The Checkride

Have you ever given a Christmas present to yourself? I think you should. Life is too short not to indulge once in a while. For example: I gave myself a present today. I worked for it, mind you. But that made all the more satisfying. Today I took the FAA checkride for my pilot’s license. And I passed! It was a long road getting here, but now I’m on cloud nine and there ain’t nobody who can rain on my parade.

pp_checkride2.gifLast night I was cursing myself for scheduling the checkride for Christmas Eve. I had to plan a cross country flight to the San Francisco area, and in a small general aviation aircraft operating under VFR with lots of visual checkpoints, it can get to be an extensive thing. My flight plan was four pages long. Plus I had to be ready for the two hour oral exam and 3+ hours in the plane. If you’ve never seen the Federal Aviation Regulations, it’s a 1,000 page book of rules for pilots, and anything in them is fair game. I had to be able to give a coherent answer to questions on aircraft systems, airspace, regulations, aeromedical factors, aerodynamics, cross country planning, emergency procedures, traffic patterns, weather theory, and demonstrate all those (and more) in the air.

It doesn’t take much to fail. So the night before, you can imagine what a basket case I was. Especially since the examiner, Lyn Carlson, had a reputation for being fair but tough. I’m sure it helped that I trained with one of her CFI’s (flight instructors), but I don’t think that carried much weight once the checkride started. I was waaaay behind on my Christmas shopping, nothing was wrapped yet, and a big web site I’m designing is behind schedule for it’s January 1 launch. I got to bed by about three a.m., and was up again by seven.

Once the Big Day arrived, I was quite thankful that I scheduled it when I did. First of all, the weather was absolutely perfect. Not a cloud in the sky, minimal wind, and because it was Christmas Eve there were few other GA planes in the air. I think everyone was at the mall shopping (see my last entry). Lyn was in a great mood, very casual and friendly. She immediately put me at ease and things remained so for the duration of the test, which turned out to be much easier than I had anticipated. Part of the test is a “lost and diversion” procedure, and she diverted me to Compton. Ironic, because yesterday while on a test run for the checkride, Brandon had diverted me to Compton as well. And so it went. The only thing I had trouble with was the soft field landing at John Wayne. I flared a bit too high and didn’t land quite softly enough. But it was good enough for her, and I wasn’t about to complain.

After we landed, she went inside to get the paperwork started for my Temporary Airman’s Certificate while I took care of the plane. After completing the last checklist item and gathering up all my stuff, I sat down next to the plane for a while to just savor the moment. Making no effort to wipe the grin off my face, I watched several planes land on 1R and 1L before giving N4913G a pat on the cowl and heading indoors, where I received a number of congratulatory handshakes. I swear, on my walk back to the office I was an inch or two taller than before the flight!

I also learned that since I received my rating I get an hour of aerobatics time free of charge. Sunrise has a Pitts S-2B and an Extra 300, and you can bet I’m already planning the stuff I want to do with that hour. What a great day! It’s one of those days you’ll always look back on with total happiness, and an event that will keep me smiling for months, if not years, to come.

Whatever happens, they can’t take that away from me.


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