60 knots. After much fussing and grumbling, I finally got it stabilized and held it steady as a rock. Not a pretty thing to see at first, but passable after I settled down. I realized that speed in getting the maneuver done isn’t as important as demonstrating that I can perform it safely and maintain it.

From slowflight into stalls. First power off and then power on. Power off isn’t my strong point and I nearly busted the 100’ altitude loss limit. Nearly, but not quite. Power on was beautiful, recovery at the same altitude I started from. Just a hint of a secondary stall horn chirp. Then the hood came out and he flew while I attached it. First a couple of unusual attitude recoveries, then turn to headings and altitudes. The turns and headings were sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. I was all over the place. But again, each time after what seemed like a long time to me, I put it where he asked and he seemed satisfied. So I tossed the hood into the back seat and it was time to pretend we were lost.

I centered the #1 OBS needle for the Harris VOR and the #2 to the Choo Choo VOR. I drew a couple of intersecting radial lines on the map and pointed out where we were. Right over this lake here... “Um, let’s look at the ground,” he said. Sure why not? A little aileron roll to the left and some right rudder to maintain our heading... oh, crap. Somebody moved my lake about 5 miles over there. So I circled around and leveled out for another try. Recenter the needles and redraw the lines. Ok, here we are. I drew a circle around a town on the map. He peered out the window, kinda frowned and said, “Looks like a town or village down there.” I thought I had screwed up again, but when I looked, I realized it was Murphy, the town I had circled on the map. So I said yup, that’s Murphy. Then he brightened up and said, “OK, let’s move on.” Phew. Later, after the flight, he suggested that a better way to perform the procedure would be to center one needle, turn and fly that heading while centering the other needle. That way the first needle stays put and the plotted radial from that VOR remains intact for figuring position.

As we flew straight and level for a bit, he asked about spin recovery. I was picturing a recovery from a nose down attitude when he was asking about nose high. There was much confusion when I didn’t say to push the nose down and recover. After he indicated the nose up attitude with his hand, I realized what he was after and we got the same answers.

Next he asked me to make an emergency slip to 3,000’ MSL where we leveled off and did Turns Around A Point. First left, then right. A little close in at one point circling left, but he seemed more concerned with maintaining altitude and outside scan than a perfect circle. Since I kept it within 20’ of 3000', he was happy.

We moved on to S-turns across a road and they worked out just like the Turns Around A Point. Maintain altitude and outside scan.
Then the homestretch. Back to the airport for a normal landing he said. I felt things were looking good at this point and I’d probably pass if I could just get it back on the ground in one piece. In the pattern, abeam the numbers and as I pulled the carb heat on, he told me that I had just lost my engine.

I pulled all the power off and while I radioed the simulated engine failure, I pulled the yoke back for best glide and since we had plenty of room, I made a slow turn toward the runway. Announce all of the checklist items, primer in and locked, mags on both, carb heat cold, mixture rich, gas on both, try to restart, make a call on 121.5. By then I was still high and ready to put in 30 degrees flaps. I had expected to hear him say that I didn’t need much slip as I nosed over and put the flaps in, but he didn’t say a word. So I did a pretty aggressive slip down to the runway threshold, let off on the rudder, straightened it up and landed very nicely on the centerline.

As we rolled out with plenty of runway in front of us, he said to climb back into the pattern again. On final approach and at the last minute, he called for a go-around. Full power, carb heat off, good climb and get the flaps off 10 at a time. Once last time into the pattern, back around to line up on final and this time he let me set it down for good...nice and smooth and just to the right of the centerline as the stall horn was kicking into high gear.

As we taxied off the runway, he asked how I thought I had done. Randall had told me that if he asks, I did fine. Nothing cocky, nothing that I did horribly, just fine. I told the truth. I did fine. Some things could have been better, but overall, I considered it passing. He agreed and held out his hand. I shook it and cleared the active.

Flight #56
Nov 9, 1999 5pm
(.9 Solo PIC) 78.3 total

Karen met us at the ramp and after a big hug for her and a short trip back up to Don’s office to fill out the final paperwork, we topped off 75E for the trip back to Cherokee. Again, we’d be flying separate planes since 38U’s W & B was complete. We took off and climbed out directly into the sun and what was now a very hazy sky. We climbed to 4,500’ and kept a close eye on the road back south. Too easy to get lost in the haze, although the GPS was still available if I needed it. I led the way again and we stayed in contact on 122.75.

Then after we turned south and the haze cleared up a bit, the Pickens County runway endlights came into view. So I began a slow descent that would keep me out of their pattern airspace and get me to 47A at 2,000’, pattern altitude. Traffic was calling runway 22 as the active so we joined on the upwind and circled around to land. My first landing as a Private Pilot couldn’t have been much better. A light wind was coming a little from the right and gave just enough headwind to help out with the flare. A little too much back pressure, but a very light touchdown with the stall horn in my ear.

Flight #57
Nov 13, 1999 4pm
(.9 PIC w/PAX) 79.2 total

Warm hazy day with a very light breeze. Candy and April cut short their shopping to head out to the airport and fly with me. 75E has a lousy intercom in the back seat so we switched to 78T so April would be able to hear everything.

We took off and headed out for our subdivision and flew over the house. Then we turned to find Jim and Nettie's house just up the road. We thought that they might be outside since they knew we were flying this afternoon, but a plane earlier had fooled them into thinking that it was us. So they were inside as we flew over. Then we steered toward the lake and overflew North High School. Got sorta close to some traffic over the lake but we both turned away in plenty of time. I was in his sun so I’m not sure he could see me too well. Then we turned back and flew over the house and Jim and Nettie’s subdivision again. Still inside. So we went back to the airport and I put it down with just a little bit of a bounce.

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