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A Private Pilot at last!

A few hours after passing the test and I am still on top of the world, having overcome the first hurdle in my flight training

Thursday 9 April was the day of my checkride for my Private Pilot’s Licence, which I have been working towards since early February. After three weeks of ground school, more than 70 hours of flying time and a written exam, I was ready to take the oral (or spoken) test followed by the practical test. Of course, I was slightly nervous, but probably not as nervous as the day of my practical driving test back at home in 2007. The various manoevures had been done over and over again and I felt confident that I could demonstrate them all and be within the practical test standard limits. As well as the various manoeuvres, there were a handful of takeoffs and landings to be demonstrated; short field, soft field, flapless etc. Whilst my soft field landings have always been pretty hit and miss, the others seemed alright, and again, I was fairly certain that I could do whatever the examiner asked.

We started with the oral exam, which was a few questions being asked over a 30-minute period. It didn’t start too well and there was one question I could not answer, and so, the examiner asked me to go away and look it up. Every couple of minutes during the test, the exmainer’s phone would ring and he would answer it everytime, regardless of whether I was half way through answering a question or not. After finishing one of his phone calls, we moved onto the next question, despite the fact that I hadn’t actually finished answering the previous question!

I was then told to go and ‘pre-flight’ the aircraft in preparation for the practical test, which took about 10 minutes, and involved checking for anything out of the ordinary. It is something that is done prior to every flight, so this was not a challenge, just an everyday procedure. As I finished the checks, I could see the examiner approaching and he was again on the phone. I dread to think how big his phone bill must be!

We eventually got airborne at around 3.30pm and our flight lasted 1 hour and 10 minutes. I had planned a cross-country flight to Sarasota and we started to fly that until about 5 minutes into the flight when I was diverted to the nearby Winter Haven airport. This was expected, so I grabbed my plotter, flight computer and chart, and had to quickly work out how far we were from our new destination and how much fuel would be required to get us there. The timings were pretty much spot on and we approached runway 22 for a touch-and-go. That seemed to go well and after touching down, the flaps went up and full power was applied, getting airborne again a few seconds later.

We stayed in the pattern at Winter Haven and the examiner asked me to demonstrate a soft field landing and a soft field takeoff. The soft field landing was probably the only thing I was dreading about this checkride as previous attempts at a soft landing had been rather hard! At the last possible minute, the examiner took the controls (without a positive exchange of controls, I might add) and we climbed back to the pattern altitude. He claimed that I was coming in nose down. Whilst I admit that my attempt was pretty poor, the aircraft was not nose down. Anyway, I managed another soft field landing, which was also not particularly soft, and we went off on our way again.

On the way back to Kissimmee, we spent some time using the hood (instrument) and I was asked to maintain a heading of 090 degrees and an altitude of 2,000ft. He then asked me to turn to a heading of 060 degrees, which seemed straightforward enough. For anybody not familiar with the ‘hood’, it is a plastic device worn to block the pilot’s view of everything but the instruments in front of him/her. Whilst still wearing the hood, we did one unusual attitude, where you are asked to look down whilst the examiner puts the aircraft into an ‘unusual attitude’, which you are then expected to recover from. That too was accomplished successfully.

The checkride continued with slow flight, power on and power off stalls, steep turns and an s-turn. All seemed to go well, though the examiner told me after the flight that I had lost altitude on my steep turns. Again, I wasn’t convinced. I occasionally glanced at the altimeter during the turns and there appeared to be no loss or gain of more than 100ft – well within what is expected in the practical test standards. I had been expecting an engine failure at any time during the flight and I thought the examiner would simply put the throttle to idle before telling me to deal with it. I seemed to have it rather easy though, and he told me it was coming! By being told, it seemed there was less pressure on me.

At last, he told me we would be returning to Kissimmee, which felt great. The flight was at last over and I was ready to discover my fate. My last test was the short field landing. I was not asked to choose a touchdown point on the runway so I continued and got ready to bring the flaps up straight after the touchdown. As the name suggests, a short field landing is the landing of an aircraft on a short field. Ultimately, you want to stop the aircraft in the shortest time possible.

We taxied off of the runway and went back to ‘Euroflight’. As I shut down the aircraft, the examiner said, “You’ve passed. Do what you need to do and then meet me inside”. With that, he jumped out of the aircraft and disappeared into the school. After parking the aircraft up, I packed up my stuff and went inside for the de-brief.

I should give credit to my instructor, Steve, for getting me to where I am now. He took me on after two weeks at Orlando Flight Training, teaching me everything from manoevures to takeoffs and landings. The fact that I passed suggests that he must have done something right!

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